Social Impact Leaders — Interview w/ JK McKnight of Art of Impact
JK McKnight is an entrepreneur, writer, producer, community builder and environmental activist. He is the founder of The Forecastle Festival, The Forecastle Foundation, and The Art of Impact. In 2017, JK was named “Southern of the Year” by Southern Living.
McKnight created The Forecastle Festival in 2002 as a small community gathering in Louisville, KY, and has grown into a major, international attraction, with up to 75,000 attendees from 2,192 cities, 49 states and six countries. Outside Magazine hailed it as one of the “Top 10 Festivals in the Country” while Rolling Stone deemed it one of the “Coolest Festivals in America.”
The Forecastle Foundation is an international environmental 501(c)(3), dedicated to protecting and connecting the world’s natural awesome. It works by partnering with grassroots organizations to conserve the richest reservoirs of life left on the planet.
Most recently, McKnight launched The Art of Impact, an experiential agency specializing in festival consulting, experiential marketing, and nonprofit partnerships. Together, the agency’s three specialties form a new marketing model helping brands engage Gen Z and millennials effectively, while positively impacting their lives and communities.
Social Impact — What meaning do you personally associate with this term?
Positive change that addresses pressing social issues. It starts from within. Self-awareness, living mindfully, recognizing there’s a problem and that you can be a channel for change. Don’t wait for someone else to do it for you.
Social Responsibility — What is your best practice to integrate it into your daily life?
Understanding your daily impact. As the late Howard Zinn said, “You can’t be neutral on a moving train.” Whether you recognize it or not, you’re either positively or negatively impacting the world around you. People and places are impacted by daily decision making. It’s easy to be negligent; it’s easy to be apathetic. You have to challenge yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask why. Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo. Do what’s right, and often the economics take care of themselves. Asking why five times typically gets you to the truth of any matter. I feel everyone has a responsibility to leave the world a better place that we found it, and that starts from within.
Purchasing Power — What is it all about, and why is it real power?
It’s about being cognizant of your daily purchasing decision and how that impacts people and places around the world. It sounds like a lot. It’s not. There are apps — take EWG or Ethical Barcode for example — that make it easy to navigate your shopping. You vote with your dollar, so make sure it counts. Don’t assume the food you buy is healthy, sourced responsibly and sustainably, even if the pictures are pretty.
Conscious Living — Why is it important to live our life consciously? And how do our actions influence and affect each other, and therefore connect us?
Because we’re setting an example for future generations, and our actions always influence others… especially in a time when everyone loves to share everything they do. It’s never been easier to be an advocate.
Conscious Consumerism — Why, now more than ever, it is important to reflect on our buying habits, and research the brands we are consuming?
One hundred percent, and it’s easier than ever to do. Unfortunately, many companies won’t change their habits until they’re under immense pressure to do so. So you have to call it out, be outspoken, draw attention to yourself. A moment can become a movement, and one person has the ability to create global change. It happens every day.
Commercial — From your point of view, what are the commercial practices that are unhealthy to humanity?
Let’s stick with the subject of what we put in our bodies. As the documentary Food, Inc. illustrated, we rarely eat real food anymore, but food-like products. It’s lost on us, and only getting worse. We import billions of pounds of produce from Mexico and California, which is wasteful, susceptible to supply chain disruptions, and accelerates climate change. On the flip side, advertising teaches us that we should be doing even less work to get our food… ordering everything and having it delivered to our couch. Our brains are not wired this way. They’re wired to hunt and gather, not live in a world of online ordering. We have to get back to basics.
The Future — What is your personal outlook on the future?
Better than it used to be, as I truly feel Gen Z and millennials have a better grasp on what is at stake, are not afraid to speak out about it, and are willing to put their money where their mouth is.
Change — What do you personally think needs to change — from a consumer perspective and within the corporate world?
From a consumer’s perspective, a sense of urgency and willingness to join together to solve big problems. From the corporate side, a deeper commitment to stepping outside their comfort zone and self-interests, for the betterment of future generations.
Is there anything you would like to share that we have not asked you here?
I work with brands that want to align their strategic objectives and strategies with meaningful social missions. They say, “businesses need to think more like nonprofits, and nonprofits like businesses.” The answer is business nonprofit partnerships, and we’re working with clients and bridging divides that move our people and places towards a better future.
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Demee Koch about the MEDIUM interview series on Social Impact:
Hello! I am a serial entrepreneur practising conscious entrepreneurship. This is an interview series about social responsibility and the best practices in incorporating it into our daily lives.
Every day, we make an impact consciously and subconsciously. It is implemented through our actions.
A great example of this is the practice of our Purchasing Power where we can actually direct our impact by consciously deciding which brands and companies we nourish.
I interview change advocates about best practices for incorporating social consciousness into our daily lives, and practices in the business world that need to change for the benefit of social responsibility.
With this interview, we invite the reader to reflect their every day actions. We all have an impact, and if we are consciously aware of that, we can be empowered to start the change for a better future.
Thank you for being the change. I’m looking forward to learn from each one of you. Reach out to me via LinkedIn.