As the founder and president of Care2, Randy Paynter is a leader in harnessing the power of online social networking to drive positive change for the environment. Randy started Care2 in 1998 and survived dotcom capriciousness to become one of the leading social networking sites on the Web, growing to the current membership of over six million. His enthusiasm and faith in our ability to make progressive change are infectious - so if you prefer to be a doomsdayer, read this interview with caution!
TH: How effective do you think online organizing has been for the environmental movement? Are we all just talking to each other, or are we having an impact on the "real world?"
RP: I'm continuously amazed by the impact our members are having. Some of the change is personal. For example, every day we get letters from members who have gotten rid of the toxic cleaners in their house and are now using nontoxic alternatives, or who used our social network to raise money for an animal shelter, or joined a nonprofit they learned about through Care2.There are also many advocacy success stories our members have contributed to. So far, in my opinion, the main reason there aren't oil wells in the Arctic Refuge is because there has been such public outrage, mostly organized online. We've also recently helped protect the Great Bear Rain Forest, so far have helped block the Asbestos bailout bill (which means victims of asbestos and their families have retained their right to hold asbestos companies accountable for their actions), and just a few weeks ago President Bush created the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument, creating the largest marine reserve on the planet. Progress may not always happen as fast as we'd like, but we are making a difference!
TH: What inspired you to create Care2?
RP: To make a difference. To change the world. To demonstrate that it's possible to "do well while doing good". Those all sound pretty cliche, but that's the truth.
I first realized I wanted to devote my life to making the world a better place during a visit to a remote Amazonian tribe, back when I was 13. The environmental destruction and poverty of the bigger towns was in stark contrast to the abundant wildlife and joy of the people we encountered deep in the jungle. I later spent quite a bit of time trying to find a product I could commercialize from the rain forest that would help to protect the forest and culture of the people - but I never found the right product. Then the Internet boom took off and I recognized the best way for me to save the forest and help the people was by motivating the masses.
We launched Care2 in 1998 as an environmental portal, and quickly expanded to support Health, Human Rights and other important causes. Today, our mission is to help individuals make a positive impact through their personal lifestyle and by giving them the tools to influence society. We do this by connecting our 6 million members to the information, people and organizations making a positive impact - like treehugger!
TH: What do you think the top five things are that an individual can do to "Make a Difference?"
RP: At Care2, our 5 step approach is to help individuals:
1. Get Involved
2. Get Inspired
3. Get Informed
4. Get Connected
5. And do this every day....
We hear from an amazing number of people who simply had never realized how easy it is to make a difference. Once they start, they realize how rewarding it is, and begin to see themselves as "environmentally responsible"...which of course leads to greater consciousness and more positive actions.
So, I believe the most important thing an individual can do is "get involved". Get involved in whatever cause gets you fired up, get informed, get connected to the people and organizations making a difference, contribute in whatever ways you can, and make this part of your daily routine.
We think of Care2's six million members as an ecosystem of people making a difference. Everyone contributes in their own way. A lot of our members make financial donations to our nonprofit partners, others volunteer their time, others sign online petitions, or blog, or debate the issues on our discussion boards, or send all their friends our healthy living tips. Heck, we've even had a number of marriages between members. It's all good. It all helps. When millions of individuals get involved in making the world a better place day in and day out amazing things happen.
TH: Care2 offers members everything from webmail to photo sharing to shopping guides - what are your favorite services that Care2 offers? Why?
RP: Wow. That's like asking me to choose between my children. We've got an incredible team that has indeed created a huge array of great services. I've already mentioned our fantastic healthy living solutions, so while I won't choose between my children, I guess I'd have to say:
Care2 Activist Alerts - we work with about 150 leading nonprofit organizations to get their campaign alerts out to subscribers of our 20 activist email lists. It's great because it's an easy way to keep informed of opportunities to make a difference on the cause(s) you care most about. Anyone who signs a petition on our PetitionSite.com can subscribe to one of these lists. (http://www.care2.com/actionalerts/)
Care2 Connect - our social network has over a million members involved in thousands of local and global causes. I love this area of our site because it's incredible to watch what happens when individuals are given the power to connect, host groups and share their passions. (http://www.care2.com/c2c/people)
Care2 News network - this is only about 6 months old, so is one of our newest services, but is basically a digg.com for progressive-minded individuals. A year ago I wouldn't have thought turning all editorial control over to "the people" would work - but it does! We're seeing a lot of interesting stories that would never make mainstream media sites, and we've recently let people add videos which is a lot of fun. (http://www.care2.com/news/)
ThePetitionSite.com - I love our petition service because it puts amazing power into the hands of individuals. Anyone can create a petition for free. We've had citizen-created petitions with over 100,000 signatures. We've recently added cool tools that enable you to effectively embed part of the petition directly into your website, as well as some great customization features. (http://www.thepetitionsite.com/)
Thank you Randy - and keep up the great work at Care2!