Episode 2: Tapping Civic Action to Promote Progressive Causes with Aaron Pava
Tapping Civic Action to Promote Progressive Causes with Aaron Pava, CivicActions
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Mark Lewis: Welcome to "Money, Mission and Meaning: Passion at Work, Purpose at Play,” where we explore how we can integrate our personal values and our professional skills to create pleasure and profit in the business of life. I'm your host, Mark Michael Lewis, CEO of Smart Energy Enterprises, Inc. SEE, Inc., a beautiful future, now.
Today's show focuses on how we can combine technology and social networking with vision and values to create measurable results in a wide variety of social contexts. Our guest is Aaron Pava, co-founder of CivicActions, an organization which assists progressive social causes to make a positive difference in the world.
Aaron Pava: Creative ideas of using technology to bridge the gap. How people can make a difference, using their collective voice to really make an impact, then getting massive media about it, stories in the New York Times, Newsweek and on the AP Wire. And the very nature of risk, it's scary and it's exhilarating. It's kind of like a roller coaster. In some sense, the whole point of it is to scare the wits out of you, and another sense of it is, because it's such a great ride, a great rush, that you want to do it again. In almost all likelihood, in my experience, if you do take the leap and you really go for it, you're on a particular set of rails and it's going to work out, and you can just trust that.
Mark Lewis: Welcome, Aaron, it's a pleasure to have you here. Aaron is a technology project manager and campaign strategist committed to the transformation of politics through innovative and pioneering technologies. In addition to his work at CivicActions, Aaron also coaches and facilitates workshops, creating extraordinary opportunities for men and women to deepen their relationships, accomplish personal goals, and realize their authentic passions. He's currently leading courses with the Arete Center for Excellence in San Francisco and in New York.
I know CivicActions has an impressive client list. It almost reads like a Who's Who of progressive causes and campaigns, including ACLU.TV, Jerry Brown for Governor, Creative Commons, the Institute of Noetic Sciences, Mother Jones Media, and so on. So I'm curious, with all the work you've done with technology and social causes, what is it that has you most excited about what you're up to?
Aaron Pava: Oh, that's a great question. The thing that most excites me about the work that I do, really doesn't have as much to do with the technology as it has to do with the people, and the campaigns, and causes that they're connected to.
Mark Lewis: Well, what is one of the causes that you've worked with where you've really been able to use your skills to make a positive difference?
Aaron Pava: Well, one of the big campaigns that we had some major success on is the “Defective by Design” campaign for the Free Software Foundation. It's a group that is really committed to free software, taking the restrictions off of locking down your music, how it transfers between devices. The technical term for that is called "digital restrictions management" or "digital rights management," otherwise known as DRM. What the Free Software Foundation had was a campaign to really inform consumers about what this means for their technology or their technology products. They came to us and they really wanted to get the word out to consumers, which is, obviously, a big challenge. It's a technical hurdle for people to understand. We were able to come up with some really creative campaigns, such as having volunteers dressed up in hazmat suits in front of Apple stores, in front of Microsoft, companies that use DRM in their software, to really raise awareness around the technology and what it means to consumers, and then activate a whole group of people on the web.
You know, one of the things I really like about doing campaigns like this is working with the people that are really passionate about these types of issues, and come up with creative ideas of using technology to bridge the gap. How people can make a difference, using their collective voice to create an impact, then getting massive media about it, stories in the New York Times, Newsweek, and on the AP Wire. A really small action creating a huge social wave of activity, and actually making massive inroads in the collective conversation. So that's just one example of the type of campaign that we do that I'm pretty passionate about.
Mark Lewis: It sounds like the work you're doing goes far beyond the technical programming necessary to make the campaign work, and into the strategy and tactics of campaign design itself. It also sounds like your work is breaking new ground, doing things that there aren't standard models for. I'm curious how you measure the effectiveness of any particular campaign that you're working on.
Aaron Pava: Well, for every campaign, it's really important to have metrics. I think that one of the first goals, and this goes across the board for anything that you work on, it's really important to know what success means. So you define success either by the amount of press you're going to receive, or the amount of hits on your website, or the amount of people that register, or the amount of money that you raise.
One of the most important things in any campaign is to really have those metrics. So, in the case of the campaign I just mentioned, the amount of press coverage and the amount of circulation that the press coverage collectively generates, is one of the metrics. Another metric would be how many people register to become an associate member of the Free Software Foundation, but that would be a secondary metric to the primary goal.
Mark Lewis: It makes sense that you chose to speak about the campaign you did with open source software, because, as I look at the values of the principles of CivicActions and its values as an organization, I experience a resonance between the open source attitude and what you are up to in the world. Could you speak a bit about what drives your business model?
Aaron Pava: Well, I would say that CivicActions is a values-based company. That is to say, all the clients we work with, all the projects we work on, all the tools and technologies we use, are all in a line with the values of the company. The values of the company are directly related to the values of all the members of CivicActions. Every three or four months, we get together and we actually discuss what our values are. As new people come in to the company, their values, what's important to them, gets added into what we call the "values remix." So right now, some of the highest values, collectively, for the 25 or 30 people who are working with CivicActions are freedom, openness, and progressive values.
Mark Lewis: I'm sure the more that you articulate those values, the easier it is to attract the people and clients who are in alignment with them. I really like the idea of incorporating the values of new employees into the overall company value structure, sort of like adding their track to the mix. I imagine this is both especially rich and challenging for CivicActions, given that you literally have people from all around the world on the CivicActions team, don't you? Could you share a little bit about what that's like?
Aaron Pava: One of the most unique aspects of our company is that we have no physical office; we're a totally versatile company. Diversity, another value of ours, is highly reflected, and one of the ways that it’s reflected is geographic diversity. So we have people in Spain, in England, and folks in the Ukraine. In the United States, we're geographically diverse as well, so we have people in Florida, Vermont, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle. So we're spread out all over the place, and I think that geographic diversity really impacts a wide spectrum of ideas that we bring to the table.
When we coordinate on projects, one of the things that we're doing is about not just online activities, but mobilizing people, people on the ground. People in Florida, obviously, mobilize differently than people in the Ukraine. Internationally, SMS messaging your cell phone is a lot more popular than it is in the United States, for example. It's growing in the United States but, right now, there's much more use of it internationally. So when we do campaigns on a more international level, the people who are in those geographic regions have a better sense about how people use those technologies, and then we could use that information to further the campaigns up.
Mark Lewis: It sounds like you're able to tap into the genius of people from different geographic and cultural contexts from around the world to create strategies that are more tailor-made for the specific projects you're working on. I'd like to talk with you a bit about that in a moment. Right now, we're going to take a short break and hear from our sponsors. This is Mark Michael Lewis and I'm with Aaron Pava on "Money, Mission and Meaning." We'll be right back.
Mark Lewis: And we're back. I'm Mark Michael Lewis, and we're speaking with Aaron Pava about using pioneering technologies to make a positive difference in the world. So, we were speaking about how the diversity of your team allows you to think outside the box and create more specialized campaigns for your clients. CivicActions also has a diverse range of clients, including political organizations such as Jerry Brown's California gubernatorial campaign. How have your company values and open source attitude integrated into a political context?
Aaron Pava: Sure, well, with the Jerry Brown for Governor campaign, for example, one of the core tenets of that was that we were going to use only free software for doing the campaign. We met with various campaigns and discussed what their values are, what they wanted to have to measure the success of their web campaign, which is primarily what we focused on. What they were really interested in doing is building a network of supporters, not just an individual supporter who, perhaps, gives money, but really track the relationship of supporters.
For example, I could register for the website, then I pass the information to four of my friends and, out of those four friends, one of those maybe passes it on to three or four others. Actually being able to map the social network and track the relationships, see who the real influencers are within the network, and then having the campaign be able to specifically reach out and connect with who those particular influencers are.
The messaging from an individual about why they support a candidate can often be a lot more powerful than the message from the candidates themselves. I think we all know people in our lives that are really passionate about politics, or really knowledgeable about shopping in a particular area, and you want to reach out to that person in order to gather the information. Say car shopping, for example, I have a friend I know, that I would go to him before I would make a car purchase, because he knows the ins and outs of car technology really well. So the idea is to really target who those influencers are and then have them create the message for the community.
The way that we did that was by building some software using Drupal, and a back-end database called Civi-CRM. CRM is constituent relationship management software. The integration between those two schools, we were able to track those relationships and directly mail to those people in the campaign. Then Jerry and other people in his campaign were able to reach out to those individuals and further the goals of the campaign.
Mark Lewis: It sounds like you're using custom software to isolate and leverage the natural leaders in different social networks with astounding speed; actually, to get the message you want into the mouths of the people with the influence to spread it. I know you've also worked with the Institute of Noetic Sciences and Mother Jones. Did you do similar work with them?
Aaron Pava: That's definitely one of the core tenets of what we do. I would say, to even further define it, one of the things we're about is building the network. We’re really empowering the edge of the network. So, for example, with the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS), they're an organization that has an incredible library, mostly in tape, of people involved in the potential movement, exploratory work on the edges of consciousness. They have vaults of information tied up. Our goal working with them was not only to go into those vaults, digitize, and create MP3s that are downloadable for their entire community of all the information they have on tape, but to build a community around that information. So every time that they upload one of the new... It’s an old tape, an archive tape, but they've digitized it. They upload that MP3 on the web. Every user could blog on it, every user could share other information about it, there are forums about it, and they can comment on each other's blogs. So, while every user might have a blog, you can actually go to that one piece of media and then see everyone who has written about that particular piece, the idea being that a whole community forms around that particular content. It's really our intention to empower the network that already exist, what we've done with IONS, and we just shared about with Jerry Brown and what we do with our other clients, at the end of the day, that's really what it's about.
Mark Lewis: Now, I know that outside of CivicActions, you're an accomplished trainer and coach through the Arete Center for Excellence. You work with people around self-realization, deepening their relationships, and achieving their goals. How does your work with CivicActions inform that work, and how does that work in the personal world transform what you do with CivicActions?
Aaron Pava: Well, there's actually a bit of correlation between the two. The work of Arete is really phenomenal, using community to reflect back the greatness or the blocks of someone inside the course, so that they could touch into that place and then bring it back out into the world, that they could be more in touch with who they authentically are. In other words, living your purpose, or living authentically, doing the work that you're truly here to do
So that's a lot of what the work we do at Arete is about, and that's really the type of work that we do with the clients of CivicActions. Almost every client that we work with, they're really in touch with something that's authentically, that they're really passionate about. People at ACLU are authentically passionate about civil liberties, and the people at the Free Software Foundation really are committed to free software for everyone, and Creative Commons, the same thing. These are all issues where the people who work with these organizations are in touch with the values of those organizations, and are committed to bringing it out more into the world. So the work of both of them deeply relates to each other.
Mark Lewis: Now, one of the reasons I wanted you on this show in the first place, is that I think of your work as an accelerator to empower people to get connected to, and communicate with, other people to synergize their resources and tap into one another's genius. I'm curious, what has it meant to you personally to make the choice to be involved in this kind of work?
Aaron Pava: Well for me, it has really given me the life that I love. I love being able to be a contribution to others and to hear other people's dreams. I find that the more connected you are to work that is authentic for you or touches your own heart, you attract others who are really committed to doing the same thing. I love talking with people about their "Aha!" moment, talking with people about dream projects and things that they're really interesting in building or bringing out to the world and then collaborating. To me, that's what it's all about, having a great time collaborating on projects that are really important to each of us.
The difference it has made in my life has been just waking up every morning, loving what I'm doing, not having enough time in the day to get it all done and then being excited the next morning to do it all over again, you know?
Mark Lewis: Ah, yes, as the saying goes, "When you love what you do, you never work a day in the rest of your life." We're about to take a quick break. When we come back, I'd like to ask you to talk about what it was like to take the risk to pursue your vision like this, not really knowing if it was going to work out. My name is Mark Michael Lewis, you're listening to "Money, Mission and Meaning" as we interview Aaron Pava. We'll be right back.
Mark Lewis: And we're back. I'm Mark Michael Lewis. We're speaking with Aaron Pava about using the power of technology and innovation to make a positive difference in the world. Now, I know the road you're traveling is essentially uncharted territory. There wasn't a description for helping people use social networks to achieve community-oriented values at some job fair you went to. So, what was it like for you to choose to risk leaving the more conventional career you had built to strike out on your own to pursue your dreams like this?
Aaron Pava: I think now, picking the fruits of it, it's been really rewarding. In the early days, I would say three or four years ago, when there was a lot of risk involved and it felt like everything was at stake, it felt really scary. It did feel uncharted and it did feel... I didn't know it was going to work out. I guess it was the feeling of, if this doesn't work out [laughs], then what?
I guess I reached a point where I was really clear that I didn't fit in a particular mold. I wasn't really interested in doing the eight a.m. to six or seven p.m. job every day. I was really interested in building my work around a lifestyle of being with friends and doing work that was really important to me, being able to travel, being able to have a family and spend time with my family inside of the work that I was doing. That it wouldn't take me away from that, but would actually bring me closer to that.
I don't know if you could really do work that you're passionate about and really connected to unless you take a couple of big risks, and the very nature of risk, it's scary and it's exhilarating. It's kind of like a roller coaster. In some sense, the whole point of it is to scare the wits out of you, and another sense of it is, because it's such a great ride, a great rush, that you want to do it again. I would say the other way that it's like a roller coaster is, in almost all likelihood, in my experience, if you do take the leap and you really go for it, that you're on a particular set of rails and it's going to work out, and you could just trust that.
Mark Lewis: Ah, yes, pursuing your purpose in the face of not knowing the results, but trusting it will all be for the best. Isn't this the great theme of faith that comes back again and again in literature, theology, relationships and everything of value, really? I call the show "Money, Mission and Meaning: Passion at Work, Purpose at Play" to discuss how easy it is to get caught up in the idea that we have work, responsibility and money on the one hand, and then on the other, passion, play and fulfillment when, really, they're not opposites but two sides of the same coin. Without passion, our work will never really be successful and, without actively working to bring our visions of beauty and possibility into reality, we'll never really be fulfilled. While people often talk about bringing a passion to work, there's less said about bringing the purpose normally associated with work to our play. What is it?
Aaron Pava: The business relationships have naturally turned into the personal relationships. I think that almost every client I work with is someone who, if I'm in their neck of the woods, if I travel to New York or if I travel to wherever they're at, that I could stop in and I could stay at their place, and we could talk about what the next project is, and then the network grows. I'll let them know, you should really connect with so-and-so, this is a great person who is really aligned with what you're about, and they'll do the same thing with me. It's like the personal network keeps on growing, the professional network keeps on growing. They're very much the same and, to me, the more people are connected with what's really important to their own heart, they attract other people in their lives that also do that. So, it is really fulfilling, it's really rewarding to be around people that love to do what they're doing.
Mark Lewis: Well, I certainly find that the more I put my heart on the line in my work, the more I attract the kind of people I can't wait to be around. How is your life and relationships changed through pursuing your purpose in your business?
Aaron Pava: I'd say that my friends have seen me take quite a few risks in the last four years or so, and really living a lifestyle that was paycheck-to-paycheck, in survival mode, around work that I wasn't really interested in, to living a life where I'm loving what I'm doing, I've been financially rewarded for that. I live in a beautiful home and I have the creature comforts that come with all that. I'd say that it had me settle more into my own self and have more of my self available to contribute back to my friends and support them in doing the same thing. Really creating courage, and helping blaze a trail for others to find their own courage to jump off and do their own thing.
It's quite rewarding to relate with people who are living purposefully and doing work they really love. It fundamentally transforms all the conversations that you're in. It transforms the amount that you're able to give back to other people. It certainly has been that way for me. I can't think of any area of my life that it doesn't fundamentally touch. I'm really doing work that's connected to my own purpose and what I'm here to do.
Mark Lewis: Well, thank you, Aaron. You've been an inspiration to me and, I know, thousands of others, and I appreciate you sharing your experiences on our show today
That brings us to the end of the show. Thank you for listening. Make sure to join us on our future shows of "Money, Mission and Meaning: Passion at Work, Purpose in Play" as we explore such issues as the importance of integrity in emotional development with Ed Mormer [sp], or the importance of fun and creativity in creating a productive work environment with Rich Davidson [sp] and much, much more.
For text and transcripts of this show, and other shows on the Personal Life Media network, please visit our website at www.personallifemedia.com. I've been your host, Mark Michael Lewis, for "Money, Mission and Meaning,” creating pleasure and profit in the business of life.
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