ON LEADING PODCAST • Episode #18 • March 13, 2024

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Episode #18

Michael Silberman

On Empowering Civic Engagement

By Lori Brewer Collins

“Campaigning is about disrupting an existing system and transforming it into something new that reflects the interests of those who had the most to lose.”

In the realm of environmental activism and civic engagement, few names shine as brightly as Michael Silberman. A seasoned advocate for social change, Michael has dedicated his career to amplifying grassroots voices and fostering collective action on pressing global issues through the creative use of new technologies.

Through his work with organizations like Greenpeace, Oxfam, and UNICEF, he has left an indelible mark on climate advocacy, human rights, and humanitarian relief. He’s also helped private sector brands develop activism strategies and mobilize customers for social impact.

Most recently, Silberman founded Agora Futures, which is dedicated to helping large organizations surface new ways to navigate and address complex societal challenges. For example, he’s currently guiding an effort at UNICEF to harness data science and new data technologies like machine learning to improve the humanitarian sector’s response to emergencies. Alongside his work with organizations, Michael researches technology-driven threats to democracy and civil society – such as digital surveillance and disinformation.

“Who are my allies? Who are the potential blockers? How do I map the power dynamics of my own internal organization? Who are the people who may be interested but aren’t aware of why this change needs to happen?”

At the heart of Silberman’s contributions lies a deep-seated belief in the power of storytelling to drive change. Throughout his career, he has spearheaded initiatives that harness the potential of digital media to raise awareness, mobilize communities, and effect tangible outcomes. Whether through innovative campaigns, strategic partnerships, or thought-provoking content, Silberman has left an indelible mark on the landscape of digital activism.

Key Moments

  • The bread basket. Driving durable change at scale takes years, not days. But many stakeholders are impatient. So, deliver a “bread basket”. Satisfy the immediate hunger while the full meal is being prepared. Provide initial value to build trust and interest that keeps them at the table for the rest of the meal.
  • Expect the unexpected. Sure, there are a lot of issues that need immediate attention, but to drive real transformation, you have to get comfortable with nonlinear paths. When the unexpected inevitably occurs, you’ll be able to shift and ride the wave.
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