Today I’m interviewing Jenny Buccos, founder of ProjectExplorer.org. Founded in 2003, the award-winning ProjectExplorer.org creates free, online educational films and multimedia material, allowing children to learn about different countries and cultures without the expense of leaving home. Nearly 2 million students and educators around the world use ProjectExplorer.org’s programs. To date, three series have been produced – Shakespeare’s England, South Africa, and Jordan- featuring 991 text-based documents, 179 educational videos, 932 images, and 120 lesson plans. This June, ProjectExplorer.org begins production on its fourth series focusing on Mexico.
Natalie: I love the mission of ProjectExplorer.org. It’s so important to learn about different countries and cultures. What sparked the idea for this venture?
Jenny: In 1999, I was working on a web-based initiative at Credit Suisse during which time I had opportunity to work in Hong Kong and Tokyo. Having lived most of my life in rural, upstate New York, Asia was a complete cultural shock and eye-opening experience for me. I began thinking about the importance of developing a global awareness from a young age.
In 2003, after months of brainstorming I founded ProjectExplorer.org hoping to use my newfound love of travel as a way to educate young people by presenting compelling stories of the world’s cultures, histories, and people. My goal was, and is, to educate, inspire, and inform. In five short years, ProjectExplorer.org went from my simple idea to a world-class, award-winning program that is sought out by Tourism Boards to produce a series in their country.
Natalie: Turning your passion into a sustainable venture is so rewarding! Do you have a favorite series or place you’ve been?
Jenny: Without doubt, South Africa is my favorite place and ProjectExplorer.org series. I have been back three times, since production in 2007 and am currently planning another trip this year. The people there are just amazing! We had extraordinary collaborators for this series including Noble Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Interviewing Archbishop Tutu has been the high point of my professional life.
Natalie: The team you are taking to Mexico in June is an all-female team. What does that mean to you and was it your intention to put together a team of only women?
Jenny: This January, we conducted a worldwide search for new talent. The majority of those who responded were women. In fact, I only received 3 applications from men. So, all-women crew wasn’t something I had planned, it just happened.
However, the power of an all-female team (both in front of and behind the camera) holds enormous potential. Its easy to see that women and girls continue to be underrepresented in media – just turn on any news program. The team I have selected for our Mexico series (all of which are under 30) have the unique opportunity to break industry gender barriers and serve as role models for our thousands of young female viewers.
Natalie: What is a day like for you when you’re on location?
Jenny: In addition to directing and producing the ProjectExplorer.org series, I am also the Executive Director. So, while on location my workload doubles. It’s a tricky task to have to switch between the administrative and financial portion of the business, while keeping a strong focus on the creative process. Production typically means 16 hour days with 30-40 days away from home and my office. I’ve learned to juggle the two quite well. Now I am just trying to figure out how to catch some sleep on location!
Natalie: What advice do you have for social entrepreneurs?
Jenny: The best advice I can give is to spend time building your business. I see so many people who want to jump right in with the programming part of their businesses and nonprofits. It’s understandable; it’s the sexy part of what they want to do. By getting everything in order – a clear mission statement, market research, your Board of Directors & team, collateral materials, et al – you have set yourself up for success when you eventually launch your business.
Natalie: What are the three most important lessons you’ve learned while building this venture?
- Being flexible and a fast decision-maker is a MUST in this line of work. I’m an uber-organized person and schedule nearly every minute on location. However, unique film opportunities oftentimes present themselves without notice. I have learned how to quickly adapt to these situations to capture the best video possible and re-work the schedule in a matter of minutes.
- Don’t mix business and friends. While I consider many of my crew members friends, and have even hired people I knew outside of the project, when we are working I have learned the importance of asserting myself as the director. This usually means having a pre-production meeting with everyone, clearly laying out what everyone’s responsibilities are, and how we need to work (emphasis on work!) together in a compressed schedule to get the best quality material.
- Being a young, female business leader can hold a great deal of power. Most people see my photo on our website as a series director and assume that I am the creative force behind the videos. When I meet with our sponsors, funders, and potential partners, I bring my corporate experience with me, and many of the executives I meet with are surprised to find that I am the business-mind behind the entire organization.
Natalie: Thank you so much Jenny and good luck in Mexico! I look forward to seeing the series.
Be sure to visit ProjectExplorer.org to learn more about Jenny and this social venture.
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