April 22, 2011

Interview with Jason Russell - Summit at Sea

Interview with Jason Russell, co-founder of Invisible Children
Sunday, April 10, 2011
Celebrity Theater, Celebrity Century cruise liner, Summit at Sea, somewhere in the Bahamas
Conducted by Anneke Jong for the interview series "7 Leaders on the Rise"

In 2003, Jason Russell traveled to Africa with two of his friends in search of a story. They found the tragedies of the war in northern Uganda and their groundbreaking documentary, Invisible Children: The Rough Cut, was born. Eight years later, Invisible Children is one of the world’s leading non-profit voices using the power of media to inspire young people to help end the longest running war in Africa.

Jong: Why do you keep coming back to Summit?

Russell: I don't like conferences. I don't believe in them. I have attended very few where I felt like I got something out of it or met people that I would be friends with for a long time. Summit Series completely changed the game for me because it was so casual and so authentic in the sense of intentional fun while talking about incredible issues, causes, meaningful conversations. For me, there are people here — at least three dozen people — who I know I'll be friends with for life. It really is the power of what these young men, and women now, [the Summit Series team] have seen in the world and gathered together, and there really is a force and a power that I don't think happens anywhere else. It's so different from the TED community, so different from the Clinton Global Initiative, and that difference is really what sets them apart and keeps me coming back because I can’t wait to add to the friend group that I already have.

Jong: Just moments ago, Summit Series co-founder Elliott Bisnow said, “In the blackjack game of life, when you get a jack or a queen instead of a two or a three, there’s a great responsibility.” With that, he announced Summit Series’ new initiative to support global impact trips that enable the Summit Series community to get involved with global issues in a hands-on way. Particularly since last year’s Invisible Children treks to Uganda were the inspiration for this program, can you talk about what you have given to this community?

Russell: It’s really incredible when someone of affluence and influence asks, “How can I help?” and we’re able to say, “Come see what we’re doing in Uganda.” For them to take a week out of their busy lives, running their companies, to come and see the work on the forefronts of warzones in development, education, microfinance, is really exciting because we gain so much from the Summit community because they are at the cutting edge of business. They add so much to our brand, and they help us become sharper. But also, we know their lives become much richer, their paradigms shift, and their lives become more purpose-filled; so it’s a win-win. That’s what we love, and we’re glad that Summit Series has agreed to launch these altruistic adventures into Uganda, Rwanda, and now there’s a lot of people who want to go to the Congo with us, so we’re really excited.

Jong: Tell us about your trips last year to Uganda.

Russell: We took two extraordinary trips. We started at the beginning of the story in 2003, and we walked the group through the lineage and chronology of Invisible Children from rebuilding schools to providing mentors for former abducted child soldiers. We talk to them about the programs, and they get to see it firsthand. Then we took them to Rwanda and we showed them the genocide memorials — the bones and remains of when the world stood by and didn’t act in 1994 when a million people were killed in one hundred days. That is happening right now in the Congo, and the world is not doing anything about it, so we really empowered them and said, “We need you. We need your time and your resources and your advocacy to make sure people are aware of what’s going on in the Congo.

Jong: Invisible Children has seen such growth with expansion into new countries and new issues, bringing new solutions to people beyond what started as a documentary. What’s most exciting for you on the horizon?

Russell: We’re most excited about launching The Fourth Estate this summer, which was inspired by a history lesson from the French Revolution. France was divided into three states: the monarchy was the first state, then the aristocracy, and the third estate was the people. The third estate said, “We want representation because we’re always getting out-voted by the other two estates.” This led to the French Revolution, which completely transformed democracy and the way humans govern themselves and the way governments are built. Our launch of The Fourth Estate is an ideology and a philosophy in which people agree that they aren’t going to fight for their own rights but for the rights of others. It’s the fourth dimension of justice and democracy. We’re excited about that because Invisible Children will go beyond this story, this specific cause and issue and war and we’ll say, “Whenever there is a warlord, or whenever there are massive crimes against humanity, we, the Fourth Estate — not we, Americans, not we, United Nations — we, the people of the world, will come to the rescue when children or women are being slaughtered.” That’s what we’re most excited about and that’s what’s next. We hope it doesn’t take fifty years to get there. We believe that we can do it in a rather short amount of time if we all work together and do it smart.
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You can learn more at the Invisible Children website or follow Jason on Twitter at @jradruss.

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