The Up-Start

Jeremy Heimans might be the most in­flu­en­tial and con­nected Aus­tralian in the world

The Monthly (Australia) - - APRIL 2018 - Jeremy Heimans might be the most in­flu­en­tial and con­nected Aus­tralian in the world by Mal­colm Knox

“Jeremy is a com­plete ge­nius, but no­body here knows who he is.”

If you were rid­ing in an au­torick­shaw in Delhi, In­dia, in the past two years, hand­ker­chief over your mouth against the smog, you might have been sur­prised by your driver giv­ing you a mini-lec­ture about how the pol­lu­tion was linked to global cli­mate change. If this was one of the 359 days of the year when Delhi’s pol­lu­tion ex­ceeded World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion safety stan­dards, and you be­gan cough­ing, the driver might have of­fered a mask to re­place your hand­ker­chief. Many of the city’s au­torick­shaw driv­ers were trained mem­bers of “Help Delhi Breathe”, a grass­roots move­ment whose ac­tions re­sulted in the In­dian govern­ment an­nounc­ing an am­bi­tious so­lar en­ergy scheme, among other mea­sures aimed at sav­ing the thou­sands of lives lost in Delhi each year to pol­lu­tion-re­lated causes. At around the same time, dur­ing the Aus­tralian fed­eral elec­tion of 2016, Tas­ma­nian hard-right Lib­eral MP An­drew Nikolic was sur­prised by a re­sult that bore closer re­sem­blance to a lo­cal cit­i­zens’ up­ris­ing than a po­lit­i­cal cam­paign. Launce­s­ton doc­tors and nurses with a life­time of po­lit­i­cal in­ac­tion, re­belling against bud­get cuts to pub­lic health that Nikolic had sup­ported, mo­bilised to per­suade their fel­low vot­ers to kick their mem­ber out of of­fice. The Delhi au­torick­shaw driv­ers, the Launce­s­ton GPs and dozens of ap­par­ently dis­con­nected pro­gres­sive cam­paign­ers around the world had a common lin­eage. Help Delhi Breathe had started with a group of frus­trated ac­tivists pair­ing up with Pur­pose, a New York–based or­gan­i­sa­tion co-founded and headed by an Aus­tralian, Jeremy Heimans. A crit­i­cal fac­tor in the 2016 re­jec­tion of Nikolic was the con­tri­bu­tion by GetUp!, which Heimans co-founded in 2004. Once you start look­ing, the 40-year-old Heimans be­comes a Zelig of 21st-cen­tury pro­gres­sive move­ment­build­ing. Pur­pose has en­abled non-hi­er­ar­chi­cal, par­tic­i­pa­tory ini­tia­tives rang­ing from Every­town for Gun Safety, the anti-gun vi­o­lence coali­tion in the United States, through a di­verse port­fo­lio of pub­lic health, clean en­ergy, hu­man­i­tar­ian and other cam­paigns. Be­fore set­ting up Pur­pose in 2009, Heimans also had a role in found­ing the in­ter­na­tional ac­tivist or­gan­i­sa­tion Avaaz, which now has close to 47 mil­lion mem­bers. Fast Com­pany mag­a­zine ranked Heimans 11th in its “Most Creative Peo­ple 2012” list, and he has ad­dressed nu­mer­ous fo­rums from TED Talks to the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum in Davos. He has co-writ­ten a book, New Power: How Power Works in our Hyper­con­nected World – and How to Make It Work for You, which car­ries per­sonal en­dorse­ments from Richard Bran­son, Jane Goodall and Black Lives Mat­ter co-founder Ali­cia Garza. Heimans might be the most con­nected and in­flu­en­tial Aus­tralian on the world stage, yet his pro­file here is min­i­mal. As GetUp! co-founder Amanda Tat­ter­sall says, “Jeremy is a com­plete ge­nius, but no­body here knows who he is.” Al­though Heimans’ move­ment-build­ing is synony­mous with online and mo­bile tech­nol­ogy, his cam­paign ex­pe­ri­ence dates back to door­knock­ing, pa­per pe­ti­tions and street marches. At the age of eight, Heimans re­sponded to a third-grade chal­lenge – “What would you do for world peace if you were ar­riv­ing on earth in a space­ship?” – by writ­ing a song called “Rain­bow of Peace”, which won the Aus­tralian sec­tion of the In­ter­na­tional Chil­dren’s Peace Prize. For Heimans, that meant a trip to Dis­ney­land to col­lect his award, and an­other trip to the Ban­ner of Peace con­fer­ence in Bul­garia. (“A great cul­tural ex­change”, Heimans said look­ing back on it as a 15-year-old, but also “a kind of com­mu­nist PR job”.) Heimans’ pub­lic speak­ing prow­ess led to meet­ing Prime Min­is­ter Bob Hawke and ap­pear­ing on A Cur­rent Af­fair in 1990 when he was 12. Ac­cord­ing to The Syd­ney Morn­ing Her­ald, Heimans’ in­tel­li­gence and co­gency re­duced the ACA re­porter “to mo­ronic ex­pres­sions of be­wil­der­ment”. There was a trip to the Nether­lands to meet No­bel Prize lau­re­ates, a short film about chil­dren that was pre­sented to the then for­eign min­is­ter, Gareth Evans, and at one point Heimans rounded up 50 teenagers to tell mem­bers of the NSW par­lia­ment pretty much how to do their jobs. As a school­boy, he had a busi­ness card and a rented mo­bile phone (“re­ally the best way to com­mu­ni­cate with the real world from school,” he told a news­pa­per). Heimans is the first to ad­mit that he was “a strange child”. The youngest of three (his mid­dle brother, the por­traitist Ralph Heimans, is eight years older), he was more fo­cused on adults than other chil­dren. “When I started at Syd­ney Boys High there was an ‘Anti-Heimans Move­ment’, which wasn’t a real thing but a re­flec­tion of peo­ple’s hor­ror at this talk­a­tive kid get­ting up in front of the as­sem­bly and on TV in Year 7.” To talk to, Heimans has a rum­pled charm that shows a long evolution from the “ar­ro­gant brat” he once called him­self. Tat­ter­sall, who co-founded GetUp! with Heimans and David Mad­den in 2004, says, “Jeremy is so bright and quick, and has a so­phis­ti­cated way of un­der­stand­ing the world, but back then it could get in the way of his re­la­tion­ships. It wasn’t spec­trum be­hav­iour but it was on the edge of it – not fully pick­ing up how some stuff was land­ing.” By all ac­counts, Heimans soon learnt how to pre­vent his in­tel­li­gence from in­tim­i­dat­ing oth­ers. “He’s quite softly spo­ken, not a stereo­typ­i­cal ‘big per­son­al­ity’,” says Evan Thorn­ley, the tech en­tre­pre­neur and for­mer Vic­to­rian La­bor MP who helped fund GetUp! and men­tored Heimans. “He started out as a thought leader, but he’s be­come a sig­nif­i­cant peo­ple leader. Peo­ple fol­low him.”

“I re­mem­ber when I was seven, in 1984, hand­ing out pro-im­mi­gra­tion leaflets in time for the elec­tion.”

Loud or soft, the talk­ing was in­nate. His fa­ther, Frank Heimans, told an in­ter­viewer in 1992 that his son at nine months of age was pre­sented with some food and pro­nounced from his high chair, “Ac­tu­ally, I don’t like it.” Heimans says his par­ents were “be­fud­dled, en­cour­ag­ing and pro­tec­tive” of his pre­co­cious­ness. Frank was a doc­u­men­tary film­maker whose work on sub­jects as di­verse as the Holo­caust and In­dige­nous Aus­tralians’ re­la­tion­ship with the en­vi­ron­ment in­ter­ested him, but “in­de­pen­dence and en­trepreneuri­al­ism” was his fa­ther’s key legacy. “The cy­cle as an in­de­pen­dent film­maker was that you had to hus­tle to raise the funds, make the film, mar­ket it … and then it starts again. The things I’ve done have fol­lowed a sim­i­lar pat­tern. It’s not scary to me be­cause I didn’t have a dad who was an em­ployee of a big com­pany or a big or­gan­i­sa­tion. Be­ing pas­sion­ate about some­thing and go­ing out and mak­ing it – he was the model for that.” While pol­i­tics was not a reg­u­lar din­ner-ta­ble topic, Heimans’ fam­ily his­tory left a deep mark. “The found­ing story of my life is this kid who had a nar­row es­cape,” Heimans says, ex­plain­ing that his fa­ther had been con­ceived in 1942 in an at­tic in the Dutch town of Til­burg, where his Jewish fam­ily hid from the Nazis – pro­tected by a Chris­tian fam­ily. “He’d been given a paci­fier to stop him mak­ing noise so the neigh­bours wouldn’t hear him.” The story goes that when the Al­lies lib­er­ated Til­burg, in 1944, Frank’s head was swollen from oxy­gen de­pri­va­tion be­cause he’d never been out­side. “One thing he did that I re­ally ad­mire is that he turned out­ward, not in­ward,” ex­plains Heimans. “He didn’t think his first duty was ‘pro­tect­ing the tribe’. He de­voted his ca­reer to mak­ing films about other peo­ple’s in­jus­tices.” Frank em­i­grated to Aus­tralia when he was 12. His fam­ily was smaller than that of his wife, Josette, who ar­rived from Le­banon in 1965. “She came of age in Le­banon’s glory pe­riod in the ’50s and ’60s when Beirut was this so­phis­ti­cated, plu­ral­is­tic, multi-re­li­gious kind of place,” Heimans says. “She went to a Catholic school but she had Mus­lim friends, Catholic friends, Jewish friends – she wasn’t lead­ing a strat­i­fied life. It’s a re­minder that his­tory is not lin­ear. Her up­bring­ing was the story of Beirut as the so-called par­adise that was.” Most of Josette’s Le­banese-Jewish fam­ily were in Syd­ney and they pro­vided the cul­tural in­flu­ence on Heimans’ up­bring­ing. “French was the calm lan­guage, and swear words were de­liv­ered in Ara­bic. It was not a su­per­re­li­gious sit­u­a­tion. We’d go to the Sephardic syn­a­gogue in Woollahra: very aus­tere, no fan­fare, no or­gans, women up­stairs and men down­stairs, old guys singing out of key. At home, re­li­gion was only nom­i­nally there and we never spoke about it, but the cul­tural tra­di­tions were very prom­i­nent.” In­grained was the knowledge that both of his par­ents had come to Aus­tralia un­der duress, and refugee pol­icy was among his early po­lit­i­cal in­ter­ests. He was sur­rounded by adults who had fled con­flict and, typ­i­cal of his time, he grew up in fear of a third world war. As a five-year-old, it was the the­atre of pol­i­tics that hooked him. “Bob Hawke had just been elected prime min­is­ter, and I re­mem­ber Mal­colm Fraser’s tear­ful con­ces­sion speech. There was some­thing about this thing that gen­er­ated such drama and emo­tion. I re­mem­ber when I was seven, in 1984, hand­ing out pro-im­mi­gra­tion leaflets in time for the elec­tion … Other kids might have been in­ter­ested in sport, but my sport was pol­i­tics.” With a ter­tiary en­trance rank­ing of 99.95, Heimans started an arts/law de­gree at the Univer­sity of Syd­ney, but soon dropped law to fo­cus on an hon­ours arts de­gree in govern­ment. A brief stint at man­age­ment con­sul­tancy firm McKin­sey & Com­pany dis­suaded him from cor­po­rate life, and he won a Frank Knox Me­mo­rial Fel­low­ship to study at Har­vard’s John F. Kennedy School of Govern­ment. There was an ex­change year in Paris, and he com­menced a PhD at Ox­ford aged 25 be­fore leav­ing after two terms. Heimans was lucky enough to be able to “try on dif­fer­ent suits for size” and de­fine his fu­ture by which al­ter­na­tives he was re­ject­ing. “The McKin­sey phase was busi­ness and the lan­guage and lens of busi­ness. Ox­ford was the track to be­ing a tech­no­crat: get a PhD, work for the UN or an in­ter­na­tional in­sti­tu­tion. There was a lit­tle bit of hor­ror when I left Ox­ford, but I wanted to ex­plore more ac­tive en­gage­ment, cam­paign against the Iraq War. My su­per­vi­sor, Ngaire Woods, said, ‘I guess you’re right, Jeremy. The world needs more ac­tivists and fewer re­flec­tivists.’” Heimans had fig­ured out that he was suited to an “out­side-in role, which was pretty con­sis­tent with my child­hood”. In­de­pen­dence of spirit was some­thing Heimans shared with David Mad­den, whom he met at Har­vard while they were both wait­ing to be in­ter­viewed for a Rhodes Schol­ar­ship. Mad­den, two years older, a law grad­u­ate with an army back­ground, was the son of a Can­berra mag­is­trate. “Ev­ery­one was dressed to im­press, but I re­mem­ber that Jeremy was rock­ing a pair of Blun­nies,” Mad­den re­calls. “We were both very am­biva­lent about the Rhodes and, per­haps at a deeper level, th­ese ‘tra­di­tional’ path­ways and in­sti­tu­tions in gen­eral. Jeremy was wear­ing that am­biva­lence on his sleeve or, rather, on his feet!” The pair be­came in­volved in the Har­vard Liv­ing Wage cam­paign, sup­port­ing higher pay for ser­vice work­ers at the univer­sity. Most weeks they met in an In­dian restau­rant and dis­cussed how to de­velop grass­roots

cam­paign­ing from pe­ti­tions and marches to “think­ing on the edge of how you en­gage, in­spire and mo­ti­vate peo­ple”. The pair stood at a cross­roads. Given all their ad­van­tages and all the of­fers that could come their way – em­ploy­ment, se­cu­rity, iden­tity and, ul­ti­mately, wealth – they prized their in­de­pen­dence most of all. But if they were to be po­lit­i­cal ac­tivists, was true in­de­pen­dence ul­ti­mately pos­si­ble? That ques­tion would in­flu­ence the course Heimans and Mad­den un­der­took. Dur­ing the 2004 US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, Heimans and Mad­den were com­mit­ted to cam­paign­ing against the Iraq War. They raised money mostly from small do­na­tions and pro­duced an in­de­pen­dent tele­vi­sion cam­paign, which ran in 12 states, con­trast­ing Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush jok­ing about not find­ing weapons of mass de­struc­tion in Iraq with clips of an Amer­i­can mother speak­ing about her son be­ing killed in the search for those nonex­is­tent weapons. The or­gan­i­sa­tion that Heimans and Mad­den helped start, Win Back Re­spect, at­tracted an ad­vi­sory board that in­cluded for­mer sen­a­tor Gary Hart, and for­mer ad­vis­ers to Bill Clin­ton and Al Gore. Win Back Re­spect funded a speak­ing tour by gen­eral-turned-Demo­crat politi­cian Wesley Clark and also flew the Band of Sis­ters, fe­male rel­a­tives of US sol­diers, around the cam­paign trail to be­devil Vice-Pres­i­dent Dick Cheney. Heimans and Mad­den’s in­spi­ra­tion came from MoveOn, the pub­lic ad­vo­cacy group founded in 1998 by soft­ware en­trepreneurs Joan Blades and Wes Boyd. Its main aims were to sup­port and cam­paign for “pro­gres­sive” is­sues and elec­toral can­di­dates. MoveOn soon com­piled mass email lists and de­vel­oped a de­cen­tralised power struc­ture to mo­bilise protest broadly and quickly. Elec­tions in 2004 saw crush­ing de­feats for cen­tre-left can­di­dates in the US and Aus­tralia. Bush won a sec­ond term, and John Howard seized con­trol of both houses of par­lia­ment. Heimans came home to Syd­ney that De­cem­ber to visit fam­ily and friends. At a pub, he ran into Amanda Tat­ter­sall, whom he had known in ac­tivist cir­cles since un­der­grad­u­ate days. Then a com­mu­nity out­reach or­gan­iser with the La­bor Coun­cil of New South Wales (now Unions NSW), Tat­ter­sall had been ac­tive in Iraq War and refugee pol­icy protests. Heimans told her that he and Mad­den would love to set up an Aus­tralian ver­sion of MoveOn. “We should sit down prop­erly in day­light hours and not have a drunken pub con­ver­sa­tion,” Tat­ter­sall re­calls say­ing. Two days later, Heimans and Tat­ter­sall met again in a cafe at the city end of Ox­ford Street. “I loved his idea,” Tat­ter­sall says. “We’d been try­ing to build an ac­tivists’ reg­is­ter, and I thought, Oh my God, this is ex­actly what we need.” Tat­ter­sall had been do­ing some dig­i­tal or­gan­is­ing, set­ting up a 15- to 20,000-peo­ple email list to run the peace move­ment, “but we were bum­bling our way through with­out a model, and Jeremy pre­sented that model: a mas­sive email list with an or­gan­i­sa­tion be­hind it that runs multi-is­sue cam­paigns … I had been set­ting up cam­paigns and then dis­solv­ing them once they were over. In­stead, we could have one thing and brand it across move­ments, a piece of so­cial in­fra­struc­ture for pro­gres­sive pol­i­tics.” Tat­ter­sall un­der­took to se­cure ini­tial fund­ing within 48 hours. She sent a text mes­sage to John Robert­son, her boss at the La­bor Coun­cil, and the next day he com­mit­ted $50,000. “Be­cause of where the union move­ment was at, cri­sis dove­tailed with op­por­tu­nity,” Tat­ter­sall says. Heimans re­turned to the US, but two months later he came back with Mad­den. They worked out of Tat­ter­sall’s of­fice, ex­per­i­ment­ing with names on A4 sheets of pa­per (they tried MoveOn Aus­tralia be­fore set­tling on GetUp!), hir­ing staff, and defin­ing the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s fun­da­men­tal aims in or­der to pitch for more start-up cap­i­tal. After the La­bor Coun­cil, the first fun­ders in­cluded the Aus­tralian Work­ers’ Union (AWU; then un­der Bill Shorten’s lead­er­ship) and Evan Thorn­ley. “They were shop­ping around a video of what they’d done in the US,” Thorn­ley re­calls. “Jeremy was al­ways creative, look­ing for dif­fer­ent styles of cam­paign­ing. His in­tel­li­gence was only half of it, though. In­tel­li­gence alone doesn’t make a leader. It’s his moral val­ues. He knows what he be­lieves in.”

“We be­lieved the only way to re­vi­talise the pro­gres­sive move­ment in Aus­tralia was to have noth­ing to do with chang­ing the po­lit­i­cal party ap­pa­ra­tus.”

Within those first days, how­ever, the seed for more than a decade of at­tacks on GetUp! was planted: the unions were giv­ing it money, so GetUp! had to be a union and ALP front. Sen­a­tor Eric Abetz, who Heimans re­mem­bers de­plor­ing him as a “sex­ual Bol­she­vik”, would ded­i­cate years to the failed ef­fort of hav­ing GetUp! clas­si­fied, for fund­ing pur­poses, as an “as­so­ci­ated en­tity” of the ALP. The Mur­doch me­dia would tire­lessly point out the over­lap be­tween GetUp! and the likes of Shorten and Robert­son (fu­ture La­bor lead­ers), Tim Dixon and Lach­lan Har­ris (pro­fes­sional as­so­ciates of Heimans who would work with La­bor), and Cate Faehrmann (who later be­came a NSW up­per-house Greens par­lia­men­tar­ian, and un­til re­cently was the chief of staff to Richard Di Natale) to build a pic­ture of a La­bor–Greens–GetUp! con­spir­acy. In its sup­port for the con­tro­ver­sial Aus­tralian Fed­eral Po­lice raid on the AWU’s premises late last year, the Coali­tion was still bur­row­ing away at the union’s do­na­tion to GetUp! back in 2006, as the Reg­is­tered

Or­gan­i­sa­tions Com­mis­sion in­ves­ti­gated whether Shorten fol­lowed cor­rect pro­ce­dures. And yet, to be al­lied with La­bor or any other party was specif­i­cally what Heimans and Mad­den were re­ject­ing when they founded GetUp! “We thought the par­ties were hope­less, they’d com­pletely failed to pro­vide an ef­fec­tive op­po­si­tion to the con­ser­va­tive poli­cies of the Howard govern­ment,” Heimans says. “We be­lieved the only way to re­vi­talise the pro­gres­sive move­ment in Aus­tralia was to have noth­ing to do with chang­ing the po­lit­i­cal party ap­pa­ra­tus.” Tat­ter­sall, a dis­en­chanted ALP mem­ber at the time GetUp! was founded, says the donors were drawn to the GetUp! idea be­cause it wasn’t about a po­lit­i­cal party. “They had been throw­ing their money away on po­lit­i­cal par­ties, and this was about in­de­pen­dent pol­i­tics, some­thing sus­tain­able that might make par­ties bet­ter.” Heimans de­scribes GetUp!’s pitch: “If you want a demo­cratic an­chor for pro­gres­sive Aus­tralian pol­i­tics, that is what we’ll be. We’ll keep all the bas­tards hon­est – Coali­tion, La­bor, the Greens.” GetUp! cam­paigns would fol­low the val­ues of “so­cial jus­tice, eco­nomic fair­ness, en­vi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity”, fall where they may in the po­lit­i­cal de­bate. GetUp! was far from neu­tral on those de­bates, but Heimans says it took the side of the is­sue, not a party. “If an other-uni­verse pro­gres­sive ver­sion of Mal­colm Turn­bull had been in power in 2009 push­ing gay mar­riage, we would fol­low those is­sues and be be­hind le­gal­is­ing it. That’s al­ways been the pos­ture and I’m very proud of how GetUp! has main­tained it.” Mad­den says the Coali­tion, be­fore its Howard-era purge of “wets”, could as eas­ily have been a ben­e­fi­ciary of GetUp!’s cam­paigns. “When we were grow­ing up there was a gen­uine [small-l] lib­eral wing of the Lib­eral Party. Many of GetUp!’s po­si­tions would have been fine to those in the ‘wets’. In­deed if you look at GetUp!’s mem­ber­ship you’ll see plenty of dis­af­fected Lib­eral sup­port­ers.”

“The par­ties were con­fused,” Tat­ter­sall says, “be­cause none of them could con­trol GetUp!”

Small-l lib­er­als were wooed: MP Petro Ge­or­giou would work along­side GetUp! on a cam­paign to le­galise the abor­tion drug RU486, and for­mer Lib­eral leader John Hew­son was en­ticed onto the GetUp! board soon after

its launch in 2005. Hew­son re­signed only weeks later, re­placed by Don Mercer, who was chair­per­son of min­ing ser­vices com­pany Orica. Joe Skrzyn­ski, the chair­per­son of CHAMP Pri­vate Eq­uity and for­mer SBS chair­per­son, and Lonely Planet founders Tony and Mau­reen Wheeler would, over the next decade, be part of what Heimans calls a “pot­pourri” of donors mo­ti­vated to do some­thing out­side the ex­ist­ing po­lit­i­cal par­ties. GetUp! mem­ber­ship grew to 230,000 in its first two years as it ex­panded its pres­ence in the lead-up to the 2007 elec­tion, most no­tably in its cam­paigns against the im­pris­on­ment of David Hicks and against Howard in his seat of Ben­ne­long. As a re­sult, the at­tack on GetUp!’s in­de­pen­dence so­lid­i­fied into a firm Coali­tion be­lief. Yet, both be­fore and after Kevin Rudd won power that year, GetUp!’s links with La­bor were frac­tur­ing. Robert­son grew dis­en­chanted with its fo­cus on mid­dle-class in­ter­ests at the ex­pense of eco­nomic fair­ness, while Shorten’s suc­ces­sor at the AWU, Paul Howes, had a per­son­al­ity clash with Heimans. “We were re­ally pas­sion­ate about main­tain­ing in­de­pen­dence and not let­ting it fall un­der any­one’s con­trol,” Heimans ex­plains. “As soon as GetUp! be­came hack­ish or in­sti­tu­tional, it was go­ing to fail.” Nor was there a cosy GetUp!–Greens al­liance, GetUp! sep­a­rat­ing it­self from what its founders saw as the Greens’ ide­ol­ogy-driven poli­cies. “The par­ties were con­fused,” Tat­ter­sall says, “be­cause none of them could con­trol GetUp!” Heimans and Mad­den, mean­while, saw their role as “founders”, leav­ing the or­gan­i­sa­tion in the hands of its first ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, Brett Solomon, for­merly of Ox­fam, who sur­rounded him­self with tal­ented op­er­a­tors work­ing out of an of­fice above the Ed­in­burgh Cas­tle pub in Pitt Street, Syd­ney. The founders re­mained on the board after the dy­namic Solomon stepped aside in 2008, re­placed by Si­mon Sheikh.

“While you could tell he was the smartest guy in the room, he never acted like he was,” Sheikh says.

When in­ter­viewed by Heimans and Evan Thorn­ley, Sheikh says he was “starstruck” but soon “dumb­founded”. Think­ing he was ap­ply­ing for an op­er­a­tions role, Sheikh dis­cov­ered he was be­ing sized up for the lead­er­ship. Wes Boyd, co-founder of MoveOn, had men­tored

Heimans, im­press­ing on him that naivety could be a strength in new power or­gan­i­sa­tions, and now Heimans was fol­low­ing that ad­vice, hir­ing a 22-year-old who hadn’t been in­hib­ited by bad ex­pe­ri­ence. Sheikh found Heimans to be a stim­u­lat­ing col­lab­o­ra­tor, al­ways driv­ing the or­gan­i­sa­tion to in­no­vate. “While you could tell he was the smartest guy in the room, he never acted like he was,” Sheikh says. “He never felt he had to prove him­self, which meant he could fo­cus on get­ting on with the job.” Heimans never mi­cro­man­aged the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tors; he en­cour­aged ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and was driven by data on mem­ber­ship num­bers and each cam­paign’s ef­fec­tive­ness. GetUp! as­serted its in­de­pen­dence from La­bor with a tele­vi­sion ad play­fully ‘show­ing’ John Howard cheer­ing Rudd’s mod­est car­bon emis­sions tar­get. With La­bor in govern­ment, Heimans says GetUp! con­tin­ued to speak truth to power, to the ALP’s cha­grin. The board no longer had union­ists like Robert­son and Shorten but pri­vate eq­uity in­vestors who wanted to see a so­cial re­turn on their in­vest­ment. They and the staff sought to mo­bilise pre­vi­ously dis­en­gaged cit­i­zens rather than the ac­tivist core. In 2007 Heimans and Mad­den helped start Avaaz, a global ver­sion of MoveOn and GetUp!, and in 2009 Heimans co-founded Pur­pose. He, Mad­den and Tat­ter­sall left the GetUp! board after its 10-year an­niver­sary in 2015. The ex­pe­ri­ence had clar­i­fied Heimans’ ideas about the re­la­tion­ship be­tween “old” and “new” power. Pur­pose, what Heimans calls “a moth­er­ship for the move­ment-build­ing work I’ve done over the course of my life”, op­er­ates by de­vel­op­ing new or­gan­i­sa­tions in online “labs” and ex­per­i­ment­ing with mod­els of is­sues­based cam­paign­ing. Its list of achieve­ments in­cludes play­ing var­i­ous roles in the for­ma­tion of All Out, now a 1.7-mil­lion mem­ber LGBT move­ment, the Women’s Marches fol­low­ing Trump’s in­au­gu­ra­tion in 2017, the NY Re­news cli­mate cam­paign that led to the pas­sage of New York State’s sig­nif­i­cant Cli­mate and Com­mu­nity Pro­tec­tion Act, and cli­mate cam­paigns in Brazil, In­dia, Kenya and Aus­tralia as well as in the US and Europe. It also con­sults to ex­ist­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions, in­clud­ing Every­town for Gun Safety, the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union, UNICEF and UNHCR, Google, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foun­da­tion, and the Fred Hol­lows Foun­da­tion (cre­at­ing its online See Now cam­paign, which reached 5.6 mil­lion so­cial me­dia users within three months). Heimans says that Pur­pose em­braces “prag­matic ide­al­ism” and doesn’t adopt purist po­si­tions. “We like to say we can speak the lan­guage of an Oc­cupy ac­tivist, a Face­book prod­uct man­ager and a UN tech­no­crat.” It also speaks the lan­guage of Unilever and Nike, two of its cor­po­rate part­ners, as well as that of #MeToo. If a part­ner “veers off course” and does things that no­body at Pur­pose can sup­port, “then we have to fire them”. This is un­der­pinned by Pur­pose’s sta­tus un­der Amer­i­can law as a pub­lic-ben­e­fit cor­po­ra­tion, a new le­gal struc­ture that man­dates com­pa­nies to serve the wider so­ci­ety rather than sim­ply its share­hold­ers, giv­ing an eco­nomic value to phi­lan­thropy.

While lead­ing the or­gan­i­sa­tion, Heimans also clar­i­fied his ideas in a Har­vard Busi­ness Re­view ar­ti­cle he co-wrote with Henry Timms of the 92nd Street Y cul­tural and com­mu­nity cen­tre, and they have de­vel­oped th­ese in the book New Power. They con­trast “old power”, akin to cur­rency that is hoarded and used to ex­ert au­thor­ity, with “new power”, which chan­nels and dis­trib­utes agency, act­ing more like a cur­rent. New power val­ues in­clude open-source col­lab­o­ra­tion, rad­i­cal trans­parency and self-or­gan­i­sa­tion; old power val­ues in­clude com­pe­ti­tion, ex­clu­siv­ity, con­fi­den­tial­ity, ex­per­tise, man­age­ri­al­ism and long-term loy­alty. To fur­ther ex­plain their ideas, Heimans and Timms de­vel­oped the “new power com­pass”, which shows how the old and new mod­els and val­ues in­ter­sect. There are “cas­tles” (those with an old power model and old power val­ues, such as govern­ment tax­a­tion of­fices); “co-opters” (those with a new power model but old power val­ues, such as ISIS, Face­book and Uber); “cheer­lead­ers” (those with an old power model but new power val­ues, such as cor­po­ra­tions like Unilever and me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tions like The Guardian); and “crowds” (those with a new power model and new power val­ues, such as Oc­cupy, Black Lives Mat­ter, Airbnb and Wikipedia). There is ob­vi­ously a lot of un­pack­ing of th­ese ideas, and New Power is in part a users’ man­ual for online move­ment builders. “We wanted to talk about the ex­em­plars – break down and make rich why they are ex­em­plars and why some are fail­ures, so read­ers can bring that into the work that they do,” Heimans says. But Timms and Heimans started writ­ing New Power be­fore Brexit and Trump, and long be­fore Xi Jin­ping’s con­sol­i­da­tion of power in China. While writ­ing it, Heimans was see­ing how some of the far right’s suc­cess aligned with the story of new power. “Trump – and this is also true of ISIS – is giv­ing peo­ple more agency, un­leash­ing their cre­ativ­ity: ‘Do your worst and I’ll pay your le­gal fees. I’ll pluck your memes out of the ob­scu­rity of Red­dit or 4chan and tweet them out.’” Heimans ex­plains that Trump is not try­ing to cir­cum­scribe how his move­ment be­haves. “Trump’s value propo­si­tion to those peo­ple is very old power, of­fer­ing cer­tainty: ‘I’ll look after ev­ery­thing, I know you’re anx­ious about the fu­ture, I alone can fix it.’ ISIS is a me­dieval theoc­racy that could not be more old power, a bru­tal hi­er­ar­chy. And yet how they spread that en­ergy and build that move­ment is very new power: let­ting their sup­port­ers do what they want, not be­ing doc­tri­nal in al­low­ing them to build on their idea in an ex­ten­si­ble way. My worry is that this com­bi­na­tion of strate­gies could be very ef­fec­tive. If you’re a po­ten­tial ISIS re­cruit, you’re get­ting both more agency and more be­long­ing and cer­tainty.” Heimans says that the aim of New Power changed as it was be­ing writ­ten. Now it is about get­ting new power “into the hands of the an­gels”. But as the GetUp! ex­pe­ri­ence has shown, it’s rarely sim­ple. Who is fund­ing the “an­gels”, and what in­flu­ence do those fun­ders ex­ert? How do the an­gels rec­on­cile their own con­flict­ing aims? And, go­ing back to the most per­sonal thread in Heimans’ life, how to main­tain in­de­pen­dence when the money has dif­fer­ent ideas? Or, in a much older lan­guage: how do you stay ef­fec­tive with­out sell­ing out? Mad­den, who now works for so­cial ven­tures in­vest­ment com­pany Omid­yar Net­work, says in­de­pen­dence was never ne­go­tiable in any en­ter­prise he and Heimans set up. “We al­ways took the po­si­tion that if a donor wasn’t will­ing to sup­port a 100 per cent in­de­pen­dent GetUp!, then we weren’t in­ter­ested, and we would al­ways make that clear to peo­ple who wanted to get in­volved.” Thorn­ley, from a donor’s point of view, says Heimans never com­pro­mised val­ues for money. “The deal is, if you sup­port the val­ues, please give money.” Youth is well rep­re­sented at Pur­pose and GetUp!, and in their mem­ber­ship. Heimans’ own tran­si­tion from pro­fes­sional young per­son to es­tab­lished player, from mentee to men­tor, has re­freshed his op­ti­mism. He is no longer the kid who was only in­ter­ested in adults, and what he has found com­ing up be­hind him is an an­ti­dote to de­spair: new power for new peo­ple. “I was a very un­usual child in that I be­lieved I could im­pact the wider world. The ex­pec­ta­tions I had as an un­usual kid in the ’80s and ’90s – young peo­ple to­day have very good rea­son to be­lieve they can do that, and they are do­ing it more ef­fec­tively.” There’s a lot of talk, but it’s not all talk. Real change has been achieved. GetUp! helped get John Howard out and David Hicks home. In its first year, it played a ma­jor role in se­cur­ing $88 mil­lion in ex­tra fund­ing for the ABC. It now has more than a mil­lion mem­bers, a new power or­gan­i­sa­tion dwarf­ing the mem­ber­ship of all po­lit­i­cal par­ties com­bined. Thorn­ley says the big­gest change in Heimans has been the evolution from ideas and the “founder” men­tal­ity at GetUp! to “prov­ing his lead­er­ship chops” at Pur­pose. The or­gan­i­sa­tions that Heimans founded and nur­tured have achieved tan­gi­ble re­sults around the world. The cit­i­zens of Delhi can be con­fi­dent their chil­dren will breathe cleaner air than they do. The anti-gun move­ment in Amer­ica will out­last Trump. Same-sex mar­riage will be le­gal for more peo­ple ev­ery year. Cor­po­ra­tions now se­ri­ously seek a so­cial div­i­dend. “When I watch th­ese levers work to­gether and bring about dra­matic change, that’s the most sat­is­fy­ing thing,” Heimans says. “Ear­lier in my ca­reer I would have been more ex­cited about the num­bers, the 10 mil­lion peo­ple sign­ing a pe­ti­tion. Now we can be much more ac­tive and creative in get­ting new ways for peo­ple to par­tic­i­pate. The sat­is­fac­tion is in see­ing it all come to­gether.”

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