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 The mission of the "Your Mark on the World Center" is to solve the world's biggest problems before 2045 by identifying and championing the work of experts who have created credible plans and programs to end them once and for all.
Crowdfunding for Social Good
Devin D. Thorpe
Devin Thorpe

Monthly Archives: September 2016

Entrepreneur Launches High Impact Nonprofit Without Giving Up Career

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

“Somebody ought to do something about that.” If you’re like me, you’ve said that–if only to yourself–on occasion. The most successful people in the world seem to be the ones who don’t. Instead, they do something.

Most of us aren’t willing to give up our careers to “do something” to solve a social problem, especially if there is no good answer to the partner question, “What’s in it for me?” Mellanie True Hills, a professional speaker who has earned the National Speakers Association’s Certified Speaking Professional designation, recognized a problem and created a nonprofit to address it without giving up her career.

Hills launched her nonprofit, American Foundation for Women’s Health, which in turn runs, after having a near-death experience resulting from atrial fibrillation or “Afib.” is a patient-to-patient organization that works to help those experiencing Afib to advocate for themselves with the healthcare community to get the best possible outcomes. operates on an annual budget of approximately $500,000, she says. The revenue comes from donations from individuals, corporations and foundations. With a small staff, the organization has been able to drive significant impact by partnering with other organizations and advocating at the national level. For instance, Hills was a driving force in the creating and national recognition of Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Month.

Hills says she is on a mission. “My mission is to rid the world of strokes caused by atrial fibrillation through raising awareness of it and through educating and supporting those living with it.”

Mellanie True Hills, courtesy of

Mellanie True Hills, courtesy of

“Approximately 30 million people worldwide have atrial fibrillation (AF or afib), an irregular heartbeat that causes strokes, heart failure, dementia, and even Alzheimer’s disease. Afib-related strokes are twice as deadly as other strokes (because the clots are huge), and three times as deadly as other strokes in the first 30 days,” Hills says, highlighting the reasons that understanding Afib is so important.

Hills notes that there is another problem. “Many people may not even know that they have atrial fibrillation, especially the silent form of it. Thus, they may be time bombs walking around waiting to go off.” This makes awareness particularly important as people who don’t know they have Afib certainly aren’t getting the treatment they need.

Hills’ work began with the Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Month she helped to create in 2007. Since then, has organized or helped to organize conferences and roundtables on the topic to educate patients. She says, convened the First National Atrial Fibrillation Health Policy Roundtable in Washington, DC, which brought together patient organizations, medical societies, government agencies, and payers to surface issues and work together to address them.”

The young organization has had outsized impacts by partnering with other organizations. She says, ”We have worked in conjunction with medical societies, such as the Heart Rhythm Society (electrophysiologists), the American College of Cardiology (cardiologists), and the American Heart Association (heart doctors), to get Congress to introduce Resolutions related to Atrial Fibrillation.”

The last effort brought an interesting connection with the world’s most famous romantic balladeer. “It was in conjunction with this that I had the opportunity to follow Barry Manilow in front of members of Congress to thank the Senate for passing the AF Resolution and to ask the House of Representatives to do so,” she says. has had an impact globally, not just in the U.S. Hills notes, “Globally, we have been part of the Action for Stroke Prevention Coalition of medical societies and patient organizations, working together around the globe to develop stroke crisis reports and work with policymakers to elevate atrial fibrillation and strokes on national health policy agendas in Europe, Latin America, and Asia Pacific.”

The organization, working with others, is focusing more attention on those who may have Afib and not know it. As part of an international effort called AF-Screen International, has worked to poll 3,000 patients to better understand the problem. Hills admits the organization now faces a challenge: “tackling healthcare systems at the country level to get them to address this problem” by requiring and funding screenings.

Pegine Echevarria, a prominent member of the National Speakers Association and Hills’ professional colleague, says she has been successful because she is focused. She adds, “She is influencing those who serve in the StopAfib community through education, tireless advocacy and intense research. She is a powerful matriarch within the community, relentless, passionate and fierce in her mission.”

Linda Swindling, JD, CSP, professional speaker, author of several books, is also a professional colleague. She’s known Hills for over 20 years and so has seen grow from its seeds with Hills in the hospital nearly a decade ago. She’s seen the impact her work has on individuals.

Swindling says, “Personally, I’ve seen the impact this vital information has had on friends and families. My father is a heart patient and I know how important great advice is. When one of my friends needed information quick on her own condition, Mellanie came to the rescue. She not only gave my friend tools, information and talking points, she got on the phone and discussed questions to talk over with my friend’s medical team. Interesting that this intelligent communication about the heart is created by someone whose brilliance is supported by her big heart.”

Hills sees her work as a way for her to save lives and help people avoid the tragic complications of strokes even when they are survived. “Through awareness, and getting people diagnosed and treated before they have a stroke, we can decrease the number of Afib-related strokes worldwide. That decreases overall healthcare costs in a time where healthcare resources are more and more precious; even more importantly, people with afib can continue to be productive members of society, and their family members are not relegated to being caretakers for stroke victims.”

On Wednesday, September 14, 2016 at 1:00 Eastern, Hills will join me here for a live discussion about her remarkable dual career and the impact she is having on the world through her nonprofit work. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

Hilton Prize Winner Works to Eradicate Vaccine-Preventable Disease

You can download an audio podcast here or subscribe via iTunes.

Improving public health in the developing world faces seemingly insurmountable odds. The Task Force for Global Health, or TFGH, is working to change those odds. Last month, CEO Dave Ross accepted on behalf of the organization a $2 million prize from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation for its annual Humanitarian Prize.

“The Task Force is about compassion, collaboration, and smart solutions,” said Hilton Foundation CEO Peter Laugharn upon granting the award. “The organization and its partners roll up their sleeves and solve massive global health problems, and they do it without fanfare. This is an organization that, with its partners, is on track to help eliminate three diseases in the next decade. That is something we should all celebrate.”

Dave frames the problem this way: “People who live in extreme poverty survive on less than $1.25 a day and lack access to food, clean water, and basic health services, including immunizations and medicines. Because of their impoverished status, they also are preferentially targeted by infectious diseases that cause blindness, disfigurement, impaired cognition, stunted growth, paralysis, and even death.”

A boy helps Samuel Nicol (age unknown), who was blinded by river blindness, walk through the village of Gbonjeima, Sierra Leone, on Saturday, July 14, 2012. The Task Force for Global Health is working with partners to eliminate river blindness by 2025. Copyright: Olivier Asselin, courtesy of the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases.

A boy helps Samuel Nicol (age unknown), who was blinded by river blindness, walk through the village of Gbonjeima, Sierra Leone, on Saturday, July 14, 2012. The Task Force for Global Health is working with partners to eliminate river blindness by 2025. Copyright: Olivier Asselin, courtesy of the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases.

The TFGH is working to reduce the odds of preventable illnesses, ultimately working to reduce the odds to zero wherever possible.

“The Task Force for Global Health is working to improve the health of people most in need, primarily in developing countries,” Dave says. “The Task Force consists of programs focused on neglected tropical diseases, vaccines, field epidemiology, public health informatics, and health workforce development.”

The work isn’t easy and there is no guarantee of success. The obstacles that stand in the way seem too large to overcome.

Dave says, “The Task Force faces four types of challenges in its work. They include:

  1. Coordinating and managing complex disease control and elimination programs at significant scales;
  2. Maintaining these programs in countries with conflict and unrest;
  3. Addressing scientific challenges to disease control and elimination; and
  4. Keeping international attention and resources focused on addressing diseases of extreme poverty.”

Ultimately, the size of the problem is the biggest challenge, meaning that the organization needs help to achieve its mission.

“The massive scale of these problems represents the biggest challenge to The Task Force’s work and makes it impossible for us to address them alone. Collaboration is essential to solving global health problems that affect billions of people around the world,” Dave adds.

The benefits of success could tremendously outweigh the costs to get there, however. Once eradicated, a disease will never kill or maim another child.

“Disease eradication is often considered the holy grail of public health because its benefits extend to everyone, both current and future generations. In communities affected by these diseases, fear of the future has been replaced with hope for lives free of debilitating diseases and suffering. The humanitarian impact of The Task Force’s work extends beyond alleviating the burden of diseases that have plague humanity for millennia. Ending these diseases has long-term implications for the development of poor countries,” Dave concludes.

On Wednesday, September 14, 2016 at 3:00 Eastern, Dave will join me here for a live discussion about the Hilton Prize, the work of the TFGH and a future free of vaccine preventable disease. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

Dave Ross, courtesy of the Task Force for Public Health

Dave Ross, courtesy of the Task Force for Global Health

More about the Task Force for Global Health:

Twitter: @TFGH

The Task Force for Global Health is an international, nonprofit organization that works to improve health of people most in need, primarily in developing countries. Founded in 1984 by global health pioneer Bill Foege, The Task Force consists of programs focused on neglected tropical diseases, vaccines, field epidemiology, public health informatics, and health workforce development. The Task Force works in partnership with ministries of health and hundreds of organizations, including major pharmaceutical companies that donate billions of dollars annually in essential medicines. Major funders include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, de Beaumont Foundation, U.S. Agency for International Development, Sightsavers, Pfizer, Merck, Johnson & Johnson, and GSK. The Task Force team consists of 120 scientists, program experts, logisticians, and other global health professionals. It is affiliated with Emory University, headquartered in Decatur, Georgia, and has regional offices in Guatemala and Ethiopia. The Task Force currently supports work in 151 countries.

Dave’s bio:

Dave Ross, ScD, is president and chief executive officer (CEO) of The Task Force for Global Health. In this role, Dr. Ross provides strategic direction to The Task Force and oversees seven programs focused on neglected tropical diseases, vaccines, field epidemiology, and public health informatics. He assumed leadership of The Task Force on May 1, 2016, after 16 years as director of The Task Force’s Public Health Informatics Institute (PHII) and its predecessor All Kids Count.

For more than 35 years, Dr. Ross has led collaborative programs to strengthen information capacity of public health systems in the United States and other countries. In addition to his non-profit experience, he has worked in the public and private sectors on both healthcare delivery and medical informatics.

Dr. Ross launched PHII in 2002 and spearheaded its growth to become internationally recognized in the field of public health informatics, a discipline that focuses on using information to improve health outcomes. Today, PHII has a $7.4-million annual budget with a diverse portfolio of domestic and international programs supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and top-tier national foundations. Most recently, PHII partnered with the Emory Global Health Institute on a major initiative of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help understand and ultimately address the causes of death and serious illness for children under 5 in developing countries. This initiative will last at least 20 years and may commit more than $1 billion in funding to support improved disease surveillance.

Dr. Ross is a thought leader and one of the pioneers of public health informatics. He was founding director of CDC’s first national initiative to improve the information infrastructure of public health in the United States. Dr. Ross also has published extensively in peer-reviewed journals and frequently serves on national panels focused on public health informatics. He co-chaired “Data for Health,” a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation initiative that is exploring how information and data on health can be harnessed to help people lead healthier lives. Before joining The Task Force, Dr. Ross held leadership, administrative, and corporate consultant roles with the U.S. Public Health Service, CDC, a private hospital system in Maryland, and one of the largest health information technology firms. Dr. Ross holds a doctor of science degree in operations research from The Johns Hopkins University and a bachelor of science degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Colorado.

Never miss another interview! Join Devin here!

Devin is a journalist, author and corporate social responsibility speaker who calls himself a champion of social good. With a goal to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems by 2045, he focuses on telling the stories of those who are leading the way! Learn more at!

YouGiveGoods Gives Goods to Charity

You can download an audio podcast here or subscribe via iTunes.

Have you ever conducted a toy drive, trying to gather items for a cause? The logistics of such an effort can be overwhelming. Lisa Tomasi has created a way that removes most of the logistical challenges for the nonprofit and makes donating new items easier for the giver as well. Her company YouGiveGoods allows the donor to buy products for a drive and have them delivered directly to the charity.

Lisa says, “By removing the cumbersome logistics of a typical, collection box drive, more people can donate and get more goods into the hands of those who need them. Our business directly helps more people receive tangible aid and support when they need it most.”

It’s easy, she says. “Our work at YouGiveGoods is simple – people use our platform to start a charity drive (toy drive, school supply drive, food drive, animal shelter drive…and many more), supporters of these drives buy needed products (actual items – not a cash donation) from us as an online retailer and then we ship those goods directly to the charity.”

It’s also free! “Our service and platform is free to use — it does not cost the charity or the drive organizer anything to have friends, family, and coworkers help a charity in need.”

The biggest challenge Lisa faces is getting people and organizations to understand her new approach. “We face the gigantic challenge of changing the current charitable giving mindset. Our core business strategy of facilitating the donation of needed goods to charity instead of just making a cash donation is so new and unique in the giving world.”

“When the average person thinks about giving to a charity, they normally only think – ‘Where do I send the money?’ Cash donations to charities will always be important – but, tangible giving, with the associated transparency, can be another giving option,” she adds.

YouGiveGoods is proving to be a real success, Lisa says. “We have grown from shipping products out of our garage, to running a small warehouse, to now engaging a top tier fulfillment center to fulfill the needs of people across the country and we continue to grow.”

On Wednesday, September 14, 2016 at 2:00 Eastern, Lisa will join me live for a discussion about YouGiveGoods and how the business is changing the world of charitable drives for good. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

Lisa Tomasi, courtesy of YouGiveGoods

Lisa Tomasi, courtesy of YouGiveGoods

More about YouGiveGoods:

Twitter: @YouGiveGoods

YouGiveGoods is an innovative e-commerce company that connects tangible giving to community needs through our free, easy-to-use online service. A YouGiveGoods’ online drive enables you to create a unique giving experience with corporate branded drive pages. Customize your event and maximize employee engagement with our corporate challenge option, choosing to support one or many charities. Drive options include toys, school supplies, fresh food, diapers, blankets – any goods your charity may need, delivered to their door. An online drive is a simple, efficient, measurable activity that makes a real difference in your community. For more information, visit

Lisa’s bio:

As the founder of YouGiveGoods, Lisa’s extraordinary leadership and vision has firmly established the company as the leader of virtual in-kind good drives and contests.

Lisa has been involved with nonprofits throughout her adult life. She first came to understand their important role in society while living in San Francisco during a devastating earthquake. Aided by the Red Cross, she spent three days living in a park, hoping to go home. While an awful experience, it motivated Lisa into dedicating her life to service: volunteering at battered women shelters, building houses in Haiti and founding several scholarship funds.

Lisa first pursued a career in media and advertising at MMT and Telerep before engaging in the more demanding, but rewarding, role of mother to four daughters. She currently resides in New Jersey.

Never miss another interview! Join Devin here!

Devin is a journalist, author and corporate social responsibility speaker who calls himself a champion of social good. With a goal to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems by 2045, he focuses on telling the stories of those who are leading the way! Learn more at!


A Girl With Blue Hair Is Changing The World

A girl with blue hair applied for a job at Starbucks.

She didn’t get it.

What happened next could change the world!

Maria de la Croix didn’t just get angry. She really needed an income.

Maria built a coffee shop on a bicycle. But she didn’t stop there.

She added solar panels and sells only organic coffee and food.

She was just getting started. She made so much money she realized she was really on to something.

She sells her solar powered coffee shops on bicycles around the world. You can buy one for just $5,900. There are over 500 Wheelys Cafes in the world. The business has been doubling every six months.

What will happen to the Starbucks manager that didn’t hire Maria?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

But the girl with the blue hair will change the world.

Read more on Forbes.

Never miss another story! Join Devin here!

Devin is a journalist, author and corporate social responsibility speaker who calls himself a champion of social good. With a goal to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems by 2045, he focuses on telling the stories of those who are leading the way! Learn more at!


The Story of Choice Humanitarian

Jim Mayfield, the Founder of CHOICE Humanitarian, has devoted his life to the eradication of poverty.

“At $1.25 they may have a meal every other day—they never have a meal every day. Their children don’t go to school because they are begging, trying just to survive.”

In 1965, I believe that more than half of the world’s population lived in this state. The World Bank estimates that by 1981 about 44.3 percent of the world’s population lived in extreme poverty.

It estimates that the number of people living in extreme poverty dropped in 2015 to less than ten percent of the world’s population or about 700 million of the more than 7 billion people on the planet. While this is still 700 million too many, it is progress. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals call for eradicating extreme poverty by 2030.

In March of 2015, I visited Nepal with CHOICE Humanitarian to help people living near the threshold of extreme poverty.

Local leaders from the village of Bakhrejagat directed our work, helping villagers install smoke-reducing stoves in their modest homes to replace their open fires. My good friend Rainer Dahl joined me for the trip. At 70, he was more than a decade younger than Jim Mayfield, CHOICE’s founder who also came. The village is scattered among terraced hills and farms speckled with tiny homes. Each day, Rainer would rise with the rest of us to trudge up and down hills to get to the homes. Then, working with a small team of local and visiting volunteers, he did the back-breaking work of knocking a hole in a stone wall for a chimney and installed the cast iron stove.

Afterward, Rainer said, “My impression of the Nepali people that we tried to help on a small scale was that for people that have so little, they are blessed with great kindness and love for their families, neighbors and us as outsiders.”

How will extreme poverty be eradicated by 2030? By people like Rainer making an effort “on a small scale” to empower the ever dwindling number of people in extreme poverty to lift themselves from it.

Read more on Forbes here.

Never miss another story! Join Devin here!

Devin is a journalist, author and corporate social responsibility speaker who calls himself a champion of social good. With a goal to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems by 2045, he focuses on telling the stories of those who are leading the way! Learn more at!


Pan-Mass Challenge Raises $46 Million In 2016, $546 Million Over 37 Years

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

The Pan-Mass Challenge 200 mile bike-a-thon in Massachussetts appears to be the biggest athletic-based nonprofit fundraiser in the world. Founded by Billy Starr in 1980, the just completed 2016 event will raise about $46 million for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

According to Starr, the PMC has an annual operating budget of about $4 million. Another $5 million of in-kind donations make it possible for 100 percent of donations to go to Dana-Farber. PMC funds the operating budget with event sponsorships and registrations so that 100 percent of funds donated can go directly to Dana-Farber for cancer research and treatment.

Riders are required to pay a registration fee of up to $230 in addition to raising $4,500 in donations. On average, the 6,3000 riders each raise $7,500, according to Starr.

He started the PMC in 1980 after losing his mother, a cousin and an uncle to cancer in the 70s. He started, he says, “before biking was popular.” The goal was to raise money. The first event raised about $10,000 from 36 riders, including Starr, who continues to ride every year.

When they did the first event, Starr says he didn’t have plans for a 1981 event, but the success of the first year propelled them. While total giving to Dana-Farber has now reached half a billion dollars, he notes that they didn’t reach a total of $1 million until the tenth year.

Though this year’s ride happened on August 6 and 7, fundraising will continue through October 1, 2017. Starr says the goal for this year is $46 million, up about $1 million over the 2015 total of $45 million.

Billy Starr, 2006, by Bill Brett

Billy Starr, 2006, by Bill Brett

Many people who participate, make it an annual event. Excluding first timers, Starr says, the average number of rides is 8.5. The PMC has 1,200 ten-year riders and 46 30-year riders.

Josh Bekenstein, a partner at Bain Capital and Chairman of the Board of Dana Farber Cancer Institute, is one of those who have ridden repeatedly–24 years in all. He says the money has made a difference. The prognosis for cancer patients today is much better than 37 years ago when Starr launched the ride.

Bekenstein says the ride can continue to grow and increase its impact. He points out that when the PMC produced $35 million in a single year that it had become the largest athletic fundraiser in the world, yet it has continued to innovate and grow since then. He expects that it will continue to do so.

Ellen Freeman Roth, a freelance writer and essay coach from Weston, Massachussetts, joined a ride after losing her mother and aunt to cancer. Later she did a story about the PMC and “became an ardent PMCer.”

She may be Billy’s biggest fan. “He’s highly focused, bold, direct, and will not be deterred, characteristic of successful leaders across industries. His success in fundraising for cancer research has been astonishing. He was one guy with a vision working out of a garage, and he has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.”

She also points out the impact of the PMC on the cycling community. Thousands of people have gotten into the sport because of the ride. “Two decades ago I liked to ride a bike. I heard about the PMC and trained. Years of riding the PMC has led me to also get involved in other cycling events and in a broad cycling community, which has enriched my health and my life exponentially.”

Billy Starr riding into Provincetown, MA as he completes the 192-mile route from Sturbridge, MA for the 37th time, courtesy of the PMC.

Billy Starr riding into Provincetown, MA as he completes the 192-mile route from Sturbridge, MA for the 37th time, courtesy of the PMC.

As she thinks about the past and future of the PMC, she recognizes the constraints on space and logistics have had an impact on the ride and the community that supports it. Because there is a limit to the number of riders, the minimum fundraising requirements have been edging up. “Because the PMC’s mission is fundraising and the event draws so many, and a single event with limited roadways can accommodate a limited number of people, the financial fundraising commitment has to some extent moved the PMC away from its grassroots beginning.”

The results, she adds, point to the success of the model but she hopes for ways to attract more people.

Starr has addressed the concern with a number of rides. The original ride was about 200 miles and every year the PMC does a two-day, 200 mile ride. Over the years, shorter rides, including a 100-mile one day ride has been added; 12 different route options were available this year. The fees and fundraising goals for the shorter rides are not as high as for the 200 miler.

Starr seems to approach life with a positive attitude. As we visited, he said, “The modern PMC shows what happens when thousands of people are aligned. I’m proud to live in this ecosystem. It is a nice world.”

On Thursday, September 8, 2016 at noon Eastern time, Starr will join me here for a live discussion about the history and future of the Pan Mass Challenge and its impact on cancer. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

Victim-Turned-Victim’s Rights Attorney Builds National Organization

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

Laura Dunn, who reports being a victim of sexual assault by two men from her University of Wisconsin-Madison crew team, was fueled by her experience to not only earn a JD but also to launch SurvJustice, a national organization working to support other victims of campus rape. Dunn is an accidental social entrepreneur driven by a passion to make America’s campuses safer.

The scale of the operation at SurvJustice, with just three people on staff, doesn’t do justice to the work of the organization. Operating on a shoe-string budget, the nonprofit has impact beyond what you’d expect.

Dunn leverages volunteer interns and a small but impressive board to expand the organization’s reach.

Board member Lilibet Hagel, wife of the former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, says she was impressed by Laura and SurvJustice. “I was impressed that SurvJustice offers valuable ‘nuts and bolts’ legal assistance to survivors and good, well-informed advice on how to navigate the crazy campus landscapes, none of which seem to be the same.”

Dunn measures the organization’s impact in the proportion of cases of sexual assault where perpetrators are held accountable for their actions.

She says, “In 2010, the Center for Public Integrity did the first investigative series into the issue of campus sexual assault and found that only two out of 33 campus cases had the accused found responsible with only meaningless sanctions imposed as a consequence, such as a summer suspension.”

Just six years later, things are improving meaningfully. She explains, “Through its effective legal assistance, SurvJustice is already increasing the prospect of justice for survivors by holding perpetrators of sexual violence accountable in almost 75 percent of campus cases. It has also expanded into civil legal systems to hold enablers, such educational institutions, accountable for allowing sexual violence to go unchecked on campus.”

When she first started, Dunn said she worked on a small stipend “with back pay accumulating for when funding came through.” At the same time, two law school colleagues volunteered to help. Cheri Smith served as staff attorney and Sweta Maheshwari served as legislative director. Together the trio handled over 100 requests for help and developed he policies and procedures to handle more. Since then, SurvJustice has been able to pay a small staff. Dunn has not yet collected her back pay, deferring it at her request until “collection of our first civil settlement.”

Laura Dunn, courtesy of SurvJustice

Laura Dunn, courtesy of SurvJustice

The nature of a campus hearing, Dunn notes, is different from a criminal trial. Federal guidelines tell schools to take no more than 60 days to investigate and the hearings typically occur within 30 days, meaning that they don’t chew up as much time as a criminal case, allowing the small staff to help more victims. At the same time, Federal investigations of the complaints filed by SurvJustice take years and don’t require active involvement from staff attorneys.

To understand the enterprise Dunn has created, it is helpful to understand the context in which SurvJustice operates. Sexual violence on campus has bubbled up into America’s collective conscience over the past several years, in no small part because of Dunn and others like her. The problem, however, isn’t new.

The statistics on sexual assaults on campus are staggering. Dunn points to a Bureau of Justice Statistics report in 2000 that suggested 20 percent of women would experience sexual victimization while spending four years in college.

Board secretary, Daniel Carter, who works as a campus security consultant, notes that the work of SurvJustice is critical. “The need for legal assistance for survivors of campus sexual violence is high, due to the overwhelming disparity in power invested in colleges and universities who usually have one or more attorneys involved in any type of case or proceeding while survivors are usually left on their own.”

Carter acknowledges that simply eliminating this disparity doesn’t constitute a solution to the problem of sexual victimization of women on campus. That said, he notes, “Ending this disparity is an essential element to getting survivors justice and eventually reducing victimization by changing the culture to one of accountability, both for perpetrators, enablers, and institutions.”

Dunn says, ”While research often focuses on the high rates of those victimized, SurvJustice focuses on the heart of the problem, which is repeat perpetrators that researchers estimate to account for 90% of campus sexual assaults. These perpetrators are too often shielded from accountability by educational institutions.”

“In response, SurvJustice seeks to increase the prospect of justice for survivors courageous enough to report by working in campus, criminal and civil legal systems to hold both perpetrators and enablers accountable for sexual violence,” Dunn continues. “Through our successful legal efforts, we believe more survivors will report to help quickly identify repeat perpetrators and hold them accountable before they harm an average of six victims on campus.”

The tiny organization attacks sexual violence on campus on three fronts, Dunn says: campus, criminal and civil legal systems.

Campus: “On campus, we assist survivors reporting violence, seeking accommodations, obtaining safety measures, going through investigations and adjudications, and appealing the results at the campus or federal level through an administrative complaint with the U.S. Department of Education.”

Criminal: “ In the criminal system we advocate for investigation and prosecution while providing services for the few cases that make it to trial.”

Civil: “Our civil works has us represent survivors in lawsuits, co-counsel on other cases, and provide expert consultation or witness services.”

“Beyond legal services, SurvJustice trains institutions, advocates and attorneys on how to address campus sexual violence in compliance with Federal [law],” she adds.

Hagel adds, “Laura and SurvJustice also offer terribly important moral support and direction to survivors and their families through SurvWellness, a small but important adjunct organization.”

SurvJustice, for all it has accomplished, faces a deluge of complaints. Over its two year history, it has received 420 requests for assistance in 49 states and five countries. The organization provides direct assistance to about 25 percent of those who request it and refers another 25 percent to other qualified providers, Dunn says.

She notes that qualified providers are few and far between in a field that basically didn’t exist until about five years ago, when the issue finally garnered national attention.

In order to address the problem head on, SurvJustice trains bar associations and other organizations help meet some of the demand. “We are also expanding our Board to help fundraise and expand our services to meet demand,” Dunn says.

Dunn acknowledges that there are limitations to the organization’s ability to help survivors. Despite several requests for help in the Baltimore area, SurvJustice can’t help. She explains, “The U.S. Department of Justice just released its findings regarding law enforcement within the city of Baltimore, where I went to law school. There is a whole section on the mishandling of sexual assault and rape cases. While our policy advocacy and institutional training service can support such broader reforms, the criminal justice system in the United States is pretty broken and will require national and state-level commitments to change.”

Hagel, noted, when asked about the challenges to reducing gender-based violence on campus, said, “I’d say the lack of transparency and insular cultures that dominate most academic settings is a huge enabler and impediment to ending this problem. That is changing, thankfully, but institutions are far behind the eight ball in understanding how to respond.”

Hagel adds, “That is where the work of Laura and SurvJustice and others comes in — people who understand the history and what works and doesn’t work, and what policies must be instituted to protect both the survivors and the institutions.”

Dunn notes that she and her organization have already had national impact. “As a student, I contributed to the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter that reformed how institutions of higher education respond to sexual assault under Title IX.”

Notching another win, she says, “SurvJustice then worked to draft and successfully lobby for the 2013 Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization that amended the Clery Act to create procedural standards and victim rights on campus for sexual assault, intimate partner violence, and stalking reports.”

More recently, “SurvJustice also worked with student-survivors organizations like Know Your IX to lobby the federal government for broader reforms through the ED ACT NOW campaign, which led to the White House Task Force to Protect Students Against Sexual Assault.”

“SurvJustice will continue using legal assistance, policy advocacy, and institutional training to broaden the change we have already begun that has led the issue of campus sexual assault to be taken seriously.”

The national outcry over Stanford swimmer Brock Turner’s short sentence for the on-campus sexual assault of a comatose woman is also a sign of the progress that the organization has made. At the same time, the short sentence itself is evidence of the room for further progress.

As a result, Dunn will continue her work as an accidental social entrepreneur.

On Wednesday, September 7, 2016 at 4:00 Eastern, Dunn will join me here for a live interview to discuss her work, the remarkable impact she’s had with so few resources and where her work is heading. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

Building Products, Re-Building Lives

This is a guest post from Andy Magel, the director of Mile High Workshop.

Sitting behind a sewing machine, hands steady, and fabric flying, Gina concentrates intently on her work until she pulls out a finished messenger bag. Stylish and functional, it’s the sort of bag found at high-end, artisanal retailers – which is where this bag will end up. Most people don’t ever think about who made the products that they’re buying. Gina, the skilled creator of this product, faced substance abuse challenges and was in prison for over eight years. When she finally got out and was in a halfway house, she resolved to change her life and found Mile High Workshop, who saw her potential and gave her a job in their sewing shop. Fast forward one year, and she’s now in a great administrative role, in stable housing, and working on obtaining her Certified Addictions Counselor certificate so that she can help others who are facing some of the same challenges she faced in her own past.

Mile High WorkShop is a social enterprise in the Denver, Colorado area that creates and supports job training and employment opportunities for community members seeking to rebuild from addictions, homelessness and incarceration. It was launched in late 2014 by Mile High Ministries (MHM), an organization with a strong history of significant social impact in the Denver area. Founded in 1988, Mile High Ministries serves more than 1,400 people each year through programs serving the homeless, individuals suffering from addiction, the formerly incarcerated and others struggling due to poverty. MHM engages over 1,800 volunteers each year who participate in empowering the communities MHM serves, hands-on training and spiritual formation experiences. Programs include transitional housing, legal services, urban leadership development and job training and employment services. Their latest project, the Workshop, has allowed them to begin to also provide meaningful employment experiences.

The Workshop has a unique model—it partners with existing small businesses in the community who are interested in outsourcing their production to the WorkShop in four main areas: woodworking, etching, sewing and assembly/distribution work. Currently, more than 30 businesses contract with the WorkShop to manufacture or produce their products, and the WorkShop, in turn, hires and trains men and women with barriers to employment to complete the work—providing an encouraging work environment and also generating revenue to sustain operations. Each employee is provided with specific job training, professional skills development, life-skills training and case management support. Mile High Workshop uses a transitional employment model, meaning that after an employee has mastered the skills at the Workshop, they are assisted in finding an even better job that builds on the skills they’ve learned. They are also creative about partnering with other artisans and makers in their co-workshop model, providing them with employees they’ve trained to help execute the work those other small businesses have. Since their recent launch, Mile High Workshop hasalready provided quality employment and skills training for 20 people looking to change their lives – and they’re aiming much higher than that.

This past February, they were selected from hundreds of applicants to be part of REDF’s social enterprise portfolio, through funding and support from the Corporation for National Community Service’s Social Innovation Fund. With this funding and hands-on technical assistance from REDF to increase operational and management capacity, the Workshop is poised for scale. They recently moved into a new space with fellow social enterprise Bud’s Warehouse. The increased physical space and capacity building will enable Mile High Workshop will increase their social impact significantly, aiming to employ 100 people a year by 2020.

Transitional social enterprises like Mile High Workshop have been shown to be a cost-effective model for helping people facing significant barriers back into employment. For every dollar invested in a social enterprise, they return $2.23 in benefits to society, according to a study conducted by Mathematica. Supporting social enterprise businesses, through consumer purchasing power, legislative policies, and public and corporate spending, can have a major positive impact on people’s lives – and it’s money that would have been spent for the same goods and services anyway. But the most compelling reason to support social enterprises like Mile High Workshop is the pride and dignity clear on employees like Gina’s faces, knowing that she’s built a bright future thanks to the experience she had at Mile High Workshop.

Andy Magel

Andy Magel

About Andy Magel:

Andy Magel is the director of Mile High Workshop, and a serial social entrepreneur with an extensive background in running social enterprises in the Denver area.

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