Lots of people daydream about quitting their job and dedicating their lives to making the world a better place. Few people actually do it.
Simon Puleston Jones spent 20 years working in financial services in the City of London. Earlier this year, he decided to walk away from that career path and become a social entrepreneur. The result of Puleston Jones’ pivot is WokenUp, a soon-to-be-launched platform that has aligned itself with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals with an eye toward becoming the “social network for good.”
Last week, we covered how WokenUp is in the middle of a crowdfunding campaign. But I was curious to learn more about what inspired Puleston Jones to make the kind of career change so many people dream of … so I asked him.
Let’s start with the basics: What is WokenUp?
WokenUp is the new global social network for individuals, companies and nonprofits who want to help others, give back and make a difference on today’s social and environmental issues. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals sit at the heart of our platform.
Why do you think the time is right for a new social network like WokenUp?
The average person now has an account with 8 different social networks. In 2013, it was 4 networks. It’s not the number of networks that matters, it’s that each social network has been designed and is used for a different purpose. WokenUp is solely about people and organizations helping others and making a difference.
All the leading social networks were built for their time – typically 2003 to 2010. Only one top 20 social network (Telegram) has been created in the last 7 years. So there’s a unique opportunity to create the leading social network built to address today pressing concerns, which empowers its users to build tomorrow’s world. WokenUp aspires to be that platform.
This decade has largely been about “me” – we have become ever-more tribal, self-centered and self-righteous. This has led to a fragmentation of society and a decreasing ability to move forward together – perhaps best exemplified by the Brexit debate in the UK.
Times are changing, however. A Barclays equity research report last year showed that, in contrast to Millennials, Generation Z (those 24 and below) are socially active and “we, we, we” rather than the “me, me, me” of the Instagram-focused Millennial generation.
In 2019, we’ve increasingly been talking about the society in which we want to live and the planet we’re leaving behind for our children and grandchildren. As a result, from #MeToo, climate action and beyond, we now want to take action on today’s pressing social and environmental issues. We crave a sense of purpose. But many of us who want to achieve something bigger than ourselves don’t know where to start. We need inspiration and to feel that our actions, large and small, are making an impact.
As part of that recent societal change, people also want to buy from, work for and invest in companies with “purpose” – but a lack of standardization, the varied structures of corporate websites, long-winded periodic shareholder reports and LinkedIn’s “newsfeed” approach to promoting ESG content make such information difficult to access and explore by the general public.
Industry-specifically, many have expressed great dissatisfaction with the incumbent social networks – how they treat data, the addictiveness of endless newsfeed scrolling, on-line harms, tribalism, fake news and their possible effect on mental health.
There is an opportunity to create a platform that not only enables its users to deliver social and environmental good, but also promotes digital mindfulness. A social network “for good”, for individuals, nonprofits and companies – that’s WokenUp.
What made you decide to align WokenUp with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals?
Our research showed that the UNSDGs are one of the most widely-used benchmarks in the corporate world for companies around the world to demonstrate the impact that they are making on today’s key issues.
We wanted to provide users with an effective way of creating, ordering and exploring content, which was sufficiently broad to cover a wide range of more granular causes. Putting the 17 UN SDGs at the heart of our user experience provided a simple and intuitive solution. These Goals are intended by the United Nations to be attained by the year 2030 – that timeline helps create the necessary impetus and urgency to encourage us all to collaborate to take action and make a positive impact.
The SDGs resonate deeply with my personal values. I’m keen to support the United Nations raise awareness of the Goals in the minds of the wider public.
When you look at the SDGs, which ones do you think are most attainable? Which SDGs will be the most challenging to meet?
We can all readily participate in SDG 17 (Partnership for the Goals). Climate action (SDG #13) is unquestionably the most important of the Goals – if the planet becomes uninhabitable as a result of society’s inaction through the 2020s, none of the other 16 goals will ultimately matter. Taking the necessary action is going to require a significant adjustment to our way of life and certain things that we have come to take for granted.
How will WokenUp help individuals and organizations tell their own stories as they relate to SDG efforts?
Your customers, your colleagues and the public don’t read annual responsibility reports, shareholder reports nor have the time to figure out how to discover this content on your website. They DO use social media and they will read your stories if they are made more accessible. That’s a problem solved by WokenUp’s unique topic-led approach to displaying content - in contrast to other leading social networks, posts on WokenUp can be tagged by individuals and organizations to the UN SDG to which it relates.
Further - rather than relying on newsfeeds, users can explore content not only by hashtag but by each individual SDG, at the touch of a single button.
WokenUp therefore helps companies communicate the impact that they are making (i.e. their “purpose”) through our innovative Snippets feature – a new type of post containing a single sentence of data that is tagged to the SDG to which it relates, e.g. “34,000 – the number of plastic water bottles that we saved last year by switching our global offices over to water filters” – tagged to UN SDG #6 (Clean water) or “27% of our newly promoted partners are women” – tagged to UN SDG #5 (Gender equality) or “1/3 - over the last 3 years, we’ve reduced our Scope 1 and Scope 2 carbon emissions by a third” – tagged to UN SDG #13 (Climate action).
Do you see WokenUp playing a role in how data is gathered for ESG investment strategies and analyses?
As a global aggregator of data relating to the UN SDGs and social and environmental issues, the potential effectiveness and commercial value of WokenUp is significant.
Through its Snippets and its tagged posts, WokenUp seeks to aggregate much of the world’s data regarding the impact that companies around the world are making on environmental social governance. Users will be able to explore the topic in which they are interested – they can press the “#ESG” hashtag button to explore all content that has been posted to the #ESG channel, and then apply the filters they want to search, for example, for posts by "companies" in "London" in the "financial services sector" relating to "UN SDG #5 (Climate Action)" posted between "date x" and "date y."
For £5 a month, users can become premium subscribers. Among other things, that would give such users access to our anonymized data dashboard, which would enable them to explore the aggregated demographics of the users posting about a given UN SDG and/or hashtag – you can discover and filter the age/gender/industry sector/geographical demographics of those posting to that UN SDG or hashtag channel.
Over time, we intend to not only aggregate such ESG data, but to curate it and disseminate it to users. Even pre-product, we have been approached by two companies who are establishing retail ESG platforms and who were interested in exploring opportunities to integrate their product with WokenUp.
My banking experience informs the observation that benchmarks change over time (e.g. today’s transition away from LIBOR). The SDGs are stated to “expire” in 2030. Over time, we will therefore look to support other benchmarks that are widely used to demonstrate how companies are making a difference.
Your path from lobbying for complex financial services derivatives to social entrepreneurship is an uncommon one. What made you decide to make that change? What has been the hardest part of the transition?
With today’s increasing focus on regulating social networks, any change away from lobbying and addressing regulatory change will likely prove short lived!
My transition from lobbying to entrepreneurship all started thanks to a first date with a wonderful woman 18 months ago (who is now my wife!). On that date, I discovered she was a life coach in her spare time. She encouraged me to consider the benefits of being life coached in my spare time. I subsequently attended a number of courses and ultimately discerned that I am at my happiest when helping others and doing things that are bigger than just myself. As part of that coaching, I was invited to breathe life into my passion for giving back and making a difference – as so WokenUp was born!
At the time, I was a lobbyist running the European office of a major financial services trade association – building and executing the strategy to represent the world’s largest investment banks and others on Brexit and other topics pertinent to derivatives. WokenUp – which at that time was merely a project that I worked on to the side of my day job – received such positive feedback, and its proposition became so compelling and inspiring to others, that I decided to leave my 20 year City career in order to work full time on WokenUp.
Whilst I’ve been a CEO and Chairman before, this is my first entrepreneurial role. The most challenging aspect of the transition is to constantly learn new skills – IT, marketing and PR, fundraising, finance, legal and communication skills, to name but a few. Having spent the last 11 years helping banks navigate regulatory change that resulted from the financial crisis, change management and personal development are second nature to me.
The best part of the transition is that I have developed an inspiring personal and professional purpose: WokenUp’s mission is to transform humanity for good. We look to achieve that by bringing together on a single online platform the people and companies who are doing good in the world, with a view to deepening and accelerating their impact, individually and collectively. In short, WokenUp is the app that is designed to empower its users to create tomorrow’s world by addressing today’s social and environmental challenges.