Changing the Game - Results Of #15ForAda
How Tech Conferences Can Be Agents Of Positive Social Change
tl;dr - JSConf US 2013 attendees and organizers raised $5,000 for the Ada Initiative, who advised the organizers on how to attract more women and improve diversity overall. Attendees contributed $2,550 directly, and the JSConf organizational team matched 50% of attendee donations, as well as donating a further $1,175 to bring the total to $5,000. The JSConf organizers hope to set a strong precedent for other conferences by becoming an active agent for positive social change.
A Template For Collaborative Social Change
Inspiring social change sometimes feels like an almost impossible task. Without question requires a large amount of effort, dedication, and perseverance. At JSConf, we are committed to not just putting on a conference, but to addressing and fixing the issues within our communities, both at a micro and macro level. The issue of gender and racial diversity is something we have been constantly working to fix for the past 4 years through positive social efforts.
This year, we decided to team up with our attendes and the Ada Initiative, a non-profit supporting women in open technology and culture. We worked directly with Valerie Aurora and Mary Gardiner to design a partnership that was not only easy to repeat, but benefited both conferences and partnering organizations.
Our idea: Turn conferences into an active tool of social change by creating a partnership between the attendees of a conference and organizations already working to create the social change we all want in our community. Conference organizers do this by making it easy for attendees to support that organization, either socially or financially. In return, the organization (if requested) supports and advises the conference organizers to create a more welcoming conference atmosphere, and a more diverse speaker and attendee base. The conference also attracts more attendees by making a clear statement about its values and, by implication, the quality of the conference. As a result, the partnership directly helps the community, the conference, and the partnering organization.
Our hope is to inspire other conference organizers and attendees to create their own partnerships to work together with them to do amazing things, thus making conferences an action point for much needed social change.
What We Did
For our specific implementation, we setup the #15ForAda campaign that encouraged our attendees to contribute to the Ada Initiative as part of their ticket purchase by including an opt-out $10 donation to the registration form. Their statement was loud and clear: improving the diversity of the conference is a critical, important, and majority concern. 85% of our ticket purchasing attendees contributed $10 above their ticket price to help support the campaign.
"This is amazing. What it means is 85% of the people at JSConf care about bringing more women in their community not just in a casual, 'Oh yeah, that would be nice,' kind of way, but enough to put their money where their mouth is," says Valerie Aurora, executive director of the Ada Initiative. "Just getting this data about the level of support is a huge contribution from the JSConf organizers."
We also believe that the majority of technologists want to improve diversity within the community, but don't have an obvious channel or process by which to do it. By partnering with the Ada Initiative, we were able to collectively identify, automate, and execute this very successful and socially positive campaign. In the end, we were able to raise awareness and funds for the Ada Initiative, increase our conference's speaker and attendee diversity, and show the values and beliefs of the JSConf community.
Each $10 donation was matched with a $5 donation per ticket by the JSConf US organizers, raising an initial $3,825. The JSConf team from around the world made a group decision to individually contribute to bring the donation up to a round $5,000 and make the overall sponsorship in the name of the JS community. We did this because supporting women in our community is part of our mission and we believe it is something that needs to be done more frequently.
Please Steal Our Idea
We, like many of you, are firm believers in the benefits of open source and those benefits are not limited strictly to software source code. We would like to encourage other event organizers to take from our example, adopt it, and make it your own. Find the right organization to work with, one that you and your attendees believe in and will commit to support. Ask that organization to be an advisor to your event, look to them for assistance, and, most importantly, share a common goal. By doing this, we can make conferences a positive beacon for social change that our respective audiences not only want us to be, but expect us to become.
We will gladly support in whatever fashion appropriate any other conference or event organizer(s) that would like to attempt a similar effort. If you have any questions, we are here to help at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
About the Ada Initiative
The Ada Initiative is a non-profit dedicated to increasing the participation and status of women in open technology and culture (open source software, Wikipedia, open data, fan culture, etc.). Founded by Mary Gardiner and Valerie Aurora in 2010, the Ada Initiative works with the open tech/culture community to change the culture to be more welcoming of women and more diverse in general. The Ada Initiative works with conference organizers around the world to find easy, practical ways to increase speaker and attendeed diversity. Their example code of conduct for conference attendees is used by hundreds of open tech/culture events around the world. Learn more at http://adainitiative.org/what-we-do/.
JSConf is a unique conference organization, because we aren't really a conference organization at all. We are a very loose federation of developers who share the same general idea about how a technical conference should be held. We don't believe that one model or process fits all communities, in fact we are big advocates of locally run events driven by passionate individuals dedicated to the community. We make events that aren't from the standard conference playbook because we believe you (attendees, speakers, and sponsors) deserve more than that. We focus on two things, pushing the boundaries of what is thought to be conceivable with JS and providing exceptional human social activities that encourage community and friendship building. That sets the general tone for each of our events and from there, local individuals from each region drive the conference to its own incredible level of excellence. Our mission is to make the technology community better, more diverse, and more human; in short, we just want to make things better. JSConf does not focus on what is popular or cool now, but on topics that define and revolutionize the following year of technology. We have been the launching point for some of the most revolutionary products, services, and technologies on the web. We have also been the inspiration point and support base for a wide range of conferences beyond the "JSConf" name, but still retain the very essence of what makes JSConf special.