Andrew Slack

Ashoka Fellow
United States,
Fellow Since 2014
My work: Unleashing the voice and power of today's fan communities & turning fans into heroes working to force change.

Citation

This profile was prepared when Andrew Slack was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2014.
The New Idea
For centuries, people young and old have been swept up by the hero’s journey, told and retold in countless ways through oral and written stories, and more recently, film. Despite our present oversaturation in such tales, however, young people today widely report feelings of personal and civic complacency. Through the Harry Potter Alliance (HPA), Andrew is working to create a platform through which today’s vast online fan communities can become the heroes they read about, rather than mere voyeurs, and in so doing, harnessing the power of popular culture to make social change popular.There are today over 240 HPA chapters, largely on high school and college campuses in over 20 countries on 5 continents, who together operate as an open network, wherein fans are invited to participate online, as volunteer staff, and in local chapters. To date, HPA members have built libraries across the world and donated about 200,000 books locally and internationally. They have been credited with having helped to pass marriage equality in Rhode Island and Maine, as well as the Maryland Dream Act, and raised $123,000 in two weeks for Partners in Health, following the earthquake there. To Andrew, however, such achievements are dwarfed by a much bigger goal and impact: from the outset, he sought a low-barrier way to engage young people in a range of social and political issues that they might not otherwise be familiar with, inspiring in the process a lasting feeling of agency and commitment to social justice. While most active young people come from politically active families, the vast majority of HPA members do not. The result is a powerful model for modern civic engagement: one with vast implications not only for young people and self-described fans of a particular book or movie, but also for cause-based organizations looking to reach and ignite a younger audience.The last several years have served as a proof-of-concept: a laboratory through which Andrew could test different engagement strategies and advocacy tools, in order to deepen the idea’s reach and impact. He is now in the process of taking the principles honed through his work with Harry Potter fans, and applying them to a host of other fan communities through the Imagine Better Network, an emerging coalition of fan communities, nonprofit partners, authors, filmmakers, and other cultural influentials. The efforts are part of what Andrew calls, “cultural acupuncture,” designed to seize powerful threads in our popular culture, and to direct that energy toward positive social ends.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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