by Susan Josephs
Long before the era of Facebook and Twitter, Allyson Kapin used technology and her gift for marketing and communications to amplify grassroots organizing.
With tech, “I discovered I could immediately reach people where they are and mobilize them to take action,” she says.
A pioneer in online and social media advocacy, Kapin became both an entrepreneurial success story and a prominent champion of other women pursuing technology careers. Named one of the “Most Influential Women in Tech” by Fast Company magazine, she has launched trailblazing public awareness campaigns on the environment, healthcare reform and other causes for over 100 nonprofits as the co-founder of the Washington, D.C.-based online communications agency Rad Campaign.
She’s also the force behind Women Who Tech, an organization celebrating the achievements of women technologists, and is co-author of the recently published Social Change, Anytime, Everywhere. Always, she’s inspired to “shine a light and speak out” on inequality and injustice, whether that means creating the Women Startup Challenge, a new Women Who Tech venture to help fund female entrepreneurs, or petitioning the CEO of Twitter to remove a hashtag promoting domestic violence.
“What I love most about my work is dreaming up solutions to problems that exist.”
“I always have to believe in who or what I’m working for,” says Kapin of her success. “And when I really believe in an idea, I will do everything to make it happen.”
On any given day, the 41-year-old entrepreneur can be found developing web strategies for Rad Campaign, overseeing a Women Who Tech event, brainstorming ideas for her new startup #WomenBuilt, an online platform promoting women-created products, or appearing on television as a tech and social media expert. “What I love most about my work is dreaming up solutions to problems that exist,” she says.
Born in New York and raised in Miami, Kapin traces her entrepreneurial spirit to her father, “who always ran his own businesses,” and her passion for social justice to her mother, a social worker who “empowered others, and her two sisters.” Growing up, she also witnessed the transformation of Miami Beach, where “Cuban refugees and the elderly got evicted from their homes because the entertainment and modeling industry were moving in. This was one of my first experiences with injustice,” she says.
As a journalism and art major at the University of Miami, Kapin gained invaluable marketing experience promoting indie bands to colleges across South Florida for Sony Music. After graduating from college and deciding to “focus on more activist-type work,” she organized a film festival for the Miami Children’s Museum and earned a master’s degree in multi-media from American University just as “online advocacy was being born. It was a really exciting time to learn about tech,” she recalls of taking classes with professors who worked at AOL.
Kapin then went to work as a web editor at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, where she mastered the art of “creating and launching” online advocacy campaigns. In 2004, she and her future husband Jared Seltzer started their own web agency specializing in building websites and online campaigns for nonprofits and “we went into this knowing we needed to be passionate about every organization we took on,” she says of Rad Campaign’s early success.
Committed to sharing her expertise, Kapin devotes her spare time helping women entrepreneurs access more capital for their startups as well as serving on committees for organizations such as the Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN).“It’s important to give back to my community. I’m always thinking about what needs to be done,” she says. “Then I go out and find ways to do it.”