Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Chris Hughes: From Facebook to Politics to Philanthropy

My eldest son and I watched a homeless man panning at a junction that brings you into the Bay Bridge and out of San Francisco. We began to talk about how we would be able to help such people if we suddenly had lots of money. The discussion left me wondering if we would be dazzled by wealth and forget our social justice aspirations.

This post is a tribute to someone who hasn’t and an opportunity to highlight his latest venture.

You have to admire someone who is intelligent, articulate, rich, good-looking, and has values. I first heard of Chris Hughes, not because of his Facebook history, but when he took a significant cut in salary to help Barack Obama mobilize his online Presidential campaign.

Mr. Hughes could be forgiven for resting up at the tender age of 26, enjoying the life of the new rich, and wallowing in his own success. Instead (or hopefully as well as), he has directed his talent towards the launch of a website that will help connect individuals and organizations that are dedicated to create a better world.

He did take some time out after the Presidential campaign to travel around Asia, Africa and Latin America, but this just served to inspire his next project, as illustrated by the name of the website, Jumo, which means “together in concert” in Yoruba, a West African language.

You learn pretty fast that there is no magic solution to poverty. There are not even a single set of solutions or strategies that are going to be the answer to all of these challenges,” he said in a recent interview. “Instead you have to support all the individuals and organizations working on the ground doing good, valuable work.

Jumo will officially be launched in the fall. The idea is to create a website that can match people, their skills and interests, with the organizations who need them. This can best be achieved by utilizing the Internet to connect between individuals and causes that are important to them. When you make it easy for people, they will step up and get involved. I covered this in my novel, The Accidental Activist, which fictionalized the McDonald’s Libel trial in the UK, where the Internet debuted as an interactive advocacy website and took an integral role in the court case. The Obama campaign went on to prove this by reaching hundreds of thousands of voters and enlisting them by making them feel empowered and informed.

You can get a lot of people to give money if you show them a photo of a malnourished African child. That’s pretty similar to what we saw in the world of politics. Before the Obama campaign, the standard was to assume that people had short attention spans and that the message had to be that urgent action is needed,” Hughes said. “What we did with Obama is we took the leap of faith that people have longer attention spans and that if you really build a relationship with them and help them understand what the campaign is about, what the values are and why it is important for them to get involved, they will not only contribute once but over the long term.

Hughes wants to encourage people to donate not only their money in the wake of a natural disaster, but to consider offering their skills, before such an emergency happens.

I fundamentally believe that people have a genuine desire to be positively engaged in the world around them,” he said. “I don’t think the online world has yet caught up with that desire.

No it hasn’t, but thanks to people like Chris Hughes, it will.

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com




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