Mary Sharpe, Chief Executive Officer

Mary Sharpe was born in Glasgow and grew up in a family dedicated to public service through teaching, law and medicine. From a young age, she was fascinated with the power of the mind. How do intention and attention influence our behaviour? What is the nature of love? How best to deal with conflict? The quest for practical wisdom had begun and a lot of hard work lay ahead.

Education

Mary completed a Master of Arts degree at the University of Glasgow in French and German language and literature with psychology and moral philosophy. To help pay for her second degree, in law, she joined the Officers’ Training Corps and experienced the world from a very different perspective. After graduation she practised as a solicitor and Advocate for the next 14 years in Scotland and at the European Commission in Brussels. The high points of her time at the heart of Europe included working with various European Commissioners. Mary started  as a legal assistant to the German Commissioner Martin Bangemann on Border Control and the Internal Market. She then became a press officer and ghost writer for Edith Cresson, a former Prime Minister of France, Commissioner for Science and Education. Latterly Mary worked with Margot Wallstrom, the Commissioner from Denmark on Climate Change and the Environment.

University of Cambridge

Science for Peace and Security

Mary went to the University of Cambridge in 2000. Her aim was to research the underlying  power and gender divisions of the early Christian period that continue to influence the world today. The 11 September 2001 attack on the Twin Towers in New York sent shock waves around the world. The Public Diplomacy Unit of NATO went looking for help to understand the new world order that had shifted from concern over “reds under the bed” to  Islamic fundamentalism. Mary joined a team of researchers contributing to the NATO Science for Peace and Security programme to investigate the emerging threat.

Over the next eight years Mary co-designed and co-directed nine multi-disciplinary research workshops and produced three books and articles as part of this initiative. They are: Science and Society in the Face of the New Security Threats. Sharpe, M. and Agboluaje, A. (Eds) 2006;  Suicide Bombers: The Psychological, Religious and other Imperatives, Sharpe, M. (Ed) 2008 and  Global Security – a Vision for the Future. Addressing the Challenges and Opportunities for Research in the Information Age. Géré, F. and Sharpe, M. (Eds) 2011.

Mary also contributed chapters to these book: Sex, Drugs and Education- A Model of Education for Security in a Changed Environment  and Identity, Loyalty and Security. All of these three books and chapters are available through IOS Press Netherlands, NATO, Science for Peace and Security series.

Sustaining Peak Performance

Over 2002 and 2003 Mary trained as a workshop facilitator in life skills based on psychology and neuroscience research and developed by two international, award-winning organisations. As technology was becoming more embedded in people’s lives, what kind of skills were people needing in order to flourish?  To answer this Mary designed and ran a 2 day workshop for the University of Cambridge’s graduate development department called “Sustaining Peak Performance”. It was a practical, evidence-based course to show how we learn, change habits and make decisions. The focus was on helping people from a variety of cultural backgrounds develop resilience to stress, connect with others, make better decisions and become effective leaders. She also worked as a mentor to students involved in enterprise for the Cambridge-MIT Institute, a joint venture between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the University of Cambridge.

Research Developments

To keep apace of the research developments in the emerging science of behavioural addiction, and internet pornography in particular, Mary spent a year as a Visiting Scholar at St Edmund’s College, University of Cambridge in 2015-16. During that time she spoke at a dozen national and international conferences; published an article on “Strategies to Prevent Internet Pornography Addiction” available here (pages 105-116) and co-authored a chapter in Working with Sex Offenders – a Guide for Practitioners published by Routledge. Her affiliation to the University of Cambridge continues through both St Edmund’s College and Lucy Cavendish College. She is working on a new research project with support from colleagues in Cambridge.

The Reward Foundation

The idea for some kind of foundation to make the research about sexual love and the internet publicly accessible first crystallised in 2006. That year Mary presented a paper on “Sex and Addiction” at the Third International Positive Psychology conference in Portugal. The internet was gaining strength and students were finding it harder to resist the distraction. Streaming pornography became available ‘on tap’ from 2007 onwards. Mary and colleagues started to monitor the developments and issues related to health, relationships and criminality over the subsequent years. It was clear that the general public, influencers and decision makers needed easy access to the science that was beginning to emerge about the impact of the internet on our behaviour and life goals.

Technology Entertainment and Design (TED)

The TED concept is based on “ideas worth sharing” and is an educational platform available both as live talks and online. Mary attended TED Global in Edinburgh in 2011 and shortly thereafter was invited to co-organise the first TEDx Glasgow event in 2012. She invited Gary Wilson to share the latest findings about the impact of online pornography on the brain in a talk called “The Great Porn Experiment”. That talk has been viewed almost 9 million times so far and been translated into 18 languages. As a result of the information presented, thousands of people have stated on porn recovery websites that the talk inspired them to quit porn. They have reported that their sexual health and emotional problems began to diminish or disappear when they stopped using porn. Their lives and relationships have flourished. To help spread the word, Mary set up The Reward Foundation on 23rd June 2014 along with her husband Dr. Darryl Mead. Gary Wilson has since expanded his popular TEDx talk into an excellent book called Your Brain on Porn: Internet Pornography and the Emerging Science of Addiction.

Awards and Engagement

Our CEO has received a number of awards since 2014 to develop the work of the foundation. It started with a year of training through the Scottish Government-supported Social Innovation Incubator Award, followed by two start up awards from UnLtd, one from the Educational Trust and one from the Big Lottery Fund.

Mary joined the Board of Directors of the Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health in the USA in 2016. She is chair of the Press Relations and Advocacy Committee. She is also active in the National Organisation for the Treatment of Abusers where she has contributed to a paper on Prevention of Harmful Sexual Behaviour as part of its sub-committee on this theme.

New approach

One of the pioneering programmes that Mary has developed at The Reward Foundation is the 24-hour screen fast. George Heriot’s School in Edinburgh piloted the exercise with over 200 pupils. The Reward Foundation plans to take it into state schools in future. This new approach to understanding the impact of internet use on our behaviour gives young people practical experience of learning to tame the mind and body when urges strike. Self control is a key life skill.

To balance her own life, Mary enjoys cooking, walking, art & design, occasionally learning the tango and travelling to Australia to see in-laws and friends.

Contact Mary by email at mary@rewardfoundation.org.