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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.

What “Moves the Needle”

January 20, 2017


What works to get people more involved with, invested in, and activated around an issue? ProSocial CEO Meredith Blake shares some guiding principles and lessons learned.

Great media drives attention, but strategy drives deep change.
The documentary and dramatic content getting produced today is truly extraordinary. But you can’t assume either that “if you build it, they will come” or that just because audiences are moved by great content, social change will happen. You need a plan to capture and harness attention for as much impact as possible. Identifying the levers that need to move and developing a plan to motivate your audience to help move those levers makes all the difference.

Look out for and leverage the unexpected.
A target audience is a mass group, but you want to know who the individuals are. You want to talk to people in the audiences you’re trying to reach, because they often surprise you with new insights or resources they can bring. Whatever plan you’re pursuing, you can’t predict some of these ideas and opportunities that organically arise, but you can be responsive and incorporate them into your efforts.

What’s the “act” in your activism?
Letters, calls, emails, petitions… they all have a role. Sometimes you need a million signatures, and sometimes you need the right influential person to join you in making the case. Don’t default to what’s familiar or easy or the latest flashy tech platform. Facebook likes are great, but real-world relationships and conversations still drive cultural shifts.

Campaigns live on.
Intractable social issues are seemingly intractable for a reason. When all is said and done, you aren’t necessarily going to be able to make a grandiose claim like your project completely changed the face of feminism in this country or solved climate change. But based on the nature of your campaign, there will still be metrics for measuring your impact. There’s a real value in taking action, structuring your campaign to plant seeds and create ripple effects that will continue to grow, and being part of a continual drumbeat of sharing and spreading these messages.

Doing-Good Times: A Look Back at ProSocial’s Past Decade

January 19, 2017

Ten years, tons of worthy missions, tremendous impact. A sampling of highlights.

Happy Anniversary to ProSocial!

January 19, 2017

It’s been 10 years since the start of ProSocial. In the year 2007, when the company got off the ground, iPhones launched, Twitter hashtags made their debut, the Harry Potter series broke book and box-office records and promoted cross-platform storytelling, and the sustainable food movement popularized the concept of eating locally.

The opportunity to do something innovative was palpable, and I decided to found this company in an attempt to marry the two different paths I’d taken in my career.

In the nonprofit world, I had spent more than a decade deep in the trenches as a social entrepreneur, providing direct services and strategizing and organizing around policy reforms. Later, working in the film industry at Participant Media, dedicated to producing films like An Inconvenient Truth and Good Night, and Good Luck that could inspire social change, I founded the social-action department and worked in the realms of large audiences, high visibility, and brand partnerships.

I recognized that nonprofits could better raise awareness and attract new constituents by supporting entertainment projects aligned with their message, and that issue-oriented media projects could build their audiences by tapping into the engaged networks of grassroots organizations. This work was pioneering back then, but now an entire field has developed around the intersection of storytelling and social impact, though we’re all still learning and innovating.

Helping foundations, companies, and individuals develop and execute strategies for their philanthropic missions, I have had the privilege of being surrounded by some of the smartest people on the planet, the most dedicated activists changing the world for the better, and some of the greatest innovators of our time. In any given week I can go from boardrooms to living rooms, collaborating with artists, executives, and activists to shine a spotlight on an array of issues, from global humanitarian work to the environment to education reform to the science behind developing a sense of purpose.

ProSocial has been a part of life-changing events, world-changing activations, and incredible efforts where we did our best to advance an issue while appreciating that there would continue to be both need and opportunity to do more in the future.

Thank you for following along with us in this journey and being part of our community of passionate people working in all sorts of socially conscious ways. I’m excited to see what the next 10 years will bring!

—Meredith Blake, ProSocial Founder & CEO 

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