Two years and $10,000 in acceleration funding later, Diego Calegari, founder and CEO of Politize!, shares the impact of being a winner of the 2014
Is it possible that learning about politics can be easy, fun and done in a nonpartisan way, on a national scale? Find out as we share our history with Politize!
After almost 30 years of complete political apathy, in June 2013, Brazil was shaken by an unprecedented and surprising phenomenon: resented against the government and politics as a whole. Millions of young people suddenly took to the streets to lobby for better public services and social justice.
I was shocked. My generation had never seen anything like it, except in history books. And nothing really pointed that something of that proportion could happen in such short notice; it was like a spark in a haystack soaked in gasoline. It was new, it was shocking, and it was exciting.
Nevertheless, as motivated as we were, there was a problem. Almost no one knew what we were doing there. Nobody knew what our deepest dreams for our nation were or what we were really claiming. As strong as this may seem, my sentiment was that we were like cattle on a farm, moved by inertia.
June 2013 stayed in my head, in the shape of a few simple questions: How to transform this powerful, abrupt energy into sustained, qualified political participation, improving our democracy “to the bones”? What was the missing link, the ultimate obstacle to make this happen? The answer came in an equally sudden shock: knowledge.
As a poorly politicized people, in Brazil we know very, very little about politics in general, including our own political system. We are not taught about politics in schools, except in a frequently distorted and ideological way. We are not taught about it at home, except in the sense that we should hate it and all those involved. From our most tender age throughout our adult life, politics is presented to us as dull, hard to understand. We're told to be suspicious.
The consequence is obvious: our capacity for participation is extremely low. We make ourselves hostages of the will of professional politicians, elected by people who are obliged to vote (voting is mandatory in Brazil), even without understanding what politicians should do and how they should do it. As a matter of fact, most Brazilian don't even remember who they voted for two years ago.
Entrepreneurs see an opportunity and seize it at the right moment, with the tools they have in hand. Well, I saw the opportunity. First, people's interest about politics was rising fast, becoming the main subject in media coverage and in effusive conversations with friends. And second, mobile devices and the Internet were becoming more accessible in Brazil (ever for poor people), giving them the opportunity to get information anytime, anywhere.
Then came the idea to provide high-quality knowledge about politics to Brazilians all around the country, using technology to make it accessible. As that was how Politize! was born. We're a Web-based platform that provides high-level educational content about politics in a way that is easy, fun and without partisan attachment.
We ran the idea past some friends and fellow Global Shapers from our hub in Florianópolis and others in Brazil. The reaction was unanimous: “Lett´s do it!" An entrepreneurial movement was born.
As I said, entrepreneurs see and seize opportunities in the right moment, with the tools that they have in hand. And although we saw a clear opportunity, we lacked the basic tools to seize it.
One of the most important tools is knowledge. As a group of people armed with technology and some knowledge of politics, we started out building out the necessary capacity to endeavor such a task. In four months, we gave more than 120 talks with specialists in different fields to clarify our vision about what we should do and how we could and should it. And, again, we were inspired to say: “Let's do it!"
Another necessary tool is partnership. As we shared our dream to the other nine Global Shapers hubs in Brazil at the time (Porto Alegre, Curitiba, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, Salvador, Brasília, Manaus and Campo Grande), we gained a powerful set of partners. All our colleagues were very enthusiastic, and we turned Politize! into a multi-hub initiative. That was a major step, as we gained a lot in capacity. Since we have extraordinary people in hubs all around the country, with different set of knowledge and levels of inspiration, these extraordinary people instilled us with extraordinary motivation. And, again, we were ever more sure to say: “Let's do it”.
Last, but not least, we needed money. After all, operational costs would be required to get up and running. And, as we got to know about the Shaping a Better Future contest 2014, we thought one last time: “let's do it”!
After a long process, including conversations, votations and technical analysis, Politize! was selected as one of the grantees of Shapping a Better Future Challenge 2014. In that process, we learned that the pain that we felt was shared by many Shapers from many places, as many countries suffer as much as ours with “democratic deficit."
In the meantime, we started our own crowdfunding campaign in Brazil, raising R$ 67.395,00 (approx. US$21.000) through 552 donorsl. That was what we needed to set the project in motion and help our ideas become reality. In the first half of 2015, we focused on developing the platform, building in team capacity and figuring out how we were going to make learning about politics something new, that no one had ever seen in Brazil.
On July 1, Politize! finally launched. With a few voluntary writers, a minimal amount of content and a small team, our dream finally came true.
After one year, our results are encouraging. Politize! has gone from a small, obscure website, with 10,000 visitors to Brazil's largest political education platform with more than 1.7 million users who have accessed our educational almost 3 million times in a 12-month period. We cracked the top 5 in all Google searches about political issues in the country, surpassing almost all major news websites in Brazil. We generated national media coverage, as the one and only online channel providing high-quality educational content about politics in a fun, nonpartisan way.
Our content includes articles, infographics, quizzes and animated videos. Our users range from high school students to political science academics, representing all levels of interest and understanding. Our team is growing, as we were able to form new partnerships based on our initial success.
None of that would be possible without the support of our fellow hubs,
Now, Politize! starts a new endeavor: to develop educational gaming focused on political engagement for schools, to make learning about politics easy and fun for K-12 students around the country. We have developed initial prototypes and partnered with some schools to start testing. It's a new and exciting journey that will challenge us even more to build tools we need to keep making our dream come true. We hope to inspire fellow Shapers around the world to join us on our journey.
I will conclude with a Margaret Mead quote that has inspired us to keep going despite the many obstacles and challenges we've faced: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”
Diego Calegari is founding curator of the Global Shapers Florianópolis Hub in Brazil, and CEO of Politize!, a NGO spinoff from a multi-hub effort.