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The Daily Need

The Facebook co-founder who got away

Photo: flickr/Steve Rhodes

While Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg edges his way up Forbes’ list of the richest people in America and is cast as villain in the must-see movie “The Social Network,” (premiering tonight at the New York Film Festival), his co-founder Chris Hughes is about to launch a new social network — one aimed at fighting poverty and its attending ills.

Hughes left Facebook in 2007 to work for the Obama campaign and revolutionized politicking with his new media strategy, centered around My.BarackObama.com, an online community for supporters of the now-President.

Hughes’ newest project, Jumo, a social network for the social justice sector, is expected to launch this fall.

We grabbed Hughes at the Blouin Creative Leadership Summit, a multidisciplinary forum that runs concurrent to the U.N. General Assembly.

Lauren Feeney: Let’s start with Facebook. When you were first starting out, did you have any idea how great an impact and reach this idea would have?

Chris Hughes: When we started Facebook back in 2004, it was a really basic idea, just to help people — at that point at Harvard — talk a little bit about who they were and find friends to stay in touch with. So, we didn’t have an idea of how large it would become, but the basic idea was something we knew from the start would appeal to a lot of different people — in fact, just about anybody. It’s something that people share across cultures, across geographic boundaries, this basic urge to connect to the people that we care about and keep in touch with them. Now that it’s exploded to 500 million active users, it’s become a very different beast.

Feeney: If you had stayed on, would Facebook look any different?

Hughes: Well Facebook is a great example of a product that’s led by Mark Zuckerberg as a visionary, but has scores and scores of people working on it day in and day out, and each one of those people has some impact on what the user sees. That’s one of the great things about working at a place like Facebook. I was fortunate enough to take a leave in 2007, and go and work for the president, for Barack Obama and the campaign and to try to apply what I learned at Facebook there.

Feeney: Can you tell us about your latest endeavor, Jumo?

Hughes: After the Obama campaign, I came to New York and started talking to people and groups that I shared a lot of values with. And I heard the same thing again and again, which was, we really don’t know how to use social media, let alone the other digital tools at our disposal, to strengthen our organization and help us do our work better. And you can only hear the same thing so many times before you see a real opportunity and want to try to act on it.

The basic problem is that there are millions of people and organizations working on the ground day in and day out to solve lots of really important problems, whether it’s healthcare, education, financial markets, but there’s no backbone on the Internet for them. There’s no simple protocol for you to go and find a person or an organization that’s important to you and follow it or support it. So we’re trying to build just that, a social network for the social sector.

Feeney: The U.N. General Assembly meets this week, and up for discussion are the Millennium Development Goals, which the world is struggling to meet. Do you see what you’re doing as related?

Hughes: Well, the Millennium Development Goals are a really important statement of intent on behalf of the nations of the world to take on the issues of global economic injustice. What we’re trying to do with Jumo is strengthen the network of actors that are on the ground right now working on these MDGs, and whether they’re formally or not formally affiliated with the U.N. isn’t really important to us. What’s more important is that the everyday person who’s out there in the world can find support from everyday people here in the United States who care about an issue. It’s also important to note that there are real problems that we have here at home, whether it’s with our education system, or with our job markets, homelessness — the list is too long. So we want to empower people who are working here in the United States to further social justice as well.

Correction: an earlier version of this article stated that Hughes left Facebook in 2006; in fact he left in early 2007.

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