Remember that we are all a part of this interconnected-whole, where every action we take has a ripple effect on others. So I like to check myself and think, okay is the effect of what I am doing or saying going to be a net positive and will I also be impacting others positively?
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Shannon de Laat, Founder of The Virtue Project and Emma Post, Founder of Ascent Communications and Ambassador, Summit Series.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what inspired you to start this initiative?
Shannon: It started as a casual sort of “what if” conversation between myself, board member Malin Akerman, and Emma Post (who’s experience in working with Summit Series and deep roots in the creative community seemed a natural fit) to co-create an event that would bring together top thought leaders, artists, media and talent who are using their voices and skills to try to do good in this world. We wanted to create a sort of consciousness-raising group, who when put together, can create tremendous change and strengthen existing communities.
Emma: I felt that the idea of gathering leaders in social impact and creativity was compelling as they are all creators, who are driving a conversation forward through their work. It was a natural fit and all started to fall into place nicely when our friends at The Edition Hotel graciously offered to host. The Edition has an initiative called Stay Plastic Free which is this call to action to the hospitality industry to eliminate single-use plastics, and is a home for creatives, so their newly opened hotel on Sunset Boulevard in the heart of West Hollywood, was really the perfect setting for the intentional conversation we wanted to have.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake or occurrence that took place in the course of this initiative? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Shannon: Well, for Type A personalities like ours (mine, especially) rolling with the punches was certainly a key learning. You can only plan so much. Our third host, Malin, had a last minute filming conflict, so we had to adapt and be nimble in the final hours. We were fortunate that our friend, actor and Environmental Media Association board member, Emmanuelle Chriqui, was able to jump in and support / host alongside us. In the end, it was such a perfect happenstance, as Emmanuelle shares our passion and purpose.
Emma: Hosting any event, things will inevitably come up, so yes, I would say that learning to flow, and recognizing we couldn’t go wrong given the phenomenal group we were bringing together and our intention behind the event.
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
Emma: I think of impact as the most important cultural currency that we have. For years now, technology companies, for example, have been raising and spending millions of dollars. We know the gap between the 1% and the rest of the population is only widening, so in this sliver of the world where money is seemingly everywhere, whether you are a part of that subset or not, the question for me just became: with so many opportunities for myself, what am I doing for others?
For me that manifests in a lot of different ways. Art in all of its forms have long been a source of inspiration for me. I am currently working with an artist, Nicholas Tramontin, who was selected by Portia de Rossi to be featured on her platform, General Public, which works to democratize access to art. So in the coming months you’ll begin to see our projects to increase access to art and give young artists a space to create, where they otherwise might not have been able to, come to life — which I am really looking forward to.
Shannon: I wholeheartedly agree with Emma on that. The purpose of my business, The Virtue Project, is to help get stories and causes like the ones we listened to at this dinner heard by an even wider audience as well as to help entrepreneurs create more principled and socially responsible organizations. In essence, with this event, we created our own think-tank of key opinion leaders who are helping to re-shape the beliefs, mindsets and values that are the foundation for social change and action.
Can you tell me a story about a particular individual who was impacted by this event?
Emma: It’s been very cool to see the stories of connection come in since our dinner. For example we were able to connect two organizations, Stay Plastic Free which I mentioned earlier, and the Environmental Media Association, which is Hollywood’s environmental stewardship organization. I am beyond excited to see how these two organizations can come together to amplify the work they are doing to take better care of our environment.
Shannon: If walls could talk…we’d be able to write a book that came out of the dialogue that ensued. We heard leaders of social enterprises such as ME to WE, Toms, Parker Clay and organizations such as Opportunity International, CAA Foundation, Summit Series, I am a Voter, Movember, and Starlight Foundation talk transparently about their personal challenges, and what they have learned along the way. We heard personal stories from artists and talent about the issues that they care most about, and why, as well as their goals to support each other’s self-authority. This type of story sharing is exactly what allows us to convey ideas, anger, humanity, hope — or whatever it takes to make us understand or feel understood. Nothing can replace the feeling of being seen and valued. I think that everyone walked away from the proverbial table with solutions, or new partners to support them in creating positive social change.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Emma: I am sure there are many, I think for each individual I would just say to remember that we are all a part of this interconnected-whole, where every action we take has a ripple effect on others. So I like to check myself and think, okay is the effect of what I am doing or saying going to be a net positive and will I also be impacting others positively?
Shannon: Where to begin! There are some big issues on the table this coming election, which may (inadvertently) cause humanitarian, activist and donor fatigue. It is more important now, than ever, to rally your own community, to find your people with shared beliefs that can be nurtured and practiced. Those who will continue to put their bodies where their beliefs are and continue to challenge each other to make what’s bad, good.
You are people of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Emma: I think we all have enormous influence actually and that is extremely powerful once recognized. Lately, I have been listening to Eckhart Tolle, who teaches us how to consciously manifest our dreams. One of the mantras he suggests is to say: “I am powerful.” Not in the sense of, you have power over someone else, but in the sense that you have the power to create your reality, you are full of creative power. So if we each could recognize that, perhaps we could move with more confidence toward our dreams and just take that first step, whatever it may be.
Shannon: I agree, everyone has the power to influence, but I think what is most important is that we think twice about what it is that we really want to make heard, or seen or valued. I often think about my three-year old son, and how his future depends entirely on what each of us does every day. If that doesn’t have the capacity to shift the way we look at the world, I don’t know what does.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Shannon: “Imagine your future self walking on the path ahead of you. Let her lead you.” Gloria Steinem. I hold onto this one, because even if I may not know what it is I need to do, I always know the person that I want to be. That becomes my answer.
Emma: “Be in the experience, not of it.” I am sure people have lots of ways to remind themselves to not get too attached to any one thing, but that’s what works for me.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have at your next dinner event? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
Emma: I mean honestly, I think I have to say Leonardo di Caprio. I grew up in love with the film Titanic, he is not too unattractive and of course I have a huge amount of respect for the work he is doing with the environment.
Shannon: Shall we invite him to our next dinner event then, Emma? Ha. Could you imagine? “Hey, Leo, pull up a chair. Let’s chat climate change!”
How can our readers follow you on social media?
@shannondelaat @emmaypost @thevirtueproject @malinakerman @echriqui
This was very meaningful, thank you so much!