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PBS: The New Heroes

Mike Malone
Series Co-Producer, "The New Heroes"
Tuesday, June 28, 2005 2:00 PM

In India, Kailash Satyarthi rescues brutally enslaved children in daring raids and promotes a radical vision to end forced child labor. In Kenya, Martin Fisher and Nick Moon introduced a low-cost, manual water pump that can double the yield of a small farm. In Bangladesh, Muhammad Yunus founded a bank that has loaned billions of dollars to millions of poor families, all without any collateral. In Egypt, Dina Abdel Wahab has broken through cultural taboos to create quality schools for children with disabilities.

These remarkable individuals represent a new breed of entrepreneur, the "social entrepreneur". Courageous, compassionate and committed to transforming society, these brilliant men and women have turned their business skills into tools for change, development and hope. For them, profit is measured not in dollars, but in lives saved and dignity restored.

THE NEW HEROES, a new four-hour series hosted by Robert Redford, tells twelve stories of social entrepreneurs who bring innovative solutions to social problems around the world. The series premieres Tuesdays, June 28 and July 5 from 8-10 p.m. (ET) on PBS (check local listings): "The New Heroes."

Mike Malone , co-producer of "The New Heroes," was online Tuesday, June 28, at 2 p.m. ET to answer your questions about this inspiring series.

A transcript follows.

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Syracuse, N.Y.: It's so refreshing to know that there are people out there not driven by greed alone! What a concept, to better life for some. The CEOs of the U.S. could learn something from this, that it's not all about money. Maybe our elected officials should look at this too. We live and die, it's not how much that you make that determines if you were a good or great person; it use to be how you could benefit mankind !! With money being thrown at you all the time it's no wonder that our country is taking the wrong path!

Mike Malone: I understand how you feel. However, it is important to recognize that what makes these folks successful is that aren't trying to simply "do good". Crucial to what they do is accountability: that is, they are taking the tools and techniques of the business world (financial accounting, marketing, R and D, etc.) and applying them to the world of non-profits. This gives them a discipline -- and a chance of long-term, systemic impact -- rarely possible with people who are just trying to help, but with no real way of measuring their success and failure.

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Arlington, Va.: I am looking forward to watching the show. Can you tell us if the entrepreneurs are mainly liberal or conservative? Also are they religious? Thanks.

Mike Malone: The facile answer is that these social entrepreneurs are just too busy to have much in the way of political views. If you could call them anything, it would be "pragmatists" -- they are going to do whatever works -- build commercial enterprises, ask for government assistance, pray -- to succeed in helping people. Also, the standard U.S. definition of liberal/conservative doesn't quite fit when you're working in the slums of Rio or the brothels in Thailand.

I would say that, in talking with these folks, that, like the entrepreneurs I know out here in Silicon Valley, they tend to run the political spectrum from left to right -- probably a little right of traditional social activists, a little to the left of traditional businesspeople.

As for religion, that's more complicated. As near as I can tell, the folks from the U.S. aren't particularly religious. Moses Zulu in Zambia doesn't seem very religious. However, Kailash, the slave raider, is a strong Buddhist, and Muhammad Yunis of Grameen Bank is a deeply religious Muslim.

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New York, N.Y.: What criteria was used when selecting the heroes profiled for the show?

Mike Malone: We had to be very careful in making the selection, as the Skoll Foundation, the major underwriter of the series, is also an important philanthropist to social entrepreneurs around the world. We didn't want to put PBS in a position of answering for an apparent conflict of interest between underwriter and series.

So, we essentially conducted a double blind selection. I researched through the Web, annual reports of various related organizations (Global Fund for Children, etc.) and came up with a list of 24 SE stories that I thought were powerful, that illuminated the field, and made good TV. I never checked who the foundations were that supported these SE, and I wrote up these stories up in a way that did not reflect their support.

Co-producer Bob Grove and I then submitted the stories to a panel composed of the programming manager for KQED in SF (Danny McGuire), a former CNN/CNET producer, and the legendary science TV host James Burke (another old friend) and asked them to pick the 12 stories they thought best for television. We then went those stories, hired three camera crews (very distinguished folks: 32 Emmys between them) and got underway.

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Falls Church, Va.: Dear Mike, What a wonderful idea that we can watch stories of success during a time when the divisive politics of our nation brings all a sour mood. The reason Robert Redford is such a wonderful person.

Robert Redford and Paul Newman continue to offer a positive solution to this country's ills. Redford's Sundance Film Festival and Newman's Camp for Kids continue to inspire all of us year after year.

Have they collaborated on any worthy causes that you know of as of late?

Mike Malone: Don't know of any recent collaborations between Redford and Newman. I do know that Redford is doing a lot these days with Jeff Skoll, whose Foundation is the lead underwriter of this series. Look for some major activities from them regarding Sundance in the near future.

As an aside, I should mention that we filmed Redford at Lucasfilm at the same time they were doing the final edits on Star Wars. It's a beautiful location, tucked back into the Marin hills near San Rafael. I wrote Redford's script and it was interesting to watch a real pro in action -- typically two takes, one to get the rhythm, and one to nail it . . .all from a guy who has done very little television hosting work. During the breaks he regaled us with stories about the making of his many films. A terrific experience.

BTW: I went to Pine Springs elementary school in Falls Church . . .

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Washington, D.C.: I love seeing this, would love to do it even more. Are the opportunities available for a young woman (me) who has basic film education, and is passionate about a number of social causes, many of which have not been touched on as of yet? How does one go about submitting proposals to you?

Mike Malone: You're talking to an old newspaperman who just happened to get into television as a host of some PBS series, so I'm hardly an expert on getting into the film-making business. My impression, however, is that the best way to start is to get a hold of some production teams (like the three that worked on New Heroes) and volunteer to work as an intern, field producer, etc. I do know that Bonni's three segments for the series were worked on by several of her assistants.

As for producing docs yourself, that ultimately comes down to finding underwriting. And that means you either must be a good salesperson/businessperson or team up with one. IN other words, you need to be something of a social entrepreneur yourself.

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washingtonpost.com:

How did you become involved with this series?

Mike Malone: Long story. For the complete tale, you might want to read my most recent column on ABCNews.com (Silicon Insider: Social Entrepreneurs). But a quick summary is that Jeff Skoll and Pierre Omidyar invited me in the early days of eBay to advise them on branding and positioning. I became good friends with Skoll, and when he retired at 35 and started the Skoll Foundation, he asked me to sit on the board. I saw that the goal of the Foundation was to help and celebrate social entrepreneurs around the world, and suggested that the best way to do that was through television. Having created three PBS series, I had a lot of experience there, and I teamed up with Bob Grove, who had been one of my editors when I ran Forbes ASAP magazine. He'd been a founding producer at MTV and Evening Magazine, and really new the operations side of the biz. Jeff loved the idea and committed the Foundation to be the lead underwriter. That, and two years of hard work, and we had the series that you'll see tonight.

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Mike Malone: Thanks everyone. I hope you enjoy watching The New Heroes. And, if you decide you'd like to help any of these people in their extraordinary work, please visit PBS.org or TheNewHeroes.org -- both PBS and the Skoll Foundation have some innovative new programs (house parties, etc.) in which you can participate.

Best,

Mike Malone

co-producer

The New Heroes

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