Arriving on campus in the fall of 2004, Morgan Goodwin wasted little time making his presence felt. Disappointed in the complacency he saw among his peers, Goodwin and a friend decided to stir things up. One night in November, as their entry prepared for Sunday Snacks, the two gathered in the stairwell of Sage Hall. Goodwin glanced at his watch. “On the count of three, we go. One. Two. Three.” The two young men stripped out of their clothes and began sprinting from common room to common room, yelling hysterically as they crashed through the hallways. For five minutes, the calm of a Williams Sunday was replaced with chaos and bewilderment.
“When I first arrived, Williams felt oddly complacent. Streaking was a way to shake things up, get some discussions going, and make people question their social values.” A few weeks removed from the first run, Goodwin organized the first ever “finals streak,” convincing seven others to join him on a tour through Sawyer Library. The group has since become known as the “Spring Streakers.”
A campus celebrity from his nude runs, Goodwin spent the next three and a half years challenging the status quo and encouraging others to do the same. He moved into leadership positions across campus, becoming a JA, the student body President, and the founder of Thursday Night Group – an organization dedicated to addressing climate change. From these positions, Goodwin refused to accept the answer “because that’s how it’s always been” when he saw something wrong. He pressured the college to commit to reducing carbon emissions. He organized trips for students to attend rallies in DC so they could see change firsthand. When a racist incident revealed the need for greater discussion about the campus community, he helped organize Claiming Williams Day. “I feel like a lot of the things I did at Williams were done so that people would think of me as someone other than the streaker.”
When it came time to think about life after Williams, Goodwin was disdainful of the standard routes. A strong student and widely recognized leader, he had no shortage of options, but he had no interest in the traditional paths of success. “[Then President] Morty Schapiro once told me, ‘a guy like you could go work for Goldman Sachs for two years and have the experience and capital needed to go do what you want for the world.’ I think that advice was genuinely offered, but I found the whole mentality really problematic. Somehow I don’t think that encouraging smart young people to go work for the biggest and most established corporations and then become change agents is going to get us where we need to go.”
Instead, Goodwin did what most Williams students fear most: he bounced around. “The theme of my experiences after Williams was saying yes to a lot of random things with short-term commitments that often had shaky financial underpinnings.” He worked 3-6 month stints in North Adams, Cleveland, China, Long Island, Washington DC, and Australia.
Following graduation, he stayed in the Berkshires to help encourage the growth of a green economy. He followed that up with a few months educating young voters about environmental issues in the run-up to the 2008 election. After that, he hopped on a plane to China with a reservation for 3 nights in a hostel, a return ticket 3 months later, and a stack of business cards that simply read “Social Entrepreneur.” When he returned to the States, Goodwin worked for a solar energy start-up on Long Island. Everywhere he went, his employers tried to entice him to stay longer, but he resisted.
After his stint in Long Island, Goodwin went back to Williamstown with no plans and no job prospects. Within a few days, he received a call from Avaaz – an international campaigning organization with a worldwide membership of nearly 39 million that works to affect progressive change around the world.
As Goodwin describes, Avaaz’s “mission is to close the gap between the world we have and the world most people everywhere want. The mission is really profound because it makes a couple radical assertions. One is that there is a world that most people everywhere want and that our job isn’t to argue over the details of exactly what that world looks like but to close the gap a little bit during our brief time here. It allows us to be incredibly pragmatic in some instances and incredibly idealistic in others.”
Avaaz has used its wide reach to take action on a broad range of issues, including lion poaching in South Africa, dumping of coal in the Great Barrier Reef, and sex trafficking in international hotels. Avaaz looks for global issues that are not getting enough attention and then uses petitions to decide whether or not to take action. “We look for unique moments that capture the world’s attention and try to channel that into tangible improvement.”
At the time, “Avaaz was setting up a climate action committee of 20 youth activists living in Washington DC” in advance of a global climate change conference. The activists would come up with ideas to publicize the need for climate change legislation and Avaaz would fund their efforts. “They said, ‘if you want to get arrested, check with us first, but we’ll probably say yes.’”
Goodwin was in. He spent the next few months organizing protests and rallying other activists. One of his stunts involved issuing a press release pretending to be from the US Chamber of Commerce announcing that it was now supportive of robust climate change legislation. “Our release was reported as real news by MSNBC and Fox Business News.” Goodwin and his conspirators were sued but charges were eventually dropped.
After a six-month stint in Australia, Goodwin was able to land a full-time position with Avaaz as a campaigner/data technician. Nearly four years later, he is still with the organization.
Goodwin’s day-to-day varies widely. “Three months after I joined, I was going to Best Buy, purchasing satellite phones, and putting them in duffle bags to send to Cairo and Algeria and Syria so that we could blackout proof the Arab Spring… Because we started sending Syria equipment early on, we were the only organization able to document protests in Syria.”
Last year, he worked on developing a new form for receiving donation requests. Shortly after that, he helped migrate the organization’s platform to the Amazon cloud. “Half of my role is working as a campaigner. I write text for fundraising emails, fact-check our releases, build connections with partner organizations, etc. What makes Avaaz amazing is that its work runs the gambit, and it trusts the staff to learn on the fly. The other half of my work, and the reason I got the job, is working with their data and the technical side.”
The technical work is a big change from his days leading organizations at Williams, but to Goodwin the overall mission overcomes any need to be in a top leadership position. “The day-to-day work is stimulating and fulfilling, but I wouldn’t do the same work for a dating app. What keeps me going is thinking about the potential that Avaaz has to be ten times bigger and more powerful than we are now, and the potential we have to be a leading player on a lot of big issues.”
Eventually Goodwin could see himself in a leadership role helping set the course for an organization like Avaaz, but he is in no rush to get there. “To me Avaaz is a long-term project. I could see myself still working there in fifteen years. In order to do so, I’d rather not burn myself out and meet some life goals in other ways. I’m able to have a healthy outdoor lifestyle and work on local issues that I care about.”
That desire for balance and the ability to work remotely has led Goodwin to settle in Truckee, CA, a sleepy mountain town a few miles from Lake Tahoe. This fall Goodwin is also running for town council.
Asked what advice he would give to current students, Goodwin challenged the idea of following an established path. “If you’re doing the college thing because that’s what you do after the high school thing, and then you’re doing the first job thing because that’s what you do after the college thing, and then you do the grad school thing because that’s what you do after getting some real world experience, then you’re just getting by. If you’re just looking for ways to get by and you’re smart enough to have gotten into Williams, there is no shortage of opportunities.
“If you allow yourself to see the ways in which you really want to make a contribution to the world, even if you think it’s too ambitious or too crazy, and you’re willing to follow that passion and take the blows as they come, that shines through in a job interview so much more than whether you checked the right boxes on your resume. It doesn’t have to be fully thought out, you just have to trust that your own gut is going to guide you and that you are going to work to overcome hardships.”
As our conversation drew to a close, Goodwin returned to his Sunday streak through the halls of Frosh Quad. He’s more than “the streaker” now, but something in that challenging spirit remains. It’s that spirit, that willingness to embrace the unknown and take on the status quo, that has guided Goodwin.