September 22, 2009
When in New Zealand I heard a story from friends there about the power of a social network to create change. Cadbury New Zealand had changed one of the ingredients in its chocolate (which is very delicious by the way). It removed cocoa butter, I believe, and replaced it with palm oil. This was met with resistance by some. Palm oil comes from Borneo forests and other rain forests. With increased demand for palm oil, not just through Cadbury, more rain forests are being slashed, wild life species are becoming displaced and endangered, and there is further deforestation and global warming. Basic systems stuff that is simple in concept, yet complex and far reaching in impact.
In previous eras, average citizens would not be as likely to be able to do anything about this. Individuals, groups of citizens stood far less chance in influencing large and powerful corporations. It would have taken mass organizing efforts. But this is a different age, an age where social networks have much more influence. The Auckland Zoo boycotted the Cadbury products. 3,500 people and groups connected on Facebook and other social networking sites, and through freely available tools like Youtube, created a formidable voice in opposition to Cadbury's actions.
The short of it is that within four weeks, Cadbury heard the response, recognized the level of reaction, and issued an apology and reversal of its policy. Citizens united around a cause with simple tools to connect and offer voice. It is how change happens today.
It is what I have learned with friends Debbie Frieze, Meg Wheatley and others about working with emergence and
taking change and connection to levels of scale that is hopeful for all of us. From isolated individuals to networks. From networks to deliberate communities of practice. From communities of practice to systems of influence. It comes from a four step model that my colleagues and I at Berkana Institute have been practicing now for many years. 1. Name the issue and purpose. 2. Connect people together around that issue. 3. Nurther the connecton -- the relationship, the co-learning, the relationships. 4. Illuminate what you are learning, doing and practicing -- tell stories. There is an excellent article by Meg and Debbie here.
A basic description of the situation with Cadbury New Zealand .
A bit more on the involvement of the Auckland Zoo and Facebook group.
And even better, embedded in this process of how change happens through social networks, is that local action impacts regional and global learning. Because of what has happened in New Zealand, there is now amplified and accellerated reach to connect other rainforest action groups.
A good book read on this that I'm in now is Here Comes Everybody, written by Clay Shirky. The subtitle speaks to what happened with Cadbury. "The Power of Organizing without Organizations." Shirky makes simple points that help to context what happend with New Zealand and Cadbury:
- "New social tools lower the cost of group action. Most of the barriers to group action have collapsed, and without those barriers, we are free to explore new ways of gatheirng together and getting things done."
- "We are living in the middle of a remarkable increase in our ability to share, to cooperate with one another, and to take collective action, all outside the framework of traditional institutions and organizations."
Mind boggling yet simple. Powerful. Emergent. Happening in many places on the planet. How change happens in this era.