Photography: Nigel Parry
This week, Collective Hub’s founder and editor-in-chief, Lisa Messenger, visited the Dreamforce Conference, hosted by Salesforce, in San Francisco. In the first of a series of articles, here’s what she learnt at the global gathering for trailblazers.
I was fortunate enough to hear Ashton Kutcher speak and then meet him in Sydney briefly a few years ago, when Collective Hub ran a story on his transition from actor to entrepreneur and angel investor.
His knowledge, humility, selflessness and integrity blew me away then, and yesterday when I was fortunate enough to be sat third row back at Dreamforce in San Francisco, he completely encapsulated and mesmerised me all over again.
I have enormous respect for people like him who are not only able to build a platform (in his case that of a celebrity movie star), but then traverse industries and use that platform for the power of good. Whilst Dreamforce is a technology conference (and let me tell you he knows a thing or two about the subject), yesterday’s talk was all about his incredible charity, Thorn, which was set up to to deal with the intersection of child sexual exploitation and technology.
According to Thorn’s research, over 63 per cent of child trafficking survivors were advertised online at some point during their trafficking experience. In 2016 alone, over 57,000 URLs were confirmed by the Internet Watch Foundation that contain child sexual abuse imagery.
As the organisation words it, “Technology didn’t create child exploitation; it democratised it.” Now, under Ashton’s guidance, Thorn is building products that track abusers and exploited children to stop – or at least slow – the abuse cycle.
It’s an important lesson for all of us. Once you’ve built a profile, a platform and a fanbase, you don’t have to be pigeonholed. It’s within your power to redirect your focus – and your communities – to any new cause that matters to you. Who would have thought the young, hippy guy from That ’70s Show would grow into a “digital defender of children.”
Want to know how to use your platform for good (even if you don’t have a platform yet)? Here’s what I learnt from Hollywood’s rising change-maker.
Realise your power
Ashton kicked off his talk by explaining that telling a goodnight story to his 3-year-old daughter is legitimately the best part of his day. So, he decided to tell us – a conference full of entrepreneurs and tech lovers – a fairytale of our own. One of the first things to come out of his mouth was, “I don’t believe technology is a force for good anymore than it is a force for evil.” He then went on to explain, “It is not the force for good or for evil – YOU are the force for good or evil”. It was an incredible reminder – technology, at its core, is neutral. We are the ones who can choose to use it to better the world or bring it down.
Put change over convenience
We live in an era of “slacktivism”, where we like to believe ‘liking’ a charity on Facebook is enough to help them make real changes. But could you be doing more? What convenience are you willing to give up to be responsible for your part of good in the world? Ashton asked himself with this question when he was confronted with the realities of child trafficking in Cambodia. Did he want to stand in the background or take personal steps to help them? “I’ve seen video content of a child that is the same age as mine being raped by an American man that was a sex tourist,” he told the US Senate, after working with the FBI on an investigation.
Find Conscious Collaborators
There are a lot of sick people in the world with access to technology they use for evil. On the other side of the equation, there are amazing people, but who don’t have the tools for being a force for good.
Ashton found a group of people who were willing to support his mission. Together, the Thorn Innovation Lab, with support from Google, are creating software that stops offenders being able to hide in the dark web. So far their technology has identified 6,000 people being abused and identified 12,000 adults as abusers, across 19 countries.
Give, but also receive
During his talk, Ashton references the work of New York Times bestselling author and organisational psychologist Adam Grant. In his book, Give and Take, and his accompanying TED talk, Adam discusses what it takes to be a “successful giver”. “Givers are the most valuable people,” he says. “But if they’re not careful, they burn out.” During his research, he found that good givers have a clear goal, purpose and direction they can articulate. Critically, they are also able to seek out and accept help when they need it.
Choose the hardest climb
When asked who first inspired Ashton to undertake this work, he explained, “Honestly I was inspired by Bono and the work that he’s done. If it doesn’t seem insurmountable, how is it going to be a life purpose?” I love this quote! Often a problem can seem too great to overcome and so we choose to take on a more accessible challenge, but how will the greatest issues in the world be defeated with this attitude? Next, Ashton is hatching an idea to build a mentorship program for foster kids.
As I left that incredible talk with Ashton, which sent shivers down my spine, it again re-enforced for me personally the power of platform and the power of purpose and the intersection of both. So, I leave you with this – what is your purpose? And how are you going to give yourself the platform to spread the word and do good in the world?
View Lisa Messenger’s new book PURPOSE available now.