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Insights from TED2017

April 26, 2017

As this newsletter lands in your in-box, Meredith (ProSocial Founder & CEO) is sitting with thought leaders from around the globe excitedly listening to dozens of accomplished speakers deliver 18-minute talks on “ideas worth spreading.” Exhausting and rewarding, the TED Conference is the world’s flagship annual Technology, Entertainment, and Design convening. It is an extraordinary meeting of ideas, minds, networks, and institutions and a catalyst for a better future.

TED is being held in Vancouver, and presenters, including scientists, activists, artists, authors, entrepreneurs, and others, are addressing the theme of “The Future You"—with talks exploring technology advances, medical discoveries, tools for personal growth, and the priorities of our planet.

At TED, surprises are the norm. This year (as you may have already seen in the news), Pope Francis joined virtually—appropriate to the theme—to share a TED talk recorded in Vatican City. He spoke passionately about the dangers of being “centered around money and things, instead of people,” the need to overcome a “culture of waste,” and the values of equality, social inclusion, and compassion for others. Ultimately, he suggested, our brightest future will come from the recognition that we are all connected.

He encouraged each individual to hold out hope for that vision of the future. “And then there will be another ‘you,’ and another ‘you,” and it turns into an ‘us.’ And so, does hope begin when we have an ‘us?’ No. Hope began with one ‘you.’ When there is an ‘us,’ there begins a revolution.”

The Pope was modeling the very behavior he is espousing. By encouraging hope and imagining aloud a better future, he is changing the world and creating change makers. His intended audience extended was not only the “grasstops” influencers in the room but also others across the globe. It’s a powerful and energizing example that mirrors the work we do. 

Follow along with the latest news and videos from TED2017 here.


Discovering the Meaning in Life

April 26, 2017

Scientists have found an important factor that links people who are healthier, happier, more satisfied and successful at work, and even live longer—and we’re not talking about diet, exercise, or sleep. So why don’t more people know about the importance of purpose? 

That’s something ProSocial is working to help change on behalf of the John Templeton Foundation, which funds research that explores contributors to human flourishing. A sense of purpose in life includes a combination of goal-directedness, commitment, personal meaningfulness, and a vision beyond oneself, and there are ways to cultivate it, according to Kendall Cotton Bronk, an associate professor of psychology in the Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences at Claremont Graduate University.

The Purpose Challenge campaign, launching later this year, will focus on promoting purpose among high school seniors. Working in collaboration with UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, we’ve brought together experts such as Bronk, who studies purpose and youth development, Ethan Sawyer, better known as the College Essay Guy, and others.

We’ve also tapped the genius marketing minds behind the Red Bull brand. Creative agency Kastner & Partners will develop video content and surrounding messaging for The Purpose Challenge. From extreme sports and stunts that reinforce the message that “Red Bull gives you wings” (e.g. their YouTube video, livestreamed by more than 8 million viewers, featuring Felix Baumgartner freefalling from outer space to earth for 24 miles at more than 800 miles per hour) to the “Like A Girl” campaign, developed for Always, that powerfully called attention to society’s role in the precipitous drop in self-confidence girls experience during puberty, K&P will bring break-the-mold thinking to this important philanthropic initiative. 

So we are excited, for sure, to see what our collaboration generates to inspire young people to rise to the challenge and explore their purpose. We’ll share that with you in a few months!

See Jane Make Cities Run

April 26, 2017

“If I were running a school, I’d have one standing assignment that would begin in the first grade and go all the way through school, every week: that each child should bring in something said by an authority—it could be by the teacher or something they see in print, but something that they don’t agree with—and refute it.” —Jane Jacobs

What makes a city vibrant, safe, and functional for residents? Writer and activist Jane Jacobs (1916-2006) had plenty to say on that subject, and although she wasn’t trained as an urban planner, her people-watching observations and opinionated commentary wound up shaping both city landscapes and approaches to public transit, urban design, and public policy. Citizen Jane, a documentary film out this month, shares archival footage of city life from the 1950’s and 1960’s and recounts Jacobs’ fight to preserve neighborhoods like New York’s Greenwich Village from the wrecking balls of tyrannical real estate developer Robert Moses, who sought to construct expressways and monolithic, uniform building complexes. Her David-and-Goliath story resonates today as a playbook of grassroots organizing against authoritarian power.

Conducting outreach for the film over the past few months, ProSocial has contacted hundreds of organizations, neighborhood councils, and leaders in urban planning, design, and architecture to collaborate on developing screenings, discussions, and other events related to the film. For example, in select cities, neighborhood walking tours, coordinated by the organization Jane’s Walk, will culminate in participants seeing Citizen Jane at a local theater—an activity in keeping with Jacobs’ assertion that “You’ve got to get out and walk,” paying attention to how people truly live day to day, in order to understand the building plans that work best for a city.

Though many people will first learn of Jane Jacobs as a result of this documentary, working on this project we consistently heard comments like, “She’s the reason I went into the urban planning field,” or “Wow, she’s my idol,” or “I grew up learning about her legacy.”

Watch the Citizen Jane trailer or get information on theaters and tickets here. If you’re involved with grassroots organizing, women’s leadership, urban studies, public policy, or another focus and you’re interested in organizing an event to educate and inspire a group with Jacobs’ story, group sales are available in orders of 25 for $200, or $8 per ticket; please contact Lauren Galaz at Lauren Galaz at

Meeting One of My Heroes

April 26, 2017

In March, I got to meet one of my idols, Jane Goodall. Although she is famous for her pioneering work with chimpanzees, discovering their commonalities with humans, and becoming an champion for conservation, most people don’t know her incredible backstory: the determination that took her from a girl who loved a chimpanzee stuffed animal and animal books like Dr. Doolittle to a young woman waitressing to pay for a ticket to Africa; her initiative to travel in 1957 when it was rare for a woman to do so without a male companion; the job she landed as a scientist’s assistant despite objections that she was a woman without a college education; and her achievements including receiving a doctorate from Cambridge University despite her lack of an undergraduate degree. I’ve read the children’s book Who Is Jane Goodall? to my two sons, so I’m familiar with her life story, but it was still a thrill to have the opportunity to hear her tell it in person.

At a Saturday afternoon gathering for tea at the home of philanthropists and TV and film luminaries Norman and Lyn Lear, just two weeks before Jane’s 83rd birthday, it was clear that she remains as impressive and committed today. She travels about 300 days out of the year, speaking with audiences about how her groundbreaking work with primates relates to larger issues around conservation, climate change, and food systems. Since 1977, the Jane Goodall Institute has worked to protect chimpanzees and wildlife habitats, and since 1991, a program she founded for youth, Roots & Shoots, has empowered young people to design and implement service projects.

“Coaxing the head of a federal agency over a fancy dinner to change policy would, you might think, require a rather different set of character traits than sitting quietly alone in the jungle, observing and categorizing primate behaviors,” the New York Times wrote in 2015 about Jane Goodall’s impact. “But if her interactions with government officials from the United States, France, Tanzania and Burundi, as well as executives from Silicon Valley, are any indication, the skill sets are not so different: patience, purpose, perception.”

At ProSocial, we seek to combine those same approaches: evidence-based analysis on the one hand, and communications that inspire social change on the other.

After Jane finished speaking to the gathered guests, I went up to her, thanked her for her ongoing commitment, and captured the moment in the photo you see here.

For more on ways young people can launch social-change missions, check out the Roots & Shoots program. To explore what the Jane Goodall Institute is doing to help animals, people, and the environment, click here.

—Meredith Blake, CEO & Founder, ProSocial

Election Reaction

January 20, 2017

These days, one thing is for certain: We are in for change. What does this mean for ProSocial clients and issues and our work? Meredith and Larry watched the election returns together and before the last polls closed began to reflect on those questions and come up with answers.

What were your personal reactions to the election?

Meredith: The emails I received from family, friends, and colleagues mostly divided into two camps. One group was all doom and gloom. The other camp wrote things like, “What’s our move?” and “Who can meet up?” These people moved into action even if they didn’t know what the plan would be. There were so many events and conference calls, I couldn’t attend all of them. Very quickly this group had gone from “OMG OMG” to “Let’s go.” I don’t want to over-generalize, but people take action when they have hope of making a difference. There is a sense among many of feeling compelled to act, and I think this says something important and powerful about our country.

Larry: At about 7:30 on election night, my gut said Trump would win, and my mind just clicked into a new mode—actually an old mode. I immediately starting thinking about 1994 and the Newt Gingrich/Dick Armey “Contract With America” takeover of the House, and I immediately realized there would be important movement-building opportunity in addition to the setbacks and damage. The day after the election we were working on campus events for Amazon’s Good Girls Revolt, and there was a student meeting. I began penciling out what we would say. I guess I’m really an organizer at heart and an organizer can’t stew, can’t stop, can’t get demoralized, because success depends on their response and leadership. And the next generation of leaders will learn from what they see, for good or bad.

What does the Trump era mean for the social-change sector?

Meredith: There is a silver lining. I see lots of people stepping up, people who were never active who are getting active. Among philanthropists, new money is flowing, and important questions are being asked. Moms I know who had never marched in their lives took part are taking part in the Women’s March in cities across America. For kids and young people, this has been an empowering entry point into advocacy. And for a lot of smart people who have been intellectually engaged with opinions on issues but haven’t necessarily taken action, this is a wake-up call and a tipping point. If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem: That’s not a cliché; in our world today, that’s an important statement. We can’t stand by silently while whole people are scapegoated and denigrated. But we also must look for opportunities to work together with people we disagree with to make progress where there is common cause. The future of our kids demands this. I’m energized by the calls and emails I’m getting from clients and entertainment executives and influencers wanting to do something. We already see the influx of new people and dollars.

“Far better to light the candle than to curse the darkness.” 
—William Lonsdale Watkinson


Larry: The answer to what this means is complicated by the fact that we don’t know what a President Trump will do. He’s not ideological. But we certainly have much to be concerned about. I started campaigning on the issue of “global warming,” which of course we now refer to as “climate change,” back in the late 1980s. I’ve been fighting that fight for a long time. I also now have an 8-year-old daughter. So it’s alarming to say the least. On the other hand, I am very hopeful because the threat and risk is brought into very, very stark relief with a Trump administration. It’s going to be pretty hard to sit on the sidelines, for example on climate, and not take a position, not do something. It’s like back in 1994. Bad things were happening when the Democrats controlled the House before the Gingrich and the Contract, but most people weren’t paying attention. After the election, the threat was out in the open and crystal-clear.

Meredith: This is massively altering across systems. Every four years in our political system, the losing party Monday-morning-quarterbacks, asking, “What could we have done to win this state? Redistricting?” We go through that every cycle, but that’s not the same as true introspection. And I think the election is prompting true introspection for Democratic and progressive independents—about what’s fundamentally not working with communications and messaging and more—beyond what would have ever taken place if Hillary had won or had lost to someone else in a different scenario. All social change requires convulsive moments and this kind of deep, and even painful, reflection about who we want to be, how we want to live our lives, and how we’re going to manifest and exemplify values from generation to generation. Without that deeper reflection you don’t really have sustainable movements; you have pivots. I think this will lead to sustainable movements down the road.

What do you think is important to focus on going forward?

Meredith: We have to think about which “change buckets” are worth investing in during this time, in terms of both issues and tactics. There’s a recalibrating. With environmental work it’s not about policy reforms necessarily, but can we have a conversation with the guy across the street and get him to engage in solar energy because he sees an economic return for himself? It’s about how to mobilize strategically knowing where we’re going to lose but looking four to eight years down the road teeing things up for greater success. 

Larry: Well, we are going to have to be on our toes. Look, public policy and government action are critically important, but they are also slow. On climate and other issues, the action will move into other arenas. In fact, this is already happening on climate, with technology innovation and with cities and states stepping up to replace likely federal inaction or backsliding. I think it is very, very important that we think about how we are communicating and who we are leaving out in our communication as well. That could be another silver lining. Out of necessity, we and our clients are going to have to get good at talking with people we haven’t been talking to, and I think that will lift all our communications. Ultimately, the story of what will happen has not been written. Our leadership and choices and actions will write this story. Let’s make this a good ending.

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