Jon Duschinsky: ‘Companies today need an audience, ambassadors, and fans’

Jon Duschinsky is one of the world’s leading social innovators and entrepreneurs and part of the team behind the Ice Bucket Challenge that went viral and raised over $100m to cure ALS. He talks to Vision about why companies need to adapt to a new business reality in the post-digital age, and how to create viral movements that lead to social impact. 

Vision: How can youth in the Middle East create viral movements that lead to positive social impact?

Jon Duschinsky: When you start to look at viral movements you realise that they are all coming from somewhere and the ones that work come from a community where people are often frustrated, have something burning in them and haven’t found a way to unify their voice. Most of the time, something or somebody helps them by telling a story they can rally around. Then they get strength in numbers and the actions that come out of that become the basis of the movement.

For Middle Eastern youth what I would say is, ‘what do you really care about? What really matters to you?’. Inside every one of us we have a truth, a story that we can tell, and that we need to tell, and people are terrified of that. But we need to face the fact we can either go through life by ticking boxes or we can make the most valuable contribution as human beings right here, right now. That’s through articulating what’s important and showing leadership by getting the story out and seeing if people will resonate with it.

V: You often talk about how companies need to have a conversation, instead a one-way communication with their audience. Can you elaborate why?

JD: Ten to 15 years ago companies advertised and they pushed messages at you, told you what to think, what to buy and that’s how the world functioned. It really has done so since the advent of modern advertising. Today, you don’t want to be told what to think or what to buy by a company. You want to firstly have the freedom of choice. Secondly, you don’t trust a company anymore; you trust you friends, your peers. A company can no longer use the same old model of ‘I’ll put my advertisement out there and push my messages and everyone will buy my product’. They won’t.

Companies today need an audience, ambassadors, and fans. In order to get that, they have to be more than products, and they have to go from function to purpose. Make it meaningful, and tell me that you as a company stand for something in the world that I want to stand with you on. I’ll stand next to you, and then I’ll buy your product.

'A company can no longer use the same old model of ‘I’ll put my advertisement out there and push my messages and everyone will buy my product’. They won’t.'

Jon Duschinsky, One of the world’s leading social innovators and entrepreneurs and part of the team behind the Ice Bucket Challenge

V: What do you think of the social entrepreneurship scene in the region?

JD: I think some people have understood that it is a core part of business. I think that comes with the understanding that making money and doing good are not opposed to each other. We need to be able to make a difference to people’s lives.

One of the things I love about this region is what’s been done in Dubai. It is spectacular. Dubai brought people from all over the world and created a vision and a space for those people to interact and create something together. That is a model and a very powerful one. There is also an immense amount of youth energy here that if we can tap into would be fabulous.