Episode 1: Jessica Murrey from W!cked Saints Studios

In our inaugural episode, Jessica Murrey joins Cause & Purpose to share stories from her life and career focused on conflict resolution and social justice. We'll delve into the importance of brand and communications strategy for nonprofits, exemplified by her work at The Search for Common Ground. We'll also discuss some of her upcoming projects, including an innovative new mobile game called Pathways, designed to teach teens about activism and self-efficacy.

It's all about fighting the problem, not the people.

We live in fractious times. Our society today is so polarized, and opinions have become so wrapped up with our senses of identity that it can be easy to demonize those who disagree with you. Through her model of Common Ground Activism, Jessica Murrey shows us a different way. No matter what the conflict, disagreement, or injustice, we need each other. We must incorporate the needs of all stakeholders, and always remember to combat the problem, and not the people.

In our inaugural episode of Cause & Purpose, we speak with Jessica Murrey. Jess is an awarding-winning communications specialist and common ground activist. And, she’s the co-founder and creative mind behind W!CKED SAiNTS Studios, a purpose-driven startup that makes mobile interactive story games designed to forge real-life heroes.

In this episode, we discuss the importance of finding common ground with people who disagree with you - especially when important and emotional social justice issues are involved. Jessica shares stories from her work in the field doing Common Ground Activism in impoverished communities in Colombia, and the importance of teaching our next generation of leaders the importance of doing the right thing, and that their actions really do matter!

Key Questions and Takeaways:

  • The importance of including ALL stakeholders in conflict resolution - especially those who disagree with you.
  • Driving behavior change requires culturally sensitive and context-aware communications strategy.
  • Aligning communications and programs is crucial to mission success.
  • The value of self-efficacy when training the next generation of leaders and activists.

Support

Jessica

's Work:

W!cked Saints Studios is looking for angel investors to help fund its development and be a part of its growth! If you're interested in learning more about their work, creating innovative mobile games to teach young people about activism and self-efficacy, please click the button below or email Jessica directly at jmurrey@sfcg.org.

Learn more about W!cked Saints Studios

Episode Transcript:

CAUSE AND PURPOSE – EPISODE 1 – JESSICA MURREY

[MUSIC]

HOST – NARRATOR

Welcome to Cause and Purpose, the show about leaders, innovators and change agents, working on the front lines to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges. Today’s guest is Jessica Murrey. Jessica is an award-winning communications specialist and common ground activist. She’s the co-founder and creative mind behind Wicked Saints Studios, which creates interactive story games designed to forge real life heroes. Jessica specializes in social change communication, awareness campaigns, and getting inside her audience’s heads. She’s designed creative campaigns that have implemented peace-building programs all over the world. And she’s been kind enough to spend a little time with us on the program to share some of her stories and talk about what’s made her life and her work so impactful.

Jessica, thanks so much for joining us today.

JESSICA MURREY

Oh my gosh. Thank you for having me. I'm excited.

MIKE SPEAR

I always like to start at the beginning, and talk about how someone’s childhood informed their career choices. Tell us a little about what life was like growing up and how you think it impacted your decision to pursue a career in social justice.

JESSICA MURREY

Absolutely. You know, back when it's happening back when you're a kid, you don't realize how all this stuff impacts you at all. It's only been recently that I really kind of taken a deeper look until what it was like growing up and how that's actually shaped who I am, my personality and like what I'm passionate about.

So I was born in Southern Oregon, in a more kind of white, affluent area and I'm biracial. I was a black illegitimate kid, grew up with little, very humble means in a more affluent white community. I think my mom and my relationship is really defined a lot of who I am. She was someone who's just a really strong person and was kind but still strong. And I think that has really kind of helped shape who I am and why.

My dad is amazing, but he wasn't really in the picture. So it was just me and my white family. And you really feel what it's like being different. I realized later that it wasn't so much me that like really felt targeted, but I felt like my mom was targeted and I felt like her great sin wasn't that she had a kid out of wedlock, but then she had a black kid out of wedlock. I could see how people treated her. I looked at her that way. And so in my mind, my mom was the best small and the whole world. We just had a very trusting relationship.

And so when people look at her that way, I was like, I'm going to prove them wrong and just be the best at everything I could possibly be. I think I was constructively spiteful. It was my best kind of F-you to the world. I'm going to try to make sure I succeed. But it also instilled in me some empathy to like what it's like to feel different and to know what it's like when people judge you by the way that you look or certain things that you can't control and how unfair it is.

But there's actually so much beauty in difference. It took me growing up to see things that made me different now made me interesting. At this level of business, I now have an advantage over my other peers because even though I appear black, if you look at me, you're probably listening to this podcast. I mean, I'm like, you know what, you don’t sound black. I like, I grew up in a white community and so there's little things that I have a lot of privilege on how people interact with me. They're more comfortable with me. I know all the mannerisms because I grew up in this culture. Now I want to make sure that I use my privilege to the benefit of everyone.

HOST – NARRATOR

For Jessica, it wasn’t her absent father, or a childhood of poverty that inspired her to succeed. Or even the racism directed at her. It was the protector in her – how she internalized racist judgments directed at her mom. Jessica wanted to succeed not just as a Black female, but as the Black daughter of a white woman. Jessica realized that standing out in the crowd – a Black kid in an overwhelmingly white community – could benefit her. She chose what others might see as a weakness into real strength.

MIKE SPEAR

Your experience with your mom and who she is has helped you define yourself as you move forward. How did this translate into a love for storytelling? You mentioned that was a big deal.

JESSICA MURREY

Yes. So, I've always had a deep love for stories. It was amazing just to fall into books and an escape and you meet people and you fall in love with characters and you feel like you actually know them. I love novels. I read so many science fiction fantasy novels. And I also love stories of real people cause I feel like that's when you really get to see the human being and who people really are beyond their label, beyond what things look like, is when you're able to tap into their story and see what they've and really get to know someone that you might not have a chance to know before.

And stories gave you that opportunity to truly see a person and to experience things that you might never get to experience in life. And so that's why I first wanted to be a detective because I love mystery story so much. But then I wanted to be a journalist because I wanted to really tell people's stories and hear what they've experienced and where they've come from and that's always been really inspiring to me.

MIKE SPEAR

Okay. So, you went to school for journalism? Were you consciously doing that to tell stories for like can sort of impact or was it not that yet at that stage?

JESSICA MURREY

I always kind of wanted to be a wartime journalist that I would get like the story of what's really happening in the world by talking to people on the ground. And so, I got my degree in journalism, but I got a minor in international relations.

MIKE SPEAR

Awesome. And then you ended up, one of your first jobs was local TV producer?

JESSICA MURREY

Yes. So, so I went to school for journalism. I ended up going to Ghana to do some student reporting and that was actually for the local television station in Las Vegas at the school, University of Nevada Las Vegas. I had that first experience of being overseas and telling, working in an orphanage there in Ghana. And so, getting to really meet those kids and tell their stories was incredible. Then I went to intern for Senator Harry Reid’s office, so I was a press intern. They had offered me a job, but I was like, one thing I've learned from this internship is that I cannot stand American politics. It's just so divisive. It's all about how to defeat, how to make the other side look worse, instead of actually helping our country. I don't want to be in this. I'm going to say no to this job. I moved back home. My first actual job was coaching at, because I played Division 1 volleyball at UNLV. And coaching has ended up being also a really important part of my story because I've been later go on to do training with young people. Coaching is so much more than just like how to do a technique. It's really how to get into the right mental space, how to believe in yourself. It's drive, it's commitment, it's all that. And so, my first real job was at KOBI-5, an NBC affiliate in Medford, Oregon. It was the best decision I ever made was to actually start that job in this little, tiny town. It was awesome.

MIKE SPEAR

How so? Why was that the best job?

JESSICA MURREY

Being a bigger fish in a small area. They gave me a ton of responsibility and a ton of freedom to make mistakes to really, you know, go after it.

HOST – NARRATOR

Jessica dove in head-first and took the lead on all social impact stories the station produced that year, producing stories on a wide variety of issues, and winning both a regional Emmy and an Oregon Broadcaster’s Association award for their messaging around drug abuse.

JESSICA MURREY

It was really a growing year for me where people took the time to invest in me and I learned a lot about messaging powerfully. And so all of that stuff has been so useful from like learning how to be a press intern to like my international travel to now actually running these campaigns and figuring out how to use messaging effectively and storytelling effectively to actually create social change was all kind of the buildup that I needed before I went on to my next stage of my career and my life.

HOST – NARRATOR

Jessica’s early work experience ended up being a rapid-fire survey course in many forms of communication – from journalism to political to social impact. One reporting topic became a turning point that would define her career.

JESSICA MURREY

Through this work. I also was doing stories around sex trafficking, sex abuse child abuse. And I was like, man, there's so much ugliness happening in the world right now just outside our door, the kind of pain and suffering people are going through. I was getting tired of just reporting and telling me these horrific stories. It's like I wanted an actual way to stop bad things from happening. I'd only been working for a year, but I interviewed for Search for Common Ground. Search for Common Ground is a world's largest dedicated peace-building organization. And at the time I didn't know anything about peace building. I was passionate about stuff around genocide and violence in general. I had this view that peacebuilding was like this very passive thing it was about like feeling good and like hippies are really into it. And it wasn't until I actually arrived at Search that one again, I ended up getting a whole lot more responsibility than I should have at 25 because it just how things worked. They brought me in to be the new media coordinator, but the other communications director had just moved out of the position and so there was nobody in the entire comms department. So I ended up running the comms department at age 25 and that just sent me on this whole new rollercoaster of like trying to quickly figure out what this organization does and be able to communicate about it effectively. Which later led to me actually going out into the field and building capacity for our field peacebuilders to truly communicate effectively and really create social change.

HOST – NARRATOR

She found a job where she needed all of the skills from her variety of communications internships and jobs; she didn’t have to pick just one skill or one issue. Jessica had a big set of tools to confront big social justice problems.

MIKE SPEAR

I'm just wondering if there's something specific Search for Common Ground that really drew you to that organization in particular or is it just the mission generally?

JESSICA MURREY

I ended up exactly where I was supposed to because I found the place that answered my question of how to stop bad things from happening. And the answer to that was peace building. Peace building is the process of dealing with conflict and it affects everything. It affects absolutely everything. Our inability to deal with conflict, stops us from making progress in every single issue that we face, whether it's poverty, economy, abuse, healthcare, environment, you have to be able to collaborate, work together to problem solve. And I start, actually, I've moved away from calling it peace-building and I talk about it as common ground activism. And I see it in two parts. So common ground activism to me is about stop and go.

It's about stopping the threat of violence, whether that violence is physical, emotional, or structural, and the sense of oppression. But it's also about go, it's about unlocking these transformations. Conflict is an indicator that there's a problem, but it's also an opportunity to fix that problem. So, it's not about creating less conflict. It's about using conflict as an opportunity to create positive change. And so, there's this view that peacebuilding is passive, that it's quiet, that it's an absence of voices. That it’s an absence of grievances, but it's not. It takes courage. And conflict, it's an opportunity to actually to step into that. So, at Search they believe that conflict is inevitable because you're a human being and we're different and we have conflict. But violence is not inevitable, that you can stop it before it gets to that point.

Simply put, it's about attacking the problem instead of each other. Like if we could just attack all the problems in the world instead of attacking each other, imagine what we could do. And typical kind of justice type advocacy, a lot of it's kind of about justice and like who's to blame? And do they get justice for that? Which is so important and really necessary. But the thing about peacebuilding that's really interesting is it's not about tearing down an existing, it's about building a new one. Like how do you actually get to a place where there's no longer violence and you actually achieve your goals? And so, we help people focus on their shared goals and their interests instead of their separate positions. For example, let's say that there's two tribes. They've been warring for a long time.

They hate each other. They have a long history of violence, but they both need clean water. They both need a better education system. You know, they need their daughters to be able to walk to school with no fear of harm. So, we help them focus on those shared goals because the only way they achieve that is together. So, peace building is really practical. Again, it's just about like how to attack the problem and how to really see our shared humanity and use it to come together for a common goal instead of just demonizing each other and trying to tear down everything that we don't like in the world.

HOST – NARRATOR [Cut Music or Change]

Avoiding violence is paramount. But, avoiding conflict isn’t always a shared goal. Jessica recognized that the point of disagreement can be the start of moving toward solutions. She was able to pinpoint the key to success, finding where conflicting groups share a common interest -- like girls feeling safe when they walk to school.

MIKE SPEAR

Was this your framework that you developed or helped develop or was this Search for Common Ground’s theory of change?

JESSICA MURREY

So, their tagline when I came was “Understanding differences, act on commonalities.” And I was like no one knows what that is. No one can picture what that actually looks like. Which is difficult cause no one even knows that peacebuilding actually looks like anyways. And so, I went through this whole process of like, okay like what do you actually mean by this? What do you guys actually do? And then they told me and I'm like okay. Because what we did is like lifesaving work. Like we work on reconciliation after genocide, prevention of mass atrocity work, refugee integration, security sector. I mean they're doing lifesaving work.

The problem is, is that people can't picture or see what you do. I'm like, we need to create an emotional response to your work. And so how do we make this more tangible and more urgent? It came down to at the end of the day we just stopped violent conflict. Because violent can be emotional, it can be structural, it could be physical. We try to stop destructive and violent conflict. And instead of we transform into collaboration. So, I ended up changing the tagline to “End violent conflict.” It wasn't a rebrand, it was just an update. And I just always was digging into how to talk about this in a way that's actually appealing. Because the way that we're talking about peace, was only attracting youth who were already interested in peace, which is this tiny little niche. But we're missing the activist youth that wanted something to stand for someone to fight for. You know, we're missing the youth action on the fence of violence. How do we mobilize youth to do peace building, and get them out in the world and passionate about something?

MIKE SPEAR

Was there any blow back from your brand adjustment?

JESSICA MURREY

Oh, my goodness, yes. Like, from the whole field in general. But in a lot of ways, Search gave me a lot of freedom and they trusted me with stuff. At the time, I think a lot of them were still skeptical, but they're still supportive because to them it felt negative. They don't want to focus on the negative, they don't want to focus on the violent conflict. So, when you're a peace builder and you're in the field and the tensions are high, everything's hot, it's your job to try to bring down emotions and get people to think rationally about things. But, when you're trying to get someone to like give or mobilize or whatever, you got to evoke that emotion. So, I think that's one thing that's, it's just not congruent with how they normally go. I think another thing is that one, they don't want to take credit, because peace building is all about empowering the people on the ground. It's not your job to just parachute in and fix something. It's like no you empower people on the ground. Another thing is, is the whole simplification of things. When you tend to simplify a conflict, you get problems. You know conflict is very complex. So, you don't want to simplify it. But when you're communicating about something it's important that you hook people and you make it very simple and then once you hook and you make them simple, then you can bring them in and give them a little bit more information and then give them a little bit more nuance. But you can't lead with the nuance because you'll completely lose people.

HOST – NARRATOR

Jessica recognized that the old tagline was describing HOW they do their work. Not WHY they do the work. It was comfortable internally, but not as effective to the outside world and the people the organization was helping. Jessica saw that identifying a simple, strong message about why – to end violence -- was the path to people’s emotions…and therefore more activism and funding.

MIKE SPEAR

A lot of organizations that are out there accomplished social mission, have a hard time investing in messaging and brand. It's inherently a risk to do any kind of rebrand. I think in this case there was a potential risk for the organization, as well as for you personally, just sort of doing it. Why was it so important to you to make that change?

JESSICA MURREY

I believe that this is how we change the world. Whether it's how you make your life better as a human being, interacting with other people, or your community, or the country, or interacting with the world. Like this is how I believe it's better. It's my life mission to focus on the objectives. Like how do we actually create real change in the world? And I don't think we can do that without getting buy-in from everybody. Actually, moving people towards a common goal. And how we speak to each other, how we communicate with each other is everything. And I think a lot of it comes down to choosing an objective for change our whole lives we've been taught in order to win, someone has to lose. But if we shift our objective from making them lose, to actually making them an ally to solving a problem, to preventing harm, it completely changes the way that we treat each other. I can call someone a racist and get my point across, but at the end of the day I lose because that's the person I need most. And so, I feel like for this field and this work to be effective, the everyday person has to buy in to understand why it's important. And that's another hard thing when you're working with international work is like I have to get you who's sitting in your comfy home and in America to care about what's going on in Afghanistan, to care about what's going on in South Sudan. And in order to do that, people have to really feel it. And within the first few months of shifting to end violent conflict, so away from understanding differences to end violent conflict, we saw an increase of 40% in our new supporters. For me I was seeing results. And everyday people were finally understanding why our work was important and willing enough to get them on just enough to maybe hear more about what we do and how we do it.

MIKE SPEAR

You're largely brought in a communications media marketing role, but clearly the work that you were doing had a lot of influence on programs on the work being done on the ground. It's far too common for organizations that treat marketing unrelated things over here, fundraising over here and programs are, are here and they just like don't talk to each other. So, I'm curious about the dynamic, you know, that you faced sort of being in more of a marketing role and working with the quote end quote programs people.

JESSICA MURREY

I quickly realized that as we're making the case for why communications and marketing were important, then people are getting excited about it, so then they wanted to know how to do it. Because they're doing life-saving work. It's like they don't want to take the time out of their life-saving work to like send you a success story and some pictures. And so as we're making the case for why this is so important, we're like this shows your impact and this will allow you to have more impact because we'll have more money, we'll have more people to support you. I started doing social media trainings, started doing storytelling trainings, training young journalists, training activists. And that also became a big part of me honing my own methodology for social change communication because I'm going out to some of these places where critical thinking has been suppressed. So, I had to come up with really creative ways of activities and things that get people thinking about how to communicate. And the only rule you have to remember is that it's all about your audience. No one else matters. You don't matter. What you're concerned about, what you're interested in. All that matters is what the audience cares about, what their concerns are, what their interests are. That's the only thing that matters.

HOST – NARRATOR

It’s that basic idea again – the WHY. It’s not about what’s a comfortable message for the employees, whether in the field or at headquarters. It’s about the people you’re helping and the people you’re reaching – your Audience – and what’s going to resonate with them.

JESSICA MURREY

So, I had this number one sin, which is boring. Like the worst thing you can ever do is be boring. Like, make mistakes, do whatever, just don't be boring. Those were always kind of my pillars of training and then I was able to get some of that fun out. We're doing these ridiculous activities. It was a big part of getting the content that we needed. And now, our field looks amazing. Like they're telling great stories, powerful stories. And again, it comes back to what are you trying to achieve? I need the audience to fall in love with that character. That means you need to tell their background story. That means you need to make them feel like a real person and show some of their quirks and show some of their love.

MIKE SPEAR

Did you get any pushback from the program folks? Were there throwing elbows at all about territoriality or were they like, come on in and help us?

JESSICA MURREY

No, they were so like, come on in like we want it, we need it. I've been doing these trainings in like Kyrgyzstan, Nigeria, Jordan, Myanmar at about three in Colombia, Burundi, Armenia, Thailand, places all over the world and people are just hungry. They just want to know how to communicate about something. Because it's so powerful. You can literally move people, heart and soul with an image. With the story of one person, it's such a powerful thing because we know that people's behavior does not change by giving them information, their behavior changes through an experience.

HOST – NARRATOR

Jessica found that emotional connection is made when she’s able to take her audience to a specific place and help them get to know the local people on a personal level.

MIKE SPEAR

Tell us a story from one of these places.

JESSICA MURREY

A great example I think is in Colombia. I was in Bogota. They called me in to do one of my trainings. I call them a Tattoo Training. It was in the post reconciliation process. They just signed the peace accords. They had government folks in there, they had media people, they had NGO people. We're all in this training figuring out how to communicate and how to do reconciliation. So, we go through this whole of, you know, we break down the problem and I break it down deep. I'm like, no, like tell me how it manifests in the world. Don't just tell me this high-level problem. Like how do people experience it when I get on the bus, when they order their food, like what does it look like? And then we create personas of all these different audiences that they're trying to reach. In Colombia during this time we created a persona. It was Mercy. She was an Afro Colombian girl. She was 18, she worked at a food stand. She was a single mom. So, what's important to Mercy? So, they're debating, they're like, Oh, change is most important to Mercy. That's what she cares about most. And then someone's like, no. So, he cares about power. She just feels powerless in the world. There's nothing that she can do. And so, I was like, okay, well what would represent power? Not to you but to Mercy? So, they're talking about it and forced, it was like, oh cars and like this. And that one woman was just like, actually I think it's just eye contact. Mercy goes through her whole day selling fruit and no one ever looks her in the eye. She feels completely invisible. I was like, oh my gosh, you guys like we have our campaign like look me in the eye.

That's so powerful. And then we started looking at it from all these other audiences and they're like, you know what? That would also work for my audience member because in Colombia we're a culture where eye contact is so important and none of us are looking at each other in the eye anymore. That's where our disconnection is. Great, like, I can see it, I can see billboards all around with different faces of Colombians being look me in the eye. That's so much more powerful and deep in saying like, let’s all come together to reconcile. No, look me in the eye. And like that's that human connection. And that's why this work can be so powerful, but you have to know how to use the right language and the right story time to be able to do that.

MIKE SPEAR

With something like that you're dealing with such in some cases very subjective or sort of soft problems that it can take a long time. I think to see the impact of that. How are you guys measuring success or failure with a given program?

JESSICA MURREY

Search has an incredible DME program people and an institutional learning team. So DME is design, monitoring and evaluation. So, they have the log frames and you know they have the, they do the conflict scans and then they basically test people and scan the area after these things happen. So, I was able to see the surveys of what happened before and after I went in. Also, I was able to kind of measure things. I seen what was actually produced after that first meeting in Colombia. They had me come back and do three more trainings with young activists from all over Colombia who were working on different stuff from working with ex-combatants to like preventing teen pregnancies to like the environment. So, activists from all over, using the same kind of common ground activism methods, these Tattoo Methods for like actually like how to create the material.

It's a three-day training. The first day is all strategy. First part of the second day is all practice. We were like go through all these like fun things. And the last half of the second and the third day they actually sit down and they come up with their own strategy and their own campaign. And so, I can actually see if they're implementing the tools that they've learned the last few days. They have to come up with a title, the tag line, try to create a graphic for it. And that's a blew me away. They came up with skits like they did like videos by the end of it. And while I'm there I can give them feedback and be like, okay, like will the audience really do this? That's where I got to really see that this was working, that the work that I'm doing is working.

MIKE SPEAR

Thanks for sharing about the impact tracking stuff. Were there any clear KPIs? What are they looking to measure with all of these different things?

JESSICA MURREY

It completely depends on whatever the program is. Every time I go in someplace, I was like, listen, I'm not the expert here. You're the expert. You're the one that knows your audience best. You already know what they care about. It's just my job to kind of foster that and to get that out. And so, it's really the program teams with the DME teams that have a whole long process and structure for actually what kind of change they’re trying to make. We did this with the DRC, so in the Congo. It used to be the rape capital of the world. A lot of these sexual assaults are committed by police officers, by the military. And so, where the rest of the world was pumping their fists like we need to do something about that, like call the courts called the international courts. Search came in and they're like, hey listen, we're not trying to arrest anyone. We just want to train you guys. Like we just want to train you on like human rights and gender equality and all that kind of stuff.

They start training the training of the trainers and so start training the lieutenants and then those lieutenants like go out into the areas and train their police force and we saw huge reductions in the amount of cases and violence reported. At one point it was like a 94% reduction of cases of a rape. And I mean, and that's what this is all about, right? Like, how do you stop bad things from happening? And that's what I do when I look in the US, as well and you see these shootings and these police shootings. The thing is it's not about blaming and all that stuff. It's like, no, that's an indication that there needs to be more training to prevent that from happening again. But there has to be an acknowledgement there's something going wrong. It has to be a willingness to train for bias, because we all have bias. And you see it in these incredible results. It's just a different avenue to get those results. Like we're all trying to stop these shootings, but how do you actually go about doing it in a way that's effective, so it stops the violence.

MIKE SPEAR

So, looking at all these different cases, the work is fascinating and obviously important. I get that each area is unique, you know, has its own challenges are dealing with. Looking across your career at Search, what are some commonalities? Like is there a common denominator that you see across all of these sort of instances that is sort of a silver bullet or something to address these issues?

JESSICA MURREY

It just comes down to you attacking the problem and not the person. Like it comes down to can we agree on a common goal and work towards that goal instead of seeing ourselves as these separate identities and these separate positions that need to defeat each other.

And that's what we're really trying to do with these games as well. That key ingredient is like if we can just get people to deal with conflict constructively, if we could just look at someone and instead of treating them like an enemy, actually figure out how to bring them on as an ally, that like that's the person I need most, right? We're talking about racism, like, I need the racist. Like that's who do I need? And because of the work that I'm in, I've been able to meet a ton of extremists. I have several good friends that are former white supremacists. I have friends that like are former Jihadist extremists. And so you see these extremes and then as soon as you start getting more into the work, then you start to understand, okay there's push and pull factors that actually push people outside the bounds of society.

And that leaves them vulnerable to being pulled into these extremist groups. And here we find ourselves in the U S you know, we're going about this wrong a lot of ways with dealing with all this extremism instead of bringing out a way to pull them in where like you're bad, you're a racist, you don't belong here, we don't want you. And then we push them out. Where do they go to somebody else that's like, “Hey, I see you.” They didn't listen to you before, but Hey, I'm going to put a gun in your hand. And like they'll, they'll never forget you. Everything that we're doing right now, we're just not handling it and actually construct a way. And so that's really the key ingredient and why, you know, we went off to do what we do is to train this next generation to deal with conflict better.

HOST – NARRATOR

It’s an important problem that I think is easy to forget in real life, it’s about attacking the problem and not the person.

JESSICA MURREY

No matter who they are, especially young people, they just want to matter. That's what we kind of set out to do is like how do we map out a hero journey? How do we reach people in that core desire to matter, to feel part of a community, part of something bigger than themselves. Like how do we give that to folks?

MIKE SPEAR

You've sort of dropped casually the Tattoo Method. Can you explain what the Tattoo Method is and how you came up with it and what the hero's journey is and why it's important?

JESSICA MURREY

The Tattoo Method is basically about, is the difference between tattooing and branding with how we communicate about things. And so, in branding, things are very top down. So you as executives decide what your promise is to your customer and then you have to consistently sell that promise. The problem is, is when someone's trying to sell you something, you feel that. And so I usually do this thing where I'm like, okay, imagine you're at your house, you have a knock on the door, someone's trying to sell you something. How do you feel in that moment? And the truth is your guard probably goes up. You're probably highly skeptical. Your guard goes up because you know that person doesn't truly care about you. They're just trying to sell you something because they want something. So I think that the way that we communicate about people should be a lot less like branding that's burning into someone. And it should be more like tattooing where someone actually sees themselves and identifies with what you're saying and claims it as their own. So now those become the words that they use daily in their interactions. Those characters become their favorite characters. They become their stories, their favorite shows, their favorite games. And that's where I think you make real impact. Because, now it's an experience and you move that ownership it becomes a more horizontal kind of thing where that ownership belongs to the people that you're trying to impact and not you at the top trying to sell people something.

MIKE SPEAR

Search is still going strong and there's a lot more work to be done and a lot of potential. But you wake up one day and you're like, it's time for a change. I need to work on something else. What was that motivation for you? What was the impetus for that and how'd you go about getting involved with Battle?

JESSICA MURREY

So we started doing Battle for Humanity while we're at Search. So this was Alicia and I trying to figure out how to mobilize millions of around common ground activism. And so first it started as just a campaign. It was called Join the Search and we're trying to get people to sign a pledge to end violent conflict. And once you sign the pledge, you got an email that had an activity for you to do that month. We’re doing this but we weren't getting the traction. And so long story short, we ended up adding gamification to it. And so we ended up coming up with an app that was a gamified app where you sign up, get your own profile for the game, and then you would give you missions to do in real life and you could be on or offline.

You'd go out and do the mission, take a picture of yourself doing it for a screenshot, upload it into the app. The app would give it a Battle filter market for its Roque deed and had prepopulated hashtags so it would connect to everyone else around the world. Could be chose to share it on social media that was doing the same thing that you were. An example of this was, there was a shootings in Pittsburgh, you know, we send out a push notification to everybody on the app where like, Hey, this just happened. Go leave flowers and words of encouragement at your local synagogue to show them that they're supported and loved during this time. So it is just little actions like that. Some of them were like, instead of arguing with someone on Facebook, ask them why they feel the way they do. That was kind of our first pilot and that was actually a project of Search for Common Ground that was in Search when we did it.

MIKE SPEAR

So you started incubating this with your partner at Search. When did you know it was time to make it its own thing?

JESSICA MURREY

So there have been signs before, but one, we were just getting so passionate about it. But really it came down to a few things. One was funding. So the type of funding that we get as a nonprofit, we were looking for foundations and foundations actually don't tend to take, these kind of high risk unproven projects on to fund. The big thing that we saw that the people that were actually most interested in funding us were impact investors.

And at the end of the day, that's what ended up happening. Because we spun off of Search to be a subsidiary of Search. In the beginning it was still Battle for Humanity and someone was like, no, I want to see what this will look like as a for-profit. And so that's when Alicia and I went back and completely changed everything about it. One thing that we learned from the pilot, 900 kids sign up. They're all excited about the gamified app, but very few of them actually would go out and do something and so there we had a problem. There was some barrier that was keeping them from doing good in the real world. Like, what was getting them to take real action? During that time, I went to do a presentation at a local high school. For every presentation I asked, okay, what's your hope for the world?

And I was blown by their knowledge of everything that was going on. There was this one kid who was like, blonde haired, blue eyed was schooling me on Neo-liberalism and things that I had no idea to completely blew me away. So I was like, okay, these kids know what's going on. They're passionate about it. I was like, all right, you guys, who thinks you can do something about that hope? Who thinks you can actually change that? And over two days of me giving all these presentations and thinking about 120 kids, only two kids raised their hand. And so that's what told us that it's not the desire to do something good or that they didn't know what to do. They didn't have the confidence to do it.

MIKE SPEAR

And the hero's journey for people that don't know what that is, what is the hero's journey? Why is it so important?

JESSICA MURREY

So we know that young people want to matter. Like how do we make them a hero? Like how do we even get them there? At the time we came up with all these different steps of, well let's start by asking why. Let's start with empathy and seeing, you know, like, like why is this happening? Why do I feel this way? And then let's move them to identity. Like I am this, and then to confidence. Like, I can achieve this. I can transform my relationships and I can transform society. And that was one of the biggest things that we saw was actually missing in our first pilot that we did for Battle. So we had this whole theory of like what the hero journey was after we did our first pilot with Battle, we realized that what kids were actually missing, that first step was actually confidence, that kids didn't believe they actually had the ability to make change. They didn’t believe they had any power in the world around them.

And so it came down to self-efficacy. And that was a first step that was most important in getting kids on this hero journey. Self-efficacy is your belief in your own ability to accomplish your goal. But social cognitive theory says it’s also the number one indicator whether someone will take action or not. But they have control in this place and in this place they can win, they can become the hero, they can always improve. And that's through gameplay. All of these recent studies are on game play simulations actually show that it significantly increases self-efficacy. And so that's when we started to look at like, okay, like instead of just telling kids to go out and do something, like how do we actually build their confidence to go out and do it?

And I immediately I started looking at interactive story games. Stories are still important because it gives people the experience. You can tell someone a story and they can live vicariously through the story. But with interactive story games, it was so much better and bigger than that because now you're not vicariously living through somebody else's story, like you are the main character. You get to decide how to respond in situations and in turn, you experienced the consequences of those decisions in a very safe way. And it worked perfectly with conflict. Let's say you're seeing someone, you know, yelling at somebody at the park saying like racist, hateful stuff with somebody. It's like, what do you do in that situation? If you handle the complex situation aggressively, the chances of retaliation is really high.

If you're passive and you do nothing, then you leave a victim vulnerable. But between being passive and aggressive, there's all these other ways that you can interact with someone that would actually protect them, prevent harm, that could make that other person an ally. So all of a sudden we're looking at like, this could be amazing. It could be entertaining. And then they can practice how to be a hero and then we'll give them an opportunity to be one. And so we're basically creating interactive story games where kids could, one, practice being a hero, what to do when a bully comes at you, or somebody else, or any of these other tough situations. Two, actually experience the consequences of those decisions that they make. And then three, actually apply that to their community. It's like, okay, now you've been practicing it. You know what happens, now, go out and do something. And we think that's going to be so much more impactful and actually train young people how to deal with life and be leaders in that community and just build it a big, better, beautiful world.

HOST – NARRATOR

Jessica’s way of storytelling about an issue can inspire someone to WANT to help, to feel confident about being a hero. But, until that person feels like they can get the job done themselves– they might not even try. Jessica’s games are a way of giving people a safe space to practice activism or conflict resolution. It’s like training wheels for our future leaders. Once players have a chance to role play important scenarios, and experience all of the possible outcomes, they’re far more equipped to make strong choices in real life.

MIKE SPEAR

What are some of the lessons learned from Battle for Humanity? Where is Pathways going to succeed? Where Battle maybe didn't?

JESSICA MURREY

Battle for Humanity actually could have gone farther but we just had a lot of technical difficulties with it. But now I'm actually grateful because I think this will be so much more effective to actually have kids have a chance to practice doing this kind of behavior and building their confidence before sending them out in the world to do this kind of stuff. And we also have a ton of lessons learned on development. Start with an MVP, test your concept. That's what we're trying to do now.

We also had technical stuff because we made it too big. You know, we had 900 kids signed up for the app, but they're from 80 countries. You can't fix bugs if you can't replicate it. And so how are we going to replicate this bug that happened in Nairobi with our developers that are in Boulder, Colorado. That wasn't going to happen. And so with Pathways, we’re starting small, we're a little bit more focused on the UX  to start and then hopefully we have a grow. We plan to do a whole universe, all these different themes, story games that have real life missions associated with them. And also we're trying to move to our strengths. Through every change we've learned so much and I'm so thankful. I believe interactive story games are the next evolution of media base behavior change. Like I totally think it's going to be incredible.

HOST – NARRATOR

When you take a step back, everything Jessica has done so far in her career has led her to this moment. Cut her teeth in the news media and bring awareness to some really important issues. Join Search and become hyper-focused on the needs of her audience, and see first-hand the impact of providing them experiences and people to care about. Mix in some of those training skills from her work with colleagues around the world. The result? The gameification of activism, to give the audience practice to becoming the story. And real incentive in becoming that hero who creates positive change in their own lives.

MIKE SPEAR

Outside of what you're working on outside of conflict resolution, what is the most important cause that humanity can be tackling right now?

JESSICA MURREY

So just so you know, I feel like conflict resolution touches every one of these issues, which is why I'm working on it. And it goes back to that as well as just like humanity. Like refugees is something that I'm really concerned about right now, especially with COVID happening. And these are people that are fleeing often violence. They're citizens of no one. So, no one's looking out for them. They have no place to go. They have no health and it's no problem of their own. They've done nothing. Whether they're seeking asylum or they're internally displaced or they're in a refugee camp. Obviously, it's tied to what we do. But that is also something that I think is a huge problem. There are 70 million refugees right now. Who's looking out for them, who's looking out for the kids and the women? So a lot of stuff I care about is related to our most vulnerable groups, so especially children, especially women. Those are things that get me going every time.

MIKE SPEAR

Twenty, fifty, a hundred years from now. You're done with your career. You're sort of looking back on stuff maybe 200 years from now, what will you hope to have accomplished?

JESSICA MURREY

I feel like my job is a fairy godmother. What I want to see is young people rising up everywhere, showing what they can. I'm so passionate about them because they're creative. They don't have these parameters set around them of what they can’t accomplish, what steps they have to go through to do it. Their creativity has no limits and their voice is so important. And so obviously I'd like to touch a ton of young people and get them to find their passion and their voice and to know that they are important. That, like, no matter who or where they are, or how people have looked at them their whole life, like they have something to offer the world. And if I could do that for like five kids, I would probably be happy. Obviously, I would like to get in the millions. But even if there's five kids out there, they were like, yes, like I am like this superhero that's going to go out and make change, and I believe in myself. I would probably be happy.

MIKE SPEAR

Anybody who's listening, what, what can they do now to support your work?

JESSICA MURREY

Right now? If you want to support us, you can go to Wicked Saints. Just sign up because we have a lot of things coming up. So we, and we need champions. We need people that are just excited about us, ready to get the word out. So if you're willing to go to our website and you're interested, you're passionate, just sign up for an email list, I promise I won't email you very often just when we're like ready to go and mobilize, would love your support. We're also raising funds at this time as well. So if you're someone that's like, I want to invest in this interactive story game, hit me up. You can find me on that website as well.

MIKE SPEAR

Awesome. You covered this a little bit. Why was it important for you guys to pursue a for-profit model for Wicked Saints?

JESSICA MURREY

So we're nonprofit girls, Alicia and I. We feel like as long as we're doing good in the world, like who cares about making money? That was like us. But then along the way we're like, it would be really nice to have money so that we could do these ideas that we have. So instead of money being this evil thing, the cause of all evil, we started looking at how it could work for us and we got really excited. I actually believe now that we're that we are a for profit, that we can make so much more change than how we could as a nonprofit. Our business model. We're going to have paywalls in our game, which is how all these interactive story games work so you can pay for bonus content, you can play to keep playing because we'll have courage points run out depending on your, the gambles you make and your choices.

And so 50 cents of every dollar you pay in the game goes to one of our youth charities. And so not only are we that kids, that play player game actually going to get empowered to go through life and handle conflict in a constructive, positive way and hopefully make amazing change in the world. But like as they're doing that and as they're playing, having fun, we're giving them an opportunity to support their peers. And now we're making money for these other young people. And so now we're finally giving them funds to go out and make more change and we're able to do that with what the for-profit model. Let's say the more users and players that this nonprofit brings to our game, the more donations they get.

Okay, if even when we get a quarter million young people on the game and only 5% of them pay some of the premiums, which is a game industry standard, I personally think it will be much higher, they know it's going towards something good. It's only like $2, $3. A quarter million users on our platform then equates the 25,000 and a donation to that youth organization. And a million on our game as a hundred thousand. 5 million on our game is $500,000 in donation and donation money that we can do to support work that's incredible. It's so hard to fundraise as a nonprofit. Like, you fight for every dime. If you're like, please, you know, just sign up for our $10 monthly program to support starving kids. Like I said, it's all experimental, but I'm very hopeful.

MIKE SPEAR

Awesome. Jessica, anything you want to add that we didn't cover?

JESSICA MURREY

I just want to make it clear, this game is for everyone. So we want it to be a nonpartisan game. Like I don't care who you voted for, what color you are, what your sexuality is. Everybody is welcome and we want to create that space where we start again focusing on the issues that matter. Like, how do we stop poverty? How do you stop homelessness? How do we help our environment? And we feel like that only happens when we come together. We want to get back to focusing on what's important instead of these separate parties and this polarization that we're stuck in that, it's like, no, like we believe that being different is a good thing. That being different is a pathway to innovation. Me being different wasn't a bad thing. Like every kid that plays us that feels different, like I want them to be able to see that it's a strength, that they have something to offer the world. And it might mean having to get to know somebody that they completely disagree with. And just because you disagree with someone doesn't mean you can't accomplish amazing things together. We really want to make this a space for every kid. We think that like whatever you're passionate about, we have a better way to help you accomplish that through this kind of common ground activism. Awesome. Thanks again. It was really great.

JESSICA MURREY

Awesome. Thank you, bye.

HOST – NARRATOR

So, that’s our first episode. Thank you for listening, and a big thanks to our guest, Jessica Murrey of Wicked Saints Studios. For more about our show, including additional episodes, exclusive content, and ways you can support each of our guests, please visit CauseandPurpose.com. We love hearing from you, as well. If you have any questions, comments, or guests you’d like to hear from, please a comment through the website.

Wicked Saints Studios is looking for early investors. We posted additional information and links for ways you can get directly involved in the show notes and on the website. We hope you enjoyed this episode. Episode 2 of this podcast is already available and published on our website, and wherever you prefer listening to podcasts.

In episode 2, Jessica will share additional thoughts on the George Floyd killing, and the social and racial tensions gripping America right now. We explore ways each of us can get involved and make an impact through our organizations and in our own lives.

Cause and Purpose is production of Moonshot.co. On behalf of myself, Jessica Murrey and our entire team, thank you for listening and we look forward to speaking with you again soon.

[END]

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More about

Jessica

:

Jessica Murrey is an Emmy-Award winning storyteller and Racial Justice/Common Ground Activist. For the last seven years, Jess has worked as an international peacebuilder for the world's largest dedicated conflict resolution NGO, Search for Common Ground. She's trained young peacebuilders and activists in some of the most hostile places on earth in a methodology she’s developed for social change communication, messaging, storytelling, and gameplay that shift attitudes and behavior. Jess is the CEO and Co-founder of W!CKED SAiNTS Studios, a behavioral technology company that makes story games that are wickedly fun and actively good.

Credits:

Cause & Purpose is a production of Moonshot.co
Postproduction by Lisa Gray of Sound Mind Productions
Original Music by Justin Klump of Podcast Music and Sound
Image Credit: W!cked Saints Studios

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