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Successful Stakeholder Engagement 101 (or How Prince Ea Is Rallying Millions to #StandForTrees)

For those of us in the sustainability field, stakeholder engagement that leads to action is the Holy Grail for creating the change needed for a healthy world and future. So what’s one secret to engaging a worldwide audience in a global ecological imperative in a matter of hours? Recruit someone like Prince Ea to deliver the message.

As environmental NGO Code REDD discovered this week, the celebrity activist, spoken word artist and YouTube sensation (born Richard Williams) was the key to turning its Stand for Trees campaign, launched in February, into a global phenomenon in a matter of hours: “Dear Future Generations” — his new piece inspired by the campaign, debuted Monday and had 34,539,865 Facebook views and over 231,398 YouTube views as of press time today.

Stand For Trees is the first consumer campaign to use the power of social media and crowdfunding to enable users to take action to reduce deforestation and curb climate change. Supporters are asked to purchase $10 Stand for Trees offset certificates, which each prevent one metric tonne of carbon dioxide (CO2) from being released into the atmosphere while protecting threatened ecosystems that sustain forest communities and numerous endangered species.

As actor Edward Norton, UN Goodwill Ambassador for Biodiversity, said at the launch of the campaign: “Stand for Trees can be a game-changer by harnessing the power of crowdfunding to protect forests, the air we breathe, and the climate that sustains us. It offers a clear and affordable way to make a real difference.”

And now, thanks to Prince Ea’s rabid fanbase and moving, smartly crafted messaging, Stand for Trees may very well be poised to make a global impact. Halfway through the video, Williams switches gears from apologizing to future generations to say:

“You know what? I’m not sorry. This future — I do not accept it. Because an error does not become a mistake until you refuse to correct it — we can redirect it.”

He then explains how people can take individual action through Stand for Trees, and closes with a reminder:

“A wise man once said, ‘when the rivers are all dried up and the trees cut down, man will then realize that he will not be able to eat money.’”

Prince Ea
will discuss
inspiring people
to do good
at
SB '15 San Diego

The 26-year-old St. Louis-based artist’s stage name was inspired by Prince of EArth (aka “Ea”), a living god in Sumerian mythology. In late 2009, dissatisfied with the state of the music industry, he formed the “Make ‘SMART’ (Sophisticating Millions And Revolutionizing Thought) Cool” movement, to attempt to “promote intelligence to everyone, everywhere and integrate it with hip-hop.” Since then, the rapper has become famous for his rhymes promoting mindfulness, human connection, spirituality and respect for life. And while sustainability is a natural evolution of those ideas, Williams says his involvement in Stand for Trees started when Wildlife Works, a supporter of the campaign, reached out to him in the off chance that he might participate.

“[Wildlife Works] reached out to me via email … and somehow convinced me to fly out to San Francisco,” he said in an interview in SF on Tuesday. “We toured through the Muir forest and spoke a lot about the problems … then I wasn’t as knowledgeable as I am now — I did a lot of research and, just realizing the significance of the problem inspired me to create the piece. I thought, why not use my voice to spread awareness of this?”

Prince Ea has cultivated a loyal, global fanbase thanks to his emotive rhymes that promote living respectfully and mindfully, some of the most recent pieces ruing our society’s addiction to technology (“Can We Auto-Correct Humanity?”), and the dilution of our values and respect for each other (“Why I Think This World Should End”) — the latter of which recently won him the admiration of an unlikely fan: Glenn Beck.

The conservative political commentator has since interviewed Williams several times, each time marveling at the rapper's wisdom, humility and message (“I’m a fan of what you’re doing and where your heart is leading you,” Beck said in an October 2014 interview). With Beck’s adulation likely exposing Prince Ea to a whole new audience — one that’s typically conservative and stereotypically in denial about climate change and the need for us to preserve our ecosystems I asked Williams if he thought “Dear Future Generations” would resonate with them, or what it might take to change the minds of those with vested interests in maintaining business as usual.

“You know, I sent Glenn the video today, so we’ll see!” he said, laughing. “But when I met Glenn, it was all love — he wanted to help me in whatever way, he’s just a nice guy. He told me that he wants to move beyond politics to a more common-sensical approach to life. … So yeah, I think it’s possible to reach that audience, for sure.

“In the piece, I talk about how the farmer [doesn’t] diagnose the tree through the branches; You look at the root, and we’re the root — people — but the root of us is our hearts. We’re led by this, ultimately. I think if I can touch this this is what I want to do through my art everything will change. Because all of the systems, all of the industries are run by people.”

His optimism is refreshing so what better place for him than Sustainable Brands, the “home for courageous optimists”? Prince Ea will address the largest gathering to date of the Sustainable Brands community at SB ’15 San Diego this June. Unlike the conservative contingent out there, the SB community already understands why we need a drastic change to business as usual but many of us are still struggling with how to drive and scale that change. I asked Williams what he plans to share during his plenary presentation.

“You mean I have to share my secrets?” he laughed. “I just want to give them me, tell them about my experiences and share what I can do to help by sharing my skillset as far as content creation. Maybe that can hit the right mind and mushroom and they’ll create their own platform. That’s it — I just want to help inform people through my experiences.”

Well, if the first two days of his rallying citizens around the world to "stand for trees" is any indication (Code REDD says they’ve already seen 8,770 transactions and offset 16,800+ tonnes of CO2), anyone looking to spur citizens to action to help improve the world would do well to take notes. Williams says he credits his success to being an effective and relatable translator of fundamental life principles — that the power that we have within is all we need to change the world (and save the environment) — for a wide range of people, many of whom have become numbed by the hyper-connectivity and short attention spans of modern life.

“You want to listen to people that are relatable — you want somebody to get it. But language is everything — you gotta simplify it,” he said. “The simplest organism is usually the strongest, and I think that’s true for videos, for everything.

“Bob Marley is one of my favorite lyricists, just because he had a way of creating a profound simplicity that just touched you, touched everybody with his words. He transcended race, culture, class, gender — it was human. That’s what we need to do, is humanize it,” he added. “That’s probably what I would tell everybody — just humanize the issue. And if you’re not passionate about it, how can you try to sell somebody else?”

While “Dear Future Generations” promises to continue to crash the Stand for Trees website and generate unprecedented impact in carbon offsetting for the foreseeable future, what’s next for Prince Ea? Does he think humanity can be saved from itself?

“I think it’s possible — that’s what drives me to create stuff that can move a lot of people,” he said. “It’s been done before — there was a Tibetan monk named Padmasambhava and he transformed Tibet from the most militaristic society to the most spiritually compassionate society. How’d he do it? What’s his blueprint? I don’t know, but it can be done, I believe, and that’s what I’m here to do. I’m not attached to the result, but all I can do is try, put my all into it.”


Jennifer Elks is Managing Editor at Sustainable Brands. She is a writer, editor and foodie who is passionate about improving food systems, closing loops and creating more livable cities. She loves cooking, wine, cooking with wine, correcting spelling errors in… [Read more about Jennifer Elks]


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