When Pavithra Shetty heard about the news of a 6-year-old girl being raped in her school in Bangalore, she was horrified. As a mother of a 3-year-old, she felt a compelling need to do something. This is when she recognised a gap in the system.
Channeling her outrage, she started a petition on Change.org asking the Karnataka Education Minister K Ratnakar to issue safety directives to all schools. What happened next was nothing short of phenomenal.
Within six days, with more than 1,55,000 people supporting her campaign, her petition became one of the biggest rallying points for horrified parents and others, who forced a massive shift in the way the state views safety of children and child sexual abuse.
As the signature count on her petition mounted, Ratnakar and his staff were kept apprised of the increasing outrage, made possible because of special features that are available for anyone who starts a petition on Change.org. Adding the pressure on to Ratnakar was the media, whose reporting around the petition forced his office and the government to react. They responded by issuing guidelines to all schools in the state.
A first step in the fight for safety of children in schools had been taken.
A few weeks later, Maithreyi Nadapana, another mother from Bangalore started another Change.org petition. The guidelines had been issued thanks to Pavithra's efforts. Now, Maithreyi wanted to take that a step further by demanding that the government implement them.
People like Pavithra and Maithreyi are not activists. But by stepping up to start a petition and sustaining a campaign, they have sent out a message that achieving social impact and social change is not only the activist's responsibility, but everyone else's. Usually associated only with activists, concepts like 'social impact' and 'social change' are often alienated from commonspeak and the common person.
But stories like Pavithra's and Maithreyi's prove that this is a misconception. We live in a society full of imperfections that we deal with every day. Bad roads we travel on, the neighbour you know is being beaten up by her husband, the domestic help who gets mistreated in your locality and many more -- they surround us everyday. Some or many of them affect us, sometimes enough to make us want to change things.
Social change is about the aam janta, and cannot be effective if it doesn't come from them. At Change.org, we are beginning to see ordinary people inserting themselves into many of the most urgent and important conversations of our times.
Take the inspiring story of RPS Kohli. This Delhi-based businessman got the International Basketball Federation to relax their policy that banned Sikh players from playing with their turbans on. Or the case of Prahalathan from Chennai, who managed to get the Tamil Nadu Government to revise fares of auto-rickshaws in Chennai and across the state, bringing in much needed respite to both drivers and passengers.
Every month in India, we witness hundreds of petitions on Change.org on anything from local to national to international issues. We see inspiring petitions even in pushing law and policy makers focus their efforts. Like the movement demanding a stronger road safety law in India spearheaded by Jyoti Gupta who lost her husband and daughter to a freak road accident. More than two lakh people have supported her campaign (along with Save Life Foundation) by signing her petition, sharing their stories and reaching out to the Prime Minister's office. A stronger road safety bill has been drafted and is set to be introduced in parliament.
For me, these and other petitions showcase the increasing demand for an open platform like Change.org, where anyone can start a petition on any issue and be supported with tools that will help them find solutions by engaging, mobilising and winning campaigns of positive social change.
Which brings me back to the point of social impact and who owns it. In a country that has millions of problems, social change can become a strong reality only if there are millions of solutions, all of them coming from people and not necessarily the government.
I imagine an India where common folk hold bureaucrats, political leaders and corporate firms to high standards of accountability and where creating change becomes a part of everyday life. Where people are empowered enough to create the positive social change they want to see in a faster and more efficient manner. Stories like Pavithra's, RPS Kolhi's and others are proof that this movement is well underway.