Imagine working out of a coffee shop to start an online movement for social good that gets shared by the World Bank, William Easterly, Kiva, Grameen America, Oxfam, Finca, BRAC, and Opportunity International. According to Dr. Shawn Humphrey (AKA The Blue Collar Professor), you can do it by following his four-step-plan. And for $50 or less.

Dr. Shawn Humphrey is the founder of La Ceiba Microfinance Institute, The Two Dollar Challenge, The Month of Microfinance, and The Sidekick Manifesto.

In this episode, Shawn deconstructs how he starts online movements for social good and makes them go viral.

He also talks about his favorite books, how he responds to criticism, how to connect with influencers (like Seth Godin, William Easterly, and Jacqueline Novogratz), narrative humility, his “unusual” morning routine, his inner chatter, personal finance for social entrepreneurs, and tribal teaching.

Shawn Humphrey is a Board member for Students Helping Honduras and is an economics professor at the University of Mary Washington. Check out his blog at and his top posts: Pumping People Up About Poverty, Packaging Poverty, Making the Poor Pay.

Show Links for Shawn Humphrey

Show Notes for Shawn Humphrey

  • 60 groups participated in the $2 Challenge around the world in 2016
  • The Month of Microfinance struck up a partnership with groups like Kiva, FINCA, BRAC, Opportunity International, Grameen America
  • The Sidekick Manifesto went viral and got posted by World Bank, Oxfam, and William Easterly
  • These movements had cost Shawn about $50 each (domain hosting)
  • Shawn uses WordPress for his campaign websites
  • Running a traditional nonprofit organization is much harder than running an online movement
  • You need to “start too soon”
  • Shawn Humphrey emphasizes the process of: learn, make changes, iterate
  • It takes Shawn Humphrey about half a day to start an online movement
  • The four components of an online movement: 1.) platform, 2.) social media infrastructure, 3.) power network, 4.) content
  • The content in the online movement is the most important. What does it put on the table? An experience? Useful information?
  • The $2 Challenge has three levels: Beginner (3 days), Intermediate (5 days), Difficult (5 days plus randomized daily income)
  • For the “Difficult” level, there are also “shocks” like unexpected expenses
  • The $2 Challenge pulls participants out of their comfort zone
  • The $2 Challenge creates empathy in participants
  • The Sidekick Curriculum accompanies the $2 Challenge, which includes daily reading material and short films.
  • At the end of each evening, there is a group meeting and reading
  • Participants read Ivan Illich’s To Hell With Good Intentions
  • During the first year of the $2 Challenge, about 10 students participated and called their tent a “shantytown” which he is now embarrassed about. He later decided on the term, “makeshift shelter.”
  • “The first year, there were doubts everywhere.”
  • Shawn experienced poverty during his childhood in Ohio
  • Shawn describes his impression of me when I was a college student
  • Shawn dropped his research project to work on development aid in Honduras
  • Bragging and promoting oneself was not something Shawn was used to when he started the Blue Collar Professor
  • Shawn started attracting online trolls who criticized him for misspelled words, etc.
  • Several people were offended by his post, The Do-Gooder Industrial Complex
  • In the article, Shawn criticized the idea of in-kind donations as a solution to poverty, specifically with shoe donations. An online debate ensued.
  • A well-known blogger criticized the $2 Challenge and her audience rallied behind her.
  • Shawn has a rule: Wait 24 hours before sending an emotional email
  • Shawn responded to the criticism to start a conversation. That conversation turned into a friendship. Her community began to understand Shawn’s point of view.
  • Shawn welcomes criticism because it allows us to clarify, reflect, and question our own thoughts and methods. But it’s not easy to take emotionally.
  • Shawn’s PhD advisor, Douglas C. North, won the Nobel Prize in Economics through his research on economic development. Shawn applied what he learned in his programs in Honduras
  • Through the Sidekick Manifesto, Shawn practices Narrative Humility. How do you handle and share someone’s story? What biases do we have? How can we be their sidekicks and not their heroes?
  • For the Sidekick Manifesto, the Sidekick Manifesto itself was the Content. It had taken Shawn 10 years to write it.
  • Shawn released the Sidekick Manifesto on The International Day for the Eradication of Poverty to get maximum exposure
  • Shawn purchased the domain name on Godaddy for ~$10.
  • He hosted the site on Reclaim Hosting at no additional cost
  • He used WordPress to build the site
  • He started the hashtag #sidekickmanifesto
  • Shawn already had 5 of his own social media handles pushing out the Sidekick Manifesto simultaneously
  • He then reached out to his power networks, including Students Helping Honduras, to build an audience
  • He simply asked, “will you Tweet this out?”
  • Who are your top 5, top 50, top 100 people in your network?
  • Shawn and William Easterly follow each other on Twitter and they had talked about Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance so he had been developing that relationship before the ask for a Re-Tweet
  • You need to give, give, give before making the ask
  • The homepage got 2,000 unique visits in two weeks
  • The total cost to run The Sidekick Manifesto was $40-$50
  • “I’ve been cold-calling and cold-emailing people since 2007. That’s how we got started.”
  • Shawn even emailed the marketing guru, Seth Godin. He replied back within 5 minutes.
  • Shawn cold emailed the founder of Kiva and started a conversation with her on the $2 Challenge. She shared Shawn’s content.
  • Shawn cold emailed Jacqueline Novogratz, the founder of Acumen Fund and author of The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between the Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World
  • Each year, Shawn will create a list and reach out to 10 influencers
  • It took 10 years of relationship building for Shawn to get the influencers to share his content
  • “It is a long, slow, patient process. One grain of sand at a time. But it does pay off.”
  • Shawn gets up at around 4:50am. He goes to Starbucks on his bicycle as he fights his inner doubts and chatter. He orders his tall, black coffee without sugar, no cream. He starts typing away on his laptop and works away for one hour. He rides back home as he again fights his inner doubts and chatter.
  • “It’s every moment.”
  • Shawn is constantly criticizing himself inside his head.
  • Shawn is now 45 years old and is asking himself: “Is this it?”
  • Shawn allows himself two existential crises per year
  • Being married and having a child gave him constraints that have helped Shawn
  • Shawn does not work after 5pm so he can focus on his life outside of work. He rarely works on weekends
  • Shawn is very protective of his time so he can stay productive
  • Though Shawn puts Tim Ferriss’s teachings from The Four Hour Workweek into practice, he cautions himself to not get caught up with the idea of working less and building wealth to accumulate material things or go on exotic vacations. For the social entrepreneur, doing the work (and doing it better) is the reward.
  • If you want to be in the social impact space, you have to be counter-cultural and accept the fact that you won’t be wealthy and find the value in the work itself. You won’t have the traditional, American lifestyle.
  • Shawn is getting ready to launch Tribal Teaching where he will teach students to stop seeking perfection, to re-wild themselves, to tear down the status quo, to ask why.