“Every three minutes it’s estimated that someone will be helped by our cause.”
Founder of the award-winning pro-equality and anti-bullying charity Ditch The Label, Liam Hackett is the young man helping thousands of people around the world every month using the internet.
Liam Hackett Founder of
Ditch the Label
Words: Steve Trotter
Images: Ditch the Label
‘I’m being bullied’
A post on ‘Myspace’ in 2006 was to change the lives of hundreds of thousands of young people around the world, not least it’s author, 15-year-old – Liam Hackett from Liverpool, who had the courage to speak out. Ten years on, Liam is the founder and CEO of one of the largest and most ambitious anti-bullying charities in the world, with a mission to reduce the effects and prominence of bullying globally. The Untold Journal met up with Liam to find out what drives him to make the world a better place.
“I can’t emphasise enough the importance of getting out of your comfort zone. It’s not fun or nice or comfortable, but a fear of rejection does not help or serve you at all. The minute I understood that I was able to challenge and address it”.
A relaxed but very focused, Liam is not the sort of person to take himself too seriously, but make no mistake, this is his calling in life and he is working 60-70 hours a week to make it happen.
When someone says they want to be remembered for “finding solutions and making change” they usually mean when they hang their boots up and they’re done. When Liam Hackett says it, what he means is, he’s doing it right now.
“If Ditch the Label had been around when I was growing up the situation for me would have been a lot different. I would have grown up a lot happier and more comfortable in my own skin. Having said that I do believe that everybody has a role to play in society and the world we live in, and if things had been different ‘Ditch the Label’ wouldn’t have happened either and so many people wouldn’t have benefited from it. I just felt that it was something I had to do, and over the last 4-5 years the sort of experiences I have had, and the sort of successes as an organisation, constantly validate my decision. It makes it so worthwhile to know that we are helping so many people and we are changing so many lives”.
Treating people equally, fairly and well, despite their differences was how one of your recent online interview guests described what you do. Is that fair?
“Yes, it’s not all about bullying in stereotypical sense, it’s about body image, gender, sexuality, every aspect of human life which people use to hurt one another. We are currently working closely with Lynx on a campaign about masculinity, and what really constitutes being a man. We found out in our research that guys are more likely to bully than girls, and they are less likely to report it if they are being bullied. When you think objectively about how we bring young men up in our culture, the minute they show any sign of emotion or vulnerability they are told to ‘man up’ and ‘stop being a girl’. We find that quite early on they start to respond to stress and trauma with aggression – that’s kind of why guys are more likely to commit crime and go on to bully themselves, they are more likely to be violent, they are more likely to commit suicide. So it highlighted a big issue in the way in which we raise young men.
Looking at similar issues we found that most organisations wait for the fall-out to happen then set about helping, whereas we supply support across the board. We care passionately about understanding and supporting perpetrators, and understanding why they bully and helping them overcome the issues and problems they have. We are not only reactive but we are proactive as well. We publish a lot of our research and make it publically available; we share it with other charities as well as governments and teaching bodies. We are very passionate about giving them the tools to innovate within their communities and come up with new solutions to find ways of tackling the issue. We also innovate; challenge how things are done and we try to disrupt current thinking towards bullying and try to prevent it. As a charity, I feel that we have a duty and a responsibility to share what we create within the sector because we are all fighting for the same goal, and we all have the same objective”.
On a more personal note, did you ever think that this work would become your career?
“I studied Business Management and Marketing at the University of Sussex in Brighton, and back then my ambition was to go and work for a marketing agency, and then in time start my own agency – Ditch the Label was just a concept back then, I had a pretty big online following, but no, I never thought it would become such an important part of my life. People just started to share their different experiences, and from there this community started to grow out of it, but I still kept in on a back burner while I was studying. As it turned out when I did go for job interviews I never felt that turned on by them. I had been so lucky to get lots of really good work experience while I was at university, so I made the decision right then to start an agency of my own.
Ditch the Label started in my lounge one day a week with 4-5 volunteers I found through Gumtree. My agency Hackett & Tiger was making a start and that’s how I was managing to pay myself, but Ditch the Label was my real passion. It wasn’t until about 18 months ago that it overtook my agency as it grew much quicker, and we were actually able to pay people for their work. Then came the office and Ditch the Label became my jewel and I knew then that this is what I was meant to do. We get in excess of 100,000 visitors month to the website and we are helping tens of thousands of people every week, and it’s all through the Internet. When I look back at how it all started as a single post on Myspace ten years ago it amazes me and it’s humbling. The Internet and our different social platforms enable us to reach a global audience and provide help to so many people”.
“We get in excess of 100,000 visitors month to the website and we are helping tens of thousands of people every week, and it’s all through the Internet”
“Anything worthwhile is worth working hard for, and we are only now starting to see our full potential”
Is there anything in the last 10 years that you have seen that has particularly touched or affected you?
“There have been so many stories and so many emails of thanks from people who were so depressed or anxious that they were unable to even leave their own house. But there is one story that has really stayed with me. It’s only a very small story compared with some of the really complex and emotional stories we get. But there was this online support session we were working on with an online platform called Habbo; we used to host these group sessions and this particular session had about 20 young people on it, and there were 1 or 2 of our digital mentors giving them help and support. There was a young person in the session who was being really abusive and was trying to troll it and was generally being a nuisance. What the digital mentor did was to turn the topic of conversation around to them, and started talking about people who troll online, and talking about the psychology of why people do it and often it’s because they want attention or feel powerful, because there is a lack of it offline. He was trying to help them understand that there was a reason that they did it, without targeting the young man. This user later came to a follow-up session and opened up that he was in an abusive relationship and had never told anybody before, and was really struggling with it. We helped that guy come full circle and he had been quite a prolific person within that community in terms of trolling, and completely stopped it. What was really amazing and what is really important is to understand and be passionate about what that person is going through; why they are bullying, and try to help them overcome their issues. I think that we were so early on in that proactive approach that it really stuck in my mind and it just validated what we were doing, and it stayed with me”.
If you change one thing in the world, what would it be?
“I would make everybody confident and have good self-esteem because confident people with high self-esteem don’t go out of their way to bully other people and try and drag them down. I think we would have a much happier, more productive world, communities would thrive and health and the economy would benefit. It would just be great”.
I hear that you recently went to the White House, how important is it that you expand your supporters and grow a larger global network?
“Firstly, I want to tell your readers that while jetting off for talks with the United States government and the like, sounds very glamorous, it isn’t. It has taken so long and such hard work knocking on doors that are not easily or often opened, to get to this stage. Anything worthwhile is worth working hard for, and we are only now starting to see our full potential. Governments and governing bodies and decision makers across the world are now opening those doors and now we are in a position to make a difference.
It’s really important that we continue to work across governments, education and the business sectors. It’s also important for us to continue to work with decision makers and celebrity influencers to normalise these issues. Celebrities have a huge influence over young people. It’s so difficult for young people to get over the embarrassment and other stigma associated with these issues, but that changes if a celebrity opens up, it really does normalise it and helps them to do the same. If they are modelling certain behaviours like bullying, body positivity and supporting mental health issues, then it suddenly okay for young people to start talking openly about them. For us, it is very instrumental and very important to spread the awareness, but vital as a way to get people to start talking about issues. There is no valid reason why people should not be talking about bullying”.
So when you are not working, what do you do?
“I go to the gym every day, which is great for stress, I eat out a lot and try to see my friends whenever I can. We all have busy schedules so it’s about finding the time to get together. I don’t socialise as much as some, simply because of the workload but I do try when I can. It’s funny really when you think about the notion of work and what has become so normal in people’s working lives these days. My mum called me a few weeks ago and I was in the office, it was 9pm and I was designing some of our new merchandise. She asked what I was doing still in the office and told me to just go home and watch TV or something, and I just said to her that I would prefer to do this than watch television. I know it’s me, but I would just prefer to sit in the office and design stuff. I’m doing what I love and I think that she just doesn’t get it”.
Work aside, what’s next for you?
“I channel most of what I want through Ditch the Label. We launched in the U.S recently and are about to launch our Mexican, Spanish-speaking website and brand, we want to continue to grow internationally. In terms of me, I’m not really sure, I’m very happy where I am. I think a lot of my objectives are organisational. People want different things out of life. Some people want to start a family, some people want to make lots of money, travel the world, some people want to be really successful in their jobs, and I think it’s really important to find what it is that motivates them. My motivation is Ditch the Label and the work that we do. I know it might sound sad to some people but that’s okay because we are all motivated by different things”.
If you could offer advice to a 17-year-old version of yourself, what would it be?
“Well, not just to me, but to the whole generation that I am in. We all have this innate fear of rejection and feel that we are not good enough for things and I think the fear of rejection can either be a tool that you utilise to your advantage or it can be a tool that disables you. I see it so often with people that we employ and that I meet, so many are plagued with this fear of rejection and I used to have it, and it only held me back. The minute that I understood that fear and I started to actively challenge and address it, is when I started to push myself out of my comfort zone and do amazing things. When I was 17 I found it difficult to even talk to one stranger, then when I look at what I have done over the past few months – I did a talk in front of 12,000 people at Wembley Arena, and you know, as a 17-year-old that is completely inconceivable. I can’t emphasise enough the importance of getting out of your comfort zone. It’s not fun or nice or comfortable but a fear of rejection does not help or serve you at all”.
What do want to be remembered for? How do you want Liam Hackett to be remembered?
“Making change – societally.
I do want to combat bullying and do believe we can do it. It’s a behavioural and societal issue, and there is a solution. I want to be the person that finds that solution and positively affect people’s lives”.