Jul 31, 2014

Scaling Global Forgiveness One Email at a Time


Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his daughter Mpho Tutu wrote the book on forgiveness. And earlier this year they launched a parallel initiative: the Tutu Global Forgiveness Challenge. During the initial three-month signup period, 20,000 people from every time zone in the world invited forgiveness into their lives, delivered via a daily email. Over the course of the challenge, Mpho and Desmond walked subscribers through the four stages of forgiveness: telling the story, naming the hurt, granting forgiveness, and renewing or releasing the relationship.

The goal wasn’t just to get people to take the challenge and augment their forgiveness skills, but to inspire a worldwide conversation about forgiveness. Doug Abrams, the Archbishop’s co-founder of the ubuntu-based organization Human Journey, helped orchestrate the challenge. He wanted to find out if the Tutus could “inspire personal transformation at scale globally.”

Scaling influence

To draw in people who might be struggling with forgiveness, Doug and his team helped book the Tutus on BBC radio, CNN, the Huffington Post, and other media outlets. While these efforts piqued some interest, the Forgiveness Challenge found momentum when a handful of (very) influential friends shared the news. Richard Branson, Oprah, and the Dalai Lama each posted about the challenge, and the subscriber list quickly rose from 0 to 20,000 people in 166 countries. Now that the Forgiveness Challenge had an audience, the next step was to create a supportive environment for such a personal endeavor. Doug and his team at Human Journey chose to communicate by integrating email with a private WordPress site. "Email is the most direct way to connect with people,” Doug told MailChimp. “Social media is fantastic, traditional media is still very good. But ultimately, when you’re emailing someone it’s like you’re knocking on their door."

Investing in global change

Doug asked if MailChimp would help sponsor their experiment, and we immediately agreed. We support a number of projects and events in our hometown of Atlanta and around the world. Our team takes great pleasure in helping people we believe in and investing in their success. Exploring global forgiveness with a Nobel Peace laureate was an idea we definitely believed in. Once the challenge began, each subscriber received an email at the same time every day, no matter where they were in the world. Soon, replies started to pile up. People would report that they’d reconnected with estranged family members, saying things like, “This challenge has been a profoundly intense and moving experience for me,” or “I did not anticipate when I started out that it would affect me so much,” or “It has been a wonderful gift.”

The Forgiveness Challenge has already seen direct results. Surveys from participants indicate that after completing the challenge, each subscriber is 14% more likely to forgive. And though The Book of Forgiving and the Forgiveness Challenge are separate entities, book sales have increased by 40%. Doug explained that initially they had wanted to maintain the Forgiveness Challenge for a finite period. But subscribers are often taking the challenge at a weekly rate instead of a daily one. They’re also recommending it to friends and family. For now, Doug and Human Journey plan to continue changing the world through forgiveness, one email at a time.