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072: It’s Never Too Late to Change Direction  -  Camille Laurente

Camille Laurente is the CEO and Co-Founder of Hueman Group Media, a company that inspires people to do good through the power of audio storytelling. HGM partners with thought leaders, brands and organizations to create riveting audio content. From innovations in generosity to advancing gender equality, HGM’s award-winning podcasts inspire people to do good through the power of audio storytelling. HGM has worked with amazing partners including SAP, UN Women, Fairygodboss, Global People’s Summit to name a few.

Camille is the creator, producer and co-host of Sincerely, Hueman, a narrative podcast featuring the vivid lives of humans people should know, and their stories of doing good in the modern age. The show tells the remarkable tales of advocates, philanthropists and everyday people who have changed the lives of strangers and communities around the world. She is also the co-producer of The Fix with Michelle King, a podcast hosted by leading global gender expert and UN Women’s Head of Strategy for Innovations Michelle King. The Fix shares stories of women and men who are taking action and innovating to advance equality in the workplace and beyond. Featured guests include Arianna Huffington, Zoe Saldana, Abby Wambach, Gina Rodriguez, Iceland Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir, Justin Baldoni and so much more!

Camille finished her master’s program at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) where she specialized in technology, media, advocacy and communications. Prior to moving to New York City to pursue her second post-graduate degree, Camille worked at Baker McKenzie as a corporate and commercial lawyer for top tech and Fortune 500 companies.

In This Episode, You Will Learn:

  • Why Camille left her corporate law career behind.
  • Why personal stories are the most powerful form of communication.
  • How non-profits and companies can start their own podcast.

Connect with Camille:

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Interview Transcript

Camille, thanks so much for taking some time to hang with me today. I really appreciate it.

Well, thanks so much, David, for having me and just for the great podcast that you’re doing.

So, I want to learn about your experience growing up in the Philippians, especially when it comes to the whole idea of what you wanted to be when you grew up. I know in America I was asked as a kid all the time, “What do you want to be? What do you want to be?” They actually wrote it down in a little book that kind of went along with you in the journey of life. Were you asked that question and what did you say?

So, when I was asked, probably when I was growing up in elementary I was really good in math, so I thought that I would be a mathematician. And I think coming from the Philippians, we grew up really being in a tightknit family where parents and perhaps even relatives would be involved in planning your future. And so, if they see a particular talent or skill that you as a child have this affinity towards or are good at, they would actually help you grow that talent. And so, I guess when I was young, I thought I was going to be this mathematician. I would always join quiz bees and competitions but that changed completely as I grew older.

So, I know in the states, I’d probably say the same thing. If I saw a natural propensity in one of my kids, I’d help them in some way. But it sounds like there’s a different level to that in the culture in which you grew up. How would that feel maybe a little different than I would know or understand?

Yeah, so I guess with parents coming from more traditional families, it’s really sort of handholding your child or raising them in such a way that you are there with full support. So, whether that’s emotional or financial or psychological, when they see that you are interested in something, whether that’s the arts or whether that’s math or the sciences, your parents would be the most supportive in terms of whether it’s accompanying you, enrolling you in certain classes and just being proud of you essentially in what you’re doing.

Yeah, yeah. So, fast-forward, you went through a whole lot of education to actually become a corporate lawyer.

Yeah.

You’re in law. You’re pursuing that path. At what point did you realize, “Okay, this particular career path just does not feel right”?

Yeah, I would say it was not really a specific moment, it was just a series of events and reasons that sort of piled up for me. So, whether that was the insane hours or just really finding myself not passionate about what I was doing, I just didn’t feel like I was doing anything meaningful, at least personally. Or anything impactful, something that I could carry with me, even not as a profession but as a person. And so, I had really thought about it, I thought about it hard. It took me years to actually make that leap and decide that I wanted to leave it for good.

That is a huge transition after you’ve gone through all the education, getting the job, you’re in the role. Was there a moment? I mean, obviously you were processing it for years, but was there a moment where you were just like, “Yeah, I got to get out. This is killing me”? Do you remember a moment like that? Or was it kind of just the totality of all the experiences?

I mean, it’s both, I guess. But I do remember some moments when I was just ready to go. It was just really finding myself working late nights and just doing something that I didn’t really love and thinking, “If something happens to me tomorrow and this is the last thing I’m doing, how will my life look like for other people? Or how will they see that? Have I helped anyone in a way that would be meaningful for me?” So, I had those moments. Especially when the stress has really taken its toll, especially on your body and your mind and your health.

Yeah, so many people experience that. I think you experienced it at a much younger age than a lot of people. I think that oftentimes happens in probably thirties and forties even fifties where, “Okay, I’ve been in this path for a while. I’ve got so much invested in this path. I feel bad about leaving it because of all that I’ve invested; time, energy, money, education and so forth. But I’m miserable,” and so it takes so much courage to transition out of that. So, I just admire that courage.

Thank you. It really does. I’m not the only person who’s made such a huge career transition. I believe I’ve spoken to other people and I’ve shared my story a few times too in other channels, whether it’s articles or with other people. And these stories resonate with just about anyone who might have found themselves burnt out and just not having passion for what they were doing as a career.

Yeah, you know it happened to me actually, eleven years ago.

Oh, wow.

I don’t know how much you know of my story but I was a pastor for ten years. I had gone through a ton of education, got a couple master’s degrees and was a pastor for ten years. I was just talking to somebody yesterday and I said, “Yeah, I left that eleven years ago,” and they said, “What? I didn’t think you could do that. I thought you were stuck with that for the rest of your life.” I go, “Well, that’s kind of one of the reasons I wanted to leave. Is because I did feel stuck and I was burned out and I was not doing it for what felt like the right reasons – reasons that I would have hoped, and I wanted to do something else.”

So, I think so many of us go through that, especially in this day in age. The idea of being in a career for fifty years is gone. You might be in the same career, but company-wise it’s probably two years now oftentimes. You decided to move to the United States to further your education, was that your next step?

Yes, so it was a complete new chapter for me and by me deciding that I wanted to shift careers, I also wanted sort of a clean slate and New York has always been an exciting city for me. I’ve been here a couple times even before I moved for good and it’s just the energy. It’s that energy that tells you that you can be anything or do anything. And so, when I was thinking of what I should do next or what I believe I’m destined to do for the rest of my life, I thought New York would be a terrific place to do that.

Wow.

Yeah, and I mean, of course I had to tell my parents and tell my family that this is something that I believe in my heart I should be doing.

Culturally this is almost unheard of, is it not? I mean, this feels like a huge move for you.

Yeah, it was a huge move. I had no family here. I went here by myself. But I did have a few friends who were already living in the city, but no immediate relatives. And it was a huge move leaving friends and family behind, but again, it’s just a matter of supporting a loved one and hoping and praying that they would actually find a career and a profession or a calling even, that would sustain them for the rest of their lives. So, that’s how they took it. It was hard, especially moving to a city like New York, there were a lot of adjustments.

But what I was really sort of excited about and again, stars aligned and I feel like all the decisions I made thus far are making sense or have made sense, because I was looking at schools and I was looking at specific programs that would suit my interests. And back when I was in college actually, even before I decided to go to law school, I majored in political science, so that was my undergrad major. Back then I had this vision of working at the UN and learning more about how institutions actually tackle global problems or social issues and I kind of went back to that.

When I was looking at programs, I went to Columbia, I took my master’s in media advocacy and communications. But it was actually an MA in international affairs but my focus was in media and advocacy. And it was just really the perfect program for me because it was broad enough for me to understand and learn more about non-profits and cost driven initiatives and socially conscious brands, but at the same time, honing my communication skills.

Sure.

Even when I was a lawyer, I already loved writing. I loved that part of being a lawyer.

Yeah, yeah, which most people don’t.

Yeah, exactly.

So, as with any journey we have different twists and turns and you have been involved in all kinds of things, including actually working at the UN and being a contributor to the Huffington Post and all sorts of amazing things. And now you have started a podcasting – what would you call it? Podcasting production company?

Yeah, we’re a podcasting company. We produce our own shows but we also produce shows for brands, organizations and thought leaders to inspire social change. So, that’s essentially what we’ve built because this is really kind of the culmination of my life experiences and also even my academic background and just all around my professional experience and my career choices thus far. And so, while we do our own shows, in particular we have our flagship podcast called Sincerely, Hueman, where we feature advocates, philanthropists, change makers and compassionate humans who are making a positive impact in the world.

We make sure that it’s a fifteen to twenty minute episode where we take listeners on a journey and we tell them a specific story of kindness in action from these inspiring humans that are just doing incredible things. And so, that’s one show that we do, and as a production company, what our mission is and what we aim to do is really tackle important conversations around social issues. So, whether that’s mental health or climate crisis or criminal justice reform, whatever it is that is important to tackle today. Whether it’s us talking to experts or telling stories from change makers and change agents, then that’s essentially what our mission is at the company.

So, the name of your company is Hueman Group Media, and for those of you who haven’t looked at the show notes yet, it’s actually spelt H-U-E-M-A-N. How did you come up with that name and what is the backstory to it?

Yeah, well thanks for asking. So, it’s interesting because the first iteration of our idea, to make it easier for people to do good and find ways to do good, is actually a social media app. And it was in 2016 during the elections here and coincidently the elections in the Philippians, and it was really a time when my husband and I were bombarded with negative messages and toxic messages. Whether it’s us turning on the news or going on social media, and we just couldn’t escape it and it kind of took a toll on us but at the same time we didn’t want to go off grid. It wouldn’t be wise for us. We had our jobs and we had family back home and it was our way to communicate.

And so, we had this idea and we started developing that concept. Where should people go if they want to just hear about humans doing good in the world? Where are these stories amplified? Where should we hear about them? And especially in a world where it could be filled with hate or we could be cycling through those messages, where do we find kindness essentially? So, we spelled “human” with the word “hue” in it, which means color because we wanted it to be vibrant, we wanted it to be joyful and also kind of the diversity layer. Because across our shows and even within just Sincerely, Hueman, our podcast, it’s really telling the stories of the most diverse group of people from different backgrounds but are all working towards making the world a better place.

That is so amazing. So, you started with the app and then at some point like many of us, we pivot and we find, “Okay, we want to head in a little different direction.” Did you discontinue the app and start the podcast? How did that transition happen?

Yeah, so we didn’t really get too far in the process of developing the app.

Okay.

So, quickly we realized that my skillset and my husband’s skillset – because I see him as kind of this creative audio genius, of course that’s my opinion but he’s really great, and so we thought a podcast is a perfect medium for us to tell these stories because I love storytelling. And I truly believe that in terms of getting people to learn about certain causes and certain issues, you have to tell them stories first. You have to connect with them on an emotional, human level that perhaps because the app just wasn’t a right fit for us, we wouldn’t be able to do that effectively.

I love that that’s part of your story, because I feel like that’s part of so many of our stories who are entrepreneurial or we’re focused on social change or impact. We start in one direction, we think, “Okay, this could be the project. This could help.” And then whatever reason, you don’t have the finances, you don’t have the skillset, your passion changes, whatever – you pivot and it’s all good. You’re making a difference and it’s just fun to hear a bit of the journey.

Yes, definitely. And also, because I feel like you would know by doing what you’re doing, if you’re working a project, at some point you would come to realize whether it’s effective or not  and if you’re still on the right path. It’s kind of like an instinct almost. So, I guess as you mentioned, as entrepreneurs, people who are doing these things that not many people have done before or we’re trying to create real change, that’s something that happens along the way.

Do you personally have a couple of issues that are really like, “This is your issue”? I ask that because some people that I come across, they have that drive in them, “This is my thing. I’m passionate about this.” For me, I’ve made documentaries on multiple social justice issues and I don’t find that I have one thing that I’m passionate about, there’s a lot of different areas. Are you personally more diverse in your passion? Or do you have a one or two hot button issues that you really want to see change happen in?

You know what? I think we’re the same. I have diverse interests in terms of what we want to tackle next, and as we started building our company and doing more research and telling these stories, I really was able to educate myself on certain issues that I might not have been so well versed in. So, for example, right now I’m learning more about the climate crisis and just diving deeper into it. And mental health, actually we just did an interview with Nancy Lublin at Crisis Text Line, so for listeners who might not be familiar with who she is, she started Dress for Success and then Do Something and then Crisis Text Line. It just really grew out of this one incident of a texter – a random person who was having a real crisis. And then it spurred this movement of talking about mental health, because why are we so open about our physical health? And why are we so passionate about getting better at it? Whether that’s working out or eating healthier, but not really talking about mental health and there’s a stigma to it. And so, there are these really complex issues that I have grown a lot of passion for over the years I would say.

Yeah, with each story you tell.

Yeah.

I was just listening to your podcast about the young child who didn’t have sight at birth and all of a sudden, I’m like, “Oh, jeez.” Because that’s not my experience, I don’t know anything about it, I don’t really have that much compassion for it. If I hear the story, I’m compassionate but once I hear his story of not having sight and them developing the line of glasses, all of a sudden, I have compassion because I’ve heard the story.

Yeah, and it’s hard to come across those stories too, right? It’s like we’re all so busy. We all have different lives and different professions and careers, and so if you’re not necessarily studying for example, socially conscious brands or non-profits, you’re not in the world. I could see why it’s not as accessible. So, that’s what we’re really trying to do, is engage the listeners by telling them this story and at some point, their experience. Whether it’s raising a child and having that fear of them being born without sight, that’s something that could happen to anyone. And so, that’s what we’re trying to do through the podcast.

So, a lot of podcasts – I would say the majority of podcasts are started by individuals who have a passion for a particular topic or way of approaching the world or they want to share their own thoughts. But there are companies or organizations that are either starting or sponsoring podcasts, some of it can be full-on branding content, but it can be so interesting that you want to listen, it doesn’t feel like an advertisement.

Definitely.

If there were, say a small to medium sized non-profit, even a business that cares about social change, how would you coach them if they were listening now? About how they could use the platform of a podcast in order to amplify their message? How would you coach them on that?

So, I would definitely, definitely say that you should start with your personal journey. So, if you founded your own non-profit or company that is trying to change the world or is addressing a specific social issue, there must be a reason why you started that or what got you on that path. But if you think that your story isn’t strong enough, which I believe you shouldn’t that feel that way, but if you think that there was an external reason, maybe you came across somebody or you met a friend or whatever it is, just start with a story.

So, it could be a team member who inspired you to start your own non-profit or start your business. And if you still feel like there’s a much stronger story that can resonate with your audience or whoever’s listening to what you have to say, then maybe you can even tap your own community. How has your product or your service impacted their life? So, there are many ways that you can go about it, but I would always start with your journey or your personal story.

So, start with your personal story and then the natural segue is featuring individuals who have been impacted by your work.

Definitely, because then you wouldn’t really be selling your product or service or just kind of introducing what you’re doing. You’re already kind of giving this testimony of how your work has changed someone else’s life. And so, I would really advise even not through podcasting, whether it’s on your social media channels, your website. Because people like hearing – what do you call this? An average person who’s life is being changed or who has been changed through your work. Because they feel like, “Oh, if that happened to that person, then what if I try this? What if I get involved? What if I engage in this mission? That could happen to me as well.” So, it’s just really humanizing everything.

Humanizing everything and boy, how easy it would be to interweave statistics, testimonials, announcements about upcoming opportunities to get involved or serve? Yeah, just so many opportunities.

Yeah.

I would think, because I’m very familiar with non-profits having started and worked in some, the biggest challenge that non-profit executive directors have is thinking about resources, “Oh, this is going to take us more time, more money, more effort.” I’ll give you an example, boy, talk about frustrating. I like to talk about all the things that I’ve done in this life that have worked.

Yeah, I’d love to hear it.

Let me tell you about something that didn’t work. A couple of years ago, I had the idea of starting a company, organization, whatever, that highlighted positive stories of non-profits doing good work, examples of their work. Same thing that you’re talking about but not in a podcast form, but in a short thirty to sixty second video clip. Similar to what you would see online of telling a story. You’ve got the photos that are happening, the words that are popping up on the screen, obviously, there’s music. All that kind of thing. A viral type piece of content.

And so, I called it Project Great News and telling the great news of non-profits that are doing great work around the world, offering the service for free to a non-profit, “All you have to do is tell me the story. Give me the story. Give me, if you can, at least three pictures. We can use stock photography if we have to. I’ll create the image.” And I could not get the non-profits to tell me the stories. I couldn’t get them to tell them to me.

Wow.

Not because they didn’t have the stories. They all had tons of stories. Not because they didn’t even want to. It was a bandwidth issues. I was trying to sell something to them for free that they weren’t interested in buying. They didn’t see the opportunity or the need because it felt like more work. I even would say, “Just call me. Just talk to me on the phone.”

Yeah.

I know these executive directors. These are people that I know. I’m not cold calling people. And one of the challenges for non-profits is the lack of vision, I think oftentimes, for these new media channels. Maybe they’ve got a bunch of boards, a bunch of hoops they’ve got to go through but I ended up having to shutter the whole thing and I’d put probably six months into it, because I just couldn’t get the stories.

And so, man, I want to challenge non-profit leaders and people that volunteer in non-profits and who give to non-profits, challenge your leaders to tell stories because that is so powerful. And podcasting, talk for a minute, Camille, about the potential hurdle of the production of podcasting. You know what I mean? How easy could it be or how hard could it be for a non-profit to get involved in something like this?

Okay, so that’s really something that we’ve learned over the years and I would say it could be easy but it also could be hard. And the reason why I say that is it would depend on what your goals are. So, I think the first step would be really conceptualize and also make sure that you have specific goals in mind. Whether it’s just an internal communications tool – an engagement tool for your employees, or are you looking to really capture a broad audience? And so, those are two separate things.

So, if you are just looking to make a podcast to have sort of this channel where you update your network about news, about updates, then I wouldn’t say it’s that difficult. There are resources out there that you can use for free in terms of creating your own show, but if you have a bigger vision and if you have this goal of connecting with a large audience or even listeners who might not have heard of what you’re doing or something like that, and if that’s your goal, then there’s a lot of work that would go into it.

Because for us as an example and in terms of what we do, is we make sure that our podcasts are high quality and by high quality I mean that we make sure it’s a well thought out story, it’s compelling and at the same time, the audio is good, there’s scoring and there’s background music and effects and whatnot, to make sure that we engage our listeners. Because that’s key for us. And with that, I would say there has to be a dedicated team to work on a show of that caliber.

So, I guess if you have to sit down and evaluate what you want to do and why you want to do it, then it could go different ways. So, it could be as easy as getting the equipment, studying how to record and how to conduct interviews and then just releasing it on a specific schedule and promoting it to certain channels. Or really planning it out and making sure that you’re being very intentional with why you are starting the podcast.

I think because of the accessibility of podcasting that it’s a great fit for any non-profit, that like you said, you could do it as simple as getting a Zoom recording device and doing some recording of different stories and having an intern or someone in your organization that’s a volunteer do some basic editing. But a lot of non-profits who are larger want to make the financial investment to tell those stories in way that is really compelling and the return on the investment is huge because of the opportunity to raise awareness of the issue and also increase financial development. So, the ROI is definitely there.

Definitely. And also, because if you’re a non-profit or you’re sort of in this business of raising awareness around an issue or a cause, you’re in the hearts and minds business. So, you have to really activate that. And the way to activate that is to tell a compelling story and make sure you know that a lot of effort and heart went into you sharing that story, otherwise you might not get the result you want. And so, that’s an investment, right? But when you do get them involved, when you do get them to listen to what your mission is, then that’s a win. So, I agree with you completely.

So, right now you’ve got two shows that you’re producing, Sincerely, Hueman and also, The Fix with Michelle King, can you describe that show real quick? And then also any other shows that you have planned for the near future?

Yeah, thanks for asking, David. So, The Fix with Michelle King is essentially a show about gender equality. So, we’re tackling how men and women can build a more gender equal world. And so, Michelle King, she works at UN Women, she’s head of gender innovation there, and she interviews entrepreneurs, business leaders, celebrities who are tackling this issue, and that’s one podcast that we’re incredibly proud of. We’ve had guests like Abby Wambach, Sofia Vergara, Arianna Huffington, just really amazing women and also men actually, who are working to address this issue. Whether it’s in their own workplace or whether it’s through their own businesses, and so that’s what The Fix is all about.

And we have another podcast that we’re looking to launch in the fall, it’s called Finding Huemanity. So, Finding Huemanity is about telling true stories of survival and courage, and we are tapping and sharing the stories of the most resilient humans from all over the world. So, while Sincerely, Hueman, I would say we share a lot of stories from here in the U.S., Finding Huemanity is finding people from all over the world. So, some of the stories we’ll be sharing on the show, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who survived and who was in the war zone in Uganda. Or whether their family survived the Cambodian genocide.

So, it’s a lot of really compelling stories but also educating people who are not familiar about what’s going on in the world. But at the same time, inspiring them and sort of engaging them to be their own change agent. And I guess one final thing that I wanted to share with this new show is that often we hear about change makers and we see the results and we see the awards and the accolades and the recognition, but we don’t get the really sit down and hear their story. And so, the turmoil, the struggle that they had to go through, but at the same time, having survived such unspeakable injustice and really just hardship that you could never really imagine overcoming yourself. They have survived those and yet they use those stories and their experience to actually impact their community. So, whether they’re a refugee youth advocate or a peace builder, so those are the types of stories that we wanted to share in Finding Huemanity.

Camille, you’re changing the world.

I’m trying.

Yeah.

Yeah, we really are. It’s really, for us, when we started the company and the mission, it was like, “Why aren’t more people telling stories of these amazing human beings?”

I get it. I ask the same question. I’ve pitched shows to production companies and networks about positive lifegiving shows and people’s stories, and we live in a day and age where a lot of people like watching people fight in some underground video, you know?

Yeah.

But for people like you and me, we’re pushing against that current and I believe that in the depths of humanity, the greatest part of every single person, their highest self wants to be a part of something that is rooted in love.

Definitely.

That’s rooted in helping others, serving others. We all have that amazing feeling when we do that, and so I think by telling stories of life transformation, of generosity, of overcoming, resilience, you’re doing it. You’re putting it out in the world and it’s making a difference.

Yeah, and I love meeting people like you, David. And of course, throughout my journey, building our company and growing our network and our shows, it’s just actually me connecting with other people who are doing the same thing and that makes me so happy and really kind of blessed that I’m doing the work that I’m doing. Because had I not been doing this, I would not meet a person like you, David. Or hundreds of people that I’ve met in the course of the past couple of years who are just incredible people.

You’d be still in an office writing documents, yeah.

Yeah, I mean, that’s true but I do still have friends who are doing the same kind of work, but they are, I believe, proud of me. That’s what they tell me because they knew that it was, I guess, part of my destiny to really change things and really even change the own trajectory of my career for this.

There’s definitely nothing wrong with being a corporate lawyer. I mean, it’s all good. It’s not right, wrong, good or bad, it’s just that wasn’t for you and so you’ve found your way. So, it’s great.

Yeah.

So, we want to point people to www.huemangroupmedia.com; H-U-E-M-A-N Group Media dot com, or www.sincerelyhueman.com. We’ll have all those links in the show notes, you can swipe up on your phone and check those out, or go to our website www.insporising.com and we’ll have all those social media links for Camille and the shows and all that good stuff. So, Camille, thank you so much for taking time to just share your story with us today. I really appreciate it.

David, this has been fun and also really inspiring too for me. Because when you share your own journey, it’s kind of a reflection and a moment to reflect on what you’ve done. And so, I really, really treasure this time with you and talking, being able to share this story with your listeners.

thank you!