John Brennan: Mapping Social Change Around the World


In addition to promoting the concept of for-profit philanthropy, this series is designed to spotlight the amazing individuals who are creating new vehicles for change and innovating social good. One such individual, who is embarking on a journey to make taking social action easier, is John Brennan, creator of I’ and winner of the Social Actions Change the Web Challenge for his live map of change activity around the globe.
Every moment of every day, somewhere in the world, people are volunteering, donating, signing petitions, making loans and doing other important social work. But before John Brennan came along, there was no way to visualize this change in progress. Using the Social Actions API, which aggregates social action data from over 50 nonprofit and change organization sources, John has created geographical context around that activity in the hopes of sparking people’s desire to join in.
His goal is to create a compelling presentation where people can be excited about all of the work that is happening around the world to make it a better place. “A person might discover an interest in helping others abroad and feel a connection with what they’re doing by seeing it on the map,” says John. “Seeing a real location plus picture plus the related action goes a long way!”
More often than not, it’s not a matter of finding people who want to do their part, but providing them with the resources for what needs to be done. John’s map technology allows people to connect tangibly with a cause or activity to drive the corresponding action. And if everyone does their part, more dots on the map could translate into less work needed because change will already be in motion across thousands of miles of oceans and terrain.

1. How do you define for-profit philanthropy?
Simply put, I define for-profit philanthropy as sustainable. Organizations are less efficient if they have to worry about fundraising as well. An organization that say, builds wells really well, would operate most efficiently when they maximize the number of wells that can be built in an area. Efficiency is decreased, and therefore the clean water that would’ve been provided to other communities, is hindered by diluting efforts with fundraising activities.
For-profit philanthropy, if successful, could become more attractive to investors thereby growing the operation; in this case, more clean drinking water (wells). For example, the raw materials and labor could be found locally (and usually the communites want to help so they feel connected that their sweat went into it). Perhaps all those that use the well then pay for it in some way. Sure monetarily is one solution, but so is being required to tutor others, contribute to a technical problem with another organization (which could pay money to the well builders) or lend a hand in some other way.
It is something is doing and I remember reading one of their reasons for this was the potential to create spin offs of successful ideas that could function on their own. Now, that’s a great idea!
There are downsides, though, and I think those should be discusssed from the start. When investors are motivated by the bottom line (money, greed, fat pockets) sometimes morals go out the door (Wall Street). It would be a shame if certain business strategies were executed solely because of the bottom line as opposed to the good it could provide. I could almost see the situation exacerbated by the desire to maximize profit and therefore trying to “band aid” problems as opposed to solving it at the root because it increased margins by a larger percentage.
Still, I’m going to take an optimistic stance here. Sure, you must keep an eye on the bottom line, but perhaps those for-profit philanthropists are motivated by the same stuff Yvon Chouinard is (with Patagonia), and think of business decisions in terms of the triple bottom line — People, Planet, Profit.
2. Please describe your philanthropic business plan and your current charitable activities.
In the recent months, I have grown frustrated with the lack of transparency provided by many superb non-governmental organizations (NGOs). It’s a real shame that the efforts and impact that many NGOs are doing are going relatively unnoticed. We need to change this. Second, there is a lack of engagement between NGOs and potential donors. I don’t know the numbers, but I could take a guess that the same donors are coming back (hopefully), but what about new faces? I believe with transparency comes increased engagement. The main goal going forward, though, is to bring more attention to the people and organizations that are really making a positive impact on this world. And to those organizations that are inefficient and wasteful, I hope my work will light a fire under them to either change your wasteful ways or file for Chapter 11.
3. How do you communicate the impact of these efforts to your customers?
I’ve just started on this wonderful journey, and it actually started on Twitter, where I met you! I’d like to use the network I’ve built on Twitter, and the current momentum I have after winning the Change the Web Challenge to take this to the next level. Of course, I’m still meeting with organizations and other people in the industry to find out how best to serve them. Unfortunately, I’ve never been on the ground myself; I’m merely an enabler with the skills I’ve learned and tools I’ve harnessed. Now I’m trying to apply what I know to real problems — and am loving every minute of it!
4. Why do you think it’s important for companies to adopt philanthropy as part of their revenue model?
Because the social stratification we have in this world should be hard enough to swallow. People are willing and able all over the world. That’s not the issue. The issue is opportunity and I don’t want to rest until the “opportunity” playing field is leveled. I think that businesses need to adopt this stance as well so that we can encourage change broader and faster.
5. What would you say is the most critical element in successfully implementing philanthropic endeavors?
Transparency. And once you have demonstrated that, and elicited the resulting trust in the actions you are taking and the good things you are doing, word of mouth will follow. And I would probably say community/engagement runs a close second (generated by the word of mouth, and cultivated in building those relationships). I’m currently working to build a community, but I want to keep things as open as possible. I don’t want to own it. At the end of the day, if I have a roof over my head and food on the table, that’s fine by me (although I did live in a camper for 6 months eating quinoa and veggies, so I may not be the norm here!).
Name: John Brennan
Title: Founder/Social Change Agent
Company: JanisB
Twitter: @worldlyjohn

Gennefer Gross is a writer, producer and co-founder of Gross Factor Productions, an independent film and television company focused on scripted comedy. An avid writer, author and idea cultivator, Gennefer thrives on creativity and contributes regularly to Triple Pundit on a variety of sustainable business topics. She also pens the popular series Hollywood & Green, exploring socially responsible cinema that helps connect consumers with important causes and environmental issues. And somehow she finds the time to write for her own blog, Tasty Beautiful, covering food and fashion in and around Los Angeles. Gennefer will also be launching Philanthrofoodie(TM), a charitable venture designed to spark social change through shared food experiences. An eternal student of life with an eclectic background, Gennefer brings unique insights on everything from breakthroughs in renewable energy to the latest dish in celebrity consciousness.

2 responses

  1. Hi John:
    oh wow. this is so very, very good. Many congratulations.
    I’ve just tweeted about you so I hope you get more hits. I tried to sign in on the site but right now you’re only in the USA. Would love to know your global plans.
    And do take a look what we’re doing too at or on the B1G1 Global Village at
    Looking forward to hearing from you.
    Paul Dunn
    Sharing the joy of giving, every second, every day in every way
    Come join me at 
    Follow me on Twitter at

  2. @Paul:
    Thanks! Not sure what you mean by you couldn’t sign in because you’re not from the USA. It’s open to everyone on this planet. Can you tweet me what you did? (@worldlyjohn).
    If you’re interested, I wrote a follow up discussing where I plan to take this map. It’s opened a bunch of doors and I hope to drive open standards of transparency (which will bring engagement) for NGOs which will ultimately help everyone do more good.
    Thanks again!!

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