From More Intelligent Life:
Our Top 10 of 2013. No. 7: Can we change the world, one click at a time? Ricken Patel, a young Canadian, thinks so, and he has 20m followers to show for it. Profile by Robert Butler.
Avaaz is an online campaigning organisation that’s halfway between an NGO and a megaphone. After only six years, it has 20m followers—more than the population of the Netherlands. Avaaz, which means “voice” or “song” in Persian, was set up with the overarching goal of closing the gap between “the world we have and the world most people everywhere want”. From the outset it has been unashamedly idealistic and aspirational. Its executive director is Ricken Patel, and his ambition goes back half a lifetime.
…IF YOU HAD to pinpoint the moment when Ricken Patel first sensed this gap in the world that needed closing, it might be the day he went to primary school. His family had moved to Canada from Kenya in the 1970s, an anxious time for Indians in east Africa after Idi Amin expelled 60,000 Asians from Uganda and seized their assets. Patel grew up in Alberta, 35 minutes by bus from the nearest school. It was a First Nations school on a reservation; he was the only child at the time who wasn’t white and wasn’t First Nation. He was witnessing the end of the Cree culture. “It was a deep annihilation of a people’s culture and it was conscious,” he tells me over lunch. “They took a nomadic people and confined them to a reserve.” He had a friend, Michael, whose front door was broken (“the cold wind blew in”); the family slept in a tent inside the house and ate flour, having nothing else. “History was a very live thing.” On his first day at school, he went to the playground, a large field, and came across a two-year-old boy sitting on his own in the middle of an old tyre. There was no one else around. Patel, aged five, went up and said hello. The two-year-old said, “Go fuck yourself.”