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Jay Boolkin, Founder of Promise or Pay (INTERVIEW)

Online Motivation Benefiting Charities

— April 30, 2014 — Social Good
Jay Boolkin is currently involved in a really cool campaign for his social business Promise or Pay. It's called May Day and it asks its participants to take part in a challenge: take 24 hours off of your smartphone or donate to charity. Could you do it?

Here, SocialBusiness.org chats with Jay Boolkin on his career trajectory as well as some of the things that keeps him on his toes on a day-to-day basis. You'll be surprised with some of his bone-cracking rituals.

Four Questions with Jay Boolkin

1. How did the idea for the business model come about?

The problem I am tackling is the common but difficult experience of lacking the motivation and willpower to do the things that we will know will make our lives better. We are all trying to improve – all the time. But change is hard and it is tough to break old habits and stick to new behaviours. Promise or Pay began in mid-2013 after I had failed miserably at achieving my own New Year’s Resolutions. The idea was to create platform that would create a win-win outcome by combining social motivation with charitable giving to help people reach their goals and change the world for the common good.

Research shows that the chance of achieving a goal increases 33% if it is shared with others and by 72% if money is put on the line. Promise or Pay combines both of these approaches by enabling people to make a public promise to do something, and if they fail to follow through, pay a nominated amount of money to a charity.

There are a number of goal setting apps currently on the market. However, Promise or Pay (1) harnesses social media to make a goal public and thereby strengthen the intention of keeping it and (2) integrates charitable giving to ensure a win-win outcome is always achieved and people are left feeling satisfied. Either you keep your promise thereby benefiting yourself, or you contribute towards solving a pressing social problem via your donation thereby benefiting others.

This unique win-win outcome allows Promise or Pay to capitalise on one of psychology’s most consistent findings -- a phenomenon called ‘feel good, do good’ -- which proposes that a mood-boosting experience makes people more likely to help others. Early results reflect this, as most users are donating even when they keep their promise.

2. How did you decide to join this sector?

I have always had a soft heart and a strong desire to help people, both of which have motivated me to pursue a career that is driven by social change and impact. However, I am still trying to figure out what that career actually looks like.

I have had experience with Development, Environment and Human Rights non-governmental organizations in the Australia, USA, India and Cambodia. During my postgraduate studies I founded The Yoke Project, which works exclusively with not-for-profit organizations from around the word to help extend their online networks. I am currently a healthy and happy 28-year-old living in Phnom Penh, Cambodia where I am working as a Program Development Officer.

Given my interests the social business side of Promise or Pay came as no surprise. However receiving the opportunity to build a Beta site, after submitting the idea to an international social enterprise competition, most definitely was. Over the past 8 months I have immersed myself in the startup space and learned more than I every thought possible (in such a short time). It has boosted by confidence, opened my eyes to a new way of doing things and introduced me to a wonderful community of inspirational and supportive individuals. It has been one of the most valuable times of my life and I look forward to the journey ahead.

3. How do you get your inspiration?

I find inspiration from engaging with people who seek knowledge and understanding, who dare to dream and who give more to the world than they take. I find inspiration from learning something new, from big ideas, and through genuine connection and kindness. A good story always inspires me as does going to sleep -- I always get my best ideas right before I fall asleep.

4. How do you reset yourself to be creative? Do you have any rituals?

I find the best way to reset the creative switch is to dance with absolutely no self-control for about 2-4 minutes, but everybody knows that. A good night's sleep and a good coffee in the morning is always an effective way to kick-start the imagination, but rarely do I get both in 24 hours. Does cracking joints count as a ritual? I do a lot of that.
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