Power to the People

What's next for Ben Rattray's disruptive Change.org

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Gabriela Hasbun

Ben Rattray, founder of Change.org, photographed at his office in San Francisco, CA.

Ensuring U.S. visas for Iraqi interpreters. Nixing fees for Bank of America debit-card holders. Banning “pink slime” in school lunches. These are just a few of the petition campaigns launched on Change.org, the digital platform that invites people to make social change one signature at a time.

Now, however, even policymakers are reporting for duty. Thanks to a new initiative, leaders like Republican Congressman Paul Ryan and Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren are making their own Change.org landing pages, where they can respond directly to relevant petitions. The idea, says founder Ben Rattray, a member of the 2012 TIME¬†100, is to create “a fundamental shift in the way elected officials engage their constituents.”

This has been Rattray’s goal since 2007, when the then 26-year-old Stanford grad started Change.org to make activism as viral as cat videos. Since then, it has faced its share of issues: aside from controversial petitions, some have criticized the site’s for-profit status.

But its ad dollars, says Rattray, are what powers Change.org’s growth (at least 45¬†million people have signed or started a petition, up nearly 100% from December 2012). “If we’re not touching billions of lives or at least aspiring to do so,” he says, “then we’re underselling our opportunity.”