6[degrees] of Inspiration

By Greenwood, Chelsea | Success, June-July 2008 | Go to article overview

6[degrees] of Inspiration


Greenwood, Chelsea, Success


We know you've played it before. Maybe you were at a party, waiting in line for a movie or passing time on a long road trip. Somebody names a celebrity, usually an actor, and you have to link that person to Kevin Bacon through no more than six other people. (Two people are connected by starring in a movie together, being related by blood or marriage, etc) "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" began in 1994 as a college drinking game and has grown into an international pop culture phenomenon.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

"It was always kind of in the back of my mind, that that's my name, and maybe there's something I should be doing with this," says Bacon, whose prolific 30-year career includes roles in Footloose, A Few Good Men, JFK, The River Wild--for which he was I nominated for a Golden Globe award--Murder in the First, Apollo 13, Mystic River and many other movies.

That something is SixDegrees.org, a charitable Web site the actor founded to 'facilitate "social networking with a social conscience," he says. Visitors may donate to charities and create "badges," small pop-up windows in which users--including more than 50 celebrities--discuss their causes, raise money and share personal stories and photos. The badges also can be e-mailed and posted on Web sites to further spread the word. SixDegrees.org is hosted by Network for Good, a nonprofit offering access to more than 1 million charities.

Since its launch in January 2007, SixDegrees.org has raised more than $2 million in donations and has attracted 750,000 visitors; 8,000 users have created badges, recruiting 30,000 additional people to support their causes. Bacon credits the site's popularity to its empowering nature.

"There's a feeling of powerlessness that happens when you pick up the papers and feel overwhelmed because of all the negative things going on, you have family members who are sick or you see a story on the news that breaks your heart," he says. "If you can take charge in some sort of way, it's going to make you feel better about yourself and better about the world."

When he first heard about the "Six Degrees" game more than 15 years ago, Bacon wasn't exactly thrilled. "I had kind of a low self-esteem moment," he says. "I thought it was a joke at my expense. They were kind of saying, 'Can you believe a jerk like this could be connected to the greats? I thought it would go away. I thought it would have a very short shelf life. And it just sort of hung in there. I learned to embrace it."

In fact, he realized that the six-degrees notion "is a smart and true reality of our world," he says. "We are all connected. The things that we do in our communities affect people on the other side of the world."

An admirer of Bono, Oprah Winfrey and Paul Newman--"people who are taking concepts and brands and turning them into forces of good"--Bacon was seeking to streamline and focus his philanthropic efforts. "I was kind of thinking, 'Is there anything that I have in a small way that I can do something positive with?' Of course, the thing that comes up most is 'Six Degrees.'"

He had seen firsthand how rapidly word spread about the "Six Degrees" game via the Internet, so he knew the Web could be a valuable tool in encouraging philanthropy. "There's a very small piece of charitable money being raised on the Internet right now," he says. "And I think that's going to change. More and more, people will see there's a very easy way to do some good and spread some money around."

After buying the SixDegrees.org domain name, Bacon did his homework, studying social networking models on the Web, like Facebook and MySpace. He also talked it out, discussing his concept and brainstorming with anyone who would listen.

"I knew I wanted it to be celebrity-based because that's so much a part of our culture," he says. "Like it or not, people are interested in celebrities. Everybody wants to know what kind of handbag you're carrying, or your shoes, or where you're going to eat. …

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