Bono’s daughter creates a tech tool for civic causes
Stepping out of the shadow of her rock star father Bono, tech entrepreneur Jordan Hewson has launched an online tool designed to help people contribute to causes through a fast, seamless experience. Speakable, Hewson’s one-year- old tech start up, in October debuted a new Action Button that can be embedded on popular news websites. The button is an interactive tool that enables users who are reading a story about a given topic or issue to immediately take action — by donating money to a nonprofit working in the area, by participating in a poll or by sending an email to policy makers.
The Action Button is made possible by a snippet of code that resides on the publisher’s website. On articles about issues in which users might take action – Syrian refugees, education, for example – an Action Button box appears at the bottom of the page below the story.
Button offers ways to act
Speakable’s algorithm analyzes the content and perspective of each article and matches it with a nonprofit partner, offering the user an opportunity to contribute in some way. For monetary donations, the tool uses Braintree, a subsidiary of PayPal. Speakable also vets nonprofit partners to assure they are credible in the way they use donated funds and are having an impact. The 30 nonprofit partners include Amnesty International, Planned Parenthood, CARE, the International Rescue Committee, 350.org, and ONE, Bono’s nonprofit that focuses on fighting poverty.
Major publishers including the Guardian US, VICE Media and The Huffington Post, are already using the Action Button, and Speakable is working to line up more news organizations. A key feature is that the experience is designed to be seamless. The user can use the action button in real-time without leaving the page for another website, which can add time to the process that many are not willing to take.
Hopes to boost millennial engagement
Hewson, 27, said she came up with the idea for the action button because she believes her fellow millennials are not taking action on issues they care about simply because the process is often tedious and time-consuming. Prior to founding Speakable, Hewson was a founding editor of Global Citizen, a social action organization that fights inequality and poverty.
Hewson said she realized while working at Global Citizen that making it easier to action on issues would encourage more millennials were going to participate. “Millennials especially demand more from digital content,” Hewson said. “Our hope is that if we can make it faster and easier for people to take action, they “re much nmore likely to do it.”
$2 million in investment
Hewson, who lives in Brooklyn, New York, is the oldest of four children of U2 front man Bono and his wife, Ali Hewson. Jordan Hewson moved from Dublin to New York to attend Columbia University. In addition to her famous father, Jordan Hewson’s younger sister, Eve, is an actress whose appearances include the film “Bridge of Spies” which starred Tom Hanks.
The button is the first product of Speakable, a company Hewson founded in 2015 to use technology to increase civic engagement online. The company closed a $2 million round of investment in May. She said she is not aware of a tool exactly like Action Button in the nonprofit space.
Revenue model not determined
While it may help fill the coffers of nonprofit organizations, Action Button does not yet have its own revenue model. For now Hewson is focused on the mission of engaging millennials in civic affairs rather than figuring out how her product will earn revenue.
“We’re not focused on monetization right now,” Hewson said. The company does not plan to test possible revenue models until next year. If the tool achieves a significant scale, data collected from users might be valuable to publishers in selling their audiences to advertisers. News organization also will need to weigh whether a service like Action Button takes them over the line from reporting to advocacy.
Advocacy issue raised
Susan McGregor, assistant director at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, said active fundraising in areas that are politicized such as climate change or refugee assistance may pose philosophical dilemmas for news organizations.
McGregor said a firewall, like the one that typically exists between the editorial side and the advertising side of a news organization could address concerns. Another practical issue is whether users will stay on the page long enough to find the Action Box at the bottom. However, Hewson said the company hopes to get a higher page placement for the tool as it develops relationships with publishers and they are able to see how the button works.
Hewson also hopes to extend the tool to content beyond online news websites and stories. “My long-term vision for the action button is to go after other types of content, whether it’s a YouTube video or a documentary,” she said.