Last night it was cold (7 Celsius; 44 Fahrenheit) and rainy in Sydney. And last night more than 200 CEOs from some of the city’s biggest companies felt it more than the rest of us, participating in the annual “CEO Sleep Out” – raising funds and awareness of the more than 20,000 people in Sydney who are homeless each night (part of the more than 100,000 homeless people nationwide, a third of those are children and nearly half are women).
The event was hosted by St. Vincent De Paul Society, and takes a head-on approach to raise awareness of the homeless issue by inviting CEOs to see what their life is like for just one night. It’s easy for anyone to write a check, it’s quite another to experience a cause firsthand and in turn, probably become a vocal ambassador to help even more. The CEOs were able to bring their own warm clothes, a sleeping bag and a pillow, but were only provided a piece of cardboard and were fed soup, bread and tea/coffee for dinner and porridge and an apple for breakfast.
CEOs either volunteered on their own or were nominated by co-workers from the campaign website which made sending a “you should participate” email. Once a CEO agreed to participate they set-up a profile on the website and then invited colleagues, friends and family to sponsor their night out with a donation on the site. And donate they did – the campaign has already raised more than $500,000 and with the CEOs returning to their jobs today that number may go higher as people are inspired by the stories they are no doubt hearing today.
I spoke with Andrew Littleproud, the APAC Regional Director of McAfee (an H&K client) who participated in the event last night to share his thoughts on the experience. Here’s what he shared:
“The whole event was an incredible eye-opener. Throughout the event there were different people sharing their own storeis of either being homeless now or once homeless. The reality of homeless people couldn’t be farther from what the perception is – 80% of people are women or kids or families and not only sleeping outside but sleeping in cars, staying with friends and family. Some of the speakers had lots jobs last year and talked about being homeless with kids. Once you lose your address its hard to apply for welfare or health benefits. And when you try to apply for a job without an address you can see how the downward spiral can start. You start losing your feeling of security, how you are perceived in the community and other psychological issues. We all talked about how we had friends in countries all over the world making donations and hearing about the event, and some talking about the event being covered by the media as well, so it was great to know this event was reaching other places who also have a homeless issue. I tried to start sleeping at 11PM but obvioulsy it was cold and there were a lot of people snoring and getting up in the middle of the night and then getting up early – the whole experience really brought the issue home.”
The numbers speak for themselves – $50 can provide a homeless person with a bed, a meal and a fresh change of clothes for one night. Double that and you can help fund the Vinnies Night Patrol vans that deliver food and hot drinks to homeless people across Sydney. A donation of $500 will help a homeless person complete a life skills course to help them get back on their feet.
The campaign works on so many levels. First up, the experience. Its one thing to tell a story about a homeless person, it’s quite another to sleep outside on the street. Second, the word-of-mouth that occurred last night via people at the event using Twitter to in-person conversations happening at businesses all over Sydney today, raising awareness of this important cause. Third, the visuals from the event, showing some of Australia’s most powerful business people sleeping outside. And finally, how the event itself made it very easy to ask someone to donate – how could you say no to someone who is going to be doing all of the work, sleeping outside, in the cold (and in the rain).
Growing for only 8 people 4 years ago to 60 last year and now more than 200 this year, its great to see a campaign so worthy making such an impact. Now, next up, this concept needs to “go global.” It’s an easy event to replicate and one that would only help to raise awareness of this incredible issue. And know that Sydney was the home to the first “Earth Hour” and the legendary “Movember” campaign, I’m hoping that CEO SleepOut will become the next big Aussie innovation to go global.