By Melissa Jane Kronfeld & Megan Legband
An entrepreneur, risk-taker, and visionary, Joe Schmidt applies his year of experience in the technology & business space to the fight for freedom. As the founder and CEO of Audacity Factory, a collaborative focused on anti-slavery initiatives, Joe has taken a stand against slavery by creating an online incubator to leverage online funding to meet the direct and immediate needs of those in the abolitionists movement.
After receiving his undergraduate degree from Ball University and his Masters in Business Administration from Boston College, Joe launched into the world of entrepreneurship. After co-founding Canvas on Demand in 2003 taking the company from a startup phase to the INC 500 list of fastest growing companies in America, Joe found himself as a finalist in the Ernst and Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year Awards.
But in 2013, Joe learned about the realities of modern slavery, and launched the Audacity Factory to address the threat in the best way he knew how – online. Audacity Factory now spearheads WalkFree.org, which leads and mobilizes a global community of over 8 million people with the goal of ending modern slavery in our generation. Walk Free is an internationally respected non-profit that has driven countless campaigns, held hundreds of offline events, and built partnerships with like-minded organizations around the globe.
Check out what happened when we caught up with Joe to talk about the fight to #EndSlaveryNow!
What is one fact that every person should know about slavery?
They must understand this fact: Modern slavery is a part of everyone’s life. Each of us is a consumer of products that have slavery’s fingerprints all over them. But each person must also understand that they can be a part of the solution. They may not know how to go about it, but it IS possible. It is our job to show people how to get involved.
How did you first learn about modern slavery & what did you decide to do about it?
Almost six years ago, the story of modern slavery broke my heart one evening as I sat in my living room listening to a friend unveil the horrific nature of this atrocity. It was as though the scales fell from my eyes, and all I could think of were the beautiful faces of my three daughters who were asleep upstairs in their lovely pink and purple rooms. Though my girls are very special to me and my wife, they are no more precious than the millions of defenseless children all over the world who are in desperate need for this Abolitionist Movement to succeed.
That awakening caused my wife and me to begin donating $50 a month to an anti-trafficking organization. It was my first step toward becoming an abolitionist and to eventually leave my career and launch the Audacity Factory. The suffering faces of those children and the millions of enslaved men and women worldwide continue to drive me every day. And each time I hear another survivor story, it becomes fuel for my fire, and I am motivated to put even more might into the fight.
What is the most critical obstacle preventing us from having a slave free world?
The most critical obstacle in this Movement is the lack of inspiration that leads people to be motivated to action. Our global society has not yet been inspired to tackle the greatest humanitarian need on earth, the second largest illegal industry on the globe, a horrid crime that is destroying the lives of more than 45 million! Why? I think it’s because the issue has been presented with images of women and children in shackles, chained to chairs, and with whip marks on their bare backs.
We have unfortunately portrayed the subject of human slavery as one that is so scary and dark and distant, that most people won’t let it become part of their lives. We must find ways to draw supporters into the Movement and encourage them to band together. I believe that it is not about representing the victims and the survivors. It is about rallying around them—listening to them and letting those personal accounts lead to change and victory. Indeed, we have seen that the greatest progress occurs when survivors share their stories.
What is the most important lesson you have learned while fighting for freedom?
I hear a voice telling me every day that I must not drag my heels. I recently had the honor of listening to the renowned Indian activist and Nobel Laureate, Kailash Satyarthi, who has saved tens of thousands of children forced into slavery. He told a poignant story that exemplified for me the greatest lesson about fighting for freedom. A little girl looked upon him with tears in her eyes after being liberated, and she asked, “Why did you not come sooner?” Let’s all remember that every moment of every day, there are millions without freedom who are waiting for this Movement to succeed.
Why do you believe the Millennial generation will be the one that can end slavery?
The simple reality is that much of modern slavery is based on labor in supply chains and that slavery leaves its ugly mark on consumer products. Millennials are not just typical consumers; they are consumers who hold companies accountable. They have proven their fortitude and their tenacity again and again as they demand that companies resist social injustices. And their efforts have paid off. Companies listen to the droves of millennial consumers as they call for social responsibility by speaking out with their wallets. I believe that as the veil of modern slavery falls away and reveals more clearly its impact on our economy, millennials will continue their fight to end unfair labor practices using both their strong voices and their purchasing power.
What does a slave free world look like to you?
At Walk Free, we talk about inspiring and equipping a global Movement to rise up, about defending the dignity and value of all men, women, and children against exploitation that treats them like property to be used and discarded. I certainly embrace those ideas, but to be honest, it is very hard for me to truly imagine that idealistic dream fulfilled.
But here is what I CAN imagine. I can imagine a world that has made a decision to no longer tolerate slavery. I can imagine a day when men and women speak up boldly and unashamedly in order to free the enslaved. And I truly believe that day could come in the next decade.
An example is the anti-smoking movement. It was only ten or twenty years ago that nobody thought twice about people at restaurant lighting up cigarettes during a meal. Today, there would be immediate and angry complaints to the management. It has become a health and environmental issue. I believe, I hope, I expect that our world will soon be as intolerant of slavery as we are now of smoking in restaurants. Think about it: these are lifestyle choices. It’s a choice to not tolerate smoking. So, why not choose to not tolerate modern slavery?
Let me point out one big difference. Consider society’s demand to recycle. In today’s world, we are constantly reminded that we must care for Mother Earth. Recycling bins and public service announcements fill our world to remind us that one simple “action” allows us to help save the planet—recycling. The Abolitionist Movement has not yet created such an “action” for the average person to use that would help save those on our planet who are entrapped in slavery. One of our greatest goals at WalkFree.org is to create those kinds of powerful opportunities, those “actions,” and inspire the world to do them.
What is one thing every reader can start doing right now to help end slavery?
The answer is an easy one: They should simply go to WalkFree.org and click on the words JOIN US in the upper right-hand corner of the screen… And our team will take it from there!
Profiles In Abolition is an in-depth look at the influencers, innovators & thought leaders in the modern anti-slavery movement. An accompaniment to Millennial Magazine’s ongoing 10-part series exposing modern slavery – a project of the Nexus Global Youth Summit (catch up with Part One, Part Two, Part Three & Part Four) – Profiles In Abolition will examine a diverse & inspiring array of advocates whose critical voice must be heard.
Want to learn more from the world’s leading luminaries in the fight to #EndSlaveryNow? Sign up for the Nexus Anti-Slavery Speaker Series, a weekly conference call with the men and women on the front lines of the modern abolition movement! This call is open to the public and everyone is welcome to listen in! Click here to register for free. Then learn more about modern slavery by following Nexus on Twitter, Instagram & Millennial Magazine!