, the Dublin-based, technology-driven social enterprise startup, has yet to celebrate its second birthday, but it’s already looking to conquer its first overseas market: Minnesota. To mark its international launch, ChangeX held a (local) star-studded launch gala September 12 at the Pillsbury A-Mill Artist Lofts in St. Anthony Main. The event showcased remarks from CEO Paul O’Hara, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, Ramsey County Commissioner Toni Carter, and Ben & Jerry’s co-founder Jerry Greenfield (ice cream from Ben & Jerry’s was also on hand).
ChangeX is a standardized platform, or more accurately a collection of local communities, operating on the same digital architecture that puts proven social enterprise concepts in front of local stakeholders, who can choose to adopt or not adopt them at their discretion. Think of it as a bottom-up approach to philanthropy and community building — or, less charitably, Craigslist for social entrepreneurs. O’Hara wants to put 100 social change concepts to work in Minnesota within a year — an ambitious, “but hopefully possible,” goal.
“It’s crazy to think that barely a year ago, we were just getting started, and now we’re getting ready to launch in another country,” O’Hara said before introducing 10 potential change concepts. Among them: Men’s Sheds, an established international organization dedicated to improving social connections and quality of life for isolated men around the world; Welcoming America, an American charity built to bridge gaps in understanding between immigrants and the communities they seek to join; and Coder Dojo, an Irish initiative that makes programming languages fun and accessible for children of all ages.
According to O’Hara, the company’s engagement rates grew by an average of 120 percent per month
over the past year, albeit from a very small baseline. That kind of growth is almost unheard of, even in the tech world.
Still, the company’s experienced leadership, all too cognizant of the complexities of international business, remained reticent to move beyond its country of origin too soon. It took a decisive show of support by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Ben & Jerry’s charitable arm, plus a serendipitous encounter with the person who’d become their local leader—Jen Aspengren, a seasoned nonprofit leader most recently with Ashoka United States
—to change the calculus.
“We chose Minnesota for a combination of reasons,” said O’Hara, including “a vibrant civic society, a thriving nonprofit sector and a variety of social issues” that the ChangeX team felt its platform could tackle. The linchpin, he added, was Aspengren, who has a big task ahead of her. She’ll play a key role in what O’Hara calls ChangeX’s “humble” goal: improving the lives of 1 billion people over the next 10 years. “Improving” is defined pretty broadly here, but even so, O’Hara readily admits he “has no idea how we’re going to do it.”
Nevertheless, local leaders are happy to have a new social enterprise kid on the block. “So many folks out there are creating these nuggets [of ideas] that can change the world,” said Mayor Coleman, adding that “the more dysfunctional our federal and state governments get,” the harder it is to achieve real change through traditional top-down processes.
Fittingly, ChangeX’s Minnesota experiment will sink or swim on the strength of the state’s greatest asset: its people. “This whole thing is pointless without you all,” said O’Hara, gesturing to the gathered crowd. “So please share your ideas, join other initiatives and spread the word about ChangeX.”