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What if a Comfortable Sleep Could Change the World? – Interview with Jeremy Cowart about The Purpose Hotel

Have you ever had a hotel experience that blew you away? I’ve stayed in countless hotels all over the world, but there’s probably only a handful that were notable enough for me to write a positive review. One thing is for sure – I’ve never felt inspired after leaving a hotel. Satisfied maybe, but never inspired.

This is why I’m really excited about The Purpose Hotel. Jeremy Cowart, a celebrity photographer with a passion for social justice, has launched a kickstarter campaign to start a hotel chain that provides much more than clean sheets and a good night’s sleep. Imagine if booking a hotel room meant you were sponsoring a child’s education. Imagine if using the internet meant supporting anti-trafficking efforts. Imagine if the linens, furniture, and soap you enjoyed during your stay supported the livelihoods of vulnerable people.

And imagine getting a receipt at the end of your stay, outlining all the ways you made a difference.

I don’t know about you, but this is the kind of hotel I’d like to stay in!

I wanted to learn a bit more about Jeremy’s personal journey (especially because I know HFTS readers would be very interested in this ambitious project), so I reached out and he kindly agreed to answer some questions for Hope for the Sold.

You’ve been working on this for a while, which means you’ve undoubtedly had a few “I can’t believe that just happened” moments. Can you describe a moment of excitement from this process?

Oh man, there have been so many. Truly, since I started telling others about this idea, the response has been so tremendous and positive. I get phone calls from people who are telling people like Richard Branson and Dalai Lama about the idea, and I’m just like, what? 

I figure my job at this point is to just get out of the way and allow the movement to take shape. 

One particular moment was this spring when I was invited to speak at the United Nations about my story and The Purpose Hotel idea. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that moment. 

The Purpose Hotel is full of intention, from the soaps and pictures on the wall to the child’s name in every room. Of all the pieces, what inspires you most, personally?

The child’s name outside the door of every room was the initial spark of the whole idea. It was the summer of 2012, I had a meeting in a hotel in Los Angeles. I remember walking down the hallways, and we walked into a room. The room number was designed like a name tag and it said, “Hello, my name is Room 121.” For some reason, it just caught my eye. 

I just started dreaming about this idea of a room being connected to a child, and you walk down the hallway and seeing the faces of boys and girls all over the world who are in need, who are orphaned, all kinds of things. What if every room was sponsoring each one of those children?

I was so moved by that idea, and as I was sitting there in my room, I started looking around. This was all during a business meeting where I wasn’t paying attention. Basically, in that moment it was so overwhelming. It was like a big wave washing over me.

So that’s a big emotional pull for me. But also, part of my motivation was to find a way to help give more and partner more with charity: water, an incredible organization my friend Scott Harrison founded that does amazing work bringing clean water to people who need it most. I’m always inspired by what they do and wanted a way to help further their work. But there are so many ideas I’m committed to — like the upgraded wifi going toward fighting human trafficking. 

Purpose Hotel

Courtesy of The Purpose Hotel Kickstarter campaign

You’ve traveled a ton around the globe. Can you describe an encounter or experience that has helped shape you to become someone who cares about the needs of the world?

In 2009, I gathered together a few photographer friends and we spent the day at a gym, giving photos away to people in need. That one event turned into a global movement called Help-Portrait. To date, nearly 100,000 people have given away nearly half a million portraits in over 70 countries and every U.S. state. 

So it all made me realize that a simple idea and a camera could go a long way. I began to wonder how else I could help.

That question changed my life. 

I traveled to Haiti after the earthquake asking people what they had to tell the world through a photograph and published a series “Voices of Haiti.” It was eventually featured in the halls of the United Nations. I took portraits of Rwandan genocide survivors standing WITH the people that killed their families and whom they’ve now forgiven in “Voices of Reconciliation.”

A couple years later I went Uganda with Exile international, but this time, we collaborated with former child soldiers who had been abducted by Joseph Kony and the LRA. As a form of art therapy, we worked together to tell their stories. The sale of these prints at exileinternational.org/pozaproject help support their continued art therapy.

And now — with The Purpose Hotel idea — I’m looking at inviting as many people as I can to give back in a greater way for generations to come. This is not about me. In fact, I love that I’ve promoted this as hard as I can, but now I’m truly walking in faith and depending on the community. I actually cannot do this without others. I am truly relying on community, and I think that’s a beautiful place to be.

The Cowarts

The Cowart family (courtesy of Jeremy Cowart)

As a parent, how are you inviting your kids to participate in and discuss the bigger things?

My wife, Shannon, and I have 2 children and we just adopted 2 children from Haiti. My two biological children have welcomed their new siblings with open arms. And our new children are overcoming language and cultural barriers while learning to embrace life in an entirely new environment. Needless to say, it’s been one of the most challenging couple of years of our lives. But it gives us daily opportunities to participate in and discuss the bigger picture.

Is there a quote, saying, or verse that fuels you as you make dreams and ideas a reality?

Earlier this year I made a biopic video called “I’m Possible.” It’s basically my life’s story. 

Growing up, I was never smart. I couldn’t pay attention for more than three minutes. I was a terrible listener. And I made bad grades. I was quiet. Shy. And really, just… average. I would always tell my parents… “I can’t do this.”

That’s when my dad started re-programming my brain. He re-programmed it with one simple sentence… “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”… Philippians 4:13.

He said this for years. Over and over again… 

It stuck. And I began believing it. 

I’m still the single most ordinary guy on the planet. But somehow I’m now telling the world about the very things in life that I was afraid of and thought I couldn’t do. If I can do it, I believe anyone can, which is why I’m so passionate about The Purpose Hotel.

There are only a few more days left to support the Purpose Hotel kickstarter campaign, so don’t wait – make your pledge here today! Let’s do our part to change the face of hospitality and make this hotel come to life.

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