You may not know his name, but you’ve likely heard about one or more of the many projects he’s played a pivotal role in. (Read a more extensive bio here!)
Our Executive Director had the opportunity to attend a talk by John at the University of Winnipeg earlier this fall, in which he led the 50 people in attendance through his incredibly varied career path, noting the choices that shaped this journey.
As a young professional, it was fascinating to gain insight into how John’s success has unfolded over the last 35 years. Beginning with his first year of college, John told us about his first trip to Africa, which was prompted by the unfolding famine in Ethiopia. While working in Mali as a humanitarian worker, he became frustrated with treating only the symptoms of deeper issues. Turning to human rights investigation, he worked for numerous organizations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. He couldn’t shake a little voice in his head, however, that told him that reporting about abuses wasn’t enough.
So he turned his attention to peace efforts. Clinton’s Senior Director for African Affairs, Susan Rice, attended a talk that John gave, and then – by a stroke of coincidence – they found themselves sitting next to each other on a train. They quickly became friends and John went to work for Susan in the Clinton administration. After some time, John became the mediator between the American government and African governments. The importance of connections in gaining opportunities was demonstrated by this example, as well as repeatedly throughout the session.
After Bush was elected President, John left the White House and started working at the International Crisis Group, a job that made him “antsy.” As John reflected, he recognized that he was not addressing ‘strategically important’ issues. After reading Samantha Power’s book The Problem From Hell, he had an epiphany: in the absence of will or political cost, politicians are unlikely to properly address important issues. This epiphany led to two major realizations:
1. Bigger constituencies needed to be created in order to catalyze change.
2. Celebrities have a great potential to help mobilize the masses.
These realizations led John to found the Enough Project, a project to end genocide and crimes against humanity. This initiative launched a rally to protest the mass atrocities in Darfur, which was attended by more than 100,000 people! While this is an impressive number, John was dissatisfied with the lack of actual policy change generated by the action.
Learning from this experience, John has turned his focus to the idea of leverage. As he stated, “In places where people are willing to commit horrible human rights crimes – impervious to condemnation – these people’s decisions need to be addressed. Not by troops, not by bombs, but by a different approach.”
After this talk, John agreed to go for lunch with a few of Global College’s students and alumni. Our Executive Director was thrilled to take part in this lunch, which allowed her a chance to talk to John one-on-one about our city’s relationship with Shoal Lake 40, seek career advice and learn more about his close friendship with Ryan Gosling!
We thank the newly-founded Manitoba Dental Foundation, who brought John to Winnipeg, and we thank Global College for facilitating an event and lunch with John!