The Ignatian Solidarity Network (ISN) works to connect and unite members of the Jesuit network to advocate for a variety of social justice issues. During the past 15 years, ISN has witnessed the evolution of networking as the influence of the internet and social media have increased, reducing the limitations of working with a national network. ISN has consequently gained insights into best practices around 21st century online networking and advocacy, providing a variety of programs and opportunities for members to connect and advocate from where they live.
One example of a successful national networking program at ISN is the Ignatian Carbon Challenge (ICC). The idea for the program began with two teachers at Cheverus High School in Portland, ME. They sought a way to bring Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ to life in the classroom and reached out to ISN to see how they might connect with other high school campuses with similar goals. Through the power of networking, ISN was able to collaborate with science and theology teachers from across the country to create a series of challenges that encouraged students at Jesuit high schools to promote care for creation through individual and institutional actions. 26 schools and around 5,000 students participated in the first year of the ICC.
As with any campaign, innovation and flexibility are essential, and this year, in addition to the ICC high school program, ISN developed a mini-campaign to invite members from the greater Ignatian network to participate in the Plastic Free Lent Challenge. During Lent, over 250 people committed to “giving up” single-use plastics as a spiritual practice. Participants learned about the harmful effects of single-use plastic and alternatives through weekly emails, prayed for the grace of “ecological conversion” with prayer resources, and were provided opportunities to advocate for change on a local and national scale. Participants were also encouraged to connect on social media to share struggles and suggestions during the plastic fast.
Mini-campaigns—brief, simple, and time-specific initiatives—give people from across the network the opportunity to join in a united effort, educate themselves, and take concrete action on social justice issues. These campaigns can be quite empowering, as complex social justice issues can leave people feeling paralyzed (i.e. I can’t stop climate change, fix the immigration system, etc.). By providing education and concrete action steps, individuals are invited into the work at a level that feels manageable and encourages future engagement.
ISN believes that these campaigns are an important best practice in the digital age and meet a need for concrete action, rather than mere passive consumption. As we seek to heal divisions, this form of digital networking reminds people that they are not alone in their journey to build a more just world.