The Social Innovation Podcast was honored to have Matthew Friedman, the CEO of The Mekong Club on the show.  The Mekong Club is a catalyst for change, inspiring and engaging the private sector to lead in the fight against modern slavery.

If you listen to this episode and are not moved, I do not know what WILL move you.

Some of the topics we discussed were:

  • Matt’s career started 30 years ago as a public health officer in Nepal
  • The funding set aside to attack modern slavery is about $350MM, while the profits from it are $150BN
  • Approximately 40MM people are considered to be in modern slavery
  • Approximately 4.2MM of them are young girls sold into prostitution
  • The impact of supply chains on the problem of modern slavery
  • Getting 10MM to do one thing a year to help stop modern slavery
  • Legislation is getting written enforced globally to mitigate this
  • The Mekong Club put out a video explaining the problem

See the full transcript below:

Michael Waitze 0:00
Hi, this is Michael Waitze, and welcome back to the social innovation podcast. Today I’m joined by Matthew Friedman, the CEO of the Mekong club, and frankly, a lot more than that. Matt, how are you doing today?

Matt Friedman 0:12
I’m doing great. How are you doing?

Michael Waitze 0:13
I am super, I have been waiting for this for a really long time. Thank you so much for coming on the show.

Matt Friedman 0:18
I’m really happy to be here.

Michael Waitze 0:20
Thank you, for my listeners, can you give them like as much of your background as you think is relevant so they can understand the context of the rest of this conversation?

Matt Friedman 0:29
Well, I actually am considered to be an expert in human trafficking. And I say that just because that’s the designation that you get when you do this type of work. But my journey started about 30 years ago, I was living and working in Nepal, I was a public health officer, and I had an HIV AIDS portfolio. And back then we were finding girls 1213 years old, who were HIV positive, couldn’t understand what was going on. I thought maybe it was a bad drug, blood transfusions, or something like that. So we went to go in and view them and heard over and over again, pretty much the same thing, how a human trafficker would go into their community and flash a bunch of money around, say he’s looking for a wife, he’d find a girl, 12, 13 years old, befriend her, and then go to the family and say, I’d like to marry your daughter. They’re thinking, Wow, he’s rich, he’s handsome, going to take care of our daughter can take care of us. A couple of days later, they get married. After that, he goes to the family and says, I’m going to take your daughter to Katmandu. But don’t worry, I’ll be back in about three months. But that’s not what’s going to happen. Instead, he takes you to Mumbai, India to the red light district, puts her in a room and says, honey, stay here. I’ll be back in a few minutes. But she was coming in, she saw these people milling around. She said, No, no, no, don’t leave me. He says it’s okay. I’ll be right back. He then goes to the madam to get the $500 for having sold it to the brothel. He has the gold from the wedding and hands the wedding pictures over. He then leaves to go back to Nepal to do this again, and again, maybe 40 or 50 times in a year.  After that the madam goes into the room where the girl is and says, guess what your husband just sold you to me. And you’re going to be with 1520 guys a day every day? Because I say so. Imagine her shop? No, no, my husband loves me. Now that’s what happened. When she comes to internalize this, many of the girls say, I’ll kill myself up what before I do those shameful things. The madam then brings out the photograph of the wedding and says is this your mom, your dad, your brother, if you hurt yourself will hurt them. So she’s trapped in this situation. In order to make go into a prostitute, it’s quite simple. You simply shame her. So they bring in a couple of professional rapists. And over a two day period of time they take this 12-year-old girl and rape her maybe 20, 30, 40 times until eventually she just lays back and allows them to do whatever it is they’re going to do to her for about two years until after that she’s so depleted physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Nobody wants her. So they throw her out in the street. And if she’s lucky, she gets back to Nepal.

Michael Waitze 2:53
Yeah, let’s be clear. She’s 14.

Matt Friedman 2:55
She’s 14 years old. Go ahead. Now I was hearing this story over and over again. Now, if you are sitting in a room and you have 20 girls that are 14 years old, that have been commercially raped 7000 times and all of them are dying of AIDS, it has a very significant impact on you. That’s my story. That’s how I got into this. And so working for the US government, back 30 years ago, human trafficking wasn’t even a topic, it didn’t have a name. So we didn’t know whether or not this was something that was happening just between Nepal and India or elsewhere. But when we looked around, we came to realize that most girls don’t wake up and say, when I grew up, I want to be a prostitute. And that’s how they got into it. And so for whatever reason, this particular topic resonated with me. And since that time, I’ve focused on that particular topic,

Michael Waitze 3:45
and who are the people that are perpetrating this? Right? So some guy actually has to go to Nepal, is he commissioned to do this by somebody? Or is he figured out that there’s a trafficking business to do? Do you know what I mean? Like, in other words, is the brothel employing him is he self-employed?

Matt Friedman 4:01
He is just an opportunistic person who knows that if he brings a girl from Nepal, he can make some money doing this. And some of them basically come from families that have been doing this for years. You know, the thing is, is that if you traffic a girl from Nepal to India, when the girl comes back, most times, she doesn’t talk about what happened to her or if she survives, and the reason for that is that she would never be able to be returned to her family. She brings shame to her family. So the traffickers know this so they can get away with this over and over again.

Michael Waitze 4:33
I mean, at some level, it’s the same as just a person who regularly gets raped in the United States, right? Or in Western Europe. They’re so ashamed to talk about it that they almost never come out, which is why it’s hard to prosecute those crimes. But this is something different because it’s happening at scale. As a business.

Matt Friedman 4:49
Well look at it this way. 20 rapes a day. Yeah, times, two years. That’s like seven or 8,000 times 4.2 million women and girls. In this situation.

Michael Waitze 5:00
That’s what I wanted to know…

Matt Friedman 5:02
Yeah, you’re just talking about commercial rape at a level that is beyond what anyone can even imagine.

Michael Waitze 5:08
And what happens. So through the Mekong club, right, when you expose this information to your partners, what’s the reaction that you get? And what is the way to mitigate this?

Matt Friedman 5:18
Well, I work with organizations that are private sector companies, which include banks, manufacturers, retailers, the hospitality industry, the two industries in the private sector, who are most concerned about sex trafficking would be the banks because the profits generated from modern slavery are about $150 billion. If any of that money gets into a legitimate bank, it’s money laundering, so they have to be concerned about it in the hospitality industry. Why? Because in different parts of the world, if a 14-year-old girl is found to be used in a hotel, that hotel can be sued, and those lawsuits are being won. And the insurance companies really don’t want to insure hospitality anymore, simply because they’re afraid that this will be a liability for them.

Michael Waitze 6:01
Is there a larger not that this problem isn’t big enough as it is? But there’s Is there a larger product problem, excuse me of human slavery? And if there is like, how would you define that? How many people are involved in it? And how prevalent is it?

Matt Friedman 6:14
So the overall number of what is called modern slavery is about 40 million people. 15 million of them are in what would be described as forced marriages, but marriages that a person go enters into a family situation to work out for any other reason the other 25 million are in forced labor. And that includes both forced prostitution and kind of sweatshops in fishing, boating situations and so f
orth. You know, when it comes to Asia, where I’m posted, about 62% of the people who are in what’s called modern slavery are here, basically, for two reasons. Number one, they’re for 1.4 billion people in China, 1.2 7 billion in India, then you have Pakistan and Japan and Indonesia, all of those countries have amazing population sizes. The other thing is that they have remnants of feudal systems that have never been completely dismantled. But to get back to your question about the definition, let me start with human trafficking, human trafficking was identified as being that because in the early days, 30 years ago, we saw a lot of people going from one country to another, and then being sold at the last part of the process. And so the movement was considered to be relevant and important, just like drug traffic, and whether drugs go from one place to another and sold. But gradually, over time, people said, Well, wait a minute, whether a person goes from one country to another, or from one district to another, or from one side of the street to the other, what difference does it make? Shouldn’t we focus on the endpoint, so when a person can’t leave, when they don’t get paid, when there are threats and violence, and all of these other things associated with it? The closest English word is slavery. But when most people hear slavery, they think of something that happened a long time ago. So they put the word modern next to it. So modern slavery pretty much identifies the endpoint of the process of what we call human trafficking.

Michael Waitze 8:10
Because you mentioned before the banks and the hospitality businesses, can you dig a little bit deeper into some of the other risks besides money laundering? And maybe the lawsuits that are there? And then, if there’s any sort of legislation, which has to be hard, right, because legislation is really local? You can talk about what the UN says, right? But I mean, just like regulations in any industry, it’s super local, right? And every country has its own and every locality has its own. So can you talk about those things? What are the business risks so people can actually understand? And then what the legislation is, is trying to mitigate that?

Matt Friedman 8:43
Just about every country has some type of force labor legislation, but it’s off to the side. It’s regulated by labor departments, the police aren’t really involved. It’s not relevant. For the private sector, though. There’s a different type of legislation. It’s called transparency legislation. The first transparency legislation happens in California, it was called the California transparency and supply chain act. And it basically what it says is, if you’re a big company, and you have any services or products in California, you have to put on your website, what you’re doing to address modern slavery, or else you’ll be fined and penalized. You know, if you’re not doing anything at all, and you say that you’re in compliance, but you have to say something. What this legislation allowed companies or consumers to do is to know which companies are doing the right thing. So after California, you have the UK modern slavery Act, which basically added two additional components to this. If you are working in the UK, you not only have to have something posted, but you have to have an annual report. And that annual report has to be signed by a board of directors. Then Australia got an act and they’ve added additional components to it. The Canadian Act, which will be coming out in probably six or eight months, has fines and penalties if a company works And candidates found to have forced labor associated with anything in their business. There will be fines and penalties. And so what’s happening is the legislation is ratcheting up.

Michael Waitze 10:10
And that’s great. But how is it enforced? In other words, are there people actually specifically detailed with going into factories or going into hospitality businesses or looking at bank records to see if there’s human trafficking or modern slavery involved?

Matt Friedman 10:26
Well, investigative journalism for the most part is what identifies a lot of these situations, you get an article in the paper that basically says, so and so organization is getting sneakers from a particular location, and we find that there was forced labor taking place. In the banking world, there was a particular bank, I won’t mention them in Australia, that was fined 1.3 billion Australian dollars because they were allowing transactions to take place between North America in the Philippines where live sex acts were taking place with children. And so they were warned, they were told that they should look into it, they didn’t take it very seriously. The regulator’s found out about it. And so probably off of 200 or $300,000 profits, they were fined 1.3 billion Australian dollars, you can see not only the amount of financial loss but also reputational loss. This resulted in the chairman walking away, a lot of people walking away from the bank because they recognize that this was not a good thing for a bank to be doing. In this day and age of business for a purpose or business with purpose, whatever you use, it’s really important for businesses to be on the right side of this issue.

Michael Waitze 11:38
Yes, look, I think the markets moving in this direction, and I don’t mean any particular market. That’s just the terminology I like to use. But in the traded securities market, right, which is the background from which icon, the SEC monitors every single trade that gets done electronically. Every single one looking for like specifically looking for insider trading. I’m not saying they do a great job at it. But there’s an entire infrastructure around this, are there? Is there technology being built? Or are there mechanisms being built, besides the legislation that you already talked about? that can help disintermediate is,

Matt Friedman 12:09
Yeah, what the Mekong club does with kind of the banks is we help them to develop what are called topologies. What topology is, is it takes the criminal act between the perpetrator and the victim, and it breaks it into component parts. And then along the way, it identifies the transactions that take place. And then they identify which of those transactions could be red flags for modern slavery. And then once they have that component, then they can kind of do a big data search to see whether or not they find it. But let me give you an example because it’ll make it more clear. An example of this would be in the United States, there was a nail salon chain that had hours from nine in the morning until nine o’clock at night. But they were finding transactions at 2, 3, 4 o’clock in the morning, all around $100. When they look into it, they came to realize there was a sex trafficking ring in the same location. So the red flag indicator would be transactions after hours around $100. If you search other marketplaces, you can find something similar. And that’s how they go about identifying whether they have an issue.

Michael Waitze 13:12
So this is exactly what I was going to ask. You mentioned earlier when we talked about human trafficking and modern slavery for the sex business. And if this guy would 40 or 50 times a year, sell somebody for $500, it may be a cash transaction, but at some point, he’s gonna put that money in a bank somewhere. And if he’s doing that, that’s right eight times a year for the same amount of money. That’s also considered one of these topologies in a red flag.

Matt Friedman 13:35
Well, generally, what’s happening is now that they did this for the sex industry, they did it for sweatshops, they’ve done it for fishing boats, they’ve done it for, you know, people who deliver food, you know, just about every type of potential business that could be exploited if they developed these topologies. And so they’d have these, these long, comprehensive lists of wha
t are called red flags. And now what they can do is they can apply this to big data. So as you know, banks have compliance people risk assessment, people who basically do everything they can to protect the bank from money laundering, and now that they have these indicators, they can start digging deep into their big data to determine whether these patterns exist.

Michael Waitze 14:20
Yeah, I mean, there’s got to be a way for technology to be able to go through like you said, all this big data look for these patterns. We do this in so many other different places, with very little, like tangible social impact, right? In other words, if I can write an algorithm that tells me what stock I should trade at any particular time of day, I should be able to write an algorithm that goes back and backtest data and says, we found this guy or this girl who is doing this thing, and that points to some kind of trafficking. No.

Matt Friedman 14:47
That’s exactly what’s happening. Now, three years ago, we wouldn’t be having this discussion, but partly because of the emphasis on ESG on the fact that modern slavery has become an issue on steroids because of the #metoo movement. And, you know, just millennials being concerned about whether or not people being exploited by the products that they buy, you’re just seeing a significant increase in emphasis. And so it seems like it used to be that we’d see a breakthrough and a year, and then it was six months, and then it was three months. And now it feels like every two weeks, you have groups out there that are getting closer and closer to being the silver bullet, to help us to address this because out of the 40 billion people, the number of people that were helped last year out of modern slavery was about 108,000, which is 0.2%. Right? So with all of the NGOs and United Nations and governments combined, we’re not even hitting a half percent, we need something that is going to address this. And I personally think it’s the private sector that’s going to have these breakthroughs.

Michael Waitze 15:50
So this is what I was going to ask you if we can apply technology to this? How can the private sector at scale, get together and fix these problems? Because I believe that if you get the private sector together, nobody wants to know that there are 40 million people in modern slavery. I don’t think this makes anybody happy except the 17 people that are doing it. I know it’s more than 17. But you understand what I mean? Yeah. So what are the things that can be done to do this? I was thinking before when you were telling me like, what can even an everyday person do to see these red flags and say, Wait, there’s a bus going by with people like that kind of stuff?

Matt Friedman 16:24
Yeah, you know, it’s interesting, I did a road trip across the United States, four years ago, 70 consecutive days, 115 presentations, 27 cities. And one of the things that came up over and over again is I would always have a woman from the audience come up to me afterward and say, you know, I was in that bus station. I was in that train station, I was in that department store. And I saw something. And I knew that as a mother, something was wrong. I didn’t know what to do. You know, the answer to the question is to Go with your gut feeling. When you see something like that. You go to the store manager, you call 911. You use the hotline that exists within a lot of the countries, and you report these things. And so, you know, when it comes to having the eyes open, I do a lot of presentations in Bangkok. And during the time that I was there, I lived there for 10 years, we had probably 25 students come to us and say, I think there’s a human trafficking situation out of the 25 times 23 times it was trafficking, so we can open up the eyes of just regular people to be part of the solution.

Michael Waitze 17:31
You did 117 presentations in the United States, you said over a seven day seventy day period of time…

Matt Friedman 17:37
Yeah, I told my wife that this was going to be this great vacation. Within two weeks. It was so unsustainable by halfway there, we almost divorce. But in any case, it was an amazing experience. And what I’ve learned from that is that it doesn’t matter what type of person whether you’re a general public or corporate or faith based, or nobody really knows enough about this issue to know what to do. And that’s our fault. That’s not you know, the kind of traffic and world hasn’t done a good enough job. Because when you hear about these things, when you hear the stories, I don’t care who you are, you’re gonna want to do something to help.

Michael Waitze 18:12
Yeah, I mean, I was, like I said to you before I started reading that thing that you gave me, the be the hero. It’s hard to get past the first few stories, you’re listening to you tell the story at the beginning of this, it’s just so hard to listen to it. You know, I have a daughter who’s 20 years old. And I just, you know, everything that I imagined that’s bad, I think about her. I have a mother, I have two sisters, you know what I mean? I had a grandmother and it’s just like, it’s so hard to go through this without thinking about it. And what I really wanted to know was, as you were going through the United States, given these 117 presentations, what’s the outcome of that? You know, what I mean? What’s the benefit to you? What actually ends up happening as a result of that?

Matt Friedman 18:52
Well, okay, if I get in front of 100 people 10 people will come up to me afterward and say, Oh my gosh, for whatever reason, this issue really bothers me to the extent that I’m standing in front of you right now, right? out of that five people will take my card, three people will send me something and one person will basically follow up to the extent that that person becomes an ambassador, whether it’s a school whether it’s a corporation, whatever, they didn’t pick the issue, the issue pick them, which means that for whatever reason, they’re drawn to that particular issue. And I say this about everybody. We don’t pick our issues it some people are drawn to animal rights, some to the environment, some to bullying, and I tried to mine those individuals who are as obsessed with this topic as I am. Give them the tools and the means and the ability to within whatever space sphere they’re in, to be able to add value. The other thing is just to I when I get up in front of 100 people, I say I just need you guys to do one thing. Just one thing a year if I could get 10 million people to do one thing that would add up to something. So after the talk, I say, listen, you’ve done your one thing, you don’t have to do anything else. But if you go and share what you learned with three other people, you’ve done three other things. How easy is that? You know, if you learn about things in post it that how easy is that, you know, go to a local NGO and ask whether they need some volunteer support, you can do it from home, much of it can be done, you know, on the internet. You know, my youngest volunteer was nine years old. This guy or girl saw me in a documentary, contacted me, and said, Mr. Friedman, I saw you in a documentary I want to help. I said You’re nine years old. She said, so work. I said You’re nine years old. She said nine-year-olds at a new 16-year-olds, she said, Give me a check. Did she so I went to her and I said, you know, what can you do? She said I can find anything on the internet. This girl was so talented. She was better than my second year, Yale Law student finding anything because it was her inherent gift, right? That’s what she was good at. Everybody has a gift if you can apply your gift to what it is that is needed to address modern slavery in large numbers. That makes all the difference. That’s the basic philosophy behind the be the hero campaign.

Michael Waitze 21:10
And have you seen a secular change? You said you’ve b
een at this for 30 years? I mean, a way you kind of invented it right? You said before there wasn’t even a category for this? Have you seen over the past, and I want to get really close, Right. Have you seen over the past five years, a real secular change where the 25 years of work you’ve done before, is starting to accelerate the understanding or the knowledge of this? Or is it still just a daily slog?

Matt Friedman 21:32
When it comes to kind of the reactions that we’re able to bring about and the response we’re able to bring about, I’ve seen significant changes, we’ve refined our message to a point where we don’t overwhelm people too much with the power of the bad story. So that’s one thing. But when it comes to the profits generated from modern slavery, 150 billion US dollars, the amount of money that’s globally available to fund people like me, there’s about 20,000 of us, is about 350 million or 0.23% of the profits. To put this into perspective. In the United States, we’d a lot of potato chips, $6 billion worth it takes 21 days of potato chip eating to come up with the amount of money that we have globally to address modern slavery. There are a half-million greed incentivized criminals who don’t have to follow rules and 20,000 of us. So the difficulty is if we expect the NGOs and the governments and the UN to do it by themselves, I think could happen. That’s why we’re opening the private sector door. But we also have to get the general public involved as well.

Michael Waitze 22:38
Yeah, I mean, there’s no way this is going to get solved by just big corporations. And by the 20,000 people that you’re talking about doing this. You mentioned before. And I want to go back to this so that people that listen to this, understand that this is thematic, actually, it goes through everything that we talked about, I think the two biggest problems and I was actually talking about this to somebody else. Earlier today in the startup world is discovery. Just having people know you’re there doing something right, getting out there, and telling people now you spent 117 days or 70 days on the road giving 117 presentations. But even that is limited because it’s limited to your physical presence and the hope that the next thing will happen, which I think is the next most important thing was, which is conversion. How can I get the people that listen to this story to actually convert into actually doing something right? How can I get those 10 million people to do one thing a year?

Matt Friedman 23:29
Yeah, okay. Well, this is where my plea to your audiences, the inconvenient truth that Al Gore put out there for the environment had such an impact because what he did is he related the topic of the environment to each of us. And then he made a very strong case for what is going to happen. And he backed it up with data, and then basically said, you want a world that moves in this particular direction. The difficulty with human trafficking is up until recently, most people couldn’t relate to sex trafficking because it didn’t directly have an impact on them. Other than, you know, a 15-year-old girl has been commercially raped 7000 times only to die of AIDS is such a terrible thing, times 4.2 million people that we should care about it simply because of that. But when we look closer into forced labor, we know that out of the 40,000,075% is forced labor and 60% of that is associated with supply chains. It begs the direction of the private sector has to be involved in this. And so as the private sector gets further and further along, and understanding that there’s a reputational risk there is a risk of people basically looking at you and saying, I’m not going to buy your products and we’ve seen examples of this or the other side of the equation. Wow, you look like you’re doing everything you can to help we’re gonna buy your products because you’re doing the right thing. So you know, incentivizing the people to get involved in kind of looking at the private sector in a positive way, isn’t is another way of addressing this issue.

Michael Waitze 25:08
Yeah, I mean, look, I spent a lot of time before speaking with you speaking to, you know, Mark about the supply chain and monitoring the supply chains, I spent some time with a team in Europe as well talking about how to apply technology to monitor the supply chain. Because in that sense, it actually does impact a ton of people that they would understand the guy who’s driving the truck that delivers you stuff, the person who’s getting paid or not getting paid, the person who has to wait six months, or who borrows $2,000, to buy a truck. He’s not enslaved, per se, but along that supply chain, if people actually knew what’s happening, I think they’d be appalled.

Matt Friedman 25:44
But let me tell you an example of tech that could be used within the supply chain. So what we’ve done with the Mekong club with our partners, and so imagine this, this phone here on the front of it, you would have flags. And so the auditor goes up to a migrant who’s in a factory who he’s never been able to interview because he doesn’t speak the language and doesn’t have a translator gets that person to press the flag from where they come from his headphones on. And then in that person’s language. A recording basically says we’re going to ask you some questions. If the answer to the question is yes, press green, no press red. Are you being exploited? Yes or no? Do you need help? Yes or no? Do you have debt associated with yes or no, by developing this simple triage tool, we’ve been able to increase victim identification by 25%. So you have auditors that went in for 10 consecutive years didn’t find anything. But with this simple tech tool, all of a sudden, you have a means of addressing something. So where there’s a will there’s a way. And so the issue has always been one of the biggest risk factors are migrants from one country to another get exploited in a factory, but nobody can communicate with them. You solve that problem, you’re going to insignificant in the crease, your ability to have transparency within the supply chain.

Michael Waitze 27:00
Yeah. And again, so this is why I asked you the question earlier about if things have changed a lot in the last five years, as opposed to the previous 25 years that you’re working on this. I presume you’re talking about Hannah’s this tool that Hannah Thinyane is working on?

Matt Friedman 27:11
That’s correct. Yes.

Michael Waitze 27:12
Yes. So I’m just trying to look up the name, but I can’t remember, but I’ll put it in the show notes as well. (‘apprise‘ is the name of the app we discussed.)  So people can understand. She’s been on the show, too. And this blows me away, you couldn’t have done this five or six years ago. And the part of the conversation that she and I had as well was you can’t just walk up to a factory owner and say, Are there any slaves inside? That’s just not going to work. But you can talk to workers, right? Go ahead…

Matt Friedman 27:18
And actually, the reason why Hannah and I came together is I did an article in the South China Morning Post where we were talking about we were moving forward with this project. She was with the United Nations University, she approached me and said, I’d like to hear about it, we sat down together. And then she said, Well, we want to collaborate on this. The point I’m making is that sometimes just getting the awareness out there going back to the seventy-day trip, is I walked away with probably 60 or 100 contacts at all different levels within business within I met with senators I met with CEOs I met with philanthropic leaders in the country, and in that group of people, then helped us to go back and say, Okay, can you help us with th
is? Can you move us forward with that? Basic awareness is a prerequisite because we don’t know about something, you’re not going to care if you don’t care, you don’t do anything. But from that, you then mine all of these great contacts, which Hannah was one of them.

Michael Waitze 28:33
Yeah, I thought she was fabulous. Is there a way? Or do you have what’s the right way to ask this question? Are their corporate people not sponsors is the wrong word, but are there corporate contacts that you have that are so interested in this, that they would also be willing to talk about it? Remember, I mentioned earlier, this idea of discovery. And we should also talk about network effects, right? So technology can help with network effects, too. If I talk to you, or if I talk to Hannah, right, every network that we have then just builds and builds on top of itself exponentially. So if I talk about it, and you talk about it, and Hannah talks about it, now, there are three networks out there working. But if you have interested corporations that actually do stuff on the supply chain, that are actually willing to talk about it, once a year. Now you have this ongoing conversation about it. And then it can’t get out of people’s minds because they’re constantly hearing about it. That makes sense. Like you know, people like this and all the contacts that you have. We could have way more of these conversations right.

Matt Friedman 29:29
Here we had a senior vice president of the major bank, do an internship with us for six months, he just took a sabbatical and was with us. We had another person who was the head of sustainability for a major one of the major banks in the world. He became a board member and he does talks all over the region. There are probably about 15 people who are described as our ambassadors they are senior, influential people who for whatever reason, again, this is in their blood. This topic is their topic, and they can’t help themselves. From not getting involved in addressing this, you know, and you’re, you’re, you’re absolutely right, being able to get in touch with these influencers, give them what they need, and let them loose on the world to basically use their skills that really does make a difference. The difficulty that I’ve had is that there are a certain percentage of people across Asia, senior captains of industry, who if I could get in front of them and have a conversation, they would be supportive of this, I just don’t have the network to be able to do that you do, I do. And that’s part of the reason why we do these podcasts is to kind of get the word out to as many people as we can. But, you know, there, if somebody is listening, who basically feels like you have years of experience, and maybe you’re feeling a little empty, or you feel like there’s a lack of purpose in your life, and you want to give something back after having taken, taken much of your life, and it’s not your fault that you do that, that’s the way the system is, then, you know, contact us, and we’ll find a way of getting you linked into this. Remember this, you know, every four seconds, somebody enters modern slavery, 25,200 people a day, and after 30 years, we’re still at less than a half percent. You know, I, you know, I, when I look at all of the news stories about individual things that are happening in the world, and I compare it to the issue that I’m talking about, I just don’t know what we’re doing wrong. Why is it that we’re not able to get everybody so upset that there’s huge crowds and protests, basically saying this is unacceptable? What are we doing wrong, Michael?

Michael Waitze 31:34
So that’s what the point of this is, right. And that’s why I mentioned this term before these two terms, discoverability and conversion. So you saw me looking to the left, and I wasn’t ignoring, I was just trying to find the name, so I pronounced it properly. So I recently had a conversation with a guy from the CP group, so the largest private company in Thailand, and he’s their head of partnership for sustainability. Right. So all focus on the 17 sustainability goals, right, the UN SDGs. This fits right into this category. So what I’m thinking is to introduce you to him, I don’t know if you know him already. This is a company with $64 billion of revenue operating in 21. Countries definitely have supply chain issues, I would think. And he’s a great guy to know. But the other thing that I was thinking as well is, and again, getting back to discoverability, and conversion, doing the road trip is really hard. But doing this type of conversation is more impactful because more people can hear it. And it’s greenfields forever. And what I would suggest to you actually, and I hadn’t thought about this before. And this is why I asked you who you are, and you said 15 ambassadors, every single one of them shouldn’t be on the show. Not for me, for you. So they can talk about why from their own corporate experience, what touches them what changed their mind, and why that guy did a six-month internship and left his banking job for six months, probably a large personal cost to him, but he was so moved by this thing. And remember, if he goes back to work, for all the great thoughts that he has, he’s still going back into an environment where most people don’t care. So what you have to do is find people that do care. Go ahead.

Matt Friedman 33:11
Yeah, I was just gonna say, I mean, part of what we did in the road trip, get a couple going across the United States got a certain amount of media coverage, because who does that, you know, initially, it was going to be 100 days, 100 presentations, they didn’t give me that much time. So I had to do it. Tapping into those influencers is an extremely important part of the process. And in just finding them as an extremely important part of the process. And, and I want to go back to this point about how, you know, when I first started to come to Hong Kong, I would, I would meet with captains of industry, people, men and women who are at the top of their game making tremendous amounts of money, power, prestige, wonderful, wonderful lives you and I was an NGO guy, and I was like thinking, Why Why aren’t these people like beaming with excitement, they have everything that they could possibly imagine, in front of them, and a lot of them just didn’t seem very happy. So finally, I got to a point where I just had this ask the question, what is going on here? I mean, all these people who seem to have everything that we’re supposed to want, and you know, you guys aren’t jumping up and down saying, well, life is great. And a lot of them say, well, there’s a certain emptiness is a lack of purpose is this all there is, you know, maybe on my unhappiness is that I’m just not making enough money. I’ve come to realize that it’s an imbalance. There’s this emphasis on us And the world leads us in this direction. It’s not It’s not because of greed or anything. It’s just the way the world is take, take, take, take take but don’t get back. So there’s an imbalance when you can get this imbalance, you know, right. A person who had those feelings all of a sudden blossoms, they start to feel good about themselves. The kids are saying, Look at my dad, he’s helping out with human trafficking. And some of these people have gone on to be do-gooder junkies, I can hardly keep up with them now. And it’s partly because there isn’t enough of a counter-message that says, if we share this earth, if we breathe the air, drink the water, use the resources, we have to share some responsibility for healing it. And that’s the whole concept behind be the hero. Because what we basically say is heroism isn’t running into a burning building and helping somebody, something courageous like that. It’s when you do a kind gesture for the earth or for somebody else, we’ve redefined heroism. And we say everybody can be a hero by just contributed, pick your cause, do something, do it in large numbers. And we wouldn’t be in the situation we’re in now with all of these global issu
es, right?

Michael Waitze 35:41
So this is the reason why I do this. Is because I want to tell these stories, right? And I’m remembered, you know, I can’t because I operated in the finance industry for most of my life, a lot of the sort of references that I have that or from there. But even Warren Buffett said to Bill Gates like you have all this money, what are you doing with it? He basically shamed him into philanthropy. And it really just took a conversation of shaming. And he said, Well, you’re right, I already have a big enough house, I already have enough cars, I can already travel whenever I want. My family’s already said, What am I doing? Yeah, and I’m not saying Bill Gates is the greatest person in the world. I’m just saying that’s an example that people understand that Bill Gates maybe never would have been philanthropic without the urgency of the urging of Warren Buffett. And it really just takes one person to convince another person to do this. You know, I was introduced to this list, let me finish first, I was introduced to this whole space by somebody else. And again, I didn’t know anything about it either. But the more I talk about it, the more I want to talk about it. Because I have a voice. And I have a network. And that network is in 150 something countries instantaneously. This is why I tried so hard to get in touch with you and to The Mekong Club team because I see what you’re doing. Because I wanted to help tell that story. Is that fair?

Matt Friedman 36:57
Yeah, thank you so much for what you do. And it is extremely important. I want to go back to one of the things that you said though these sustainable development goals go for the world, basically, over a 15 year period decides what it wants to achieve. And then governments are responsible for doing it. And as you know, there are 17 of these, what we’re developing on the technology front is another app that basically would have on the front, the 17 goals. And so you pick the goal that you think that you’re interested in. And then there would be a whole variety of different options of things that you could do. And for each thing you do you get what are called care points. And so we’re in the process of developing this app now. Because what we found when we developed a similar type of app for modern slavery, tracking what people do if you incentivize people by giving them something, in this particular case, its care points don’t really necessarily mean anything. But it’s recognitions, like a like, people will do things, and they start to compete with each other. And they start to then tell their friends that I’m doing these types of things. It’s gamifying, kind of the support that the world needs. But at the same time, whatever works, we know that people are always on their phones, we know that people like to use apps that are easy to basically track things. And we know that people feel incentivized when people are saying, Wow, what you’re doing is a good thing. And that there’s not enough of that, and especially post COVID, you are going to see significant increases in mental health issues, poverty, issues related to education, everything. If the world needed help, this is the time and we don’t feel it yet. Because we’re still very much part of that, you know, health side of things, but six or eight months from now, there’s gonna be we’re gonna be looking at the fallout from this. And we all have to step up and do something for sure.

Michael Waitze 38:45
Yeah, I mean, I’ve had just to be clear on this, right, I do about nine recordings a week in different sectors, let’s, let’s say, let’s lower a little bit six. But I did nine this week. That means that I talked to on average about 300 people a year. Last year, I definitely did I spoke to at least 300 people did at least 300 recordings last year. What does that mean? Well, we talked to them, because COVID was the thing to talk about. We spent a lot of time talking about it. And I have to agree with you on steroids. There is going to be there’s a massive mental health problem developing along with a big poverty problem starting because last year was just vicious for people. And in a way that they didn’t understand in a way that companies didn’t understand it in a way that mental health professionals didn’t understand either. This could be a crisis.

Matt Friedman 39:31
When I was working for the US government, I was managing the regional pandemic response activities. And what they don’t tell you is there are three components to a pandemic. First is the health one, which we’re still just on the tail end for the developed countries, the developing countries are going to be experiencing this for a long time. The second is the economic impact. Now, you know, the stock market is doing pretty well but that’s all artificial because economies all over the world are just like that. In a mess, and, you know, because people have tapped into their savings, and they’re in debt and so forth, they’re not going to be buying nearly as much. And so that’s going to have an impact on all of those countries that rely on manufacturing as a means of basically making money. The third is, is kind of like the falling out of the supply chains you see in different parts of the world where we’re beginning to see shortages of food because food isn’t being picked, it’s not being transported. And so you could have, maybe 4 million people die from the pandemic, but 30 million people die of starvation in 2021 2022, simply because nobody’s minding the store. And the long-term impact of all of these disruptions is not being felt yet, but they’re there. They’re right out there.

Michael Waitze 40:45
And I want to make a comment on the stock market to just to be clear about this when the biggest governments in the world give stimulus to gigantic companies or safe packages to save big companies as opposed to saving individuals, those big companies then take that money, they fire people, and they use that money to buy back their stock, you know, the stock market is, is unnecessarily inflated, a lot of the reason why is because, in an economy where a bunch of money sloshing around that has no other asset to buy, they go back and buy their own stock, because that’s where their wealth is derived anyway, yeah. Enough about that. But yeah, you’re right. The long-term impact of this is still unknown, but easy to predict, I think. Yes, for sure. Okay, so I want to thank Matt Friedman, the CEO of The Mekong Club for coming on and doing this today, Matt, just so people know how what’s the best way to read you if they do want to reach out and help out and do that one thing a year…

Matt Friedman 41:37
They can go on to The Mekong Club website, there’s Matthew s. Friedman calm is a website that I have, that they can go on to and contact me directly, every email I get, I’ll respond back to just what I do. And, you know, if if you have a desire to be a part of the solution, then what we’ll do is to figure out how to tap you into whatever it is that you want to do.

Michael Waitze 42:02
That’s awesome. Look, I thank you again, for coming and doing this. I really appreciate it.

Matt Friedman 42:05
Thank you very much for the opportunity. Appreciate it,

EP 33 - Matthew Friedman - CEO of The Mekong Club - Human Trafficking Was Not Even a Topic

by Matthew Friedman | Social Innovation Podcast