Michael Sheldrick: Author of From Idea to Impact & Co-Founder of Global Citizen

Episode 524

Michael Sheldrick, Author of the new, awesome book From Idea to Impact and Co-Founder of Global Citizen, a movement dedicated to ending extreme poverty by 2030, shares what it means and what it takes to be a policy entrepreneur. His new book takes readers behind the scenes of launching global campaigns that aim to mobilize millions around the world as he has done as Co-Founder of Global CItizen. He takes us through his work, working to change global health, education, and gender equality. He also shows us the impact one can have partnering with world leaders, activists, and celebrities to bring about real change. His insights into building movements, creating impact and harnessing the power of community are insightful and we learn more details of all in From Idea To Impact. This episode will have you inspired and I can’t wait for you to hear it. Now on the #TheKaraGoldinShow.

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Kara Goldin 0:00
I am unwilling to give up that I will start over from scratch as many times as it takes to get where I want to be I want to be, you just want to make sure you will get knocked down but just make sure you don’t get knocked down knocked out. So your only choice should be go focus on what you can control control control. Hi, everyone and welcome to the Kara Goldin show. Join me each week for inspiring conversations with some of the world’s greatest leaders. We’ll talk with founders, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and really some of the most interesting people of our time. Can’t wait to get started. Let’s go. Let’s go. Hi, everyone, it’s Kara Goldin from the Kara Goldin show. And I am so thrilled to have my next guest here we have Michael Sheldrick, who is the author of a brand new book called from idea to impact. And he’s also the co founder of an incredible movement that you may have heard of, I would imagine that if you are living in one of the cities where they have, they have come into and and done some sort of, you know, takeover of some sort, that’s probably not the wrong. It’s probably the wrong word. But it’s global citizen. And it’s such an amazing, amazing movement dedicated to ending extreme poverty by 2030. His book takes readers behind the scenes of launching these global campaigns that aim to mobilize millions around the world. So inspiring. And through his work, Michael shown an unwavering commitment to global health, education, gender equality, partnering with world leaders, because insights into building movements and creating impact and harnessing the power of community, I know is, is so top of mind whether you are looking to do a movement of some sort, or you’re just running an organization or you just like music a lot, and you want to support something that’s really cool. So Michael is your guy. And he’s definitely the book is absolutely awesome. So I’m honored to have you here. Michael, welcome.

Michael Sheldrick 2:20
Well, thank you. And that’s quite me introduction. Really great to be with you, Kyra? Absolutely.

Kara Goldin 2:24
So congrats on the book and everything you have done, I don’t know where you had time to find. Or I should say, I don’t know, when you found the time considering you just had a baby as well, your first child, congratulations. So you don’t sleep at all, obviously. So very, very, very inspired and amazed by what you’ve done. So before we get into the book, I’d love for you to kind of share the journey that led you to, to bringing global citizen to life. And what was the kind of pivotal movement that sparked this ambitious initiative?

Michael Sheldrick 3:07
Yeah, no, thank you. And just your comments about the book definitely resonated all these people who told me we were taking sabbatical to write their book, I think I wrote it mostly on the New York subway on on Google Docs, on my phone, on planes on boats. And then of course, right after doing the book deal, I found out our baby was born. And I knew I would have no time to write after that. So that kind of self imposed the six month deadline. So it was definitely chaotic, but great to almost get it out into the world. But look, in answer to your question. It was me and a couple of other Australians. We were student activists, and really our journey began. You know, me personally, I had always been grateful for the opportunities I had. Growing up in Australia. I had some fantastic teachers. And so I was always passionate about extending access to education around the world. And so at university, I honestly began I, I found out I had a knack for going around and asking people to give stuff for free. I kind of didn’t have that fear of rejection that prevents many people from asking for stuff. So honestly, I just went around my local community, and I asked for things. And I organized a quiz night at my old high school. And we raised about $1,000. And we raffled away you know, anything from McDonald vouchers to you know, coffee mugs, whatever I could get my hands on. And, you know, this was to build schools in countries like Papua New Guinea and Timor Leste, though, which is just to the north of Australia, but you know, heavily high numbers of people living in poverty. And I would go to these countries in my summer and winter University breaks. And on the one hand, you would see the buildings that would be constructed as a result of these funds. But at the same time, you’d be looking around and you’d be looking around well Who’s paying for teachers for a year? And then you’d see so many kids living in extreme poverty and the need was so great. Yeah, we realized, well, gee, this is going to take a lot of quiz nights to to solve extreme poverty. And the truth is no amount of Gala charity night dinners is going to raise the money needed to end extreme poverty. This is $100 billion problem. And so systemic challenges require systemic solutions. And so when you look at all the big injustices of our time, whether that’s the US Civil Rights Movement, or apartheid, and you look at the response, that was often driven by social movements, and so global citizen was formed, really, at the cusp, you know, around that period, when social media was just becoming prevalent in all forms of society. And really, we harnessed the power of social media together with popular culture, to mainstream these issues, but also give people a way to take action. And so we say, our core to our DNA is pop meats policy. And it was all about really given people a way to act and shift policy to lift people out of extreme poverty. And so you know, we often say action is our currency. And since then, we’ve seen over 33 million citizen actions. And by actions, I mean, anyone calling on their local elected officials might be tweets might be emails, making phone calls, and together with our partners has helped unlock over $40 billion that’s been distributed to incredible, incredible organizations on the ground that in some way of how to touch the lives of a billion people.

Kara Goldin 6:46
It’s absolutely incredible. So what were you doing before this? I mean, did you have experience running large events? Where are you? I know that you have been talked about as a policy entrepreneur, which I, which I love, I don’t think I’ve ever heard that term. But it’s actually, I mean, it’s spot on, for sure. So what I mean, what were you doing before that gave you kind of the ability and the courage to go and do this. So once

Michael Sheldrick 7:20
we had this recognition that, you know, we need to launch a social media movement, this is about systemic change, we decided one of our first issues to focus on and that I got involved in was the eradication of polio. This was this ancient debilitating disease that had almost been eradicated by rotary clubs around the world who had raised all this money. But there was this financing gap. And basically, they were on the cast polio think it had been eradicated by 99.9%. But there was this funding gap that risked undermining in the effort. And part of the reason why we decided to focus on an issue like polio, is because we felt you know, extreme poverty is so broad, it’s hard to get your head around. So we felt well, there’s no better way than to demonstrate the end of extreme poverty is possible than say, hey, look, we’ve just have eradicated disease. And we’re almost polio has almost been made to second human disease in the history of humanity, after smallpox to be eradicated. And so we decided this was in Australia in 2011, there was a gathering of all these leaders taking place. And it was the last time the Queen came to Australia. And we decided how to catapult the issue of polio on the agenda and get these leaders to respond. And through one way or another, to answer your question, Did I have event experience? Well, I managed to get a meeting with the then Prime Minister of Australia and how I got that meeting, you know, just hustled, any way we could, and it was Julie Geller, Australia’s first female prime minister. And I remember I got this call. I was I was at my university Cafe, and I got a call from a blocked number. And they said, the Prime Minister is going to be in town next week, how would you like 10 minutes of her to pitch your idea? And of course, I wasn’t gonna say no to that. I go in. I meet Julie Gilad, and I always remember being so nervous, by the way. And she said to me, Michael, because I was kind of blasted. She says, I’m on my third shot of red pill for the evening, if you don’t mind, can we get on with it? And at the end of that, she made a comment. She said she was interested in prioritizing polio and asking all these leaders to contribute. But she also made a comment. She said, listen, people look at politicians like we can click our fingers and make things happen. But at the end of the day, I need to permit I need permission to spend what is in the end your money. And I think from there, I just said, Well, what about a concert? Have we organized all these young people demonstrated public support? And she said, Well, if you can do that, we’ve got a deal. So I walked out there and it was just one issue. Although the other founders of global citizen had done music events before one was in New York or Ready. One was in London and I had never organized anything on this scale. I mean, in Australia, I had organized the sausage sizzle before. That’s a colloquial term for a Barbie. People come along seeing 50 sausages or cold and probably walked away. So I was not great at events. But what I found and I talked about this in the book, you know, if you can come up with naively audacious ideas and be clear on the impact and kind of put that out into the world, and I had no shame in asking people for help. What I found is, you know, music producers wanted to help people came out of the woodwork. And six months later, there we were, we had our first event. And we had convinced John Legend to fly all the way to Australia, who spent more time flying. And he was actually on the ground in Australia. And we came up with this, this guy from California rain Gore, came up with this idea that would become core to global citizen who said, Don’t charge the tickets, give them away, get people to take action. And in given away the tickets, right, they can go in the drawer to on the tick, a concert ticket. And so that first event, the next day, the Prime Minister delivered on her word, she organized the press conference, and all that they contributed 118 million Australian dollars to polio eradication, walked out there thinking, Okay, that’s it, I’ve done it now. Do I go back to finishing my law degree, one thing led to another and nine months later, I was standing on the Great Lawn of Central Park for our very first Global Citizen Festival with the likes of Neil Young and the Foo Fighters. And to answer your question and policy entrepreneurship, you know, in the same way, businesses need innovative ways to promote product. My view is promoting good policy for change requires the same tools. Yes, it’s about advocacy. But it’s also that unconventional methods to build coalitions, tell stories and get people excited about policy change. And it was one of my professors, I didn’t know if we were going to get a grant to launch global citizens. So I needed a backup option. And I was like, maybe I could study this or something. And it was, in the course of chatting to one of my lectures, you know about what I should study. He said, Michael, I think I think what you’re doing here, you’re basically a policy entrepreneur. And that idea always stuck in my mind. And so when it came to writing the book, I kind of resurrected that. But look, you need to be a visionary, you need to be a diplomat, and you need to be an implementer if we’re to promote policy change for good.

Kara Goldin 12:35
Definitely. And it’s a global citizen has produced some of the world’s largest campaigns and festivals now, and including the one in Central Park and the Guinness world record winning virtual concert two, and then also Nelson Mandela, I guess it was the Nelson Mandela 100. So reaching millions of people in over 150 countries over 40 billion raised towards local and regional organizations. I mean, just absolutely, you should be so proud of what you’ve done. I mean, it’s, you know, I always say that you’re only as proud as, as if you have kids, as you know, your kids view you Right? And, and that, you know, whenever you think like, maybe I should go do this and cut a corner, I always think back and like, what would my kids say about that, and you’re young, but I think if you’ve got a great story of something that they’re going to be very proud of you for so. So you describe the policy entrepreneurship and you know, this sort of leads into into the book. So what an incredible book, from idea to impact. Can you give us a brief overview of of why you decided to write this book and why now? Yes,

Michael Sheldrick 13:59
so I often will get messages whether it’s on Instagram or LinkedIn, you know, from university students, high school students, sometimes just concerned citizen, sometimes leaders from marginalized communities, and they’re all asking for advice or how to launch their own policy campaigns. And when I got asked that question, Cara triggered a memory from when I was at high school. You know, I was always that kid in Australia, we loud we love our sport heroes, right? Is sport is everything. But for whatever reason, I was always that kid who wasn’t great as and so I would go in onto the footy pitch, I would have a football, go and kick a spool and I’d be so worried about everyone staring at me intently that it would become self fulfilling. So I checked the ball, rather than heading straight for the girls that would fly off in the other direction people would laugh. And then I would go into a school assembly. And lo and behold, The motivational speaker our school always got was always someone like an Olympic gold medalist, or, you know, a famous footballer. And I could never relate. I was like, well, that’s great. You’re up there. I’m down here, what can I possibly do? And so, when I was writing this book to answer that question, how can I give advice, I didn’t want people to look at me, almost the same at global citizen. And the same way. I felt like I couldn’t relate to those footballers to look at global citizen and be like, well, listen, you’re working with some of the biggest musicians in the world, you’ve got 12 million members, do I have to do that in order to create change? Because that’s an incredible stretch for many people. And so really, I took a step back, and it was, what do I know now that when I was involved in this journey at the start, that would have been helpful. And so the book lays out really these eight steps for how to make an impact, how to launch your campaign, how to be a policy entrepreneur, it doesn’t profess to have all the answers, but it does represent how the star does give people a start to take action. And my view is, is whether you’re a cultural icon like Taylor Swift, whether you’re a business executive, or whether you’re an everyday citizen, there’s something we can all do. And change starts with us. And one of my favorite sayings is from Eleanor Roosevelt, the first US Ambassador to the UN, who co authored the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. I have this magnet on my fridge actually back in New York. But she says the best way to begin is to begin, and I hope this book will help many people create their own narratives of change that could inspire others to launch their own, too.

Kara Goldin 16:43
It’s such a great idea. Yeah, I mean, on a different, very different, but in some ways, similar. I mean, people entrepreneurs have reached out to me for years and said, How do I start? And how do I get my idea off the ground? How do I get funded? So I think the fact that you took the time to actually write this out is going to be enormously helpful to people. And there’s some, you know, incredible lessons in here. One of the chapters is dedicated to period poverty. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Michael Sheldrick 17:12
Yeah, well, well, you mentioned the big festival we did in 2018. In South Africa. So just as a bit of context, global citizen was asked by the family of Nelson Mandela, and the South African government to basically produce a campaign in an event to honor what would have marked 100 years since the birth of arguably the greatest global citizen of our time, Nelson Mandela. So we arrive in Johannesburg and I spent three months there during the course of 2018. And of course, we announced the lineup for the Global Citizen Festival, and then some fantastic musicians. Because we have Jay Z, Beyonce, Ed Sheeran, Oprah Winfrey, no big, big names. So of course, when we make the announcement, there’s three hashtags trending on social media. One is, of course, Mandela 100. The second no surprise is Beyonce. That was massive, but she was coming to South Africa. And the third hashtag was the slogan, it’s bloody time. And I went out to investigate where that came from. And I met these incredible, incredible young advocates and policy entrepreneurs can be anyone. And in this case, it was these young woman striving for change in South Africa. And they had very specific goals. So they told me that one in three girls across South Africa actually miss score, because they can’t access sanitary pads and napkins. Period. Poverty globally affects 500 million women and girls. So it’s a huge issue, and keeps many girls at a school. And these these companions were really cool. And for the South African government to do two things. One is to lift the tax on sanitary pads and napkins and tampons. Because in too many parts of the world, these products, even though the fundamental the tax like luxury items, and the second ask was to make these products available in schools, particularly schools, in in poorer communities across the country. And the reason why I love these incredible activists is they already had their campaign, they were mobilized, and they were getting a lot of traction. But one thing I talked about in the book is, you know, no one can do everything, but everyone can do something. And core to that is how you also ask others to leverage their platform, work to your strengths. And so in this case, they were hijacking global citizen of they were leveraging our platform, and we were happy to be leveraged, but I do I do remember Kira, when we first took this on as an issue and said we’re how the response from certain officials in the government. It was it was very surprising. And to some, it might not be surprising at all, they were like, Oh, this doesn’t seem like a big issue worthy of this event. You know, this thing’s very tangential. And I remember it became the number one issue that South Africans wanted to campaign on. And I remember going into the office with one of my colleagues with this government minister in Cape Town where the parliament was they had grown petition like this. They slammed it down on the table, the table shook. And I still remember that the climax of this campaign was being at the 2018 Festival, President Rama poza arriving with agreed Oprah Winfrey would introduce them. Then we found out in his script, we had nothing there. And at the last moment, there was this backstage bartering with him. He then eventually went on stage, she said, I’ve heard the cry, and the call of the girl child, and he would make sanitary pads napkins available in schools. And of course, you always need to land the playing right turn talk into action ideas into impact. And these amazing activists over the last four or five years since that moment, and made sure the dollars have flown into the budget. There’s been challenges like pandemic but disrupted much of this, that they have reached 4 million girls with access to period products. And these girls one is called Zola, the other and young young woman I should say one is Candice and Candice is now self dubbed herself, the first ever minister for menstruation in South Africa, which I think is a very cool title. That’s

Kara Goldin 21:36
amazing. I should introduce them to somebody that we just had on the podcast that’s running a company called salt, SAA Lt. And they actually have bypassed pads. And they have a tiny little plastic piece that you can buy currently in the US on on Amazon. But their whole initiative is to do exactly what you’re talking about. And they talk exactly the same language. And then they also have underwear that are that have built in so that you don’t have to use Yeah, and so and they’re nationwide and target now and a bunch of other stores. They’re really killing it in the US, but very passionate about this. And I know that they’re also giving a percentage to certain charities. But this seems like a really interesting one. I

Michael Sheldrick 22:31
think I look at that be delighted because I know even a few years ago, it was still 4 million women and girls who missed approximately, I think it was five days of education of school due to not being able to access period products. And I think over the course of a year that amounts to something like 60 missed school days, that girls face like 60, like you think about the whole time you’re in school, and if you’re missing 60 days of school, simply because of period poverty, it’s going to put you at a disadvantage. So yeah, I’m sure they’d be delighted. I mean, those those activists, that they’re amazing. I mean, the policy entrepreneurs, though, I’m sure they find a way to leverage it.

Kara Goldin 23:12
So how do you prioritize where these funds go? Yeah,

Michael Sheldrick 23:17
so you know, I globe, global citizen, and in the book I talk about, you know, how to formulate goals, how to leverage partnerships, and focusing on what you’re good at global citizen, I would say two aspects related to set. Firstly, our true north as an organization and knowing your true north is is important, because if you stand for everything, you won’t get anything done. For global citizens True North has always been the end of extreme poverty. So everything we do always comes back to how is this going to advance the mission of achieving a world without extreme poverty? But I think the next point, similar to what you’re saying, as well, where does the money go? And how do you track it? Right. And, you know, for our platform, so mentioned the figure of $40 billion being distributed to these incredible organizations. To be clear, none of that comes to global citizen, right? Our role is to make sure that these dollars when leaders commit to them that they go to the organizations doing the work, our strength is in the campaign in the advocacy and holding commitment makers, feet to the fire, to make sure that the dollars go where they’re meant to and we’ve been supported over the years, Price Waterhouse Coopers and I can say this now, when they first came on board as our pro bono impact partner, they said we’re doing it for free, but don’t mention it in case it doesn’t work. But now they said that I can I can talk about their role, and it’s listed on their website, but they they seconded a group of impact really auditors. And what they would do is they would be on site when we’d be having Lee Does businesses make commitments in response to our campaign, that would be making sure you know, as this new money hasn’t been announced that the person announcing it actually have the authority to announce it. They don’t just want to be on stage with say Ed Sheeran, but they actually have the authority. And then on the follow up, we track every single commitment to make sure that it reaches the organizations who are doing the incredible work. And I can tell you, we’ve only we have a 97% follow through rate. And we’ve only ever had three governments, since we’ve been operating in some way go back on their promises. And even in their cases, in those cases, we were able to somehow renegotiate or get part fulfillment. Yeah.

Kara Goldin 25:45
That’s incredible. So partnerships, plays such a critical role. And basically, your your work really requires a ton of understanding in policy and advocacy. It seems like to some extent, you’ve learned along the way, how that works. And I can imagine country by country that changes, you know, your thinking, you have to really understand that before walking in. But for somebody trying to make an impact through policy change, what advice would you give them?

Michael Sheldrick 26:22
Look, I think one of the biggest barriers to building effective partnerships and coalition’s and really that is the only way to achieve change, like long lost and policy breakthroughs requires multiple stakeholders, multiple people at the agenda because even if you’re the person in a position to make change happen, let’s say you’re someone who actually is in power, right? Chances are, you still need support to persuade other key stakeholders that this is a good a good idea. So partnerships, and coalition’s is fundamental, but one of the biggest barriers, I often see in the world of campaigning, particularly now in a divided and polarized era, is is the rise of what I described in the book as the purity test, right. So too often we say to ourselves, this is our ideal view of the world. And if this organization of this idea, or this person doesn’t ladder up to that and match our ideal view of the world 100% mirror image, then we say no. And part of the reason we say no, is out of fear of being called a traitor, or labeled as someone betraying or not being truthful by our own tribe, right, our own side. And so a good policy entrepreneur is someone who is able to navigate those those challenges. I describe it as pragmatic idealism in the book, but it’s someone who recognizes that listen, change is about entering the arena. And it is about being willing to make those trade offs in order to move an agenda forward. Because without that, you can kind of resigned in the sanctity of the purity of your your idea, you know, you can feel right, righteous than unsafe, which is described in a great book, breaking the gridlock, but at the end of the day, not have any real impact on people’s lives. And I look at some fantastic policy entrepreneurs who are great exemplars of actually resisting that temptation. Whether that is community campaigners working to advance issues on climate change, whether it’s those who recognize that listen, action on climate change isn’t going to occur without the private sector. And no, no business like any government is is 100% without its faults, but we have to work with these companies on this journey if we’re to bring about change. And I also see it in leaders like Prime Minister Motley of Barbados, who I think it’s one of the most inspirational leaders on the planet, who is building partnerships with other leaders, in some cases, even with those leaders that have often frustrated or personally slighted her, because she recognizes that how changes is takes place, and that’s what her citizens need. That’s

Kara Goldin 29:31
incredible. Well, Michael Sheldrick author of from idea to impact everyone needs to buy this book, local bookstore. Amazon will have all of the information in the show notes, for sure, but very, very inspiring. And again, whether or not you are looking to actually mobilize millions as Michael has done or you’re just very inspired by other people who are doing Amazing things, Michael is it so thank you so much, Michael. And thanks, everyone for listening.

Michael Sheldrick 30:06
Thanks so much for having me, Kara. Really appreciate it.

Kara Goldin 30:09
Thanks again for listening to the Kara Goldin show. If you would, please give us a review and feel free to share this podcast with others who would benefit and of course, feel free to subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode of our podcast. Just a reminder that I can be found on all platforms at Kara Goldin. I would love to hear from you too, so feel free to DM me. And if you want to hear more about my journey, I hope you will have a listen or pick up a copy of my Wall Street Journal, best selling book undaunted, where I share more about my journey including founding and building hint. We are here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Thanks for listening and goodbye for now.