This Spotlight is a part of a special blog series curated by the Case Foundation featuring Be Fearless stories from the field. Follow along with us as we meet people and learn about organizations that are taking risks, being bold and failing forward in their efforts to create transformative change in the social sector. This Spotlight is authored by Maya Enista (@MEnista), Executive Director of the Born This Way Foundation.
Five years ago this month, Born This Way Foundation launched with the opening of a dialogue. At an event hosted at Harvard University, our co-founders Lady Gaga and her mom Cynthia Germanotta were joined by researchers, educators, experts, parents and—most importantly—young people. There, we unveiled our ambitious plans for an organization that would work online, in communities and in schools to harness and support the power of young people to build a kinder and braver world.
Four years ago last month, I first became a parent (a title I’ve earned twice over now) and in my role as a parent and as Executive Director of Born This Way Foundation, I am grateful for our commitment to building a kinder and braver world. I spend a lot of my time away from my children (as I am now, headed to Los Angeles for our first ever Kind Monsters EDU convening in partnership with Monster High) and I’m hopeful that in a few years they’ll be able to quote more than Lady Gaga lyrics when they are asked about the work that I do. I’ve learned some things about taking risks, being bold and failing forward—in parenting and at Born This Way Foundation—that I’m honored to share with the Be Fearless team, the young people that the foundation works with each day and my own children in the hope that these lessons learned will help others own their own fearless journey to create positive change in the world.
Lesson #1: Kindness Isn’t Just Nice, It’s Necessary
Kindness can seem like a quaint idea, but a growing body of research shows that it is fundamental to well-functioning communities and healthy, productive individuals. Acts of kindness are good for those performing them as well as those on the receiving end. And, in turn, encouraging stronger norms of kindness build the sorts of communities we all want to live and raise our children in.
This belief that kindness is not just “nice” but necessary has informed every aspect of our work. It’s why we’ve launched programs such as Channel Kindness, which is recruiting young people around the country to document acts of kindness in their communities. It is also why we’ve worked with our Research Advisory Board, chaired by Dr. Susan Swearer at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, to develop metrics to measure kindness and bravery and incorporated those into the Foundation’s Born Brave Experience Studies.
Lesson #2: Dare To Be Honest—and Be Brave Enough To Be Vulnerable
A core component of Born This Way Foundation’s work has always been encouraging young people (and everyone else!) to share their story. We know this isn’t always easy and often requires its own measure of fearlessness, but it can be a deeply powerful exercise. Our co-founder Cynthia saw this potential firsthand when her daughter began touring. On stage, Lady Gaga would share her story—speaking openly about her experiences with bullying, loneliness, anxiety and depression. This honesty was healing for her, but it left an impact on the young people listening… who began to share their own stories.
At Born This Way Foundation, we’ve seen the healing, comfort and inspiration that can take root when someone is brave enough to share their story. It can release pent up emotions that have been allowed to fester. It can foster connection—with close friends or complete strangers. It can change minds, tear down stigma and erase shame. And all it takes is being brave enough to be vulnerable.
Lesson #3: The Mind is as Important as the Body
Raising healthy kids can’t just mean protecting them from disease or physical harm. In order for children to flourish, they need resources to ensure their mental wellbeing and the development of strong social and emotional skills. These are the factors that will govern their ability to cope with adversity and interact productively with teachers, employers, friends and family members—ultimately shaping their long-term wellbeing and success.
That’s why Born This Way Foundation has made a point of reaching beyond our bubble and working with dozens of partner organizations to reshape the way we view of how to educate and raise healthy kids, advocating for a model that takes the whole child into account. This is no simple task, but it starts by putting resources behind their mental and emotional wellbeing and fostering positive school climates that serve as safe, welcoming places to learn.