Does getting involved in social change work help you meet people, make friends and even find love? And would it matter if it did?
If the goal is to grow resilient people-powered movements, then it is essential that participation improves lives, not just after we win, but now, as a direct benefit of participation.
I’d like to think that any activity through which we embody positive vision through action would lead to such communal and personal enrichment. Though if we’re honest, that isn’t always the case… yet.
The Singles Project is a new values-based dating app that aims to facilitate just this kind of social enrichment through activism while simultaneously channeling funds into liberatory organizations. It’s the startup concept of a virtuous circle aimed at movement building instead of profit. Perhaps it’s even mutual aid.
Over 30 percent of adults in the U.S. have used online dating services at some point, with numbers growing each year. Like most commodified products and services, we’re told there is “something for everyone” in the dating-app scene.
Yet what if what we want is to decommodify love while still being able to take advantage of the technological and fundraising potential of a dating app? What if there was a convenient tool available for people interested in social change to meet each other while participating in activism?
In this interview, Niclas Widmark, activist and co-founder of the Singles Project, discusses these possibilities.
Please introduce yourself and the Singles Project.
I’m Swedish but I grew up in New England and now live in Sweden again, so I’m fairly well versed in both cultures. I realized that change was possible about 10 years ago and have been increasingly involved in various movements since then. Mainly in the climate justice movement, but since all areas of justice are inextricably linked, I work in a variety of them. My main focus is on raising awareness about ways of exercising democracy and power through collective democratic participation.
I’m especially inspired by a Gandhian understanding of change, where the real challenge isn’t just making people realize what is wrong but mobilizing them to act on what they already know to be wrong. This mobilization can only be achieved if people understand the power they have. Beyond organizing, one of the ways this realization can be had is through participation. It becomes a symbiotic loop.
This leads to our app. Singles Project is a fundraising and volunteering platform in the form of a values-based dating app. We invite you to join our app once you’ve donated through our site to any of the participating nonprofits. The volunteering function facilitates participation beyond donating.
Our company is self-financed and structured as a worker cooperative here in Sweden, where we’re based, and as a public benefit corporation in New York (turns out international coops are quite tricky). We’re hoping to advocate for economic democracy by becoming a popular example ourselves.
What are your thoughts on the wider dating-app scene versus the Singles Project?
There are around 5,000 dating apps/sites in the U.S. alone, so I’m honestly not very well acquainted with it. Our goal is to appeal to the very best in people by asking them to engage in an act of goodwill to join our community of common causes and hoping that they carry that sense of goodwill and solidarity with them when interacting with others who share their values and interests. We also encourage members to go beyond a donation and get involved in the community, which can hopefully be harnessed into a form of movement building. I’ll let readers form their own opinions as to how that sets us apart from other dating apps.
What was the inspiration for the Singles Project and how did you get started? What was the process and experience like going from idea to launch?
I’ve been working on this for nearly 15 years in various team constellations, so it’s taken a lot of twists and turns. The fundraising aspect came about in conversation with a friend who mentioned the idea of bundling local newspaper subscriptions with donations to community causes, which I adapted to the context of a dating app as there’s a natural symbiosis between goodwill and love. I’ve always wanted to meet someone who dedicates themselves to humanity, so creating a forum aimed at attracting that particular crowd was a real driving force.
There have been lots of challenges along the way, but the most daunting was probably finding a co-founding programming partner who was willing and, perhaps even more importantly, able to work on this as a side project until we were ready to launch. Luckily I found that in Jørgen Teunis.
Where is the project now and where do you hope to go? Have there been any significant changes in the vision along the way?
We’re in the process of onboarding nonprofits and aiming for a launch around Valentine’s Day here in Sweden, followed by New York, Washington D.C. and California. This phase has focused a lot on seeking out and developing relationships with others who get excited about potentials for more love in activism and more shared activism in relationships.
For example, regarding their collaboration with us, Pia Björstrand, an attorney in Sweden and spokesperson for the climate justice organization Klimataktion [Climate Action] says, “We need more love; both on and for the earth. Klimataktion is happy to help spread love while also getting an opportunity to increase awareness about how we can help protect the earth.”
If readers know of any nonprofits registered in these mentioned regions that are seeking an extra fundraising channel and more volunteer engagement while also helping their supporters connect with one another, let us know.
In addition to sowing the seeds of love and solidarity, we’re looking to address urgent problems that require immediate attention, while also highlighting solutions to systemic failures in our political economy.
I’d like to explore more about how you see this project connecting with vision and strategy for social change — could you speak to that?
Generally speaking, businesses, and especially startups, are supposed to have one main focus. We have five.
Our most immediate goals are to be an effective fundraising incentive for nonprofits while helping our donor-members make meaningful connections based on mutual values and common causes. We also want to boost collective participation through our volunteering function, which we hope can be a conduit for movement building. As a company, we want to promote and advocate for the concept of the democratic solidarity economy by serving as a popular example thereof. All in all, we hope this combination adds to a more participatory and democratic society in general.
Most social change-oriented organizations engage in fundraising and for many, it’s a significant part of their workload and it even guides strategy. What are your thoughts on fundraising for social change? How does this relate to building community and collective power?
There’s a great quote from MLK that guides our broader thinking: “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it understands that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”
So taken in isolation, we naturally understand that getting more people to be monthly donors won’t change the world. But there are plenty of causes, like homelessness and the climate crisis, that are extremely urgent and desperately need financial support. That’s a starting point, and needs to be kept up until such time as we manage to collectively solve these crises. We think the incentive of gaining access to our community of common causes can mobilize a major and rolling source of donations for organizations doing this work.
Building on this, we hope that our volunteering function can be one of many ways to catalyze mass collective democratic participation. A step toward movement building. Once you get involved you start to realize that your efforts do in fact make a difference. This realization is empowering and can lead to sustained participation.
There are plenty of examples of building community and exercising collective power through people-powered campaigns with profound effect, like Obama and Bernie’s campaigns. Unfortunately, they both pulled the plug on those movements once their campaigns were over, but there’s nothing stopping us from gathering behind a common vision and doing it on our own.
How do you see the value of love and connection in a time of rising fascism?
We know that fascism, racism and sexism, just to name a few, are based on fear, “othering” and disconnection. In a word, hate. But as Mandela observed: “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
Well, love and connection also foster solidarity, which is the basis for democracy. It’s worth remembering that democracy isn’t just a mechanism or method, it is a value in and of itself. It is when a group of people collectively decide to codify everyone’s equality. What we need to do now is expand democracy, not limit it. This means increasing participation, which brings with it solidarity. Any approach that can help get people involved should be pursued.
So while you’re right that fascism is on the rise, so too is activism, and there’s no reason that our wave of solidarity and humanity can’t prevail. Like Mandela said, love comes more naturally than its opposite.
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