Starbucks launches first original content series

Upstanders features 10 stories written and produced by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and Rajiv Chandrasekaran, SVP and executive producer of the company's social impact media initiatives.

SEATTLE: Starbucks has created a 10-part original content series to inspire Americans to engage in acts of compassion, citizenship, and civility.

The series, called Upstanders, features 10 stories written and produced by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and Rajiv Chandrasekaran, SVP and executive producer of the company’s social impact media initiatives. Each story is being told in three formats – written, video, and podcast – about people doing extraordinary things to create positive changes in their communities.

"[Schultz] and I were motivated to create this series by the dysfunction we see out there engulfing our country," said Chandrasekaran, who joined Starbucks last year after 21 years as an editor and correspondent at The Washington Post. "If you pick up a newspaper this morning or watch cable news or listen to the radio, you’d be tempted to think that we as a country are flying off a cliff."

Chandrasekaran said he and Schultz reject the notion that the U.S. is "fundamentally broken." He noted stories of goodness in towns and cities across America, and said the solution to many of the country’s challenges can be found in change-makers, idea-generators, and community leaders.

"A lot of these [positive] stories never get the time of day in the mainstream press, but I am not here to bash the media – far from it," said Chandrasekaran. "I think news organizations play a vital role in focusing on the squeaky wheels and addressing the challenges that we as a country need to fix. But we believe millions of Americans actually want to see stories of positive change."

The stories feature a man who opened a car wash where 85% of employees are on the autism spectrum, a college student who developed a web-based solution to save tens of thousands of pounds of food each year, and a woman helping female ex-convicts stay out of jail by giving them a place to live that’s free of drugs, alcohol, and abusive relationships. 

Chandrasekaran said he and Schultz selected each "upstander" using a "journalistic" process.

"I put on my old Washington Post hat and went about scouring the country for interesting and compelling stories," he said. "[Schultz] did the same in a different way. He is one of the best connected people in America and a voracious reader."

The series lives at, which is powered by newly launched social change platform Fotition.

Edelman is supporting the brand on communications for the initiative. Chandrasekaran said it is a multi-million-dollar campaign including content creation, distribution, promotion, and amplification.

Starbucks is harnessing its digital reach to get the word out about the series. Its mobile app, which has about 20 million users, includes Upstanders content and its Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts are also promoting the series. The chain is partnering with Upworthy and Mic to disseminate content, and it is taking out print ads in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today. Podcasts will be distributed on iTunes and Spotify.

The coffee chain will also use events to salute upstanders at local town-hall events in Dallas; Memphis, Tennessee; Washington, D.C.; and Deerfield, Florida. Chandrasekara will host the events, which civic groups are encouraged to attend.

"Our goal here is not to sell more coffee; it is to inspire and engage millions of Americans to be better citizens," noted Chandrasekaran. "More Americans need to be standing up, rather than standing by." 

The chain also wants customers to encourage people to vote, find the "upstanders" in their communities, and share their stories with Starbucks, he added.

"This really is squarely a social impact endeavor for us," Chandrasekaran explained. "It is not a brand campaign; it is not a product promo campaign; it is about trying to do the right thing for our country at an important moment. We want to harness our scale for good."

This article first appeared on

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