What do you do?
As press and communications officer at Reprieve I work with journalists on
stories about the issues and cases we work on (assisting people facing
the death penalty or victims of human rights abuses in the so-called
‘war on terror’) and help journalists with anything they might need
like background and quotes. I also work on more long term and/or
creative projects that highlight the cases and issues we work on, for
example videos or documentaries.
What motivates you to get up in the morning?
It is completely compelling work with some of the most intelligent and
inspiring lawyers in the world. But what motivates me in particular is
people – helping to tell the stories of the most vulnerable and
marginalised individuals who are facing the might of the State is
fascinating and, to be corny, quite a privilege.
What do you see as some of the biggest challenges facing our generation?
Political extremism – and reactionism – of all sorts; unchecked State
Do you see your work (directly or indirectly) as trying to address some of those problems and if so, how?
Reprieve does a lot to directly counter these – by taking on legal
cases against the State on behalf of some of the most vulnerable
individuals we provide a check on State power. And by telling
compelling narratives that are from the perspective of those less
powerful, and less listened to, than you might often hear.
What do you do?
I run a business that helps privileged mainstream professionals escape from unfulfilling jobs and find work that makes them tick. I use the word “privileged” deliberately. Our members have all had choice in their lives and careers. Despite this, they have ended up with careers that do not fulfil them. We help them use their power of choice to make big and challenging changes in their lives.
What do you think are the greatest challenges of our generation?
I think our greatest shared challenges are all linked to the concentration of power in the hands of a small elite and massive corporations. I think many of the other challenges that we face (climate change, poverty) are as a result of this concentration of power. Make the world more equal and we’ll find it much easier to solve some of the big challenges we face in the 21st Century.
How do you think Escape the City is contributing to address these problems?
We empower the individual. Once people decide to make big changes in their lives, the majority of them are motivated to do work that has a positive social impact. Even those who start their own businesses generally choose a business model that gives back in some way. We all want similar things when it comes down to it: to help people, to feel connected, to contribute to something bigger than ourselves, to leave the world a bit better than when we found it, and to be able to look after ourselves and those we love.
And how does this rebalance power away from the elite?
If some of the most fortunate people in society – instead of generating more profit for rich corporations (i.e. part of the problem) – are working on solutions in one form or another, then I feel you’ve got the beginnings of a virtuous circle with talent, influence and value creation moving away from the richest and most powerful, towards people and society.
In the past you needed a lot of money and influence to create anything. Technological advances – supported by a cultural shift in aspirations – means more and more people are waking up to the fact that they can create positive things on their own terms without needing the establishment’s permission. This is a hugely democratising trend.
How can you shift culture through individuals?
We feel that if we can help one person get unstuck and make a brave career transition towards meaning, fulfilment and impact then that person can have a multiplier effect through their work – helping 100s of others through the organisations they build and the people and cultures they influence.
We believe that everyone has the potential to have a positive impact in the world through their choices and I hope that our business helps people to tap into that power. I think the world would be a better place if more people did work that engages and fulfils them rather than living comfortably numb.
[Rob Symington can be found at www.escapethecity.org or on Twitter @escroberto. He also happens to be my husband and a willing guinea pig for interview #1!]