Yitzi Weiner

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http://socialimpactheroes.com
Yitzi Weiner is a journalist, author, and the founder of Authority Magazine, one of Medium’s largest publications. Authority Magazine, is devoted to sharing interesting “thought leadership interview series” featuring people who are authorities in Business, Film, Sports and Tech. Authority Magazine uses interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable. Popular interview series include, Women of the C Suite, Female Disruptors, and 5 Things That Should be Done to Close the Gender Wage Gap At Authority Magazine, Yitzi has conducted or coordinated hundreds of empowering interviews with prominent Authorities like Shaquille O’Neal, Peyton Manning, Floyd Mayweather, Paris Hilton, Baron Davis, Jewel, Flo Rida, Kelly Rowland, Kerry Washington, Bobbi Brown, Daymond John, Seth Godin, Guy Kawasaki, Lori Greiner, Robert Herjavec, Alicia Silverstone, Lindsay Lohan, Cal Ripkin Jr., David Wells, Jillian Michaels, Jenny Craig, John Sculley, Matt Sorum, Derek Hough, Mika Brzezinski, Blac Chyna, Perez Hilton, Joseph Abboud, Rachel Hollis, Daniel Pink, and Kevin Harrington Much of Yitzi’s writing and interviews revolve around how leaders with large audiences view their position as a responsibility to promote goodness and create a positive social impact. His specific interests are interviews with leaders in Technology, Popular Culture, Social Impact Organizations, Business, and Wellness.

Oliver Iltisberger of ABB: 5 Things We Must Do To Inspire The Next Generation About Sustainability…

Oliver Iltisberger of ABB: 5 Things We Must Do To Inspire The Next Generation About Sustainability And The Environment

An Interview With Penny Bauder

Define the PURPOSE of what you do and choose your jobs according to what you feel passionate about.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Oliver Iltisberger.

Oliver was appointed Managing Director for ABB’s Smart Buildings business in July 2018 and Division President Smart Buildings in July 2020.

In this position, he has full accountability for the performance of the global Smart Buildings business in ABB, which includes a broad portfolio of market leading home and building automation solutions as well as the portfolio for energy distribution systems and products.

Previously, as Executive Vice President and member of the Executive Committee, Oliver led the Asia Pacific and then the Europe, Middle East, Africa (EMEA) region of Landis+Gyr, a publicly listed global leader for Smart Metering and Smart Grid Solutions. In 2010 he became one of the founding members and the first President of the IDIS Smart Meter Association.

Earlier in his career, Oliver worked in the Automation & Drives division of Siemens, heading sales, product management and marketing functions within the Low Voltage Power Distribution business.

During his career, Oliver has lived and worked in Germany, South Africa, Singapore, Australia and Switzerland. He has obtained a joint master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering and Business Administration from the Technical University of Darmstadt, Germany and an executive training at the Duke University Fuqua School of Business.

ABB (ABBN: SIX Swiss Ex) is a leading global technology company that energizes the transformation of society and industry to achieve a more productive, sustainable future. By connecting software to its electrification, robotics, automation and motion portfolio, ABB pushes the boundaries of technology to drive performance to new levels. With a history of excellence stretching back more than 130 years, ABB’s success is driven by about 110,000 talented employees in over 100 countries. www.abb.com

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?

I grew up in small town in Hessen, Germany as a second child. My father founded and ran a small direct marketing business utilizing what you would call today a data center to manage customer information. This was in the 1970s…

You are currently leading a social impact organization that is making a difference for our planet. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?

We are on a mission to make buildings smart, safe and more secure, with optimized space and improved energy efficiency whilst reducing carbon emissions and increasing productivity.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

I joined ABB just over three years ago, when the Company’s plans to embed sustainability through the very fabric of the organization were still at an early stage. This was enormously attractive to me as a potential employee and I am very excited to be a leader in a business that is leading by example. My passion comes from the demonstrable potential for us to have a huge impact on climate change and carbon emissions.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

While many businesses are tackling ‘sustainability’ as a macro trend, we are designing the future of our business around all aspects of sustainability — from our products to our company culture and our networks. We’re not just selling technology that addresses issues such as climate change and manufacturing circularity etc. And this wholesale business strategy came from the top down within our organization, as well as from the bottom up. The passion in our company is palpable at all levels, so there was no specific trigger for me. The momentum was already very compelling.

Many people don’t know the steps to take to start a new sustainability initiative. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?

As mentioned before, the momentum in the company for sustainability was already there and it was a team effort to take it to the next level. The major considerations were:: -

  1. A laser focus on our audiences and stakeholders, and being guided by our customers and employees every step of the way. Sustainability programs are not simply about the application of technology to produce specified outcomes. They are as much about people, technical literacy, collaboration and processes too. Without the right collective mind set, the tools for meaningful change are rendered useless.
  2. Being in a position to inspire others with our own action, unhindered by what’s gone before. We decided to be our own customer first and have set targets for our global operations to be net carbon neutral by 2030. We are using the learnings from our own business to inspire our customers, and our ecosystem to follow in our footsteps.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

Soon after I started working for ABB I was invited to join a global conference in person in China, talking about sustainable and smart buildings. I didn’t know it would be broadcasted via one of the very popular web channels in China at the same time. This was the first time I had an audience of more than 1’000’000 listeners — online.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?

I started my career as a management trainee for a large industrial conglomerate and made the mistake of choosing to work in controlling in my first job. I realized very quickly that this was not for me and moved over to the ‘engineering side’ of the business working in product management. The lesson is that you should always try to pick a job that you feel passionate about…

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

I had a mentor in my very first job. He taught me to always be pro-active, get involved in projects no one wants to run and be courageous when taking decisions. I have tried to apply this advice throughout my career.

Are there things the community, society, or politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

The mission towards net-zero carbon is a global imperative and commercial buildings are on the frontline in the battle against climate change. In fact, the world’s buildings generate 40 percent of global carbon emissions. Yet it is relatively simple and economically attractive to utilize existing technologies to address the challenge for buildings and infrastructure.

Whether retrofitting older buildings or designing new ones, making them ‘smarter’ can have a huge impact. A ‘smart building’ employs a range of interconnected technologies to optimize everything from water use, energy management, air conditioning, access, automation, lighting, remote monitoring and communication networks, while simultaneously creating a more amenable working environment.

The concept of smart buildings is nothing new, of course. As you no doubt know, architects and developers have installed separate systems to control lighting, heating and ventilation for decades.

Now, however, web-based platforms are taking smart buildings to the next level by allowing the facility systems to integrate seamlessly with each other, delivering a single, definite view of how efficiently and effectively a building operates. Armed with this invaluable data, managers can take steps to avoid waste and improve use — cutting emissions and making savings at the same time.

How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?

Yes, part of ABB’s own ‘Mission to Zero’ strategy, our Lüdenscheid plant in Germany is a real-life example of how the energy transition can succeed sustainably through digital energy management.

ABB transformed the facility into the company’s first carbon-neutral production site by deploying energy-efficient technologies into one smart system, which is digitally networked and controllable.

Solar technology generates up to 100 percent of the factory’s requirements, enough to supply 340 private households. When used with the site’s cogeneration plant, Lüdenscheid can generate 14 percent more energy than needed; this surplus is sold back into the public grid, meaning the site is energy positive.

The flagship facility at our Busch-Jaeger subsidiary saves up to 630t of CO2 a year and makes a long-term contribution to improving the environment for local people and the wider community.

In the next year, we aim to open 10 more Mission to Zero sites around the world to encourage positive, transformational change within our own business operations and in society as a whole.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Define the PURPOSE of what you do and choose your jobs according to what you feel passionate about.
  2. Think outside-in with the customer in mind versus inside-out — always.
  3. If a decision needs to be taken, be courageous and take it fast.
  4. Care: for people, for environment and yourself.
  5. Stay humble.

If you could tell young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

What a great question. Although, I believe the root of meaningful change in less about ‘teaching’ and more about collaborating. In practice, this will involve large, global organizations like mine making disproportionately large investments with smaller entities to support innovation. For example, working with young people and universities who are not only proficient with new technologies, but will no doubt be instrumental in designing the future of jobs and the workplace.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Luck is a legitimate management tool, bad luck is not…

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

It would have been Nelson Mandela, I don’t think it needs an explanation.

How can our readers follow you online?

https://www.linkedin.com/in/oliveriltisberger/

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!


Oliver Iltisberger of ABB: 5 Things We Must Do To Inspire The Next Generation About Sustainability… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Heroes of the COVID Crisis: How Nolan Pillay of StraightTalkWithNolan Stepped Up To Make A…

Heroes of the COVID Crisis: How Nolan Pillay of StraightTalkWithNolan Stepped Up To Make A Difference During The Covid19 Pandemic

An Interview With Penny Bauder

Don’t sit back, and watch others move forward with their lives, make a choice to take your power into your own hands to achieve the success you long for, time to unleash your potential. Success is not going to walk towards you, go out and make a difference to the world. Life does not have to end where you are.

As part of my series about people who stepped up to make a difference during the COVID19 Pandemic, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nolan Pillay.

Nolan Pillay is the brilliant and dynamic founder of the trademarked self-development programme: Be the BEST Version of YOURSELF™ running under the company StraightTalkWithNolan (Pty) Ltd in Africa. Rivalling the likes of similar international programs that have flooded the continent, Nolan’s life-altering system has more than just one homegrown advantage to offer.

A born South African, Nolan has an almost intuitive knowledge of the diverse range of pulses that make up the heartbeat of the African continent; and most importantly, he has been there. Much like many South Africans today, Nolan’s childhood was a humble one. He has seen poverty and hunger — done homework by candlelight, worked multiple jobs to put food on the table and to get himself through school.

He has been down and out, unemployed, had sleepless nights worrying about keeping the roof over his family’s heads. Most importantly, Nolan Pillay is the man who never gave up on his dreams and who is ready to share his personal success story with the world — if only for the purpose of empowering others to achieve the same through his program.

It was at his very first job as a packer and sweeper that Nolan realised that he wanted to do more with the rest of his life. He took on extra hours at work in order to finance his studies, achieving not just one, but two diplomas and then moving on to achieve a SAP certification — one of the highest qualifications in the IT world at the time.

Without having any real-life role models available to guide him, Nolan kept himself motivated by delving into whichever self-development programs he could invest in. Considering all the obstacles he went through, including Apartheid South Africa, and experiencing covid pneumonia in January 2021, spending 13 days in ICU with 58% oxygen levels and still coming out stronger than ever, Nolan believes there is more to do to make our world a better place.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how and where you grew up?

I grew up in a small town called Pietermaritzburg, at the time we were exposed to Apartheid South Africa, where freedom was non-existent. Further to those challenges, I came from a very poor but humble, poverty-stricken background, going to school with no shoes on a rainy day, no jersey on a cold day and studying with a candle because my parents could not afford to pay the electricity bill. As a 10-year-old, I remember going out at 5am in the mornings, together with my siblings, selling the delicacies my mum used to make. If we did not make a sale, it just meant no lunch for school and going to bed in the evening without eating anything.

As I grew older, I took a job as a “PA” and that is not Personal Assistant, its petrol attendant, they use to call us “bowser boys” back then. Forward wind to 1989, when I wrote my matric (grade 12) and failed, this led me to attempting suicide because I focused a lot on what society would think of me, I was embarrassed. God was on my side, and I survived the attempt. I got a job as a Packer/Sweeper and worked hard in my career which led me to become a certified SAP Consultant, one of the highest qualifications in the IT world at the time. This taught me many life lessons and one of them was not to play the victim or self-pity mindset, I learnt to use any obstacles as stepping stones to do better with my life.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. As humans we have so many negative thoughts daily, imagine if all of us could turn those negative thoughts into positive ones, would the world not be a better place to live in? The resonation was growing up, I could have allowed myself to stay stuck in the negative apartheid South Africa and worry about how we were treated but I chose not to. As angry as I was, I had to make sure I protect my own sanity and turn them into positive outlooks and train myself to “trust the process” and focus on the future.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

This is my all-time favorite which was shared to me by a friend in the early 90’s at work. “Success is not to be pursued; it is to be attracted by the person you become”. I believe in the law of attraction and know that my thoughts have the power to manifest anything in my life. This is relevant to the work I am doing with our youth, where my focus is on teaching our youth how to improve their mindset, thought process and authentic leadership skills. Many of our youth chase success and believe that it happens overnight, we see them jumping from one start up to the next all the time until they realise that sustaining themselves in what they do is equally important. They must follow their purpose and why, by doing this I teach them to “trust the process” always, link their purpose to their values and become the best version of themselves.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. You are currently leading a social impact organization that has stepped up during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to address?

Great thank you for this amazing question. One step back, I contracted covid-pneumonia in January 2021 and was admitted into ICU with 58% oxygen levels and spent 13 days in the ICU. I am still recovering from covid, and due back for final X-Rays in October 2021. During my time in the ICU, I was exposed to lots of trauma, patients passing on daily, operations in progress, seeing distraught families, losing weight, etc. It was a painful time in my life but again I used all the skills I learnt to help me through this phase of my life. There is no cure for covid, when I was admitted into the ICU, I was fed with vitamins only, I had to use the mind hacks and techniques I learnt to get me through this phase. Basically, I had to help myself! While I was in the ICU, I plucked up the courage to do a two-minute video to inspire others to take care of themselves and to avoid ending up in the ICU like me. Since then, I wrote a book entitled “My COVID Journey”, the main aim of the book is to help save lives, in the sense that if someone gets covid, they can follow the mind hacks and techniques that I used on myself to recover. The second aim is for families who lost loved ones to experience what a covid patient goes through, including all the trauma. I strongly believe this book will help millions of people as covid is still lingering around. I would like to add that I was not an Author, but I did it anyway, now I can call myself an Author.

In your opinion, what does it mean to be a hero?

Someone who can face any obstacle in life and come out fighting stronger than ever. Through my covid phase, I showed extreme courage even when I was at my lowest point I did not give up, I kept fighting to survive. A hero should be resilient, the famous saying is “make your comeback stronger than your setback”.

In your opinion or experience, what are “5 characteristics of a hero? Please share a story or example for each.

Wow, so many heroes out there that do not get the recognition they deserve BUT I guess with heroes its all about coming from the heart space.

  1. Resilience — someone who has taken a beating many times in life but still rise stronger than ever. They see obstacles as stepping stones into success.
  2. Authenticity — no matter what we go through in life, we must not lose who we are as humans. Heroes are not ashamed of their past, they speak openly and freely with a goal to inspire others through their journey.
  3. Inspiration — turning all pain into inspiring stories, simply means “owning your story”. For me its about sharing to inspire as many other people as possible, we would never know who needs to hear this story. This also teaches others to take ownership of their lives and own their stories.
  4. Humanity — Heroes are real humans who don’t put up a facade for self-gain. As a Coach, when I speak to others about this topic, many have no idea how to engage with others from a race, religion, culture, or sex point of view, these are discussions that heroes initiate so that we get to know each other better. This human connection is missing, the pandemic brought it back at the beginning, but we are back to square one.
  5. Bravery — when we see others in pain, be it from bullying or victimization, we stand our ground and stand up for the person affected, even if it means putting our own lives at risk. I have done this many times in my life and will continue to do so.

If heroism is rooted in doing something difficult, scary, or even self-sacrificing, what do you think drives some people — ordinary people — to become heroes?

It’s the humanity within them, and I am not saying that others are not human, but heroes do things with instinct, a gut feel that whatever they are doing at the time is the right thing, they are willing to get out of their comfort zones. We grow as humans through this discomfort. It also has a lot to do with who we are and our drive to care for others more than ourselves.

What was the specific catalyst for you or your organization to take heroic action? At what point did you personally decide that heroic action needed to be taken?

Great question, while I lay in ICU in a critical condition, many thoughts were running through my mind and one of it was what if this gets more out of hand and we start losing people in the millions. My thoughts were, what are you going to do about it? How can you help when you are so helpless? The fighting spirit in me, took over and I decided I needed to create some awareness and warn others how bad this really is. The problem was, how can I create awareness when I can barely speak a few words, my breathing was very low, even though I was on fast flow oxygen.

My mind kept telling me, “do it Nolan”, this can help save lives. I then sat on my chair and recorded a two-minute video sharing what I was going through and they should protect themselves so they don’t end up like me. Here is the video clip https://youtu.be/BACGG7DNs1U

Who are your heroes, or who do you see as heroes today?

My parents will always be my first heroes. When I look back at who I have become now, I would not have made it this far if it was not for them. Through their own struggles and pain daily, they still made sure that we, five siblings in total had grown up with good values, like respect, integrity, hard-working, authenticity, etc. I remember my mum working in the shoe factory and dad being a waiter all their lives, times were tough, but we made it through life and the values installed in us, allows us to grow even more as humans.

My heroes of today are those who create a platform of inclusivity, someone who is all about humanity. I am going to go with my Global Hero, Dr Imtiaz Sooliman from Gift of the Givers Foundation

Let’s talk a bit about what is happening in the world today. What specifically frightened or frightens you most about the pandemic?

For me the drive by all governments to have all citizens vaccinated, I have never seen so much of push for the vaccine that our human rights have been imposed upon. In my country, they have gone as far as saying, if you don’t take the vaccine and have a vaccine passport, you will not be served alcohol by the bottle store or in restaurants. The reason why this scares me is that we have so many other global problems like poverty, infrastructure issues, corruption, crime, gender-based violence, rape, etc. I always wonder why we cannot use the same energy towards these issues, we would live a much more peaceful life. Who is gaining from the vaccines? Why have we lost our human rights at the expense of forced vaccines. This has also caused division between those wanting the vaccine and those who do not. My belief is that both choices should be respected! I will share my example, coming from covid-pneumonia and knowing what my body went through during this phase of my life, why would I want to take the vaccine when I have enough anti-bodies within me already? My common sense tells me not to take it, so please respect my choice.

Despite that, what gives you hope for the future? Can you explain?

My hope is fully with the Youth of the world. As a Coach working with the Youth in Africa. I have seen the potential that they have to become authentic leaders, this is what is lacking currently. If we can guide them based on our knowledge and experience, I have no doubt we can turn our countries around into successful ones. The days of leaders playing political games is over, many do it for their own agendas and we can see this clearly now. One of my students mentioned to me that they don’t believe that we should discriminate against each other, we are all human. This was so heartwarming. We will turn this around and start to rise again! I visualize the future to be a more focused one on all the positives out there and we have tons of them. Immediate change is critical, I speak about my moonshot a little later and what I plan on doing, my strategy has been tested. Now, we need to get everyone else to start thinking in the same way for the betterment of our world.

What has inspired you the most about the behavior of people during the pandemic, and what behaviors do you find most disappointing?

Most of my inspiration came at the beginning of the pandemic. I saw humans being human again, people were shopping for friends, neighbors, and even people they did not know. This was so blissful to see, compassion was at an all-time high. Families started to connect with each other and although frustrating at times, they bonded again.

Then a few months later, people were back to their old selfish ways, hording toilet paper, groceries, etc. like we were going to run short, manufacturing did not stop. I saw people with 2–3 trolleys packed with groceries. They did not even bother about the person who cannot afford so much, they were so self-centered, disappointing behavior.

Now, even more disappointing is the name calling on social media towards those who do not want to take the vaccine, again human rights are imposed upon.

Has this crisis caused you to reassess your view of the world or of society? We would love to hear what you mean.

Yes, absolutely. When I look at our current situation, I see the chase by companies for the dollar at the expense of tramping on human lives. What do I mean? There are many cases reported where companies are treating the unvaccinated like they are the disease, they are not even covid positive but still they are treated poorly. Its shocking to see the discrimination against employees who eventually succumb to the pressure and are forced to leave. What about their families? I would love to go into these companies and teach them about humanity and how one should be respecting each other. Companies must realize that without employees, they have an “empty building”, let that sink in. I am very hopeful that once we solve issues like this, we will get better as the human world.

For me, it has been a game changer, I turned my covid experience into a major growth opportunity. From almost losing my life to coming back stronger than ever and writing a book to share with the world.

What permanent societal changes would you like to see come out of this crisis?

Respect towards each other as a start, humanity must be restored. Governments must recognise that human rights should matter first above all else. Transparency is also lacking, I always question the numbers and know that in our country, Tuberculosis was the number one cause of death, why do we not see those numbers anymore, just be open and transparent. Our government healthcare system must improve to the same standards as private healthcare. Every human being deserves the same healthcare.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

Don’t sit back, and watch others move forward with their lives, make a choice to take your power into your own hands to achieve the success you long for, time to unleash your potential. Success is not going to walk towards you, go out and make a difference to the world. Life does not have to end where you are.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

The movement I have started is aligned with my moonshot “Transform 1 million lives in Africa, starting with our Teens and Young Adults by enhancing their mindsets and thought process, through our Coaching, Authentic Leadership and Personal Mastery programs”. I am looking to collaborate with anyone who I can present this vision to. There is an African Proverb “If you want to go FAST, go alone. If you want to go FAR, go together”.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Elon Musk, he is an ex South African and would immediately relate with my moonshot. He knows our diverse cultures and knows that we are a country that has been through a lot, and we still keep persevering. We have a never give up attitude.

How can our readers follow you online?

These are my social media accounts, my handle is straighttalkwithnolan

https://www.linkedin.com/in/straighttalkwithnolan/

https://www.facebook.com/NolanKeepingItReal

https://www.facebook.com/groups/BuildingOurNation

https://www.instagram.com/straighttalkwithnolan/

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!


Heroes of the COVID Crisis: How Nolan Pillay of StraightTalkWithNolan Stepped Up To Make A… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Melissa Arias of Epicurean Charitable Foundation: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Lead A…

Melissa Arias of Epicurean Charitable Foundation: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Lead A Nonprofit Organization

Allow the work to change you: Be prepared to have your heart strings tugged on, your days fulfilled, and to have a job changing people’s lives. There are a lot of tough decisions that need to be made but hopefully the work you do inspires you to make clear, informed decisions that benefit the people you serve.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Melissa Arias, Executive Director of the Epicurean Charitable Foundation. She is passionate about providing a platform for deserving young students to achieve their dreams through hard work and determination.

In her role, Mrs. Arias oversees all fundraising, scholarship activities and day-to-day operations for the organization while working collaboratively with the executive committee, board of directors and the students.

Mrs. Arias joined ECF after seven years with the American Cancer Society, most recently serving as the Director of Development and Distinguished Events. During her tenure, she was responsible for developing a scholarship program for students with childhood cancer, leading the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk and managing and executing the Coaches vs. Cancer Golf Tournament and Gala.

A graduate of Towson University in Towson, Md., she was the founder of Young Professionals Against Cancer, received a Certificate of Commendation from US Senator Harry Reid and was inducted into the Women’s Chamber of Commerce of Nevada’s Hall of Fame in 2008. Ms. Arias was the recognized as Vegas Inc.’s esteemed Women to Watch 2016.

Thank you so much for doing this with us. Before we begin our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”?

I joined Epicurean Charitable Foundation in September of 2013, where I am the executive director. I have always been passionate about providing a platform for deserving young students to achieve their dreams through hard work and determination. I always say that fundraising isn’t all we do, but everything we do depends on it. I spend much of my year planning and raising funds at our annual gala, M.E.N.U.S., which stands for Mentoring & Educating Nevada’s Upcoming Students.

I am originally from New York and a graduate of Towson University. Prior to my role at Epicurean Charitable Foundation (ECF), I spent seven years with the American Cancer Society, most recently serving as the Director of Development and Distinguished Events. During my tenure, I was responsible for managing and executing the Coaches vs. Cancer Golf Tournament and Gala. I started at the American Cancer Society to manage patient programs but I quickly realized my passion was in fundraising, special events, and board development.

Can you tell us the story behind why you decided to start your non nonprofit?

ECF started as just a social organization. A bunch of VP’s and company leaders would get together once a month to socialize. They quickly realized that there were a lot of key leaders in the room and they could be doing great things in the community. They all had one thing in common- they were once given a chance by someone and that got them to where they are today. They decided to pay it forward to the next generation of hospitality leaders and started a foundation that provided scholarships to students so they could mentor and help the next generation of talented leaders.

Can you describe how you or your organization aims to make a significant social impact?

I believe that education is the key to changing the world. ECF’s Future Leaders of Hospitality Program, supports financially underprivileged students in their pursuit of a career in the hospitality field. This unique program provides a pipeline of leaders for the local hospitality industry in our community. Through the Future Leaders of Hospitality Program, we provide students with financial assistance as they pursue a higher education and more importantly, we offer them mentoring from experienced leaders. Our mentoring component pairs students in the program with professionals from our board of directors, enabling the students to receive one-on-one mentoring from some of the top professionals in the city.

Without saying any names, can you share a story about an individual who was helped by your idea so far?

Many of our alumni have gone to take on successful leadership roles in our community.

In 2003, a high school student, who was a teen mom and struggled to get by, came to our scholarship interview with the Board of Directors. She was awarded the scholarship and accepted into the ECF mentoring program.

Fast forward to today, she is now General Manager of a well-known hotel on the Las Vegas Strip. Just a few years ago, her career and relationship with ECF came full circle and she joined ECF’s Board of Directors. Now, this industry leader is a mentor to other young talent.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

  1. Mentoring is so important. Mentor someone in your field.
  2. Support local students. Now more than ever, every dollar counts
  3. Explain strategies your mentees can use to build strong money management skills such as:
  • Credit scores
  • 401ks
  • What’s an HMO/PPO and understanding health insurance
  • Buying a first car or home
  • Bank accounts, and investing in the future
  • The importance of business etiquette and conducting business introductions and follow-ups
  • Understanding the social media footprint & brand
  • Dressing for success.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

To me, leadership is simply being the person at the helm of the ship- motivating others towards achieving a common goal. At ECF, I lead our Board of Directors and our students in many ways. Our ultimate goal is to prepare the next generation of leaders in Las Vegas. As the leader of our Board, it’s my role to clearly and effectively communicate our goals as well as listen objectively and learn from them in return. We all have something to contribute, and by working as a team, we all bring a unique skillset to best advance our mission.

Based on your experience, what are the “5 things a person should know before they decide to start a non profit”. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Compare and contrast: See if there are other non-profits doing the same or similar thing. There are so many out there duplicating efforts. Team up before reinventing the wheel, Find community partners. We are working towards the same goal- giving back for a better community.
  2. Roll up your sleeves: Running a non profit is a lot of work. Be prepared to wear many hats and do the heavy lifting.
  3. Get creative with fundraising: Fundraising is HARD. Don’t expect donors to just sign up because you have a great mission. You need those who are impacted by your cause. You need an established donor base to even start. Don’t rely on the hope of grants or an angel investor.
  4. Establish board leadership: Find a board that is as passionate and dedicated as you. I work with the best board in the world. It never feels like work. We have a great time together.
  5. Allow the work to change you: Be prepared to have your heart strings tugged on, your days fulfilled, and to have a job changing people’s lives. There are a lot of tough decisions that need to be made but hopefully the work you do inspires you to make clear, informed decisions that benefit the people you serve.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world who you would like to talk to, to share the idea behind your non profit? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

We would love to talk to anyone who believes in providing opportunities for students to go to college. Whether that’s a huge celebrity like Oprah or Reese Witherspoon, or from a Food Network Star like Guy Fieri or Ree Drummond, anyone can help by donating not only financially but their time, effort and voice.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson” Quote? How is that relevant to you in your life?

We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give. I’ve dedicated my life to public service, giving to my family, and to my community. It’s important we give more than we take.

How can our readers follow you online?

Epicurean Charitable Foundation social media:

Facebook.com/EpicureanLV

Twitter.com/EpicureanLV

Instagram.com/EpicureanLV

https://www.linkedin.com/company/epicurean-charitable-foundation

https://www.linkedin.com/in/melissa-arias-40436a11/

www.ecflv.org

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success in your mission.


Melissa Arias of Epicurean Charitable Foundation: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Lead A… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Christine Michel Carter of Minority Woman Marketing Is Helping To…

Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Christine Michel Carter of Minority Woman Marketing Is Helping To Change Our World

Everyone knocks millennials as the “me” generation, but I think of us as the “I’m not going for that” generation. We’re aware of how workplaces were when our parents were in entry and middle management roles, and “we’re not going for that.” But generation Z- they expect nothing BUT some of the heavy lifting that millennials did.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Christine Michel Carter. Featured in The New York Times and The Washington Post, Christine Michel Carter is the #1 global voice for working moms⁣. She is also the bestselling author of children’s book Can Mommy Go To Work? and adult novel MOM AF. She’s also worked on the maternal initiatives of Vice President Kamala Harris and received a Congressional Citation from the U.S. Senate for going “above and beyond in ensuring that Black Moms and Moms of Color have access to important health information for their children and families.”

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

After returning to work from maternity leave, I had to pump in a bathroom stall due to a lack of nursing accommodations from my employer. Now, I help progressive, family-friendly companies design comfortable and hygienic mother’s rooms. When you head back to work without being ready to do so, it takes a toll on your mental and physical health. What’s worse, for working mothers, many organizations aren’t set up for their success. When new moms return to the workplace, I want to help them combine their careers and motherhood creatively.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

In 2015, I created Mompreneur and Me, a free event which gives moms across the country the opportunity to develop professional skills and network, with accredited childcare on site. By far, when I’m able to engage one on one with mothers across the country… that’s my most interesting project.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The first that comes to mind is trying to emulate the poses and content strategy of mom influencers on social media. I look back at old posts and cringe. After many years I’ve realized that’s not my lane. Just as a doula is a trained companion who supports another individual through a significant health-related experience, such as childbirth, my lane is being “the career doula,” helping women navigate the significant impact of childbirth on their professional careers.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

I have key global pillars which have helped me make a significant social impact:

Advancing Public Policy: I work to advance policies on a range of issues that affect women and families. I provide analysis and author content on eliminating racial disparities in maternal health, addressing the social determinants of health, and a range of women’s health policy issues. I’ve been fortunate to work on the maternal initiatives of Vice President Kamala Harris.

Improved Health & Wellness Support: My purpose-driven mission is rooted in health & wellness. I’m also aligned to one of the World Health Organization (WHO) critical health topics: maternal health. I advocate for companies to create a suite of holistic support for parents, including fertility support and coverage and maternity and postpartum benefits. I have also received a Congressional Citation from the U.S. Senate for my work in maternal health.

Investing in Girls and Mompreneurs: I’m an angel investor for Myavana and Cradlewise, two tech companies founded by moms of color. Myavana analyzes, researches, and recommends personalized hair care solutions. Cradlewise is an AI-powered smart crib and bassinet named the Editors’ Choice and Best Family Tech at CES 2021 and one of TIME’s Best Inventions in 2020.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

I look at the way Spike Lee drilled this message into our brains through film, and how Beyonce does so through her music, and I’d love to be able to say I contributed to the conversation via my writing. It may sound trite, but Malcolm X once said, “The mother is the first teacher of the child. The message she gives that child, that child gives to the world.” I feel by giving working mothers positive, insightful content, I’m doing my part to reduce their stress, raise loving children and thus- change the world.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

#1: I’m urging congressional action on a federal paid family leave program. Lack of a national paid leave policy makes all of us more vulnerable during public health emergencies while putting businesses’ financial stability on the line. Paid leave is also a key element of addressing racial, class, and gender inequalities in the United States. An investment in this is an investment in women and the future of our economy.

#2: Childcare is one of the main catalysts to the decline of maternal health. I’m also aligned to the WHO health topic: quality of childcare and am passionate about elevating the importance of this issue. America, for example, has been facing a childcare crisis for years — it’s been too expensive, unavailable in certain areas, or deemed an unnecessary resource by employers. Many single working moms can’t afford quality childcare or predominantly hold hourly jobs with few social protections like paid leave. Single motherhood has grown so common in America that today 80% of single-parent families are headed by single mothers, and nearly 1/3 live in poverty.

#3: Deeper federal investments in America’s care infrastructure could provide better quality care for our country’s children, make care more affordable for single working mothers, pay care workers what they deserve, and help close the widening inequality gap for women.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

In today’s world, it’s difficult to tell where an influencer ends, and a leader begins. The words are used interchangeably. But the key difference is that while an influencer can persuade a group of people to act, a leader motivates and inspires them. A leader is the catalyst which makes a group of people feel like to solve their problems, there is no other choice BUT to act. I hope that others would consider me a leader, not an influencer.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

#1: To balance your worlds, you’ve got to ask for- and accept- help. I was once told independence is a spectrum, and the only way a mother can achieve true work-life balance is by relying on the help of others. This includes everyone in her circle, from her employer to partner to friends. I find the moms who are having challenges balancing work and life, are the ones who just can’t bring themselves to say anything to their circle other than, “I’m fine.”

#2: Work/life balance doesn’t exist. When I think of work/life balance, I think of having it all. The only way for a mom to have it all is to go to the store and buy a bottle of All detergent. There is no perfect work/life balance. There are times that you are not spending as much time with your kids for work, and there are times when your work is pushed to the side because you need to walk away from the company, recharge, practice self-care and have time with your children. It always ebbs and flows.

#3: Mothers in the workplace face a ton of unconscious bias. Working moms typically work more hours than the average young employee, but they also spend about twice the time fathers do on both childcare and household maintenance. They’re also more productive in the workplace than the average employee without children. Moms go to work earlier than the average young worker and are more likely to have nonstandard work hours.

#4: Everyone thinks to keep young mothers in the workforce, they must have a cool office space. But it’s not just a mom who joins a company, it’s her entire family. Also, before accepting an offer, moms think questions like, “Is this a company I’d be proud to tell my girlfriends I work for? Would I be proud bringing my child to see where Mommy works?” Moms are more inclined to work for companies who think about the future of our world (via their sustainability efforts), because indirectly, it shows the company is invested in their own children.

#5: Everyone knocks millennials as the “me” generation, but I think of us as the “I’m not going for that” generation. We’re aware of how workplaces were when our parents were in entry and middle management roles, and “we’re not going for that.” But generation Z- they expect nothing BUT some of the heavy lifting that millennials did.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’m on the journey of inspiring a movement- for mothers to feel accepted and welcome to bring their authentic selves to all environments. Motherhood didn’t hurt my career, it helped it. And I think you should be defined by motherhood. This brings the most amount of good to the most amount of people because I always say mothers have immense power. Whether they choose to use it for the betterment or detriment of their children is up to them. I choose to use mine for the betterment of my children, so they inspire me.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

You are responsible for your own happiness. If you expect others to make you happy, you will always be disappointed. This was relevant to my life because I was a person who ran on expectations of people and situations. I let the actions of others affect my mood when I shouldn’t have given them that ability. It left me anxious, depressed and lost. But when I started repeating this life lesson quote, I remembered I can’t control the actions of others, only how I respond to their actions.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Oh, this is a no-brainer. Beyonce. Now and forever. I’ve always been a huge fan but as she gets older, I’m inspired by her as a working mother. I’m inspired by her growth; she’s clearly more comfortable in her skin at 40 than she was at 20. I look forward to seeing what she gives the world in the coming years.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/christinemichelcarter

Twitter: https://twitter.com/cmichelcarter

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/cmichelcarter/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/cmichelcarter/

Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/cmichelcarter/

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!


Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Christine Michel Carter of Minority Woman Marketing Is Helping To… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Andrew Bales of Substantial Is Helping To Change Our World

For me, leadership is about developing trust and creating space for people to experiment and grow. It’s a difficult balance to pull off. It takes time and requires close attention to the people around you. But the payoff is extraordinary. It allows people to step into their strengths, tackle the right challenges, and join together to create something meaningful.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Andrew Bales.

Andrew Bales is a software developer, writer, designer, and researcher with a passion for creating data stories that illuminate complex social issues. In recent years, Andrew has built an interactive app to showcase a major research library’s audio collection, provided civic insights with Cincinnati policing data, and explored racism in America with a project that won an award from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I got interested in software development while I was studying in a doctoral program for creative writing. I was increasingly drawn to the digital humanities, a field of study that brings technical tools to questions in the humanities. I worked with open city data to develop community tools, partnered with the university library to showcase an overlooked literary audio collection, and won an award from the National Endowment for the Humanities for a project I created with their newspaper archive.

Taking on projects of increasing complexity helped me gain new technical skills, but it also made me realize my passion for turning data into visually compelling stories. When I moved to Seattle, I joined Substantial, a digital innovation and build studio. So when I began investigating anti-trans legislation, that work was supported by Substantial and those methods I’d learned over the years to analyze data, design websites, and build interactive components.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

Part of the research process I love is understanding the context for a dataset. Making Inflection Point, I was particularly drawn to the story of the coalition of conservative organizations that have worked in tandem on various social issues over the decades. Understanding their influence in American politics helped me draw the connection from 2021’s wave of anti-trans legislation back to the first “bathroom bills” of 2015, but also to the legal fights against abortion and same-sex marriage. That context hooked my interest and shaped my choices about how to visualize the data.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Learning by doing is a comedy of errors by design. Coming to software development from the humanities, I was consistently at the edge of my comfort zone — whether that was attending my first tech meetups, reaching out to accomplished software developers for advice on developing my own learning plan, or jumping into technical problems that I initially had little idea of how to solve. But my goal has always been to get better at making it productive when you fall. To become proficient at somersaulting.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

Inflection Point calls attention to the rise of anti-trans legislation. It offers people the chance to learn about how we got to this point, why these bills are so destructive, and how to take action to support trans rights. It’s been a joy to work at Substantial, a company that puts time and resources towards projects like this that can make a social impact. I’ve been consistently impressed by how our teams center real human impact. Everyone I work with is dedicated to the idea that our process and output should be meaningful to people, not just fulfill requirements. You can feel it on teams at every layer — from ideation, design, client facilitation, and the product build. In that way, I think we’re having an impact through everything we touch.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Inflection Point puts the spotlight on specific bills that can cause a lot of heartache. It’s content that can be tough to sit with. But I’ve been heartened to engage with trans people and publications who support this work. Journalists have profiled children and adults who are targeted by these bills, and they’re the same people who would benefit from Inflection Point moving people to resist this legislative push. I hope this work is a meaningful part of the shift in public discourse about trans issues. It’s important to have facts, arguments, and resources to combat discrimination.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Most immediately, politicians in states where these laws are proposed should be vocal and clear about their opposition. Inflection Point has a ‘take action’ page dedicated to providing representative information and names of specific individuals who have signed on with a particularly toxic pledge from Promise to America’s Children.

On an individual level, I’d encourage people to take time to learn about trans identity and issues. It helps not only be a better ally, but to spot disingenuous political tactics that seek to undermine trans rights.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

For me, leadership is about developing trust and creating space for people to experiment and grow. It’s a difficult balance to pull off. It takes time and requires close attention to the people around you. But the payoff is extraordinary. It allows people to step into their strengths, tackle the right challenges, and join together to create something meaningful.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

- Follow your interests.

- Connect learning to a meaningful output.

- A diverse background is an asset, not a limitation.

- Don’t hesitate to ask “why?”.

- Be kind to yourself.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

The projects I’ve created on various social issues are motivated by a desire to see real change. I don’t expect every data visualization, essay, or interactive archive to spark a mass movement, of course, but I’m optimistic about the power of information that’s presented creatively and honestly. You never know the extent to which your work will inspire change, but I’m driven to try. That’s why I focused on these bills impacting trans people. It’s a quickly evolving social and political landscape that has the potential for meaningful change.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I’m a firm believer in “following your interests.” There’s often a pressure to isolate one single passion for your life and, after it’s identified, stick on that trajectory without allowing for reevaluation. In my experience, following your interest is a path filled with excitement, winding paths, and deeply moving experiences. It’s a creative process that leads to the passions we discover that fulfill us.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

My mom. I haven’t been able to see her for a couple of years now. That would be a real treat.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

twitter.com/agbales

linkedin.com/in/andrew-g-bales

https://twitter.com/substantial

instagram.com/substantial

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!


Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Andrew Bales of Substantial Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Social Impact Tech: Leah Page of ADT On How Their Technology Will Make An Important Positive Impact

An Interview With Jilea Hemmings

ADT’s mobile technology, Safe by ADT solves two major challenges: it provides anyone in an emergency with discreet methods for summoning help and it enables the transfer of potentially life-saving information to 911, including data such as GPS location, gender, and hair color. By increasing the information available to emergency responders, it can enable faster response times and help save lives.

In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact”. We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Leah Page.

Leah Page has 20 years of experience in product management and service operations for next-generation technology hardware and software solutions. She has a strong passion for product development and bringing new products and services to market.

In her current role as VP of Mobile Security & Strategic Projects at ADT, Leah leads the Mobile Security and Health business units. Her focus is on delivering tech-forward products from ADT that extend security beyond the home to meet demands of new demographics and customers. This includes the extension of ADT professional mobile monitoring services with new partners where end-users get help when and where they need it. Leah has ownership of Safe by ADT, an easy-to-use platform that can be integrated into third-party apps, and ADT-owned mobile safety app, SoSecure by ADT. Her role also includes managing the business that supports ADT’s senior customers with unique solutions to provide aging in place and meeting their personal security inside and outside of the home.

Prior to ADT, Leah held leadership positions at Cinch Home Services where she built a platform for matching service providers to IoT device needs, and Motorola Mobility where she drove product strategy and requirements definition for smart phones and mobile applications.

Leah graduated with a BS in International Business from the University of Southern California.

Leah currently resides in Fort Lauderdale, FL with her husband, 5 children, and dog named Charlie.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?

I am a native Floridian, born and raised in South Florida where I currently reside. When I was in middle and high school, my family re-located to Singapore and I spend many of my formative years there. It was an amazing place to live and gave me such a different perspective on life, culture, and society. Traveling to new places was a huge part of my youth and something that I enjoy doing with my family now. There is nothing better than exploring a new city, experiencing local traditions, and enjoying local flavors!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

In a previous role, my responsibility was product introduction and distribution in international markets. There was an issue with the brand trademark in a market that we were looking to develop. In this market, the law required the trademark to be negotiated from the current owner. I worked with a local law firm to set up a meeting with the current trademark owner at their local offices. We had spoken about the strategy, the negotiation, and the amount the company was willing to pay to get it back. After a long trip when I arrived at the law office, I was seated in a room and waited for the legal teams, a translator, and the person who currently owned the trademark. After some time, they showed up and the negotiation went way better than expected getting it back easily and for next to nothing. After the meeting concluded, I was reviewing the paperwork and realized that it was the wrong brand. The legal office had made a mistake and placed me in the wrong meeting room. It was eventually all worked out, but I laugh that there is a retail store brand out there that still owes me!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’ve had many great mentors and bosses in my career. I always take something from each one. In my current role, I am grateful to ADT’s CEO, Jim DeVries. He is a true believer in bringing security beyond the home and has been a driving force behind what we are doing with mobile security.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I have a magnet in my office this sits in the center of my whiteboard. I use my whiteboard to think about new ideas and concepts, or solve problems with my team. The magnet reads, “Proceed as if success is inevitable.” It strikes a chord with me, as I often work on new and innovative projects where the outcome is yet to be determined. If you stay positive, believe in work, and do the right thing, then success will come.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

  • Respect — It Is important to respect the people around you. People will have different perspectives on how to solve problems or how a customer may view a product. It is more important now than ever to respect these opinions and respect one another. Providing praise to teams and thanking them for their work in a meaningful way is an important part of leadership.
  • Loyalty — It is important to be loyal to yourself and your cause. To this day, I work with many people that I have known or worked with for decades. I think when you take care of people it creates a sense of loyalty and comradery that allows the team to achieve even the most difficult tasks.
  • Humility — Never act like something beneath you. Never say “that’s not my job”. I abide by an “all hands on deck” policy to solve problems and get things done. I think humility make teams more engaged and it allows people to know that their opinions count. Be the first one to take the pen, offer to take the notes — you’ll be amazed how much of a leadership role that automatically places you in.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the tech tools that you are helping to create that can make a positive social impact on our society. To begin, what problems are you aiming to solve?

According to NENA, an estimated 240 million calls are made to 911 in the U.S. annually, often with limited location data. Some 911 callers are unable to verbally relay information that emergency responders need to assist them because they are unaware of their surroundings, traumatized, or in a dangerous situation that an obvious outreach for help may worsen.

How do you think your technology can address this?

ADT has developed a mobile safety technology platform that leverages the ubiquity of GPS-enabled mobile devices and the always-on, professional monitoring and emergency assistance of ADT’s more than 1,000 trained monitoring agents. The technology, Safe by ADT, is a data-driven, easy-to-use platform that powers our personal safety app, SoSecure, and can be easily integrated into third-party apps. Safe by ADT extends the safety and security of ADT’s professional monitoring services to its partner’s (e.g. Lyft, invisaWear, harbor) users within its mobile app experience.

This innovation represents a revolutionary new approach for ADT, the number one smart home security provider, in two ways. First, it extends protection away from the home to protect people, regardless of where they are. Second, by integrating the ADT technology and service directly into apps and devices, it’s a departure from ADT’s traditional single-brand approach.

Because Safe by ADT can be easily integrated into third-party apps, we are opening up a world of possibilities to add safety and security to other innovative products and services.

ADT’s mobile technology, Safe by ADT solves two major challenges: it provides anyone in an emergency with discreet methods for summoning help and it enables the transfer of potentially life-saving information to 911, including data such as GPS location, gender, and hair color. By increasing the information available to emergency responders, it can enable faster response times and help save lives.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

I’ve always been inspired by ADT’s guiding principle that everyone deserves to feel safe. While that guiding principle pervades, there have been drastic changes in American labor and society that altered the way people interact with one another. Blind dates are set up with the swipe of a finger in an app. Spare rooms in our homes can be rented out the same day with a single click. Gig economies have transformed the service industry, enabling millions of strangers to receive or provide a service to one another on-demand through an app. With these conveniences also comes an increased concern for personal safety. My team and I saw this as an exciting opportunity to innovate safety solutions for today’s lifestyles and extend ADT’s trusted protection wherever people’s lives take them, whether they’re delivering groceries, taking a rideshare home from a night out or venturing out in a new city on a peaceful walk.

How do you think this might change the world?

While it’s easy to think of this innovation as simply reactive protection — for use in emergency — we like to believe that is more of an enabling technology. By giving users peace of mind, we can unlock myriad opportunities. We can enable new economic opportunities for people who might otherwise be nervous to drive for a rideshare or shop for a food delivery company. We can give a new resident of the city the confidence to explore new neighborhoods. We can open up new forms of mobility for the elderly or infirmed who might otherwise not be confident to venture out on their own. The opportunities are endless when you pair location-based devices with the trained, trusted and always-on professional emergency response teams of ADT.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

I don’t think there are any unintended consequences when it comes to mobile security and how our highly trained Monitoring Agents handle incoming incidents. At ADT, we do our best to confirm that people that get in contact with us need help from police before we request that dispatch. One unexpected benefit that surfaced is that there are groups of people that prefer not to talk to 911 when they need the police or are scared that they won’t be taken seriously. In these cases, I am happy we provide a service that can reassure or get help to people that need it most.

Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”? (Please share a story or an example, for each.)

The first thing is that you need to be passionate about the positive impact you strive to make. Find a cause that is important to you and think about how technology can enable an answer to that problem. When I started to think about how security is personal to people and how they want that experience to be delivered, it became evident that the way ADT Monitoring Agents handle a situation must be relevant to that situation. Therefore, the team built a tool that allows for the interactions to be dynamic to the issue. We also added training that helps Agents to be sensitive to these new types of incidents. Think clearly about the issue you are trying to solve and then how to go about it.

Second, the technology needs to be intuitive. It seems obvious to say, but if technology inhibits the problem you are trying to solve or makes it too difficult to use, then the purpose can be blurred. In the implementation of ADT’s mobile security app, SoSecure, we have multiple ways — a widget, a time-based parameter, voice activation, or a digital slider button — that allow a user to request that they need help. It was important to prioritize these efforts so it was easier to have people that might be in a threatening situation be able to engage with us. The core of SoSecure is to enable people to get help, and our technology makes it as intuitive as possible.

Third, think about how your audience wants to engage with your product. For the mobile security business, we have added chat and video as ways to engage with our Monitoring Agents in a time of need. In designing the app, it was important to think about discreet situations, situations where a user wants to show what is happening, and situations that necessitate a speed of emergency help where every second counts. Remember to think about the engagement of that audience and the situational factors that will be around them when they are using the product, it will enable a better overall experience.

Forth, don’t be afraid to do things differently. It is important to understand the landscape, competitive factors, and the future of the cause you are passionate about. It is key to thinking about how things are done today, and how technology and an intuitive experience might disrupt that. Dare to think about how you might want something to work, about where your cause could go at the highest level, and then map your path of how to get there. Strive to put your flavor to something and make it different. Just because something has always been done one way isn’t always a great reason to keep doing it that way.

And last, have a great team! Surround yourself with people that care about your cause, surround yourself with people that you respect and admire. Remember to diversify your team with culture, tenure, and personalities. It will deliver a better product to a more diverse audience. If you are lucky enough to be in a leadership position, listen to them, get hands on with the right problems, and learn from those around you.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

There are so many small ways and big ways to help people in society. When you see a way that you might make a difference — a new idea, a platform to speak your mind, a way to fight for something you believe in — then don’t let anything stop you. Young people today are faced with many societal issues and I see what a large part of their lives it is to take a stand and speak their minds. I am always impressed and encouraged that this is now part of people’s lives at such a young age.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them.

This is by far the hardest question — Kamala Harris, Snoop Dog, Mary Barra…. I could spend hours making a list. But I think I will have to go with Tim Cook. There is no doubt he has an amazing vision on where next generation mobile devices are going and the 10-year landscape. I want to know the year when I won’t have to look down at a screen or carry a phone. And although I prefer my MacBook and my iPad, I prefer Android phones, so it could be fun to have him try to convince me otherwise.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Readers can follow our work on ADT Newsroom and on SoSecure by ADT page.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.


Social Impact Tech: Leah Page of ADT On How Their Technology Will Make An Important Positive Impact was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Social Impact Tech: Ross Young of Linewize On How Their Technology Will Make An Important Positive…

Social Impact Tech: Ross Young of Linewize On How Their Technology Will Make An Important Positive Impact

An Interview With Jilea Hemmings

We have technology that gets right to the source of however a child is accessing the internet. With an issued school device, we’re breaking SSL, looking at encrypted traffic and using AI to identify any early indicators of self-harm, school violence, depression and suicide. On a school district device that kids are using anywhere from eight to 10 hours a day, we’re protecting those devices and can share data with parents so there’s full transparency on which websites their children are accessing. We also provide resources for parents to get advice from therapists that are focused on digital wellness on what to do about potentially harmful internet searches. So, we’re working with the schools to have visibility to what kids are doing online. And then we’re also working with the parents to help educate them on how kids use the internet and how to have better conversations with their children before handing them a device.

In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact”. We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ross Young.

Ross Young is the North American Senior Vice President and General Manager at Linewize where he helps K-12 school districts meet the challenges of today’s connected learning environment by leading product strategy, sales and customer experience. With more than 15 years of relevant experience, Young has deep expertise in the EdTech and cybersecurity industries, a passion for technology and its ability to drive social impact, and a strong understanding of how to effectively integrate classroom management tools into school districts. An experienced SaaS veteran, Young was instrumental in the successful launch of Linewize in the U.S. market and has spent the past three years aiding in the strategic growth and development of the company.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?

My father is a retired military pilot, so I moved around quite a bit as a child. But where I really grew up was in the East Bay, which is part of the San Francisco Bay Area. My parents split when I was very young, so I grew up with a single mom, which was a struggle as she was raising four boys. I played a lot of sports growing up too because my mom was working a lot.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

The story of my career is interesting because I thought there’d be no opportunity without a college degree. I wanted to go to college, however I realized there were a lot of time-consuming projects when I could be out there making money, so I dropped out of college for a career in sales. One of the most ironic things is that I’m hiring people with PhDs and dual master’s degrees, and I don’t have a degree. I believe you can make it through via an alternative path as long as you’re focused on where you want to be.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. So is there a particular person that you are grateful towards who helped you get to where you are and can you share a story about that?

Yes, and he probably doesn’t even know it. There was a leader that I worked with at a previous tech company called iBoss, and he saw me as an individual contributor. He pulled me aside and said, “I see a lot more in you and I think you’re going to be a really strong leader”, which really inspired me to just go for it. So, I would say that he was very critical to my success in getting where I’m at today.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Hard work meets talent when talent fails to work hard.” It’s relevant because I can even relate it back to sports. For example, there are the very gifted athletes that are just naturally good at the beginning of the season and then there are the athletes that really put their head down and put in the work, and towards the end of the season, those are the ones that end up as the starters. Putting your head down, thinking about the process and being relentless within that process will make you more successful.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Perseverance is the number one. I know that’s really cliché, but it’s just so accurate and so true. You’re going to face adversity, but adversity can be an opportunity, and failure is also an opportunity to become more successful if you use that as motivation and learn from adversity. That will ultimately make you more successful in general as you navigate those particular areas. Originally when I started here, nobody wanted to work with us right out of the gate because we didn’t have any customers. I actually got on a jet and flew out to a potential customer, took them out to dinner and really worked with them and put my name and reputation behind our ability to execute. This ultimately led to us replacing the market share leader in the Pascagoula public school district. That was really our first customer in the states, and they were previously still in a contract with the number one competitor in our space. The other is having a strong vision of where you want to go, which is incredibly important. You have to be able to see yourself in that place if you want to actually get there. And then the last thing I’d say is faith. I think that having a personal faith and having a relationship within your particular religion or set of beliefs helps to guide you through relationships and execute on promises made.

OK super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the tech tools that you are helping to create that can make a positive social impact on our society. To begin, what problems are you aiming to solve?

We’re looking to keep kids safe throughout their digital journey, whether that’s on a device provided by a parent, a device issued by the school, or even when kids are accessing content at a friend’s house. We’re really looking to protect every child’s digital journey, regardless of the modality in which they’re connecting to the internet.

How do you think your technology can address this?

We have technology that gets right to the source of however a child is accessing the internet. With an issued school device, we’re breaking SSL, looking at encrypted traffic and using AI to identify any early indicators of self-harm, school violence, depression and suicide. On a school district device that kids are using anywhere from eight to 10 hours a day, we’re protecting those devices and can share data with parents so there’s full transparency on which websites their children are accessing. We also provide resources for parents to get advice from therapists that are focused on digital wellness on what to do about potentially harmful internet searches. So, we’re working with the schools to have visibility to what kids are doing online. And then we’re also working with the parents to help educate them on how kids use the internet and how to have better conversations with their children before handing them a device.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

I have a very personal story that made me passionate about digital safety. When my12-year-olddaughter was seven, she wanted to speak with Justin Bieber online. She was on a laptop in her room searching for how to speak to Justin Bieber. A link came up that said if you want to speak to Justin Bieber to ‘click here.’ When she clicked on it, it downloaded Skype. Skype opened to a stranger on to her screen, and he said, “Only five more people can speak to Justin Bieber, you need to pass the test to speak with him.” It was a live chat and started with simple things like “send me a picture of your face,” and then “send me a picture of you standing up all the way and of your whole body,” and “now I want you to pose and act like a cat and show me a picture of your best cat impression.” There were also things like “how close are your parents? Can you go into your closet? Are you alone in your room? ”My daughter eventually ran out and said, “Mommy, I only have two more tests to pass before I get to speak with Justin Bieber.” My wife went into the room, looked at the laptop, and noticed that all of the questions and that she had actually sent some pictures. We then realized that there was a predator in my daughter’s room trying to take advantage of her. The police ended up catching this guy about four months later, and they caught him with all sorts of child pornography. That experience was really eye opening to me. I realized that even if parents are technically savvy themselves, they can still be totally unaware of how their kids use the internet. I’m passionate about helping educate parents on how to “digitally parent” better and keep kids safe.

How do you think this might change the world?

Right now, we are in the middle of a mental health pandemic. Suicides are the number two cause of death between children of 13 and 19. And ultimately, we’re intervening in suicides every day because of the AI that we’re using and the quick alert notifications we provide. In the last three years, we’ve grown from 150,000 students protected to 9.6 million students protected globally across four different countries. We’re already making an impact on the world. And as our technologies continue to improve, we’re going to affect millions and millions and more.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

This technology must be in the right hands. It’s necessary to educate folks on how to use the data right. Data can be used for good, or it can be used for bad. We’re providing data and guidance on how to use it, but it’s ultimately the parents and the school’s decision on what they do with it. There can be some unintended privacy issues, but the good outweighs the bad in the sense that the people who have access to the data have a fiduciary responsibility to keep children safe. That’s what they’ve sworn to do. So, they’re typically using it within the right context.

Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”?

I think I can share three things. First of all, you need to understand the social impact. This is necessary so you don’t lose sight of your vision and mission. That’s really a key component to protecting every student’s digital journey. Regardless of how they use technology, it’s important to define what protecting a student’s digital experience looks like to execute on your mission. The next is outside validation and what that looks like on the social impact. What kind of feedback have you received that validates what you’re doing? For protecting students’ digital journey, when we have a parent or a school district reach out saying they were able to intervene in a suicide or self-harm that week because of Linewize, it validates our social impact. The third is establishing a strong company culture and ensuring that every person you hire has a deep passion behind what they’re doing.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

Life is about more than just making money. Knowing that the world’s a lot bigger than you really humbles you. The happiest people are the ones that are giving back. Making a social impact in your work will keep you driven beyond money. It’s ok to be money driven, but ultimately, if you have the opportunity to give back, you’re really able to reap what you sow.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Honestly, I don’t really have one.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can go to my LinkedIn profile.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.


Social Impact Tech: Ross Young of Linewize On How Their Technology Will Make An Important Positive… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Social Impact Tech: Carter Maslan of Camio On How Their Technology Will Make An Important Positive…

Social Impact Tech: Carter Maslan of Camio On How Their Technology Will Make An Important Positive Impact

An Interview With Jilea Hemmings

…When COVID-19 hit early last year, a Chilean mining company acted quickly to develop a comprehensive system to safeguard employees, including mask wearing and social distancing requirements, health screening questionnaires, and training programs. While the company had strong protocols in place, there was no efficient way to monitor compliance, identify problem areas, and track anomalies.
With Camio, they detected problem areas immediately and sent automatic, real-time alerts to authorized personnel. Interactive dashboards enabled management to see problem areas, sometimes revealing surprising areas of risk, and communicate with team members. The technology not only helped ensure the health of hundreds of employees who live and work in close proximity, but it also ensured business and employment continuity. Closure of the mines for one month would cost more than 300 jobs and $4M in losses.

In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact”. We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Carter Maslan.

Before starting Camio, Carter was Director of Product Management at Google, where he brought us Local Search in Google Maps, Google Earth, Google Mobile and Web Search. Previously, he was Director of Technical Evangelism at Microsoft, and Director of Product Management & Marketing at Inktomi via the acquisition of Impulse Buy Network. He earned his BSE in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from Princeton University.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?

I grew up with an unusual cultural mix. I was a latch-key kid in rural Virginia until the age of 12, then moved to Los Angeles to live with my dad and stepmother. It was a big shift from “creek walking” among copperheads with rope swings to posh West LA. Having a Southern Baptist mother, Russian Jewish father, and Puertorican Catholic stepmother gave me a rich mix of perspectives without feeling fully at-home with any of them.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Actually, very early in my career, I volunteered as a Spanish translator and note-taker for a human rights trip to Cuba. We interviewed political prisoners, met with Fidel Castro, walked the Malecon with the backdrop of huge Russian oil tankers. It felt important, but it was a loss of innocence. As the trip progressed, I realized that the human rights investigation seemed secondary to exploring commercial interests in Cuba: broadcast rights to the Pan American Games, hotel development, film distribution, etc. I felt naive. But it taught me early to see non-binary outcomes and to watch what people do, not what they say.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Several people have inspired me for different reasons. Michael T. Jones, Chief Technology Advocate at Google said as I was leaving Google to start Camio, “the future will be recorded, the question is what are we going to do with it.” He imbued me with his optimism, ethics, and pragmatism. He encouraged me to run with the wild expectations of non-technical people — for example, when people using Street View complained that they couldn’t see their car parked outside of their house even though they knew it was there today (as if Street View were magically real-time imagery), he wouldn’t judge them. He’d instead look with curiosity at ways to make their unreasonable expectations reasonable. That attitude is powerful.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I love the sentiment from Tony Bennett in the Amy Winehouse movie when he said, “Life teaches you how to live it, if you live long enough.” It reminds me of the humility required to roll with the punches and to view life as a journey of continual growth and learning.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

  1. Resilience. The ability to do the next right thing over and over again in times of uncertainty or difficulty — to calm myself and travel with my eyes on the horizon, not on all the bumps in the road. We had invested a lot to create software for a 4G-connected dashcam partner that went out of business. It was a big setback. We looked at other scenarios in need of bandwidth efficient video monitoring and worked without pay to repurpose work that enabled us to become the leading B2B VSaaS provider.
  2. Integrity. I’m the same person regardless of the setting or stressor. I want the best for everyone around me. Full transparency and honesty in every interaction. When we pivoted to B2B VSaaS, I promised to make teammates whole for their investment in that switch, while explaining that I’d still need to get board approval for stock grants and loans. We repaid everyone, including a key teammate that left to pursue his space travel dreams at SpaceX.
  3. Diligence. Work hard on the right things. Take ownership of outcomes, not effort. As a product manager, I’m keenly aware of hundreds of ways our product could be better. When the team hears criticism that we haven’t yet delivered the 93rd item on our stack-ranked list, they have the confidence and patience that they’re working hard on the right things in the optimal sequence.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the tech tools that you are helping to create that can make a positive social impact on our society. To begin, what problems are you aiming to solve?

I co-founded Camio with a simple question. Why can you search the entire web in 50 milliseconds, but you can’t find anything in video without hours of review? There is so much useful information that can be derived from understanding what’s captured by all the cameras all around us. Using Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML), Camio puts industry-standard cameras to work to tell us when something important happens in the real world. Camio helps people identify and remediate environmental, health and safety problems without jeopardizing privacy.

How do you think your technology can address this?

Camio real-time video search makes it economically feasible to apply visual analyses to any health, safety, or environmental challenge. Its innovation is enabling existing inexpensive cameras to exploit the latest advances in Artificial Intelligence without proprietary equipment or large upfront costs. We’re focused on pragmatic solutions that are cheap enough to solve the long tail of problems that are intractable without machines that can see and understand the real world.

For example, when COVID-19 hit early last year, a Chilean mining company acted quickly to develop a comprehensive system to safeguard employees, including mask wearing and social distancing requirements, health screening questionnaires, and training programs. While the company had strong protocols in place, there was no efficient way to monitor compliance, identify problem areas, and track anomalies. With Camio, they detected problem areas immediately and sent automatic, real-time alerts to authorized personnel. Interactive dashboards enabled management to see problem areas, sometimes revealing surprising areas of risk, and communicate with team members. The technology not only helped ensure the health of hundreds of employees who live and work in close proximity, but it also ensured business and employment continuity. Closure of the mines for one month would cost more than 300 jobs and $4M in losses.

The technology can also be used in everyday situations to protect workers. Cameras connected to Camio at a warehouse can identify unsafe practices such as forklifts moving without maintaining minimum clearance distances, missing hardhats, and people too close without PPE. Real-time video search transforms health and safety with continuous monitoring of risks rather than ad hoc policy spot checks.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

Several experiences inspired me. When Google Street View debuted, usability studies revealed that people mistakenly thought it was real-time imagery. But that experience got me thinking. Why not have real-time information about any place people care about? Like private, encrypted Google search for your own places. Second, a gun incident at my son’s school illustrated how the transparency and accountability that video evidence provides is vital to protect lives. 3 of 4 witnesses were scared to testify when a drug-dealing student brandished a loaded revolver in a dormitory. All we needed was video evidence. The encounter exposed the frailty of the legal system. Prosecuting bad actors is predicated on evidence. But people may fear repercussions of testifying. The social fabric of our society relies on willingness to speak up. Cameras can’t be intimidated. They’re objective. Video has become central to justice.

How do you think this might change the world?

Camio can help correct a long-standing imbalance of power in open societies — where a few bad actors exercise outsized impact on the public “soft-target” majority. With Camio, the private sector can martial a coordinated response to threats instantly and without sacrificing privacy. Using standard privately owned cameras connected to Camio, private sector companies and citizens can share links used collectively to respond to public safety emergencies.

There’s been a false choice between an Orwellian future and public safety. Technology advances have made private encrypted video with information accessible only to its owner a pragmatic part of our collective defense — without conceding privacy to any centralized authority.

For example, when a bomb exploded in downtown Nashville early Christmas morning 2020, a Camio customer located near the epicenter used its street-facing perimeter cameras to help law enforcement with the bombing investigation. Using Camio, the company found video of the RV in under two minutes. Investigators had instant insights to help determine whether the bomber acted alone or was assisted by others departing the blast site prior to the explosion. Private cameras have the power to work for the public good, enabling proactive intervention and keeping our neighborhoods, workplaces, and cities safe.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

My office at Google had letters from around the world demanding that a border be changed, a sea renamed, or an island annexed by a country. A Nicaraguan commander even blamed Google Maps for an invasion of Costa Rica. The technology that gave everyone a view of the entire world on their phones to order pizza, browse vacation spots, or save rain forests also created disputes and information disclosure risks.

Camio enables machines to see and understand the real world in real-time. That saved lives and livelihoods in the pandemic with automated social distancing and mask detection and contact tracing for essential workers. Yet the same AI techniques could be used by others to hurt people too. For example, Camio doesn’t store biometrics behind face recognition. There are very good use cases for face recognition. Hospitals ask us for BOLO (Be on the Lookout) alerts when a dangerous gang member or abusive spouse returns to the Emergency Room. If we were to support that feature request, we’d have to think through ways to ensure BOLO alerts cannot become indiscriminate tracking of anyone and everyone. Our team thinks a lot about “AI for Good” while making pragmatic choices in what we enable.

Even well-intentioned regulations of this technology produce unintended consequences. For example, GDPR requires deletion of any data related to any individual upon request. That means that tech companies can no longer break the association between individuals and their data, because they have to know what to delete! Companies would have otherwise broken the link altogether, which is likely a better privacy protection.

Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”? (Please share a story or an example, for each.)

  1. Pay attention to the user and everything else follows. It’s critical to anchor on that first to ensure you’re solving important problems without getting distracted by all the “noise” from competing interests. Our end user customers wanted to protect the health and safety of their employees when the pandemic hit. Employment laws prohibit recording video in break rooms, for example, when those were the areas with high risk of COVID-19 transmission! Both the employees and employers wanted to mitigate that risk with Camio social distancing and mask detection. We focused on the good outcome first, then followed up on any HR agreements that needed revision.
  2. Paint a very clear picture of how you are changing someone’s life. Clearly articulate a before-and-after scenario. Illuminate with clarity the change and capability you’re trying to produce. For example, people were overwhelmed at the start of the pandemic. Giving people working in essential services the confidence that COVID-19 transmission hotspots could be identified and remediated automatically using their existing security cameras — before outbreaks happened — was a big part of returning to work safely.
  3. Ship early and often. Teams learn most from actual usage. With SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) in particular, you need early user feedback for learnings to improve your product. That way, you avoid optimizing unimportant things and missing important things. The very first version of Camio didn’t even play video! And it’s a video product! People wanted the event summaries and alerts without caring as much about video playback. That insight helped us focus on the AI and search engine indexing for the fastest time-to-result — which continues to be a key reason people choose Camio.
  4. Think people before projects. People matter more than the projects. The whole team loved a phenomenally productive software engineer that contributed a ton to Camio in its first four years. But he was a PhD Physicist that had always loved the possibility of space travel. He joined SpaceX when we still needed him badly. But we continue to help each other, and our paths will cross again.
  5. Stay curious. Falling in love with your first product, or even business assumptions, can be dangerous as it creates resistance to change. The marketplace tells you what it needs eventually. Camio started as a consumer company that enabled old phones and tablets to become free remote video monitoring cameras. That jump started our video processing pipeline with 50,000 pet parents. But the market quickly led us to solve critical health and safety issues worldwide using the security cameras that were already in place.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

Do work that doesn’t feel like work. Pick something that’s big and ambitious, and that demands your curiosity. Then you’ll have the passion and the fortitude to create products that can change people’s lives, and ultimately, the world.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Peter Gabriel. I love his music, but I’m also eager to learn from his experience with his organization named Witness. When you see families huddled along the fence of an airport runway only because that’s the only place they’re seen to avoid mass killings, it makes you think deeply about the ways transparency enables justice.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Visit Camio and follow Camio.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.


Social Impact Tech: Carter Maslan of Camio On How Their Technology Will Make An Important Positive… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Social Impact Tech: Raghu Gollamudi of Included On How Their Technology Will Make An Important…

Social Impact Tech: Raghu Gollamudi of Included On How Their Technology Will Make An Important Positive Impact

An Interview With Jilea Hemmings

The main issue we are solving is helping companies prioritize DEI data and equity practices so that they reduce their cost per hire and increase the speed of time-to-hire. Our customers are looking at our creative approach as an enabler to their cause. So not only are we helping organizations create job opportunities, but we are helping them fill those roles, and keep the quality talent from walking out the door after they’ve invested time and money into training them.

In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact”. We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Raghu Gollamudi.

What happens when a Chief Technology Officer tackles the issue of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI)? This is exactly what Raghu Gollamudi, CEO of Included.ai has been doing. As an expert in software development, big data, and process improvement, he is bringing engineering technology and frameworks to a typically political conversation in order to help companies hire, promote and retain a more robustly diverse workforce. Prior to Included, Raghu acted as CTO & co-founder at two successful SaaS startups in the US, Integris and Shippable. As CEO at Included, Raghu is on a mission to prove that DEI isn’t a tax, PR issue, or feel-good checkbox, but an opportunity to build more competitive businesses.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?

I came from a humble background, growing up in India, where family is very important. My mother was a school teacher, so she loved to share knowledge. My dad was an absolute go-getter in his corporate career. I really feel like I got a healthy mix of both personality types that can be drawn to my success today, as I’ve always been very independent and curious.

I was always a builder, I loved to create things and be self-sufficient. In fact, when I was a teenager my uncle in the US sent me a Walkman. I loved it, but I really wanted the volume to be louder, so while my dad was out at work I hotwired the Walkman to our family TV. I was right, it was loud and it was awesome, but long story short I blew out the fuse on the TV and my dad was furious. I wanted to make it up to him, so I walked myself all the way into town, convinced the TV repairman to take me as an apprentice and learned how to fix the TV myself. That gives you a taste of the type of person I’ve been since the beginning.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My wife is one of the biggest inspirations in my life. She supports me, but she also runs a business of her own, and she’s great at it. She works in a very male-dominated industry, and it’s inspiring to watch her break barriers, and share ideas with each other on how we can both improve. She keeps me grounded, and I’m forever thankful to have her.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I’ve always been a big believer in “You reap what you sow.” My parents taught me the value of hard work from a very young age. This quote also really emphasizes that good things take time. When you plant something, it doesn’t just sprout overnight, it takes time to consistently grow whatever it is you are working towards, so stick with it and never give up.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

  1. Relentless — For me, relentless is an understatement. When I see a problem, I want to fix it, and I want to fix it well. I want to create solutions with deep purpose, and a relentless work ethic has led me to create three successful software solutions that are making an impact in various industries.
  2. Creative — I enjoy problem-solving. But beyond that, I want to solve problems in ways that haven’t been done before. We are living in a time where technology can really work in our favor if we allow it, and leverage it to do amazing things. That was really the idea behind my current company, Included. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) have always been an issue within organizations, but there has never been a technological solution out there to solve it, thus prompting me to go after this idea.
  3. Building Great Teams — One of the best parts of leading companies is building your own teams. I’ve benefited from incredible teams creating outstanding solutions that bring new ideas to life. And throughout my career, I’ve seen that as humans we accomplish so much more when we pull together.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the tech tools that you are helping to create that can make a positive social impact on our society. To begin, what problems are you aiming to solve?

The main issue we are solving is helping companies prioritize DEI data and equity practices so that they reduce their cost per hire and increase the speed of time-to-hire. Our customers are looking at our creative approach as an enabler to their cause. So not only are we helping organizations create job opportunities, but we are helping them fill those roles, and keep the quality talent from walking out the door after they’ve invested time and money into training them.

How do you think your technology can address this?

Included is an AI powered platform that gives companies the information they need to create an equitable and inclusive hiring process. We use data to identify specific areas where businesses can take further action to remove any potential roadblock from accomplishing this goal, and we define the steps that can be taken to create improvement. It is the first DEI tech solution for corporations striving to be people-first in every aspect of their business.

How it works is our AI based DEI recruitment engine alerts the right person within an organization, at the right time to apply proactive measures that target the precise stage, org, team, and/or stakeholders surrounding key areas of drop off by underrepresented groups within the diversity recruiting funnel. To date, Included has analyzed over tens of millions of scenarios and our customers have uncovered an average of 496 bias and DEI process problems instantly with customized data and actionable steps.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

In my personal career I saw that DEI was prioritized for whatever the length of a training video was. I would leave that training feeling inspired and impacted, but then that was it. There was never a follow up from that point on. No active measurements that I saw organizations taking to keep quality talent of diverse backgrounds in their organizations. So in order for DEI to truly be prioritized within an organization and make an impact, it must be beyond the initial onboarding.

As someone who is naturally drawn to problem-solving, I’ve created and built solutions for other areas of the business in need of efficiency, velocity, and quality improvement primarily within the Engineering department since that is where I have been a leader and am originally trained. At my previous company Integris for example, I architected a big data solution for enterprise-level data privacy. Similar to the people and demographic data challenges in the DEI space — data privacy solutions had to address an overwhelming amount of data with safe and sophisticated ways of organizing and reporting out that information.

When I first brought up the idea of applying engineering leadership and methodologies to people data for DEI with my co-founders Chandan Golla and Laura Close, they were very intrigued and that’s when the discussions of what value we might be able to create really began.

How do you think this might change the world?

The bottom line is a diverse workforce means better services and products created for a wide customer base range, equaling more money in business’ pockets. Quality sourcing efforts to bring in diverse hires will enhance company culture, lower hiring costs, and improve overall retention. And best of all, it creates more job opportunities and allows others to gain a broader perspective.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

Many potential customers can’t fathom just how technology can solve a problem as complex as DEI, because we are the first solution to even address it. People wonder about ROI and how long it’s going to take to see tangible results, To that I say, speak with our early adopter customers. They are over the moon about the demographic trends and areas of opportunity we were able to instantly surface once Included integrated with their ATS. This was information they didn’t have, even with full-time diversity leadership, specialized recruiters and people analysts.

Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”? (Please share a story or an example, for each.)

  1. Identify your passions and let that drive you — This looks different for everyone, but for me, it was my passion for people, and seeing others succeed. As an immigrant to the US I’ve had to work hard for every one of my achievements. Very hard. And it bothers me that women, people of color, black and brown communities in the US, LGBTQIA+ and many other communities are working just as hard or more and experiencing barriers to success that are unrelated to their hard work and creativity. I know what the drive to succeed feels like and as a people and engineering leader, you’re always focused on unblocking as many high performers as you can. That’s my passion.
  2. Never underestimate the power of research — You might have identified a problem that you are passionate about, but sadly that’s not enough to build your case. Do your due diligence and take the time to research how others experience this problem and what the economic impact of the problem is. It will help you build your case for your sales and marketing efforts down the road, and you will thank yourself for that data. Statistics will always talk and be the driving force of your “why”.
  3. Set small tangible goals for quick wins — Rather than one big launch to work towards, break down your work into small increments. This way it’s not so overwhelming, and you can allow yourself to enjoy the process.
  4. Consistently go back to your “why” — I go back to our customer stories and scenarios all of the time we’re talking to CEOs, and heads of Diversity, Talent Acquisition, and HR who want to grow diversity recruitment and retention they just are operating in the dark and it’s frustrating. It’s easy to get lost in the day-to-day grind of building a business and product, that you can easily lose your why. Revisit it constantly, especially on the bad days. It’s critical to remember why you are doing this in the first place.
  5. Never get complacent — So you’ve created a successful product, that’s amazing! Now what’s the future of that product? How can you adapt it to the needs of customers in five years, even ten? Never stop looking for opportunities where you can make even more of an impact.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

Everyone brings value…everyone. It doesn’t matter their background or the color of their skin, gender, sexuality, ability or anything else. Differences are what have led us to incredible breakthroughs in our society, technologies, and policies. Your unique differences can be the reason for a breakthrough so raise your voice, share your perspective and be proud of the ways in which you add value.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would have to go with the Dalai Lama. He really values peace and unity, and he stands up for what he believes in whole-heartedly, he never gave up, which is something I really admire.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Included_AI

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/includedatwork/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/IncludedAtWork

Website: https://included.ai/

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.

About the Interviewer: Jilea Hemmings is a staunch believer in the power of entrepreneurship. A successful career revamping Fortune 500 companies was not enough for her entrepreneurial spirit, so Jilea began focusing her passion in startups. She has successfully built 6 startups to date. Her passion for entrepreneurship continues to flourish with the development of Stretchy Hair Care, focusing on relieving the pain associated with detangling and styling natural black hair. For far too long, people with tender heads have suffered in pain. Until now.


Social Impact Tech: Raghu Gollamudi of Included On How Their Technology Will Make An Important… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Thomas Owens of MENTOR Newark Is Helping To Change Our World

Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Thomas Owens of MENTOR Newark Is Helping To Change Our World

Plan as if it’s going to happen until it doesn’t — I learned this from my board chair when we were planning our annual charity golf outing, our biggest fundraiser of the year. We were going back and forth about whether to postpone or cancel because of the pandemic. The board chair’s advice was simple: “Plan as if you are doing it, until you can’t.” Don’t water down your enthusiasm concerning yourself with what might or might not happen. This great lesson eliminated a lot of the hesitation from our planning process.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Thomas Owens.

Thomas Owens is the Executive Director of MENTOR Newark (formerly Newark Mentoring Movement) the New Jersey affiliate of MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership. An experienced leader, innovative program/partnerships director with demonstrated success leading the creation of powerful collaborative solutions in the areas of urban education and not-for-profit organizations. Thomas spearheads the strategic planning and growth efforts of MENTOR Newark in partnership with local stakeholders including Newark Board of Education, philanthropic partners, non-profit organizations, corporate partners and government agencies. Prior to MENTOR Newark Thomas was one of the founders of the Eagle Academy for Young Men of Newark in Newark, NJ and launched the Global Peace Ambassadors, a global initiative partnering Newark youth with youth in Belfast, Northern Ireland. His mission is to grow exciting, relevant and sustainable mentoring experiences for youth in Newark (and the state of New Jersey.)

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I grew up in Hempstead, New York (Long Island) with my dad, mom and two brothers. I was a middle child in a very supportive family where education was not an option. My mom was a school librarian and dad worked for the New York City Housing Authority. His team was responsible for creating NYCHA’s first tenant associations and tenant patrols. Their work became the model for housing authorities around the world. One of my earliest memories was riding with my father after work to various tenant association meetings and events in housing projects all over New York’s five boroughs. This meant spending many hours in project basements meeting with tenant leaders and tenants around the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and even Staten Island. I was fascinated by this and knew my way around all of the boroughs by the time I was 13. This was a big influence on my professional life. I learned early the importance of having an authentic relationship with the people you want to serve.

Another pillar in my life was the HBCU (Historically Black College/University) experience. I started at Morehouse College in Atlanta and after a small detour (it’s a long story) graduated from Benedict College in Columbia South Carolina. The history, legacy (both of my parents graduated from HBCUs) and supportive network that comes with being an HBCU alum has had a major impact on my early development and my current success.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My mother in law, Rev Dr. Carolyn Holloway, taught me one of my most important leadership quotes. She warned me that sometimes in my leadership journey I may lose the plot, get caught up in the politics of the work, and even become unsure about my purpose and mission. In those moments she taught me to refer back to this quote: ”When in doubt, love the people.”

The work we do is about the people we serve. Stay focused on the people.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

One of the many books that has influenced my journey is The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. Key among the many lessons in that book is the idea that when you are operating in your true purpose “the universe will conspire in your success.” Put simply, when you are walking in your purpose, you notice that the things you need most to achieve your goals appear.

I remember when a group of students at Eagle Academy for Young Men of Newark challenged me to create an experience that would really blow them away. I decided upon an international trip to Northern Ireland for 16 of our students. We had never taken any students on an international trip before, nor did we have it in the budget. All we had was purpose and a strong belief that this trip could be a game changer. With my partner in Northern Ireland, we plotted this experience over the next 18 months. After turning us down once before, we received word from the US Consulate in Belfast, Northern Ireland that they would provide 90% of the funding. Our partners in NI, provided the remaining funding.

We got a big send off from the local school district and the Mayor of Newark and these students made history! It all came full circle for me when I was standing on the Northern Irish shore looking at the Atlantic Ocean with one of our students. I was rattling on about what our next big project would be and I wasn’t sure if he was listening to me. I asked him, “Are you with me? Do you think we can do it?” His response caught me off guard. He said, “Mr. Owens, I am a kid from Newark, New Jersey standing with you right now on the other side of the world, I believe anything you say.” That was an important life lesson for me. In the interest of youth, everything is possible.

When youth recognize commitment from the adults/mentors around them, they are empowered. Like the verse in Marianne Williamson’s famous poem, “Our Deepest Fear,” says, “And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we’re liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?

In the years leading up to the pandemic I was the deputy director of a non-profit organization in New York, then the Executive Director of a community based organization in Long Beach, NY. In 2007, I moved to Newark and launched the Mentoring Success Center @Communities in Schools of New Jersey. The next step was the creation of the Great Expectations Freedom School, the first all male Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School Summer program in the nation. This led to becoming one of the founders of the Eagle Academy for Young Men of Newark, the first and only all male traditional public school in the city of Newark. In 2019 I left Eagle and became the Executive Director of Newark Mentoring Movement (now MENTOR Newark).

What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?

In Fall 2019, I started my job as the Executive Director of the Newark Mentoring Movement. I knew immediately I wanted to transform the organization. Specifically, I wanted to focus on three main tasks: becoming more relevant and responsive to the local mentoring organization that we serve, aligning ourselves with the work and mission of MENTOR National, and creating a sustainable working partnership with the Newark Board of Education.

In the beginning of the pandemic I recognized that if the organization was going to survive and grow we had to become more agile and prepared to pivot. In retrospect before the actual pivot we had to adopt a more lean mindset that would allow future flexibility as well. I look at this like an athlete. Before you can run or jump, you have to train. Mental conditioning and preparation is required before you can successfully pivot.

Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?

A watershed moment for me was reading an article by Indian writer Arundhati Roy. In the article she speaks about being prepared to “imagine a new world and fight for it.” She writes that, “Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.” This article starkly reminded me about the danger of returning to normal. In essence, normal is how we got here. This idea has influenced every decision I have made during the pandemic.

How are things going with this new initiative?

It has been an exciting and challenging time. There have been moments when we were anxious, unsure, and uncomfortable. Particularly during those times I have embraced the fact that this is what growth and change feels like. We share that with the organization leaders and students we work with. If you are comfortable in your work, you probably aren’t growing. This approach has opened doors for our organization, leading to exciting business and funding opportunities.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Aside from my parents who provided the ultimate support, I think about one of my mentors Reverend Alphonso Wyatt. Early in my career Rev. Wyatt saw what I wanted to do and took me under his wing. The first thing he did was advise me to enroll in the Columbia University Business School Institute for Not for Profit Management. In his words, “It’s not enough to do good. You have to LEARN how to do good WELL.” That experience completely changed my approach to non-profit work and provided me with a much more sophisticated tool kit.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?

My most interesting story occurred at a point when I received confirmation that I was on the right path. The source of this confirmation was a high school student. In a virtual town hall about the impact of the pandemic on Newark high school students, one student shared that the “best” thing about the pandemic was that she would be returning to school with a “clean slate.” It would be a new beginning where virtual learning and other innovations are the norm. She was excited to embrace a new, less concrete normal. The biggest threat to her excitement was that so many school administrators and educators were saying, “I can’t wait to get back to normal.” These dissenting points of view on what post-pandemic life looks like, create issues with school culture and the trusting relationship between students and educators. As mentoring leaders, we will continue to embrace an innovative strategy that is willing to pivot when necessary to serve the genuine interest of our youth.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. You can’t do it all — I learned early on that with growth comes more work and the Executive Director cannot do it all. You need a like-minded, devoted and talented team. Building this type of team is a lot more challenging than it seems. This is an area where I am still developing.
  2. Embrace your board — Active, engaged, and financially supportive board members are the most sought after but not enough is said about the cultivation and management of an active board. The relationships with your board members cannot simply be transactional. They must be honest relationships that are intentional and developed with integrity. This process is challenging and takes substantial time, but is crucial for the development of your business.
  3. Do what you do well and get help with what you don’t do well. — Simple example: if you are not good with numbers, hire an accountant. If you have no sense of design, hire a marketing person or a graphic designer. Don’t limit your reach on social media because YOU don’t do Instagram- find someone to help.
  4. Self care is essential. -Take days off. The work will always be there. Be intentional about your own health and well being. Personally, I am working on this one.
  5. Plan as if it’s going to happen until it doesn’t — I learned this from my board chair when we were planning our annual charity golf outing, our biggest fundraiser of the year. We were going back and forth about whether to postpone or cancel because of the pandemic. The board chair’s advice was simple: “Plan as if you are doing it, until you can’t.” Don’t water down your enthusiasm concerning yourself with what might or might not happen. This great lesson eliminated a lot of the hesitation from our planning process.

So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?

My primary strategies have included intentionally monitoring the amount of news and television I ingest each day. The constant bombardment of troubling news is mentally detrimental. The saving grace has been my piano. Just before the pandemic lockdown began I purchased a piano and set up a small music studio in my home. I began to learn songs that I wanted to learn for years and gave up on. In the last 18 months I have learned over 60 songs.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I would inspire a movement centered around realizing that the path of greed and self aggrandizement that has been successfully marketed to us is bankrupt. This is a moment to restore our humanity, care for our friends and neighbors, and create solutions that impact the lives of others. We have an upsetting habit of monetizing everything. I remember being in a meeting when someone proposed that the local performing arts center provide students with free piano lessons. A number of people chimed in, “Yeah. They can learn to produce music.” “They can write jingles. There is a lot of money in jingles.” “Or they could teach music, That’s a great career.” I remember saying to the group, “Or they could simply learn to play the piano because it’s a beautiful instrument and music enriches lives.” As Arundhati Roy says, “And in the midst of this terrible despair, it [the pandemic] offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality.”

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!

As a proud graduate of South Carolina HBCU Benedict College I am so proud of all the work our president and CEO Roslyn Clark Artis, JD, EdD has done to grow the legacy and reach of Benedict. I would love to have lunch with her and discuss what I can do to help the students of my alma mater.

How can our readers follow you online?

Follow our work at https://www.newarkmentoring.org/ and look for MENTOR Newark on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. MENTOR Newark is the New Jersey affiliate of MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!


Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Thomas Owens of MENTOR Newark Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Social Impact Authors: How & Why Will Joslin of Joslin Book Enterprises Is Helping To Change Our…

Social Impact Authors: How & Why Will Joslin of Joslin Book Enterprises Is Helping To Change Our World

An Interview With Edward Sylvan

While researching the book, I met a young man who was a history major. He knew of Major Coker and volunteered to help me with a bit of the research. Later, I asked him to be one of my manuscript readers. Afterward, he said our meeting was providential, that the book’s full story of Major Coker inspired his life and faith, opened his eyes to his own potential for service, and enlarged his vision of his life’s purpose. That made me so happy — that’s why I wrote the book!

As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Will Joslin.

Will Joslin was a self-described hedonist as a pre-law student at UNC-Chapel Hill. After a dramatic Christian conversion, his life trajectory changed. Accepted into law school, instead, he chose full-time ministry for 17 years. Afterward, he spent 25 years in business, mainly running his own IT consulting company, Joslin Computer Solutions, before recently starting another business, Joslin Book Enterprises. He and his wife Becky still minister part-time as he concentrates on writing. Aside from ministry and entrepreneurship, Will has taught leadership, led men’s groups, mentored young men, black and white, and coached basketball and golf. He is a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, has a Master of Theology from Dallas Theological Seminary, and has earned an online Doctor of Sacred Literature (D. S. Lit.) from Wycliffe Theological Seminary. Will enjoys golf, swimming, and sailing.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I grew up in Raleigh, NC. My parents were high character people, and, as a boy, I especially admired my father, who was a big supporter of President Kennedy. I’m six years old when President Kennedy is shot, and the whole country is reeling. Many of you weren’t born then, and to you I’d say the devastating magnitude of it felt like the worst days of Covid, condensed down to one intensely negative event. A few days after the assassination, I’m with my Dad watching the President’s funeral on TV, and JFK’s two-year-old John Jr., with tears streaming down his face, salutes his father’s casket. At that point, my dear father was shaken to the core. He cried out with such a tearful moan of hopelessness and despair that, for the first time in my life, I felt sorry for him. At that moment he looked like he lost faith that God was in control of the world.

This event was a turning point for me because then I realized that, as much as I loved my father, I needed to look beyond his horizons to find God. Because even at age six, deep down I knew that faith in the living God, whom I believed existed, would enable someone to overcome JFK’s death. So I began searching for transcendent meaning — at first, subconsciously, then consciously. By my late teens, I was desperate for answers.

I went to college in the turbulent early ’70s, and my search was unfulfilled. I got to the point where I had no reason to study or even to live. I acted happily and partied hard, I but I was desperate inside, still searching for God. I needed hope, a life vision, and a mentor to show me what genuine faith and an honorable life looked like. As a freshman, I went to a guidance counselor at UNC and said: “I have no idea who I am, why I exist, or what will happen when I die. If I can’t answer these bigger questions, how am I supposed to know what subject to major in?” He thought for a moment and answered: “Well, Will — you come by it honestly — nobody really knows who they are or why they exist; don’t worry about it.”

What!? Nobody knows why they exist, and “don’t worry about it?” Well, I WAS worried about it. So with one of my first sincere prayers, I asked God to reveal Himself to me. He graciously answered a year and a half later when I came to know Christ personally, the greatest thing that ever happened to me.

So I had a glorious new hope, but there were still obstacles. I wanted to translate my new faith into a productive life that reflected the goodness of God and helped others find this great hope but didn’t know-how. I needed a mentor. The irony is that the whole time, the answers I so desperately sought were found in my own family tree, in the life of my great grandfather, Major James Lide Coker!

Well, Major Coker also came to know Christ in college — at the Citadel, and after maturing through fiery trials in the Civil War, he bravely shined out his faith in a grand life of and business and spiritual service that inspired and uplifted everyone who knew him. THE POINT IS- THE MAJOR’S LIFE AND PRINCIPLES ARE JUST WHAT I NEEDED BACK THEN — AND THIS BOOK IS WHAT I FEEL CAN HELP SO MANY NOW!

When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?

Books about leadership, adventure and courage, such as JFK’s heroics in John F. Kennedy and the PT-109, and books on the Wright Brothers and their painstaking, victorious quest to invent the airplane against all odds. But the one that began to help me in my search was Run, Baby Run, by former Harlem Gang Leader Nicky Cruz.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

When I was a young pastor, I visited a young couple who had recently joined the church. We were having a good conversation about their backgrounds, and I asked the wife what her father did for a living. She said he worked for the NC Department of Transportation. I asked what he did for the DOT and she said he moved dead animals out of the road. I instantaneously laughed out loud. Immediately realizing my faux pas, I apologized profusely for being so rude. She said she forgave me, and I think she was sincere, but that prideful act taught me that I wasn’t as humble or as down to earth as I needed to be, and that I had to grow in humility of character if I were going to serve God and people effectively. Really, I think all of life is supposed to be about growing in humility — and character.

Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?

Author Patrick Morley well described the social need I’m trying to remedy by revealing Major Coker’s life in the book:

Our society is trying to tip the scales away from Judeo-Christian values to individual rights. Focus on personal peace and affluence has largely replaced deeply held, self-sacrificing convictions and the resulting community-building causes which benefit the human condition.

Many people today don’t realize until it’s too late that their selfishness not only diminishes themselves, their families, and their communities, but ultimately just makes them miserable. I wrote this book to offer a sterling model of someone who joyously lived for others and for causes higher than himself, and was still incredibly successful. Major Coker shared profits with his workers and looked out for them. In his enterprises, he sought ways to empower and prosper all faithful employees, not just the ones in the boardroom. He also provided spiritual, and educational leadership to his entire region. As he blessed others, he was blessed. We need to know about this man, learn from him, and redeem people and society the way he did. I think we all need heroes and that those who say there are no heroes don’t know where to look. While not perfect, the life of Major James Lide Coker of Hartsville, South Carolina can inspire anyone!

Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

Young James Coker matured rapidly through fiery trials in the Civil War. His left leg was almost shot off at the Battle of Lookout Mountain. He became delirious with fever, and three doctors told him he should have died. But by his Christian faith and courage, he not only survived not only his injury but lived through ten more months as a Yankee prisoner of war.

He came home to northeastern South Carolina only to find that Sherman’s men had burnt everyone’s crops in the region and that his own farm was in shambles well how would we react?

Undaunted, the Major grabbed a crutch in one hand and a hoe in the other and went right out and planted 60 acres of cotton and restored the fortunes of his farm. As a master entrepreneur and consummate leader, he wasn’t done. Over the next several decades he went on and founded 20 highly successful businesses and industries and became the wealthiest men in his state. All the while, his intended to uplift the prosperity of everyone else in the region with his own, and he did just that by providing gainful employment for blacks and whites who desperately needed help after the war. The Major also led spiritually, educationally and in racial progress after the war.

What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?

My mother was a Coker from Hartsville, SC. On a visit south to my grandmother, Miss May Coker, in about 1969, I distinctly remember exploring the streets of Hartsville with my brother David. We could not help but notice Coker College, then the Coker Department Store, and a little farther, the Coker Pedigreed Seed Company. The huge Sonoco Products plant was a few blocks away, founded by our great grandfather, Major Coker. As we absorbed the cumulative impact, my brother and I looked at each other with amazement, wondering how our ancestors had accomplished so much. There was also a challenge — that we in turn live useful lives.

Miss May died in 1976, and the Hartsville memories receded as my wife Becky and I raised three children, and served in ministry and business for over 40 years. Then it happened. Early one morning in June of 2018, just before waking from a restful night’s sleep in Raleigh, I had a stark and compelling dream. I was back in the 1960s, walking the streets of Hartsville with my brother. Suddenly that old aura was magnified a thousand times. A burning curiosity to investigate these fascinating roots, and a consuming desire to rise up and be a faithful conduit of Major Coker’s legacy, ignited in a flash that burned into my brain. When I greeted my wife Becky a few minutes later, I told her that something transcendent — a “God moment” — had just happened.

I believed God was calling me to undertake an important work: to get to the fountainhead of the river of Coker accomplishment. I realized that such an undertaking would mean carefully searching out the history and legacy of my great grandfather, Major James Lide Coker.

Usually, I don’t make much out of dreams, but in this case, the compulsion in the dream was grounded in scripture — specifically, the example of Luke being called to document history. I would never claim inspiration in the same sense that it came to the writers of the Bible. However, I think I felt like Luke did when he opened his gospel with these words: “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us … I too decided to write an orderly account… so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught” (from Luke 1:1–4 NIV). I had to write this book.

Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

While researching the book, I met a young man who was a history major. He knew of Major Coker and volunteered to help me with a bit of the research. Later, I asked him to be one of my manuscript readers. Afterward, he said our meeting was providential, that the book’s full story of Major Coker inspired his life and faith, opened his eyes to his own potential for service, and enlarged his vision of his life’s purpose. That made me so happy — that’s why I wrote the book!

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

  1. If you train a cannibal to eat with a fork, knife, and napkin, he is still depraved. So, beyond the high tech skills, train young people in faith and character, not just a craft. English statesman Francis Bacon said knowledge is power, but Major Coker’s perspective was that knowledge is the power to help people. That’s just what he did with his schools and business ethics — he uplifted the civility of each individual and the whole culture. In his schools they taught these same timeless principles from the book of Proverbs: The generous man will be prosperous, And he who waters will himself be watered. (Prov. 11:25). Ill-gotten gains do not profit, but righteousness delivers from death (Prov.10:2).
  2. Regardless of one’s course of study, a required part of college training should be that each student should run their own business for at least a year. Some initial seed money might be provided, but ultimately, the profits or losses should be the student’s to gain or lose. The practical life and service lessons learned from that experience are worth more than 100 classroom lectures.
  3. Supplementing PE classes, Colleges should require four years of exercise like swimming, running, soccer, or some kind of physical fitness for all able-bodied students, not just “athletes.” President Kennedy said: “Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, itis the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity.” This regular physical training should be customized according to each student’s abilities and capacities, but it should be required, perhaps in conjunction with a friend who is a mutual accountability partner. Even some handicapped students could have a customized plan within their capabilities. Unbelievably, Major Coker, even with his shattered femur, set aside time for vigorous exercise — walking briskly on one leg and a crutch. This discipline teaches a most important character principle — to do what’s right even if you don’t feel like it. Most students will see and feel the benefits of exercise, and will likely develop good lifetime fitness habits. Furthermore, exercise goes a long toward curbing depression and improving mental health, as studies have shown.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

The world’s way of thinking about leadership is usually self-centered. Many “leaders” see themselves as above their team, a “big boss” exhibiting authority and power. Or like a big dog that grabs a bone a runs off to horde it all for himself. The truth is quite the opposite — leadership is about building grassroots relationships by knowing and serving others first. As John Maxwell says, leadership is not position, but building trust and influence. That’s what Major Coker did. He was humble and started out first farming on a crutch, then teaching Sunday School, then running a store and multiplying businesses. He built relationships and served the people. They naturally trusted him, and he so he gained leadership influence. Then people didn’t have to think about whether they wanted to work with and follow him — they were attracted. The Major went on to mentor and built other leaders, such as Hartsville, SC’s J.J. Lawton, Josephine Erwin, and others, enabling them to find their best-suited place in his region’s economic and cultural life, and empowered them to go on to help others reach their potential as well. That’s successful leadership.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Find a trustworthy and mature older person, whom you respect, and who shares your values. He or she should also be experienced in your field, or in a related one. Ask them to mentor you (most will say “yes”), and do not be afraid to share your life struggles. Your mentor can help you with perplexing problems at work and home, and with managing ethics and relationships honorably. You can meet either regularly, or just on an as-needed basis. Make it structured enough to be productive, but also flexible and friendly. With your mentor, and in general, don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions, even if you might think it sometimes makes you look ignorant. The payoff in personal growth is worth it a hundred times over. Also, try to give back some, and thoughtfully encourage your mentor.
  2. If you are married, honor your relationship with your mate, and put in the thought, creativity, and time it takes to let them know that you continually love them. I strongly believe it’s best not to check work emails or take work calls at home after 6:00. Your correspondents and colleagues will adjust to your habits, so watch your precedents, and set your boundaries upfront. And if you realize you’re beginning to drift from your mate or family — don’t blame work or temptation! Own up and blame yourself, and fix it! If this means changing departments, locations, or getting a little less pay, so be it.
  3. Learn from people who have a better computer and/or social media skills than you do. Ask questions and remember the answers. And don’t forget that you can look up your computer or software problems on Google — often that’s all you’ll need to conquer a problem. If your work training and Google searches still prove to be inadequate for you to perform well with technology, by all means, get private tutoring in specific areas. Hire someone who forces you to learn. I’ve done this to improve my social media skills, and it’s really paid off.
  4. If you stand for faith, character, and integrity, don’t expect everyone to like you. Remain friendly, but don’t compromise.
  5. Trust that, in time, hard work, clean hands, and the kind of leadership that serves others will be rewarded. Remember that David started as a conscientious shepherd, and became the king of Israel. Major Coker started as a farmer on a crutch and became the wealthiest man in his state.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

A reasonable quote that comes to mind is “Yard by yard — it’s hard, but inch by inch — it’s a cinch.” Break down a large task into small daily goals and put in the honest effort each day. Progressing in this manner has helped me accomplish things that seemed impossible at first, such as starting two businesses, earning my doctorate, and writing this book. Part of it is that when you are faithful in the little things, you get more and more skilled as you go along, and one day, you realize your abilities have increased exponentially. You suddenly believe: “I can do this,” and you can!

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Leadership expert John Maxwell. I would like to talk to him about how to engage and build young leaders of faith and integrity, and to change America. In other words, how to reproduce sterling macro-leaders like Major Coker today to help lead our society out of its present funk. We desperately need a renaissance in character, creativity, and redemptive social leadership. If John Maxwell didn’t work out, it would be NC Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

My author's website is www.willjoslin.com. There is a lot there, including book discussion questions that raise it from a book to a course in entrepreneurship, character development, and history. There is also a link to purchase the book and a tab to contact me, the author, directly.

And exciting YouTube video series on Major Coker and the book may be found at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCkPeAgLHJ9qdsYEIiXnqnJQ/videos

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!


Social Impact Authors: How & Why Will Joslin of Joslin Book Enterprises Is Helping To Change Our… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Young Change Makers: Why and How Alexla Perez Sanchez Is Helping To Change Our World

An Interview With Penny Bauder

Recognize that not everyone is going to be as passionate as you about your mission. I found out quickly that not everyone wants to speak about representation or inclusion ALL of the time (if at all to begin with). But it’s important to keep people informed about what you are trying to do. Make it easy for learning to happen by providing resources.

As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alexla Perez Sanchez.

Being a part of a community comes with many benefits, but it also comes with challenges. We all hold the same amount of responsibility in making sure that our mountains, rivers, wildlife, and community members are thriving. I hope that through my work, more People of Color, LGBTQ2S+ individuals, and many more folks can fall in love with our home and fight for it.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

I was born in Ciudad Altamirano, Guerrero, but immigrated to the United States when I was three years of age. I grew up in Hendersonville, North Carolina, with my younger brother and older sister. We spent most of our days going to school and playing in the trailer park where we lived. My mother was a single parent mainly working as a housekeeper, but she had many jobs on the side that helped us make ends meet. Thanks to her, we never went without food, water, or shelter, but most importantly: we never went without her love. The majority of my childhood was played out in that trailer park.

Is there a particular book or organization that made a significant impact on you growing up? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

An organization that I feel truly changed my perspective about nature, my community, and myself was Conserving Carolina. They are a non-profit whose mission is to protect, restore, and inspire appreciation of the natural world. I became involved with them through their Summer of Service AmeriCorps Program in 2018. A group of six of us worked on many community-related projects, removed invasive plant species to restore wildlife habitats, and repaired hiking trails.

I adopted many physical skills throughout this program. Still, I think the most impactful skills that I developed were selflessness, mindfulness, and tackling discomfort for the sake of growth. Our mentor and group leader, Tony Beurskens, reminded us every day that there is “beauty in our differences and comfort where they overlap.” I took those words, embedded them into my mind, and placed actions behind them. And as my love for nature grew, my passion in wanting to combine two worlds grew as well. I wanted to find a way to make opportunities for people who looked like me (and didn’t look like me) to interact with nature in a comforting and safe way. Through this passion, I knew folks would discover a way to see the beauty in their differences and find that pocket of comfort (nature) where they overlap.

Almost three years later, Conserving Carolina has created a Communications and Engagement Internship for me. I have led monthly Bilingual Hikes and created Spanish Signage and a Spanish version of their website. We have begun many community projects and connected many POC-focused organizations to our non-profit. We have made incredible leaps in the right direction, and we have been able to educate POC and Spanish-speaking individuals about the outdoors while supporting ways of developing their new passions.

How do you define “Making A Difference”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Making a Difference is helping someone, something, or a group of people do right.

In class, at work, in the grocery store, I have found myself speaking out about the lack of accountability or recognition that people should be giving. My voice shakes, and I find myself shifting around, but I feel it is important to speak my mind. I believe it is my responsibility to hold my community accountable to the standards that I hold myself to.

I was nervous about coming into an internship that would require me to point out the “lacking” in areas and to have uncomfortable conversations with participants or staff about why my involvement in the organization and community was valid and necessary. I have been fortunate to receive acceptance and support from Conserving Carolina, and I feel appreciation for this organization that believes wholeheartedly in my work. However, there are still moments that require me to spotlight comments or actions that I believe the organization should stand against. Metaphorically speaking, sometimes that spotlight gets a little too “heavy” or “hot,” but I am prepared to keep this light shining until we see continued positive change.

OK super. Let’s now jump to the main part of our interview. You are currently leading an organization that aims to make a social impact. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?

Through this internship, we are looking to open the opportunities of engagement, inclusion, and true representation of People of Color that will help spark a passion regarding nature, conservation, sustainability, and community. We can create safe spaces to help educate and inform individuals about the outdoors and inspire change.

It’s easy to want to shy away from taking steps in a new direction when you have little knowledge about the goal that you are trying to work towards. Climate Change and additional environmental and social issues are hard to fix when we all feel divided and distanced. I come to work every day and put my all into this internship because nature is a way for us to connect. My goal is to find and share respect and love for one another, with the hope that as a community, we can start fixing the injuries that we have caused to our home, the Earth. And, hopefully, along the way we can also begin acknowledging and healing the injuries that we have caused to each other.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

My mother tried really hard to take us on “small family field trips” focused on the outdoors, but we would never know where to go. After a couple of years, my mother found out about the Carl Sandburg Home and heard that it was a great place for us to walk. However, when we arrived, we didn’t get very far. We quickly realized that all of the signage was in English, and as a Spanish-speaking family, we had no idea where to go. Regardless, we tried walking a little farther in but again turned back because my mother was suffering from severe back issues due to working long hours all week.

This moment, in particular, seems like a core memory to me. For the rest of my teenage years, I thought about how many families were left out from exploring nature due to the lack of non-English signage. Or even how many English-understanding families felt underprepared because they have never been offered materials to learn about Hiking Rules or Outdoor Safety? I knew that I could not have been the only one feeling excluded. So, later when I joined Summer of Service, I was given tools that I knew could offer solutions to this. With my hard work and dedication, no one else would have to turn back at the Trail Head.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

My “Aha Moment” came with one of the Summer of Service group hikes in 2018 with Hendersonville’s AIM Club. At the time, the Migrant Program in Henderson County led AIM Club dedicated to offering different experiences and opportunities to Students of Color. I remember that the majority of the students at this hike were just like me. Their hiking experiences could be counted on one hand because of the lack of opportunities offered to individuals and groups that looked like them. We had conversations about how many of our parents never took us hiking because we didn’t know where to look or how to do it. And that’s when it hit me! I wasn’t alone! I was not the only one who had to turn back!

That hike was phenomenal! We hiked a trail on Bearwallow Mountain that Conserving Carolina had protected, and everyone kept mentioning how great of an experience this was for them. The happiness was contagious. And once the hike ended, I knew that this was the moment that would solidify my suspicions and fuel my passion for fixing the issue.

Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?

I have been repeatedly told that my attitude and energy stay in a room long after leaving. So, I would say: lead yourself with the best part of your heart and soul. Someone will always want to hear your ideas, and the skills that you have are needed too. You have so many things to offer. Don’t be afraid to talk to people and follow the path that keeps you interested.

I spoke to so many people in my community and volunteered in different spaces to make sure that I could understand my community from all points of view and fight for those whose voices were limited. So, I guess

I would say:

1- Educate yourself on all aspects of your mission/goal

2- Talk to everyone and anyone. Hear their story.

3- Go forward with good intentions

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

In one of the bilingual hikes where we focused on identifying invasive plant species, my mother attended, and she said, “I never knew that plants are like people. They all look the same to an extent, but when you look close, they all have different attributes that make them unique.”

This moment made me feel so proud of her because her outdoor connection was starting. She felt interested in learning about nature. She was comfortable enough to be able to pay attention. She was beginning to see nature in a more detailed and personal way. It was such a simple statement to her, but to me, it was one of the most beautiful things that I have ever heard her say.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?

I think that the funniest thing was my inability to say no, along with wanting to do it all. I began to feel overwhelmed and found myself spiraling. I realized that you have to stop yourself and prioritize.

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

My mother was my main cheerleader; I would be nothing without her. I owe her my all. But along with her, my brothers and sisters and stepdad were also always there to support and love me. Even my family members in México were cheering me on! It was so cool! I have two mentors outside of my family: Areli Perez-Nava, Jose Manuel Vackero, and Tony Beurskens. Behind their backs, I am consistently referring to them as my “guías espirituales” (spiritual guides) because I hold them so highly in my heart and mind. They’re my heroes.

My supervisors, Rose Jenkins and Ericka Berg, never stopped believing in me and have given me everything and more to make sure that I am happy and can continue my work to the best of my abilities. Also, working so closely with powerful, intelligent, and well-respected women has done phenomenal things to my feminine energy and is the most inspiring. A big thank you to them!

Without saying specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

A young individual had gone to an AIM Club hike with Conserving Carolina and had just moved to this country by himself not very long ago. He had left his family back in his home country and found himself starting a new life here in the United States. He is the personification of kindness and pure joy. We had had many conversations about his experience coming to the US and how he felt being here now. But when we finished that specific hike, the look of happiness and contentment that he had completely knocked the air out of me. He had made friends and had developed joy that came from being present and welcomed. He mentioned how the hike had given him a sense of peace and happiness, along with new knowledge of the outdoors that he had not experienced to that extent in a while.

That right there was worth more than pure gold to me.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

My message to my community is that being part of a community comes with many benefits, but it also comes with challenges. We all hold the same amount of responsibility in making sure that our mountains, rivers, wildlife, and community members are thriving. Step out of your everyday zone and talk to people who look different from you. Help fix the bad that someone else is experiencing. Take part in things that are bigger than you, and get to the root of the problem while holding others accountable. Remember that until we begin to recognize the strengths within our individuality, we will not fully appreciate the Land and all that it has to offer. Once we acknowledge the individual importance of ourselves and others, we will recognize the value of the Land. Or maybe we will be able to look towards the Land to find the significance of ourselves. Because at the end of the day: We come from the Land; the Land is Life.

To our society, I would say that we better start making it a norm to care about things that don’t only involve us. With COVID and consistent injustices happening worldwide, we have seen more to consider than what’s just in front of us. We have to hold ourselves as a collective to higher expectations and lead with good in mind.

And to politicians, I would like to stress the importance of allocating funds to programs like the Migrant Program, which works through the public school system. The individuals who work and volunteer in this program have strength, passion, and intelligence that I have rarely seen anywhere else. They have a right to better resources and deserve support from you, our politicians; it is the government’s responsibility to support them. Do not fail us at the job that has been democratically given to you. People of Color have a right to funds!

And for all communities, societies, and politicians, I extend the message that the responsibility to educate oneself on sustainability and environmental justice/respect, being actively anti-racist, gender equality, indigenous rights, human rights, and basic humanity falls on all three groups!

Fantastic. Here is the main question of the interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each)

5 things that I wish someone told me when I first started:

1. Recognize that not everyone is going to be as passionate as you about your mission. I found out quickly that not everyone wants to speak about representation or inclusion ALL of the time (if at all to begin with). But it’s important to keep people informed about what you are trying to do. Make it easy for learning to happen by providing resources.

2. Keep Learning. Make an effort to never stop learning about what more you can do. Learn about other’s experiences. Keep reading, attending seminars, and listening to others. I have had instances when speaking to others where I learned of a struggle that I had not focused on before. For example, when I hoped to set up more hiking trips with AIM Club, I stumbled across the issue of transportation. Many of the students’ parents cannot drive their children to these hikes due to a lack of transportation or having a driver’s license. I learned that attendance to these hikes came at a cost for many of these parents and students.

3. Put Yourself in a Place of Discomfort for the Sake of Growth. Although I was fortunate to learn this early on, I think that it’s important to recognize and understand what this means. Face a situation

that may be uncomfortable to grow past where you are.

4. Identify the Beauty in Your Differences and Take Comfort in Where They Overlap. Doing this helped me in keeping my faith in the success of the project. If I had not gone on that first AIM hike, I would have continued to think that I was a rare case in missing out from the outdoors all of my life. I found comfort in the fact that I was not alone, and I recognized that there were many differences in how people in my situation can connect with nature and their community.

5. Maintain the Need to Meet New People. There was an entire week and a half when it felt like I was meeting a new person every day! I was excited and having a hard time remembering names, but eventually, I was able to remember everyone and associate them with their organizations. I found that the most success has resulted from collaboration and inclusion of other people and their organizations. For anyone starting a new project, my advice is to keep meeting others! People will consistently be wanting to help you. Accept the help and always offer to help in return.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

We’re here for the long run, so fight for it. Keep your ideas sharp and be consistent. And don’t ever let your age hold you back or silence you because silence is a form of acceptance. Being young means, you have more time to learn new things and make things happen. Passion will always outshine something as minimal as your age.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

My number one hero is Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

After my time serving in AmeriCorps, I would consistently ask myself, “Now what?” I had been given such an amazing opportunity in serving my community and developing myself, but that had come to an end. I had worked hard to receive some scholarships, and I was ready to be the first in my family to attend college and to “become someone.” But there were too many things missing in me, and I couldn’t even pinpoint what they were.

Months later, in 2019, I saw a video of AOC giving a speech during a committee hearing in response to pushback on her climate change policy, the Green New Deal. From the second that video started, I was at a loss for words. Here was an individual who was speaking with every part of their soul.

I could see myself in her. She raised her voice and pointed just like me. She was strong and focused.

The video ended, and I remember thinking, “This is who I need to be — No, this is who I can be.” I changed my major the next day to Political Science.

I don’t ask for much except the opportunity to say Thank You. You made me realize that I am someone, and I can become and develop any version of myself that brings me happiness and strength. This is something that I promise to pay it forward. I send you cool thoughts and warm feelings. Eres mi héroe, mujer poderosa!

How can our readers follow you online?

You can follow Conserving Carolina’s Instagram @conservingcarolina to read a little bit more about how we are continuing our work for inclusion, representation, conservation, sustainability, and education!

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to speak my truth and my heart! I appreciate it!


Young Change Makers: Why and How Alexla Perez Sanchez Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Putting The United Back Into The United States: Mike Henry of Mythic On The 5 Things That Each Of…

Putting The United Back Into The United States: Mike Henry of Mythic On The 5 Things That Each Of Us Can Do To Help Unite Our Polarized Society

An Interview With Tyler Gallagher

Culture eats strategy for breakfast — it’s more than likely that first-time entrepreneurs don’t get the culture quite right from the start and the culture needs to go through a series of iterations as the company scales. Our strategy has been remarkably consistent since day one and has kept us grounded as our company evolves. Don’t get too obsessed with your culture since it may need to change, and don’t every lose sight of the strategy.

As part of our series about 5 Things That Each Of Us Can Do To Help Unite Our Polarized Society, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mike Henry.

Mike Henry is the Co-Founder, CEO and Chairman of Mythic, a venture-backed AI hardware company. He oversees a team split between Austin, TX and Redwood City, CA. Mike formed Mythic while earning his Ph.D in electrical and computer engineering from Virginia Tech.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

I started Mythic out of grad school and I have not worked at any other job, so what is interesting about me is inextricably linked with Mythic. Mythic is the pioneer of analog compute, a new type of computing that is a radical departure from the last five decades of digital computing and will deliver AI that is hundreds of times more powerful than what we know today. We deliver an AI hardware and software platform to customers building amazing products across the range of consumer, enterprise, automotive, industrial, and health care. These customers design AI features running on our hardware that provide transformative benefits to end products.

Very early on, we knew a step change in technology was needed to serve the insatiable and ever-increasing compute demands of artificial intelligence. We believed that analog computing — which had been researched and attempted for many previous decades — was ready for a revival given newer developments in flash, processes, and analog circuits. Over the past seven years, the founding team pushed through many obstacles to set Mythic apart as the foremost pioneer in analog computing for AI.

Dave Fick and I founded Mythic in 2012 while I was at Virginia Tech and he was at the University of Michigan. We were soon joined by founding engineers: Laura Fick, whose Ph.D thesis was the foundational technology for analog compute at high precision on flash arrays; Skylar Skrzyniarz, who made significant contributions to analog compute technology and led modeling efforts; and Malav Parikh, who was the first industry-experienced chip engineer in the company.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

The Aha Moment was when we pivoted to AI in the early years of the company. We were toying with other ideas, and AI was in its infancy, but we were intrigued. We did a simple experiment to create a program to detect the differences between an image of an arrow and an image of three random lines. With classic computer programming techniques, this would have taken a month to perfect. With AI tools, we had a solution in 90 minutes. This is when we realized that the modern AI tools were powerful, generic tools for solving a myriad of data problems and not novelty problems like “is this picture a cat or dog”. Eventually Jeff Dean at Google called this concept “Programming 2.0”. Now, AI is providing a solution for everything from Cybersecurity to Protein Folding, and we’ve only just scratched the surface.

Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?

While the start of our company was an exciting process, what stands out was the pivot from being a small research company to becoming a fast growing venture-backed company, so I’ll focus on that. I have a great executive coach and I’m in a CEO circle with 16 other best-in-class CEOs who run companies across a wide range of industries. This group is the one who routinely tells me to stay in the game. Staying in the game means don’t stop fighting, focus both on the bigger purpose of Mythic, and focus on my own career growth and life goals. That is the inspiration I need to keep going.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We have about 75 competitors with venture funding and about a dozen competitors with more than $50M in venture funding. Additionally, every large tech company is investing a significant amount of money in AI hardware. All of them have taken conventional approaches to solving the challenge of delivering AI to masses. These conventional approaches have already started running out of steam, and you’re seeing a stagnation in the quality and breadth of what AI can deliver in our everyday lives.

Mythic’s analog compute approach is radically different and can deliver improvements to AI at a far faster pace than everyone else.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

When we started, no one was talking about analog compute as a viable option, everyone thought it was impossible. Now we’ve proven it to be possible, and it’s a major thrust in academic research, corporate R&D, and in startups. Playing our part to create a movement that advances technology in a 1000X leap will pay huge dividends to society in the decades to come.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most

instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Jim Collins has it figured out with his definition of Level 5 Leadership. Personal Humility (knowing what you don’t know and having a growth mindset) combined with Professional Will (which I would call pure grit and an intensive drive for success of the company). For a third trait, I’ll throw in a good smile.

Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?

“Don’t raise too much money” is bad advice for a lot of high-growth or capital intensive companies. There is so much capital out there and funding can be a main determiner of success. My advice is to raise as much money as you can tolerate considering dilution, and remember that no company went out of business because of dilution. Once you raise that money, surround yourself with “A” players who know how to capture success, keep tight screws on the spending until there is confidence in the plan, and look for valuation inflection points to raise more money. This may sound sad to some, but this is the key in today’s Silicon Valley.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

We went through a four-year journey of having no VC funding, only a small amount of government funding, while the entire semiconductor industry told us that what we were doing with analog compute was impossible and was destined to fail. We almost ran out of money multiple times, I had to forego a paycheck for three months, and I must have been told “no” by at least 100 investors in the early years. I think the naivety in the early years kept us going. Not only did we think it was possible, but we thought we could do it for very little money, so it always seemed in reach even if the investor appetite was cold.

A few years later, it turns out the technology is possible and we’ve proven it at Mythic, but we set an ambitious vision and it took A LOT more money than we thought. The good news was that as we went through the stages of validating the technology, the market potential became white hot, and the investor appetite grew and grew for bold technology bets like analog compute. Originally, we were bootstrapping on a couple million dollars in government contracts, and now we have raised $165M to make our dream a reality.

Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard? What strategies or techniques did you use to help overcome those challenges?

If I was serving my own personal ego for success, I probably would have burnt out years ago. Focusing on the success of the company as my #1 priority and my own personal career growth as a close second , keeps me grounded in good times and bad. I can personally celebrate company wins when times are good. When times are bad, I can treat them as growth and learning opportunities for myself. Nothing cements in quality piece of learning better than a really shitty experience.

The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder”?

A good entrepreneur needs to have strong personal humility to recognize their blindspots. This can actually weigh heavily, and I’ve seen some entrepreneurs wear all their mistakes on their sleeves. If a company isn’t doing well, this can even lead to serious mental health issues that are endemic to the startup community. On the flip side, entrepreneurs who are egotistical and think they know everything and will own the world (I’m sure you can think of some well known examples!) sometimes get lucky, but way more often crash and burn in spectacularly entertaining ways that make great podcast content.

What I have found that helps here is to have a strong growth mindset and see myself as a lifelong learner. I will never see myself as “fully baked.” My skills and playbooks can always use more time in the oven, every tough moment is just a chance to improve, and enjoying the growth in myself can counteract the negative of the situation around me.

Let’s imagine that a young founder comes to you and asks your advice about whether venture capital or bootstrapping is best for them? What would you advise them? Can you kindly share a few things a founder should look at to determine if fundraising or bootstrapping is the right choice?

If you are OK not ever getting above 25 employees, go with bootstrapping. This ends up being the lifestyle small businesses, which is a perfectly fine and fulfilling path and you can enjoy the trappings of entrepreneurship for decades without worrying about scale. If you can grow a business through bootstrapping organically beyond 25 employees, at some point you’ll hit a scale problem where others are leveraging funding (whether it’s VC or PE) to outpace you. You’ll hit this point when you realize there is value out there to be unlocked and the organic growth won’t let you capture it. For companies that need to scale quickly — for example, something that needs viral growth or is going after big customers — just go for VC immediately since you’ll likely have well-funded competitors before you know it.

There are exceptions in the form of companies that hit huge scale with just bootstrapping, but they are rare enough that you should not make it part of your plan.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Many startups are not successful, and some are very successful. From your experience or perspective, what are the main factors that distinguish successful startups from unsuccessful ones? What are your “Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Startup”? If you can, please share a story or an example for each.

  1. I think the most interesting way to answer this is to talk about the conventional wisdom that entrepreneurs hear and the pattern matching that investors follow, and how we bucked the trend.
  2. Don’t start a company in a stale industry. When Mythic was started in 2012, investment in semiconductors was about as dead as dead gets. Now in 2021, it’s one of the most heavily funded industries due to technology megatrends around AI, 5G, and autonomous systems, to name a few. A lot of the greatest startups were in industries considered “stale” like rideshare apps, vacation rental apps, etc. If you have a clear picture of how you want to disrupt an industry, go for it.
  3. Don’t go after a solution looking for a problem. We started with a “solution” with analog compute, and attacked AI with it. If we started with the generic problem of how to make AI hardware more efficient, we probably would have felt the time pressure to execute and not have had the creative spark to attempt analog compute.
  4. You need an experienced team — in the early years, we got laughed out of the room by investors since we were all grad students. But there are investors who don’t have blinders on for the founding team and instead have an attitude of “they’ll figure it out”. You just need to hustle and find them. Once we got our first investment, we surrounded ourselves with an experienced team. Problem solved!
  5. You need committed customers to raise significant money — we were able to raise a lot of money because efficient AI computation and AI at the edge was such a clear opportunity, and sometimes investors will see that before the customers. We did have some great customer testimonials, but we’ve raised a lot of money without LOIs or purchase orders because the opportunity was so clear.
  6. Culture eats strategy for breakfast — it’s more than likely that first-time entrepreneurs don’t get the culture quite right from the start and the culture needs to go through a series of iterations as the company scales. Our strategy has been remarkably consistent since day one and has kept us grounded as our company evolves. Don’t get too obsessed with your culture since it may need to change, and don’t every lose sight of the strategy.

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

I’ll give three:

Mistake 1: Strive for perfection before fundraising. Venture capital is speculative by nature, so if your product is half baked and the customer traction isn’t quite there yet, that’s just the game. Forget polishing the thing to death and focus on walking into the room a killer thesis, a truckload of confidence, and clear evidence that you’ve thought of the problem you’re solving from every possible angle.

Mistake 2: Iceberg principle. 90% of the iceberg is under the water. Whatever you are doing, whether its fundraising, building a product, getting the market to adopt new technology, or closing your first major customer, it will be 10X harder than you think it is. This is true even if you are already applying the iceberg principle to your thinking.

Mistake 3: “B” players in “A” roles. Certain roles in startups require “A” players. Hiring a “B” player into this kind of role may kill the company, while other roles are more tolerant of mis-hires. If you aren’t an experienced entrepreneur or company executive, you probably won’t know what “A” performance looks until you learn the hard way. The key to being a first-time entrepreneur is solving this Gordian Knot.

Startup founders often work extremely long hours and it’s easy to burn the candle at both ends. What would you recommend to founders about how to best take care of their physical and mental wellness when starting a company?

Don’t burn the candle at both ends or work extremely long hours unless you are in a sprint, and make sure the end of that sprint is in sight. Otherwise, it will eventually catch up with you in very bad ways. The key to preserving the metaphorical candle is learning to prioritize — knowing what needs your immediate attention and what can wait another day.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I prefer to focus on a big vision for a company that can make a positive change for society, and bend over backwards to make the company a great corporate citizen and a great place to work. Companies that are strongly mission driven, such as non-profits, clean-tech, food-tech, etc. do great things, but people sometimes forget the massive benefit to society that computers and semiconductors have given us. The semiconductor industry has created massive incomparable benefits to society due to what the electronics and technology has done for productivity, connection, entertainment, health and well-being, and the democratization of knowledge. AI will be a major source of further improvements in these areas.

We are blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

It depends if they are forced to truthfully answer any question I ask. If that’s the case, then I would choose Bill Belichick, since I think there’s pure genius locked up tightly in his brain. I am NOT a Patriots fan by the way and I’d get great pleasure out of the discomfort this lunch would cause him.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I post regular blogs on http://mythic-ai.com/blog . We also post a lot of relevant content to Mythic on our company twitter @mythic-ai. If you follow me on LinkedIn, you’ll get bonus content in the form of occasional sarcastic comments.

This was very meaningful, and thank you so much for the time you spent on this interview. We wish you only continued success on your great work!


Putting The United Back Into The United States: Mike Henry of Mythic On The 5 Things That Each Of… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Social Impact Authors: How & Why Anat Deracine Is Helping To Change Our World

An Interview With Edward Sylvan

If I could ask three things of people, they would be to uplift the voices of those whom governments aim to silence, to question any assumptions regarding gender roles they may have inherited from their parents or cultures, and to think of solutions that don’t just help one individual cope with a broken system but actually change the system to liberate everyone.

As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Anat Deracine (her pen name). She is the author of the novel Driving by Starlight (Macmillan, 2018) about a girl growing up in Saudi Arabia; co-creator of an online comic called The Night Wolves; and author of many short stories, including The Divine Comedy of the Tech Sisterhood about inequalities in technology. Outside of writing, she is a senior figure in the tech industry.

In between her 15-year tech career, she has taken time out to travel through many areas of the middle east alone, including Egypt, Jordan, Iran, Israel and Lebanon. She wrote the first draft of her first novel — Driving by Starlight — in five weeks while on a retreat in Bali. She is now working on a Sci-Fi/fantasy novel about a telepathic killer in an alternate modern-day South Asia.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

Born in India, and raised in Saudi Arabia, I am fascinated by cultural narratives around equality and the portrayal of women. My parents were very liberal and I was encouraged to dress as a boy so I could take part in sports and other activities that girls were not permitted to. My father encouraged me to question everything, and so I’d leave him handwritten notes for when he got home from work, asking him things like, “What happens to the soul after the body dies?” and “How do people invent things?”

He would always respond without talking down to me, with answers like, “By thinking in the same way you thought up these questions. One must learn to always ask how? why? and why not? can we do it better? for everything, they see around. Newton asked why should an apple fall and he discovered that earth has GRAVITY which makes the apple fall.”

My family and I moved to Canada when I was 14, and since then I’ve lived in New York, San Francisco and London. These multi-national experiences fed my interest in politics and philosophy from a young age, particularly the effects of totalitarianism, nationalism, censorship and oppressive regimes.

Unlike many other girls in my culture, I was allowed to read whatever I wanted, and my parents ensured I learned tasks normally reserved for boys. I remember being taught to change batteries in toys at around the age of two, and I enjoyed building things.

As a child, I was somewhat oblivious to the restrictions on women because I didn’t know any other way of life. In many ways, always having to wear the uniform of a burka gave me a lot of freedom because I didn’t have to worry about what to wear.

My childhood shaped who I am today, and I am proud of that.

When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?

I was reading books by the age of five, and there were quite a few stories that not only inspired me as a writer but shaped me as a person. I was about seven when I read Lost Horizon by James Hilton, and The Time Machine by H. G. Wells. I’d always read the classics, but those two stories really helped me see the way fiction could go beyond describing the world we actually lived in to show what could be, for better or for worse. Being so young, discovering that fiction didn’t have to simply narrate reality factually came as a revelation. I began to be more interested in political and allegorical fiction, trying to understand the rules of the world and how they might be changed, and most importantly, the role of the storyteller in shaping that new world to drive humanity towards it or away from it.

Around the age of thirteen, one book transformed me as a writer more than any other — Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier. The story of an awkward, somewhat boyish woman trapped in her beautiful gilded cage resonated with me strongly as a teenager in Saudi Arabia. I hadn’t discovered the Gothic tradition yet, but long before I wrote Driving by Starlight, I knew that telling a story like that was what I was going to do with my life.

Reading The Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham inspired me to study philosophy in college, where I became a huge fan of Ursula Le Guin, Octavia Butler, Albert Camus and George Orwell. The stories I write are always rooted in social commentary because I’m hyper-aware of the writer’s responsibility to act not just as a witness but as a prophet and a guide in times of darkness.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

When I was in high school, I was the editor for the school yearbook. But I was also an immigrant who had only been in Canada for two and a half years. So when I saw the word “peeps” everywhere in the yearbook copy, I assumed it was a typo. I meticulously corrected every instance to “peers” since that made a whole lot more sense, all the while wondering why my classmates were such poor spellers.

When I realized, long after the yearbook came out, that “peeps” were slang for “people,” I was mortified. I don’t think anyone’s quite forgiven me for that one. But it did help me see that there isn’t always an objective “correct” answer that everyone needs to reach, which helped me navigate editorial feedback later in life. So much of that feedback is prescriptive, focused on the rules of storytelling and grammar, and tends to ignore the intentions of the author or their cultural context. The miracle is that with each of us pulling language in our own direction, customizing it to express our own subjective intents, we are still able to tell stories with shared meaning.

Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?

In Driving by Starlight, Leena and her friends are faced with several hurdles commonly faced by women in Saudi Arabia. They are unable to do anything without the permission of a male relative, who acts as a guardian. Until recently, Saudi women couldn’t really drive or vote. From my own experience, two things happen to people in such harsh circumstances. On the one hand, if there’s hope to be had, a window out of hell, so to speak, then there is intense and sometimes cruel competition for that chance to get out. People climb all over each other like crabs in a bucket. But on the other hand, there is an intense friendship to be experienced too, which means that even if she had a way out, Leena would feel guilty leaving others behind. People can work together to change their circumstances, but only if they stop fighting each other for that window out of hell. My hope was to share that message with the world because oppression can take many forms but solidarity can be our salvation.

Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

Having lived in Saudi Arabia, the things that are probably interesting to others were simply mundane facts of my daily existence. At the very beginning of the book, I mention a restaurant with the sign, “Women and animals not allowed.” As a child, this was just the way of things. My father would park the car outside the restaurant and go in to get us shawarmas, which we’d eat in the car. Only the fancier restaurants would allow us to sit down together as a family since it meant they’d have to section off families behind a curtain. To this day, going to a restaurant feels like an act of rebellion. That’s the reason why the climactic decision in Driving by Starlight takes place in a restaurant.

What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?

At some point in my book, Leena and her best friend Mishail have a conversation and decide that “if everything is forbidden, we can do anything.” My own best friend and I came to a very similar realization, which, it turned out, freed my mind and helped me in my career. As a woman in the tech industry, I realized that many women my age had grown up with messaging telling them that they couldn’t code, or couldn’t lead, or couldn’t be successful without a husband. What was strange to me was that many of them believed it! However, perversely, having been told as a young girl that I couldn’t walk down the street or drive or do any number of perfectly reasonable things had had the opposite impact on me. My father had taught me to do all the things I wasn’t allowed to do, so it was patently obvious I could do them. All I had to do was ignore anyone who told me something was impossible or beyond me. Could I lead a global team on a high-stakes technical project? Obviously. Could I learn to surf at thirty-five? Sure, why not. Can Leena save herself and her friends from the oppression of Saudi Arabia? Of course!

Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

I hear from women readers all the time about how much Leena’s story means to them as they struggle against their own societal constraints. But I hadn’t expected how much her story would resonate with the queer community. While Leena herself would never even consider Western labels like lesbian or non-binary to apply to her, she is someone who is both deeply religious and deeply in love with her best friend. Her ability to accept her love for both God and her fellow women allows her to find a solution to save them all.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

The problems Leena faces in Saudi Arabia are mirrored in Western societies too, although perhaps they are more subtle. There is no difference between Leena’s inability to go to college without her guardian’s permission and Britney Spears being forced into dependency by her conservatorship. And many well-meaning parents force their children into gender roles that may not be right for them, by demanding they marry or choose a specific field of study.

Media plays the greatest role in either oppression or liberation, by either uplifting those voices that have been historically silenced or ignored, or by continuing to place value only on the words of those already in power. The law is a close second, and there are still many countries where basic equality of protection for all people is not guaranteed. Technology, my chosen field of work, can liberate people by democratizing access to education, lifting people out of poverty, and preventing censorship, but it can also be used as a tool by those in power to increase surveillance and censorship. Sadly, that seems to be the direction in which we’re headed, although I do plan to do my part to fight it.

If I could ask three things of people, they would be to uplift the voices of those whom governments aim to silence, to question any assumptions regarding gender roles they may have inherited from their parents or cultures, and to think of solutions that don’t just help one individual cope with a broken system but actually change the system to liberate everyone.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

A true leader brings out the best in others. In my fifteen years working in the tech industry, I’ve seen teams led by rockstars fall apart with the predictability of traffic during rush hour, and the teams that succeed are usually led by someone who’s willing to put their ego aside to solve the problem. Great leaders inspire loyalty and provide clarity, helping others navigate ambiguous or even terrifying situations while remaining calm themselves.

In an essay I wrote recently on driving systemic change, I mentioned that being the protagonists of our heroic stories feels rewarding, but is not the way to achieve lasting change. It is the difference between driving a car and laying tracks for trains. Driving a car feels heroic, feels powerful, but at most we can take a few other passengers with us. If we stop driving, the car stops moving. And while we may get to our destination, we don’t leave a way for others to follow. Laying train tracks on the other hand creates a path that outlives you, that will carry hundreds or even thousands of passengers to their destination. But it feels slow and unrewarding by comparison. Why? Because our stories, with their individualistic heroes, have conditioned us to believe that.

We need a different kind of leadership, one that isn’t focused on saving individuals but on changing the system at the source.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each if you have one.

  1. Put on your own oxygen mask before helping others. Of course, I grew up hearing that on airplanes throughout my childhood, but it didn’t register until I was in my twenties that this was good advice for life in general. So many people burn themselves out trying to help others, not realizing that when they’re emotionally at their limit they aren’t actually helping anymore. Their anxiety and stress drags others down with them, like a double-clutch drowning. As a leader, it’s more important than ever to take vacations, to protect your mental resilience, so that you can be available to your team when they need you.
  2. Create cohesion before clarity. When you’re trying to get a large group to move in a particular direction, it’s very tempting, especially if you’re an action-oriented person, to walk in and give clear directions. “All right, everybody here’s where we’re going next year. Here are the priorities and milestones.” But if people have misgivings about direction, if they don’t trust each other or you, if they’re not truly a team, it doesn’t matter how good your directions are, they simply won’t land. It’s important to go slowly at first and build trust first so you can move fast later.
  3. One by one, that’s how things get done. We now know that multitasking is a myth, but I really wish we’d discovered that sooner. I had a pattern of trying to take on too much at once, then feeling overwhelmed and then dropping everything on the floor when I couldn’t juggle it all. Telling myself, almost as a mantra, to focus on one thing at a time, has helped me get a lot more done. It’s built my mental focus too.
  4. Write as if everyone you know is dead. So many people self-censor their own imagination, worried about what their parents or friends will think when they see the words in print. But while writers do want to be successful in their own lifetime, the words you write will most likely outlive you and be read generations from now by people who don’t know you at all. There are so many forces conspiring to silence you, from government censorship to a lack of diversity in publishing, so why would you silence yourself?
  5. Lasting change must outlive you. Just as the words you write will be read long after you’re gone, when you’re trying to drive societal change, ask yourself, “Is this only getting better because I keep pushing? What will happen if I stop? Who’s going to sustain this victory?” Thinking along those lines allows you to figure out how to protect the wins you’ve collected along the way, by setting up safeguards to prevent backsliding, like finding other leaders to replace you one day or enshrining the change in the law.

Can you give us your favourite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I surround myself with quotes from my favorite authors. They hang on my fridge in magnets and on my walls in posters, and they sit in my bookshelves in the books where I first found them. When I’m feeling down, I can always find the words that pulled me out of it the last time I felt that way.

These words by George Orwell remind me why I write and reliably break through any kind of writer’s block:

“Every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism and for democratic socialism, as I understand it. It seems to me nonsense, in a period like our own, to think that one can avoid writing of such subjects. Everyone writes of them in one guise or another. It is simply a question of which side one takes and what approach one follows. And the more one is conscious of one’s political bias, the more chance one has of acting politically without sacrificing one’s aesthetic and intellectual integrity.”

As someone with an education in philosophy and politics, I have to remember that ultimately, to reach people, I need to tell a good story. To have a perspective and a purpose when it comes to writing fiction is great, but if I don’t tell a story well, I might as well be shouting about the end times from a subway station for all the good it will do.

Is there a person in the world or the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

At the moment, I’d love to have breakfast with Isabel Allende. I’m enamored with everything about her, the quality of her fiction, her wisdom on ageing, and the way she lives her life. She understands political persecution and exile but is not broken or weighed down by it. Her fiction is light and natural, and in this age of heavyweight literary novels produced by MFA graduates, her stories feel effortless. I’d love to sit down with her in private and pick her brain on her process, and also ask about her love life, which is just as fascinating as her fiction.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!


Social Impact Authors: How & Why Anat Deracine Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Stars Making A Social Impact: Why & How Lexie Stevenson Is Helping To Change Our World

I am using my success to spread awareness and educate people about Endometriosis. Endo is a chronic inflammatory disease that I, along with many other women, struggle with. I am currently on the Endometriosis Foundation of America’s Advisory Board. I work alongside many other strong and inspirational women to raise money for research and help raise awareness so that other women get diagnosed quicker.

As a part of our series about stars who are making an important social impact, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Lexie Stevenson.

Lexie was born in the town of Brunswick, a vibrant, small town in southeastern Maine and home to Bowdoin College and the Maine State Music Theatre. At the young age of 5, Lexie told her parents that she wanted to be an actress and a singer and they enrolled her in voice and acting lessons at Studio 48 Performing Arts Center where she was trained by Rebecca Beck. It was there that she made her stage debut, performing in such musical theater productions as Alice in Wonderland, Beauty and the Beast, and High School Musical.

At age 12, she remained a remarkably self-motivated child and found a course being offered in New York City by world-renowned vocal coach and performer, Mary Setrakian. Her parents drove her several hours to NYC to participate in the class, and it was there that Ms. Setrakian noticed Lexie’s exceptional singing talent, and offered to work with her one-on-one. Lexie trained privately with Ms. Setrakian for the next 3 years.

Throughout high school, Lexie remained dedicated to acting and singing, performing as Pepper in Annie at the esteemed Maine State Music Theatre (where she earned her invitation to become a member of Actors’ Equity), several productions at the New England Youth Theatre, and as a member of the Brunswick High School Treble Choir, the honors level performance course for female vocalists. Tenacious and determined to pursue professional opportunities in film and television, Lexie self-submitted and was cast initially on small background roles on such productions as The Vampire Diaries, and small roles in Alvin and the Chipmunks 4: Road Chip; Martin Scorseses’ HBO production, Vinyl, and others.

During her busy high school years, Lexie was not only an outstanding young actress and singer, but she was also a competitive athlete whose accolades include being a three-time, bronze medalist (swimming) at the Junior Olympics in Maine, playing year-round soccer (at the club level and for her high school team), and even appearing as “Buzz the Bee”, the mascot for her father’s company — Modern Pests Services — for the Boston Red Sox farm team, the Portland Sea Dogs.

Lexie also proudly participated in the Miss Maine Teen USA pageant (a precursor to the Miss Teen USA pageant) and was 1st Runner-Up in both 2014 and 2015.

Upon graduating with honors from Brunswick High School in 2016, Lexie was admitted to the academically selective Purchase College-SUNY but chose to defer and move to California to seriously pursue her acting and singing career. After just seven months in Los Angeles, Lexie booked her first major role as “Mattie” on the CBS daytime drama The Young and the Restless.

Lexie enjoys traveling and has two dogs; a German Shepherd named Bella and a 1 yr old Rottweiler named King. Lexie currently resides in Los Angeles.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you share with us the “backstory” that led you to this career path?

My backstory starts in the state of Maine. My parents constantly tell me stories of me singing in the house, at school or daycare, and on the car rides in between. Once I was in middle school, I wanted to start vocal lessons. I joined a studio called New England Youth Theater and took vocal lessons from the owner, Rebecca Beck. She helped me discover my love for acting by encouraging me to join some of the musical productions. I was hesitant at first, but after my first play, I fell in love with acting, and since then, it’s been the only thing I’ve wanted to do for a career.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career? What was the lesson or takeaway that you took out of that story?

The funniest story that has occurred in my career is TMI, but I’ll share it with you anyway. While filming for The Young and the Restless, there was a day that I had a very upset stomach. Right before we were about to film, I told our stage manager that I really needed to use the restroom, and then I bolted off the set. After I was done and about to return to the set, I realized that I had not taken off or turned off my mic during my time in the bathroom. Walking back to the set was very embarrassing, but to this day, no one has ever said anything to me about it. I can only hope that as soon as they heard the bathroom door open, they switched off the mic on their end but fortunately or unfortunately, I will never know.

What would you advise a young person who wants to emulate your success?

Be kind. Be genuine. Stay in your lane and stay focused. This industry is filled with rejection so be ready to hear a thousand no’s before hearing that one yes. At times you may get discouraged but always remember that you might just be one more audition away from landing your dream role.

Is there a person that made a profound impact on your life? Can you share a story?

Yes. My self-tape coach Jason Montgomery. He is not only my self-tape coach but also my mentor. Because most auditions are now done virtually, I am in his studio about four times a week, and every time I am there, I learn something new. Just the other day, he reminded me that nobody could play me better than I can play myself. Every role I take on, I find similarities to myself within that character, and that’s part of my normal process of bringing the character to life. Still, as we all do, I sometimes push myself to be someone entirely different, and he can sense that. He pushes me to do my best, even on my off days. He has helped me grow more in the past year than I ever have, and I recommend him to anyone and everyone who wants to act.

How are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting causes you are working on right now?

I am using my success to spread awareness and educate people about Endometriosis. Endo is a chronic inflammatory disease that I, along with many other women, struggle with. I am currently on the Endometriosis Foundation of America’s Advisory Board. I work alongside many other strong and inspirational women to raise money for research and help raise awareness so that other women get diagnosed quicker.

Can you share with us the story behind why you chose to take up this particular cause?

My mother and I both have Endometriosis, and it has caused multiple health problems for both of us. Growing up, I would see my mom curled up in crippling pain when she went through Endometriosis attacks. My first Endometriosis attack happened when I was in 7th or 8th grade. I had no idea what it was. My doctors blamed it on bad period cramps or would ask my parents if I was getting enough attention at home. About four years later, I had to have surgery to remove a growth on my ovaries. After I woke up, I learned the growth was due to Endometriosis which had caused part of my small intestine to roll up into the size of a golf ball. Luckily it had pinched itself off, and my intestine repaired itself but had it not, I would have been staring death in the face. Because of how long it took for me to get diagnosed and how dangerous it was, I wanted to try and prevent other women from going through the same thing.

Can you share with us a story about a person who was impacted by your cause?

Yes! My favorite story is when I walked into a Chop Stop (a salad restaurant chain) in Los Angeles, and the girl behind the counter asked if I was Mattie Ashby from The Young and the Restless, to which I responded yes. This was probably a month or two after I had posted my Endometriosis story on my blog, which she told me she had read. She also told me that she related to a lot of the symptoms I was experiencing, so she made an appointment with her OB/GYN and was also diagnosed with Endometriosis. No one wants to be diagnosed with Endometriosis, but I was so happy that this girl finally knew what was going on with her.

Are there three things that individuals, society, or the government can do to support you in this effort?

The government can get rid of the Pink tax. Pink tax is a form of gender-based price discrimination. Many items designed and marketed towards women are almost always more expensive than those same items designed and marketed towards men. It also causes basic feminine hygiene products such as pads and tampons to be significantly more than what they should be and less affordable for women with lower incomes.

Society (especially medical schools) can help make it a requirement for OB/GYNs to at least understand what Endometriosis is and how to diagnose it.

Individuals can help spread awareness and be there for their loved ones who suffer from the disease.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or an example for each.

The five things I wish someone told me are:

1. Acting is a forever journey, so never stop taking classes.

Sometimes actors book their first big role, and they think, “I’ve made it.” If fame is all you wanted out of this profession, then I guess you could say you have, and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, I have found that most actors care more about mastering the art of bringing any character to life. When I booked my role on The Young and the Restless, I stopped taking classes, I stopped auditioning, and expected to book any role that presented itself to me after I came off the show — and oh my lord, that was not the case. There is always more to learn in acting because there is always a new character, a news story, and new experiences.

2. Surprise yourself, not the audience.

Any great actor will tell you that the goal is not to get a round of applause from your audience. The goal is to drop into a character so deeply that you come out of the scene and realize you forgot the audience was there. If you do that, chances are you will get a round of applause anyway.

3. If your mental health isn’t at its best, neither are you.

You can limp into an audition with a broken foot and still give a killer performance. The same is not true if you walk into an audition with poor mental health or feeling burnt out. It took me forever to figure this out. I’ve always been the type of person to put a lot of pressure on myself, and if I ever had a day with nothing to do, I felt like I was failing. In order to compensate for that, I would sign up for a ton of acting classes, schedule photo shoots, create content, memorize scripts, read acting books and ultimately burn myself out and end up in a pretty dark spot. I’ve figured out how to balance myself by doing other things so that acting wasn’t my entire identity. I love wine, so I spend time learning about that or going to wine tastings in my free time. Some days I’ll have a self-care day where I clean my apartment, take a bubble bath, and do my entire 100-step facial care routine, lol.

4. Los Angeles will eat you up and spit you back out if you let it.

LA is an amazing place for opportunities and to meet some really incredible people. However, it is also filled with rejection, beautiful individuals, and very competitive people. I think it’s normal for girls and guys everywhere to compare themselves to others, but that can be a very slippery slope into losing yourself in LA. Make sure you are always rooted in something that keeps your feet on the ground and keeps you humble. For me, that’s my family and anything that makes me feel a little closer to Maine.

5. Take constructive criticism.

I saved the best for last. You don’t know everything you need to know until you die, and that’s just a fact. You also don’t grow as a person if you walk around being a know-it-all. I used to be horrible at taking criticism. I think it’s because there’s a really negative connotation with the word, but it’s a really great thing in reality. I have so many amazing people around me who have already done what I’m trying to do, and I can learn from their successes and failures, which puts me ahead of the game.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most good to the most people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I am already part of the movement that I would have started if it didn’t already exist, which is to spread awareness and further research in regards to Endometriosis. I am on the Advisory Board for The Endometriosis Foundation of America. Getting Endometriosis diagnosed and treated more quickly is the dream for me. Millions of women suffer from this disease, and little to no money goes into research for a cure or educating doctors on how to diagnose the presented symptoms.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you explain how that was relevant in your life?

My favorite quote for anything is, “The only thing stopping you is you.” My mom always said this to me growing up when I felt discouraged or faced adversity. It’s such a simple phrase, but it holds a lot of weight. Anything that we feel is stopping us besides ourselves is just an excuse. People are capable of seemingly impossible things, and often, our own minds limit us.

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Politics, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world or the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Zendaya. Growing up and even now, there aren’t many people in the Entertainment industry that look like me… an extremely light-skinned mixed girl. Zendaya was the first actress I saw on TV that looked even remotely like me. The inspiration I get from her is more than skin deep, though. She is an extraordinary actress and humanitarian. I love everything she stands for and how she carries herself. She is the role model of what I want to be myself when I obtain that much success.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!


Stars Making A Social Impact: Why & How Lexie Stevenson Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Clare Dubois.

Clare Dubois is the founder and CEO of TreeSisters.org, a global women’s movement spanning multiple countries, that has collectively funded the planting of over 19 million trees. TreeSisters is a social change movement and a tropical reforestation organization working towards normalizing cultural reciprocity with nature. The aim of both Clare and TreeSisters is to make it as normal to give back to nature as it currently is to take nature for granted while supporting humanity in its transition from a consumer species to a restorer species. Before founding TreeSisters, Clare worked internationally for over two decades, coaching business leaders and facilitating group behavior change processes in multiple sectors. Known for her direct, catalytic energy, her inspirational speaking, and her holistic approach to collective transformation, Clare is a walking invitation to anyone ready to step up and step in on behalf of the planet.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I had been volunteering in India with a project called Project Green Hands, where they were hoping to plant 114 million trees to reverse the desertification of Tamil Nadu given that the monsoons had failed. I had been distilling the social strategy of that project because it was brilliant; crafting it into seven critical steps that I could take to the west to see if I could find someone who would like to initiate a reforestation revolution.

On the way to a meeting in London where I was supposed to be handing over my strategy, I swerved on back ice on a steep hill and was saved from going over an edge by a tree that stopped me. At the moment of impact, there was a bright light inside the car, and inside the light were two words, ‘THE EXPERIMENT’. I sat dumbfounded, staring at the words, and then a male voice started talking to me as if someone had literally switched on the radio inside the car. The voice said: “Humanity is running out of time, but it’s not over yet. It’s going to take all of us rising to the challenge to get through what’s coming. The single greatest threat facing humanity is fear of failure, but you can get over the fear of failure by calling everything you do an experiment because you can’t fail an experiment you can only learn.”

At that moment, thinking that was probably possibly the best life lesson any disembodied voice had ever given me, I asked, “What’s the experiment?” And back came the words “You have to reforest the tropics within 10 years.”

In fact, that same voice went on to tell me in great detail how that was supposed to be done and my role in that: what TreeSisters was, what we were supposed to accomplish, how and why. I heard what its name was, what its purpose was, and all manner of annoyingly logical details that I couldn’t disagree with but was fundamentally ill-equipped in any and every way to deliver. So, I did what any self-respecting introvert would do, and fell into a deep depression for approximately nine months during which time I tried anything and everything other than TreeSisters, until the repeated failures brought me back to the drawing board and the same voice gave me the next thrilling installment. And I said yes.

The rest, as they say, is history (and almost 20 million trees in the ground…)

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

I’ll share about one particularly interesting day in London, back in 2018. I was supposed to be doing two fundraising events at the Conduit Club, one, a lunch event with UK Channel 4 TV newsreader, Jon Snow, in front of a room full of movers and shakers followed by an evening event with an unknown number of people, with just me on stage doing something useful.

The lunch went really well. Amazing organizers, Howard and Jimena, had invited Daiara of the Tukano tribe of the Amazon rainforest, artist, activist, and researcher into the Rights of Memory of Indigenous peoples, who opened the event with a prayer song in full voice, and then Jon and I dug deep into all things trees, carbon and consciousness shift. By the end, we had a room full of mobilized folks and I was happily shattered and in need of sleep. I was informed by my cunning team that they had the perfect place for me to go and lie down. It happened to be the support tent for the Extinction Rebellion protest crowded around the pink boat in Oxford Circus, where thousands of climate protesters were making their stand against the apathy of collective denial.

Seriously? You want me to rest amidst yelling, hooting, singing, traffic, and general pandemonium? Sheepishly, I was informed that they had arranged for me to be the opening act for Daiara who was getting up onto the pink boat to deliver her message from the Amazon which, given that she had just done the honour for me, was obviously the next thing I was about to do.

So, there I am, completely unprepared, looking out over a sea of people, microphone in hand, about to introduce an Amazonian activist who had never been to London before, let alone on a pink boat in the middle of Oxford Circus surrounded by activists chained to anything they could find. So, I did my thing, allowing whatever call-to-awaken that flowed out of my mouth to simply flow before Daiara taught the crowds a sacred song for the bees and stood like Joan of Arc atop her boat, waving a bee flag and sounding like she had done this every day of her life.

That was easily enough adventure for one day but there was one event left and I had not prepared a thing, thinking that I would have had the afternoon off to get ready. I tried to find a quiet space to gather my thoughts but nowhere was quiet and no thoughts came. As the evening drew closer, I got more freaked out as still, no thoughts came. Literally nothing. Soon enough, I was back standing on stage in front of yet another room full of people and Howard is handing me the mic saying, “Are you ready?” and I’m saying, ‘Nothing is coming, Howard. I’m empty, completely empty…’, to which he just smiled and stepped away, and there I was, alone.

I checked myself and found that I was totally calm, just empty. With a whole room of people staring at me, I decided that this was a true ‘hollow bone’ moment and that all was in fact, somehow OK and I surrendered. At that exact moment, I was flooded with information and found myself saying to the crowd Not one of you is going to leave here the same way that you came in. This is going to be uncomfortable, but you are all going to leave here and change your lives.” before proceeding to guide them all still standing, through a paradigm shift process that literally landed fully formed into my mind only seconds before.

What followed was described as life-changing by multiple men who came up afterward to marvel at what could be accomplished in 15 minutes flat. Who knew? Certainly not me.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

This is one of the toughest questions I’ve ever been asked. When I think of what I actually considered to be mistakes, the majority have been anything but funny.

One thing comes to mind though, my very first public speaking appearance and the public launch of TreeSisters at a conference called Women on Fire, before we even had a functioning website. I was utterly terrified. I’d been throwing up in the bathroom and then sobbing incoherently as the two speakers directly before me delivered some of the most confronting material ever. I was the very last speech of the day and got up on the stage, shaking like a leaf, unable to let go of the lectern because my knees were knocking so hard.

But once I started talking, something else took over. I went clean over my time and could see the organizers behind the audience running up and down waving at me, trying to get me off stage, but I wasn’t going to stop until I had completed delivering what seemed to be coming out of my mouth. I received a standing ovation and got mobbed- which was a totally unexpected experience, and one that the organizers didn’t find funny at all! But I did.

I learned a lot from that experience. I learned that throwing up, crying, and forgetting everything you intend to deliver is not, in fact, a good reason to run screaming from the room. I learned that you want to ensure, before you go through something like that, that the organizers are actually going to follow through on their promises and share your contact details with the audience. I also learned that you don’t want to launch anything before you are prepared, not least with a website, and more importantly with a team who can help manage the stampede. That way you ensure that you don’t continually feel as if you are running behind a train that left without you whilst simultaneously trying to throw the tracks down ahead of it.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

TreeSisters is a social change organization that exists to inspire every single person to recognize their own unique role as part of the solution. We are all about hope and possibility in the face of climate change, about the hidden depths that exist inside a human being, whether that’s the capacity to connect and listen to the natural world, or the ability to lead or stand for something within our communities that creates ripples or a sea of changes.

We see ourselves primarily as an invitation on multiple levels. We invite people to recognize that no matter where they are on the spectrum of transforming their lives or their carbon footprints, they can all be sequestering carbon, rehabilitating landscapes, and supporting communities by reallocating funds every month towards tropical reforestation. We make that so easy. We talk about the fundamental shift from an unconscious consumer society to a conscious restorative society, where giving back to help regenerate nature has become as fundamental to human nature as consumption currently is.

We believe that everyone has unique gifts that are in some way entirely relevant to the shift that we are going through, and we are a call for them to step into them, to discover what they are made of as together, we rise on behalf of both our own species and every other species on this precious planet of ours. We do this through monthly calls, interviews with Indigenous leaders, online courses, our Groves program, social media, gatherings, etc.

We work with businesses to help them re-imagine themselves as agents of social and ecological change. We invite them to embed trees in products, services, and benefits so that they can become entire ecosystems dedicated to regenerate in the global forest. Over 500 businesses are planting with us and growing their own forests across the ecosystems we are restoring

A great example of this is the Shift Music and Visionaries Festival, which is gathering thought-leaders and musicians from around the world to bring their gifts forward in a fundraising capacity to collectively raise enough funds to plant 1 million trees. They are a great example of an organization that is realizing that if we don’t give back to the natural world, and shift our fundamental relationship with nature, then there is no future for any of us.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Phionah Sserwanja was an extraordinary Ugandan woman with a passion for trees. She was also gay, something they could easily get you killed in Uganda, and almost did multiple times. In 2016, Phionah was employed by The Women’s and Children Empowerment Network to plant trees with women in highly deforested rural regions. Towards the end of her employment, her country director encouraged her to find out more about TreeSisters and Phionah was immediately taken with our ‘Groves’ local sisterhood circles project. Within weeks she had called an 80-strong, multifaceted women’s Grove together, naming it ‘The Uganda Grove’. This circle grew from strength to strength incorporating education, life skills, teachings on the importance of reforestation, and the growing and planting of 50,000 saplings.

In early November of 2017, Phionah was fired from her telecommunications job when her employer found out that she was redirecting 40% of her monthly salary to a group of seven lesbian women, with who she was financially supporting and sharing her home. Over half a million LGBT people live under the official radar for their own safety within Uganda’s oppressively brutal culture.

This started a horrendous period of violence, eviction, imprisonment, attempted murder through poisoning and suicide within Phionah’s circle. As this started, the treesisters network started raising funds to safeguard Phionah, ultimately helping to pay her bail and get her out of jail. Her attackers were taken to court and convicted, their final trial coincided with a global meditation ceremony that TreeSisters held to create an energy field of love and support to send to the women in Uganda.

Out of it arose her dream to create Gender Park, a center where women of all sexual orientations would have the opportunity to create beauty salons and tree nurseries, giving out tree seedlings to schools and other groups, and raising awareness by challenging homophobia.

This led to the ambitious Government supported 1 million trees project that Phionah then launched through local schools in her area. Again, TreeSisters helped raise funds for the sapling distribution.

Jenny, who headed up the Groves program at TreeSisters, encouraged them every step of the way and Phionah expressed often that the support she received from our network helped her whole circle keep going through extreme hardship.

Tragically, she died not long after this from a heart condition and heart surgery that was most likely in no small part because of the extreme stress placed upon her for being an extraordinary, free-thinking, and loving woman with a dream, in a patriarchal culture that cannot tolerate a woman as anything other than ‘less than’. And, thanks to Mariam, Gender Park lives on…

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

  1. To the governments who actively block all protests and actions seeking to serve a resilient future: stop depriving humanity of its greatest opportunity to grow by pretending that continuing business as usual is sane, appropriate, and ‘the only way’ we know how to be. To society and all of us, can we please stop acting as if we lack the imagination, moral fiber, brilliance, love or capacity to completely transform what it means to be human when doing nothing amounts to a systemic and ecological death sentence in the face of climate change? We can do this. We can.
  2. The problem will change when we are willing to actually look it in the face, recognize, and own up to the fact that what we have done and are doing, is stealing from the future, stripping the fabric of our own life support system into shreds, and leaving today’s children with a planet incapable of taking care of them. If we can face that fact, then we can make a different set of choices, including committing our lives, not just to our own small circles of safety, to helping humanity make an evolutionary leap rather than a crash, redreaming ourselves into a species and culture rooted in respect, reverence, reciprocity, and restoration.
  3. Transforming the money paradigm and our economy to become regenerative is the single greatest act of rehabilitation we could give to our planet right now. Whilst we are at it, we could redefine greatness or so-called ‘social power’ not by what we earn, plunder or own, but by what we give back and what we restore. I would like us to embed restoration (trees) into every element of our economy, our financial transactions, our ways of being and doing so that you can no longer take from nature without actively giving back to her. If that was normalized, then everyone could come to experience and understand our individual and collective responsibility for regenerating the fabric of our world through the choices and actions we make, and then make that the new norm.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

To me, leadership happens when an individual makes the choice to step clean out of their comfort zone by doing something that deeply challenges them, and thus breaks new ground within their perception and experience of self. When any one of us breaks through an internal barrier of emotional or mental constraint or belief, then we break through that wall on behalf of everyone.

More overtly, if we are prepared to care enough or believe in something sufficiently to make a stand for it, whether that precipitates the desired outcome or not, the simple act of standing or trying is leadership to me.

For example, at a huge business conference a decade or so ago, men and women were separated into groups and we went to have a large women’s circle, with enough women to form multiple circles within a gymnasium. Sooner or later, the conversation turned to men bashing and vast generalizations took place that made men entirely to blame and wrong and I couldn’t handle it. There was no responsibility being taken for our role in the victim and perpetrator dynamic that they were placing squarely on the head of every man. Despite the extreme discomfort, I stood up and spoke out on behalf of the men who were waking up, of the transformation of the victim feminine, of our need to take responsibility for our side of the perpetuation of the endless dynamic of power over and part under. I was not spoken to by a single woman for the rest of that evening, which was hell for me, but it was what it was: an act of leadership or at least staying in integrity with my own values despite thoroughly upsetting a huge amount of people along the way.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Just because it feels like it should be easy, does not mean that it will be. Just because your mind shows you a seamless realization of what surely should be possible, doesn’t make that anything to do with reality as it is. The very best thing you can do is wait until you are really clear, have sat and learned from those who have already done a similar sort of thing and have shared their experience, and only launch into action when you are genuinely ready and have a solid, externally supported plan. I did none of the above as I was too ashamed of my total inexperience to admit to anyone what I was trying to do in case they laughed in my face, and too overwhelmed by the scale of it to even know what questions to ask. I have learned, pretty relentlessly through trial and error and countless bumps and pitfalls, that I sincerely wish that I had not had to experience in order to grow and had I known how to ask for help, life could have been entirely different.
  2. Being a visionary should come with a health warning because most visionaries have little or no factual or grounded comprehension about what delivery actually requires on the ground. You will have to grow muscles that you didn’t even know existed or knew were in your repertoire whilst your organization grows. It is highly probable that you will end up doing every single job needed to deliver your dream at some point or another, regardless of your abilities, (unless of course you fundraise and build your amazing team first like any highly organized and thus very annoying person!) In my case, I started with no relevant skills beyond my environmental passion, given that I had been a self-employed therapist and healer who couldn’t operate a computer and had never even worked for an organization or in a team in my life. I went from reading auras in my spare room to being Founder and CEO, which basically meant that I was (at any one time) strategist, manager, fundraiser, head of finances, social media, HR, comms, design, course creation, etc., almost none of which were in my skill set.
  3. You will (from time to time) question your own sanity and think you’re mad (and so will your friends) and that’s not a bad thing because you probably are. ‘Sane’ is both overrated and a lie — especially in a world that has created an economy that requires the death of nature in order to thrive. Be prepared to discover who your friends are as the single-mindedness required to deliver your dream rearranges your life and your priorities and learn how to both let people go and find those who can still stand by as you spread your wings.
  4. You will ‘fail’ again and again in countless different ways and in doing so (if you stick with it) will break through so many walls of shame and self-rejection that ultimately, you will free yourself up to be that much more of a risk-taker and a lover of life. Ultimately, the path we choose is designed to break us until we break through who we are not and discover who we really are. The more excruciating it is, the deeper the learning and the faster the growth, again IF you stick with it. Had I not received the brilliant guidance…’Call everything you do an experiment because you cannot fail and experiment you can only learn.’ before I even started TreeSisters, it would not exist today.
  5. Whatever happens, it will be worth it for the learning. If you actually achieve anything at all, that is the cherry on top. It is the journey and not the destination. Outcome irrelevant, just inspire yourself along the way and give it all you’ve got.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would normalize reciprocity with nature, making it as normal for everyone to give back to nature as it currently is to take nature for granted; as normal to restore and regenerate nature as it currently is to consume her, and do that by creating a movement of reallocated financial giving. (TreeSisters does this through monthly donations or a heartbeat of giving that we plant in the tropics as tropical forest restoration which has almost funded 20 million trees since 2015)

Almost everything we earn, we spend on consumption that contributes to the destruction of our world and yet, that is simply an inherited imbalance based on dislocation from nature and ignorance about who we really are as part of nature. We could just as easily have a world that prioritizes the health and wellbeing of future generations by creating a regenerative economy and a human story that places us as guardians of nature, instead of simply ‘consumers’. Couldn’t we become a Restorer Species instead of a consumer species?

We can transform what it means to be human. Yes, we can, and I think it’s what we’re actually all here for at the turning of our world.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

‘Call everything you do an experiment because you cannot fail an experiment you can only learn.’ That literally was the gift given to me at the initial birth of TreeSisters, and it has served my life and other people’s lives in countless ways because it is permission to try anything within the compassionate frame of your own growth, regardless of the outcome. 20 million trees would never have happened without those words being written on my soul. I would have given up countless times along the way.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Mackenzie Scott (formerly Bezos). She is redefining what Philanthropy means in our world. She has the capacity to do more good both personally and through her influence than just about anyone beyond her husband, only she seems to show the common sense, the heart, the intelligence, and the social awareness to be making a vast difference as fast as she is able. I would like to sit her down and talk about the tropical forest belt, about the Amazon rainforest itself, and the power she could have to catalyze a global social and environmental movement on behalf of the trees, that can transform the face of our world and literally save future generations.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

You can follow me on Facebook, I’m crap on Instagram, and worse on Twitter. I was born to talk to rocks, not sit on devices!! But you can follow TreeSisters easily and I am on there a lot. https://www.facebook.com/treesisters

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!


Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Clare Dubois of TreeSisters Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Music Stars Making A Social Impact: Why & How Faith Richards Is Helping To Change Our World

An Interview With Edward Sylvan

It’s the detailed messages from complete strangers that motivate me even more. I recently had a fan message me his story of attempted suicide and their constant struggles with mental health, and how my music played a part in literally saving them. And I had another fan message me of her experience with sexual assault and how much she appreciated me sharing my story because it made her feel a little more normal and understood. These kinds of messages from people I’ve never even met, telling me how my words have helped in their healing… It is so fulfilling and reminds me that I’m on the right path. It’s my favorite part of what I do.

As a part of our series about music stars who are making an important social impact, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Faith Richards.

Faith Richards’ hybrid dark-indie yet soulful sound cuts through today’s radio noise and takes the listener on a transparent journey of her self-discovery. Moving state-to-state and country-to-country more than 10 times before graduating high school, Faith’s sound has evolved alongside her, with influences everywhere from 1960’s soul and jazz to Amy Winehouse, Sabrina Claudio and BANKS. Settling in Los Angeles in 2015 at the age of 18, a window was opened into darkness and light like no other place she’d been — and those highs and lows are a gift to her fans in her consistent releases.

Website: https://www.faithrichards.com

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit of the ‘backstory’ of how you grew up?

Of course! Thank you for having me. I kind of grew up all over the place. I was born in Oklahoma but only lived there for 6 months. From there we moved to Alaska, Kansas, Colorado, Texas, a few different towns in England, and now I’m settled in Los Angeles! I definitely don’t come from a wealthy family and we’ve lived in some interesting homes but we always made it work. I was raised by a single mom of 6 kids. We definitely went through our fair share of struggles financially and mentally. We moved so often either because of money issues, needing to be close to family, or my mom would start dating someone. I’m pretty close to most of my siblings, and I think the struggles growing up made us all a pretty tight-knit family. I wouldn’t have had it any other way really.. It all makes me who I am today. And I’m sure that’s why I’m such a go-getter now.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ve always loved singing and writing. After starting to learn piano in my early teen years, I soon realized that music was what helped me express all those feelings I’d tried to bury as a kid to avoid being a burden. I’d sometimes sing at church talent shows and I’d record little videos for my Facebook friends. But I’ve also always had a passion for acting — and that was originally why I moved to LA. It was in acting school that a few of my teachers took me completely out of my comfort zone (I had terrible stage fright, but only with singing for some reason). They encouraged me to consider pursuing music post-graduation. So I did. I performed at a few shows and got discovered by a few different producers, and it just hit me that I really had something special in my sound and creativity.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career? What was the lesson or take away that you took out of that story?

Hmmm… This isn’t really a funny story, but I remember my first in-person radio interview, and I was soooo uncomfortable. Honestly, I felt offended throughout most of it with their sexual comments and clear lack of knowledge of what my songs were about. And I just laughed it off. My default is to laugh. It was like I was trying to impersonate this bubbly version of myself, rather than just saying, “I feel uncomfortable, this is unprofessional, and I’d like to end this interview.” I was more worried about how they perceived me rather than how I was feeling at that moment. I learned that I should never have to impersonate the happy version of myself. Sometimes I have to make someone else uncomfortable in order to stick up for myself. Even in a professional setting, I don’t have to stick it out for their satisfaction.

What would you advise a young person who wants to emulate your success?

JUST DO IT! FULL FORCE! NO EXCUSES! If you are passionate and hard-working and you know you have something special that needs to be shared with the world, don’t let ANYTHING set you back. Money, family, timing, location, etc… Be your biggest fan and give everything you’ve got into making your dreams a reality. It’s only possible if you believe it is.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you explain how that was relevant in your life?

Honestly, it’s simple but probably, “Work hard, play harder”. I don’t want the 9–5 lifestyle where you only get 2 weeks of vacation a year. That sounds terrifying to me. Sure, my life is inconsistent financially, and I have a new curveball every week, but I’m genuinely happy when I’m working and happy when I’m not. I choose when to travel, and when to go to a session, and when to perform, and when to book a shoot, and when to do admin work, and when to re-center alone. I bust my ass to pursue this whole music thing, but it’s because it fulfills me and the reward is worth it. I take so many breaks from the constant go-go-go lifestyle by traveling. That keeps me sane and gives me more experiences to write about. Music and traveling are my real loves.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My producer, Jay Denton, has been a huge part of my music success so far. He came to my first ever performance in Los Angeles and we were friends for a year before we started creating together. Since then I feel like we are attached at the hip. I love creating with him and I truly can’t even express how grateful I am to God for making our paths cross. I realize how lucky I am to have found a genuine friend in a producer in Los Angeles. That shit isn’t easy to come by in this city or this industry.

Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview, how are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting social impact causes you are working on right now?

The more conversations I have with my fans, the more I see the good my music does for people. I love people, and try to live by a quote from my church, “all for love”. I am transparent in my music and I feel myself becoming more and more authentic on my social media pages too. I want people to connect with me and see me as a human before a musician. I think just sharing my experiences and journey brings healing and peace to others. Also, I love being a part of ENDURE studios. The whole mission of the studio is to give people a platform and a voice — especially people in third-world countries. The ENDURE For Home album shares stories of Syrian refugees and I’m so grateful to have been a part of that.

Can you tell us the backstory about what originally inspired you to feel passionate about this cause and to do something about it?

People are hurting. And it’s so common to feel misunderstood, or that no one knows what you’re going through. I know that feeling. And I just know that a part of my purpose is to bring healing and light to those that need it. And I do it best through my music, and being open. And with ENDURE’s mission — again, I love people. I want everyone to feel heard and loved. I am so fortunate to live in America and to have a platform, and I’m excited to share it with those who are passionate about broadcasting their real issues and real pain. Working with Mizgin and Souzda on the album was eye-opening. I cannot imagine living a life like theirs, and my heart breaks for everything they’ve been through, and continue to endure, yet they left me completely inspired and boosted my passion to help people even more.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and take action for this cause? What was that final trigger?

I could see people around me incredibly unhappy with their lives. They wished they could go back in time and do this and that. They were in a constant cycle of struggle and pain. They were jealous or bitter. I knew that I wasn’t going to settle and that I didn’t want that kind of life. I knew that I’d rather die saying, “I gave music my all,” than, “I wish I would’ve pursued my dreams.” It was an easy decision for me. I knew I’d struggle financially regardless of what career I chose, and I’d have to take out loans regardless of what school I went to, so I might as well make it fun and follow my heart.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

It’s the detailed messages from complete strangers that motivate me even more. I recently had a fan message me his story of attempted suicide and their constant struggles with mental health, and how my music played a part in literally saving them. And I had another fan message me of her experience with sexual assault and how much she appreciated me sharing my story because it made her feel a little more normal and understood. These kinds of messages from people I’ve never even met, telling me how my words have helped in their healing… It is so fulfilling and reminds me that I’m on the right path. It’s my favorite part of what I do.

Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?

Empathize, listen and help. People can be so mean and intentionally hurtful. It’s the simple things that can turn someone’s day or even life around. If everyone just stopped for a second and complimented a stranger walking by, or listened to a friend instead of impatiently waiting to speak, could empathize with someone hurting… the world would be a better place. There is so much hate going on in the world in politics, natural disasters, social injustices… the least we can do is listen and love and try our hardest to understand. And to do everything in our power to stick up for what we think is right. I wish the government would implement more laws/policies that supported BIPOC, people in poverty, and climate change, but I know I can start by supporting in my individual way by empathizing, listening and helping however I can. And by doing my part to make this world a better place to live in for everyone.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or an example for each.

1.Trust your gut and trust your vision. Don’t let men in the industry try to belittle you. Let them go if they’re getting in your way, and trust that Divine timing will bring you something/someone better suited.

I worked with someone who after explaining to them my vision and sound said, “How old are you? 21? I’ve been in the industry for half of your life. I know what works and what doesn’t.” And that’s when you love and leave them. No one knows what works best for you except for you. Stay authentic to yourself. You pursue your art because you love it, not because it sells well.

2. Get a lawyer! Don’t sign any shitty contracts!

I messed up a couple of times with contracts which caused a lot of issues. They weren’t fair deals and I wish I would’ve trusted my gut, sought out a lawyer and made changes earlier on, rather than causing complications and bringing up my concerns close to the release of the projects. That definitely caused some of my music relationships to end.

3. There is no checklist that will lead to your success. Everyone’s journey is different.

I’d read about all these “overnight success” and it demotivated me. I felt like I was doing everything these other new celebrities did and it wasn’t working for me. You just have to figure out what feels right for you and what helps your exposure. There’s no “right” way. It’s YOUR life, and YOUR career, so do it YOUR way.’

4. Whatever you’re pursuing shouldn’t be your whole life.

At first, I felt like I had to give every ounce of my energy into creating and working. It took me a while to realize how horrible that was for my mental health because when I had less work to do, I felt like I had no purpose. I put all of my worth in my work. Now I try to balance my sessions, admin work, traveling, time with friends and hobbies evenly. And I go with the flow a lot more.

5. Enjoy the process

Sounds simple but it’s easy to get caught up in the outcome of what you create. I am constantly reminding myself that I started writing music because I love the process, not the result. Naturally, I get caught up in numbers and how well my song is doing. And it’s a letdown when it isn’t doing as well as I expected. So I try to re-center and remember how fun and fulfilling the process was.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement what would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Ooooo. I’ve honestly never really thought about this. If I were to start a movement, I’d want it to be focused around mental health. We are trained to suppress emotions and avoid burdening others. It took me years and years to break out of this habit, and I finally feel free because of it. There is no such thing as too sensitive. I’m a huge advocate for self-acceptance and healing. Some ways I practice it are through meditation, journaling, connecting to my inner child and Higher Self, writing music, and dancing. Healing is a constant journey and you have to be patient and compassionate towards yourself during the process. Everything good starts from within. And once you have that foundation of love within, then that love can carry forward to the people around you.

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Politics, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

It would be a dream for me to converse with Rihanna. She is one of the most powerful female figures in the music and business industry. I want to pick her brain on how she became so confident leading, how she ignored the negativity and continued to pursue, how she dealt with rumors and the media exposing so much of her personal life, what inspired her new business avenues, who inspires her in music and life, and what experiences stick with her to this day… I want to know about her creative process in songwriting, producing and recording. I just want to be her friend!!! She is such an incredible role model to me.

Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was so inspiring, and we wish you continued success!


Music Stars Making A Social Impact: Why & How Faith Richards Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Stars Making a Social Impact: Why & How Collette Divitto of Collettey’s Cookies Is Helping To…

Stars Making a Social Impact: Why & How Collette Divitto of Collettey’s Cookies Is Helping To Change Our World

An Interview With Edward Sylvan

If you’re in business with your family, you have to make sure you have time together for fun and not always talk about business. My Mom and I had to learn that and say to each other NO BUSINESS TONIGHT.

As a part of our series about stars who are making an important social impact, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Collette Divitto.

This young lady is on a mission to change the world — one cookie at a time!

Collette Divitto was born in 1990 with Down syndrome. She grew up in Ridgefield, Connecticut where she developed a passion for baking after taking home economic classes in high school.

After high school, Collette attended Clemson University and finished a three-year LIFE program in just two years. Ms. Divitto was totally inexperienced as a business owner but made the bold move (with help from her mom and sister ) after receiving a number of job interview rejections — often via an email saying that she wasn’t “a good fit” for their company.

Ms. Divitto was just 26 when she decided to transform her baking hobby into a cookie business called Collettey’s. Combining passion and perseverance she was quoted as saying “You have to really focus on your abilities and not the disadvantages.” There was no stopping her determination. Driven by her desire to earn a steady income and eventually live independently, Divitto decided to go to a local grocery store in 2016 to ask if they would sell her baked goods. After tasting some of her samples, they immediately agreed. This was the start of her path to a successful business.

“My cookies are like ridiculously yummy cookies,” Divitto, told ABC News of her signature “amazing cookie,” adding that she includes “100 percent love” as an ingredient.” Can’t go wrong with that!

In late 2016, the Boston CBS TV affiliate featured Collette and her company on their nightly news program. Soon, she was flooded with orders. The national news picked up her story, and Collettey’s Cookies went viral. She has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, MSNBC, Inside Edition, BBC, and many other print and television media outlets around the world.

Collettey’s employs 17 people and two interns, (along with her mother) — a majority of whom have varying abilities. It is really important to her to be able to give others job opportunities! She states, “My favorite part of my company is creating more jobs for people with all types of disabilities.”

Collettey’s, is based in Boston and ships thousands of cookies and dog treats each week to people and companies nationwide. That number often increases around the holidays, with Divitto noting she has produced 30,000 cookies in a two-week period. Doggone it! That’s a lot of cookies and dog treats!

Ms. Divitto hopes to partner with Ben & Jerry’s one day and make an ice cream with her cookie in it!

When she is not baking cookies, Divitto also runs a nonprofit called Collettey’s Leadership.org, which was launched in 2018. Her organization offers workshops on independence and entrepreneurship. She’s inspiring others!

She is the author of “Collette in Kindergarten”. Also, stay tuned for her next book “Collette in Third Grade” which will be coming out soon.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you share with us the “backstory” that led you to this career path?

Well, actually I always loved baking and would make all different things on weekends to keep me busy while my sister and brother had lots of friends and went out. I did not have many social invitations and would get kind of down. I realized I loved baking and was good at it so baking became my friend and helped me stay happy and positive in myself. I never thought of it as a business.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career? What was the lesson or takeaway that you took out of that story?

I have had to fire my Mom from helping with the cookies. I often found her covered in flour or butter she was cutting on the floor. Clearly she ha no baking skills or patience and I have asked her to stay in the business and marketing aspect of my business

What would you advise a young person who wants to emulate your success?

You have to build your confidence in yourself and I did that by trying different things and not being scared to fail. If you find you have something you like and are pretty good at it you have to be willing to work hard and be totally committed to starting your own company. If you own your own company it will become part of your everyday life.

Is there a person that made a profound impact on your life? Can you share a story?

Oh YES. My MOM always. She raised me on her own and has been my biggest coach and fan. She has always made me feel that I can do anything I put my mind to and I should have the life I want. She taught me to say to myself everyday “I deserve the best for me”. I would say this and I believed.

How are you using your success to bring goodness to the world?

I think it's my story of being an inspiration to others and creating jobs for people with challenges and struggles since I understand that and no one would hire me. Also my non-profit Colletteys Leadership — I mentor other adults with challenges and I teach workshops like How To Become An Entrepreneur and How to Create Your Independence and more. Colletteysleadership.org

Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting causes you are working on right now?

Lowering the 82.5% unemployment rate for people with disabilities that are capable and want work. To keep create employment opportunities and helping others get ready for interviews. I also love running my intern programs and teaching people skills. I am really excited about opening in Canada and growing my company to offer Collettey’s Cookie partnerships across the country and offer jobs.

Can you share with us the story behind why you chose to take up this particular cause?

That is easy. I lived rejection, being left out, seeing how people looked at me differently or had very low expectations of me.

Can you share with us a story about a person who was impacted by your cause?

Oh sure. All my employees are so grateful they now have jobs, learned all the skills in the company and are part of all the company decisions and feel so included and valued. There is not just one person. But I also did give a job to a homeless person who now has their own apartment and is off food stamps!

Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?

Create an incentive for employees that hire people with disabilities! I have been working on that for a while and I actually have the policy written but with covid, I have to wait.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or an example for each.

If you're in business with your family, you have to make sure you have time together for fun and not always talk about business. My Mom and I had to learn that and say to each other NO BUSINESS TONIGHT. Haha

Owning your own business can make you always think about it. You have to learn how to turn it off, Go the gym with good music, Take walks, learn to meditate, schedule time that time or it does not happen.

Make sure you eat healthily and get good sleep. You will be working hard and need to be sharp, not tired and grouchy. You have to be the leader of your team needs positive energy.

Take time out for friends and having fun!

You have to make sure your employees are happy at work. You need to put them first when you are at work so your company runs smoothly and everyone cares about your company and each other.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would love to see my company in every state and empowering and employing people with struggles and telling their stories too. If I could see real inclusion and not fake it would be a dream I would love to make happen.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you explain how that was relevant in your life?

You Deserve The Best For You. The more you say it the more you will believe it and make it happen. I also say that No Matter Who You Are You Can Make A Great Difference In This World!

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Politics, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

OH wow. I have so many people.

Mark Cuban is very diversified and has the money to help me scale up. Michael Dell who just awarded me $20k of Dell products for recognizing me and my mission to employee people with struggles, the Mars Family who has candy and pet food and the funds and gives to charities to help me build my company, and Lauren Jobs who lost husband and likes to help empower women

Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was so inspiring, and we wish you continued success!


Stars Making a Social Impact: Why & How Collette Divitto of Collettey’s Cookies Is Helping To… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Music Stars Making A Social Impact: Why & How Alvin Garrett Is Helping To Change Our World

An Interview With Edward Sylvan

One of my young students in class when he heard the song immediately started saying that was me when he heard it. He just got out of jail and was struggling and when he heard the song, he said that’s why I’m still here today. But throughout the years, people would see me and connect that I’m the guy singing the song and the first thing they would do is share their story. Endless stories of beating divorce, cancer and more. Honestly, when it was released, so many people told me it was a hit so I thought it would blow up and I would be rich, but instead, I got rich in testimony! It was depressing at first knowing that I made the song and people didn’t recognize that it was me, but I believe it was destined for them to hear the song not for me to be famous. It wasn’t my time just yet.

As a part of our series about music stars who are making an important social impact, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Alvin Garrett.

Alvin Garrett is a bassist, songwriter, and producer who has easily switched between the contemporary R&B and gospel worlds. A native of Birmingham, Alabama who was born and raised in Tuscaloosa, he came up through Freestyle Nation and Just a Few Cats. The latter band featured Ruben Studdard, who employed Garrett as musical director following his solo breakout through American Idol. During the early 2010s, Garrett also collaborated with Jordan Knight, Johnny Gill, and Noel Gourdin. More prominently, he worked on Dove- and Grammy-nominated gospel recordings by Deitrick Haddon and Trin-i-tee 5:7. In 2012, Garrett self-released an album of slick contemporary R&B titled Expose Yourself and continued to work behind the scenes with fellow artists. After contributions to recordings by Alexis Spight, Joe, and Nick Carter and Jordan Knight’s Nick & Knight project, Garrett released a 2015 single, “By Myself,” fronted by Studdard.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit of the ‘backstory’ of how you grew up?

In 2015, I found my artistic voice, but I would consider this the third or fourth leg of my journey from starting as a musician, musical director, producer and writer. I wrote a song called, “By Myself” which was the culmination of my gospel, blues, and soul background coming together. It’s led me on a journey where I’ve found a purpose with my music outside of my church upbringing. That song let me know that outside of the realm of the gospel, there was a purpose of hope and inspiration that could happen with my music and my career. Because of that song, here I am today branding myself as an inspirational soul artist. It’s hard to find a genre for me because I’m not a true R&B and I’m not the true gospel, but a blend of both.

Is there a person that made a profound impact on your life?

Rueben’s story and experience had a profound impact on me, but I would say Al Bell from Stax Records. He wrote songs like “I’ll Take You There” and was the mind and genius behind some of the civil rights music being made on that label. He heard my song, By Myself and sought me out. We became very close friends after that and he mentored me privately. He shared a lot of personal history with me and taught me everything he knew like he was the sensei and I was his grasshopper! The two years I spent talking to him every day and to be mentored by an icon was impactful. I didn’t realize what he saw and heard when he met me. He had to teach me. Sometimes as humans we can’t see it and be it at the same time. You have to have another pair of ears and eyes to tell you this is who you are! He was like a surrogate grandfather to me. He took me in and fill in those gaps I needed to understand the music business. I thank him for saying you’re greater than you even know. Because I only saw myself as the backup guy, as the friend of Rueben’s, not the headline! So I try to do that for other people.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you explain how that was relevant in your life?

It’s an acronym from my entertainment company that came to me in 2018. I released an album around a song called, “This Hill” which stands for Hope inspiration love and loss. The slogan goes, Because of Hope, I have the inspiration to pursue what I love at the risk of loss. You can’t get on the HILL if you’re afraid of taking an L. To me, this is the message of faith and my personal motto is to keep climbing. Every day I get up I will allow my hope to inspire me to pursue what I love knowing there’s a chance I could lose. But if I’m too afraid to take an L, I can’t get on the hill! There is no hill without that last L and you have to factor in your losses for your dreams to come true. Nobody has ever accomplished anything great without taking an L.

How are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting causes you are working on right now?

Well, my prayer from the beginning was to get enough success to have people listen to me. I’ve always said these things, but until I was successful few people listened. Because of the success of the song, when I talk to young men and ladies reentering society through the Dannon Project I can talk to them. When I tell them to check out my life song and play it they lose it! Once I tell them, I’m Grammy-nominated I got them. The credibility makes them say now I will listen to you. So when I talk to young people, I ask them what do you want to become? Then I teach them the process of writing a song and say that’s the exact same process you take with your life! You first decide what it is you want to be? What’s that song? Then who is your audience? Who are you around? Why are you writing this song? Why do you want to become who you are saying you’re becoming? And last how. Coming up with the plan and finding the right melody. Having an intentional approach to life. By using music and the songwriting process, it helps them think through decisions. It’s a music education program but also therapeutic.

Can you share with us a story about a person who was impacted by your cause?

One of my young students in class when he heard the song immediately started saying that was me when he heard it. He just got out of jail and was struggling and when he heard the song, he said that’s why I’m still here today. But throughout the years, people would see me and connect that I’m the guy singing the song and the first thing they would do is share their story. Endless stories of beating divorce, cancer and more. Honestly, when it was released, so many people told me it was a hit so I thought it would blow up and I would be rich, but instead, I got rich in testimony! It was depressing at first knowing that I made the song and people didn’t recognize that it was me, but I believe it was destined for them to hear the song not for me to be famous. It wasn’t my time just yet.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or an example for each.

I don’t think there was anything anyone could have told me that would have made my journey different or easier. I am who I am because my journey was hard. Rueben Studdard my good friend was on the show American Idol and won but that’s not my story. Because of my challenges, working in a corporate setting to advance and investing in myself, I wouldn’t want anybody to tell me anything to help make things easier. I would instead ask a person to tell me what is I need to learn from my challenges! Being able to learn from my challenges quicker would be helpful and even now in my career, I never tell anyone anything that will make their journey easier! If it's too easy, it’s not going to be meaningful. You won’t get the treasured knowledge and stories. This insight comes from 20 years of being hit in the face so to speak! I’m thankful for these pages in the story.

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

The Lightness of Love is an existence. If you live with love in your heart, the supernatural love and grace and forgiveness you will have a lightness in life. It’s a state of existence I found during the pandemic where you find yourself happier than ever in the worst of times you’re there. It’s how we can unite people and transcend our differences. It’s the challenge of seeing a father in a white officer whose putting your life at risk or seeing my brother in a man who has tattoos and gold teeth. To do that I have to live in the lightness of love inside. So when I interact with other human beings from different backgrounds and beliefs, they feel the lightness and not the heaviness of judgment. They don’t feel the prejudice coming from my eyes. If I could change the world to see the lightness in love inside I would so they could have the opportunity to connect with another human being. Even within our own communities, there’s hate. So the first frontier is us being able to look at each other as black people and say you are my brother and sister and be real. The lightness of love is more universal than the presence of God which may turn people away. Love is love no matter your religion.

How can people or government institutions support you in this effort?

Directly the Dannon Project is the name of the organization I work with as a consultant alongside the songwriting program. We are a government-funded program through the Department of Labor that is funded by the state and county as well as private donors. People interested in donating can go to the website and learn more about them as well, but we are looking to expand. We have a site in Montgomery and just opened one in Tuscaloosa. If there is anyone who wants to partner with us and help franchise a successful re-entry workforce development agency, we are open to those conversations. We know this process works and it takes partnerships with the church, government and workforce community to bring about change in our community.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

The first name that popped into my head would be former President Barack Obama. I see a lot of him in me in turns of his love for people and how all people embraced him. Although he was attacked from all sides, he was loved by people from all backgrounds and on top of that, he’s a very intelligent and well-spoken man. He exemplifies the power of voice. I admire that. I’m inspired by him. He uses his voice to instill a feeling of hope in a person. Just to be able to sit and listen to him would be great.

Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was so inspiring, and we wish you continued success!


Music Stars Making A Social Impact: Why & How Alvin Garrett Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Social Media Stars Making A Social Impact: Why & How Big Homie Kodaq Is Helping To Change Our World

Once I started in radio, I saw that everyone there had a different job that was a side hustle or noble cause. It motivated me to pursue another degree and so I got a Masters in Criminal Justice. Around that time, the events of the Trayvon Martin case were fresh and I saw that and I wanted to expose kids in bad neighborhoods to different ways of life. I decided to use my platform to speak to kids. I was a paraprofessional in the Atlanta Public School system and so I wanted to be able to tell them they could do anything with hard work. So to do that I bring people they love from the same circumstances and neighborhoods to inspire them to be successful. There is no reason that all of these black children shouldn’t be successful.

I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Big Homie Kodaq.

Big Homie Kodaq is an emerging media mogul out of Atlanta. He’s cut his teeth on the media circuit, working at well-known entertainment entities from V103, to TMZ. Kodaq has interviewed some of media’s biggest names, ranging from Ric Flair, to TI, and Nancy Grace etc. An ATLANTA native, Kodaq grew up on the West side of Atlanta, and from there made his way to Tri Cities High School. At Tri Cities, he enrolled in the school’s magnet department which was known for pushing out greats such as Kandi Burruss, and Outkast. From there he made his way to Clark Atlanta University on a full athletic scholarship and graduated with his Bachelors in Mass Communication. After college matriculation, Kodaq earned a Masters in Criminal Justice and he began his work with Hoodrich Radio and DJ Scream. Over time he took over as his radio show’s producer. This partnership eventually culminated in Kodaq being named Executive Producer for the Revolt TV program BIG FACTS PODCAST.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path? (What inspired the Big Homie house)?

When I was in college at Clark Atlanta University on an athletic scholarship, I saw one of my teammates on a flyer on campus and I said to myself, hey I want to do that. From there, I taught myself how to DJ and started to DJ for local parties on and off-campus. It helped me get my name out there and soon anything that needed to be hosted I was doing. That experience led me to get my first internship with V103 here in Atlanta, starting off with DJ Greg Street and eventually with Ryan Cameron. Ryan served as my mentor, looking out for me. From there, things have only gone up. I currently work with Hoodrich Radio with DJ Scream on the Big Facts Podcast as well as host my own pod, The Big Homie’s House podcast.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Around 2009–2010 I was interning with Ludacris’ company Disturbing the Peace (DTP) during their annual Labor Day celebration in the Atlanta University Center called Luda Day. During the concert portion of the event, I was told to help manage the stage by making sure I didn’t let anyone on who they didn’t recognize. There was a tall guy with dreads who I didn’t recognize walking towards the stage, so I stopped him and asked who he was with? He looked back at me and said, “Who you with?!! The coordinator of the event grabbed me and told me, “That’s 2 Chainz! At the time, he went by a different name and was just starting to grow into his fame. It was embarrassing. That was my first big industry mistake. But I think we smoothed it over. This happened when I was in college and before he took off to that next level as an artist.

Ok super. Let’s now jump to the core focus of our interview. Can you describe to our readers how you are using your platform to make a significant social impact?

Once I started in radio, I saw that everyone there had a different job that was a side hustle or noble cause. It motivated me to pursue another degree and so I got a Masters in Criminal Justice. Around that time, the events of the Trayvon Martin case were fresh and I saw that and I wanted to expose kids in bad neighborhoods to different ways of life. I decided to use my platform to speak to kids. I was a paraprofessional in the Atlanta Public School system and so I wanted to be able to tell them they could do anything with hard work. So to do that I bring people they love from the same circumstances and neighborhoods to inspire them to be successful. There is no reason that all of these black children shouldn’t be successful.

Was there a tipping point that made you decide to focus on this particular area?

Before I started teaching in the schools, I already knew I wanted to combine the two. I got involved before that by working with the Fulton County District Attorney, Paul Howard, on a few events for his office. Once I got in the schools, a celebrity would reach out every now and then ask what we were doing and I would mention that we had some students who would probably want to see them.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by this cause?

I remember inviting a black magician named Jibrizy to the schools. He probably performed magic tricks for about five to ten classrooms for about two hours. It isn’t often we see a young black magician who listens to what the kids listen to. The kids talked about him for the next two weeks at least! If he hadn’t been there though, they wouldn’t have even though that was a possibility! If all they see is guns and murder sometimes that becomes all they think is available.

What specific strategies have you been using to promote and advance this cause? Can you recommend any good tips for people who want to follow your lead and use their social platform for a social good?

The most intentional action was being consistent. For example, I’ve heard a lot of people say they want to do podcasts, but they only do it for about a month or two and stop or they aren’t consistent with when they post. But because I’m invested for the long term, I record every week. We missed a few weeks last year because of the pandemic, but even when we couldn’t formally meet, I still used Instagram Live to do interviews weekly. Next, I make sure that after I record, I clip up my pieces. I know the typical person isn’t going to watch an hour to an hour and a half worth of content on a weekly basis but they will watch a one-to-two-minute clip on social media. Everybody has their phones so if you can make the material easier for people to consume you have the best chance for a viral clip. That’s helped us get a lot of viral clips on sites like the Shade Room, Neighborhood Talk and World Star Hip Hop.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

1. Record Everything. I have so many interviews with people like 2 Chainz and Shawty Lo that we’ll never get another interview from. Back then I didn’t see the power of reusable content or I would have taken the measures needed to record these moments.

2. It’s cool to be talented in a number of things. You don’t have to stick to one realm of media. Back then I just wanted a job in radio not knowing it’ so many ways you can do media outside of radio. If you would have asked me in college about doing a podcast, I would have looked at you like you were crazy! Now, these two podcasts are where I make the bulk of my money.

3. I wish someone would have told me that what you think you’re going to do and what you are going to do aren’t always the same. Your path is going to be what you make on your own. I feel like I wasted a lot of time waiting for people to put me onto opportunities when I could have been making my own opportunities. I was thinking of media traditionally as far as applying for a job and moving up, but it’s so much power in independence.

4. The importance of maintaining relationships. Back in the day, I had a reputation for talking recklessly on Twitter. I had to clean up my page. Atlanta is small though and you can’t talk crazy about people you will eventually have to work with one day.

5. Sometimes you have to learn to shut up and not say the first thing that pops in your mind. It’s important to keep your face card clean.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I would love to see more of our entertainers giving back to their community. If people invest in you and look up to you, you should at least show face. You’re an influencer for a reason. You influence the kids. I would also push for more funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities and favorable press. I think HBCUs across the board need more positive press. These schools are important pieces of the culture. I want to be a part of that rise of HBCU culture because it is so many important stories that wouldn’t be told without these schools.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

It comes from an Atlanta native, Curtis Snow who says, “F em, we Ball”. It reflects the mindset that regardless of other circumstances we are going to win regardless. If people are upset, we are still on top. But there are other quotes. I grew up watching wrestling and Triple H once said, “Sometimes you gotta grab life by the throat and make it give you what you want.”

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

Charlemagne the God, Diddy, and Vince McMahon. I feel as if Charlemagne and I have similar personalities. I see a lot of my personality in what he does a media figure. I like how Diddy built an empire from scratch. That mirrors my plan. It didn’t materialize until a year ago, but I’m glad I was dedicated enough to make it happen. I want to do merchandise and other ventures that will employ people. I grew up watching Vince McMahon and I admire how he was able to eliminate all the other competition and eventually hired them all. I want to be that dominant in media to where my competition doesn’t even exist.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!


Social Media Stars Making A Social Impact: Why & How Big Homie Kodaq Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Nakeya T Fields of Therapeutic Play Foundation: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Lead A…

Nakeya T Fields of Therapeutic Play Foundation: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Lead A Nonprofit Organization

Non profit status does not mean automatic monetary support and funding. Oftentimes people think that once they become a non-profit organization, money starts rushing in. That is definitely not the case. It is imperative to have structure to maintain your organization’s growth.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nakeya T. Fields.

Nakeya T. Fields is a mental health entrepreneur, author, and speaker with more than 12 years of experience in developing and running mental health-related, community-focused programming. She is the Founder and Chair of the Board for The Therapeutic Play Foundation, a nonprofit that seeks to build a healthier, more resilient world for those in under-resourced communities.

Nakeya is the best selling author of “Mental Health Entrepreneur — Gain Freedom and Escape the 9–5 Grind: How To Treat Mental Illness and Monetize Your Expertise,” released In April 2018. Her second book, The “Manifest It! Action Planner: An Accountability Tool for the Powerful” will be available in 2021. Nakeya is active in her community as a leader in the African American Infant and Maternal Mortality Steering, Planning and Community Action Teams. She also deepens her impact as the Chair of the Black Mental Health Task Force which seeks to empower community members of Black and African Heritage through advocacy and policy reform.

Thank you so much for doing this with us. Before we begin our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”?

As a licensed mental health professional, I have a passion for community building. I strive to empower women, children, and families to be happy, healthy, and well by establishing self care routines. I encourage members of my community to take time for themselves, especially when they are not feeling their best. Our organization provides mental health services such as individual, group and family therapy, as well as offering restorative yoga, doula, and several outreach events.

Can you tell us the story behind why you decided to start or join your non nonprofit?

During a difficult period in my life I lacked support. I never want anyone to feel like I did, like there is no place for them to go. That feeling motivated me to open my organization and create a safe space for others.

Can you describe how you or your organization aims to make a significant social impact?

I want mental health support to be an ongoing conversation in school systems and amongst students. We have to teach school systems awareness and how to give proper assessments to people of color. Too often we are put into a box with a negative stigma surrounding mental health. I want to impact change and educate the public on the immense benefits of healing through therapy services. Our goal is to treat clients using a holistic approach. We strive to be culturally and racially inclusive, and to expose the whole family to treatment.

Without saying any names, can you share a story about an individual who was helped by your idea so far?

When we first started this organization, I had a six year old client who grew up in a home with domestic violence. She was a selective mute with severe separation anxiety which caused her to do poorly in school. Once she became my client, she was able to slowly learn how to express herself creatively and learn how to build trusting relationships through play therapy. This client holds a special place in my heart. Our organization has been able to help over 500 individuals with similar backgrounds through this therapy. Being able to creatively express yourself through other mediums is what we strive to teach others every day.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

When it comes to toxic stress and race-based trauma that is impacting the health and wellness of Black families specifically at higher rates than families of other ethnic groups, I believe it is important that our leaders allow the community to take lead. Trust us to be experts in our own experiences and culture so that we can speak the language of and be the faces that look like the community being served. They should also educate us, share the knowledge, the power, and the resources. Let us know how to take the steps to empower ourselves so we can teach each other. We have a proverb: “Each one, Teach One.” If the strongest and most able leaders are educated and well, then we have unlimited ability to pass on that wellness and knowledge. And finally, fund us! Provide us with the capital and technology and resources to compete with organizations and resources that were born into their resources and without hundreds of years of being behind in relationship building and foundation laying. If we are supported with education, funding, resources and we are in the front showing that we are safe, we are more likely to build the village that is needed to heal the intentional separation of the Black family.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is the ability to model accountability and make hard decisions. It is taking action and actually implementing it though action.

Based on your experience, what are the “5 things a person should know before they decide to start a non profit”. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Non profit status does not mean automatic monetary support and funding. Oftentimes people think that once they become a non-profit organization, money starts rushing in. That is definitely not the case. It is imperative to have structure to maintain your organization’s growth.
  2. Passion for public service is what will keep you going. Belief that your mission will succeed no matter how hard it gets is necessary. Without passion, you will lose sight of your goal.
  3. “Ear hustle” when you’re surrounded by business peers. Listening to other pitches is the only way to learn how to pitch correctly. This way you will hear what works, what gets the attention of others, and who to go after.
  4. Learn your pitch and know who you are pitching to. You have to make yourself marketable so others will gravitate towards you and support your cause
  5. Take notes- when you write things down, they are retained in your brain longer. Think it, write it, speak it, claim it.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world who you would like to talk to, to share the idea behind your non profit? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Hi Oprah! I think everyone can look up to Oprah in some aspect. She supports black families. Let’s work together on maternal mental health, early childhood development, and whole family health. Let’s empower the black family by decreasing the stigma surrounding mental health issues and increase awareness of healthy coping strategies!

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson” Quote? How is that relevant to you in your life?

Two quotes that continue to inspire me each day are “be the change you want to see in the world” and “never take No for an answer.” I think these two quotes work hand in hand. I started my organization because I wanted better for those who were in tough situations. I want to teach others that we don’t have to just accept being unhappy. Also, starting an organization from the ground up comes with its own set of challenges. I have gotten countless “no’s” but I always try my hardest to turn it into an “absolutely.” I think it’s extremely important to have a true passion for your business, not just the idea that comes with it. Hardwork and determination are key to being successful.

How can our readers follow you online?

Follow us on Instagram @TheFeelWellCoach @TherapeuticPlayFoundation @BlackMentalHealthTaskForce

Visit our website: www.therapeuticplayfoundation.org and www.blackmentalhealthtaskforce.net

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success in your mission.


Nakeya T Fields of Therapeutic Play Foundation: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Lead A… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Aminah & Hussein Musa of PaliRoots Is Helping To Change Our World

A leader to us is someone who has the ability to guide and motivate people towards a better vision. They are patient, emotionally strong and competent, can navigate through pressure, and knows how to get things done. A leader is a creative and powerful visionary who inspires others towards a unified goal and helps others use their imagination to further develop ideas, creativity and enhance communal strength.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Aminah & Hussein Musa of PaliRoots.

PaliRoots was founded by the millennial sibling-duo Aminah and Hussein Musa. Aminah graduated from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) as a Fashion Product Development Major. Hussein worked as a brand developer who built up an agency for $1M+ brands specializing in web development, marketing and design.

Growing up in a humble Palestinian immigrant family, Aminah and Hussein always dreamed of building a socially conscious brand for the benefit of educating others and financially aiding Palestine. Together, they used their talents and education to curate a brand geared towards diaspora Palestinians and their supporters that practices social and environmental consciousness and benefits Palestinian children in Gaza with every purchase.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Aminah Musa: Our family comes from humble beginnings, hailing from the Southside of Chicago. We grew up understanding the importance of preserving the beauty of our rich culture as Palestinians and felt a push from our ancestors to ensure that it was carried on through future generations. Despite our family needing food stamps and government assistance to get by, our grandfather “Sido Hussein” always reminded us of our privilege and we were raised with the understanding that our presence in America and the opportunities we would leverage here were to always somehow lead to positive impact and aid for those “back home” in Palestine. We knew we needed to create a movement with a tangible side for our youth, by our youth, to help them remember and celebrate our collective heritage and traditions.

I used my degree in Fashion Product Development from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM), and my brother, Hussein, used his knowledge and skills as a brand developer with a passion for building websites and the world of software development, to honor our family roots and the teachings of our parents and grandparents through the development of our own brand.

PaliRoots was born on September 1st, 2016 with the foundational mission of becoming an emotionally impactful brand focused on social justice and change, inclusion, and giving back to those in need. Our family’s traditional Palestinian hospitality is weaved into PaliRoots’ core, everything down to the packaging you receive in the mail is branded with that world-famous Palestinian hospitality, love, and care.

You can learn more about our PaliRoots mission by visiting Our Mission page on our site!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

Hussein Musa: Our entire journey to building PaliRoots is quite interesting! What sets PaliRoots apart from many other brands is the attention to detail and the personal time we take to listen to the voices within our community. In hearing those voices, we realized the responsibility that was in our hands, to take our humanitarian missions a step further by creating a “sustainable” project that would live beyond our lifetime. This had us brainstorming for months and consisted of many conversations with our incredible team about what we can do to take that next step.

Through our reflections, we traveled back in time as children of immigrants growing up in Southside Chicago and what we needed to do to live through our struggles and survive as a family. This is how the idea for the PaliRoots Meal Program came to life. As second-generation immigrants, we had little to no money to put food on the table, especially since our father was still in medical school pursuing his doctorate degree. Our parents were budgeted to only purchase food through governmental aid, “Food Stamps”. Luckily, our public school would provide breakfast and lunch for us during the week.

Our reality of food insecurity inspired us to build a similar program by providing meals to children in school throughout the Gaza strip. This project took us 6 months to build as we had to integrate a custom programmed app into our website so that our customers can see how many meals they are building and donating as they spend on Pali Gear. Our customers really enjoy knowing their spending is also going to a good cause, and we’ve received really exciting and genuine support via DMs, reviews, emails, etc. about how much everyone loves the program.

I always find it interesting and humbling how much our personal experience has led us to build something that at its very core is centered around giving back to the community we love.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Aminah: We attended a convention in Chicago Illinois called MAS-ICNA. This convention had foot traffic of roughly 25,000 people. With our limited budget, we wanted to create a booth that stood out from others without costing us an arm and leg. Our idea was to build the pergola and hang warm Edison light bulbs around to attract customers from afar, the goal being THE booth with the best selfie lighting (best selfie lighting = attracting foot traffic to your booth!).

A day before the event we stormed into Home Depot to purchase lumber, screws, and drill to build a 10-foot x 20-foot pergola. We were watching “How To” YouTube videos the night before to understand what steps were needed to create this magical ambiance we were all envisioning. Without any experience or knowledge of how to build — anything really, let alone a pergola, we began to worry about how we were going to pull it off. While building the structure, we ran into countless roadblocks like the screws easily breaking and not being the correct size in order to keep the structure together. These challenges resulted in even more trips to Home Depot which led to our team having an absolute meltdown, which was impressive considering the limited time we had to make this possible.

Hours passed and we were finally able to fully assemble it until we realized that we assembled the ENTIRE structure upside down! We were then faced with our biggest challenge yet — we had to figure out how we were going to flip the pergola to stand upright. The entire piece must have weighed at least 200 pounds and we only had 5 people on site. We had to kindly ask (beg) other people who were also preparing their booths to help us flip it. When they saw what we were trying to do, they laughed and said it was impossible to flip without the legs breaking. We were stubborn and did not want the time and money spent on building it to go to waste. Thankfully, we rounded up an additional 7 people to help us flip it, and when the legs landed on the floor, everyone erupted into cheering, which slowly led to a small celebration with a Dabka circle (a traditional Palestinian dance danced at celebrations).

Lesson learned, never let anyone tell you that your concept is impossible, never give up on your idea. And most importantly, save yourself the tears and hire a professional to build you a pergola.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

Hussein: PaliRoots gives back in two different ways; (1) Through the PaliRoots Meal Program which donates one nutritious meal to a child in need for every order placed on PaliRoots. After that, for every $25 you spend, we will donate another meal and (2) Through the PaliRoots Funding Project which organizes high-impact campaigns with non-profits to families in Palestine who need it most.

From the very beginnings of our brand up until today, we collectively as a community have; (1) Donated 355,181 meals through our PaliRoots Meal Program and (2) Donated $2,852,946.76 towards charitable causes through our PaliRoots Funding Project.

Our PaliRoots Meal Program is our personal pride and joy, and it is the soul of our brand. We partnered with the Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) team to do a 3-month pilot program to research food and nutrient deficiency in four kindergartens in some of the poorest areas of the Gaza Strip. We found that among the 372 children at these kindergartens, 37% were anemic, 4.1% were stunted, 23% were at risk of stunting, 3% were underweight, 20.5% were overweight, and 14.2% were obese. At the end of the pilot program through our meal donations, the results showed a significant improvement in the health of the children. This also increased their desire to attend school more regularly. Their attention and behavior improved as well. We are thrilled to continue this project and seeing the happy faces from the parents, teachers, and children makes us even more excited to continue this beautiful work.

Every child deserves food security. And we hope to make that a reality for children in Palestine.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Aminah: We know that our foundational mission is positively impacting children in Gaza and throughout historic Palestine every day. We do recall one story, however, where we took a step back to listen to what these children really wanted during one of our visits around the Muslim holiday, Eid. Every child of course needs food and shelter, but like every other kid on this planet, kids in Gaza want toys.

That Eid we donated toys to children in Gaza and it made them happier than we’ve ever seen before. It was by far our most exciting and meaningful campaign because it focused on the mental health and happiness of kids in Gaza, and gave them the opportunity to take a break from survival mode, and enjoy a moment as children.

Wafa, the project assistant at MECA shares,

“It was my greatest pleasure to purchase these toys for Gazan kids. It is one of my happiest moments and will remain in my memory forever. We purchased all my favorite toys that I dreamed about as a kid and all the toys the children asked for.

At first, we thought that we preferred to purchase essential needs for children, such as clothes and schools bags, but we later realized that toys are also essential, as many of these kids and their parents cannot afford toys and are lucky to simply have food on the table.”

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

  1. Understanding your power. All community members need to acknowledge that there is incredible power in the voices of us ordinary (non-politician) people. We need to utilize our platforms and our actions to amplify the voices in need so we can collectively put pressure on those in power to prioritize the importance of the human rights violations happening to Palestinians.
  2. Organize and divest. Our youth need to remain involved in creating groups and events to gather the unified masses to take action and demand a push towards meaningful change.
  3. Instill more empathy in your conscious mind. The more we can separate our reality to live in the reality of others, the more we can understand the importance of understanding their struggles. Education is key and undermining your efforts to learn is a privilege that many do not have. This is something that every political leader and individual needs to integrate into their mind to bring world peace and seek change.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Aminah & Hussein: “A boss has the title, a leader has the people.” Here at PaliRoots, we pride ourselves in how we built a strong and supportive company culture. We believe everyone is their own boss, we don’t want our brand, as it continues to grow, to turn into a bureautic style company. We believe that causes a lot of conflict within people both individually and as a company and our goal is always to unify the people.

A leader to us is someone who has the ability to guide and motivate people towards a better vision. They are patient, emotionally strong and competent, can navigate through pressure, and knows how to get things done. A leader is a creative and powerful visionary who inspires others towards a unified goal and helps others use their imagination to further develop ideas, creativity and enhance communal strength.

Most importantly, a true leader is always constantly improving. They turn their team into stars and are always able to measure their performance over time to ensure their skills are improving through their influence.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Aminah & Hussein:

  1. Running a business is always the biggest priority in your life.
  • Not many people understand how much time and effort it takes to run a business. Especially in the world of eCommerce. You have to cover so many different areas in the company with super limited budgets and manpower.

2. You will have haters as you grow.

  • We always thought that because PaliRoots is a social cause brand that helps bring awareness to Palestinian culture and heritage that focuses on high-impact funding charity projects, that we’d be immune to animosity. You quickly learn that no one is immune to that. You have to stay focused through all the noise on the mission and accomplish the great things you planned to accomplish.

3. It can be lonely sometimes

  • Sometimes you just cannot attend parties, family gatherings, movie nights, etc. because the work just needs to be done.
  • Leaving your 9–5 job to build a business means you’re going to be working 12hr days. It can interfere with your romantic relationships. You work from morning to night and then some. Of course, you should balance but that’s the ultimate battle for entrepreneurs.

4. You will not be a millionaire overnight

  • Cash flow is everything in business, you make $10,000, you need to invest that $10,000 to scale to $20,000 and it goes on and on. If you make 500,000 and want to get to a million, you will have to risk and invest sometimes all you have to get to $1,000,000. You’re always taking smart calculated risks, little by little and you will start to see the fruits of your labor. Sometimes it feels like it will never come, but be patient.

5. You will experience heartbreak

  • Whether it’s from a former employee or dealing with rejections, sometimes business can hurt. For example, many eCommerce businesses encounter the issue of over-ordering merchandise that just won’t sell and are now faced with empty stock (luckily this hasn’t been a huge issue) but it’s a blessing in disguise too, since through that experience you learn more about what your customers truly want.

You are persons of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Aminah & Hussein: We think a movement that can really inspire the most amount of good is one that focuses on teaching children empathy. When children are taught at a young age to feel another individual’s pain and happiness, it teaches children to be reflective and put themselves in another’s shoes. They in turn will also develop other amazing characteristics like generosity — inspiring them to help those in need. They will become less individual-focused and more community-focused and that’s how we make our world better. Unfortunately, it is becoming more common these days for younger generations to lack empathy because social media has taught our youth to place more attention on materialistic values over all else.

Our father was always so adamant about reminding us while growing up in the era of social media and technology that we must reflect before we share our lives with the world. Not because of protecting us from the evil eye (like what most Arab parents believe social media is a breeding ground for), but instead it was more of an empathic ideology to avoid making others feel like our lives are superior and causing others to compare their lives to ours. This lesson is still to this day at the forefront of our minds, to take moments to reflect and ask ourselves if the action we are about to take will affect another mentally or physically. Would it be better to instead share messages of inspiration rather than our vacation videos all the time? These little moments of reflection taught us the greatest lesson of all, how we can be more considerate of others. Ironically, this is a lesson our ancestors have taught us for generations and it’s important for us to pass it on to younger generations. This is why we share stories like these with our community through IG live discussions.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Hussein: “Somebody is working harder than you, what are you going to do about it?”

This was a huge quote that is always on my mind when I’m feeling tired and burnt out. I’d remind myself of this quote, and the amount of energy it gives me is incredible. I know that it takes a lot of hard work and effort to get to where we want to be.

Aminah: “Do good and throw it in the sea” افعل الخير وارميه في البح — Arabic Proverb

In a world that needs more kindness, always do good for others without expecting anything in return. The world will give back to you tenfold when you are least expecting it.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Aminah & Hussein: Mohammad Hadid for sure! His background in business and just general personal story of his family’s connection and history in Palestine are an inspiration to us. He is proud of his roots and is always sharing Palestinian culture with his social media following. We believe he is a man of many talents and believes in the value of family and he portrays that through his art and connection to his ancestors and his children and grandchildren. A fun fact about him, his great grandfather Daher Al Omer, was the Arab ruler of northern Palestine until 1774. We’d love to learn more about his story over some mint tea and knafeh one day!

How can our readers follow you on social media?

PaliRoots:

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/PaliRoots/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PaliRoots/

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/paliroots

Aminah Musa:

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/goldenmuseco/

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/aminahmusa/

Hussein Musa:

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/hmusaz/

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/husseinmusa/

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Thank you so much for having us! This was a great interview.


Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Aminah & Hussein Musa of PaliRoots Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Jeff Whisenant of ReSurge International: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Lead A Nonprofit…

Jeff Whisenant of ReSurge International: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Lead A Nonprofit Organization

If you are thinking about starting a nonprofit, understand what nonprofits already exist that are working on a similar topic or in a similar geographic area. Establishing a nonprofit is a costly and time-consuming process, and there is a lot of groundwork required before you can ever begin to deliver programs. If there is another nonprofit that you could partner with, that will save you time and money. Sometimes when I see a new nonprofit, I think about the economies of scale the founders could have achieved by partnering with an existing one.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jeff Whisenant.

Jeff Whisenant is the President and CEO of ReSurge International, and is an experienced leader in the nonprofit sector, with more than 30 years of global experience in international development and relief. He previously held high-level executive positions at Lutheran World Relief in Baltimore, Pact Inc. in Washington, D.C., and Orbis International in New York, as well as serving on the boards of ActionAid, InspirAction and InterAction. Jeff is an experienced traveler who has worked assignments in 29 countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia.

Thank you so much for doing this with us. Before we begin our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”?

As a child, I thought I wanted to become a doctor. When I was an undergraduate, both of my parents experienced significant health problems and I became more interested in public health as a way to prevent the health problems they faced. From there, it was a short leap to international nonprofits, where I focused my career. I’ve worked with various organizations that tackled areas such as blindness prevention, agricultural development, humanitarian response; as well as in each of the key functions of a nonprofit: programs, fundraising, strategy, and HR.

Now, I am the President and CEO of ReSurge International, whose mission is to inspire, train, fund, and scale reconstructive surgical teams in low-income countries to provide life-changing care to patients with the greatest need. This work is not always easy, but every morning I wake up feeling like I am making an impact in this world. I think my childhood self would be proud of the work we’re doing to transform lives through surgical care.

Can you tell us the story behind why you decided to start or join your nonprofit?

I was at a point in my career where I had led all of the functions of an international nonprofit, and I was looking for the opportunity to bring all those threads together. Thankfully, ReSurge International was looking for someone with that profile! Moreover, at that time, global surgery was coming into its own as a field of study and a priority for global health. Up until that point, surgery in low-income countries was pretty much seen as a luxury. I recall my early days as a Peace Corps volunteer in Gabon, where the only surgery that was offered was an appendectomy and in simple cases, a Caesarean section; beyond that, if you needed surgery, you were out of luck. But in 2015, several publications documented the magnitude of the problem and determined that access to surgery is an essential part of universal health care. The World Bank also identified essential surgical care as one of the most cost-effective health interventions available and a health priority that is within reach for countries around the world. The opportunity to contribute to such a critical and growing movement was compelling to me.

Can you describe how you or your organization aims to make a significant social impact?

Worldwide there are 5 billion people without access to surgical care. That’s 5 billion people who are suffering needless deaths, disabilities, and related financial catastrophe because of treatable surgical conditions. In fact, these conditions represent approximately 30% of the global disease burden — three times more than malaria, TB, and HIV/AIDS combined. Access to surgery not only transform lives; it also transforms economies. One surgery can mean that a child or an adult in a low-income country can now go to school, get a job, and contribute to their community. When we are talking about 5 billion people, the implications are huge.

At ReSurge International, we inspire, train, fund, and scale reconstructive surgical teams in low-income countries. I often get questions about what reconstructive surgery actually entails. Reconstructive surgery treats congenital abnormalities (cleft lips, birth defects), traumatic injuries (like burns and road traffic accidents), and malignant conditions (like breast cancer and tumor removals). Our ultimate beneficiary is a patient, whether it’s a child or adult, in a low-income country who does not have access to, or cannot afford, this kind of life-changing reconstructive surgery. In some of the countries we work the obstacles to care are great, sometimes a family has to get the help of their entire community to afford transportation to a hospital with the capability to perform the care that they need. To help eliminate the barriers, we connect some of the brightest surgical teams from partner institutions like Stanford and Johns Hopkins with the next generation of reconstructive surgical teams in Africa, Latin America and Asia to offer comprehensive, world-class training. Once those teams are trained and qualified, we create a humanitarian funding model, where we underwrite the surgery for people who would otherwise not be able to afford and therefore access the life-changing surgical treatment.

When we train just one surgeon in a low-income country, an average of 9,000 patients gain access to surgical care over that local surgeon’s lifetime. The cycle is then repeated when these ReSurge surgeons train others — resulting in a multiplier effect of impact and long-term sustainability.

Without saying any names, can you share a story about an individual who was helped by your idea so far?

One ReSurge International patient that I’ll always remember was a 17-year-old girl from rural Zimbabwe whose face was crushed by an oxcart accident in her village. Her case was extremely complex, she had multiple fractures in the facial region, and no one thought she would survive. Her injuries were so severe that her brother fainted when he discovered her body.

Luckily for this young girl, at the time of her accident, a ReSurge Visiting Educator team was in a nearby city. We were able to work with her local surgeon to perform this complex surgery, and the transformation was incredible. She was now able to eat, see, and live a full life. I still get goosebumps thinking about it. And as for her surgeon, the training ReSurge gave him has had a ripple effect that will enable him to treat similar patients for the rest of his working life, even when ReSurge isn’t physically there.

Experts say that a country should have one reconstructive surgeon for every 100,000 inhabitants. Zimbabwe is a country of 14.6 million, so in theory, it should have 146 reconstructive surgeons. Instead, there are three. We are proud to have provided training to all of those surgeons, two of whom are women that are a part of our Pioneering Women in Reconstructive Surgery (PWRS) program which we started in partnership with SkinCeuticals to advance the next generation of women surgeons. Now these three surgeons in Zimbabwe are able to provide care for more local patients like this incredible young girl.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

There are always ways to support our mission! Here are a few:

  • Support us: More than 90% of the population in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa do not have access to safe and affordable surgical and anesthesia care. When faced with the sheer volume of the surgical need, it is easy to give up and do nothing. But with just one ReSurge surgery costing $350, a young child could regain his or her mobility and re-enter society. If you would like to sponsor a full or partial surgery, please visit our website (resurge.org/donate).
  • Partner with us: Corporations and foundations can help us grow by sponsoring new programs or scholarships, as well as increasing sustainability through unrestricted giving. To attack the root of the issue, we train local surgeons and medical professionals in order for them to then serve their communities for the rest of their careers. If you are interested in partnering with us, send an email to info@resurge.org.
  • Advocate for global surgery: Increasing access to surgical care will raise the health status in low-income countries in a broad way. We recently had a big win with our advocacy work in securing recommendations to the US Agency for International Development to address neglected surgical conditions in the State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Subcommittee (SFOPS) Appropriations Bill. We are requesting that Congress add $100m of funding to this critical line item, as global surgery investments support universal healthcare coverage. You can reach out to your US Senator and let them know you support this global surgery initiative and would request that he or she consider supporting and voting for the $100m ask.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

For me, nonprofit leadership is a combination of finding your moral compass and effectively communicating that direction and vision to your team. As a good leader, you must know how to advocate for your mission, inspire others, and find allies who are invested in driving impact. You need to set your vision in the stars while keeping your feet grounded on earth. This is especially important for social change leadership, particularly when working in communities other than our own. To do ethical and impactful work as a nonprofit leader, you must be aware of how systems of power and privilege play out in all that you do. A good leader is humble, knows how to listen, and is attuned to the local people, leaders and systems that they are serving.

Based on your experience, what are the “5 things a person should know before they decide to start or lead a nonprofit”. Please share a story or example for each.

If you are thinking about starting a nonprofit, understand what nonprofits already exist that are working on a similar topic or in a similar geographic area. Establishing a nonprofit is a costly and time-consuming process, and there is a lot of groundwork required before you can ever begin to deliver programs. If there is another nonprofit that you could partner with, that will save you time and money. Sometimes when I see a new nonprofit, I think about the economies of scale the founders could have achieved by partnering with an existing one.

Be clear about your mission. What will you focus on, and equally important, what will you NOT focus on? In my experience, once you get agreement on that, many other things flow much more smoothly. Recently, when ReSurge clarified that our primary means of extending reconstructive surgical care was via training reconstructive surgical teams, this opened up other opportunities for us — for example, partnering with Ohana One (more on that below) to use technology to strengthen training and mentorship in real-time anywhere in the world.

It also means that you have to make painful decisions about what not to do. For example, the most recent earthquake in Haiti. We know that earthquakes generate many crush injuries, some of which would respond to reconstructive surgery. But because we don’t have the partnerships or the infrastructure there (and because surgical training is a long process), we have decided not to participate in the emergency response.

Make sure you have the right people with you. And unfortunately, this is a continually changing task; a person who is right to lead a function today, may not be the right person to lead that function tomorrow. This topic is also related to being clear about your mission. As you gain greater clarity, you may find that you need to make changes to the team.

For example, in March 2020 when Covid was dramatically expanding in the US, we shut our office. This meant that our colleagues who worked in our surgical warehouse were unable to perform their jobs. In one case, we terminated the service of a colleague. In another case, we found alternative work for a different colleague (the kind of work that is described as “important but not urgent”). That colleague did the important but not urgent work for the last 16 months, and now that we are reopening (slowly, cautiously) our office, that colleague is returning to her former position in the surgical warehouse.

Be prepared for ups and downs. No strategic plan has ever been implemented as it was first written. Things change.

A prime example of this is Covid. When the pandemic first hit, we had to cancel all our in-person trainings and programs. Instead of getting stuck in the challenges of the present, we quickly pivoted to remote training with creativity and a lot of hard work. We were soon averaging one virtual lecture every 2.5 days and reaching many more surgeons, anesthesiologists, physical therapists, and nurses in more than 30 low- and middle-income countries than we ever could have with an in-person only approach. We started new mentorship programs, established online communities where international colleagues could collaborate, and we even partnered with fellow nonprofit, Ohana One, to pilot a program using surgical smart glass technology. All of these teaching tools and technologies were available to us prior to the pandemic, but it took recognizing the possibilities of the present, and finding the silver lining, for us to fully adopt them.

Find your inner resources to keep you going for the long haul. Leadership can be fun, and is frequently rewarding. It is rarely easy. If you are setting out to be a leader, study yourself first. In what ways are you resilient? What gives you energy and how do you tap into that inner strength? Not only will this help you become a better leader, it will also help you be better for yourself and everyone around you.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world who you would like to talk to, to share the idea behind your non profit? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would love to have a conversation with Orin Levine and Tracey McNeill of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to discuss the role of surgery in global health.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson” Quote? How is that relevant to you in your life?

“You do not need to know precisely what is happening or where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.” — Thomas Merton, an American theologian.

I love this quote because it is relevant in every situation — personal, and professional. I think this is also a life lesson we’ve all had to come to terms with after the COVID-19 pandemic turned our world upside down.

How can our readers follow you online?

Please follow @ResurgeInternational on Instagram and @ReSurge on Twitter. You can also find us online at www.resurge.org where you can sign up for our newsletter.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success in your mission.


Jeff Whisenant of ReSurge International: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Lead A Nonprofit… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Social Impact Heroes: Why & How David Hancock of Heroes for Children Is Helping To Change Our World

Empower your team to make decisions. Earlier in my career I wanted to show I was a decisive leader by leading alone. But by asking good questions, leveraging the smarts of your people, and getting solid feedback brings your team to the table with you It took me awhile to learn this empowerment model of leadership, “we win as a team we lose as a team.”

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing David Hancock.

David Hancock is the CEO and Executive Director of Heroes for Children, a Texas-based 501c3 nonprofit organization, which advocates for and provides financial and social assistance to families with children battling cancer.

Hancock brings many years of nonprofit experience to the table. A passionate speaker, author, and leader, Hancock has keynoted many events on leadership for nonprofit organizations all over the world. He has appeared on several local, state and national news broadcasts and also shared honors as a nationally-recognized youth leader as “Person of the Week” on the ABC’s World News Tonight with Peter Jennings (1988). He has spoken in six different countries (Israel, Spain, Myanmar, China, United States, and Mexico) and in 22 different states in the U.S., sharing his leadership experience. Hancock’s focus on relationships, trust, and rapport has allowed him to utilize his strengths to help organizations find their ‘one thing’, implement rapid change, improve client relations, and execute on missional success.

Hancock holds a B.A in Biblical Studies with a minor in Relational Management from Northwest University. He has been married to his lovely wife Kandace for more than 30 years and they have raised two great young men, Luke and Levi. In his spare time, Hancock loves reading, writing, boating, fishing, and most of all spending time with his family.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I have been in non-profit work for more than 25 years. I originally began as a minister at the local church level, where I was the Senior Pastor for several congregations. However, I was frustrated with the inertia of the church organism. It is an organism that traditionally moves slowly, sacred cows linger, and for a creative visionary leader like me that was a difficult environment to maneuver. That is no slight on faith itself or the church organism, but for the way I’m wired, I knew that I needed to move towards other non-profits that provided room to create, build and grow a vision, and could be fluid in its growth patterns.

Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you desire to see in this world.” And the way I’m wired, I wanted my daily actions and leadership to be the change I wanted in this world. For many leaders, it takes a great deal of experience, trial & error, to identify strengths and weaknesses. I was fortunate to recognize what drains my leadership battery and what energizes it. It was this recognition that led me to the role of CEO-Executive Director at Heroes for Children.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I first began in the non-profit world I was so green. Like many young leaders I was full of energy & action, but lacking experience. When a Pastor, I was asked at an event if I would lead us in the Doxology at the end of the ceremony. I wasn’t raised in church and was learning many of the nuances of church life and I had no idea know what it was. I answered in the affirmative, so I didn’t want to look like I didn’t know what I was doing. I assumed it was that it was an ending prayer, but it is actually a final prayer that is sung. I didn’t ask anyone to clarify, so I began to think about what type of prayer I would use. As the ceremony ended, I walked up to the podium to say my well thought out prayer, when suddenly loud organ music began playing. Confused, I looked over at several of my pastor friends with a deer-in-a head-light look. And without missing a beat, my friend Mike with a devilish grin came up to the podium and helped lead the congregation through the singing of the “doxology.” My friends laughed afterward because they all know I can’t sing or hold a tune; which led me to believe they may have set me up on this occasion for a good laugh. The lesson I learned from this embarrassing experience is always ask questions, get clarification so that you don’t embarrass yourself by acting like you know it all. Questions don’t make you look incompetent and the right questions help elevate your leadership.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

Our vision at Heroes for Children is to help families who have a child diagnosed with cancer by offering with assistance, support, and compassion. Our integration in the major pediatric oncology units in the State of Texas with oncology doctors, nurses, and social workers help make a deep impact into the lives of families.

Our programs include:

  • Financial Impact Program — We provide financial resources to help families pay their bills. This is our greatest impact, because it helps families successfully get to the other side of their child’s treatment plan. As a family they are going through the fight of their lives, and the last thing they need is to worry about is losing their home, having their electricity cutoff, or getting their car repossessed.
  • Fertility Assistance — When a teenager is in puberty and they begin an aggressive chemotherapy treatment, they can become sterile compromising their reproductive future. We help provide fertility assistance to give them the opportunity to have their own biological child for the future.
  • Laptops for Love — Approximately 1,200 children in Texas families live in a household with an income of $50,000 or less. This means that many of these children don’t have access to technology to do their schoolwork while they are in treatment or connect with family and friends during the isolation. “Laptops for Love” provides new laptop to those in need.
  • Funeral Assistance — Unfortunately 20% of children fighting cancer lose their battle. At the deepest and darkest moment of a parent’s life we wanted to make sure they weren’t alone in their pain and burdened with high funeral costs. This program provides support to an average of five to six families every month to help them in their deepest time of grief.
  • Milestones Celebrations Program — Families that have a child with cancer get few opportunities to celebrate life during the process of their cancer treatment, and our Milestones Celebration Program provides financial support to celebrate a birthday, Bar/Bat-mitzvahs, home from the hospital party, graduation parties, etc.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Wow, there are so many heartwarming stories. One of our amazing social workers asked me if Heroes for Children could assist a single mom with several children, whose oldest son, David was a cancer survivor and been in remission for two years. Heroes For Children had assisted the family in the past. At 17-years-old David’s cancer returned with a vengeance and he was put on hospice. His last wish is he would like to marry his high school sweetheart in the hospital.

As you could imagine, we were stunned with their situation. I assured her that we would do everything we could to make David’s dream come true. By the end of the week, David married his high school sweetheart in the hospital, and unfortunately the following morning he passed. Not only did we help with the wedding, but the cost of the funeral.

This story is hard to tell, it still brings so much emotion. But Heroes for Children was there for this family in their greatest time of need. I’m so proud of our donors, supporters, and team who allow us to do the work we do.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

There are many leaders that simply define leadership as influence. At a thirty-thousand-foot level, I agree, but I think it lacks a larger context.

I define leadership as influence that leads to positive outcomes and opportunities that fuel a larger vision. But, that influence must lead to outcomes that make a positive change on the organization, the people that it serves, and the mission. Simply put, I see leadership as influencing positive outcomes in people, processes, and priorities.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

This is a favorite question of mine. Here are some items I wished I knew when I first started:

  1. Maximize your leadership strengths, delegate your weaknesses. In my early twenties the conventual wisdom was to spend time on your shoring up your weaknesses, while you maintain your strengths. But leaders like Donald Clifton and Markus Buckingham have helped us to invert that model. Clifton and Buckingham helped me understand that I am wired with a personality and skills, and that my battery gets energized and I’m more effective as a leader when I spend a majority of my time on maximizing my strengths, while I learn to delegate and outsource my weaknesses to other leaders/tools.
  2. Spend time on your people, not the minutia. The tyranny of the urgent usually is the minutia that eats up leader’s time. It can overtake your calendar, deplete your energy, and provide a façade that you’re extremely busy. But spending time on the greatest asset and capital of your organization is your people. Prioritize your calendar with key one-on-one meetings and random connections it builds leadership capital with your team and strengthens the mission.
  3. Hire people of strong character and values. It can be tempting to get enamored with talent and skills on a resume. Yes, skills and talents are extremely important. But talent without character/values will ultimately undermined your team, your continuity, and your mission. Value and character have to be first in your organization, not skills & talents. This might takes patience in the beginning, but it pays off in spades on the back end.
  4. Empower your team to make decisions. Earlier in my career I wanted to show I was a decisive leader by leading alone. But by asking good questions, leveraging the smarts of your people, and getting solid feedback brings your team to the table with you It took me awhile to learn this empowerment model of leadership, “we win as a team we lose as a team.”
  5. Strong processes will lead to a stronger mission. Systems and processes determine many of your outcomes. Yes, a strong compelling mission is a must, but without the systems and processes to fuel that mission you will find yourself in an organizational loop of the Peter Principle. Key tip — if you can’t explain a process in simple ways on a single 8x11 sheet paper, then it is a strong sign that that process needs to be flattened.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

What most people don’t know is that most cancer non-profits are primarily focused on cancer research to cure cancer for the future, and a small minority are focused on the plight of pain that families are going through right now.

An 80% of pediatric cancer patients beat cancer medically, but many families suffer due to the enormous strain of finances. Imagine, if we could inspire more financial resources to help people in the here and now to keep their homes, their cars, their sanity, their marriages, and their children. That would be the change I would love to inspire in our world.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

One of my favorite quotes comes from a Hebrew phrase Tikkun Olam, which is translated as a “repairer of the world.” It is a principal that we are all responsible as human beings to repair and bring healing to others with resources, care, and compassion. I love this simple phrase because it is such a tangible axiom to help be the repairer of pain in people’s lives. This phrase literally guides my life both personally and professionally as I am proactively looking for ways daily to be a “repairer in the world around me.”

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-).

I would love to sit down with Dr. Jordan Peterson, the former professor at the University of Toronto and best-selling author of “12 Rules for Life.” My oldest son came to me and said, “Dad, I just listened to one of the most intelligent guys on this YouTube clip. He made so much sense and he is already making me evaluate a number of positions I thought I was firm on.” His book, “12 Rules for Life” was a game changer on my intellect. How he viewed argumentation, how he analyzed topics, and how he engaged people in a fair and honest way was challenging to me. Dr. Peterson challenged my vocabulary and showed me that words have meaning, and they shape the context of ideas. He has challenged me to see that most topics shouldn’t be contextualized in binary responses, and that subjects are much more nuanced than simple platitudes. He has challenged me most of all to be a better and more responsible human being. With that said, I know he is not perfect, but I would love to have a breakfast or lunch with a man like Dr. Peterson so that I could pick his brain on several complex ideas I’m wrestling with existentially.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!


Social Impact Heroes: Why & How David Hancock of Heroes for Children Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Stars Making a Social Impact: Why & How Actress Jacqueline Piñol Is Helping To Change Our World

My journey has become a self-funded grassroots project that has turned into a docu-series. I focus each episode on highlighting my visit with nonprofit dog rescue organizations and their volunteers to show who is making a real difference to improve the canine condition in this country. On this journey, I have also found that there are many wonderful people in this country who want to help, who CAN help and they just don’t know how or where to do so. I’m here to show them where, how and who to help anywhere in the country, in person or virtually. With so many resources available, there is no valid excuse to not lend a hand to save man’s best friend.

As a part of our series about stars who are making an important social impact, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Jacqueline Piñol.

Jacqueline Piñol is an actress and activist best known for her role as ‘Detective Julie Espinosa’ on Amazon Prime’s “Bosch” as well as the voice of ‘Rio Morales’ in Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales video game. Jacqueline hosts “The Canine Condition” podcast and stars in the upcoming documentary series “The Canine Condition: A DOGumentary Series” (premiering fall 2021) which covers the current situation involving neglect, abuse and abandonment of dogs in the United States and highlights people around the country who are working to make a change for the better.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you share with us the “backstory” that led you to this career path?

I went to a little elementary school called Wonderland Avenue school. I didn’t live near the school I took the school bus there but a lot of my friends’ parents who lived close to school really supported the arts programs there. I was in plays and in orchestra and chorus. I was surrounded by the arts so much and found a lot of joy as a child expressing myself through playing other characters or playing music. In sixth grade, I got to play the role of the mom in Mary Poppins. I remember it was one night during a performance of the show, while I was marching through the audience singing Sister Suffragette that I felt like I was in my element. I knew at that moment, I wanted to be an actor my whole life and no matter what ups and downs came with that choice I’ve never veered away from it. Shortly after that, I searched for an agent in the yellow pages and mailed out letters (asking for representation) along with 4x6 glossy photos of myself. (Oh gosh I am really dating myself LOL). I clearly remember making my parents take me to the post office to make sure those envelopes got out.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career? What was the lesson or take away that you took out of that story?

Ah Yes! So, I was fresh out of college and I booked my first small role in a major motion picture. It was my first day on set and as I am walking to rehearsal a gentleman dressed in loose pants a very loose-fitting jacket and worn shoes is walking towards set. He looks at me and waves and smiles and says hello. My 22-year-old insecure self can’t help but think why is he saying hello to me? He doesn’t even know me, should I even say hello back? And I cannot recall if I smiled but I know I wasn’t the friendly confident Jacqui I am today. He lets me walk in front of him, we get to set, and I hear the A.D. speaking out loud to the whole crew “ladies and gentlemen let’s have it quiet please our Director is on set” and everybody starts clapping. I turn around and it was that guy — he was our Director. I had not met him because I had auditioned on tape and been cast straight from tape. The Director was Sam Raimi and the project was For Love Of The Game. At that moment I felt like burying my head in the sand, but I was about to rehearse a bedroom scene with Kevin Costner. The lesson I learned, as cliché as it may sound is don’t judge a book by its cover. Never let your own insecurities or ego get in the way of saying hello and being kind to everyone! Sam was so lovely, so friendly and kind, so unassuming and grounded. And a fabulously talented Director as we all know. I was very happy to have had him as the first film Director in my career.

What would you advise a young person who wants to emulate your success?

The first thing I would say is don’t emulate my success or anyone else’s. What I would say is aim high, dream big and always, always study your craft. If a career as an actor is what you choose to pursue you should never stop learning, traveling, watching movies and television shows, staying in acting classes, doing plays, writing, and creating your own projects. All of that is part of what makes a good actor successful. Get really really good at something and don’t ever stop practicing.

Is there a person that made a profound impact on your life? Can you share a story?

This is a hard question to answer. I can’t think of any one person who has made a profound impact in my life. I have always admired the acts of kindness that others perform in life. I definitely admire people who live by example especially in areas of life that require selfless acts. I mostly admire people who perform selfless acts but also take care of themselves in the process. You want to be a good example of how to live life, not just be a martyr. I wish I had a more profound answer for you on this one but we are all flawed humans. I look for inspiration in people’s actions toward the world not just how they impact my life personally.

Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting causes you are working on right now?

I am currently very active in speaking up against abandonment, abuse, and neglect of dogs, especially in the United States. Our country is a first-world nation with a real third-world problem when it comes to Human best friends. And some humans fail to recognize that our canine companions are innocent, sentient beings who depend on us to take care of them and provide for them. The human condition created the current canine condition and it is not a good one. I began filming a documentary in 2015. My journey has become a self-funded grassroots project that has turned into a docu-series. I focus each episode on highlighting my visit with nonprofit dog rescue organizations and their volunteers to show who is making a real difference to improve the canine condition in this country. On this journey, I have also found that there are many wonderful people in this country who want to help, who CAN help and they just don’t know how or where to do so. I’m here to show them where, how and who to help anywhere in the country, in person or virtually. With so many resources available, there is no valid excuse to not lend a hand to save man’s best friend. In 2020 everything came to a standstill for us all and that included postproduction of my documentary series, but the number of homeless dogs just kept growing. Many people also adopted or purchased dogs, but many didn’t have the right resources once the dog came home. I needed to keep the conversation going so I began The Canine Condition Podcast. The podcast is a platform to bring awareness to dog adoption and provide information and resources on how to raise a healthy and well-balanced dog. The focus is to highlight more nonprofit dog rescue organizations, veterinarians, safe dog trainers, and offer people an easy way to help a dog in need without having to commit to adoption or fostering. Nowadays with our cell phones, everything is within reach with just the touch of a button. If all people can do is share a post or make a donation that is just as important and can be saving the life of a homeless dog. And let me tell you the podcast has done wonders to reinvigorate my own energy and inspiration to continue speaking up for this cause. My guests on the podcast will move and inspire you as they have me, with their stories and the positive change that they bring to the canine condition every day.

Can you share with us the story behind why you chose to take up this particular cause?

This journey was inspired by the adoption of my dog Dublin my first pitbull-type dog from a shelter in Los Angeles. When we picked her up from the shelter, we walked by a hundred dogs behind bars. And I never knew if they got adopted or were euthanized. That thought haunted me. I needed to do something about this. How many “Dublins” were going unnoticed or never leaving the shelter alive? My intent was to make a documentary to expose this problem and find solutions but after finding out that every city and every state in the country is overwhelmed with homeless dogs and poor laws to protect them, there was too much footage to cut out. We can talk about the problem all day long but what we needed to focus on was the solution and to magnify the scope of that solution. I had to jump in and be the boots on the ground in search of answers. There isn’t anything that I cover in the documentary or podcast that I have not done myself. I practice what I preach, from fostering to adopting to donating to volunteering to transporting to pushing legislation to visiting shelters to helping rescue organizations run adoptions. I’ve done it all and will continue until we can say we don’t have a homeless dog epidemic in this country. I have a 5-year-old son and he is growing up learning how to respect love and protect his canine siblings. He’s gentle and kind and has a huge heart and so much empathy. If he is learning that because of the journey that we are on with the canine condition then I feel that I am not only putting out good into the world day to day with this project but that I’m setting him up for success in the future so that he can pass on a message of positivity to his generation wherever he goes.

Can you share with us a story about a person who was impacted by your cause?

My own mother. My sisters and I did not grow up with dogs or any pets besides some goldfish. I grew up afraid of dogs and the narrative in my home was always that a dog was going to bite you if you were a bad girl or that dogs were dirty and had germs. As an adult, I clearly had experiences that showed me this was absolutely not true and when I got my first dog, a pug, my family was very hesitant to come near it. I felt it was almost a lost cause so I wasn’t going to try and convert them but I didn’t have to because Gracie my pug did the work for me. Both my parents fell madly in love with her. They would call me constantly to check in on her. They would offer to dog-sit her when I was away on trips and she won them both over. When I was a kid, my mother always complained that she never wanted to have dog hair on her clothes if we visited anyone who had dogs and let me tell you pugs shed a lot. I don’t think my mom ever cared about that with Gracie. My sweet pug passed away in 2016 and by then my mom had her own rescued dog, a white German Shepherd. Talk about shedding right? She absolutely loved that dog until his last breath. She loves every dog and now she’s talking about fostering and volunteering for rescue organizations after hearing several episodes of the podcast. Dogs will do that to you. They reach deep into your soul and bring out the best in you if you let them.

Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?

Yes! Absolutely, Yes Yes! Where and when do we start? LOL! The one thing that I have heard from experienced and reputable sources in the dog rescue world and that I must keep repeating is that voting is important. When we complain about things like dog homelessness, overcrowded shelters, euthanasia, lack of affordable spay and neuter programs, it is because we have not implemented laws that make it so that we can protect our animals better. When dogs are chained in yards, and they are suffering and there’s nothing we can do it’s because no one has fought hard enough to put into place anti-chaining laws. So, the next time you see or hear animal protection laws being discussed or formulated in your local districts, speak up AND VOTE! Better laws need to be passed and the public needs to show up in greater numbers to push them through so we can start to see true change in our lifetime. Our police force and animal control officers can’t help us save dogs from perilous situations like abuse if they don’t have the laws to stand behind them when they want to take action to protect animals. So vote, always vote. Local politicians work for each and everyone of us and they want our votes so they also need to know what is important to us and we must push them to create better laws for our canine companions. I would also say that everyone can use their social media platform for positivity. As one of my guests in the documentary said, it takes one click to share and it can get around the world. My whole documentary project started when I saw a Facebook post from a shelter in the town of Dublin, Georgia. I had to take action. Had I not gone out there and begged to adopt this dog from the post, my sweet, lovable Huckleberry, a brindle pit mix would not be here today. The power of social media can save a life, so imagine if we all used that power for the good. The third thing I would say is crucial all over the country is offering up your time and home to temporarily foster a dog. It seems like a daunting task but it is the most rewarding experience. Reputable nonprofit dog rescue organizations provide everything you need for the dog while you foster. They make sure the dog gets safely adopted. Maybe your heart is too big and you don’t think you can let them go. Well, when you have adopted your own or fostered one that gets adopted, you see how fostering is saving a life. Part of my job in my documentary is to vet the people and organizations I film or interview so that when the general public wants to get involved in the cause, they will know they are in good hands supporting any of the organizations highlighted in The Canine Condition and there are many, we are just beginning.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or an example for each.

#1 Trust your gut. Coming from a Latin American background and having parents who immigrated to this country I will tell you that the narrative in my culture and in my home is that we always listen to elders because they always know more, they’re more experienced. What that did for me was shut down my inner voice. I didn’t trust it. I think I could have avoided a lot of hiccups in my lifetime even in my career if I had trusted my gut. If I had had a voice of reason to tell me that sometimes the best and only voice to listen to is your own, I would have been happier at a younger age. I trust my gut now more than anything. And if I make a mistake it’s my own doing, no one to blame, I pick myself up and keep moving.

#2 Put in those 10,000 hours + but be patient. I was very hard on myself growing up and even well into my 20s. I was also raised with really high expectations and standards so I didn’t know how to be patient with myself. I could have avoided a lot of insecurity early on if I had focused my energy on moving forward rather than blaming myself for a bad outcome or for thinking I was the reason something didn’t work out when my career wasn’t going the way I wanted it to.

#3 Don’t compare yourself to others. I wish I had learned to trust that I was good enough just the way I was. Everyone is their own unique version of a human. To try and be like someone else or be better than someone else is a waste of time. I did learn to appreciate what I brought to the table and felt like I was definitely worthy of attaining the things I strived for but I didn’t learn that early enough. I could have avoided a lot of needless stress.

#4 Don’t take everything so seriously. Oh boy, how I wish I had heard this more often! Maybe it was a cultural thing but my family was so serious and intense. I used to like to joke around a lot as a kid but would end up getting in trouble for it or accused for being “disrespectful”. I think that really hurt me in the end. It took decades for me to regain my sense of humor and lighten up. As an actor, it definitely would have served me well to not take everything so seriously. Oh well, c’est la vie for me BUT my son LOVES to joke around and I couldn’t be happier about it. We laugh every single day with him. It’s so refreshing.

#5 Getting pregnant is not the end of your acting career, it’s just the beginning. I never planned to be a mom to a human. In my mind, I was “busy” trying to establish a career. I was a dog mom and that was good enough for me and my hubby too. What I didn’t know was that getting pregnant and having a child was one of the absolute best, most transformative and fulfilling things that could happen to me as a woman and as an actor. And so it is. I have a 5-year-old son and since I was 3 months pregnant with him I was cast in a recurring role of the “BOSCH” series. And I have been busy working as an actress on other projects since he was born. My son Atlas has brought new meaning to life. I see the world with fresh eyes and am excited again about things like coloring with crayons, riding a scooter down a hill, enjoying a scoop of ice cream to the very last drop! It is because of him that I am more driven to help his generation be more compassionate and loving toward animals. I should have gotten pregnant sooner! LOL.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

If I could start a movement I would have to say it would especially need to benefit seniors, children and of course doggies. I envision multi-lingual programs that would provide access for the older generation and the younger generation to be hands-on with canines so they could learn how and why we must properly care for dogs with vetting, safe obedience training, nutrition, exercise, and love. I envision free spay and neuter programs for every pet parent who needs them! Free vaccinations are a must! And of course, experienced dog handlers who would be approved to visit schools and community centers and senior centers and hospitals with dogs from shelters. There are already small programs spread out throughout the country that do some of this on a small scale but this needs to be a national norm if American culture is going to establish a more loving and compassionate norm to how we care for canines! Multi-lingual is important because we are a melting pot of cultures and languages so let’s all meet on the same page on this topic. Thousands upon thousands of senior citizens in this country would enjoy the company of a canine even if it was a visit from a dog or maybe we would have facilities where seniors could go on a day-to-day basis to visit a dog. There are millions of children in this country who never get exposed to animals or who receive no guidance or proper education on why we must treat animals with kindness. In order to implement lasting change in the USA, it is up to all of us that fill that generational gap to take action so we can see the outcome of such programs in our lifetime.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you explain how that was relevant in your life?

“Life is a journey not a destination” Since I started pursuing a career as an actress at a very young age, there was always this glorified idea around me that you are “an actor” when you “make it”. But what does making it mean or look like? Have you only made it if you have an Oscar or are an A list actor? Have you only made it if you are on a series? It’s easy to get wrapped up in that when you are young and impressionable. I am glad that I never stopped fully living my life just because I was acting but not instantly famous or constantly working. In fact, when I was not working I was traveling the world, I went to college, I studied abroad in Paris and China. I learned to speak 4 other languages. Even now as a mom I don’t limit myself to what is possible which is why I embarked on the documentary series journey when I found out I was pregnant. Time flies, so I make the most of the time I have while I am living it. There’s never a dull moment around here LOL.

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Politics, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them!

There’s probably a long line for this one but I would have to say Michelle and Barack Obama. Since President Obama‘s first presidential campaign I have been inspired by his journey with Michelle. For me, they represent being seen and being heard. Their time in office me gave me the confidence to believe that anything is possible and that you cannot dream too big, in fact, you must. Now that they are no longer in the office I am so happy to see all of the good that they are doing with their foundation. I feel like they would definitely have some very inspiring, sound words for this Latina mom who is trying to make a positive impact on our society and future generations by helping homeless dogs and improving the canine condition of the United States.

How can our readers follow you online?

Visit http://www.thecaninecondition.com/ for more information.

Follow Jacqueline on Instagram @jacquipinol

Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was so inspiring.


Stars Making a Social Impact: Why & How Actress Jacqueline Piñol Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Ruth Richardson of ‘The Global Alliance For The Future Of Food’ Is…

Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Ruth Richardson of ‘The Global Alliance For The Future Of Food’ Is Helping To Change Our World

…We need True Cost Accounting worldwide. Simply put, this means understanding the real costs of our food. There are deep and damaging negative externalities of today’s food system that must be addressed, especially from industrial agriculture. These costs are ballooning diet related diseases, environmental contamination, carbon emissions, antimicrobial resistance, zoonotic diseases. We need to address these costs by factoring them into our decision-making, and work to uphold the value that is created when food systems are managed well…

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ruth Richardson, Executive Director of the Global Alliance for the Future of Food. Ruth was the first Director of the Unilever Canada Foundation, Founding Chair of the Canadian Environmental Grantmakers’ Network, Founder and Chair of the Small Change Fund which is a leader in grassroots micro-philanthropy in Canada, and the first Environment Director at the Metcalf Foundation providing a cornerstone to the Ontario sustainable food systems community. As Executive Director of the Global Alliance, Ruth has helped drive the global conversation on food systems transformation, launching a series of seven “calls to action” for food systems transformation. She is playing a critical role advocating for transformative change at the upcoming UN Food Systems Summit, held in September virtually and in New York City.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ve worked in philanthropy my whole life including work with corporate, community, public, and private foundations. I’ve been blessed to have worked with both new and more established foundations, social profit organizations, and individuals who are deeply committed to developing powerful strategies to tackle some of the most pressing global, national, and local problems of our time. Having established the Unilever Canada Foundation, the Canadian Environmental Grantmakers’ Network, and Small Change Fund, I came to join the Global Alliance for the Future of Food.

In hindsight the threads that ran through all my various roles were ecological integrity, human well-being, and collaboration with food systems often touching these in important ways. This gave me the skills, experience, and opportunity to join the Global Alliance in 2013. Most of my work had been situated in Canada — from marine conservation to climate change in the context of the Arctic region to our settled southern landscapes — so I was thrilled to be able to take everything I learned here in Canada and apply that to an ambitious global agenda on food systems.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

It’s almost impossible to pick the most interesting story, or just one example. Since starting at the Global Alliance, the one thing I would elevate is the incredible array of interesting individuals I have had the fortune to meet and to learn from — everyone from peasant farmers in the high Andes to royal princes and princesses in Europe to inspiring business owners in India to researchers and journalists in Africa. For me, the people I come into contact with are what keep me inspired and motivated.

I would also say that the COVID-19 pandemic has of course had terrible consequences, but our organization recently catalogued a number of food producers that during COVID turned to or doubled down on sustainable approaches and found real success and resilience. Seeing the demand for local, sustainable foods and the way in which small to medium growers and producers have stepped into the breach — that’s been very inspiring.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

Fundamentally, we believe that food systems touch and shape every issue facing humanity today. The goal of the Global Alliance is to leverage our resources and networks to help shift food and agriculture systems towards greater sustainability, security, and equity. We believe in the urgency of transforming global food systems, and in the power of working together and with others to effect positive change.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

We’re all about systems! So, it’s less one individual and more about overall approaches. Through our work, we connect with people and organizations around the world who are addressing food systems challenges in creative ways. These stories of inspiration point to how initiatives — such as regenerating landscapes, enhancing livelihoods, restoring people’s health and wellbeing, and reconnecting with Indigenous and cultural knowledge — can help us achieve sustainable, equitable, and secure food systems.

I’ll give just one example: we’ve shared the story of Soils, Food and Healthy Communities (SFHC), a farmer-led nonprofit based in northern and central Malawi. The organization is unique because it looks at systems and the broader context for how farmers can succeed. In assessing how some villages and food producers are doing compared to others, SFHC looks at agricultural methods. But their genius lies in weaving farmer participation and gender equity with goals of food security, child nutrition, and soil fertility.

They promote something called “agroecology,” which is the application of ecological principles to agricultural systems and practices. But they also address key social and cultural dynamics like questions of power, gender norms, and the uneven distribution of labour in homes. It’s an organization that is focused on sustainable farming, but also on broader related cultural and social contexts.

It’s all about systems.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

First, we need to start to understand the true cost of our food supply — not just yield per acre or profit for a major food producer, but also the environmental, social, and health impacts of food systems policies and practices in order to inform better decision-making. This includes the overlap between food and issues like climate change, pandemics and even migration.

Second, we need to direct public sector investment and fiscal policy toward ecologically beneficial forms of farming, healthy food, and resilient livelihoods and communities. Areas like “procurement” don’t sound exciting but they are enormously important.

Third, we must increase research for the public good that emphasizes indivisible ecological, health, social, and economic goals. For too long, only research financed by vested interests has dominated thinking about the future of food.

I’ll give two more: We need to unlock investment opportunities in sustainable food systems and align private, philanthropic, and multilateral funders with national food systems actors. And we must ensure inclusive, participatory approaches to governance as a way to address the structural inequities in food systems.

All of these steps are hugely consequential.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. I wish someone had told me about principles! Had I known, and been more adept at determining and applying them, the Global Alliance may have been able to move more quickly toward our collective agenda.
  2. That said, I wish someone had told me not to run too fast. The crises we face are urgent and so we tend to approach them as you would an emergency, which is appropriate. However, sometimes I’ve been working at such a pace I’ve missed the opportunity for deeper learning or important relationship-building.
  3. I wish someone had told me that we will not win because we are right but because we are organized. Tom Brookes, Executive Director, Strategic Communications at the European Climate Foundation, just wrote a brilliant article where he says “It makes sense that most of us think that if we can just communicate our point in a way that someone else understands, then they will accept the fact that we’re right. In reality, however, that does not work (and, indeed, never has). Changing perceptions is more important than winning an argument. A united perception can skip over who is right and who is wrong in pursuit of a mutual objective.”
  4. I wish someone had told me the secret to beating jetlag and moving between time zones effortlessly.
  5. I wish someone had told me how gratifying this work would be, or maybe the gratification is in the discovery. I couldn’t have anticipated how blessed I feel to be able to do the work I do with the people I do it with on issues of such importance at this time in history.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

I go back to the third point above — leadership is about being organized, listening deeply, and thinking holistically, for the long-term about how to make change. You can tell I’m all about systems; I believe that effective leadership means building coalitions and working across silos and sectors; changing perceptions and understanding that we’re not going to make transformational change to global food systems overnight.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

We need True Cost Accounting worldwide. Simply put, as I said above this means understanding the real costs of our food. There are deep and damaging negative externalities of today’s food system that must be addressed, especially from industrial agriculture. These costs are ballooning diet related diseases, environmental contamination, carbon emissions, antimicrobial resistance, zoonotic diseases. We need to address these costs by factoring them into our decision-making, and work to uphold the value that is created when food systems are managed well.

Changing the tools used to assess food systems is an immediate way to take action that promotes human, animal, and planetary health. Simplistic economic productivity metrics like ‘yield-per-hectare’ mean that negative externalities — habitat destruction, soil erosion, water contamination, displacement of Indigenous Peoples, diabetes, and more — go unaccounted for in the final price of food, in policy documents, and on balance sheets (but the price is still paid). This also means that positive impacts — carbon sequestration, insect pollination, resilience to natural disasters, and vibrant communities — are hidden and can’t be enhanced.

​​True Cost Accounting is a systemic approach to measure and value the positive and negative environmental, social, health and economic costs and benefits. It can inform policy making as well as business and investment decisions.

There is an immediate and urgent opportunity to support TCA on a global scale. Late September is the first-ever UN Food Systems Summit, a major global convening focused on food systems transformation. The Global Alliance and our allies have called for a summit outcome and a UNFSS process that commits to measuring the true costs of food and embraces a measurable systems approach with transparency and integrity. We are hopeful we’ll see full and unequivocal commitment to True Cost Accounting at the UNFSS. That would be a big win on a global stage.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I’ve collected quotes and poems since a very young age. One that comes up for me time and again is from the Nigerian storyteller, Ben Okri, who says that “in a fractured age, when cynicism is god, here’s a possible heresy: we live by stories, we also live in them. One way or another we are living the stories planted in us early or along the way, or we are also living the stories we planted — knowingly or unknowingly — in ourselves. We live stories that either give our lives meaning or negate it with meaninglessness. If we change the stories we live by, quite possibly we change our lives.”

This has proved true on a profound level both personally and professionally. Our nations are stories, our families are stories, our budgets are stories, our personal goals are stories, our organizations are stories. We live in these stories and, as Okri says, they can give our lives meaning or negate it with meaninglessness. So, I always try to observe the stories I tell myself, scrutinize them, and change them if necessary. The life lesson here is perhaps to be careful what you wish for — my kids now call me on this all the time and have been known, repeatedly, to look me in the eye and say, “be careful about the stories you tell yourself.”

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I am a major fan of the systems-thinker and leading environmentalist Donella Meadows so, if given the chance, I would love to go to lunch with her! Unfortunately, she died young but perhaps we could summon the angels. Her work — especially Dancing with Systems — has held deep relevance for me and my work over the years. She was both a deep systems thinker and an incredibly effective communicator. For instance, she once wrote:

We do not need a computer model to tell us that: we must not destroy the system upon which our sustenance depends; poverty is wrong and preventable; the exploitation of one person or nation by another degrades both the exploited and the exploiter; it is better for individuals and nations to cooperate than to fight; the love we have for all humankind and for future generations should be the same as our love for those close to us. If we do not embrace these principles and live by them, our system cannot survive. Our future is in our hands and will be no better or worse than we make it.”

As relevant in 2021 as it was in 1982. The wisdom and insights imparted through her writing never fail to move and challenge me.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Please follow me on @RuthOpenBlue and @futureoffoodorg

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!


Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Ruth Richardson of ‘The Global Alliance For The Future Of Food’ Is… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Social Impact Heroes Helping Our Planet: Why & How Miss Earth USA Marisa Butler Is Helping To…

Social Impact Heroes Helping Our Planet: Why & How Miss Earth USA Marisa Butler Is Helping To Change Our World

An Interview With Penny Bauder

Pack out what you pack in — one of the most famous phrases from the Leave No Trace Principals. We need to hold ourselves accountable for making sure that if we bring litter producing materials with us outdoors, that we have made sure we have a plan for disposal and all pieces are accounted for. Some things to look out for: Food wrapper edges often get left behind or blown away, bottle tops, cigarette butts, dog poop bags.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Marisa Butler.

Marisa Butler of Maine was named Miss Earth USA 2021 on January 17 at the national finals held in Orlando. She will represent the USA at the Miss Earth international competition on December 12th, 2021.

Marisa graduated Cum Laude from Stonehill College in Easton Massachusetts in 2016 with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Economics and a minor in Business Administration. She earned an athletic scholarship to Stonehill for soccer, lacrosse and cheerleading. Marisa studied abroad at King’s College London, where she specialized in Environmental and Political Economics.

Marisa, now 27, lives in San Diego, California where she works as a Financial Advisor and leads a non-profit called We Clean Trails. Her organization meets every Saturday morning to remove litter from walking, hiking and bike trails, as well as beaches and public parks.

https://medium.com/media/853438e5177653431c92a3b8da1d7c9c/href

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

I grew up in Standish, Maine, which is a small and rural lake town. My house bordered a wildlife preserve, so I had an unparalleled opportunity to see undisturbed nature at its finest. My mother has always been a huge advocate for animals, and I would often assist her in the rehabilitation of sick, injured and orphaned animals. She taught me from a young age, if you can lend a helping hand to always do so, even if the recipient is as small as a mouse.

I carried on that love for animals and nature to college, where I volunteered with NOAA’s Cooperative Shark Tagging Program collecting data on endangered sharks. This program is the longest running shark study in the world and I was so thankful to be a part of it, and to see my data being used to enforce more protections for at risk shark populations.

After graduation, I moved to San Diego for work. There, I joined countless environmentally focused organizations before eventually starting my own.

You are currently leading a social impact organization that is making a difference for our planet. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?

We Clean Trails is a community cleanup organization that aims to reduce the amount of litter in San Diego. Litter can cause soil, water and air pollution and put our animal friends at risk of injury or death. Plastic debris cause the deaths of more than a million seabirds every year, as well as more than 100,000 marine mammals. Through my group, I am creating a community of like-minded earth advocates who not only remove trash from their local communities, but also inspire and remind others the importance of Leave No Trace principals.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

When COVID-19 hit San Diego, more and more people turned to the great outdoors than ever before. While I was happy to see more people getting involved with healthy activities such as walking, biking and hiking, I unfortunately noticed a huge increase in litter on my favorite hiking trails as many of these people were not properly educated on Leave No Trace principals. I belonged to a few San Diego hiking groups on social media and saw I was not the only one who noticed this huge uptick in litter. I decided to take some of my beach cleanup equipment that I already had and invite some of the hiking group members out with me each Saturday for the month of June as part of my Think Global Act Local project for the Miss Earth USA competition. I knew I wanted to do something to help not only people, but the plants and animals that also call San Diego home. San Diego is home to more endangered plants and animals than anywhere else in the continental US. I might not be able to remove all threats to these plants and animals, but I can help remove one obstacle to their survival and give them a clean and safe place to call home.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest them. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

I originally had no intention of creating an organization at the time, but simply wanted to do something about the problem I saw rather than just complain about it online hoping that someone else would do it. My original plan was to do one cleanup a week for the month of June. When June came to a close, my boyfriend — who saw not only all the hard work I had put into this project, but the amount of joy it gave me and the amazing community I built — urged me to keep going. It was due to his love and support that I had the courage to begin the process of creating the organization I now call We Clean Trails.

Many people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?

I was completely clueless when I first started. And I think it’s important to note that anyone doing something for the first time is also clueless and to not let the fear of the unknown stop you from doing something great. My advice is to lean into the people in your life who can help and give you guidance. Never be afraid to ask for help. I was very fortunate that I had some amazing mentors from the Miss Earth USA organization who pointed me in the right direction as to how to apply to become a nonprofit. I was also fortunate that our sponsor, The Clean Earth Project and Garbo Grabber, LLC gave my organization some great deals on equipment, and that I received a $5,000 environmental scholarship from Rosen Center Hotels to aid in my environmental work.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

I would say the event that I am most proud of was our July 24th Rose Creek Cleanup. As a group, we removed over 1040lbs in two hours, breaking our previous one-day record of 750lbs. One of our strangest finds also happened to be at this location, we found an entire green car bumper!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?

My organization is very dog friendly, my dog Milo serves as not only our mascot, but is also present on our organization’s logo. The volunteers often say one of their favorite parts about volunteering with me is the fact that they can either bring their own dog or get a chance to see Milo. However, the one day I probably would have preferred if he stayed home was when he got out of his harness in Balboa Park and decided to take a swim in the fountain… the one with signs everywhere saying, “do not swim”. It took me probably 5 minutes to finally coax out my water loving, soaked, super excited fluffy companion from that fountain. While I was mortified in the moment, all my volunteers who were there that day still view that incident as one of their favorite and funniest memories. The lesson I learned is that even in moments of stress with your organization, you are almost always harder on yourself than the people around you are. That incident gave me a lot of confidence to deal with unexpected issues going forward with much more poise.

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

As discussed earlier, I could not have done any of this without the love and support of my boyfriend Jamie Ford. He was the one who encouraged me to continue my project past the original one-month time frame. He also is kind enough to allow me to put hundreds of pounds of trash in his brand-new truck each week. Aside from him, I could not have done any of this without the help and support of my We Clean Trails family. I am so fortunate to be able to say that I do not believe there is one single volunteer who has not come to at least two cleanups, with most of our volunteers coming almost every week for the past year and a half. The fact that they are willing to spend most of their Saturday mornings with me, exploring and cleaning up San Diego is the biggest compliment and motivator that I could ever receive.

Are there three things the community, society, or politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

  1. Pack out what you pack in — one of the most famous phrases from the Leave No Trace Principals. We need to hold ourselves accountable for making sure that if we bring litter producing materials with us outdoors, that we have made sure we have a plan for disposal and all pieces are accounted for. Some things to look out for: Food wrapper edges often get left behind or blown away, bottle tops, cigarette butts, dog poop bags.
  2. Encourage companies to produce less single use plastics and more biodegradable packaging. We need to limit the consumption of products that have a higher likelihood to become litter, and work to make those products more environmentally friendly and biodegradable in case they do become litter.
  3. We need to tackle our homelessness problem. This is not only a humanitarian issue, as I believe all humans deserve the basic right of shelter, but also an environmental issue. Our heaviest loads are often from locations with abandoned encampment sites. Our two most recent being 1040lbs at Rose Creek and nearly 400lbs at Sunset Cliffs.
  4. Cigarette Butts are the single most littered item in the world. While the numbers have been going down, we need to put serious pressure on our politicians to ban the harmful chemicals found in these cigarette butts, to create incentives for disposing of them properly, and to lower demand for these products through education. I would also like to see these require a brighter color, as the yellow often blends in with sand or other natural materials making it difficult to see and cleanup.

How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?

As a Financial Advisor and earth advocate, I am a big fan of ESG (Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance) investing. Studies have recently linked companies with a high ESG score with higher profitability and less volatility than their market counterparts with lower ESG scores. My theory as to why that is, is because companies that strive to make the world a better place are approaching their decisions from a long term and holistic point of view, and is an indicator of a strong management team. My generation in particular has shown an increase demand for sustainable goods and expects the companies they support to share the same moral values. As we become older, and as the wealth of the company shifts to this generation, the demand for sustainability will only intensify. If a company does not keep up with this demand they will shortly be phased out for more environmentally and socially conscious options.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. I wish someone told me to use a luggage weight to record my totals when I first started. I only began recording weights after seeing another cleanup organization post a photo of their volunteer taking the weight of one of their bags of litter using a luggage weight. This $20 piece of equipment has allowed me to record important metrics for my organization, and I wish I had that information dating back to inception. My volunteers love knowing the weight totals of their impact, and I have noticed they are far more likely to share on their socials when they have these data sets to share.
  2. The importance of ice breakers and get-to-know-you activities at the beginning of each event. I only began asking people to share their names with the group in the past year. This has allowed not only me to learn my volunteers’ names through repetition (super helpful since we didn’t even have each other’s faces to go off of because of the masks!), but also allowed fellow volunteers to get to know each other as well. After starting our introduction circle prior to every cleanup, I have found many of my volunteers have become friends and are more likely to ask each other for help during the event when they need it.
  3. To not be afraid to ask for help. When starting this organization, I felt like I had to do everything on my own. When I was out of town, I never felt comfortable asking volunteers or friends to lead the cleanup while I was gone. Unfortunately, when you skip a week, the week you return often has smaller participant numbers. I began asking for volunteers to lead the cleanups while I am away, which has not only made the volunteers I asked feel special and appreciated, but also kept numbers up and more consistent.
    Half of the reason why people are there is to socialize so go out of your way as the group leader to speak to each volunteer individually during the event. Not only is this a great way to network and to receive feedback, but it is also a chance to make friends with your volunteers. Volunteers that I went out of my way to get to know were way more likely to be repeat and become long term volunteers.
  4. Know your audience. When I was first cultivating my volunteer base, I reached out on social media platforms where I was more likely to find active, environmentally conscious individuals who would be naturally excited to work with my organization. Some of the Facebook hiking pages in San Diego are much more environmentally inclined than others, so instead of posting in every possible group, I targeted which groups I felt best reflected the community I was hoping to create. This allowed me to create an amazing base of followers and become a known and respected name within the groups I targeted. This has allowed me to have 100% organic volunteer growth and attract absolutely amazing volunteers that fit the culture of my organization.
  5. Network with other environmental organizations in your area. While the day-to-day work we do as an organization is so important, it is also important to position yourself to be able to make real systematic change in your community. The only way a small community organization like myself could effect change in our political landscape is by partnering with other community organizations with similar goals. Not only are you able to learn from their experience with the day-to-day activities, when you are trying to make legislative changes, the collective action is far more likely to gain local government attention. My group recently partnered with the San Diego Seal Society for an Earth Day cleanup and supported their effort to close Point La Jolla and Boomers Beach during seal and sea lion pupping season. I am happy to say that our efforts resulted in the temporary closure of those beaches and a park ranger stationed to enforce the new rules. We have also partnered with Friends of Rose Creek and have removed over 2,500lbs from that location over the course of three weekends.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

The first thing I would tell them is that it is easier than you think to make a difference in this world. I believe the big reason many people do not contribute to bettering our environment or society is because it seems like an insurmountable task. Rather than allow it to intimidate you to the point of not trying, remember that the only thing that has ever changed the world were individuals just like you who decide each day to show up for themselves, for each other and for our world. Find an organization that aligns with your unique interests, skills and abilities, and schedule time in your week to do something positive.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Don’t sit and complain about something that you have the power to make better. This is exactly what prompted me to create We Clean Trails in the first place. I was getting sick of seeing trash on all the beautiful nature trails around San Diego, so instead of just being annoyed by it I decided to do something about it. Thinking about the world this way gives you more power over your life and often leads to very rewarding moments.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would LOVE to sit down for a private breakfast or lunch with Jane Fonda. Jane not only has had a very impressive modeling, acting and fitness career, and is (not even arguably) the most stunning 83-year-old woman on the planet — but what I find the most admirable about her is that she has never ceased in her fight for what is right. Jane has spent her entire life tirelessly fighting as a political, environmental and women’s rights activist. She was never afraid to speak her truth, even if it meant losing career opportunities or going against popular culture of the time. She is the perfect example of a strong female role model that I look up to and aspire to be like. She is the true representation of a beauty for a cause.

How can our readers follow you online?

Personal IG: @marisapaigebutler

Titleholder IG: @missearthusa

We Clean Trails IG: @wecleantrails

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!


Social Impact Heroes Helping Our Planet: Why & How Miss Earth USA Marisa Butler Is Helping To… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Music Stars Making A Social Impact: Why & How Dasha of Quadio Records Is Helping To Change Our…

Music Stars Making A Social Impact: Why & How Dasha of Quadio Records Is Helping To Change Our World

An Interview With Edward Sylvan

Make the music that you would want to listen to. As a songwriter, I’m always trying to write the songs that are missing from my playlists. The songs that I wish were already written and released but haven’t been yet. A lot of the time, music is filling in the gaps or finding a way to do something similar in a whole new way or perspective.

As a part of our series about music stars who are making an important social impact, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Dasha.

SoCal native Dasha is crafting her own sound in the pop realm infusing retro Nokia ringtone vibes and unabashed lyricism. Since her debut EP, which garnered 1M+ streams in its first month of release, Dasha has developed a passionate fanbase growing her 1,000 monthly listeners to over 100,000 in just a few months. Whether writing, singing or producing, Dasha is sure to have her finger on the pulse, dually designing her own signature style.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit of the ‘backstory’ of how you grew up?

Hey!! Thanks for having me. I’m so happy to be here. I grew up in San Luis Obispo, California to a very musical family. My parents and community always supported my passion for the arts so from a really young age, around three when I started dancing, I was subconsciously preparing myself for the life I have today. I started playing guitar and piano around age 10. I always really liked writing poetry and making class assignments a little more dramatic than the other kids. So when I started playing instruments, songwriting came really seamlessly. Growing up with my older brother Bardo, who is also in the industry, was a big advantage. He’s always been an inspiration to me.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I did musical theatre all throughout elementary, middle and high school — this is where I first realized my love for entertaining people and being on stage. It’s definitely been a hard process finally getting to where I am today. I went through so many versions of “Dasha” as Dasha was actually growing up and learning to navigate the world as a young adult. The beautiful thing and what I’m most proud of is that “Dasha” is just me. Dasha the artist is Dasha the 21-year-old girl writing songs and doing her thing. All my music is about my life and my emotions. How I show up on social media is exactly who I am in person. I’m really proud of that.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your career?

I went to Pensacola, Florida on a writing retreat with a bunch of really talented songwriters back in January. I had never been to Florida before so I was stoked, expecting a Miami-type week. Turns out, Pensacola is right on the border between Alabama and Florida. I had never experienced such an intense culture shock before. Growing up in a bubble in San Luis Obispo, California I didn’t experience much diversity, unfortunately. Overall, the trip was so much fun. I have some of the most hilarious stories after being in an AirBNB with ten other songwriters for a week. That’s the week we wrote ‘21st Birthday’, which is a single off of my EP!

What was the lesson or take away that you took out of that story?

I had a realization of how privileged of a place I came from. It gave me a new perspective of the things that people who grew up totally different from me have to deal with in their lives. It inspired me to work even harder so soon I can be a voice to those who don’t have one.

What would you advise a young person who wants to emulate your success?

Create music that you would want to listen to. Be nice to everyone. Also, always try to be the least talented person in “the room”. Follow your gut.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you explain how that was relevant in your life?

The only competition is between you and your past self. Not between you and everyone else.

Dasha one year ago today, would not believe how far I’ve come. One year ago, I had less than 1,000 monthly listeners. This month I passed 160,000, just on Spotify. The more I focused on myself and used all my energy to build myself, the whole game changed. It isn’t a competition. So many women view their careers as such like there isn’t room for all of us but that’s bullshit. That’s what society has conditioned us to think. When one woman wins, we all win.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’m eternally grateful for my high school vocal coach and mentor, Jackie Kreitzer. She not only helped me harness the potential of my voice but also trained me on how to hold myself and truly respect my voice and artistry. I think I truly started to believe in myself once she walked into my life.

Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview, how are you using your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share with us the meaningful or exciting social impact causes you are working on right now?

One of the most beautiful things about having a platform is being able to support worthy causes. Women empowerment and equality for everyone is my greatest passion within social impact. Having been a victim of sexism, misogyny and assault in my personal and especially professional life, I feel very passionate about this cause. It’s personal to me, my sisters, my mom and so many of my friends. I recognize that it most commonly occurs from a lack of education and false information passed along about women in accordance with people afraid to speak out and calling predators out. I’m working to change that.

Can you tell us the backstory about what originally inspired you to feel passionate about this cause and to do something about it?

Having been a victim of sexism and misogyny in my personal and especially professional life, I feel very passionate about this cause. It’s personal to me and all of my friends.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and take action for this cause? What was that final trigger?

I think the “aha” moment was when my little sister went into middle school. I’m five years older so I was a Junior in High School. At that point, I had been through what most girls go through as they’re growing up: getting cat-called, feeling vulnerable and uncomfortable in times where men don’t, feeling preyed upon, etc. The thought of my little sister having to go through everything I did broke my heart and made me so upset. Today’s society isn’t equal between the genders in so many ways and I’m really passionate about changing that in any way that I can.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

I’ve had a handful of people who I have never met, reach out and thank me for my songs and my music. One girl wrote that my lyrics are the reason she got through a really hard time in her life. That this was the first time she ever felt heard and understood. I read that in my DM’s and started crying instantly. All these years of working my ass off felt so worth it.

Are there three things that individuals, society or the government can do to support you in this effort?

In the context of women empowerment, individuals, society and the government, we can all make efforts to make sure that women are paid equally, respected equally, and to educate themselves and those around them. The fact that so many men have absolutely no idea what a “period” is and have all these false misconceptions of women turning into the children of satan, unable to control themselves during that time of the month. Also, I think we all need to normalize calling people out on intentional and unintentional sexist behavior. Men have so much power to stop other men from doing creepy shit.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. “Be fu*king impossible to ignore”. I found this quote on my explore page and it goes on for a while but finishes with “make them hate you for being so fu*king good. Burn so brightly that you catch the whole world on fire”. I had a tarot card reading done and the main message was that I suppress my success to those around me so I don’t seem too intimidating. So I don’t seem like I’m bragging or showing off. Stop doing that, is what my cards were saying. Shine as possibly bright as you can and those who are still by your side and supporting you despite their own status are real friends. Those who disappear were only going to hurt you.
  2. I know it’s exciting, but don’t sign anything without a GOOD lawyer looking it over first. Trust me, it’s worth the money. I was offered a record deal by a big label and almost caught myself in a deal that would’ve messed up everything that I’ve worked for.
  3. Follow your passions and follow your gut. I had a moment during this talent search competition I did when I was 11. The lights were so bright and the crowd was so loud and I had this feeling in my body that this was what I’m meant to do with my life. I remember walking off into the backstage area and telling my dad, “I feel so at home when I’m on stage. I’m doing this forever”.
  4. Stop taking things so personally. Everyone’s going to have an opinion. If I would’ve known how many opinions were going to be thrown in my face, I would’ve built up my walls a little higher. Unfortunately, I’m a sensitive bitch who is known for taking rejection, rude people, and peoples’ opinions way too personally but I’m working on it.
  5. Make the music that you would want to listen to. As a songwriter, I’m always trying to write the songs that are missing from my playlists. The songs that I wish were already written and released but haven’t been yet. A lot of the time, music is filling in the gaps or finding a way to do something similar in a whole new way or perspective.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would collaborate with Thorn, which is Ashton Kutcher’s foundation to defend children from sexual abuse. I would use the company’s resources to extend their passions to young women. For reference, “One in five women in the United States experienced completed or attempted rape during their lifetime and Nationwide, 81% of women experience some form of sexual harassment and/or assault in their lifetime (https://www.nsvrc.org/statistics)”. This is disgusting and unacceptable and needs to change.

We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Politics, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

All I want is to sit down to lunch with Taylor Swift. I owe her for so much of my career. She is the reason I’m doing what I’m doing today. She paved the way in so many ways for young females in the industry and I would honestly just love to thank her in person. Also, I feel like we’d become best friends. Just saying. If any of yall know my girl Taylor, you know where to find me. @dashamusic !!

Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was so inspiring, and we wish you continued success!


Music Stars Making A Social Impact: Why & How Dasha of Quadio Records Is Helping To Change Our… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Social Impact Authors: How & Why Dr Carolyn McCaskill Is Helping To Change Our World

An Interview With Edward Sylvan

In many ways, the social impact of The Hidden Treasure has only just begun. It has been a large part of the impetus for the recent establishment of the Center for Black Deaf Studies at Gallaudet University, where I serve as the founding director. The Center is the only place in the world dedicated to honoring Black Deaf history, Black Deaf contributions, and Black Deaf culture. And The Hidden Treasure also has me contemplating my next project: the first-ever dictionary of Black ASL!

As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Carolyn D. McCaskill, Ph.D.

Dr. Carolyn D. McCaskill, a leading scholar of Black Deaf history and culture and Black American Sign Language, is a professor in the Department of Deaf Studies at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. She is also the founding director of the university’s Center for Black Deaf Studies, and co-author of the seminal book The Hidden Treasure of Black ASL: Its History and Structure (Gallaudet University Press, 2011), the first socio-historical and linguistic study of Black ASL.

Dr. McCaskill, a native of Mobile, Alabama, is the oldest of five children born to a single mother. She attended public schools, then the Alabama School for Negro Deaf. After the state desegregated its schools, she transferred to the Alabama School for the Deaf for high school and graduated in 1972. She holds bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees from Gallaudet, and has been a member of its faculty since 1996.

Dr. McCaskill is world-renowned for her decades of pioneering work to bring recognition to Black American Sign Language. She is a dynamic presenter and has been interviewed by some of the nation’s best known media outlets, including The Washington Post and Good Morning America. In 2020, Dr. McCaskill was named Gallaudet’s Distinguished Faculty Member of the Year, and in 2021, she was selected as a member of the 2022 class of the Alabama School for the Deaf Hall of Fame.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I grew up in the Roger Williams Housing Projects of Mobile, Alabama, as the oldest of five children born to a single mother. My mother, Janice McCaskill, who is now 90 years old, raised us to strive for the best. She preached the importance of education throughout our childhood.

My sister Jackie and I were born about 14 months apart and were diagnosed with bilateral sensorineural hearing loss, apparently of genetic origin. I was five, and she was six. So, I became deaf at age five. I attended public school from the first to the 7th grade without communication access. I did not have a sign language interpreter in the classroom. I would sit in the front row and try to lipread my teachers.

Another sister, Angela, started to lose her hearing as a teenager. I also have a hearing sister and a hearing brother.

Due to frustration with this system, I transferred to the Alabama School for the Negro Deaf and Blind in Talladega. I was there from 1964 to 1968. This is where I learned Black American Sign Language (Black ASL or BASL) and Deaf culture. After segregation ended, I moved to the Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind and graduated from there in 1972. I entered Gallaudet College (now University) in the fall of 1972, and as they say, the rest is history.

When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to act or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?

While I was a student at the Alabama School for the Deaf, I became an inveterate bookworm. I love reading different kinds of books. One book that I recall reading was I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou. This book was about her struggle with racism as a child. In the book, young Maya described her experience with racism and segregation, and how it affected her self-esteem. I can relate because I grew up both Black and Deaf, a double whammy, and a woman, a triple whammy.

I immersed myself in books and the endless opportunities of reading and learning. I have read nearly all of Maya Angelou’s works. I also read Roots: The Saga of an American Family, by Alex Haley; and books by James Baldwin, and Toni Morrison. I had a special interest in reading books by Black Deaf authors, including Connie Briscoe, Mary Herring Wright (especially Sounds Like Home: Growing Up Black and Deaf in the South, which I related to strongly); Linwood Smith, and Ernest Hairston. The book Deaf Heritage: A Narrative History of Deaf America, by Jack R. Gannon, a white Deaf man, also resonated for me.

In my view, reading is the key to knowledge, and knowledge is power.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

I started my doctoral studies at one school, but encountered issues with obtaining appropriate support services. Also, my originally assigned academic advisor, with whom I had an excellent relationship, became ill and went on medical leave. As a result, I transferred from that school into Gallaudet’s doctoral program in special education administration.

I struggled with my decision to leave my original program and transfer to Gallaudet. I already had two degrees from Gallaudet, and I wanted my doctorate to be from a different school. Fortunately, the transition was a smooth one, and in the process, I learned that “When one door closes, another door opens.” The decision was one of the best in my life, as it opened many doors of opportunities. It was the seed for which my Black ASL work was born.

Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?

For a long time, it was a goal of mine to ensure the rich history, culture, and experience of the Black Deaf community was not only archived but shared and celebrated with future generations. Well over a decade ago, my colleagues and I knew that there was a significant opportunity to research and archive the history of Black ASL in a way that had yet to be done. In 2011, after extensive research, travel to multiple states and cities, and many incredible first-person interviews, we published The Hidden Treasure of Black ASL: Its History and Structure. I am proud to say that it is the first-ever sociohistorical and linguistic study of Black ASL. And I am even prouder to have had the opportunity to join my co-authors on this unique scholarly body of work: Dr. Robert Bayley, Professor of Linguistics at the University of California, Davis; Dr. Joseph Hill, Associate Professor of American Sign Language and Interpreting Education at Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf; and Dr. Ceil Lucas, Professor Emerita of Linguistics at Gallaudet University. I am also grateful for our collaboration on The Hidden Treasure with Roxanne Dummett, Pamela Baldwin, and Randall Hogue.

For me personally, I have always wanted to use the platform of The Hidden Treasure of Black ASL to share our history. We know more about the history of others, but they do not know about our history, community, culture, and language. I hope that by sharing our story, people will learn that we have a rich history, community, culture, and language and that the vibrant Black Deaf community has and will continue to make an impact.

In many ways, the social impact of The Hidden Treasure has only just begun. It has been a large part of the impetus for the recent establishment of the Center for Black Deaf Studies at Gallaudet University, where I serve as the founding director. The Center is the only place in the world dedicated to honoring Black Deaf history, Black Deaf contributions, and Black Deaf culture.

And The Hidden Treasure also has me contemplating my next project: the first-ever dictionary of Black ASL!

Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

I think the most unique stories in the book were about Texas School for the Blind, Colored Deaf and the Virginia School for the Colored Deaf. Each was unique in its own way.

The Texas legislature created the Asylum for Deaf, Dumb, Blind Colored Youth in 1887 in Austin, Texas. William Holland, a former slave, was appointed as the school’s first superintendent. The name was changed several times, finally to Blind, Deaf and Orphan School (BDO), colloquially as Blind Deaf Orphan. Holland also founded Prairie View A&M University, a historically black university (HBCU). He founded a State Colored Orphans Home. It was burned to the ground. The orphaned students were hearing. The hearing and deaf students were educated together. The hearing students were taught Deaf culture and ASL, and many of them became sign language interpreters. Former students at this school still congregate for reunions from time to time.

The Virginia School for the Colored Deaf was established in 1909 by a white Deaf man named William Ritter. After he graduated from Gallaudet College, he returned home in Hampton, Virginia. He had a housekeeper who had a Deaf child. The housekeeper was so impressed with him. It touched his heart as he was concerned about the education of Black Deaf people. The school closed in 2008, and its students either transferred to the Virginia School for the Deaf and the Blind in Staunton or to mainstream settings. The Black ASL Team was fortunate to interview former students who remembered William Ritter.

What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?

When I was in graduate school working on my doctoral degree, I had an “aha moment” with one of my professors, Dr. Roslyn “Roz” Rosen. I told her about my school experience at Alabama School for the Negro Deaf. She was shocked and told me that I had to write about it. This inspired me to do research and chose the title of my dissertation, “The Education of Black Deaf Americans during the 20th Century: Policy Implications for Administrators in Deaf Schools.”

For my bachelor’s degree, I majored in psychology with a minor in social work. Dr. Yerker Andersson, who taught sociology, as one of my professors. He would call me to his office to chat. He would always tell me to stay strong and be proud of myself as a Black Deaf woman. I never forgot him and his advice. Later, Dr. Andersson was asked to be the founding chair of Gallaudet’s new Department of Deaf Studies, and he hired me as a faculty member. When he passed away in 2003, his wife asked me to say a few words at his memorial services. I basically summed it up with Maya Angelou’s quotation. “I have learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Dr. Yerker made me feel that I was worthy and had made contributions in the field of Deaf education. As I noted earlier, when he retired, he hired me to fill his position. It was truly an honor, and I remember him every day.

Dr. Glenn B. Anderson was another excellent role model. I remember a conversation with him. He said that it was lonely at the top. I thought to myself that he was the second Black Deaf person to earn his Ph.D. degree but he was lonely. There were very few Black Deaf Americans with Ph.D. degrees. In 2005, I became the eighth. I’m happy to say there are now about 30 known Black Deaf Americans with Ph.D. degrees, and Dr. Anderson is no longer lonely at the top.

My sister Angela, who also holds a Ph.D. degree from Gallaudet, has compiled the life stories of most of the Black Deaf people with earned doctoral degrees. Her booklet is in its second edition.

Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

In this case, I must share a name. I am profoundly inspired by the Miller family of Washington, D.C. Louise B. Miller had three Deaf sons and a hearing daughter. Because of segregation in the late 1940s and early 1950s, she and her husband were forced to send her Deaf sons to schools in Baltimore and Philadelphia, rather than to the Kendall School for the Deaf on the Gallaudet campus.

Louise B. Miller fought for the right of her sons and other Black Deaf children to be educated on Kendall Green. She filed suit against the District of Columbia Board of Education, and the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled in her favor. Kendall School for the Deaf created a separate “division” for Black Deaf students. Two years later, the Supreme Court of the United States of America ended segregation in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. Kendall School then became fully integrated.

I nominated Louise B. Miller for a posthumous honorary degree from Gallaudet. In May 2021, the Gallaudet University Board of Trustees awarded her this degree and presented it to her family. Plans are also underway for a fitting memorial on the Gallaudet campus so that Louise Miller’s legacy will be remembered forever.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Simply stated: accessibility, equal opportunity, and eradicating racism. All of these things must be done from the ground up, not as an afterthought.

To give a personal example, it goes without saying that Black churches are a pillar of the Black community. However, it is challenging for Black Deaf people to be fully involved. Many churches do not offer interpreting services for Black Deaf people. I attend Reid Temple A.M.E. Church in Glenn Dale, Maryland. Fortunately, they provide interpreting at several of their services.

NAACP is another entity that I want to see become more inclusive. NAACP does not provide interpreting services for their programs, even as they advocate for equality. Black Deaf people are a minority within a minority. NAACP has yet to recognize the vast amount of talent within our communities. There are brilliant Black Deaf teachers, artists, business owners, pastors, medical professionals, attorneys, etc., but they do not all feel that NAACP represents them. This needs to change.

How do you define “leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is being able to inspire others. Leadership is taking risks and making tough decisions. Leadership is activism and advocacy. Leadership is getting down in the trenches and working with the people whom you lead.

In my doctoral program, one of my professors said to keep your suitcase parked near your door. This means to not let your position title define who you are because you are only passing through. Our Lord has other plans for you, en route to greater destinations! So, be humble; be grateful.

I also learned that it is important to be kind and compassionate with people because these same people will be there when you fall.

What are your “five things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

  1. “If at first, you don’t succeed, try again.” The Black ASL Team applied for a National Science Foundation grant. We were denied the first two times. We reapplied and were approved the third time.
  2. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Make the best of it even when things may be sour.
  3. “Don’t forget to smell the roses.” Especially during the pandemic, I had to remind myself of this often because I delve so deeply into my work. I had to take a break from work.
  4. As I wrote in my answer to an earlier question, “Knowledge is power.” My mother often reminded me and my siblings of this. She said education was the key to better job opportunities. She wanted us to do better in life than she did. I am proud to say that all five of us graduated from college; one sibling earned a master’s degree, and two of us earned Ph.D. degrees. We were the first in our family to graduate from college.
  5. “Never give up! “It takes hard work to be successful, but don’t give up. Keep your eyes on the prize.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite “Life Lessons Quote is “The view is beautiful at the top.” I remember that my high school senior class went on a field trip with a former teacher named Houston Dutton. We were excited to get out of the classroom. We excitedly boarded the school bus, thinking we were going to have fun. We arrived at a park. Mr. Dutton, smiling, told us to follow him as he began to climb up a hill. I thought to myself, “Why are we climbing a hill?” Mr. Dutton was smiling and telling us to come on. It was not easy; sometimes I would slide down, climb back up, slide down again until I finally reached the top, out of breath and wondering what in the world this white man was up to. Mr. Dutton smiled at us when we all arrived, then said, “This is life!” I was dumbfounded at his signing, “LIFE”! The view was indeed beautiful once we reached the top, but the struggle to get there was not pretty. And that was the life lesson, one that I have carried with me for nearly 50 years. The racism, hardships, and struggle that I endured to get my BA, MA and Ph.D. degrees, and to succeed as a teacher and researcher, were not always a pretty view. I can say that I now have a nice view because of my perseverance. For that, I thank Mr. Dutton.

Is there a person in the world, or in the United States, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I have always wanted to meet Oprah Winfrey. In fact, I wrote her a letter back in 1989. I feel that she had, and still has, a great venue in which to share our story. Also, I hoped that she would consider including some of our finest Black Deaf actors/actresses in films that she promotes.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

They can follow the Center for Black Deaf Studies website, learn more about The Hidden Treasure of Black ASL: Its History and Structure, and learn more about Black American Sign Language.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!


Social Impact Authors: How & Why Dr Carolyn McCaskill Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Young Change Makers: Why and How Cristina Leos of Real Talk Is Helping To Change Our World

An Interview With Penny Bauder

Don’t compare yourself to others: It is easy to look around you and feel like you are not accomplishing as much as other organizations, but the truth is that each business has different needs and opportunities. Everyone’s journey is unique.

As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Cristina Leos.

Cristina Leos, PhD, MSPH, is a behavioral scientist, entrepreneur, and design thinking expert leveraging technology innovation to improve adolescent health. She is Co-Founder & CEO of Real Talk, a mobile app that connects teens with authentic stories and trusted resources to help them know they are not alone in their experiences growing up. In addition to leading Real Talk, Cristina applies her design thinking skills to train and inspire students, researchers, educators, activists, and public health professionals to design more effective and inclusive tools to support health and wellbeing.

https://medium.com/media/8d9e1ca5f945bb4f742d759b469f860f/href

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?

I am originally from Texas and grew up on the U.S.-Mexico border. I am also the first generation in my family born in the U.S., so my whole life has been a mixture of cultures and influences between the United States and Mexico. I have a big family and have many fond memories of impromptu gatherings with lots of laughs and food. I was really creative as a child, I loved to make crafts and could get lost for hours reading books. As I got older, I also learned to play the violin, played volleyball, basketball, ran track at school, and was a competitive cheerleader for 15 years. I was a very busy kid! I eventually moved to California to complete my undergraduate degree at Stanford University and later moved to North Carolina to pursue my graduate degrees at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Is there a particular book or organization that made a significant impact on you growing up? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

I was a Girl Scout for a few years in late elementary school and that experience really helped foster my curiosity and love for learning. Through the process of earning merit badges, I tried things I never would have thought to explore otherwise. I remember visiting our local public library to check out books on plants or crafting or famous historical women to help me complete badges, and I loved it! It was such a wholesome and enriching experience.

How do you define “Making A Difference”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

For me, making a difference means that I am using my skills and resources to help make the world a better place. I have been blessed with many forms of privilege and opportunities, but I know I would not be where I am today if it had not been for the support I received from so many others along the way. It is deeply important for me to use my skills and resources to help others lead happy and fulfilling lives.

Ok super. Let’s now jump to the main part of our interview. You are currently leading an organization that aims to make a social impact. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?

Real Talk is a mobile app that connects teens with authentic stories and trusted resources to help them know they are not alone in their experiences growing up. We do this by crowdsourcing stories from teens on topics like relationships, bullying, identity, and more. We carefully review all submissions and publish stories along with high quality online resources to our mobile app. Teens can browse and search content and submit their own story directly within the app. Our mission is to dismantle the barriers to accessing mental and emotional support for BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ youth.

We first launched Real Talk in 2017 and, at that time, we had an exclusive focus on providing sexual health education for teens. Our team had first-hand experience with the education system and we each saw how young people were left without essential information to support them in making healthy decisions. Our goal with Real Talk was to use storytelling to make sex education more modern, engaging, and effective. However, we quickly learned that Real Talk’s impact extends far beyond sex education. Teens wanted stories on more topics like mental health, navigating relationships with friends and family, and how to have difficult conversations. Most importantly, youth told us that Real Talk stories helped them know they are not alone in their experiences growing up.

Now, we cover a broad range of topics (in addition to sexual health) through our mobile app. Real Talk stories help amplify diverse youth voices and experiences to reshape the narratives around stigmatized topics like sexual health and mental health. By doing this, we provide a safe, judgment free space for youth to share their experiences, access resources, and find support for whatever they may be going through.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

Growing up, many of my peers became teen parents by the time that we finished high school. When I moved away from home, I realized this wasn’t just happening in my hometown but also in countless other communities across the country and the world. I remember how taboo it was to have discussions around things like puberty, sex, dating, and sexual orientation, which left so many young people without information or support they needed. I was curious to learn what we could do to better support youth and I decided to pursue a graduate degree in public health.

My research in graduate school focused on adolescent health and development. I learned how adolescence is an incredibly influential time for development because this is the age when many habits are formed that have a lifelong impact on health. I was also excited by the potential to use technology to improve upon traditional health education and health promotion programs for teens. Many of these programs are not designed with teens in mind and do not really leverage the tools that resonate with them the most. I collaborated with two colleagues who shared similar interests and together we came up with the concept that eventually became the Real Talk mobile app.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

I never really planned to become an entrepreneur, so this journey really evolved out of a realization that our work was too important to not pursue. Real Talk began as a research project when I was halfway through graduate school. We got really positive feedback from youth who helped us design and build Real Talk, but it wasn’t until my colleagues and I started sharing our work more publicly that we realized Real Talk could have much greater reach and impact if we managed it as a social venture. We were inspired by our early successes and wanted the chance to build out our vision for what Real Talk could be, so we decided to start a nonprofit to manage the app.

Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?

None of us had previous experience founding or running a company, so we reached out to anyone and everyone in our network who could provide advice, connections, or resources. We talked with friends and acquaintances who had started companies, asked mentors for advice and introductions to others who may want to support our work, and made a plan for the types of resources we would need to successfully operate our nonprofit. There are a lot of things to consider when starting a new organization and it can be really easy to get overwhelmed, but the key is to ask for help and take it one piece at a time.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

We were featured in Fast Company when we launched in 2017 and the article made it on to the NPR show Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! the following week. We had no idea we would be featured until we had people calling and texting us saying they just heard about our work on the radio.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?

One of the most memorable mistakes we made was when we were preparing to pitch our initial Real Talk idea for a large pot of funding that would allow us to actually build and launch it. We decided to have a practice pitch presentation to get feedback before we did the real presentation, so we invited professors, friends, students, and others to hear our pitch and to demo our app prototype. Our pitch was pretty strong, but the product demo was a complete disaster. We provided mobile devices to the audience and planned to have each of them explore the prototype on their own for a few minutes before our main pitch presentation. However, some people couldn’t access the prototype, others were confused by elements of the prototype that were not fully functional, and overall they didn’t have enough time to interact with it before we moved on to our pitch. We knew we had to come up with a different way to demo our prototype, but we had to come up with a new idea fast because we only had 48 hours before we were scheduled to give our presentation. We re-wrote the opening of our pitch and filmed a video walk through of the prototype as the demo, hoping that it would be sufficient for our final pitch. Thankfully, we ended up getting funded so it turned into a funny story to look back on rather than a regret, but one of the key takeaways for me was about the importance of being prepared and getting feedback early. We put a ton of work into preparing for this pitch and I’m glad we were able to catch the problem areas and address them before we went into the actual presentation — if we hadn’t, we might not be here today!

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

Absolutely. We were fortunate to have a lot of support from faculty members in our graduate programs when we first developed Real Talk and also other advisors who have helped us navigate the process of building and growing our organization. We were selected for the Fast Forward Accelerator in 2017 and this experience completely shifted our trajectory. Our participation in the program came at a really critical time, just before we launched the first version of our app. We were just at the beginning stages of seeing Real Talk as a social venture (and not just a research project) and the Fast Forward team helped us refine our pitch, prioritize and set goals, and get connected with resources that could help us make this shift successfully. Fast Forward has been an incredible resource and we are still in touch with them.

Without saying specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

One teen we worked with shared that Real Talk helped her when she was struggling with something that made her feel like she was the only one in the world going through it. After reading Real Talk stories, she realized that others had gone through something similar and now she had some tools (based on others’ experiences) for how to get through it. We’ve also heard from many adults that they wish they had something like Real Talk when they were growing up (and I feel the same way!).

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Real Talk is grounded in authentic teen voices and amplifying their unique stories as a way to dismantle the barriers for youth to access resources they need to be healthy. We made a commitment to be guided by youth voices and I believe this is what has made us successful. In that vein, my three recommendations are:

  1. It is critical for communities and policymakers to listen to young people and include them in decision making processes. This can be incredibly difficult for adults to do, especially because we have been socialized to believe that adults know the answers (we don’t) and that young people are apathetic, aloof, or ignorant to the issues affecting their life (they’re not).
  2. I challenge those whose work involves youth to reflect on the ways their work does or does not take youth perspectives into consideration when identifying priorities and designing programs and policies. Cultivate the individual and organizational self-awareness necessary to examine the ways in which we are reproducing oppressive dynamic for the youth we work with. I am currently a part of a nationwide coalition that is working to dissect these dynamics within each of our organizations, with an emphasis on centering historically oppressed and intersectional identities so that we can better serve these groups specifically. It is hard work, but also really important for any organization that deals with youth issues.
  3. Celebrate youth in your life and embrace them as they are. We all were children and adolescents once, and I am sure we can all recall moments where we wished to be seen and accepted just as we were (perhaps this is even still true for us today). We can make that possible for the next generation of young people to radically improve their lives.

Fantastic. Here is the main question of the interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each).

The 5 things I wish I knew when I first started as an entrepreneur:

  1. There are no “right” answers: You will never have all the information you need to make a fully informed decision, so learn to be comfortable with uncertainty and making educated guesses as you learn.
  2. Don’t compare yourself to others: It is easy to look around you and feel like you are not accomplishing as much as other organizations, but the truth is that each business has different needs and opportunities. Everyone’s journey is unique.
  3. You will always be learning: Nearly everything you do as a first-time founder or leader will be a brand new experience. Even when you think you’ve got it figured out, you’ll reach a new phase of your business and start all over again. There will always be new challenges and decision to make that will keep stretching you.
  4. There will never be enough time: You will never have the time or capacity to do all the things you want or can do for your business. Set priorities and boundaries to help you make progress without burning out.
  5. Stay focused on your mission: Your mission will keep you inspired when things are tough and will help guide you are not sure what the next step should be. Always come back to the impact you want to have on the world.

Video link here: https://youtu.be/9CtYp6okT6U

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

Everyone has a unique perspective and contribution to make to the world. It is easy to get caught up by comparisons or fear of not knowing the “right” answer, especially if you come from a community that has been historically oppressed. But I’m here to tell you that it’s not true — your talents have a place in the world.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Lizzo, hands down. She is this amazing representation of owning who you are and what you stand for, unapologetically. She is a big inspiration for me — plus I love watching her TikTok videos!

How can our readers follow you online?

Sign up for our newsletter updates at www.realtalkapp.com.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!


Young Change Makers: Why and How Cristina Leos of Real Talk Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Social Impact Tech: Nyaradzo Hoto of ‘Wildlife Ranger Challenge’ On How Their Technology Will Make…

Social Impact Tech: Nyaradzo Hoto of ‘Wildlife Ranger Challenge’ On How Their Technology Will Make An Important Positive Impact

An Interview With Penny Bauder

Every life on earth is precious — When I was young, we would watch television shows and read about the big 5 and that was what we believed wildlife was about. Now on this job and through my studies I have learned no creature is too small to be an important factor in our ecosystems. I have come across dung beetles and seen them replenish nutrients into the soil which becomes a cycle that restores the earth. I wish someone had told me about the important roles everything in nature has.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nyaradzo Hoto.

Nyaradzo Auxillia Hoto is a 29 year old female who grew up in Huyo village, in Nyamakate, located in Zimbabwe’s mighty Zambezi valley. Nyaradzo was a graduate of the first pilot Akashinga training program back in 2017 — since then, she has continued to thrive and has earned the position of an Akashinga sergeant. She is also a part time student at Chinhoyi University of Technology undertaking a Bachelors Honors Science Degree in Wildlife, Ecology and Conservation to have a greater appreciation on conservation management and one day bring greater benefits to Akashinga and the region.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

I grew up in Huyo village, Nyamakate, located in Zimbabwe’s mighty Zambezi valley. One of Africa’s main arteries. I was the 6th born of 8 children. Our family was very poor, and the situation was tough growing up. Even though luck never seemed to be on my side, from the time when I was growing up, I used to tell myself that I could be someone in life that believed in the good spirit of others. But unfortunately, sometimes life is not what we hope for. But when you look in the face of hardship, there is no option but to keep moving forward, or lay down and die.

You are currently leading a social impact organization that is making a difference for our planet. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?

IAPF delivers ecological stability and long-term protection of large-scale wilderness landscapes by supporting and empowering local communities. Our primary operational model in Zimbabwe is Akashinga (meaning ‘The Brave Ones’ in local Shona dialect) — a conservation model which empowers local communities to protect, connect and restore threatened large-scale wilderness landscapes of significant ecological value. This is achieved primarily through women’s empowerment.

The ecosystem that balances our climate and make life on earth possible are under extreme threat. Without sufficient action, we are destined to take millions of species to extinction. The IAPF is playing a key role in the protection of wildlife and nature through engaging local communities in the conservation effort.

Poaching is one of the biggest threats to nature. The IAPF develops and supports programs such as the Akashinga anti-poaching unit that empowers local women and equips them with the skills they need to protect wildlife and nature. The method is paying off; we are seeing strong numbers of wildlife in an area that was once rife with poaching.

The employment opportunity helps the local women to support themselves and their families. This leads to direct impact in the community such as encouraging children to stay in school, improving health care, reduce diseases and poverty. The organization is also providing scholarships to local children.

IAPF and Akashinga doesn’t focus on species, or individual parks, but biodiversity across wide open landscapes. The future of our conservation as a whole will not be dependent on the survival of the rhino or the elephant, but on the preservation of biodiversity and nature at scale — The interlinked tapestry of our planets most effective self-regulating system.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

When the IAPF first started the Akashinga project in the area, I heard that the conservation model would be an all-female ranger team. The rangers I had seen in my life were mostly men and I was excited by the prospect of joining an all-female ranger team, I felt that this was an opportunity to prove something to myself and others that women could accomplish something great in a previously male dominated space.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest them. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

The “Aha Moment” came in 2019 when an opportunity came to further my education. I had been working as junior ranger for one year and I chose to study Wildlife, Ecology and Conservation. I felt drawn to this program above any others because it would enhance my work as a ranger and improve the way I share information about conservation in my community and to others. This gave me confidence of the direction I wanted to take in my career.

Many people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?

We sat down as a team and assessed the rangers’ strength and passions to make up the team that would participate. For instance, there are some rangers that are great at wildlife knowledge and preferred to participate in the quiz and other rangers who are physically inclined and chose to lead the training for the physical tasks.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

We once got a call about pangolin that had ventured into a nearby village which can be dangerous for the animal. One of the villagers alerted us and we successfully relocated the pangolin back into the wildlife area. It was also a special moment because it is rare to come across a pangolin.

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

When we first started training to become rangers, it was tough mentally and physically because we were doing things we had done before such as the physical training. One of our instructors, Shadreck Midzi encouraged us to persevere and made the going easier with his sense of humor. He also taught me how to drive which has been very important thing to me

Are there three things the community, society, or politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

  1. We have been working to prevent human wildlife conflict were wild animals’ prey on domesticated animals. The community can practice better animal husbandry such as building robust pens for their animals. We have been getting cases of animals that get attacked because they were not secured.
  2. A lot of wild animals are killed because of misconceptions and lack of awareness. We need more stakeholders to partner us in our society for community outreach programs that teach people about conservation.
  3. We need more community led projects such as greenhouse which provide people with occupations. And may lead to a decrease in poaching incidents.

How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?

  1. Plant trees and shrubs around company premises and surrounding communities.
  2. Use environmentally friendly cleaning products.
  3. Recycle all waste products possible.
  4. Use alternative sources of energy for example the use of solar and stop cutting trees for domestic fuels.
  5. Conserving water by all means.
  6. Replace old appliances and use energy efficient ones.
  7. Teach communities on the importance of forests and how they support life and ecosystems
  8. MY TREES PROJECT: Communities were chopping down trees to use the wood for curing tobacco. “My trees”, is a model introduced in Hurungwe to encourage massive re-afforestation using fast growing indigenous tree species to replace what was destroyed and create new forests. Communities are now being encouraged to seek alternative energy sources for curing tobacco, for example using bacillus magisterium

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1. That man is the greatest threat to mother earth.

I have found that during the course of my work, nature has a delicate balance when left to its devices. Some animals such as vultures clean up after the carnivores and keep disease from spreading. Now there is a huge problem in some parks where people poison vultures. This is where humans actively dismantle an arm of the ecosystem causing a cascade of events that have greater consequence in nature. This is just one example, but I wish someone had told me of the extent humans have affected nature and the threat we pose if things do not change.

2. That I do not have to depend on someone.

I have learned so much about myself in the past few years in terms of what I can accomplish through my own determination. When I put my mind to a task, I often accomplish it in ways that surprise me, or I learn from the failures. I have supported my family and given them a better life through my work. I have found a strength in myself that I am proud of, something I feel my younger self should have learned about herself.

3. That I am not tomorrow’s leader but todays.

The time has come for women to also participate in leadership, and we have always had it in us. I wish someone had given me the confidence of leading when I was young.

4. There are no man’s jobs.

I work near an important Zimbabwean highway that leads to Zambia and I have seen a female truck driver making her way along it. When I was young, I would not have believed that. I also work in a field that was once said to be a men’s job. Seeing the woman truck driver made me realize that nothing was holding back my aspirations when I was young.

5. Every life on earth is precious.

When I was young, we would watch television shows and read about the big 5 and that was what we believed wildlife was about. Now on this job and through my studies I have learned no creature is too small to be an important factor in our ecosystems. I have come across dung beetles and seen them replenish nutrients into the soil which becomes a cycle that restores the earth. I wish someone had told me about the important roles everything in nature has.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

I want to assure all women around the region, that the sky is the limit. Nothing is impossible. All you need is courage, commitment, character, dedication, and spirit. We can stand together to save our natural heritage that is wildlife and nature.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite life lesson quote is “Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement”

I keep on protecting the wildlife and nature because I believe that our work is leaving a lasting impact with the decrease in poaching and increase in animal numbers in the park.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

The person with whom I would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with is Jane Goodall because I am inspired by her work in conservation.

How can our readers follow you online?

Everyone can follow us on the IAPF website and social media which can be found at www.iapf.org

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!


Social Impact Tech: Nyaradzo Hoto of ‘Wildlife Ranger Challenge’ On How Their Technology Will Make… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Social Impact Tech: Ifty Nasir of Vestd On How Their Technology Will Make An Important Positive…

Social Impact Tech: Ifty Nasir of Vestd On How Their Technology Will Make An Important Positive Impact

An Interview With Jilea Hemmings

Equity management used to be complex, expensive and frustrating. Our platform makes the process simple, safe and inspiring. Our customers no longer have to rely on the dark arts of their accountants and lawyers. And their teams can log onto the platform and see the value of their equity in real time, which incentivizes people like nothing else. Our customers can manage their shareholders as easily as adding a photograph to Facebook. They can also set conditionality, issue shares, add directors, view their cap-table and more.

In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact”. We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ifty Nasir.

Ifty Nasir is the founder and CEO of Vestd (www.vestd.com). He is a strong believer in the ‘Ownership Effect’ and advises businesses on how to share equity to incentivize teams and unlock value. An entrepreneur since his teens, Ifty reached the most senior levels at BP and Essar Energy before branching out into the world of startups.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?

I grew up in Bradford, an industrial city in the north of England. I’m the son of immigrants and grew up in an incredibly strong family unit where we all supported each other to do the best we could. I’m still incredibly close to my family now. In fact, my sister is Vestd’s HR Manager and my nephew, Naveed, is my cofounder!

Growing up in a large family trying to carve out a life gave me an entrepreneurial streak from a young age. When I was really young, I started selling reconditioned sewing machines that I bought from textiles factories that were closing down. Later on, I attempted to set up ‘Computer Aided Real Estate’ — essentially a precursor to Zoopla or RightMove, but this was decades ago and I couldn’t secure support from the regional enterprise council who couldn’t see how it would work.

I guess everything in business is timing.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

The big story for me, the thing that informed everything, was getting into BP (British Petroleum). I worked my way up and eventually became Vice President, becoming one of the youngest leaders in the company. I ended up doing so much really interesting stuff. I’ve travelled the world and met lots of fascinating people, and I also had the opportunity to go to Stanford to study on their Senior Executive Program.

Without getting my foot in the door at BP, it’s doubtful that any of that would’ve happened and I’d be on an entirely different path right now!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Well again, my family. They always encouraged me to do the best that I could in life. But it’s cyclical and now I help them out when I can.

It’s vital to help those around you — if we lift each other up, everybody benefits.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

It changes all the time as there are, and have been, so many inspiring people in the world.

I turn to Sun Tzu a lot for inspiration. Sun Tzu was a Chinese general, military strategist, writer, and philosopher and he’s credited as being the author of The Art of War, a classic book and guide for life!

There are so many excellent quotes within that book, but one that I think is currently relevant to all of us is that “In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity”.

Covid has wrought chaos in all of our lives but there are silver linings. Pollution has reduced as travel has lessened, people have looked out for each other that bit more and many people have discovered a greater work/life balance.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

1) Having a big vision: We do, as a business, regularly ask ourselves, ‘okay, what do we want to achieve by the end of this year?’ and often, the results of those conversations can seem like a tall order. For example, wanting to double in size by this point or that. However, at the end of the day, whatever the challenge, achieving it is just a mathematical equation. So that’s how we approach it. If X is the end goal, what is it that we need to do to make that happen? How many leads do we need to have X coming in? How much content do we need? What is it that we need to turn up or down?

2) Optimism: To start any business, you need to be able to deaf out the naysayers and you also need to have unshakeable belief in your idea. I thought we’d break even at a much earlier point than we did, but you almost need to be overly optimistic about things like that. Having that optimism gives you the courage and confidence to leap into the unknown.

3) Sociability: One of the most important things to me is to meet with every new person who is about to join the team. Even as the team grows, I’m committed to doing that. I’ve always made sure that I spend lots of time with the different teams. In my previous life [in the energy industry] there was potential to become quite removed, if you were that way inclined. But that sort of dynamic isn’t for me, I love being part of a team.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the tech tools that you are helping to create that can make a positive social impact on our society. To begin, what problems are you aiming to solve?

Vestd is the UK’s first, most advanced and only FCA regulated digital share scheme platform for SMEs.

Our platform gives customers an easy and safe way to manage their equity, and saves them thousands in expensive lawyer or accountancy fees.

Companies that offer shares and options grow more quickly and create more resilience against financial downturns. Teams given shares or options are more loyal, aligned and energized.

By sharing equity, our customers will grow bigger profit pots. In fact, the top fifty firms that offer their teams equity had a combined turnover of $31bn last year, with growth 3% higher than the national average.

Many startups don’t have deep pockets but by sharing their equity, they can attract the right talent at the right time and at a competitive price.

All of this adds up to a business landscape that is democratic, economically powerful and game-changing.

Our product enables thousands of people to get a slice of the pie.

How do you think your technology can address this?

Equity management used to be complex, expensive and frustrating. Our platform makes the process simple, safe and inspiring.

Our customers no longer have to rely on the dark arts of their accountants and lawyers. And their teams can log onto the platform and see the value of their equity in real time, which incentivizes people like nothing else.

All round, our platform provides a much better way of doing things!

Our customers can manage their shareholders as easily as adding a photograph to Facebook.

They can also set conditionality, issue shares, add directors, view their cap-table and more.

Everything is done digitally, which helps to avoid a ton of paperwork, and our in-house experts are there every step of the way if anybody needs help.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

The idea came from research that I did into common business challenges. A great many of them, such as cash-flow, recruitment, retention, team alignment etc. can be solved with intelligent equity management.

Basically, if you give somebody skin in the game, they’ll give you a greater level of commitment than somebody who is just being paid to do the job.

I wanted to make it as easy as possible for companies to get on board and start their share schemes.

How do you think this might change the world?

Vestd fuels growth and stability in towns and cities across the country. From micro to macro, Vestd creates advocates out of employees and foments cultures of success.

We know that share schemes provide more rewarding work for those who are on the receiving end. But additionally, they are proven to create stronger companies that are more profitable, more resilient and more ambitious. Giving ‘power to the people’ actually gives power and money to everybody, enhancing the quality of life for everybody involved.

It’s a perfect system and a better way of doing business.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

No. If we promote the idea of an equity economy and enable people to participate in business using the Vestd app, we’ll see a world that is more in line with the Social Development Goals set out by the UN. These are goals that have been created to drive the world towards being cleaner, safer and fairer.

By developing fairer business models, the world will see better quality work and economic growth for all, reduced inequality and more sustainable cities, infrastructure and communities.

I fully believe in the power of sharing, so any technology that makes it easier for businesses to get on board is going to make the world a better place.

Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”? (Please share a story or an example, for each.)

1) Have a wide, socially-conscious mission. Your product might be an app that lists local medical facilities for example, but your mission might be ‘to create a world in which everybody has a doctor within reach’. Our mission is to create a world in which everybody has a stake, and that runs through everything that we do.

2) Think about the ‘why’ behind what you are doing. Vestd’s equity management platform might be financial, but in many ways, what we are actually selling is a fairer, more principled way of doing business, where everyone who contributes to building the business, gets a chance to share in the success.

3) Ensure that your ‘why’ impacts on all of your company actions. Vestd’s ‘fair world’ philosophy runs through everything we do, including where we spend our money and what we campaign for. From rewarding customer referrals with charity donations (such as planting trees in their clients’ names) to supporting ‘Small Business Saturday’ to encourage people to shop locally, we always strives to make best choices.

4) Ensure your internal policies reflect your positive external impact. It’s no good having an ethical product if you run your business like a sweatshop. Our policies reflect our socially conscious outlook. For example, we decided to go fully remote more than two years ago. In doing so, we estimate that we’ve saved at least 52 tonnes of CO2.

5) Prove yourself. If your industry has certifications, accreditations or benchmarks, put your money where your mouth is and get the experts in. Vestd, for example, is the only business of our kind that is FCA regulated. This is a badge of honor for us, and pushes us towards fairness and transparency in all we do, further demonstrating our commitment to ethical business conduct. I know that this is enormously important to our customers and it’s important to the team too. We know that we have a purpose, to do good in the world, and that binds us together, driving us forward.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

As obvious as it is, I’d remind people that it’s a small world. Everything and everybody is connected so we must all do our best to protect each other and the planet we live on. This makes sense from a human perspective, but also from a commercial perspective.

All signals show that consumers are rapidly being turned off from buying from companies that have questionable ethical standards. Eventually, ‘bad’ companies will be left behind.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Orson Scott Card (author of Enders Game) — he’s a deep strategic thinker. I would love to pick his brains.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

The best way to keep abreast of what I’m up to is to follow our social media. We post regularly on Twitter (https://twitter.com/VestdHQ) and Linkedin (https://www.linkedin.com/company/vestd).

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.


Social Impact Tech: Ifty Nasir of Vestd On How Their Technology Will Make An Important Positive… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Social Impact Tech: Saurav J Bansal of Develop for Good On How Their Technology Will Make An…

Social Impact Tech: Saurav J Bansal of Develop for Good On How Their Technology Will Make An Important Positive Impact

An Interview With Jilea Hemmings

We hope to prevent as many nonprofits as we can from shutting down due to any technical capabilities that they may have. We understand the importance and prevalence of technology and are aware of the wide reach that our partners have in their respective areas of work. We want to help create as much real social impact as we can and help our nonprofit partners fulfil their respective missions.

In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact”. We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Saurav J Bansal.

Saurav is the Chief Marketing Officer and an Executive Board Member at Develop for Good: A US-based nonprofit organization that pairs underrepresented college students with nonprofits to help them build technical product solutions. Founded in June 2020, Develop For Good has since grown a network of over 700 volunteer designers and developers and 80 nonprofit partners including UNICEF, WHO and The World Bank.

Born in Auckland, New Zealand, Saurav studied a Bachelor of Commerce and Masters in Business Information Systems at The University of Sydney. Previously an Associate at VMware, Saurav is now working on several startups in the Workflow Management and Social Commerce space which he runs alongside his role at Develop for Good.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?

I was born in Auckland, New Zealand in a multicultural household to immigrant parents from Tonga and India. I moved to Sydney, Australia when I was 18 to pursue my tertiary education and lived there for the last 5 years while studying and working before recently relocating back to Auckland. I have always had a deep interest and passion for technology and specifically the innovation and social transformation that new technologies can bring. In 2019 I spent some time at the London School of Economics where I did a course on Social Entrepreneurship and this course sparked my interest in social technologies and served as a fundamental ignition behind my involvement with Develop for Good.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Very much a topical situation but I was onboarded and joined my last role at VMware during our initial COVID “lockdown” in March 2020. Joining a full-time role that was intended to be done in person whilst in lockdown in a different country (I was in New Zealand and the role was in Australia) was definitely an interesting experience.

It wasn’t an ideal situation, but it really drove home the power and connectivity of technology and how adaptable the workforce had become. It’s interesting to now see how normalized and prevalent working from home has become despite the ability to return to offices and work in person.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Amay Aggarwal, one of Develop for Good’s Executive Directors and Founders. He’s an old friend from high school who I have always kept in close touch with despite us now living on different sides of the world. We have always conversed and bounced different propositions for ventures and startups and it has always ignited both of our passions and creativity to pursue new ideas. He was the one who got me involved with Develop for Good and leads our executive team alongside Mary Zhu. He was working towards Develop for Good while completing his undergraduate and Masters concurrently at Stanford and seeing his ability to juggle and accomplish so much was a testament to his hardworking nature and was inspiring to see.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I have always considered passion and ambition to be some of the fundamental driving forces behind any successful venture. Steve Jobs said “You have to be burning with an idea, or a problem, or a wrong that you want to right. If you’re not passionate enough from the start, you’ll never stick it out,” and I believe his statement represents a fundamental difference between pursuing an idea for the sake of it or pursuing an idea for a true purpose and belief.

Being part of ventures that I am genuinely passionate about has always been a priority for myself and is a huge reason behind my work with Develop for Good. The work and impact Develop for Good does with other nonprofits to create real and tangible social good is something that I am deeply passionate about, and I hope to spread our work to local organizations in the New Zealand and Pacific region.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

The first I would say is all about balance and knowing how to manage your work and life effectively. Work life balance has always been an important principle but with the growing normalization of working from home and the increased connectivity of the digital workspace, there is a growing blur between being in “work mode” and “relaxation mode”. Being able to really ‘log out’ and taking time to exercise and spend time with family and friends in a manner that is not forced is an important skill to maintain a good mentality and work-ethic in the long term.

I touched upon this earlier with the quote from Steve Jobs but passion and being genuinely passionate about what you are doing is such an important thing. It’s very easy to lose hope and get burnt out without passion. With a startup, there is always work to do, people to talk to, things to organise and so on. I strongly believe that passion for what you are doing is a big differentiator between doing all of that because you have to and doing it because you want to.

There is still so much I want to do and an infinite number of things I can still learn and being able to act as a sponge to absorb what you’ve experienced in the past and what you can learn from others is an important trait to have. I think finding learning opportunities in unlikely places and always being open to learning from others is hugely underrated. Nonchalantly talking about Develop for Good and other ventures with strangers or people I meet in social situations has helped me gain so many different perspectives that many of the ideas I’ve now adopted I would never have thought of without snippets of knowledge from lots of people.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the tech tools that you are helping to create that can make a positive social impact on our society. To begin, what problems are you aiming to solve?

The idea behind Develop for Good stemmed from a lack of design and development opportunities for students and recent graduates which was made even more dire during the current pandemic. Additionally, there were a multitude of high-profile studies stating that at least one third of nonprofits would shut down in the next two years from financial jeopardy and their inability to keep up with technical capabilities during this COVID-19 pandemic. What blossomed from there was a platform that provides valuable and relevant experiences for volunteers through real projects with real nonprofits that create real social impact.

How do you think your technology can address this?

Develop for Good has built a network of 700+ volunteer designers and developers from around the world, 80+ nonprofit partners and a number of mentors who hold senior positions at Google, Netflix, AWS, Linkedin, Adobe and a variety of other organizations. Our people and the network we have built has become a hugely valuable resource for our community to utilize and help each other.

Develop for Good aims to solve two key issues by bringing together our main two stakeholder groups: volunteers and nonprofits. We match volunteers who want to learn certain skills with nonprofits who need certain projects completed. This stems from UX/UI designs to AI/ML data visualizations, to full stack web and mobile applications. Each project has a product manager who gains valuable leadership experience and a mentor who is there to guide and offer additional expertise. Additionally, our mentors host regular workshops to further upskill our volunteers as well as networking and other valuable opportunities. At the end of our project cycles, we have a group of up-skilled volunteers and a set of completed nonprofit projects. A win-win situation that utilizes our network and platform to help solve the issues we aimed to tackle.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

The entire Develop for Good Executive Team are current students or recent graduates and we all have witnessed the lack of opportunities to gain valuable experience and be involved in meaningful work. That coupled with the widespread need for nonprofits to increase their technical capabilities as well as the lack of volunteering opportunities during the pandemic presented an opportunity that could solve some of the issues we were passionate about.

Giving valuable opportunities to students and graduates who then go on to gain jobs that they dreamed of was one part but also being able to help and interact with so many different nonprofits involved in so many different areas is a hugely rewarding experience. We have developed and designed tools for nonprofits working on environmental issues, health initiatives, education materials, and a variety of other fields. Seeing the impact that our work has had and the work that our partners go on to do is enough to make our volunteers deeply passionate about the work that they are doing.

How do you think this might change the world?

We hope to prevent as many nonprofits as we can from shutting down due to any technical capabilities that they may have. We understand the importance and prevalence of technology and are aware of the wide reach that our partners have in their respective areas of work. We want to help create as much real social impact as we can and help our nonprofit partners fulfil their respective missions.

We also hope that we are able to provide as many opportunities to learn, gain skills and network for our volunteers. We understand the difficulties of gaining real and hands-on technical experience as a college student and believe that our platform can help many college students be better prepared for the workforce while providing much needed volunteer work.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

We value the strength and expertise of our network and community but are aware of how our vetting process may limit the availability of opportunities for all college students. We also want to ensure that our platform provides opportunities through meaningful projects where our volunteers can truly learn from.

Our Managing Directors vet each of our volunteers as well as each of our incoming projects to ensure that each volunteer is committed and willing to learn and that each project is within our capabilities and offers real learning opportunities.

Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”? (Please share a story or an example, for each.)

  1. Create meaningful experiences. We want to ensure that all our volunteers have a meaningful experience with Develop for Good. We endeavor to match volunteers to projects based on their interests and skills, but we know that our volunteers are also here to learn and gain new skills. Our industry mentors hold regular workshops and sessions and recently we had a series of design workshops from some of our awesome mentors on the ins and outs of Figma and other design tools. These intimate and live sessions with mentors are super valuable and it is always great to see our volunteers engaging with them.
  2. Listen to feedback. The great thing about technology is that it is flexible, and you can always improve. We had our first set of projects in June 2020 and the way we do things now has hugely changed based on the very valuable feedback we got. We are always looking to improve the way we do things and hugely value any feedback and comments we get.
  3. Spread knowledge and get to know others. When we began, volunteers would usually enter their project teams and only interact with their team and their respective nonprofit partner. We wanted to create a community for our network and now host an array of events, mixers, collaboration sessions, and other initiatives. Our volunteers have gone on to get jobs, make new friends and generally just meet new people from this and we always want to encourage the spreading of knowledge and ideas with everyone.
  4. Know who your market is. All our volunteers are current college students or recent graduates and the same is true for our entire Executive team. Since we’ve had the same experiences as our volunteers, we can empathize with them and cater for what they want and need. Many of the initiatives we have stemmed from what we as college students wanted and couldn’t find.
  5. Get funding and find partners. A lot of what we do wouldn’t be possible without our very generous partners and supporters. Adobe and Amazon Web Services are our main philanthropic sponsors and without them we would not have grown to where we are today. I mentioned before that our network is one of our fundamental strengths and this comes down to the depth and breadth of our partners. Finding partners and people who are passionate about the same causes and can add value to your technology are your best resources!

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

Find something you are passionate about and just get out there! Anything you do, no matter how small, can have an impact so I encourage everyone to find a cause they truly care about and just have a go.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I’d have to say Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. I always watched him growing up and he has had such an impact on his communities and is someone who really embodies a hardworking and humble attitude.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can check out Develop for Good’s work at www.developforgood.org, connect on Linkedin at https://www.linkedin.com/company/develop-for-good/ or follow us on Instagram @developforgood.

My Linkedin is https://www.linkedin.com/in/sauravjbansal123/ and I am always keen to meet new people and have a chat!

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.


Social Impact Tech: Saurav J Bansal of Develop for Good On How Their Technology Will Make An… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Shawna Smith of Hope Builders Is Helping To Change Our World

Organizational alignment is essential to achieving big goals. It allows you to be in a state of constant readiness. It’s hard work to maintain, but worth the effort.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Shawna Smith.

Shawna Smith is the CEO/Executive Director of Hope Builders who joined the non-profit organization in 1998 and has been serving the community of Orange County, CA for over 20 years. For over 26 years, Hope Builders has empowered young adults with mentorship, life skills, and job training that meets the needs of employers. To date, over 6,000 young adults have found their path and begun careers.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Fresh out of college I had the opportunity to participate in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps — a yearlong program that places volunteers in domestic and international service projects for a year-long assignment. I had the opportunity to work in an emergency assistance center focused on keeping families out of homelessness by providing monthly grocery supplements and rental and utility assistance among other things. This profoundly changed the way I viewed poverty as nearly all of these families were working families. What was even more compelling for me, however, was that even with this extra help that was provided it didn’t help families emerge out of poverty. They were stuck. As a result of that experience, I decided to stay in the non-profit sector and to focus my education and experience on work that disrupted the cycle of poverty and empowered people to become upwardly mobile economically. Providence led me to Hope Builders where I channeled my efforts and helped young people build pathways of prosperity of themselves and their young families.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your organization?

What stands out are the moments when I’m going through my everyday life — shopping at the grocery store, stopping for a coffee on the way into work, attending one of my children’s sporting events — and I run into a Hope Builders’ alumni doing the same thing. Every time it is a powerful reminder of what they’ve overcome and the truly transformative power of a technical skills career.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I first started at Hope Builders, I was a young, idealistic changemaker or so I thought. After about 6 months on the job, I wrote up all my observations about the organization outlining where it could be doing better and gave it to Sister Eileen McNerney, the founder and Executive Director, unsolicited. She very kindly accepted the three-page document and promptly never mentioned it again. Over the next few years, however, she continued to give me “special assignments” — new projects that had no resources and were light on details. These were a great training ground for my idealism and helped me mature in my leadership skills. When she stepped down from her position as Executive Director and gave me the reigns 10 years later, she handed me back that document I had written. Thankfully she recognized my passion and potential in those early years and overlooked my arrogance.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

Hope Builders is laser focused on breaking down the barriers that keep people in poverty. Over more than 25 years, it has developed a four-stage model that walks young people out of poverty. By focusing on opportunities in the labor market where there is high-demand for skilled workers and equipping young people with the skills and behaviors they need to be successful in those careers, Hope Builders benefits both the young person and local employers. All of this only serves to strengthen the community at large. More recently Hope Builders pushed its model even further and integrated a social enterprise component to its efforts. Using a staffing agency approach, Hope Builders sources talent for local employers for a fee allowing it to reinvest this revenue and grow the number people it can upskill each year. Its what you call a win-win-win.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

It’s impossible to talk about individuals who have impacted Hope Builders without first mentioning the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange, our founders. The Sisters are a congregation of Catholic religious woman who have used their significant talents (and faith) to serve the needs of each community in which they live. Through entrepreneurial activities in education and healthcare they have built highly effective and profitable safety net systems that care for the “dear neighbor” without distinction. In a time where leadership with integrity can sometimes seem to be an urban legend, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange continue to prove that values-based leadership can also be profitable.

In addition to the Sisters, I have been extremely fortunate to work with many talented, accomplished and generous individuals over the years — many of them highly successful business people and titans of industry in Southern California. Most recently, Tim Blett of eMaxx Partners and Greg Palmer of Supplemental Health Care, have served as invaluable advisors in advancing our social enterprise venture. They are helping us build Hope Builders for the next 25 years.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Think long-term — quick fixes don’t typically result in lasting change — to address systemic and root causes the perpetuate injustice and disenfranchisement that keeps people locked in poverty you’ve got to stick with promising solutions until they’re ready to scale.

Fund regional organizations with proven results — replicating national models isn’t always the best option. Local organizations often have context expertise that’s important to achieving the greatest impact. Hope Builders is a great example of this.

Put politics aside and invest in people.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

I define leadership in terms of integrity. Effective leadership strives to align vision, people, practices and resources in a manner that drives results. That is not possible without leaders who are accountable, committed to continuous improvement, and worthy of trust.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Organizational alignment is essential to achieving big goals. It allows you to be in a state of constant readiness. It’s hard work to maintain, but worth the effort.

You’ll never please everyone. Your job is to ensure the organization thrives not win a popularity contest.

Lead from the heart. Authentically show people who you and what you care about.

People will follow leaders they trust even if they make mistakes.

Make the hard decisions sooner than later.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’d love to see a robust network of post-secondary technical and trade schools with equivalent resources as the more traditional state college systems we see today across the country. We have undervalued technical skills for too long leaving too many people in low skill jobs that offer little economic security and businesses starved of talent. Hope Builders is part of exciting work happening out there around career pathway programs that leverage community colleges, business, and community-based organizations to solve this very problem. We’re just scratching the surface of what could be and need to think beyond the current educational paradigms.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Treat others how you want to be treated. This is at the core of who I am and how I strive to act in all aspects of my life.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I’d love to have lunch with Michelle Obama. She’s not afraid to lead when its needed but knows how to be a team player. I am inspired by how she uses her voice as a professional woman, wife and mother. She’d also make a speaker in our 10 Days for Building a Pathway to Prosperity campaign. We are pairing inspirational speakers who have achieved greatness and with Hope Builders alumni who have overcome obstacles and unlocked their own greatness to raise awareness.

How can our readers follow your organization on social media?

www.tjshopebuilders.org

Linkedin — Hope Builders https://www.linkedin.com/company/1697681/admin/

Facebook — @tsjhopebuilders

Instagram — @hope_builders

Twitter — @TSJHopeBuilders

YouTube — Hope Builders https://www.youtube.com/user/TallerSanJoseMedia

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!


Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Shawna Smith of Hope Builders Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Social Impact Tech: Joseph Lee of InnoCaption On How Their Technology Will Make An Important…

Social Impact Tech: Joseph Lee of InnoCaption On How Their Technology Will Make An Important Positive Impact

An Interview With Jilea Hemmings

Our mobile app provides a seamless mobile phone calling experience for the deaf and hard of hearing community through real-time captioning generated by highly trained stenographers or automated speech recognition software. Our solution is unique in that we empower our users to choose between these two captioning methodologies (live assistance or fully automated) anytime during their call. Using InnoCaption’s real-time captioning technology, our users can communicate independently and effectively, without needing to disclose to others that they have a hearing loss.

In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact”. We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Joseph Lee.

Joseph Lee is the Co-CEO at InnoCaption, a company he founded in early 2007 after reading that approximately 10% of the U.S. population had some form of hearing loss. After serving in the Korean military as a First Lieutenant, Joseph immigrated to the US in 1989 while working for Samsung, where he gained his expertise in mobile phone and telecommunications. Since 2007, Joseph has been using this extensive knowledge to lead InnoCaption by serving the deaf and hard of hearing community. He’s seen first-hand the kind of impact InnoCaption has on others and says there is no more rewarding a career as one where growing a business successfully means improving the quality of life for others.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?

I was part of the post-war generation in South Korea. My childhood was spent in a country that was rebuilding itself after the devastating Korean War, at a time when there was a lot of emphasis on hard work and sacrificing for the greater good of the country. Although South Korea is now a relatively wealthy country and a global technology leader, it was a poor and developing nation when I was growing up. Most homes still had outhouses, our schools burned coal inside to keep warm in winter, and some children even worked in clothing factories to support their families. I was very fortunate in that I was able to receive a proper education and eventually attended college. After college, I served in the Korean military as a first lieutenant leading a platoon and after that I began my corporate career with Samsung Group and emigrated to the US to aid the company’s early years of international expansion. To this day, these early experiences really help me keep things in perspective and allow me to be thankful for all that I have in my life today.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Although I wasn’t an engineer by training, I’ve always had a deep interest in technology. When I first entered the corporate world in the early 80’s, personal computers were imported to South Korea for the first time by large conglomerates who were the only ones that could afford such expensive, high-tech equipment. Our floor at the Samsung office had two such computers imported from Japan. These two NEC computers were to be shared amongst over 50 staff, most of whom had no idea what the devices were for or how to use them. I was fascinated by these incredible machines which could crunch through complex calculations on spreadsheets containing a whopping 256 rows of data! However, as a fresh recruit I was expected to be at my desk all day so the only way for me to access these devices was when nobody else was around. For months I arrived at the office an hour earlier than everyone else and spent my mornings tinkering away, teaching myself how these futuristic machines worked. Eventually, senior colleagues realized what I could do and began coming to me with projects that could utilize computer spreadsheets for the first time. This resulted in a lot of late nights for me, working on spreadsheet models and processing documents, but also solidified my lifelong interest in technology.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Joe Duarte is my co-CEO at InnoCaption and initially got involved with the business as an angel investor. We would not have been able to launch our service and get to where we are today without his enthusiastic support. Joe was an absolute believer in our service since the day he discovered our booth at a conference in 2012 where we showcased our prototype app. Joe, who received his first hearing aid at age four, is an engineer by training and someone who is always seeking better and better technology solutions. His feedback and input into our app and service was immensely helpful in preparing us for public release. In addition, Joe’s extensive advocacy and involvement in the deaf and hard of hearing community was integral to building our credibility and support at the FCC for our certification process. Overall, Joe has been a great business partner to work with and we have built a great degree of personal trust over the years.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

There is an old idiom in Korea about life being like an old man’s horse, which I have always taken to heart throughout the ups and downs of my professional journey. The idiom refers to a story about an old man who had a horse. One day the horse ran away and the villagers came to console him but he calmly replied “who can tell if this will turn out to be a blessing…”. Then one day his horse returned with a wild mare and all of the villagers came to congratulate the old man on his good fortune, to which he simply replied “who can tell if this will turn out to be a curse…”. Soon after, the old man’s son was thrown off the wild mare while trying to tame her and broke his leg. All the villagers came to send their condolences, but once again the old man remained calm. Then a war broke out and all the young men in the village were conscripted and many perished, while the old man’s son was allowed to remain home due to his injury. This story reminds us that when we are going through difficult times, we should not fall into despair, but rather continue to work diligently to achieve our goals because even the most challenging events in our lives may prove to be great blessings in the future.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Resilience Through Hardships

Serving as an officer in the Korean military after college provided me with ample opportunities to build leadership skills and to practice tenacity in the face of physical and mental hardships. When faced with challenges, I could always think back to my military days and know that if I could get through tear gas chambers and endless overnight marches in full gear, I could also overcome whatever difficulties I faced professionally. For example, InnoCaption was founded in 2007 and the financial crisis that followed shortly after led to significant hardships on our fledgling team as startup funding evaporated and our initial business contracts were put on hold. It really took all the motivation and courage we could muster to keep ourselves going and to stick to our vision, but we prevailed in the end because we did not give up and we marched on.

Building Personal Relationships

I believe strongly in building long-lasting personal relationships and loyalty with friends and colleagues alike. I was able to bring together the founding team at InnoCaption by drawing on personal relationships across different businesses and teams I had worked with prior to raising any significant capital for our startup. The team agreed to work for me not because I was able to offer big compensation packages, but because I was able to convey a shared vision that was built on a high degree of personal trust. The founding team’s family-like loyalty to each other was crucial in enabling us to survive the ups and downs of the initial years as a budding startup.

Strategic Decision Making

I would not consider myself to be a fast and decisive decision maker — I often need to sleep on and contemplate major decisions. However, I also do not hesitate to make bold or risky moves when I do decide it is necessary. I believe this balance has served me well in guiding the direction of our business so far, which has gone through some major pivots and changes over time. For example, when we first began developing InnoCaption, we tried working with major wireless carriers to embed our service onto their devices because this was the only way to get software on a phone at the time. However, when I saw the release of the first-gen iPhone, I began to see that the future of mobile phone technology would quickly shift away from a reliance on carriers to an app-based ecosystem. With that vision in mind, we shifted our strategic direction to independently develop a carrier-agnostic mobile app-based service, which served us well as the mobile landscape quickly evolved.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the tech tools that you are helping to create that can make a positive social impact on our society. To begin, what problems are you aiming to solve?

Tens of millions of Americans have some degree of hearing loss and for many of these people, communicating on a phone can be a real challenge. Effective telephonic communication is essential in today’s world, whether it is for work, for healthcare needs, or to stay in touch with loved ones. We have found that the development of accessible telecommunications solutions for the deaf and hard of hearing community tend to lag significantly behind what is available for general consumers. At InnoCaption, our mission is to provide the best telecommunications accessibility technology for the deaf and hard of hearing community by utilizing the latest technological advances available.

How do you think your technology can address this?

Our mobile app provides a seamless mobile phone calling experience for the deaf and hard of hearing community through real-time captioning generated by highly trained stenographers or automated speech recognition software. Our solution is unique in that we empower our users to choose between these two captioning methodologies (live assistance or fully automated) anytime during their call. Using InnoCaption’s real-time captioning technology, our users can communicate independently and effectively, without needing to disclose to others that they have a hearing loss.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

When I was still working as a telecom executive prior to launching InnoCaption, I was really taken aback by a statistic that showed approximately 10% of the US population had some form of hearing loss. Having spent decades as an immigrant in the US, I relied heavily on international phone calls to stay in touch with family in South Korea and I began to think about how difficult it would be to lose that vital communication channel due to hearing loss. Working in the mobile communication industry, I was also seeing first-hand the rapid adoption of mobile phones and how it was driving a global change in the way our society communicates on a daily basis. However, I didn’t see much attention being paid on how the development of mobile phone technology was going to be implemented from an accessibility perspective. This initial inspiration led me to conceive of and develop the InnoCaption service along with our founding team of engineers who had created patented technology that could help solve these communication barriers.

How do you think this might change the world?

There are so many causes of hearing loss and it is a condition that affects people of all ages and backgrounds. At the same time, the world is becoming more closely intertwined through various technologies and telephonic communication is an integral channel for connecting people. With the continued development of telecommunications technologies such as ours, my hope is that people will never have to worry about hearing loss affecting their livelihood, ability to get medical care or stay connected with friends and family.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

One technological concern that we share as a team here at InnoCaption is the rapid advent of automated speech recognition and the impact it could have on accessibility if adopted too quickly. When our real-time captioning service was started, we only offered one method of captioning — live stenographers. When we launched InnoCaption, we had also researched automated speech recognition (ASR) technology but found the performance to be underwhelming at the time. However, over the past five years there have been great advances in speech recognition technology, especially with the growing interest in smart home devices. Considering this development, in 2019 we began allowing our users to select between a live stenographer or ASR technology at the start of call and in 2020 we added the ability for users to switch modes mid-call. Since integrating these two captioning methodologies into our service, we have found that each captioning mode has its strengths. ASR is consistently fast but struggles at times with certain accents and speakers. On the other hand, our stenographers bring their human understanding and context into their captioning to help identify multiple speakers or to provide our users with non-verbal cues, such as indicating the other person is laughing. Our team strongly believes in continuing to offer this dual captioning feature for our users because we understand its importance from first-hand conversations with our users. However, we do worry that rapid adoption of ASR technology in live captioning, without full consideration of its limitations, could be detrimental to the accessibility needs of the deaf and hard of hearing community.

Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”? (Please share a story or an example, for each.)

1 . As an entrepreneur, look for areas where technology is evolving rapidly but applications geared towards social causes may not be keeping pace. When InnoCaption publicly launched its service in 2016 and entered the captioned telephone market, we were the only provider to offer a mobile app solution across Android and iOS devices. All of our competitors at the time were primarily focused on landline devices, even though a majority of the US population already owned a smartphone by then.

2. To create new technology solutions, seek out expertise from outside industries or different geographies. In developing InnoCaption’s initial technology base, I drew from my network in the South Korean mobile telecom industry because the next-gen mobile communications infrastructure there had been deployed earlier than the United States and so I was able to leverage the expertise of engineers who had patented technology, which became useful for developing our real-time captioning solution.

3. Understand people’s challenges at a personal level. Much of my time in the early years of launching our service was spent meeting with users, understanding their frustrations and how we could better address them, and even visiting those that I could in person to help troubleshoot their devices. These personal interactions helped me build a full understanding of the challenges that our user community faced and to this day I still stay in touch with many of our early users who have provided us with invaluable feedback over the years on how to improve our service.

4. Find people who are also passionate about your cause. Joe Duarte, my co-CEO and early angel investor, was a perfect business partner for me because of his personal passion for providing accessible telecommunications to the deaf and hard of hearing community. This meant that he not only contributed financial capital for our business, he also helped craft our corporate culture of advocacy and putting the needs of our user community first and foremost.

5. Keep a close eye on bigger technology trends to best position yourself for industry shifts in the future. InnoCaption’s initial pivot from developing wireless carrier embedded software to an independent mobile app was a critical move that was guided by seeing longer term consumer trends that were only beginning to emerge at the time. Our early research into automated speech recognition technology was also integral in building up our understanding of this new technology, allowing us to quickly integrate it into our service as soon as we felt it was appropriate to do so.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

Our daily work takes up a lot of our lives and our career path often becomes an integral part of our self-identity. If you don’t enjoy your work and you don’t believe in the mission that you are a part of, it is difficult to wake up and be excited to start the day. On the other hand, when you are part of a company or organization that succeeds only when you help improve the lives of other people, your professional and personal experience ends up becoming far more rewarding and fruitful each day. You also end up building strong personal relationships with others who share your cause and can become life-long resources to one another. I think that many young people these days do seem to prioritize the mission and values of companies they look to join, and I want to reaffirm to them that this is a wise choice.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I would love to share a meal with a technology entrepreneur named Steve Kim. I read an article about Steve years back and was really inspired by his American Dream story as a fellow Korean immigrant born in the post-war generation, who became a self-made technology entrepreneur. Steve founded two companies and his second business called Xylan was successfully listed on the Nasdaq exchange and later sold for $2 billion in 1999. He then became a venture capital investor and educator for young entrepreneurs of the future. His story may not be as well-known as many other technology founders today, but I very much admire what he has been able to accomplish and also how he spent his time following his entrepreneurial success..

How can our readers further follow your work online?

I am personally not an avid user of social media, but my work with InnoCaption is well publicized and communicated by our marketing team through our Company’s various social media channels. I would encourage you to follow us on Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn to keep up to date with our team and our work.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.


Social Impact Tech: Joseph Lee of InnoCaption On How Their Technology Will Make An Important… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Social Impact Tech: Rohit Agarwal of Kiva US On How Their Technology Will Make An Important…

Social Impact Tech: Rohit Agarwal of Kiva US On How Their Technology Will Make An Important Positive Impact

An Interview With Jilea Hemmings

Kiva’s mission is to expand financial access globally, so that all people have equal opportunities to improve their lives.
More than 1.7 billion people around the world are unbanked and can’t access the financial services they need. Kiva offers crowdfunded loans and unlocks capital for the underserved, improving the quality and cost of financial services, and addressing the underlying barriers to financial access around the world.

In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact”. We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rohit Agarwal.

Rohit Agarwal is the Head of Kiva US, where he is responsible for the strategy, business development, P&L, team management, and deployment of Kiva’s crowdfunded and impacted invested capital (Kiva Capital — $100M+) towards American small businesses that have been traditionally financially excluded and disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Prior to Kiva, he was a consultant in McKinsey’s San Francisco office where he focused on strategy and operations across the education, public, and energy sectors. Rohit is credited as one of the founding leaders and country managers of the McKinsey Social Initiative, McKinsey’s 501c3 non-profit focused on tackling youth unemployment. Prior to McKinsey, Rohit taught high school History and Economics at a NYC public school via Teach For America and worked for Teach For India and Rocketship Education helping train new teachers, advance the use of blended learning in the classroom, and develop a new classroom teaching model.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?

I was born and raised in Jacksonville, FL — it was a small, relatively Southern town with some of the nicest people in the world, and both of my parents had immigrated from India in the 70s. They were small business owners running a dental practice together, and as immigrants, they lacked what I like to call “system know-how or rather, social capital” and a credit history which in turn caused them to struggle to obtain the proper funding in order to grow the business more quickly. My parents and childhood experience have been incredibly influential in my life, and have really shaped my perspectives and decisions in both my personal and professional lives.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Directly out of undergrad, I conformed to the herd mentality of wanting to pursue something prestigious and lucrative — so I went into investment banking. But soon, it became very clear that this was not the path for me. While I did learn a lot and appreciate the experience, it brought me no sense of purpose and I realized that doing something impactful meant so much more important to me than money or prestige. So I pivoted and worked for Teach for America for two years. There, I worked with 11th and 12th graders and gained exposure to a whole new level of inequity and the multiple layers of underlying causes driving inequities across our society.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Yes, my father. My father moved to America specifically to provide his children with more opportunities — talk about the incredibly selfless act. He worked a minimum wage job while studying to become a dentist here in the States, and sustained the highest level of perseverance and optimism through the obstacles of starting his own dental practice. His sacrifices and resilience really put me where I am today, and I am always thankful.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.”

Ultimately, we are responsible for our own satisfaction. During my stint as a high school teacher, we often talked about “locus of control” and that really resonated with me. There are a lot of external forces that contribute to an outcome, but we should focus on what is controllable, prepare for it, and own it. We have to live with our own decisions and take control of our happiness. I think this particular quote fully embodies that concept, and I’ve been able to apply it in my career, transitioning from investment banking into a path that gives me greater fulfillment.

As a successful business leader, which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

  • Adaptability — Things change. If anything, this past 1.5 years has taught us that. For me, I think the nature of the modern workforce is people are constantly changing jobs making this character trait essential for success. It has served me quite well throughout the years.
  • Character — Character matters. Period. In general, across multiple jobs whether it be here at Kiva or somewhere else, character shines through by always working to elevate your team and give credit where credit is due versus trying to garner the limelight for yourself.
  • Curiosity — This is probably the most important one as a core skill of a good leader is asking good questions, which you can only do if you are inherently curious. In myself, I think this trait was nurtured and developed during my time at McKinsey, where a lot of times, success on a project was determined by taking a sincere interest in learning from the clients on what is working and what is not.

With the tech tools that you are helping to create to make a positive social impact on our society, what problems are you aiming to solve? How do you think your technology can address this?

Kiva’s mission is to expand financial access globally, so that all people have equal opportunities to improve their lives.

More than 1.7 billion people around the world are unbanked and can’t access the financial services they need. Kiva offers crowdfunded loans and unlocks capital for the underserved, improving the quality and cost of financial services, and addressing the underlying barriers to financial access around the world.

Through Kiva’s work, students can pay for tuition, women can start businesses, farmers are able to invest in equipment, families can afford needed emergency care — and more. In fact, the Kiva community has funded over $1.6 billion in loans on Kiva’s platform.

With 100% of Kiva loans going directly to the field, we’ve supported:

  • 300,714 borrowers in conflict zones
  • 1,020,661 farmers
  • 1,265,846 borrowers in least developed countries
  • 72,155 education loans
  • 252,000 borrowers gained access to clean energy

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

This stems back to my childhood story, where I experienced first-hand the difficulties of financial inequity. When my parents immigrated from India in the 70s, they had no credit history and therefore, it was incredibly difficult to secure funding for their dental practice. The business would’ve grown so much faster had they had greater access to capital, and now I am in a position to help bridge that gap for other people.

Additionally, working at Teach for America reinforced the systemic inequality in my mind. Many of those students were already entrepreneurs, but the information and capital gap was the primary obstacle to turn those dreams into a reality.

There is such a need to increase economic mobility — put more money in people’s pockets and help create wealth through equity ownership.

How do you think this might change the world?

Financial inequality creates divides, hinders growth and limits opportunities for so many people today — and it has for many years. By taking steps towards eliminating the access gap, we will truly change the world by improving millions of lives and the generations that follow.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

Technology in general will always have potential drawbacks — we’re seeing a lot of discussion and concern around consumer trust and data privacy, for instance. But, as long as companies are operating responsibly and honestly with their users, the drawbacks can be limited and outweighed by the benefits.

Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”? (Please share a story or an example, for each.)

  • Understand the end user. It’s important to do your research and truly understand the nuances of their lives, as well as the pain points you are aiming to solve
  • Be comfortable scaling. Every technology exists partially because of the ability to automate and scale. You have to be comfortable scaling in order to make a larger impact.
  • Be honest. Be honest about the impact your technology can achieve — what it can do, for whom and why.
  • Utilize holistic partnerships. It is essential to be comfortable and able to identify and facilitate strategic synergies with other entities, to maximize impact.
  • Be aware of drawbacks. There are always risks, so it is critical to stay ahead of those potential consequences.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

I read once that there are two things that truly matter: income inequality and climate change. I think this really speaks to the areas where people can make the greatest difference in the world. At the end of the day, we want to feel fulfilled and grow as people — and we accomplish that by serving a greater social purpose.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why?

Barack Obama. Probably a cliche answer — but for me, I was at Teach for America in 2008 when he was elected. I was teaching a group of black and brown children in New York, experiencing their reaction and really reflecting upon disadvantaged youth who deserve a fair shot at the American Dream. That will always stick with me, so I’d love to be able to sit down with and learn from Barack Obama.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.

About the Interviewer: Jilea Hemmings is a staunch believer in the power of entrepreneurship. A successful career revamping Fortune 500 companies was not enough for her entrepreneurial spirit, so Jilea began focusing her passion in startups. She has successfully built 6 startups to date. Her passion for entrepreneurship continues to flourish with the development of Stretchy Hair Care, focusing on relieving the pain associated with detangling and styling natural black hair. For far too long, people with tender heads have suffered in pain. Until now.


Social Impact Tech: Rohit Agarwal of Kiva US On How Their Technology Will Make An Important… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Social Impact Tech: John McNeel of in/PACT On How Their Technology Will Make An Important Positive…

Social Impact Tech: John McNeel of in/PACT On How Their Technology Will Make An Important Positive Impact

An Interview With Jilea Hemmings

…If you look at the billions of dollars flowing into nonprofits every year, a lot of it is still going to the usual suspects — the large nonprofits with the most significant resources at their disposal. At in/PACT, we believe in community giving. Not only manifesting that in everything we do, but enabling that and empowering that for the companies we work with. Again, back to ‘growing the world’s heart,’ if we successfully help more people give more often through more channels to more charities, it multiplies the opportunities to make giving a daily act. This creates a better flow through economies of scale.

In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact”. We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing John McNeel.

Building brands with purpose has been John McNeel’s passion for more than 25 years, specifically developing award-winning campaigns that leveraged higher values to create growth and market success for some of the world’s greatest companies. As Co-Founder, Chairman, and CEO of in/PACT, McNeel has delivered on a vision of personalized, highly localized charitable giving experiences through unique technology platforms utilized by major Fortune 500s from the financial service industry to the nation’s leading retailers.

Thank you for joining us in this series, John. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?

On the one hand, I am a product of growing up in American suburbia. On the other hand, I’m the product of an English mother from Birmingham, UK, and a father from the mountains of West Virginia. My parents happened to meet each other in the Australian Outback. What was a fairly ordinary childhood on its face was juxtaposed with the fact that I was a result of adventurous parents with unique life stories. A large part of my adolescent narrative growing up included my passion for writing. Initially, my energy centered around storytelling, including working as a journalist reasonably early in my career.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened since you began your career?

There is one brand story that is near and dear to my heart. I had the opportunity mid-career to help rebuild the Pedigree Dog Food brand around the platform of ‘love of dogs.’ I had an early interest in brand purpose, and this brand had essentially lost its way — producing stereotypical advertising like many various packaged goods.

I still remember asking a member of the Mars family — Mars, Inc. owned Pedigree — why his grandfather originally bought a small dog food business in the UK and turned it into the world’s largest dog food franchise. The move from chocolate bars to dog treats didn’t seem to fit their candy business well. His response was simple. “My grandfather loved dogs and thought they deserved good nutritious food.” My answer to him was, “Well, you’ve forgotten that institutionally because you’re not doing anything in terms of how the brand behaves or how it communicates this through its origin story.” This was a brave action on my part; however, I felt honesty was vital, and from that honesty came a shift in the work we began to do for the brand.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Can you share a story about a particular person who helped get you to where you are?

The person who was the greatest source of inspiration for me is Jim Stengel, the Chief Marketing Officer of Procter & Gamble at the time, who had already started putting P&G on the path to brand purpose. One of the brands he started with, which I was fortunate to work on, was Pampers. Similar to the Pedigree story, there was a shift from how Pampers communicated its value to consumers, mainly around functional benefits, to emotional and more grounded in purpose.

Pampers crafted an alliance with UNICEF, focused on eradicating childhood illnesses in the developing world, which is still going strong 20 plus years later. It’s one of those perfect stories of finding a path in terms of brand equity by giving back in a meaningful way, hundreds of millions of dollars, which in turn has a real-world impact in terms of childhood illnesses to this day.

Jim not only inspired me in my previous career, but he also shaped my trajectory in that he introduced me to Ammar Charani, now my business partner at in/PACT. Together in 2015, we founded in/PACT, an organization that uses technology to drive customer engagement through charitable giving, with Jim joining our advisory board and as an early-stage investor.

Can you please share your favorite “Life Lesson,” and how it was relevant in your life?

It’s hard to settle on one. I’m a big believer in fate and embracing opportunity. Throughout my life and career, I’ve had moments of shift that have come through certain opportunities. Jim introducing me to my business partner was a moment of embracing serendipity. But, at the same time, I’m a big believer in staying the course, so a lot of my success has come through perseverance. You must set goals and work toward them, but you must always remain open to that moment where you can shift into new territory or help a company or organization discover a new frontier.

As a successful business leader, which character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success?

I started my career at a young age in journalism and did a lot of creative writing. So, creativity is a character trait that has been a common denominator throughout my career. Storytelling is how you capture people’s imaginations and interests in a compelling and inspiring way. Creativity also allows people to follow you, so storytelling can apply to starting a company. When we were founding in/PACT, to get the right company with us, particularly on our advisory board, we invited many talented women, in particular. We had a very diverse board made up of people who had bought into the vision for what we could do to drive purposeful connections for companies and brands through technology.

The second trait I would mention is a sense of adventure, which I inherited from my parents, who were willing to sail halfway around the world and intersect in a remote area in Australia. I think it’s challenging for an entrepreneur to succeed without having some sense of adventure because there’s risk involved. I’ve been very fortunate, and I’ve had many great life adventures, including this journey with in/PACT.

Now, let’s shift to the main part of our discussion about the tech tools you are helping to create to make a positive social impact on our society. What problems are you aiming to solve?

Let me start with the problems we began to solve under the PurposeTech platform umbrella. The intent, initially, was to help large Fortune 500s connect with their consumers through technology. Until now, brand purpose work tended to be an advertising or PR campaign, announcing to the world a CSR effort. Whereas our vision for in/PACT from the outset was to activate purpose to drive connection. One that is hyper-personalized and hyper-localized between that brand and its customers and the mechanism is around charitable giving.

As we got deeper into helping brands drive engagement around charitable giving, we realized there’s a more significant opportunity, which we call ‘Growing the World’s Heart.’ What drives our efforts today is democratizing giving — helping more people give more often to more charities. But, the digitization of giving, which is a key trend of the last five years, has made it a very fragmented experience. It is easier to give today; you can click on the PayPal button, you can go to a Facebook page; there are myriad ways to give using your phone or iPad. This very fragmented experience often leads to an unsatisfactory consumer experience.

How do you think your technology can address this?

There’s a need today to unify and create a more cohesive experience. Frictionless is the popular term for that. So, our technology is primarily focused now on connecting those acts of giving through one consolidated platform. A lot of what we’ve been doing with our FinTech platform, GoodCoin, allows people a one-stop-shop for their charitable gifting. Creating access through their bank or mobile banking app aids in pulling charitable giving into one unified place, making giving a convenient, more secure, and more meaningful experience.

There are several examples of how we are making this happen. It could be an interaction with a retailer, where they collect Good Coins and direct those to the charity of their choice. It could be in the video gaming environment, where people collect Good Coins. It could be in a roundup to charity when purchasing products online and having every transaction make a provision to the charity of their choice.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

I’d go back to the Pedigree story because when we relaunched the brand, the product platform was around ‘love of dogs.’ From the beginning, we had a cause area, which was dog adoption. From the very beginning, Pedigree said, “We’re going to take this seriously. We’re going to send checks to dog shelters around the country.”

Looking back, I realized technology would allow us to accelerate that shift — away from a kind of one-size-fits-all gravitation toward national charities to better consumer involvement in a personal, fulfilling way. Much of what consumers are looking for today is to shape the brand experience according to their passions and priorities. In the age of participation, there needs to be a connection to creating impact in their communities. To this day, that brand alignment informs a lot of the work we do with retailers like Target, Walgreens and FIS.

How do you think in/PACT and its systems might change the world?

I mentioned before the notion of democratizing giving. If you look at the billions of dollars flowing into nonprofits every year, a lot of it is still going to the usual suspects — the large nonprofits with the most significant resources at their disposal. At in/PACT, we believe in community giving. Not only manifesting that in everything we do, but enabling that and empowering that for the companies we work with. Again, back to ‘growing the world’s heart,’ if we successfully help more people give more often through more channels to more charities, it multiplies the opportunities to make giving a daily act. This creates a better flow through economies of scale.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology?

There’s a lot of coverage today around cyber hacking. And unfortunately, there are a lot of bad actors in the world. Even in the nonprofit space, there are not legitimate players. There are stories about the misuse of GoFundMe and the rise of ‘bogus’ charities. People must be careful. Not only can their private information be compromised, but they could be doing what they think is a generous act, which is just aiding and abetting bad actors.

A lot of the work we do with our 501c3, The GoodCoin Foundation, involves very rigorous curating, vetting, and even “super vetting” of the nonprofit partners that will benefit from charitable giving on our platform. We are starting to do some forward-looking work on Blockchain. The critical advantage of cryptocurrencies is around the ledger-based transactions, which allows much more transparency, and we think that’s the way of the future. So, as we build out our PurposeTech platform — security, transparency, ease of use are critical aspects of what we want to deliver.

Based on your experience and success, can you please share keys to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact?

The first key would be data insights. While in/PACT is very much aligned to companies in the B2B space, we are very focused on the end-user regarding where, when, and why people give. We spend a lot of time thinking about the donor making the charitable gift from their bank account or monthly rewards. Understanding the consumer is critical, and we call that the “science of giving.” A lot of our efforts are focused on that insight, data-based approach to giving.

The second key is creating a user experience environment consistent with the mission you’ve set — curating an experience where people can go on a journey of discovery. Above all, you must have a robust company culture. Everyone who joins our organization not only subscribes to but embraces and enthusiastically pursues ‘growing the world’s heart.’ A lot of early-stage technology companies are culture anemic. They’ve got a product that they think is cool; they spend a lot of time on fundraising or flashy promotion to generate buzz. But it is a genuine company culture that carries the day.

If you could tell young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, what would you tell them?

I would tell them to choose because I believe there’s no lack of an appetite for changing the world or having a positive impact. I think generationally, whether it’s millennials, Gen Z’ers, or even the Boomer generation, many people have grown up in a world where they see a lot of problems. They see the government institutions or the economy aren’t making the world a better place, and there’s a big appetite to do that.

However, it’s easy to get lost. The advice I usually give to young people is what I call “choosing your X.” Choose the one thing that you genuinely believe in and where you can make the most significant impact. Many initial ‘make the world a better place’ efforts tend to be solving one big problem, like world hunger or climate change. But within each of those significant societal or environmental issues, specific issues can be solved. I am a big believer in specificity and focus.

Is there a person in the world or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why?

Richard Branson is undoubtedly an entrepreneur for whom I have a lot of respect and who, like the team at in/PACT from early on, has a sense of adventure. He is purpose-driven in the sense that he has a strong belief system attached to his brand. Going back to the notion of shift, Branson always goes into sectors to make a difference, to disrupt. So there’s no BS; he’s always had a clear sense of what he brings to the table.

Branson recently explored outer space, and everyone knows there are risks involved in going up in a rocket. His boldness about business and life further illustrates how fearless he is. I believe courage is a source of inspiration. Additionally, I thought it was clever (when he landed) when he stated something to the effect of “Outer space is now Virgin territory.” So true to the brand. From the outset, he managed to brand outer space.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.


Social Impact Tech: John McNeel of in/PACT On How Their Technology Will Make An Important Positive… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Social Impact Tech: Amy & Scott Malin of Trueheart On How Their Technology Will Make An Important…

Social Impact Tech: Amy & Scott Malin of Trueheart On How Their Technology Will Make An Important Positive Impact

An Interview With Jilea Hemmings

Billions of people are searching the web every day looking for cute puppy videos, checking the weather, buying a gift or booking a vacation. Now, they can search with Trueheart.com and their searches will power donations to our six charity partners: Smile Train, Action Against Hunger, Global Green, PFLAG National, Variety Boys & Girls Club and 4 Paws For Ability. At Trueheart, we donate 80% of our net profits to our charity partners and we help make their Fund A Dream projects a reality.

In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact”. We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Amy & Scott Malin.

Married dynamic duo, Amy and Scott Malin, are Hollywood’s social impact experts. They are partners in the cause agency Trueheart, where they connect celebrities and purpose-driven brands to raise millions of dollars for charity. Amy and Scott are also Co-Founders of the Trueheart social impact search engine, a new social good platform that allows people to change the world with every search.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?

Scott: I grew up in the Valley, but I was blessed to travel with my family as a kid. Traveling opened up my eyes to the world. It engrained a sense of adventure in me and taught me that we should celebrate and honor all of our beautiful cultures.

Amy: My childhood experience was very different from Scott’s upbringing. I did not have the opportunity to travel with my family as a child. I longed to explore other countries, meet new people and experience other cultures. Growing up, every night I would wish upon a star that someday, I would visit Paris. I had imagined Paris to be a magical and romantic city. I heard tales from my Nema and Tata (my grandparents) who loved their time there. My dream came true when I was able to visit The City Of Lights for the first time in my early twenties and it was even better than I hoped! Once it is safe, I can’t wait to travel with our family and have tons of adventures together.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Amy: I moved to New York City at 19 years old with a few hundred dollars to my name and no place to live, escaping a situation of domestic violence and human trafficking. Starting over in a brand new city with no support system and no place to live was one of the hardest things I have ever done. It was winter and I didn’t have a coat, so I was cold all the time. Coming from Florida, I had never experienced a real winter before, so this was a big change for me.

I was fortunate to have benefitted from the kindness of strangers who let me couch surf at their places or treated me to a meal. There were so many days when I didn’t have enough to eat. I learned from this experience that I am unbreakable! I rose from the ashes, like a phoenix, with a dream in my heart to start my own business. Through hard work, determination and my fighting spirit, I was able to create a fulfilling career that has lasted for over two decades.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Amy: I’m so grateful to be on this amazing journey with my wonderful husband as my business partner. We make a great team and our talents and strengths beautifully compliment each other. We share the same passion for wanting to make the world a better place and there is no one else I’d rather be doing this all with than Scott.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Scott: Oscar Wilde once said, “Be yourself; everyone else is taken.” It’s so easy to get lost in this world and lose touch with what really matters. Life is a long, winding journey, but I always try to keep three things in my back pocket… a childlike sense of adventure, a deep and grateful love for my family, friends and life, and a rock solid sense of humor. Adventure, love and laughter are a potent combination for a life well lived.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

We pride ourselves on being kind, tenacious and scrappy. Kindness is one of the most important values we practice every day. We make an effort to be kind in all of our interactions with others. Being kind creates a powerful ripple effect of goodness in the world.

We’re also tenacious and we never give up! Quitting is not an option, especially when it comes to helping our favorite charities. When someone tells us something is impossible, it just makes us work harder to make it happen.

We believe being scrappy is one of our superpowers. It means we can be successful doing more with less and that we can make quick decisions when we need to move forward.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the tech tools that you are helping to create that can make a positive social impact on our society. To begin, what problems are you aiming to solve?

There are billions of people in the world who have big hearts and want to give back, but they don’t have money to donate to charity, and so they have been largely excluded from philanthropy. We want to democratize philanthropy and help make it more inclusive so that people all over the world are empowered to transform their local communities.

A few big companies make hundreds of billions of dollars every year from the search industry. Together, we can divert some of those funds to charities who work tirelessly every day to save lives, feed the hungry, protect the planet, promote animal welfare, fight for equality and support our youth. The wealth that can help solve some of humanity’s biggest problems is already being generated. The big companies aren’t distributing a meaningful portion of that wealth to make a difference, so it is up to us to take our power back and commit to having our searches online make a social and environmental impact.

How do you think your technology can address this?

Billions of people are searching the web every day looking for cute puppy videos, checking the weather, buying a gift or booking a vacation. Now, they can search with Trueheart.com and their searches will power donations to our six charity partners: Smile Train, Action Against Hunger, Global Green, PFLAG National, Variety Boys & Girls Club and 4 Paws For Ability. At Trueheart, we donate 80% of our net profits to our charity partners and we help make their Fund A Dream projects a reality.

Our Trueheart community members are heroes, whose searches are helping to create real change. Smile Train is able to provide 100% free cleft surgeries and essential treatment to kids in need and Action Against Hunger provides meals and services to families in over 46 countries. Global Green is working with local indigenous farmers in Brazil to plant trees in the Amazon Rainforest which will help save one of our most precious eco-systems. PFLAG National provides life-saving support for LGBTQ+ people. Variety Boys & Girls Club awards college scholarships for under-served youth and 4 Paws For Ability places service dogs with people with disabilities.

We came up with a free and easy way for people to use the power of tech for good and we’re inviting everyone to join our movement. The more people that search with us, the more deserving charities we can support and the bigger impact we can make together. We have so many amazing new features of our website and ways to disrupt philanthropy that we can’t wait to share soon.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

We’re always thinking about how we can best use our time, talents and expertise to maximize our impact. Technology is an incredible tool that we can harness for good. Humans are more digitally connected then we have ever been and yet we’re so disconnected in real life. We wanted to find a way to bring us together in service of humanity. We’re passionate about leaving the world better than we found it for our kids and every child.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

When you’re searching for anything online, you have to be wary of misinformation and know how to find reliable sources and how to spot fake news. Someone’s personal blog is not the place to go for trusted medical, legal or financial advice. A Facebook group is not an accredited media outlet and shouldn’t be the place you get your world news. The documentary “The Social Dilemma” brilliantly portrays how the technology that connects us can also control, distract, polarize and manipulate us if we’re not careful.

Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”? (Please share a story or an example, for each.)

#1. Don’t focus on the problem, celebrate the solution. Most people are bombarded with messages about the world’s biggest problems that need fixing. As a society, we’ve become desensitized when we see suffering around us. That is why we’re big believers in making our users the hero of the story, and showcasing the measurable impact that is created when people come together to rally around good causes. Don’t focus on the problem you’re trying to solve. Instead, celebrate the solution and invite others to join you in making it a reality. People want to contribute and see a positive outcome from their efforts.

#2. Be patient. As a tech entrepreneur you need to be prepared for delays. When you’re working with a development team to make your vision a reality, it takes time. Tech is definitely a hurry up and wait game, so pad in extra time in your rollout schedule.

You are constantly testing what works, finding bugs and fixing them. Technical difficulties are par for the course. Tech giants like Instagram and Facebook have had their sites crash or bugs that they needed to fix. It happens to companies of all sizes.

#3. Build community. To use the power of tech for good, you need to build community and that takes time. It’s a marathon and not a sprint, but if you believe in what you’re doing and the power you have to make an impact, then it is all worth it. You’re changing the hearts and minds of people and that doesn’t happen overnight. Make your movement interactive and social and people will be attracted to join up with like-minded individuals. We’re all looking for our tribe!

#4. Listen. Feedback is so important in building a business. Really listen to the constructive comments from your users, strategic partners and colleagues. Ask them questions and get their opinions on new features. People look at things from different vantage points which is incredibly valuable to help you grow and scale your business.

#5. Never give up! As an entrepreneur, you are going to have tough days. Breathe and remember why you created your business. Focus on the impact you want to make and try not to stress out. Celebrate the tiny wins! You have the opportunity to inspire and empower people to change the world.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

We only have one home, and it is up to us to come together and save our beautiful Earth. We have to live responsibly and in harmony with the incredible wildlife and ecosystems that we share this planet with. Young people today, are the most passionate activists that humanity has ever seen. Eco-warriors like Greta Thunberg, Yola Mgogwana and Rocco Da Silva are speaking truth to power and challenging the status-quo. We need every young person to follow their lead, register to vote and let your voices be heard. We need to create a global movement of young changemakers who will take up this cause, march in the streets and demand change.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

We’d love to have lunch with President Biden and thank him for everything he is doing to protect our planet and to urge him to do more. We don’t have any more time to waste and there is so much work to be done. Scientists have warned us that we’re on the verge of a cataclysmic event. We need bold and fearless leadership to save our planet. We need to move to clean energy and stop polluting our Earth. Swift legislation needs to be passed that puts the planet before profits. There will be pushback, but this is the most important fight of our lives and we must not give up. Our kids are counting on us and we cannot fail them. We hope President Biden will listen to the scientists and environmentalists who have the plan to help and that he will have the strength to implement everything that needs to be done.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

We’d love to have you join our community and search with us at Trueheart.com and you can keep up with our social impact campaigns @WeAreTrueheart on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.


Social Impact Tech: Amy & Scott Malin of Trueheart On How Their Technology Will Make An Important… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Social Impact Tech: Amy & Scott Malin of Trueheart On How Their Technology Will Make An Important…

Social Impact Tech: Amy & Scott Malin of Trueheart On How Their Technology Will Make An Important Positive Impact

An Interview With Jilea Hemmings

Billions of people are searching the web every day looking for cute puppy videos, checking the weather, buying a gift or booking a vacation. Now, they can search with Trueheart.com and their searches will power donations to our six charity partners: Smile Train, Action Against Hunger, Global Green, PFLAG National, Variety Boys & Girls Club and 4 Paws For Ability. At Trueheart, we donate 80% of our net profits to our charity partners and we help make their Fund A Dream projects a reality.

In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact”. We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Amy & Scott Malin.

Married dynamic duo, Amy and Scott Malin, are Hollywood’s social impact experts. They are partners in the cause agency Trueheart, where they connect celebrities and purpose-driven brands to raise millions of dollars for charity. Amy and Scott are also Co-Founders of the Trueheart social impact search engine, a new social good platform that allows people to change the world with every search.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?

Scott: I grew up in the Valley, but I was blessed to travel with my family as a kid. Traveling opened up my eyes to the world. It engrained a sense of adventure in me and taught me that we should celebrate and honor all of our beautiful cultures.

Amy: My childhood experience was very different from Scott’s upbringing. I did not have the opportunity to travel with my family as a child. I longed to explore other countries, meet new people and experience other cultures. Growing up, every night I would wish upon a star that someday, I would visit Paris. I had imagined Paris to be a magical and romantic city. I heard tales from my Nema and Tata (my grandparents) who loved their time there. My dream came true when I was able to visit The City Of Lights for the first time in my early twenties and it was even better than I hoped! Once it is safe, I can’t wait to travel with our family and have tons of adventures together.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Amy: I moved to New York City at 19 years old with a few hundred dollars to my name and no place to live, escaping a situation of domestic violence and human trafficking. Starting over in a brand new city with no support system and no place to live was one of the hardest things I have ever done. It was winter and I didn’t have a coat, so I was cold all the time. Coming from Florida, I had never experienced a real winter before, so this was a big change for me.

I was fortunate to have benefitted from the kindness of strangers who let me couch surf at their places or treated me to a meal. There were so many days when I didn’t have enough to eat. I learned from this experience that I am unbreakable! I rose from the ashes, like a phoenix, with a dream in my heart to start my own business. Through hard work, determination and my fighting spirit, I was able to create a fulfilling career that has lasted for over two decades.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Amy: I’m so grateful to be on this amazing journey with my wonderful husband as my business partner. We make a great team and our talents and strengths beautifully compliment each other. We share the same passion for wanting to make the world a better place and there is no one else I’d rather be doing this all with than Scott.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Scott: Oscar Wilde once said, “Be yourself; everyone else is taken.” It’s so easy to get lost in this world and lose touch with what really matters. Life is a long, winding journey, but I always try to keep three things in my back pocket… a childlike sense of adventure, a deep and grateful love for my family, friends and life, and a rock solid sense of humor. Adventure, love and laughter are a potent combination for a life well lived.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

We pride ourselves on being kind, tenacious and scrappy. Kindness is one of the most important values we practice every day. We make an effort to be kind in all of our interactions with others. Being kind creates a powerful ripple effect of goodness in the world.

We’re also tenacious and we never give up! Quitting is not an option, especially when it comes to helping our favorite charities. When someone tells us something is impossible, it just makes us work harder to make it happen.

We believe being scrappy is one of our superpowers. It means we can be successful doing more with less and that we can make quick decisions when we need to move forward.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the tech tools that you are helping to create that can make a positive social impact on our society. To begin, what problems are you aiming to solve?

There are billions of people in the world who have big hearts and want to give back, but they don’t have money to donate to charity, and so they have been largely excluded from philanthropy. We want to democratize philanthropy and help make it more inclusive so that people all over the world are empowered to transform their local communities.

A few big companies make hundreds of billions of dollars every year from the search industry. Together, we can divert some of those funds to charities who work tirelessly every day to save lives, feed the hungry, protect the planet, promote animal welfare, fight for equality and support our youth. The wealth that can help solve some of humanity’s biggest problems is already being generated. The big companies aren’t distributing a meaningful portion of that wealth to make a difference, so it is up to us to take our power back and commit to having our searches online make a social and environmental impact.

How do you think your technology can address this?

Billions of people are searching the web every day looking for cute puppy videos, checking the weather, buying a gift or booking a vacation. Now, they can search with Trueheart.com and their searches will power donations to our six charity partners: Smile Train, Action Against Hunger, Global Green, PFLAG National, Variety Boys & Girls Club and 4 Paws For Ability. At Trueheart, we donate 80% of our net profits to our charity partners and we help make their Fund A Dream projects a reality.

Our Trueheart community members are heroes, whose searches are helping to create real change. Smile Train is able to provide 100% free cleft surgeries and essential treatment to kids in need and Action Against Hunger provides meals and services to families in over 46 countries. Global Green is working with local indigenous farmers in Brazil to plant trees in the Amazon Rainforest which will help save one of our most precious eco-systems. PFLAG National provides life-saving support for LGBTQ+ people. Variety Boys & Girls Club awards college scholarships for under-served youth and 4 Paws For Ability places service dogs with people with disabilities.

We came up with a free and easy way for people to use the power of tech for good and we’re inviting everyone to join our movement. The more people that search with us, the more deserving charities we can support and the bigger impact we can make together. We have so many amazing new features of our website and ways to disrupt philanthropy that we can’t wait to share soon.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

We’re always thinking about how we can best use our time, talents and expertise to maximize our impact. Technology is an incredible tool that we can harness for good. Humans are more digitally connected then we have ever been and yet we’re so disconnected in real life. We wanted to find a way to bring us together in service of humanity. We’re passionate about leaving the world better than we found it for our kids and every child.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

When you’re searching for anything online, you have to be wary of misinformation and know how to find reliable sources and how to spot fake news. Someone’s personal blog is not the place to go for trusted medical, legal or financial advice. A Facebook group is not an accredited media outlet and shouldn’t be the place you get your world news. The documentary “The Social Dilemma” brilliantly portrays how the technology that connects us can also control, distract, polarize and manipulate us if we’re not careful.

Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”? (Please share a story or an example, for each.)

#1. Don’t focus on the problem, celebrate the solution. Most people are bombarded with messages about the world’s biggest problems that need fixing. As a society, we’ve become desensitized when we see suffering around us. That is why we’re big believers in making our users the hero of the story, and showcasing the measurable impact that is created when people come together to rally around good causes. Don’t focus on the problem you’re trying to solve. Instead, celebrate the solution and invite others to join you in making it a reality. People want to contribute and see a positive outcome from their efforts.

#2. Be patient. As a tech entrepreneur you need to be prepared for delays. When you’re working with a development team to make your vision a reality, it takes time. Tech is definitely a hurry up and wait game, so pad in extra time in your rollout schedule.

You are constantly testing what works, finding bugs and fixing them. Technical difficulties are par for the course. Tech giants like Instagram and Facebook have had their sites crash or bugs that they needed to fix. It happens to companies of all sizes.

#3. Build community. To use the power of tech for good, you need to build community and that takes time. It’s a marathon and not a sprint, but if you believe in what you’re doing and the power you have to make an impact, then it is all worth it. You’re changing the hearts and minds of people and that doesn’t happen overnight. Make your movement interactive and social and people will be attracted to join up with like-minded individuals. We’re all looking for our tribe!

#4. Listen. Feedback is so important in building a business. Really listen to the constructive comments from your users, strategic partners and colleagues. Ask them questions and get their opinions on new features. People look at things from different vantage points which is incredibly valuable to help you grow and scale your business.

#5. Never give up! As an entrepreneur, you are going to have tough days. Breathe and remember why you created your business. Focus on the impact you want to make and try not to stress out. Celebrate the tiny wins! You have the opportunity to inspire and empower people to change the world.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

We only have one home, and it is up to us to come together and save our beautiful Earth. We have to live responsibly and in harmony with the incredible wildlife and ecosystems that we share this planet with. Young people today, are the most passionate activists that humanity has ever seen. Eco-warriors like Greta Thunberg, Yola Mgogwana and Rocco Da Silva are speaking truth to power and challenging the status-quo. We need every young person to follow their lead, register to vote and let your voices be heard. We need to create a global movement of young changemakers who will take up this cause, march in the streets and demand change.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

We’d love to have lunch with President Biden and thank him for everything he is doing to protect our planet and to urge him to do more. We don’t have any more time to waste and there is so much work to be done. Scientists have warned us that we’re on the verge of a cataclysmic event. We need bold and fearless leadership to save our planet. We need to move to clean energy and stop polluting our Earth. Swift legislation needs to be passed that puts the planet before profits. There will be pushback, but this is the most important fight of our lives and we must not give up. Our kids are counting on us and we cannot fail them. We hope President Biden will listen to the scientists and environmentalists who have the plan to help and that he will have the strength to implement everything that needs to be done.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

We’d love to have you join our community and search with us at Trueheart.com and you can keep up with our social impact campaigns @WeAreTrueheart on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.


Social Impact Tech: Amy & Scott Malin of Trueheart On How Their Technology Will Make An Important… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Social Impact Tech: Scott Mackaro of AccuWeather On How Their Technology Will Make An Important…

Social Impact Tech: Scott Mackaro of AccuWeather On How Their Technology Will Make An Important Positive Impact

An Interview With Jilea Hemmings

Today, it is my aim to leverage the latest in technology and data from across the globe to improve our ability to forecast weather impacts. Technology offers a variety of approaches to address our goal of improving weather forecasts. Machine learning offers an opportunity to fill in gaps of purely physics-based solutions. This requires massive amounts of data and the corresponding technology and data engineering to leverage it. Perhaps more importantly, we are also using technology to help us deliver this in real time. Weather can’t wait.

In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact”. We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Scott Mackaro.

Scott Mackaro is the vice president of science & innovation at AccuWeather where he leads teams and strategies required to meet global consumer and business needs while ensuring strong meteorological and data science foundations across all products and offerings. Some of the technology development he has driven includes strengthening AccuWeather’s machine learning capabilities, improvements and expansion of AccuWeather MinuteCast®, various meteorological applications including indoor humidity and weather-derived indices, and improvements to AccuWeather’s world class maps.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?

I am an East Coast kid who grew up in Baltimore, MD in the 80s and 90s. Interested in science from a young age, my parent bought me a relevant multi-volume encyclopedia that I read front to back (when I wasn’t outside exploring nature). That was a catalyst for a lot of self-discoveries as I worked my way through many of the classic Earth science options; Paleontology, Space science(s), Geology and Volcanology, Meteorology, etc.

Meteorology was something I discovered in high school. Paired with my interest in doing impactful work and a hobby in photography, I was known for ‘chasing’ weather (by Baltimore standards), notifying my friends of dangers, and taking every opportunity to explore the science.

In the late 90s in Baltimore (at least in my world), support in choosing a career was somewhat limited and a holistic view of how technology was rapidly changing the world wasn’t something at our fingertips. So, it was the movie Twister, released my junior year, that cemented my decision to pursue this profession. Regardless of its realism, it was a serendipitous decision that has allowed me a rewarding career to date.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I once brought down a multi-million-dollar supercomputer with an incorrectly placed FOR loop. Fun times before best practices.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I am lucky enough to say that there are so many people I’m grateful for. Off the top of my head, names like Richard Clark, William Hooke, William Lapenta, Brent Shaw, and Kevin Petty have all been major catalysts in my life. William Hooke, in particular, shifted my entire life with a simple story. At times when I was struggling to understand what I wanted to do in my career, I asked Bill for some perspective. I was under the impression that I had to choose a line of work that was focused on a particular technology, or problem set. I asked him to tell me about his biggest accomplishment. He responded by explaining that the people he had the opportunity to lift up was his greatest professional accomplishment. His response resonated with me more than any other perspective I had received in my career. So I’ve set out to do the same. When you lift up people, you can become a force multiplier for impact.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I have a book of them that I keep around. One of the first quotes is by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry — “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” This quote reminds me not to just delegate and tell people what to do, but to inspire them and help those around me understand how their work fits into a bigger, more meaningful picture. To do this, I always seek to understand how my (and others’) efforts are making an impact, even if very small.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Adaptability, Relentlessness, and people-centric.

My ability to adapt quickly has been key to many of the successes I’ve enjoyed in my career. Technology changes fast, markets change fast, life changes fast. It’s been important that I don’t stick to only what I’ve known to position myself, my team, and the organizations I’ve been part of for the future.

I’m a relentless individual. I’m always looking for more problems to solve, ways to improve, and better approaches to leading people. I used to shy away from this trait, thinking it was a flaw. Rather than ignoring it, I’ve embraced it and instead focused on celebrating wins along the way (mine and those around me). It has helped me push boundaries.

In my field, science & technology dominate the conversation. It’s the people, however, that make things happen. So, I’ve spent my career being people-centric and focusing on lifting up those that come along in life. Whether it’s a student, a colleague, a customer, or someone that you meet randomly, there are few impacts you can have greater than improving the lives around you.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the tech tools that you are helping to create that can make a positive social impact on our society. To begin, what problems are you aiming to solve?

Weather impacts the lives of every living creature on this planet. The challenges we face because of weather (and the long-term climate) are immense. It could be as simple as making daily decisions for comfort and health or as complex as decisions that prepare us for mitigating catastrophe. Weather, however, is an imperfect science. There are gaps in the observing systems, imperfections in the models, and technology challenges at every turn. Further, technology is greatly out pacing science and humanity’s ability to leverage it. There is no shortage of problems to solve.

Today, it is my aim to leverage the latest in technology and data from across the globe to improve our ability to forecast weather impacts.

How do you think your technology can address this?

Technology offers a variety of approaches to address our goal of improving weather forecasts. Machine learning offers an opportunity to fill in gaps of purely physics-based solutions. This requires massive amounts of data and the corresponding technology and data engineering to leverage it. Perhaps more importantly, we are also using technology to help us deliver this in real time. Weather can’t wait.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

I was part of an early-stage start-up focused on improving application specific forecasting solutions. We had an amazing team that was pushing weather modeling and data assimilation to its limit. Our technology allowed us to produce a solution that was statistically better than anything available. Statistically better did not mean good enough to change the market. That experience left me hungry for better (and faster) solutions. There had to be a way.

How do you think this might change the world?

Quite the grandiose question. Depending on your perspective, you could argue that saving a life is changing the world.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

Our technology is deeply reliant on the quality and quantity of data. As we continue to improve the forecast, people will put more and more trust in the result. Life and death decisions are made. Decisions with enormous financial consequences are made. Weather data, while often very trustworthy and reliable, is not without its limitations.

Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”? (Please share a story or an example, for each if possible.)

  1. Start with the problem, not the technology — When you truly understand the problem you are trying to solve, you can work your way backwards to the technology. There are countless companies with technology looking for a problem.
  2. Understand how the problem changes depending on where you are in the world — the very phrase ‘social impact’ can be defined very differently depending on where you are in the world. I’ve seen several technologies that could only offer social impact in places that could afford it.
  3. Consider what data and subsequent data technology is required to be successful. Save everything — sometimes the problem you are solving doesn’t come with clean and plentiful data. If you are creating it, save everything. If you are gathering it, gather it all.
  4. Choose technology that can be delivered in the time frame required, at scale — there are plenty of studies showing amazing results from simulations that take weeks to run. It is my experience that many social impacts need results on a more real-time timescale.
  5. Build technology that is adaptable — technology changes fast… often faster than social impacts are achieved. If your goal is the social gain, then building technology that can improve and adapt with time will keep you at the forefront of the social impact.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

There is a saying I like to repeat. Leave it better than you found it. It’s a great saying for camping and equally as great when trying to find purpose in life. You can impact generations that follow you by leaving this planet better than you found it.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why?

Almost definitely, but rather than focusing on one, I take the opportunity to meet with anyone that will take the time. I’ve learned some of the most important lessons from individuals that I least expected it from.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Download the AccuWeather app to check out all the latest updates. They can also follow @accuweather on Twitter to find out about new product announcements and more.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.


Social Impact Tech: Scott Mackaro of AccuWeather On How Their Technology Will Make An Important… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Social Impact Tech: Scott Mackaro of AccuWeather On How Their Technology Will Make An Important…

Social Impact Tech: Scott Mackaro of AccuWeather On How Their Technology Will Make An Important Positive Impact

An Interview With Jilea Hemmings

Today, it is my aim to leverage the latest in technology and data from across the globe to improve our ability to forecast weather impacts. Technology offers a variety of approaches to address our goal of improving weather forecasts. Machine learning offers an opportunity to fill in gaps of purely physics-based solutions. This requires massive amounts of data and the corresponding technology and data engineering to leverage it. Perhaps more importantly, we are also using technology to help us deliver this in real time. Weather can’t wait.

In recent years, Big Tech has gotten a bad rep. But of course many tech companies are doing important work making monumental positive changes to society, health, and the environment. To highlight these, we started a new interview series about “Technology Making An Important Positive Social Impact”. We are interviewing leaders of tech companies who are creating or have created a tech product that is helping to make a positive change in people’s lives or the environment. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Scott Mackaro.

Scott Mackaro is the vice president of science & innovation at AccuWeather where he leads teams and strategies required to meet global consumer and business needs while ensuring strong meteorological and data science foundations across all products and offerings. Some of the technology development he has driven includes strengthening AccuWeather’s machine learning capabilities, improvements and expansion of AccuWeather MinuteCast®, various meteorological applications including indoor humidity and weather-derived indices, and improvements to AccuWeather’s world class maps.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory and how you grew up?

I am an East Coast kid who grew up in Baltimore, MD in the 80s and 90s. Interested in science from a young age, my parent bought me a relevant multi-volume encyclopedia that I read front to back (when I wasn’t outside exploring nature). That was a catalyst for a lot of self-discoveries as I worked my way through many of the classic Earth science options; Paleontology, Space science(s), Geology and Volcanology, Meteorology, etc.

Meteorology was something I discovered in high school. Paired with my interest in doing impactful work and a hobby in photography, I was known for ‘chasing’ weather (by Baltimore standards), notifying my friends of dangers, and taking every opportunity to explore the science.

In the late 90s in Baltimore (at least in my world), support in choosing a career was somewhat limited and a holistic view of how technology was rapidly changing the world wasn’t something at our fingertips. So, it was the movie Twister, released my junior year, that cemented my decision to pursue this profession. Regardless of its realism, it was a serendipitous decision that has allowed me a rewarding career to date.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I once brought down a multi-million-dollar supercomputer with an incorrectly placed FOR loop. Fun times before best practices.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I am lucky enough to say that there are so many people I’m grateful for. Off the top of my head, names like Richard Clark, William Hooke, William Lapenta, Brent Shaw, and Kevin Petty have all been major catalysts in my life. William Hooke, in particular, shifted my entire life with a simple story. At times when I was struggling to understand what I wanted to do in my career, I asked Bill for some perspective. I was under the impression that I had to choose a line of work that was focused on a particular technology, or problem set. I asked him to tell me about his biggest accomplishment. He responded by explaining that the people he had the opportunity to lift up was his greatest professional accomplishment. His response resonated with me more than any other perspective I had received in my career. So I’ve set out to do the same. When you lift up people, you can become a force multiplier for impact.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I have a book of them that I keep around. One of the first quotes is by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry — “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” This quote reminds me not to just delegate and tell people what to do, but to inspire them and help those around me understand how their work fits into a bigger, more meaningful picture. To do this, I always seek to understand how my (and others’) efforts are making an impact, even if very small.

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Adaptability, Relentlessness, and people-centric.

My ability to adapt quickly has been key to many of the successes I’ve enjoyed in my career. Technology changes fast, markets change fast, life changes fast. It’s been important that I don’t stick to only what I’ve known to position myself, my team, and the organizations I’ve been part of for the future.

I’m a relentless individual. I’m always looking for more problems to solve, ways to improve, and better approaches to leading people. I used to shy away from this trait, thinking it was a flaw. Rather than ignoring it, I’ve embraced it and instead focused on celebrating wins along the way (mine and those around me). It has helped me push boundaries.

In my field, science & technology dominate the conversation. It’s the people, however, that make things happen. So, I’ve spent my career being people-centric and focusing on lifting up those that come along in life. Whether it’s a student, a colleague, a customer, or someone that you meet randomly, there are few impacts you can have greater than improving the lives around you.

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about the tech tools that you are helping to create that can make a positive social impact on our society. To begin, what problems are you aiming to solve?

Weather impacts the lives of every living creature on this planet. The challenges we face because of weather (and the long-term climate) are immense. It could be as simple as making daily decisions for comfort and health or as complex as decisions that prepare us for mitigating catastrophe. Weather, however, is an imperfect science. There are gaps in the observing systems, imperfections in the models, and technology challenges at every turn. Further, technology is greatly out pacing science and humanity’s ability to leverage it. There is no shortage of problems to solve.

Today, it is my aim to leverage the latest in technology and data from across the globe to improve our ability to forecast weather impacts.

How do you think your technology can address this?

Technology offers a variety of approaches to address our goal of improving weather forecasts. Machine learning offers an opportunity to fill in gaps of purely physics-based solutions. This requires massive amounts of data and the corresponding technology and data engineering to leverage it. Perhaps more importantly, we are also using technology to help us deliver this in real time. Weather can’t wait.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

I was part of an early-stage start-up focused on improving application specific forecasting solutions. We had an amazing team that was pushing weather modeling and data assimilation to its limit. Our technology allowed us to produce a solution that was statistically better than anything available. Statistically better did not mean good enough to change the market. That experience left me hungry for better (and faster) solutions. There had to be a way.

How do you think this might change the world?

Quite the grandiose question. Depending on your perspective, you could argue that saving a life is changing the world.

Keeping “Black Mirror” and the “Law of Unintended Consequences” in mind, can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

Our technology is deeply reliant on the quality and quantity of data. As we continue to improve the forecast, people will put more and more trust in the result. Life and death decisions are made. Decisions with enormous financial consequences are made. Weather data, while often very trustworthy and reliable, is not without its limitations.

Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, can you please share “Five things you need to know to successfully create technology that can make a positive social impact”? (Please share a story or an example, for each if possible.)

  1. Start with the problem, not the technology — When you truly understand the problem you are trying to solve, you can work your way backwards to the technology. There are countless companies with technology looking for a problem.
  2. Understand how the problem changes depending on where you are in the world — the very phrase ‘social impact’ can be defined very differently depending on where you are in the world. I’ve seen several technologies that could only offer social impact in places that could afford it.
  3. Consider what data and subsequent data technology is required to be successful. Save everything — sometimes the problem you are solving doesn’t come with clean and plentiful data. If you are creating it, save everything. If you are gathering it, gather it all.
  4. Choose technology that can be delivered in the time frame required, at scale — there are plenty of studies showing amazing results from simulations that take weeks to run. It is my experience that many social impacts need results on a more real-time timescale.
  5. Build technology that is adaptable — technology changes fast… often faster than social impacts are achieved. If your goal is the social gain, then building technology that can improve and adapt with time will keep you at the forefront of the social impact.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

There is a saying I like to repeat. Leave it better than you found it. It’s a great saying for camping and equally as great when trying to find purpose in life. You can impact generations that follow you by leaving this planet better than you found it.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why?

Almost definitely, but rather than focusing on one, I take the opportunity to meet with anyone that will take the time. I’ve learned some of the most important lessons from individuals that I least expected it from.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Download the AccuWeather app to check out all the latest updates. They can also follow @accuweather on Twitter to find out about new product announcements and more.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success in your important work.


Social Impact Tech: Scott Mackaro of AccuWeather On How Their Technology Will Make An Important… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Eleonora Tornatore of CaringKind: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Lead A Nonprofit…

Eleonora Tornatore of CaringKind: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Lead A Nonprofit Organization

My view on leadership is making sure your vision and mission are very clear and concise. Also making sure the team around you is all working towards the same goal. The most important piece as to why I’ve been successful in non-profit is working with volunteers. I feel like volunteers are the change catalysts and they support you in such an inspiring way for change to occur. They can support your mission from a donor perspective or from a time perspective.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Eleonora Tornatore.

Eleonora Tornatore is a seasoned non-profit professional with extensive experience in gerontology and senior living. She is highly recognized for developing innovative Alzheimer’s and dementia programs and has an immense passion and dedication to caring with those living with the diseases. She is currently the CEO of CaringKind, New York’s leading expert in Alzheimer’s and dementia caregiving.

Thank you so much for doing this with us. Before we begin our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”?

I was born in Sicily, a little town outside of Catania, and came to the US when I was six years old. English is actually my second language. I started out in the field 25 years ago, at CaringKind actually, as post grad intern working in nursing homes. I helped develop training program for public health through a research grant through the department of public health, and that was the start of my career.

Can you tell us the story behind why you decided to start or join your non nonprofit?

At CaringKind, I decided to take on the role of CEO after Jed A. Levine retired. I wanted to continue the mission that CaringKind has been known for 35 years, that being our logo message of ‘‘to stand by you.’ We truly are dementia experts in New York City but also a support group for families.

Can you describe how you or your organization aims to make a significant social impact?

Unfortunately, since the 80’s, a lot of people still don’t talk about Alzheimer’s disease. There is still a stigma there even though it is not mental health, it is a brain disease. We still battle against people thinking it’s a psychological disorder. One of our biggest pillars is raising concern and awareness and helping people to get diagnosed early on. We are working against a stigma, so our jobs in this industry is to reduce that.

Without saying any names, can you share a story about an individual who was helped by your idea so far?

We service a diverse population at CaringKind, one population being the Chinese. We have an outreach coordinator who brought a certain story forward about her husband who was battling short term memory loss. As the head of the household in their marriage, this started to impact their family and also him at work. This individual (the wife) shared a testimony on CaringKind outside of the diagnosis that the doctor gave her, which was “come back and see me in 6 months” and we sort of became an olive branch for her to meet with other people like her. We helped her understand how to respond and react to him. The education and support groups were like a life jacket for her because she didn’t really understand. The way she was reacting and responding to him was the complete opposite until she got educated about the disease. All of our materials are translated into multiple languages including Chinese, Spanish, Cantonese, etc. This makes a tremendous difference.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

We know that President Biden mentioned in his speech that caregiving issues are like a tsunami waiting to happen. You may know someone in your family now, or if not, in the next 5–10 years, who will become a caregiver. So, lessening the burden of a caregiver and making sure they have the resources, education, and support they need to take care of that person. I would also say putting more resources in place for caregivers and allowing employers to continue to support people who are caring for a loved one, particularly with Alzheimer’s disease. It’s in that same bucket of dealing with a disabled child but unfortunately it is not seen in that same manner to stay home because mom needs you. Raising that concern and awareness in front a politician is helpful, we want them to know we are a resource and it’s important to talk about Alzheimer’s. We want to get to them before a crisis occurs. I would also say our Wanderer’s Safety Program. We have a low-tech bracelet in conjunction with the NYPD (and our staff person Elizabeth Santiago) in our office. When there is a silver alert, I can’t even tell you how many individuals she has helped find that have wondered from their home. When someone wanders away, it’s an activation through email that helps find people very efficiently and has a very good track record.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

My view on leadership is making sure your vision and mission are very clear and concise. Also making sure the team around you is all working towards the same goal. The most important piece as to why I’ve been successful in non-profit is working with volunteers. I feel like volunteers are the change catalysts and they support you in such an inspiring way for change to occur. They can support your mission from a donor perspective or from a time perspective. A study in Cleveland Clinic found that volunteering is incredibly healthy for you, helps to clean the brain when you do something for the greater good. There are so many health benefits, so if you can foster an environment for volunteers and help them develop your mission, it’s a win-win for everyone. The organization strives and we serve more people. Ultimately, you hope to reach the unserved, always.

Based on your experience, what are the “5 things a person should know before they decide to start a non profit”. Please share a story or example for each.

I think what happens is people don’t typically define their mission and their vision enough. One of the things I often find when friends of mine say they want to start a non-profit is “is there a way you can incorporate it with anyone who is already doing this work?” so you can get through the work faster. It’s not just the financial support, you really do need to build a very strong board and make sure that board has the same vision and mission. People don’t spend enough time of a strategic plan. Building a strong board, making sure your staff really support you vision and mission, making sure you have the financial support in place beyond 6 months, making sure you have a contingency plan beyond yourself (you don’t want to start a non-profit and not have a plan on who will take over incase you move or retire, and you don’t want to serve the community if those services aren’t going to be continuous), and making sure your wants and needs meet the wants and needs of the community, are my 5 things. It is very important you do a needs assessment for the community and yourself, because sometimes they aren’t aligned.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world who you would like to talk to, to share the idea behind your non profit? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Yes, Makenzie Scott! Trough Bridgespan, she has given out billions to non-profits.

Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson” Quote? How is that relevant to you in your life?

I use the word ‘onward’ often. Not just because of Covid, but in the non-profit world, nothing is easy, especially when raising money. As far as a quote I love “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality” — Warren Bennis

How can our readers follow you online?

They can go to caringkindnyc.org or my Linkedin Page

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success in your mission.


Eleonora Tornatore of CaringKind: 5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Lead A Nonprofit… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Social Impact Authors: How & Why NASA Rocket Scientist Olympia LePoint Is Helping To Change Our Worl

Social Impact Authors: How & Why NASA Rocket Scientist Olympia LePoint Is Helping To Change Our World

An Interview With Edward Sylvan

My first book, Mathpahobia: How You Can Overcome Your Math Fears and Become a Rocket Scientist helps people overcome their math fears, so they can graduate from college, and earn their STEM degrees. It also helps parents learn effective methods to teach their children while learning math.

As part of my series about “authors who are making an important social impact” I had the pleasure of interviewing Olympia LePoint.

Olympia LePoint is an award-winning NASA rocket scientist, author, TED Talk speaker, and journalist. Most recently, Olympia created a human decision-making scientific theory called Quantum Deciding, revealing the secret science to achieve your best future. The theory is included in her new self-help educational book Answers Unleashed II: The Science of Attracting What You Want, with a forward written by retired NASA Astronaut Robert Curbeam. The book breaks down how to overcome your fear of the future in just six effective decisions. It has quickly gained international praise and recognition, with endorsements by top professionals and CEOs.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I am Olympia LePoint, an award-winning author and an award-winning rocket scientist who continually learns to reprogram my mind for success, as seen in my TED talk “Reprogramming Your Brain to Overcome Fear.”

In my career building NASA rockets, I helped launch 28 NASA Space Shuttle Missions to into Space, and I am the author of the Answers Unleashed educational science book series geared to ignite people’s minds to find answers for the future.

My road to success was extremely tough. In my childhood, I grew up in the inner-city South Los Angeles where fear and danger were a part of my childhood. In fact, I was “Oly from The Block.” In poverty and surrounded by gang violence, I was raised by a single mom who did her best to parent four girls without support.

Our mother told us that the only way to change our lives was through education. I listened to her, and I worked hard to graduate from high school, and enter college. I majored in mathematics even though I was failing courses previously. Later, I mastered mathematics, and I was one of the top five graduates of a 6,500-graduating class in 1998 from California State University Northridge.

Today, I am a professional speaker and journalist. I give virtual talks at major universities and at global technology conferences to promote Science, Innovation and Diversity with new thinking. I appear on major network news channels speaking about Space Travel and Science. On TV, I speak about my books and science-related topics — from Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Richard Branson’s space race to the concerns with STEM education, Artificial Intelligence, Quantum Computing, Cryptocurrencies, NASA News, Science innovation and Climate Change — so people can make wise decisions for a better future.

My latest book Answers Unleashed II: The Science of Attracting What You Want outlines the decisions that I took to become a rocket scientist, and the book helps people make decisions for creating the future that they want.

When you were younger, was there a book that you read that inspired you to take action or changed your life? Can you share a story about that?

Yes. The book was Innumeracy. I read it when I was 15. The book is about “mathematical illiteracy” and its consequences. I liked the one-word book title. My mom’s friend gave it to me. I still have it on my bookshelf. At the time, I was overcoming my fears regarding math calculations and struggled in math. ( Note: math is a language of patterns.) I told myself that I wanted to write a book about understanding math in the future. Nearly 20 years later, I wrote my first book Mathpahobia: How You Can Overcome Your Math Fears and Become a Rocket Scientist.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career? What lesson or take away did you learn from that?

This story may sound funny, but it was scary at the time. I discovered that I was allergic to wheat and tree nuts one day when I was helping launch a Space Shuttle into Space. That day, we arrived to work at 1:30 a.m. for the 3 p.m. launch later that day. We were to sit and be alert for over 12 hours.

Our vice presidents catered the room with donuts, fruit, and coffee to keep us awake. Well, midway through the pre-launch preparation, my head started spinning and my eyesight began getting blurry after eating 3 donuts. I was experiencing an allergic reaction to the donuts that were deep-fried in peanut oil! Oddly enough, I had never had an allergic reaction to donuts or nuts until that time.

I did not know what to do at first. And, I had to stay calm and collected, because astronauts’ lives were on the line. There was no other person who could read the numbers in my role. I took deep breaths.

Quickly thinking, I went to the restroom and splashed cold water on my face. I prayed to God for help. My prayer was answered. My head stopped spinning. I took the cold water with me, and I kept splashing cold water on my face every few minutes, so I could see the screen in front of me. Well, the splashing happened every few minutes for close to 3 hours. That quick thinking was enough for my body to refocus on safely launching people to space. Hours later, the reaction went away. I stayed for another 10 hours in the room. And we successfully launched the flight. I have never eaten donuts since.

Can you describe how you aim to make a significant social impact with your book?

My first book, Mathpahobia: How You Can Overcome Your Math Fears and Become a Rocket Scientist helps people overcome their math fears, so they can graduate from college, and earn their STEM degrees. It also helps parents learn effective methods to teach their children while learning math.

My second book, Answers Unleashed: The Science of Unleashing Your Brain’s Power helps people overcome their memories of failure, so they transform that brain energy into innovation. The book also helps people gain a better understanding of how intuition plays a role in helping us find answers to life’s challenging situations.

My latest book, Answers Unleashed II: The Science of Attracting What You Want helps people make effective decisions about their future. The book also helps people realize that they make decisions in six categories: Their faith, identity, intent, how they learn, how they use resources, and the way that they love themselves and others through time. As you make new decisions, you start attracting new opportunities. And each decision points you to the future that you want. If you want to change the world, you can start with your own decisions first. This book helps readers master their decisions with a new decision-making science that I call “Quantum Deciding”. Through making effective decisions, we can build a society of critical thickeners and global problem-solvers.

Can you share with us the most interesting story that you shared in your book?

There are several interesting stories in the book. It is challenging to only pick one story. There are many stories that memorize the reader.

One of my most favorite stories is when I recall when my 9-year-old self met my 30-year-old self. I am a firm believer that you can envision parts of your future accurately. When I was 9, I wrote down my future. I woke up at 3 am. And could not sleep. So, I chose to write a list of all the careers I would have in my lifetime. Rocket scientist was on that list. I envision myself as a rocket scientist at a desk, and I saw the equation in some unknown book. After writing that list, I fell asleep and forgot about the list for nearly 20 years.

Fast forward. One day at age 30, I was doing calculations at work. I saw the same formula that I saw when I was 9 years old. It was the most shocking déjà-vu experience that I ever lived through. I was experiencing an event that had not taken place yet. In fact, I had jumped through time to witness my 30-year-old self, and then come back to write down what I saw. With that déjà-vu time, I realized that my 9-year-old had connected with the 30 years old in a dimension independent of time and space. That connection helped me make decisions that would obtain that future event. With my epiphany, I went back in time and thanked my 9-year-old self for envisioning the future.

We each can jump through time to meet ourselves in the future. And we can predict certain things in our future. We must be willing to see the best events possible.

What was the “aha moment” or series of events that made you decide to bring your message to the greater world? Can you share a story about that?

After I left the rocket science world, I saw that the U.S. ranked 28th out of 32 industrialized countries when it came to math and science education. As a result, I became determined to discover the reason, and help the U.S produce more science innovators. The answer was simple. People feared math. And math is the course that everyone needed to earn their STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) degrees.

So, I set out to help people overcome their math fears. I started giving workshops at the local college. Then I gave talks at science centers. Then I decided to write my first book to help explain how to remove ‘Mathaphobia’. My efforts led me to be on TV as a regular guest Science expert, giving live and virtual TED talks, and writing a series of well-known science books seen on TV and read in schools and universities across the United States.

Without sharing specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

I enjoy mentoring kids. One of my previous co-workers asked me to mentor her 10-year-old son in 2007. Zach had just failed his math class and felt discouraged. When I met with him, and I discovered that he was extremely smart, and the teacher did not understand the young boy’s brilliance. We worked together for 8 years. Zach even suggested that I help his older sister Jessica.

Zach began acing his math classes as a direct result of the work we did together. His dad was a well-known organizational psychologist, and he was honored that I helped his son succeed. As a result, his father Dr. Dirk Zirbel wrote the foreword in my first book Mathpahobia. Today, Zach is now a grown man. He entered the university, aced his Calculus class and is now a leader in his career. I am very proud of him.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

  1. The community can share information about my book series so professors and teachers can assign my book for their students to succeed.
  2. Society can learn how to make effective decisions in their own lives using my books, so respect can be created amongst diverse peoples.
  3. Politicians can increase supplemental STEM educational programs, and fund programs from STEM authors like myself.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is when you commit to following through on the plans that you have for your life. Leaders are people who live their lives by example.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  • Start banking on yourself; your time and commitment are enough to start your mission and business.
  • Expect to fail and congratulate yourself when you learn a better approach.
  • Your health is far more important than anything you do in your career.
  • Sometimes you must leave ill-suited jobs, so you can live out your life purpose.
  • At the end of the day, your decisions will allow you to rest peacefully.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I live my own special quote:

“If he or she could do it, so can I. I can do anything that I set my mind to. Watch me. God, now help me do it.”

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

I’d like to meet Jack Dorsey, the founder of Twitter, and learn how to create a science-tech platform for people across the world. I’d like to become a billionaire and philanthropist in years to come from technology inventions.

I’d also like to meet Jennifer Lopez. She is a phenomenal businesswoman and entertainer. I’d like to merge entertainment and technical aspects together in a profound way to educate millions of people of color across the world who may not have access to proper forms of science education. I’d like to entertain people globally with science in a similar memorizing fashion with “The Olympia touch”.

I’d also like to meet Oprah. She is a brilliant philanthropist, entertainer, and network businesswoman. Her story gives all people strength. And I’d like to be on her show and explain the profound lessons that I learned in my journey.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can go to AnswersUnleashed.com and OlympiaLePoint.com

Social Media:

  • Instagram.com/OlympiaLePoint
  • Twitter.com/OlympiaLePoint
  • Facebook.com/OlympiaLePoint
  • LinkedIn.com/in/OlympiaLePoint
  • YouTube.com/c/AnswersUnleashed

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

Thank you. It has been a pleasure answering these questions.


Social Impact Authors: How & Why NASA Rocket Scientist Olympia LePoint Is Helping To Change Our Worl was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Heroes Of The Addiction Crisis: How Eve Goldberg of BigVision Is Helping To Battle One of Our Most…

Heroes Of The Addiction Crisis: How Eve Goldberg of BigVision Is Helping To Battle One of Our Most Serious Epidemics

People need people. Young people need other young people. And entrepreneurs and founders very much need to build a professional network of people who share your passion and support your goals.

As a part of our series about “Heroes Of The Addiction Crisis” I had the pleasure of interviewing Eve Goldberg.

Eve founded BIGVISION in January 2015, a year after her 23-year-old son, Isaac, died of an accidental drug overdose. She was motivated to do something to help young adults in recovery learn to live fun, meaningful, sober lives. She has now committed to making BIGVISION a reality by building a community where the BIGVISION.

https://medium.com/media/dd89e71d796d89288de4d34dd42d294b/href

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit of your backstory?

In 2014, I lost my 23-year-old son Isaac to an accidental overdose. He was a bright, funny, compassionate, and caring young man who had struggled with addiction for several years. Despite access to excellent treatment centers, loving support, and a desire to recover, relapse was part of his story. In the darkest days following his death, I vowed to prevent this devastation for other families.

At the time, I had no specific idea in mind, but even before I had a plan, a group of friends volunteered to help. It was clear to me that something different needed to be done to better support young adults in sustaining sobriety. I am a doer by nature. One year after Isaac’s death, I knew what I wanted to do, called on my friends and together we got started.

That, in a nutshell, is how BIGVISION was born.

Is there a particular story or incident that inspired you to get involved in your work with opioid and drug addiction?

It’s personal for me, and for too many others. I got involved because even during the depths of my sadness, I also saw an opportunity. I recognized a massive blind spot in existing long-term recovery treatment protocol for young adults specifically, and there was something to be done about it. Like I said, I’m a doer.

When Isaac left an in-patient treatment program for the last time, he was sober, in good health and optimistic … just like the nearly 2 million young adults who complete addiction treatment programs each year. I saw the determination in his eyes as he told me, time and again, that he was eager to face the future substance free. I saw his strength. And, just like those millions of young adults, Isaac no idea how to ‘get a life’ — the kind of life he would need to joyfully sustain sobriety forever after. He had no idea how to meet people, go places and do things socially, but safely. Treatment programs can save lives, but they don’t build that life for you.

Can you explain what brought us to this place? Where did this epidemic come from?

Last year, a staggering 93,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2020 and the highest increase was 48% in those under 24 years old. We are witnessing the clear, and catastrophic, failure of what is readily referenced as a ‘broken’ addiction treatment system in the US.

For millions of young adults suffering from substance use disorders (SUDs), getting sober is the simplest part of recovery. And frankly, there is a lot of money to be made in that area of recovery treatment. Those fortunate enough to complete in-patient programs will walk out the door sober. It’s what happens next that impacts the rest of their lives. But the idea of building a fun, fulfilling yet sober social life can feel overwhelming.

For a 20-something in recovery, a house party, bar, or a fraternity gathering are clearly not good choices, but neither is sitting on a folding chair in a church basement with a group of middle- aged people who are also on the road to recovery. The younger you are, the longer road you must imagine for yourself, substance free. It can be incredibly difficult to find ‘your people’ as a young adult in recovery. BIGVISION exists to help young adults enjoy full and fun, sober social lives.

So, while pundits point fingers (pharmaceutical companies, treatment centers, hospitals, dentists, insurance companies, politicians) and focus on the lucrative business of recovery, we’re focused on helping build a safety net to bridge the giant chasm between treatment and life.

Can you describe how your work is making an impact battling this epidemic?

The opposite of addiction is connection. Community is vital to sustaining recovery and saving lives. My urgent message for the newly sober is — find your passions in life, BIGVISION will help you!

BIGVISION is the go-to source for sober-social fun for young adults in recovery. We are a community, and we create and curate a calendar of incredible events and engaging activities, so young adults don’t have to search so hard for safe and sober options. From yoga classes and 5K runs to basketball tournaments, parkour challenges, mini-golf, baking, hikes and knitting sessions, we do fun things together. The key word is “together.” Since its founding in 2015, BIGVISION has offered more than 500 FREE experiences for young adults in recovery throughout NYC.

Can you share something about your work that makes you most proud? Is there a particular story or incident that you found most uplifting?

It was the sound of laughter. We hosted a trapeze lesson for our community. I watched from a distance as they swung through the air. I thought, “They’re brave! They’re trying something new. They’re meeting other young people.” That made me happy. And then, I heard the laughter — a group of people laughing out loud, together. That sound — that joyful sound — so simple, is truly so uplifting and every time I hear it, I feel the same way.

Can you share three things that the community and society can do to help you address the root of this problem? Can you give some examples?

I’m deeply proud of the work BIGVISION is doing to save lives, addressing the unique sober-social needs of young adults (18–30) in recovery (aka the “fun” that follows sobriety.) As a community, we pick up where in-patient treatment programs leave off and we make it easy for you to get involved. We are expanding to 5 more cities by summer 2022:

  1. Visit us to learn more about what we’re doing
  2. Sign up to become a BIGVISION Ambassador in your city. Ambassadors help us curate robust local calendars and build community.
  3. Join us for an event or just help spread the word! Check our website for upcoming events, including an annual 3:3 basketball tournament (see this video) — full of hoop and hope-filled fun.

I know that this is not easy work. What keeps you going?

The support of my family and the belief that BIGIVISION is saving lives.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

No one person can or should handle every aspect of an organization. Leadership is sharing a clear vision and empowering those who can, will and want to help.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

When I started BIGVISION, it was my intention to help young adults in recovery. I had no idea how much they would help me and how much I would learn from them. Here are 5 things I’ve learned from BIGVISION community members that I think can inspire us all:

  1. There is more than one path to recovery and what matters is knowing you are part of a community that welcomes you, wherever you’ve been, however you got here… you belong.
  2. There is more than one path to pretty much everything. Remaining open to different possibilities is critical if you plan to grow anything from a new business to a national non-profit.
  3. People need people. Young people need other young people. And entrepreneurs and founders very much need to build a professional network of people who share your passion and support your goals.
  4. Many of the practices that support sustainable recovery are applicable and powerful in all aspects of life. Young adults in recovery have become excellent role models for me when it comes to prioritizing health and well-being. From living with balanced structure to having a process to fall back on in challenging times to applying mindfulness and intentional thinking to working towards fulfilling a sense of purpose while staying on track and avoiding pitfalls — these are effective ways for everyone to optimize personal and professional well-being.
  5. Humans want to help one another. I used to think that fundraising was about asking for money. Frankly, it made me uncomfortable, despite knowing we were saving lives. The big-hearted BIGVISION community showed me that people really, truly, want to help other people. Fundraising isn’t about asking for money, it’s about giving people who care, a meaningful way to make a difference.

https://youtu.be/Y_ZgoDunu6s

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Treat people as you would want to be treated. It doesn’t get more simple or powerful than that.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Jamie Lee Curtis! Not only do many people tell me we look alike, but she is brilliantly talented. I deeply admire her for sharing her personal story about struggling with addiction in a 2019 story in Variety. Jamie Lee Curtis, I’d love to meet you for breakfast. Open invitation.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

https://www.instagram.com/bigvisionnyc

https://www.facebook.com/bigvisionnyc/

https://twitter.com/bigvision_nyc

Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.


Heroes Of The Addiction Crisis: How Eve Goldberg of BigVision Is Helping To Battle One of Our Most… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Jenna Haefelin of SPIFF: Five Strategies Our Company Is Using To Tackle Climate Change & Become…

Jenna Haefelin of SPIFF: Five Strategies Our Company Is Using To Tackle Climate Change & Become More Sustainable

An Interview With Penny Bauder

Parents should do better with snacks: avoiding small individual snack packs and buying in bulk to use with reusable bags. It can not only save money in the long run, it mitigates so much unnecessary plastic and garbage. This also helps save a ton of room in your pantry/kitchen. We know from experience!

As part of my series about companies who are helping to battle climate change, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jenna Haefelin, Founder SPIFF.

SPIFF is a luxury home organization company located, offers high-end clientele, celebrities, and athletes that offers a clean, minimalistic solution to home organization. The company’s goal is to transform your space while leveling up your lifestyle with eco-friendly solutions. Founded by Jenna Haefelin, she combines her passion for minimalist organization and her love for the environment to make SPIFF your go to for in-home organization.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I have always had a passion for cleaning since I was little. I also loved art in school and home organizing is like an art to me, creating an aesthetic that looks pleasing to the eye, yet functional. I am also incredibly passionate about living a sustainable and eco-friendly life. Shortly after I began my business, I started to notice how much plastic was used in the organizing industry and it really started to bother me. Since then I have encouraged brands to become more sustainable, I educate my followers on eco friendly alternatives, and I plan to have my own eco friendly line one day.

What is the mission of your company?

The mission of SPIFF is to raise your vibration through organizing your home while leveling up your lifestyle with eco-friendly solutions..

What problems are you aiming to solve?

I am aiming to solve the epidemic of plastic pollution in our beautiful oceans. I reached out to the local environmental team in my town and have since started my own group to educate others on reducing single use plastics. We have a team now that aids in research of products to confirm we are offering the best solutions possible. I’m so proud of how far we have come, I couldn’t do it w