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Speakable CEO Jordan Hewson says activism can be as easy as ordering an Uber

The founder of social activism company Speakable spoke onstage at Code Mobile.

Jordan Hewson, Speakable CEO, at Code Mobile
Adam Tow for Recode

Can you make social activism a business? Jordan Hewson, the founder of Speakable and daughter of famed activist and musician Bono, is attempting to find out.

Hewson “experienced a lot of frustration” when she traveled with her family, for example witnessing the devastation while touring an HIV clinic.

“I was trying to combat that frustration and impotence,” she told The Verge’s Lauren Goode at An Evening with Code Mobile conference taking place at Ericsson’s Experience Center in Santa Clara, Calif.

Reading an article about Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani activist and recent Nobel Prize winner, inspired her mission.

“I had failed to do anything,” she said. “Perhaps if we made it easier to do something it would be more likely that we would.”

That was part of the impetus for starting Speakable, which places virtual buttons in news articles discussing social issues that allow readers to participate in civic activism by voting, signing a petition, tweeting a politician or making a donation.

So far, Speakable has partnered with Vice, the Huffington Post and the Guardian U.S. But Hewson has yet to determine a business model behind these “action” buttons, which are algorithmically placed within articles. In fact, the company doesn’t make any money from reader donations.

“There’s a misconception that social activism should be and feel really difficult,” she explained. “That’s not true. Organizations need your signature or funds to do what they’re doing — technology is in a place where activism is as easy as ordering an Uber or buying a dress online.”

In past interviews, Hewson said she didn’t expect to test revenue models until 2017. Asked whether Speakable buttons could appear within Facebook posts, Hewson was coy, only answering, “We might be.”

The company, which was launched in 2015, is based in Brooklyn and currently has 11 employees.

While Hewson is taking a page out of her father’s book, she says there are major differences in the way her generation chooses to donate to causes and take action and the way Bono’s generation does.

“Seventy percent of millennials consider ourselves social activists,” she said. “Technology makes it easier to participate than it was 20 years ago.”

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