By Thomas Shambler
The Oscar-winning actress on why she took part in The Chivas Venture – a global competition to find startups that want to change the world
What made you want to get involved with The Chivas Venture?
For one, because they asked me to. But more importantly, I had known about The Venture for a while; it's the third year they've run this competition. I saw that they had done such amazing work over that time. Usually for big businesses – and certainly for a brand that sells alcohol – this is not what a traditional company does, they don't get involved in these types of initiatives and provide this kind of money and give back the way Chivas does.
I looked back at the statistics from the previous years and saw that they had helped over 300,000 people in something like 40 countries. I thought, "Wow, this is a meaningful project". The company is really walking the walk, not just talking the talk. They are giving young entrepreneurs a chance to make a difference in the world. So why wouldn't I want to connect with that? Why wouldn't I want to judge and help give away the money?
But I want to learn, too. I want to hear these entrepreneurs. Find out more about what people care about around the world, and how they want to incite change. In the back of my mind, has inspired me to think of better ways that I can get involved too. I'm getting as much out of being here as they are having me here.
Many of the judges here have been pulled from different parts of the business world. Some because they have built responsible businesses, worked with the Obama administration or sit on the board of billion-dollar corporations. As an actress, what do you bring to the judging table?
I bring a different point of view. Not because I am an actress because I am alive and I am a human. I have an opinion, and I think that's valuable. While I don't come from the business world like where they come from, I think that's probably what makes my input valuable. It's a different perspective.
What I am looking for, is the passion behind these projects. I want to understand why these entrepreneurs decided to create their initiative and start their business. I want to hear what good their initiative will do for the world and if it's sustainable. How many people their business will help? I am an actress, so I want to hear passion. Because I believe people are successful when they're filled with passion about a cause.
The people I am talking to are all finalists, so they probably all have passion. But there could be levels to that, and I want The Venture money to go to someone who feels that they have to make their business work. That they have been put on this world to make this project happen, and believe in their purpose so much that they will not be denied.
You do lots of humanitarian work, and you do get involved with several other projects with meaningful purposes. What inspired you to do this?
Because being a person of colour myself, I've always related to individuals who are subjugated in some way or who have gone without or who have been discriminated against. The people who struggle and suffer. That's been a part of my growing up, so I've had a natural propensity to want to help those people in need, and help those who are suffering.
My mother was in the psych ward at an army hospital when I was growing up and was always helping the Vietnam veterans. She always felt like they were mistreated in our country after the service that they gave. I was around all that when I was growing up, and so it was instilled in me then, that I have to give back to those who are less fortunate than me.
That's where it started, and I hope that I'm passing that along to my children because I think that seed needs to be planted when you're little. I think that's our responsibility as parents, to raise adults who have empathy and who care and who want to be involved and make a difference. And I think that is happening more than ever before. People are coming together and trying to make a difference and be a part of causes that we care about.
So everyone is responsible for changing the world?
I think so. And I have a real hard time listening to people complain about what's wrong and then don't lift a finger to help make a change. Those are really hard conversations for me to have. I don't care what you're doing, just do something.
So many people say, "But I am just one person; I can't do anything" But that's how it starts. Everything good starts with one person at one moment in time. You can only do your part, sometimes that's true, but you can do what you can. Just imagine, if everybody did what they could, how different the world would be?
As a celebrity, having said all that, what do you think about the people who get punished because of their stand on things? For example, Colin Kaepernick being shunned for the Black Lives Matter movement. If you're quiet, you're not doing enough. But if you speak out you get attacked for doing something? It's a dilemma, no?
I think you just said it. No matter what you do, you're going to be punished. So I think you just have to operate with your moral compass and do what you believe is right. Always.
I think it's important that we be mindful and respectful of others, and not push our agenda so hard that we disregard the feelings of others. We all have a right to our opinions; it's important to remember that. We're all going to be criticised no matter what we do. I have learned that in life, so now I stop worrying and just get on with it.
The Venture is a global search for socially-responsible businesses that want to change the world. Now in its third year, the competition has received almost 6,000 applications from start-ups around the world. So far it has donated US$2 million in financial support, which to date has touched over 300,000 beneficiaries in more than 40 countries.