Believe in yourself. Being the CEO of a global organization, I often get imposter syndrome, but if we believe in ourselves, we can achieve anything! You will soon find that this energy transfers to others you are close to.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Josie Naughton.
Josie Naughton went from working with Coldplay to founding Choose Love, an international charity organization dedicated to ending the refugee crisis around the world. Over the past five years Choose Love has raised over 48m dollars and has helped over one million people.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
We started as nothing more than a group of friends wanting to help. This was back in 2015 and we were absolutely devastated by scenes of thousands of people forced to live without proper food, shelter or clothing in the Calais camp in northern France. We knew we had to help so Dawn O’Porter, Lliana Bird and I did a call-out for donations on social media.
We never could have predicted what happened next. Within a week, we had raised over £50,000 and were soon receiving thousands of donated items every day. That was when Choose Love was born.
I had no formal charity experience, but actually, my years of working in the music industry really helped — I knew how to run a business, use branding, and get people engaged. It was that compulsion to help and fight for justice that got me started, and it’s what keeps me going to this day.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
When we started out in Calais in 2015, never did I imagine that the job would end up being one of such extremes. One day I might be meeting incredible grassroots organizations working on the border of Syria, and the next I might be invited to an event in New York which is also being attended by Barack Obama.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
In order to raise the profile of the appalling situation faced by lone refugee children living in the Calais camp, we had organized a large press and celebrity delegation to visit. I had a bag of a hundred Choose Love t-shirts to give to all the celebs for the press photos — when the moment came for pictures, I looked around and realized — I’d left them all on the train. We had all clubbed in to have them made so it was really sad. The event still drew a spotlight to the situation nether the less.
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
Choose Love works supports over 150 organizations worldwide and is the largest facilitator of humanitarian aid to refugees in Europe. We do whatever it takes to help refugees at every stage of their journey. From fleeing danger to rebuilding in a safe place, we provide everything from lifesaving search and rescue to healthcare to legal support. Over the last five years, our work has reached over 1 million people.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
Mohammed was just twenty-two years old when he fled Libya with his brother and two friends. After spending two nights lost at sea on a dangerously overcrowded wooden boat, he
was rescued by our partner project SOS Méditerranée’s search and rescue ship, the Ocean Viking.
Each year, thousands of people just like Mohammed make desperate crossings across the Mediterranean Sea in search of safety in Europe. When these boats get into trouble, NGO- run rescue vessels are often their only hope.
I am incredibly proud of the support we give to these heroic teams who plug the deadly gap left by European states. No one should ever lose their life in search of safety.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Politicians and the media often treat refugees and displaced people as “other”. This hostile language is a cheap way to score political points — it artificially creates divides that don’t actually exist. Our value isn’t determined by the lines on a map — but by the humanity every single one us of shares.
We need to all work to counter this hostility by recognizing and celebrating our common shared humanity. Wherever you are, whoever you are, there are things we can all do to create a more welcoming world. Whether it’s simple acts of strangers towards strangers, volunteering, running fundraisers or lobbying your political representatives. If you have 5 minutes or 5 months, there’s always something we can be doing to build a welcoming, just world.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
I really believe that good leadership is being able to listen and having the courage change direction as your journey develops. Leadership can only exist when you’re working as part of a team and as one unit. Our team at Choose Love, our partner organizations, the communities we support and those who support us are why this movement can exist and hopefully, together we will be able to put ourselves out of a job.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- It’s OK to fail. I was initially so afraid of trying new ways of doing things, but in reflection, it has been our failures that have enabled us to grow and successfully develop our strategies.
- Just breathe. There are always new challenges and difficult conversations around the corner. You often just need to take a step back and breathe.
- The importance of self-care. When we first started the organization, it was all hands on deck and we definitely overworked ourselves. When you burn out you struggle to function and then you’re no good to anyone. So, self-care is important so you can do the best job possible.
- Believe in yourself. Being the CEO of a global organization, I often get imposter syndrome, but if we believe in ourselves, we can achieve anything! You will soon find that this energy transfers to others you are close to.
- Don’t be afraid to ask. If you just ask the question, whatever that may be, you will often be surprised at how willing people are to help.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Choose love! It’s a simple but powerful message that goes to the heart of everything we do and everything we’re trying to achieve. We are powered by the vision of a world that chooses love and justice every day, for everyone.
Can you please give us your favourite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If you have more than you need, build a longer table not a higher wall.” This quote is what we’re all about. In fact, we love it so much we used it on huge billboards throughout London for our 2020 Choose Love store campaign.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Either Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk. I would love to share our vision with them and see if they would be prepared to be more revolutionary in their giving.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
They certainly can! You can keep up to speed with all our work at @chooselove