An MC Interview with Ethan Zohn
Ethan Zohn is an activist, reality television star, friend of Africa and soccer player. He is involved in a variety of causes including HIV/AIDS, and Sports for Social Change.
In 2005, I was fortunate to travel with Ethan to Uganda where he visited several projects that support refugees and internally displaced youth. Ethan’s a really busy guy, but made time for a conversation about what he’s doing, his thoughts on philanthropy, sports, youth and technology…
Millennial Challenge (MC): So, what’s new in Ethan’s world?
Ethan Zohn (EZ): Well, Jeremy, there’s so much going on… To start, it’s been a big year for Grassroot Soccer, the organization I co-founded. We’ve expanded across South Africa and now have programs running in Jo-Burg, Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and Pretoria. We’ve also developed some excellent relationships with key private sector players… Mercedes Benz and De Beers.
MC: That’s really perfect timing considering the World Cup in 2010.
EZ: Absolutely, people who are not working, doing business, and otherwise preparing for SA, well, they’d better get going soon. 2010 is going to be an incredible year… I’m actually headed to the country in August. I was asked by the State Department to represent PEPFAR on a 15-day speaking gig around South Africa. The focus is on HIV/AIDS, of course, and also the role of Sport for Development.
MC: So let’s talk a bit more about sports. You know that we – AMGlobal – as a firm we’ve been involved in the Sports for Social Change Movement, for example, with the Homeless World Cup. We’ve also been writing a lot about it on our blogs, and talking with people involved on the private sector and public sector side of the cause. Seems like the buzz is definitely catching on.
EZ: I agree. Its really exciting. I read your blog on Sports by the way – very cool. I am a huge fan of the Homeless World Cup, and I think it’s awesome that you’re involved and bringing a team to Denmark. I’d love to be there.
MC: I also heard you were recently honored for your HIV/AIDS work
EZ: Yes, I was honored with Dr. Thomas Clark and Grassroot Soccer, with the Courage of Conscience Award. This year, Jackson Browne and Eugene Jarecki are being honored for “celebrating human greatness.”
MC: Wow, that’s some crowd to be a part of, E.
EZ: No doubt. It’s been quite a time. Busy, lots of traveling, but lots of fun. It’s good to be in New York for a few days and relax right now.
EZ: But that’s not everything. This past spring I created a project called “KickAIDS Across America”. Essentially, the concept is that I would dribble a soccer ball across the US to raise awareness for HIV/AIDS and raise money for Grassroot Soccer. The NY Times and EuroSport signed on as the media sponsors. Of course, my big challenge now is finding the right time…
MC: Very cool. These are great ideas, new ways to get a lot of people involved in the movement…
EZ: Absolutely. It’s a no-brainer, really, sports are truly an awesome instrument for enabling lives and communities to change. If you think about it, sports are a natural infrastructure for things to get done. Any sport, not just soccer.
MC: And there are a lot of roles for different people, as players, coaches, supporters, lots of places. Sports can also be a good model for partnership between government, private sector, NGOs and other groups, you know?
MC: One thing that we sometimes hear is that the private sector could be doing more. You know we do a lot of work with firms that are interested in social involvement. What’s your take Ethan?
EZ: Well, I think the key is to think longer term. I don’t have the silver-bullet idea, but I think that a company with so much influence and interest – you know, commercial interest – someone like a Nike or Adidas, well, I am hoping that they could come up with a template that could be used in a lot of places and go to scale. In the end we’re all looking for something that creates a kind of dynamism, not just something trendy.
MC: So, what’s this television show that you’re talking about? It ought to be something big if you’re passing up the Homeless World Cup.
EZ: Now, you’re going to get me in trouble. Anyway. The show I’ll be hosting is an eco-friendly TV show called EarthTripping and it will air on EquatorHD.
MC: EZ the environmentalist?
EZ: Well, I wouldn’t say I’m Mr. Eco-friendly, though I really do try and make responsible decisions. It’s a learning process for me and I’m excited at becoming more “green.” Obviously, recycling and buying fair trade products are things to do. Just last week, I actually switched over to wind-power in my NYC apartment.
MC: So, tell us a little more about the show…
EZ: EarthTripping focuses on eco-friendly travel adventures. The concept is that I’ll drop in on major cities around the world to teach and show our audience how to travel in an environmentally friendly way, have a good time and hopefully bring them to a part of the world they may have never been.
MC: Did the show already kick-off? Are you filming?
EZ: Absolutely. We launched the show in New York City in June, and rather than renting a car, I rented a bike, did some kayaking on the Hudson, and went to hotels and restaurants in the city that are eco-friendly.
MC: So, when can I tune-in and check out the show?
EZ: The show is on EquatorHD (Voom Network) – it’s on in 25 countries… I think people really want to travel like this, but information just isn’t out there, or at least its hard to find. I hope I can help get people pumped about traveling (and living I guess) in an eco-friendly way. I think people will be pretty amazed to know that you can do all this stuff in Mexico City, Santiago, Chile; Buenos Aires, Singapore and Malaysia.
MC: Speaking of “in the know” and “online” as you know most young people today are always connected -- whether by PDA, mobile phone, or MySpace, I was wondering what you think about the role of technology in social change.
EZ: Yeah, absolutely. Technology plays a very important role in development. It engages young people in causes that they care about – whether it’s HIV/AIDS, Darfur or others. It’s also a great tool for teaching and education in the developing world. One idea we have is taking our Grassroot Soccer curriculum, putting it onto a DVD and sending the CD to colleagues, contacts and potential partners to load up onto their computers. In fact, with this $100 laptop initiative –
MC: So, in what ways have you used technology for social change?
EZ: Well, let’s take KickAIDS for example. You can sign onto our website and if you want to host a fundraiser you have all of the details and information you need to get involved in the fight against AIDS… from pledge forms, to video clips, to marketing materials. It’s one-stop-shopping.
MC: That’s cool. What about social networking sites?
EZ: Definitely. We also have a Grassroot Soccer MySpace and Face Book pages. We’ve noticed that a significant number of young people are watching, signing in and interested in our work. Social networking sites are definitely something that we’ve benefited from.
MC: Let’s talk a little more about your approach to philanthropy and what you see as the trends and new approaches to philanthropy
EZ: Well, even though I don’t have a lot of money to give, I do see my self as a philanthropist. Truly, whether you give $25 or $25,000 you’re doing something good for a cause or issue that you care about. I find that people are incredibly interested to give you just have to offer them the vehicle to do it. And, it’s no longer the conventional way of the past….people don’t want to write blank checks. People want something specific and they want to make an impact. Whether it’s 300 soccer balls, or building a school or providing money for AIDS medication, it’s a personal experience now. I think that a lot of that has to do with the ways people used to approach giving, before the Internet. Now, there is so much information about there and you can pick and choose your cause, it makes for more informed giving experiences.
MC: Well, Ethan, I think that’s a great place to end for now. We’ll be interested to follow-up with you … your adventures, your TV stardom, AIDS work and your role as social catalyst. Who knows, maybe we’ll have the chance to work together again some time soon...
EZ: Definitely. It sounds like there are exciting opportunities and we’ve all got a role to play.
MC: Take it easy and safe journey
EZ: Take care, J.