How One Millennial is Changing the Headlines
BY PHOEBE DE CROISSET
Jordan Hewson has remained very much out of the public eye despite her famous family – her parents are Bono, the philanthropist and lead singer of U2, and her mother is Ali Hewson, the activist and founder of the ethical fashion line, EDUN. I admit I don’t know what to expect when she walks on set for our shoot at a sun-drenched photo studio in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Clad in black jeans, a T-shirt and a leather jacket, she looks every bit the Brooklyn tech start-up CEO: relaxed, stylish, and most importantly, ultra-cool. I almost mistake her for part of our photo crew. “It is so lovely to meet you!” she exclaims, and a whisper of that Irish lilt lingers in the air. She is beautiful; porcelain skin that almost glows, big blue unblinking eyes, and an aura of youth and energy and passion that is irresistible. We sit down so I can get the full story on Speakable, Jordan’s new company.
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PHOEBE DE CROISSET You moved from Dublin to New York City to attend Columbia University – that was a big leap! Had you always wanted to live in New York?
JORDAN HEWSON It was a such a huge opportunity to be able to live and study in NY and go to such an incredible university. I was 19 – it was a huge culture shock! But I think I adjusted well… I am still here 8 years later!
PC We all come to NY with a dream. What was yours? What did you hope to accomplish here?
JH I did kind of have a dream, which I laugh about now. I really wanted to work at the United Nations. And I didn’t really understand how, or in what capacity, but I studied political science and ended up getting an internship at a non-profit that was run out of the UN, so I got some experience working there. It was super interesting, as was going through the American education system.
PC Both of your parents have strong roots in philanthropy and activism. Would you say activism runs in your DNA? Do you think your parents had a hand in planting the seed for social responsibility in you?
JH I definitely come from an interesting family in terms of social justice issues. Growing up, I was around a lot of interesting conversations about the world. It was always something that we talked about at home because it was a huge focus for both my parents in their work. And from a very young age, it sparked an awareness in me of what was going on. I became passionate about educating myself so I could be useful to whatever we were talking about.
Speakable uses technology to connect people to the power of their own voices.
PC Now at the ripe young age of 27, you are CEO of your own company, Speakable. Congratulations! Can you tell us how the idea was born? Was there a trigger moment or person who convinced you to take the plunge?
JH Imagine how many times you’ve read a news article and were inspired by its content and wanted to do something but didn’t know how. That’s exactly what happened to me. In 2012, I was working for Global Citizen and reading a news article about Malala (Yousafzai) being shot by the Taliban. Even though I was so enraged by what I had just read, I never signed a petition to support her. Catching myself not doing anything – that was the inception of Speakable. I wondered: How do we make it faster and easier for people to take action on the things that they care about?
PC Was technology always a part of it? Were you trying to reach out to your generation?
JH Millennials care about social issues. 70% of us consider ourselves social activists. 84% donated to charities last year. 51% signed petitions. But we’re also quite lazy. I think technology has taken us to a place where having a social impact should be as easy as ordering an Uber or purchasing a dress online. That’s really what we are trying to achieve with the action button – to make it faster and easier to be able to (take action).
PC How would you describe the action button?
JH Some people describe the action button as the evolution of the “like” button. Or the share bar. It’s the next phase on how we can immerse in content. There are so many tools that enable us to distribute content or enhance the consumption of content but there is nothing there that enables us to act. This is the first thing that enables us to have a deeper and more meaningful relationship with content.
PC How does the technology work?
JH We are actually using artificial intelligence! We essentially create an ecosystem of action around certain issues from our various charity and non-profit partners. We use an algorithm to match up digital content. It trolls the keywords to find matches and then we make sure that the pairings are correct. That’s how we are learning to make our product smarter. So we are incorporating machine learning into that to make sure the content is as specific to the action as possible.
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PC And how do you decide which is the best action to take on any particular issue?
JH That’s the job of our editorial team. They are responsible for researching the best organizations and then deciding which action will have the most impact on any specific issue. Right now we are working with Amnesty International, International Red Cross, UNHCR; some of the best organizations in the world. We want to empower people with the solutions, so instead of just putting one action, we usually put three so readers can choose for themselves which organization they want to support or what type of action they want to take. We don’t want to make any decisions on behalf of our readers. Our goal is to empower them with the knowledge on what the solutions are.
PC Your tagline, “Changing the Headlines” implies that a social movement really can make a change in the status quo, and affect tomorrow’s headlines. What are the issues that you see emerging as the most important, or most popular among millennials?
JH The most popular issues we see people really care about are women’s health issues, climate change, the refugee crisis, gun control. These are the areas where we have seen a lot of action taken.
Having a social impact should be as easy as ordering an Uber…
PC Is there one issue right now that you are personally hoping to see gain more support?
JH I am really concerned about the refugee crisis. I think when you are reading about it in the press, there is an assumption that ok, someone is taking care of it. Like, the adults are probably figuring this out. And then you go to Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan (as I had the opportunity to do last year) and realize people have been there for years, and they have no jobs, and no way of making a living. They are running out of money by the second, they’re not getting the right education, and they cannot go back to their countries because they are not safe there. I think there has been a lot of media coverage on the crisis, and not a lot of action. And I think if audiences can change the narrative about how they feel about the crisis, maybe politicians will do more to support these refugees. That’s an issue area I would really like to see our technology be able to impact. Can you imagine if changing a headline could be as easy as reading one? That’s how fast we want to make it.
PH Where can we see the action button in action?
JH We are live on about 6000 articles on the Huffington Post – and that’s just our beta. We are coming out of beta in November and are launching on the Guardian and Vice, and will add more publications as the company continues to grow.
PC What are your hopes for the future of Speakable?
JH I think right now with the action button, we want it to scale. So that whatever content you are inspired by, whether you’re watching a DVD or playing with an app or watching a youtube video, if you can affect the outcome of that content, if that content is active, the action button will be there to facilitate that action quickly and easily. So if we’re able to scale across all type of digital content, then I think that the product will be a huge success. And my dream for the company? I think that would be to continue to build more products to make civic engagement more accessible and effective. I have some ideas, but we’ve got a long way to go!
Learn more at www.actionbutton.org
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