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Ted Leonsis on Filmanthropy

Can social entrepreneurs bring new vision to public media? Could "filmanthropy" make more and better socially-conscious films? Social entrepreneurs take on social problems with solutions derived from the entrepreneurial and often more commercial arenas rather than via the usual array of interested non-profit groups.

A recent keynote speech by Ted Leonsis at the recent Silverdocs Film Festival, held from June 12-17 in Silver Spring, MD, provided an optimistic vision of social entrepreneurship and socially-responsive media. Leonsis is best known as a Vice Chairman of AOL. He is also well known as the owner and part owner of three professional sports teams in the greater Washington DC area. He is less well known for what he spoke about at Silverdocs in an address on "Filmanthropy" (full text at http://ted.aol.com/docs/Silverdocs_Presentation_files/v3_document.htm).

Leonsis is credited with coining the term Filmanthropy, a combination of film and philanthropy, and his address at Silverdocs was entitled Next Generation Filmanthropy: The Road From Here. It was a solid combination of the social entrepreneur fusion of public purpose and commercial savvy with lessons Leonsis learned from having produced the film "Nanking", a documentary account of the infamous massacres of Chinese civilians in World War II by the Japanese Army.

He quickly argued for the need to have multiple revenue sources or other ways to add value to media projects, saying that the "big donor route" wasn’t a sustainable business model. Rather, he went through multiple sources of potential revenue and other value as well as over a dozen ways to "make it happen."

Not surprisingly, online technologies and the proliferation of social networks are key factors in what Leonsis points to as ways to deliver work to and to activate audiences. And he offered a diverse portfolio of ways to monetize such activity that showed his professional understanding of the online milieu.

Animating the Filmanthropic (there, I’ve invented a word as well) impulse for Leonsis is a winning combination of public purpose, gratitude, and the search for happiness. And the presentation argued for an evolution of public purpose media without ever having mentioned the word "public" once in the entire presentation (look it up).