When activists besieged the streets of Seattle last year to protest the environmental policies of the WTO, they came together from all corners of the world — placards, chants, and passion in hand — to champion a cause and change the world.
Though their resistance and tenacity resembled that of Abbie Hoffman’s army of Vietnam protestors, this Seattle faction differed from its 1960s counterparts partially in the way it networked: over the Internet. The catalyst for a considerable number of WTO demonstrations was SeattleWTO, a non-profit group that possessed little more than an enthusiastic staff and a splashy Web site, designed free of charge by Communicopia Internet Inc. of Vancouver, British Columbia.
Long before Seattle erupted in riots community activists appreciated the Internet as a powerful tool for education and mobilization. But in the wake of Seattle WTO spread its message and enlisted so many demonstrators, it became abundantly clear that if non-profits could harness the grassroots power of the Web, they could engender a new faith in the democratic system and encourage a new wave of political interest and activism.
That is the vision and hope of Communicopia — a full-service, revenue-generating Web design company that it is helping non-profits accomplish important goals via the Internet. Communicopia offers a 30 percent discount to non-profit clients, and uses the revenue of its for-profit clients to cover the difference. The employees of the seven-year-old New Media company also donate 10 percent of their time to groups with social and environmental priorities — an investment that translated to approximately $60,000 in 1999.
Communicopia strives to balance the number of corporate and non-profit clients it serves, folding into the corporate price structure an allotment for the company’s non-profit work. That billing increase is a sacrifice many corporate clients are willing to make.
“The last decade’s focus on economic growth has really taken attention away from the environmental and the social side of the world,” says Jason Mogus, president of Communicopia. “I think our goals resonate with our corporate clients because we are working to improve an important issue you don’t hear a lot about in the business world.”
Despite its small staff (there are only 14 employees), Communicopia has already amassed a large base of corporate, environmental, social, and governmental clients including the Ecotourism Network of Canada, the University of British Columbia, and Greenpeace. Mogus says he plans to double the staff within the year and continue expanding into the US market.
Communicopia isn’t just surviving: It’s thriving. In fact, the company recently received just under $1 million from venture capitalists. “There are a lot of people interested in investing in us partly because we are a viable business and partly because of our social mission,” Mogus says.
Most importantly, Communicopia doesn’t believe money alone can solve the world’s problems. For Mogus and his colleagues, making an impact can begin with something as small as recycling paper in the office or encouraging employees to ride their bikes to work. Communicopia’s Yaletown offices in Vancouver were built using sustainable building materials that are designed to have a minimal impact on the environment. The employees even drink organic coffee that is grown on small, cooperative farms.
Mogus acknowledged that not every company can aim to maximize its profits and give back to society — but every busines can find a balance that works. “I think the idea of maximizing profits worked really well in a world that seemed to have no limits — in the 20th century,” Mogus says. “But today, only so much economic maximization that can go on without a social consideration.”