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Director Pete Williams on making a documentary about social entrepreneurs

Millennials catch a lot of flak in the media for being self-centered, or spending too much money, or not spending enough money (this lower consumption is, according to a report by the Fed, the result of lower earnings and assets, although it’s more fun to blame avocado toast). Despite the stereotypes, Millennials are a generation of go-getters, and one of the most interesting examples of this is the growth of so-called “social entrepreneurship,” in which entrepreneurs create businesses to solve social issues. Director Pete Williams recently produced a documentary on this phenomenon, The New Breed, and he stopped by the Digital Trends Studio to talk with host Greg Nibler about social entrepreneurship, the people he followed over the course of the film, and his next project.

First, where did Williams get the idea for a documentary about social entrepreneurs?

“About six years ago I had a TV show called Makers,” he says. The show aired on the British station Channel 4, which is “kind of like the HBO of Europe,” he explains. Makers “was about young entrepreneurs around the world making things with their hands, and I noticed some of these makers had some kind of social impact built into their business, and I thought, ‘That’s an interesting idea! Maybe that could be something to explore later.’”

The film took three years to produce, and as Williams tells it, the process wasn’t easy.

“In the past, I was just given budgets to make content — commercials and tv shows — and this one I had to fund myself,” he says. “So I had to learn how to raise money for feature films, and develop a feature film, and shoot it and edit it … I spent a whole year traveling around the world, meeting social entrepreneurs. I met with over a hundred people.”

Williams traveled all over the world to document the different businesses in the film, and it was a trip to Uganda that most moved him.

“That was the main story that got me excited about this movement. It’s a company called Crochet Kids. They’re now called Known Supply. They’ve had a brand change which is what the film’s about. But 10 years ago these high school students went to Uganda and saw poverty firsthand, and thought ‘This is messed up. What can we do to help? What can we give you guys, because we come from a rich country?’ And the biggest takeaway they heard from the people living in poverty in Uganda was ‘We don’t want you to give us anything. We want opportunity, we want a job, we want to provide for ourselves. Those charities come over here all the time and give us things. We don’t want more gifts. We want to be empowered.’”

Their solution? Being a couple of snowboarders from Spokane, they knew how to crochet beanies, and decided to teach the women of that Ugandan community; their company then bought the beanies and sold them to stores in the U.S.A. Other companies profiled in the film are Bureo, which uses recycled fishing nets to build skateboards and keep the oceans clean, and Bonfolk, which donates a pair of socks for every pair they sell.

The New Breed was an intense documentary to make, and Williams is aiming for something a little breezier with his next project: A film about the origins of emo music “before it became sweeping fringes and self-harming and nail polish.”

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