interview: Charles Annenberg Weingarten

Charles Annenberg Weingarten

Founder, explore / California

Charles Annenberg Weingarten is a filmmaker, philanthropist, and storyteller. Charles is dedicated to improving the quality of life in developing nations through emerging communication technologies, preserving the environment, improving education, and embracing spirituality to foster a common bond among global citizens.

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Why did you start Explore?

One of my goals when I created explore was to go out in the world and find selfless people dedicated to improving the human condition: Individuals not driven by the dollar but by the human spirit. They are the champions, the true heroes.

I then hoped to share their work with whoever might find it of interest. I say whomever, because learning is a lifelong pursuit that is not defined or limited by age -- we all mature at different times in our lives. So with this in mind, Explore is for anyone who follows the mantra "Never stop learning."

What's your dream for Explore?

I created Explore because through my experiences I heard people say over and over again: I want to get involved, but where do I begin? Whom do I trust?

My dream for Explore is for it to become a destination of trust. Explore has no tricks up its sleeve. I am blessed to be a trustee of the Annenberg Foundation, and as a result, I do not have to rely on corporate sponsors or advertisers. Everything on Explore is authentic, and it is this authenticity that I believe people yearn for and will serve as a catalyst for an individual to decide to take action.

I also believe that the best way to achieve peace is to replace fear with trust -- and that is what Explore hopes to do, by creating a portal into the soul of humanity through films, images, and interviews with these great leaders.

What inspires you? What drives you to do what you are doing?

I love the love. There is no greater feeling than to be surrounded by children, adults, animals, etc. and to feed off their energy. To be able to listen, learn, and hopefully help people in need is extremely rewarding.

You seem to have a different take on philanthropy and community service. How would you describe your approach?

The biggest misconception of philanthropy is that it is all about the money. More valuable than money is time spent. Go visit a child or an elderly person and ask them. They would much more enjoy your company than just be given a monetary gift.

Furthermore, once you’ve made the emotional connection with an individual and organization, the money will naturally follow.

I don’t believe in "philanthropy" of old where NGOs submit forms and you just "write a check." If you aren’t willing to invest the time and research an organization than you probably shouldn’t donate. Obviously there are examples where this wouldn’t work, but as a general rule, immerse yourself in your passion.

What do you look for when funding NGOs, in terms of mission, work and credibility?

The most crucial ingredient is leadership mixed with passion, vision, and integrity.

Too many people worry if 100% of the proceeds of a grant don’t go to a cause. That is utterly unfair. The only difference between a non-profit and a for-profit is the tax-exempt code. Hence, everything from the staples to the stationary costs money. My point is, if you feel connected to individuals behind an organization, don’t hesitate to make a donation.

What are the upsides and downsides to being a philanthropist?

The upside is access to so many incredible minds doing selfless works. The downside is that there is often a lack of authenticity. I’m just an "average Joe" type of guy who loves learning. Hence, I don’t care when a non-profit puts on a dog and pony show. The more real, the better.

What's the most powerful moment that you have experienced so far on your expeditions?

The Rescue Foundation in India; Mama Babavich in Ethiopia; The Freedom Theatre in Jenin; and the Kigali Memorial Center in Rwanda.

Have you seen too much?

After my trip to Darfur and then the Kigali memorial center in Rwanda, I truly felt that I had passed a point of no return where I had lost all hope in humanity. The irony is I would rediscover it through the one thing that has been labeled a violent animal, the gorilla.

How would you describe the "connective tissue" of people and places featured on Explore? What is universal across the globe?

The real theme behind Explore is simply that we are all the same. We all question our existence, our place in the world, and the desire for our children to have a better life. Everyone has happy days, sad days, angry days, sick day, etc.

It is strange how the media tries to portray us as different. Very bizarre and one of the great falsehoods of the planet. Hence, I guess the great old adage, "divide and conquer."

Why should I watch an Explore film? What will it do for me?

I would first like to point out that I do not consider myself a filmmaker but an archivist. Filmmakers go out in the world trying to prove a point. Films by nature must provide a certain amount of conflict, tension, and storytelling to keep the narrative alive. I’m the opposite. I try to go with an open heart and mind and allow the soul of the land and the people to enter me in a way that I can feel their needs and wants. I am proud to say that there has never been a staged scene in Explore, or a second take. Everything you see is real.

Today's media industry thrives on "sound bites" and often does not reveal the deeper identity of the world we all share, love, and desire to safeguard.

Explore's work, on the other hand, digs deeper into the human story and ultimately demystifies people and places.

Explore is not about drama. It is about discovery. It is about finding out that there are multitudes of people out there doing good deeds and creating positive social change.

The end goal of our film is that it will re-stimulate your mind to the magical world we live in. With the pressures of daily life that we all face, it is my hope that our films will re-open your eyes to the world we live in.

What are three things you want Explorers to do after seeing the films and photos?

On the most basic and selfish level, I just want people to feel again. If our images can stir your emotions, then I would be satisfied with that.

The next level would be if you felt compelled to take action. A simple letter to the NGO or people we are working with would mean so much to everyone involved.

Lastly, I hope when our website it more developed that people will share their thoughts, visions, and dreams with not only us but with people from all over the world.

Explore is not for the masses but for the minority. I often joke that there is a disease in our society far worse then drugs. I call it "A2D," or addicted to drama. Almost every image we see feeds this addiction. Explore is the antidote for the few who crave real, inspiring stories. If you want politically tainted stories, go watch CNN or FOX. If you want to celebrate life and see real people doing real things, come to Explore.

In these films, we see that you can relate to people on different levels, and in many ways are a "connector." What advice would you give to someone who wants to do this?

Simply listen and treat people with respect and as equals. At the end of the day, that’s all anyone wants…is to feel appreciated, cared for, and heard.

Why is it important to be a selfless person?

When you are acting "selflessly" you will notice a unique sensation….your heart expands naturally and you feel fulfilled. It’s at that moment that you understand the concept of love.

To love, you must be selfless. Funny, you can read all these self-help books, but they don’t emphasize the power of getting out of yourself and acting selflessly.

Being selfless is the key to living a happy life.

On a side note, George Lucas explains the power of selflessness as the difference between the light and dark side of the force.

In the last Star Wars film, a young Darth Vader approaches the Sith Lord and asks this very question. His response is that a Jedi knight operates from a selfless base and that a Sith operates from a selfish base. Strange to think that the only difference between a Jedi and a Sith is selfless vs. selfish.

Who do you admire most?

I admire people who live selflessly and are driven to improve the human condition. People whose sole focus isn’t the dollar or the need for praise from others.

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?

I wish we could eradicate needless self-induced fear. Fear is the chain that holds us all back. It is humanity’s quicksand.

What is the key to living a happy life?

Never stop learning. The key to happiness is keeping your mind stimulated.