Improving the Environment by Raising Awareness with Music for Relief’s Whitney Showler

February 7, 2014

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and we’re so honored to have Whitney Showler with us today. Welcome to Green is Good, Whitney. WHITNEY SHOWLER: Thank you so much. I’m happy to be here. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Whitney’s the Chief Operating Officer for Music for Relief and for our listeners who want to follow along, I’m on the site right now. It’s MusicforRelief.org and she also has another great site, PowertheWorld.org. Whitney, before we get talking about all the great work you’re doing, I want you to first share with our listeners, both here in the United States and around the world the Whitney Showler story, what you do, you journey leading up to being the COO of Music for Relief. WHITNEY SHOWLER: Well, thanks for asking. I began my career in the music industry and I was doing marketing at a record label. I worked for a music manager and I really enjoyed working in the music community and working with musicians but I realized that I wanted to be involved in something that gave back and something that helped others and I actually feel very lucky because I was working for this record label. Linkin Park asked me to come work for them and they had founded their Music for Relief organization. Shortly before that, I began volunteering for the organization and I said, ‘I’ve got some ideas. I want to help. What can I do?’ and it became clear that they needed somebody to run the organization full time because before that, it had really just been the band and management running the organization and I said to them, ‘I’d love to do this. I’d love to sort of transition and do this full time,’ and thankfully, they were in agreement and it’s been really wonderful ever since because we’ve been able to really grow the organization and do much more to help following natural disasters and also help with the environment and disaster risk mitigation. JOHN SHEGERIAN: When did that start? What year was that when you took over and they handed the Music for Relief to you to run? WHITNEY SHOWLER: It was at the end of 2006, early 2007. They founded the organization in 2005 so they had been really doing it all for a year, a year and a half. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Right, got it. What is the exact mission? What does Music for Relief do? If you and I were on an elevator right now and we’ve got 60 seconds going from the ground floor to the 39th floor, tell me what does Music for Relief do? WHITNEY SHOWLER: Music for Relief is dedicated to sending relief and aid to survivors of natural disasters and then helping them recover and rebuild and then the second part of our mission is to improve the environment by reducing global warming and helping with disaster risk mitigation. We really believe that vulnerable populations who are at risk for natural disasters can be greatly helped by improving the environment and sometimes that means reforestation. Sometimes that means replanting wetland areas. Sometimes it means reducing global warming so that there’s less desertification and improvement of their land so we have sort of this dual mission because we don’t want to just be reactive. We want to be preventative as well. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Do your efforts go worldwide? Does it go to just issues that affect the United States or does this go to bigger issues around the world, such as the tsunami in Japan and in Haiti and all the other places that we’ve had these natural tragedies in the previous five, six years? WHITNEY SHOWLER: Yes, it’s definitely worldwide. We were founded in 2005 after the Indian Ocean tsunami that hit at the very end of 2004 and that was really the catalyst that created Music for Relief and that got the guys to do more and so we respond to natural disasters that happen all over the globe. We responded to the Haiti earthquake. We responded to the Japan earthquake and tsunami, the cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe, all sorts of typhoons and storms in Southeast Asia, so it’s really a global response and then we also do environmental work all over the world. Right now, we’ve got a clean cook stove project that is happening in Nepal and the idea is that people in Nepal are using so much wood to cook their food and to heat their homes that they’re deforesting this very important forest area so it’s causing environmental problems, it’s causing problems for their health, and it’s reducing habitat for animals so we want to provide cook stoves that don’t require all that wood for them so it’s truly a global effort yet we will still respond to emergencies and do environmental work here in the U.S., in our homes and in our backyards. We responded to Hurricane Sandy in New York, in New Jersey, multiple wildfires in the west, and we’ve done lots of tree planting in the U.S. as well as, I think I’ve mentioned before, replanting some of the Gulf Coast Wetland, which are so critical in absorbing the storm surge when there is a hurricane. JOHN SHEGERIAN: We mentioned at the top of the show you have another organization also called Power the World. Can you explain how that came about and how that interrelates with Music for Relief? WHITNEY SHOWLER: Absolutely. Power the World is one of Music for Relief’s programs. It’s a part of Music for Relief and it’s our clean energy program. Basically, we responded to the Haiti earthquake and one of the programs that we helped fund for the people of Haiti in the aftermath were solar powered street lights because the families living in the IDP camps didn’t have light at night and it was dark and it was dangerous and so we helped fund solar powered street lights so that women and children could get back and forth to the bathroom safely, so that people could gather at night, so that they could have a better quality of life and when we went to visit Haiti after this disaster, one thing that we recognized was this lack of access to electricity is a major problem. It impacts people’s health, their safety, their education, and their livelihood and not just in disaster situations where we first really noticed it but it is a huge problem that is impacting people all over the world so we launched Power the World as part of Music for Relief. It’s our environmental campaign to help bring energy to people who don’t have access and specifically clean energy so we wanted to help people who were in developing countries get access to energy that’s not going to damage the environment, not going to be harmful to their health, that’s going to be clean and safe and really help them have better lives and livelihoods. JOHN SHEGERIAN: How many people are part of these organizations? How many people do you get to work with? WHITNEY SHOWLER: We have partners for all of our programs and we don’t necessarily have membership but we have hundreds of thousands of supporters so we’ve got people who are donating to Music for Relief to help our disaster relief efforts. We have people who are donating to help with Power the World. We also have amazing partners. For example, I mentioned our clean cook stove program in Nepal. We’re working with World Wildlife Fund to help implement those cook stoves in one village called Kumrose and there are amazing people on the ground who are working and helping us implement that program. We’re also working with the United Nations Foundation. They’re a great partner and they are helping us implement Power the World, helping us identify areas of the world that would benefit most from these programs and helping us connect with the communities that need them. JOHN SHEGERIAN: For our listeners out there who just joined us, we have Whitney Showler on with us today. She’s the Chief Operating Officer for Music for Relief and to learn more about what she’s doing with her organization, go to MusicforRelief.org or you also can go to PowertheWorld.org. Whitney, 2007, 2013, two very, very different times in this world in terms of the economy, in terms of social media. Talk a little bit about how your organization has evolved, both with Linkin Park’s involvement originally and obviously, continuing but have you been able to bring other bands in or other artists or people from the industry in? And also your fan engagement, given that social media has grown so much in those six years, how has that interrelationship happen and what does it look like and where do you think it’s going? WHITNEY SHOWLER: Yeah, that’s a great question and that makes us so unique in the world of nonprofit organizations. Music for Relief was born at a time when the internet was how people communicated and how people got their information and the people who support Music for Relief were very savvy and very connected and so we’ve been able to generate this really global base of supporters through our online outreach, through social media, and now more than ever before, that’s how we communicate with our supporters and with people who are impacted by our programs on the ground and we are lucky in that we’ve got supporters all over the world who want to help and we have ways for them to do that because we have this robust presence online. For example, people all over the world can go to PowertheWorld.org and sign the Pledge for Sustainable Energy for All and it really just states that they believe that everybody should have clean energy that doesn’t harm their health and doesn’t harm the environment and that’s one way you can help even if you’re not in the location where we are implementing our programs or if you’re not in Los Angeles, where we are based and I think that many nonprofit organizations had to sort of catch up to the digital phenomenon and we were already prepared for that just because of when we were established and because of Linkin Park’s savvy in that arena and you asked about other artists. Music for Relief’s goal is really to bring the musical community together to make a greater impact for those in need so we were founded by Linkin Park but we’re much greater than Linkin Park. We’ve got incredible support from artists all over the map. We have support from Enrique Iglesias, from Juanis. Past programs, we’ve had support from Dave Matthews Band, Alanis Morrisette and currently, Thirty Seconds to Mars and Steve Aoki are supporting our Typhoon Haiyan relief efforts for the Philippines so we’ve really had this incredible diverse group of artists and music industry professionals and fans who are supporting our efforts, helping us, and really coming together to do more for people in need. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Walk me through this. Let’s go through a case study. So the typhoon tragedy happens in the Philippines and so now it becomes a major event. How do you rally your troops? How is the decision made at your organization that you’re going to get involved and then how you’re going to get involved, the issue of what you’re going to do, what forms of action you’re going to take and how are you then going to rally your troops, financially and otherwise, to then make those actions a reality? Can you walk us through a case study in Music for Relief’s work around the world? WHITNEY SHOWLER: Sure. One of the key factors is speed. Once something like this hits, and with Typhoon Haiyan, of course we had a little bit of notice because we can see the weather patterns. We know that a typhoon is coming so we’ve got a little bit of time to plan. Unfortunately, a situation like the Japan earthquake and tsunami or the Haiti earthquake, not so much notice. It just happens in an instant. When disaster strikes, I will immediately contact the board of the organization and let them know how bad it looks like it is, if I believe we can formulate a meaningful response, and if we have funds that we can allocate to the relief effort. Having funds right away is critically important so if anybody wants to help with that, to ensure that we have funds in advance of a natural disaster, please feel free to go to MusicforRelief.org and donate and help us get those reserve funds in place. Once I have contacted the board, I let them know if we can formulate a response, what I think we should do, and they will say yes, let’s do it. We will all immediately start reaching out to all of our friends and contacts at record labels and other music companies and artists and artist managers and attorneys and we’ll let them know we’re responding. Here’s what we’re going to do. Here are the three things that you can do to help. In this scenario, we asked artists to provide either tickets or memorabilia, something that their fans would really want that we could provide as incentives for their donations and then we ask them to message about our response on social media so we then launched a fundraising appeal. We emailed all of our supporters, We sent a messaging through social media and we asked people to go to MusicforRelief.org to make donations and people who donated at certain levels were entered to win this great prizing from artists who supported our work so it all as to happen very quickly and we try to get the appeal up as soon as possible so that as people are seeing the disaster and as people want to help, there’s something that they can do and we really like to reward our friends and our supporters for their donations. In the case of the typhoon, not only did they get entered to win tickets and memorabilia from their favorite artists but we also had a program for the first several weeks of the campaign where anyone who donated 25 dollars or more got a special Music for Relief bracelet so those are going to be going out to our supporters very soon. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Do you consider yourself social media savvy in terms of are you always Twittering or do you have a team that’s always keeping those channels very lively and keeping the conversation very relevant? How does that work in terms of your mobilization of both keeping fans updated and taking action? WHITNEY SHOWLER: Yeah, I’ve got a great team of volunteers who help me and they’re constantly tweeting and I actually don’t tweet personally because I’m so busy tweeting for Music for Relief so they’re fantastic and they help me out and I enjoy seeing our supporters retweet and communicate with us and it’s really fun because we can get feedback right away and Linkin Park was just in The Philippines earlier this year and we communicated with Music for Relief supporters there because we had a Music for Relief presence at the show. We were also in The Philippines responding to a previous flooding from typhoons so we can have this dialogue with our friends and our supporters in The Philippines telling us here’s what the situation is, thank you for your support and we can really have that immediate feedback from the communities that we’re helping, which is amazing. JOHN SHEGERIAN: We’re down to the last minute-and-a-half or so, Whitney, and like I said, we have a lot of young listeners out there that want to become the next Whitney Showler. Can you share some tips or some advice to the generation in high school or in college that want to do something with a higher purpose like you’re doing and want to wake up every morning feeling like they’re changing the world? WHITNEY SHOWLER: Absolutely. My advice would be to really think about what you want to do and then go after it. I wasn’t hired to do this originally. I decided that I wanted to do something that had more purpose to me and felt like it was helping the greater good and the world at large and so I sort of went after it and I asked if I could do this so I would say think about what would make you happy and what you want to do and find a way to make it happy and it might not always be easy and you might have to get really creative to do it but I think that there’s a way. JOHN SHEGERIAN: For our listeners out there, to learn more about Whitney’s great work and her organizations and to donate and to help further the mission, it’s www.musicforrelief.org and www.powertheworld.org. Whitney Showler, you are a sustainability rock star and truly living proof that green is good.