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The Power Of Purpose: How Holly Gordon And Participant Films Are Creating Extraordinary Content That Inspires Social Change

Walking into the offices of Participant Media as a film fan is a heady experience. The walls are lined with posters of some of the legendary pictures that the company has created over its existence. Searing documentaries like He Named Me MalalaCITIZENFOURFood, Inc and the iconic An Inconvenient Truth. Emotional powerhouses like Spotlight(winner of the 2016 Academy Award for Best Picture), The HelpLincoln and many others. 

Warm, funny and wise, Participant’s Chief Impact Officer Holly Gordon has the enviable job of taking the cultural cachet generated by these films and TV programs and turning them into real, tangible social impact in the world, by orchestrating a coalition of brands, nonprofits and governmental partners. I sat down with her to learn more about her journey and get insights on how she does this groundbreaking work.

“I’ve had one of those careers, when you look back on it, it all makes sense. But never once did I wake up in the morning saying, ‘I know exactly where I want to be in 25 years.’” After a career as a foreign correspondent (travelling with a change of clothes and a manual typewriter) and working in broadcast news alongside the likes of Peter Jennings, her journey led her to something called “Girl Rising.” “It was based on this fundamental truth that if you educate girls in the developing world, everything in your country will get better. I call it ‘a global campaign for girls’ education’ with a film at the center. Our model was to show that great storytelling plus deep partnerships could create transformational change.”

After three years of raising millions of dollars, and building partnerships with foundations, nonprofit organizations, individual philanthropists, and companies, all of whom had the same belief that educating girls was the silver bullet to global development, Gordon was exhausted. “By the end I was working 80 hours a week and on airplanes all over the world. It almost killed me. I was so exhausted. Living every day not being sure that you’re going to be able to raise enough to pay your team and being desperately afraid of failing were not small weights on my psyche.” 

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Part Two.