Would Martin Luther King Jr, Cesar Chavez or Mahatma Gandhi have entered a prize-driven competition for their respective causes?  Would their movements have been even more effective with the aid of the Internet and its social tools?

We’ll never know for sure, but we do know that many social movement organizations and grassroots organizers alike are starting to embrace the wild wild west of ‘e-organizing’: a landscape of new web-based tools and technologies designed to help self-organize large numbers of people and drive systemic change.

As you might have read recently in a SSIR email sent out to all magazine subscribers, Stanford students recently unveiled the first ever Movement Plan Competition.  This first year, this “Social-M Challenge” (‘M’ for Movement) is thematically focused on environmental sustainability and powered online by Blitz Bazaar, a new movement-management platform that makes it very easy for grassroots organizers to harness the power of the social web to start and grow a micro-movement, even for people with little comfort using the social web.  Full disclosure: I am the founder of Blitz Bazaar. 

Phase I of the challenge closed on January 29th with eighteen submitted movement plans, the best of which were awarded $1000 each. Now through February 27th, movement leaders will nurture and adjust their movements to the realities and lessons of campaigning.  The single best-realized and most-promising of the thirteen active social movements will be awarded $10,000. Challenge funding was generously provided by the following Stanford partner organizations: the Precourt Energy Efficiency Center, the Sustainable Stanford Green Fund, the Woods Institute for the Environment, the Office of Community Engagement and the School of Humanities and Sciences. 

If you check out the site, you’ll see PhDs, professors and undergrad freshman all taking collective action for the sustainability-related causes.  These are micro-movements that promote issues like vegetarianism, community supported agriculture (a.k.a, eat local food), ‘Green’ values for young children, reusable utensils, ending food waste, oil-free water in Ecuador and more.  Each movement is working towards a very specific goal and lists actions anybody can take to help further the goal.  Again, the movements are not limited to Stanford students so anybody can get involved.

In a new era defined by disruptive new social technologies and a market-driven approach to social change, it is not surprising that social movement-making be similarly incentivized.  Grassroots organizers can also be motivated using the same successful format that we’ve now gotten used to for business plans and more recently the X-prize foundation.  However, this value of this type of competition goes well beyond just catalyzing social movements and therefore social change. Anybody who’s participated in the more familiar business plan competitions in the past knows that it’s less about the money and more about the process. 

Our partners at Stanford, The Precourt Institute, The Woods Institute, and the Stanford Office of Sustainability, have been pleased with the Challenge so far for a couple reasons.  First it embodies the transdisciplinary approach the University is trying to advocate.  Doctors working with engineers, MBAs and lawyers to solve the healthcare debacle makes a lot of sense but it is hard to make happen in practice.  Secondly, Social-M is seen as a valuable tool for experiential learning in an ever-more important but largely ignored discipline: campaigning.  Lastly, it is technologically innovative by incorporating social networking and social media into the loop via Blitz Bazaar.

Contingent on successful results gleamed from this Stanford’s Social-M Challenge, you can expect this “Movement Plan Competition” format to spread just like the ‘social’ business plan competition format has proliferated in the last decade.  Many more Universities and Social Movement organizations are likely to embrace this format as an effective way to teach and catalyze the discipline of movement-making, a.k.a. campaigning.

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