Getting In the Arena: The Entrepreneurial Spirit

As we announced in January, the Case Foundation is committing its 20th Anniversary year to calling on all to “Get In The Arena.” And, while most of our efforts focus on how each and every one of us can take action on the issues and challenges that matter the most to us in 2017, we also are highlighting lessons we have learned from Getting in the Arena over the past two decades.  Our hope is future endeavors of others are informed by the sharing of past learnings.

It should come as no surprise that among the most important lessons we’ve learned is the power of the entrepreneurial spirit in driving innovation and impact across the social sector.

Of course, the entrepreneurial spirit has been central to the American Experience since our earliest days as a young nation. In his book Empire on the Edge, Nick Bunker writes the following on the founding of America: “It was always eccentric, the British Empire on the mainland of America. From the time of Jamestown and the Mayflower, almost every colony came into being by means of private enterprise. They were small, experimental ventures in search of profit, in search of God. Each one was a painful exercise in trial and error, with seldom a firm guiding hand from London.”  In other words, America was born of the entrepreneurial spirit.  And it is a common belief even today, that this has been the secret sauce that has powered our economy, built innovations to improve lives and forged new political and cultural systems and frameworks that have enabled the American people to thrive in what has become the longest-established democracy in the history of the world.

Too often, the entrepreneurial spirit is perceived to be of relevance exclusively in the business sector.  And yet, as my own career has taken me from the public sector, to a career in technology in the private sector, to my current roles in the philanthropic/nonprofit sector as CEO of the Case Foundation and Chairman of the National Geographic Society, I have come to recognize the critical importance of entrepreneurial approaches across all sectors.  Indeed, given that these sectors outside of business are usually focused on the human condition or more broadly on the needs of our planet, the challenges they face can be daunting. Perhaps there is no greater need for fresh approaches, risk taking and an eye toward innovation than in those sectors.

And, over the past 20 years, we have seen the entrepreneurial spirit thrive in non-traditional settings — across sectors, across our nation and around the globe. For example:

Launching Challenge.gov: Working with the White House as our partner, we co-hosted the White House Summit on Innovation that brought together 35 U.S. government agencies using contests and grand challenges to tap “the wisdom of the crowds” across the nation in finding solutions to major challenges faced by government agencies. We partnered with experts in prizes and challenges, such as the X-Prize, and used the Summit as training ground to encourage agencies to put forth challenges to drive innovation.  Some of our favorite outcomes of this work include:

An enduring outcome of this work is Challenge.gov, a site that anyone can access to find out what contests and challenges are active.  Since its launch in 2010, 740 challenges have been run on Challenge.gov, eliciting entries from 250,000+ citizens from all 50 states and a number of foreign countries. By challenging the status quo, leveraging the creativity and innovation of new audiences and tapping the entrepreneurial spirit of the American people, the U.S. government’s work was improved at a much lower than expected cost and more citizens than ever have been engaged.

Connecting frontier communities in Africa: Internet connectivity remains a major challenge throughout Africa. Yet companies like Facebook, Google and startups like BRCK* have developed non-traditional solutions to connect schools and villages that are on the edge, and past, the traditional internet and electric infrastructure. Overcoming the traditional mindset that pipes must be built and that wires must be strung to deliver access, and working around many of the government procurement barriers that have stunted growth in the past, BRCK has developed a connectivity device that can jump from Ethernet, to WiFi, to 3G seamlessly with an 8-hour battery life when the power is out.  This is why, a recent article in Forbes referred to BRCK’s innovation as a “clever confluence of technology and entrepreneurial spirit.” To overcome the connectivity problems, Facebook announced plans to lay over 500 miles of fiber cable in Uganda this year and has even experimented with drones to provide internet access to remote locations. And Google is stringing over 1,000 kilometers of fiber cable in two of Ghana’s largest cities to serve the growing number of internet provider companies in these cities. Thanks to private sector actors like Facebook, BRCK and Google, internet access can be found in hospitals, community centers, libraries, barbershops, even on buses, where it was never available before. These entrepreneurs have solved a long-standing problem by embracing the entrepreneurial spirit.

Democratizing access to information: In the past, access to complex data was often restricted to those in government or at major research universities. These restrictions were not based on national security needs, but by historical tendencies and entrenched interests. Today, across many platforms, we are seeing visionaries, using open source and crowd sourcing models to leverage wider communities to advance science, innovation and exploration.  For example, Sarah Parcak, an associate professor of Anthropology and director of the Laboratory for Global Observation at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, has broken down the wall between academia and citizens, by sharing infra-red satellite imaging from commercial and NASA satellites with citizens so they can help identify potential archeological sites for further exploration. Her work in places like Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula has been groundbreaking, but her commitment to locating and protecting hundreds of thousands — even millions — of still undiscovered ancient sites that remain buried all over the world pushes the impact of her work to the next level.

Sarah’s launch of GlobalXplorer.org on January 30 embodies the entrepreneurial spirit in non-traditional areas that is so inspiring to us. This unique platform enlists a global community and enables anyone with an internet connection to discover the next hidden burial site or community using satellite technology. The platform uses satellite imagery provided by DigitalGlobe, and highlights content from National Geographic and taps the public’s time, brainpower and inquisitive nature, to map Peru in search of archeological sites hidden due to modern human activity.

And Sarah is not the only explorer and innovator working this way. We see numerous examples in the open source world where entrepreneurs and innovators are creating new and innovative platforms that are improved and updated by the wider community.

This isn’t a new idea. Every major advancement or breakthrough across society came from someone trying something that seemed a little crazy.  Long before President Kennedy ushered in an era of entrepreneurial efforts to get us first to the moon and then beyond, major leaps benefiting mankind had been the result of someone, somewhere making a commitment to #GetInTheArena with new ideas for solving old, daunting problems.  In fact, the Challenge.gov website proudly notes that similar challenges aided Charles Lindbergh’s famous transatlantic flight and the design for the U.S. Capitol building. Risk taking, a sense of urgency, a willingness to fail and a dogged perseverance are part of the formula that has defined the entrepreneurial spirit and brought us breakthroughs.  From where we sit, we are encouraged by the growing recognition and application of these tenets across the social sector, and around the world, and believe it bodes well for the future of innovation.

 

*Disclosure: Jean and Steve Case are investors in BRCK.

Celebrating Black History Month by Celebrating the Power (and Privilege) of Storytelling

He (and I use that pronoun intentionally) who tells the story owns the narrative. And the fact is, history has largely been written by men, for men. White men. It’s a truth we, at the Case Foundation, confronted directly and are trying to change through our #FacesofFounders campaign, as it pertains to entrepreneurs. The power of storytelling to document history, make lasting impressions and, in fact, set our default images is profound. And therefore, we need to disrupt the status quo of who tells the stories, about whom the stories are told, the images we assign to entire categories of people and, in doing so, directly confront our biases and work hard—with intention—to change them.

As we researched and designed our inclusive entrepreneurship movement, seeking to democratize entrepreneurship to people and places being left behind or out of business startup opportunities in America, we landed on three important roadblocks: access to social capital (mentorships, networks, accelerators); access to financial capital; and access to something we called “inspirational capital”—their inclusion in media stories, popular images of entrepreneurs or stories of entrepreneurship. Our #FacesofFounders campaign was a direct response to aggressively bust the myth that there weren’t already successful entrepreneurs of color and women entrepreneurs, as well as to inspire the next generation of talent required to drive America forward.

Key to driving that campaign forward was to confront the biases that exist in America, to understand that storytelling and images have played a huge role in reinforcing those biases and to use the power of storytelling, and a set of modernized images, to change that dynamic. We put that power to work in our CEO Jean Case’s TED talk last fall.

As we close out February and our celebration of Black History Month, and in celebration of what I hope is a revolution to level the playing field for all individuals—regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation or birthplace—to participate equally in our society and economy, I’d like to share three other TED Talks that continue to inspire me to #GetinTheArena and both deploy the power of storytelling and extend the privilege of the storyteller.

The Danger of a Single Story

This stunning talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie walks us through a long history of literature, news stories and images that have built a singular story around events and people, particularly people of color. She reminds us that the problem is that, beginning as children, these are the stories and images that set our default positions. Worse, they rob people of dignity, reduce opportunities for equality and accentuate our differences more than our similarities. Her parting words? Stories matter; let’s use them to empower, humanize and repair broken dignity.

How to Overcome Our Biases

Vernā  Myers delivers a hard-hitting punch: get out of denial, “color blindness” is a false ideal…a distraction from doing the real work required to reboot our biases. She walks us through the world of brain auto-association with research showing that people—all people—associated white images more often with positive and black images more often with negative. Seventy percent of white people preferred images of white people; 50 percent of black people did too. Whoa! Beyond just the sheer power of her talk, she deploys a tactic that is intentionally intended to change that auto-association—throughout her entire talk, images of beautiful, bold, everyday black men are displayed behind her. Myers challenges us to do three things: (1) accept that bias exists—it’s not that it exists, it’s what we do with it; (2) move toward young black men, not away from them; move toward your discomfort and expand your bubble—just try!; and (3) when you see something, say something—good people can say wrong things, and if not confronted, biases will continue and be passed onto future generations. A must-watch!

Color Blind or Color Brave

Mellody Hobson tells us in this captivating talk that embracing and deploying diversity—of race, gender, intellect, experience—is the smart thing to do, not just the right thing to do. Like Myers, Hobson encourages us to deal with color head on…to deal with its discomfort and relax into it…to be “color brave” if we believe in equal opportunity. Her three calls to action are things most of us can do today: (1) be intentional in hiring decisions—every opportunity you get; (2) observe your environment with intention, and invite people into your life that don’t look like you, live like you, think like you—they will challenge your assumptions and beliefs; and (3) be brave.

Let’s not forget that Black History Month itself was created to rewrite a history that seemed to exclude black people’s role in advancing American innovation, entrepreneurship, society and economy. Each of us, in our own way—big or small—can be part of a movement to drive a more inclusive nation. Be fearless. It’s worth it.

It’s Time to Get in the Arena

2017 is a special year for us at the Case Foundation. It marks the 20th anniversary of an idea that has continued to drive and inspire us in all that we do—investing in people and ideas that can change the world. Over the last two decades, with this vision, and in collaboration with a vast array of parties, we have been proud to contribute to, inspire and champion the incredible progress that has moved people and organizations from intention to action. From clean water and the digital divide, to increased opportunities for service and civic participation, to impact investing and inclusive entrepreneurship, we have worked with others to catalyze efforts to create transformative change. 

Over the past 20 years, philanthropy and the social sector has witnessed incredible progress. We believe that leveraging the power of the entrepreneurial spirit and technology to help solve the world’s most challenging problems is a key ingredient to this progress, and, as we kickoff our 20th year, we remain committed to ensuring this focus is at the center of all our work. At the same time, our experience over the past 20 years has taught us that addressing these challenges through true collaboration amongst diverse actors and smart partnerships is much more effective than fighting alone, and therefore we commit that collaboration will continue to be a hallmark of our work in the days ahead.

Through all of these experiences we have learned a great deal and recognize that the lessons learned will both inspire and inform our future. As we look back, it’s hard not to see that the common key to all of our efforts has been pushing ourselves and others to challenge assumptions and take risks. We have challenged ourselves and others to get off the sidelines and “get into the arena” to address our most pressing challenges.

This is not a new idea of course, but it resonates more in the context of today’s world than perhaps ever before. Citizen engagement has been a hallmark of successful democracies for centuries and is core to our mission. In 1910, Teddy Roosevelt gave a speech known as, “The Man In The Arena” that captures this fundamental belief in citizen engagement: 

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

As we welcome 2017, Teddy Roosevelt’s words still ring true. And we can think of no better time than now for each of us to identify ways we, personally, can heed his call and “get in the arena” to make a positive impact in our communities. That is why we are dedicating our 20th Anniversary year to calling on all to “Get in the Arena.”

Throughout 2017, we will be bringing forward ideas, stories and events that highlight people and ideas that can change the world using the hashtag #GetInTheArena. We hope you will join us and share with us your own vision of what it means to take action on the issues and challenges that matter the most to you and your community. For those wondering when it is the right time to jump in, the answer is now. For those already in the arena, we hope you’ll engage in new ways and inspire others to jump in as well.  

Our Most Popular Blogs of 2016

As we kick off the new year, we are taking a look back at our most popular blogs from 2016 to revisit key moments that inspired us here at the Case Foundation. We’ve collected the 10 most popular pieces—as determined by our community of readers. These blogs represent our areas of work in catalyzing movements and inspiring ideas that can change the world. We hope thes will remind us all to be bold, take risks and fail forward together around the issues you care most about in the coming year!

  1. Our Fearless Journey From Mission to Movements, by Jean Case

2016 was a year of transition for many, and the Case Foundation was no different. In August, our CEO Jean Case wrote about the journey we have taken from mission to movements, and how—as we have taken a journey of self-exploration and come to better understand our work & DNA—the Case Foundation has reframed our work. We’ve always been in the business of transformative change, but have come to realize that our real “special sauce” is that we use a Be Fearless approach to catalyze movements around social innovation and tip the scales form intention to action.

  1. Words Matter: How Should We Talk About Impact Investing?, by Jean Case

In March, our CEO Jean Case joined partners from Omidyar Network, Ford Foundation and MacArthur Foundation, together with the Global Impact Investing Network and the Global Social Impact Investing Steering Group, to unveil research that tracked and analyzed coverage of the topic of impact investing in traditional and social media and shared insight into how the way we talk about impact investing can play a powerful role in informing, educating and activating people around the movement.

  1. Trailblazing Women in Impact Investing, by Sheila Herrling

2016 was a year of momentum for Impact Investing. From the Treasury Department and IRS’s release of new PRI regulations, to high profile new social impact funds like TPG’s $2 billion Rise fund, it’s evident that the movement is picking up steam. And another noticeable trend has stood out: women are emerging as a driving force behind its growth. In August, our SVP of Social Innovation, Sheila Herrling, wrote what would go on to become our second most popular blog post of the year, highlighting these trailblazing women in Impact Investing. We can’t wait to see the momentum continue in 2017.

  1. The 2016 Millennial Impact Report – Phase 1, by Emily Yu

One of the hottest topics of 2016 was the election, so it is not surprising that on of our top blog posts of the year was about our Millennial Impact Report, which looked at how Millennials were engaging with the election and how the election effected their cause engagement. Among our top blogs was also “Millennials Cast Their Vote For Cause Engagement,” another post on the Millennial Impact Report, this time about Phase 2.

  1. 2016 Conferences On Our Radar, by Jade Floyd

2016 was an action packed year for the Case Foundation, and much of the great momentum we saw this year was fueled by wonderful in-person interactions at conferences and convenings. From SXSW, to SOCAP, to crisscrossing the country for #FacesofFounders activations at the White House, the New York Stock Exchange, Forbes 30 Under 30 Summit, Google’s headquarters and more, we loved getting the chance to reach beyond our bubbles and meet so many changemakers face-to-face. Keep an eye out for our upcoming list of 2017 Conferences On Our Radar.

  1. Twitter Lists:

We’ve loved the conversations we have and information we learn from the engaged social impact communities on Twitter. In 2015 we started a series of Twitter lists to help people join in these conversations and better know who to follow to find out more about topics we care deeply about. Several of these lists made it into our top blog posts of 2016:

  1. The Myth of the E-Word, by Sheila Herrling

Our Myth of the Entrepreneur series was started in the fall of 2015 to take a critical look at the common stories and myths told in startup culture, and as it continued into 2016, it was clear that the myths were striking a chord with our readers. The Myth of the “E Word” post contemplated the term “entrepreneur” itself as a possible barrier to expanding and diversifying entrepreneurship. “The Myth of STEM; The Only Way,” and “The Myth of the Coasts” also found their way into our top blog posts this year. We look forward to busting more myths in 2017 that are holding us back and breaking down barriers to entrepreneurship faced by women and entrepreneurs of color.

  1. One Fearless Question that Paved the Way for Women in Government, by Jean Case

On International Women’s Day, our CEO Jean Case shared a story about the fearless trailblazers Vera Glaser and Barbara Hackman Franklin. Vera Glaser’s #BeFearless question to President Richard Nixon questioning why more women were not a part of his cabinet set off an effort, headed by Barbara Hackman Franklin, that changed women’s access to high-level appointments in federal government. Our readers also enjoyed other Be Fearless examples that made it into our top blog post lists, such as our spotlight on the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Jean’s blog post “Confronting Risk in Today’s Nonprofits.” You can learn more about how to Be Fearless in your pursuit of social good on our Be Fearless Hub.

  1. What’s Trending—Using Your Business as a Force For Good, by Sheila Herrling and Hardik Savalia

We are proud to partner with B Lab and their ground breaking work to help businesses identify and measure their social impact, and through the popularity of this blog post, it is clear that our readers are also excited about the potential of the B Impact Assessment. We’re excited that the Assessment can help all businesses, not just certified B Corps, to join the movement to redefine success for business, and measure their ability to build stronger communities, create environmentally sustainable operations or cultivate empowering employment opportunities.

  1. Innovation Madness: Elite Eight, by Jessica Zetzman

In conjunction with the NCAA Tournament, the Case Foundation decided to put our own twist on March Madness and introduced Innovation Madness, a celebration of Women’s History Month and the women who have been influential innovators in exploration, business and the STEM fields—yet are not recognized as often as their male counterparts. Our whole staff got in on the fun, chosing their favorite innovators, and we loved that hundreds of people voted and participated in Innovation Madness on social media. Check out the original bracket, the Elite Eight, the Final Four and the Champion.

We are thrilled that these blog posts resonated with our readers in 2016, and look forward to continuing great conversations on and offline in 2017. Tell us what you want to read more about by using #CaseBlogs on Twitter.

Be Fearless Spotlight: A Bold Investment Strategy Allows For Fearless Risk-Taking at FHI 360

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 Patrick C. Fine, Chief Executive Officer of FHI 360.

Every day, bold actions—large and small—inspire and shape the future. Girls in northern Nigeria defy threats from violent extremists to go to school; transgender women in Cambodia stand together against intolerance and discrimination that fuel HIV; and young refugees struggle to build new lives in foreign lands. FHI 360—a nonprofit human development organization dedicated to improving lives by advancing integrated, locally driven solutions—takes its inspiration from such daily acts of bravery and strives to be bold and Be Fearless in addressing problems around the globe.

We learn from the examples we see of people facing unimaginable hardship and with courage, initiative and determination overcome the challenges in their path and create new opportunities for themselves and their communities. Their stories inspire us to tackle the toughest problems and to be bold in the solutions we try. The issues facing our global community can’t wait, and they aren’t getting easier. We need to leverage all possible solutions, however unconventional, to meet these challenges.

The FHI Foundation—the foundation arm which exclusively supports the vision, spirit and mission of FHI 360 through strategic investments—was built on a unique impact investment model that has enabled FHI 360 to expand beyond its early focus as a small family planning organization and become a global force in human development. Once an organization with an annual operating budget of less than $3 million, FHI 360 now has expanded into more than 70 countries and all U.S. states and territories, with more than $600 million in revenue, a $150 million Foundation endowment and more than 4,000 staff around the world.

This approach—a foundation incubating projects at a non-profit organization—allows us to experiment early and often, allowing for a more creative approach to address some of the world’s most complex human development challenges. Moreover, it has enhanced FHI 360’s stability, resiliency and relevance by placing it on the cutting edge of development trends and critical issues faced by underserved populations around the world.

For example, in 2001, the FHI Foundation invested US$1 million to demonstrate the viability of antiretroviral therapy (ART) programs in resource-constrained settings in Ghana, Kenya and Rwanda, providing critical evidence that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) needed to expand ART delivery to countries devastated by the epidemic. By 2006, FHI (now FHI 360) was implementing comprehensive HIV/AIDS prevention, care and treatment programs in 40 countries. As of September 30, 2015, U.S. government funding through multiple partners and organizations was supporting life-saving ART for 9.5 million people.

Today, FHI 360 continues to stimulate new ideas and incentivize innovations. With its Catalyst Fund, the FHI Foundation provides annual grants totaling $500,000 to FHI 360 staff to develop approaches, tools or products that address human development challenges. The Catalyst Fund competition brings together FHI 360 staff from different regions, sectors and specialties, many of whom may not traditionally work together, to allow for a space for staff to reach beyond their bubble and develop forward-thinking approaches to promote the health and well-being of individuals and communities. Funded initiatives are delivering innovations such as the use of drone delivery to increase access to medical supplies in rural Kenya, the development of a mobile-based test-prep app to help students prepare for exams in Myanmar, and a web-based application to help monitor child learning and health progress in classrooms globally.

While some organizations allow risk to become paralyzing, even in the face of an immediate crisis, the FHI Foundation/FHI 360 relationship proves what can be accomplished when urgency drives the quest for solutions and when financial stability allows for the freedom to make bold moves with high stakes, even when the outcome is uncertain. A mixture of private and public funds, a strategic investment model and a commitment to tackle the world’s most challenging problems head on, ensure FHI 360’s continued success and the continued benefits to those we serve around the world.

We believe that the time for bold action is at hand. Yet, we will only succeed if we work together and if we push ourselves to ask the uncomfortable questions, to learn from failure and to dare to challenge the status quo. We must be willing to see and do things differently, to develop new skill sets, devise new structures and conceive new partnerships. We must anticipate, adapt and enthusiastically embrace change to maximize our impact in the world.

Feeling inspired? If you’re ready to begin your own Be Fearless journey start by downloading the Case Foundation’s free Be Fearless Action Guide and Case Studies.

Be Fearless Spotlight: Jay Newton-Small and the Story of Her Father

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 Jay Newton-Small (@JNSmall), Cofounder of MemoryWell, TIME magazine contributor and author of Broad Influence.

A few years ago, I put my father into a home for those living with Alzheimer’s and dementia. It was the hardest decision of my life, but he was a wanderer and I couldn’t care for him on my own following the death of my mother. I didn’t know it at the time, but that decision would be the start of a long journey that would change both of our lives.

The home asked me to fill out a 20-page questionnaire about his life. This made no sense to me: who would remember 20 pages of hand-written data points for the 150+ residents there? Instead, I offered to write down his story. I’m a journalist after all, story telling comes naturally to me. They loved the story I wrote, it transformed his care; MemoryWell was born.

Over the next 2.5 years, I worked with a partner, Ilan Brat formerly of the Wall Street Journal, to write more life stories of people like my dad. We knew that this tool could help change the lives of the more than 44 million around the world currently living with Alzheimer’s or a related dementia and the many who care for them. And so, we developed a website called MemoryWell to host the stories and allow family members to add their loved ones’ favorite photos, videos and music—so that when caregivers or family members sit with them they have a whole toolbox of things with which to engage them.

My firsthand experience with my father and Alzheimer’s helped me to identify a critical solution and develop MemoryWell in response. The leap from daughter to entrepreneur was a big one, but a necessary one as I realized what this tool could do for families like mine.

We got our first clients earlier this year and, less than two months later, I let urgency conquer fear and left TIME Magazine to work on MemoryWell full time. Our CTO Andrew Fribush joined our team this fall and we got accepted into Halcyon incubator in Washington, DC, in November.

While all this sounds easy: let me assure you it was not! We are journalists, not entrepreneurs. In our newsrooms, taking a stand is always discouraged: we are impartial observers of the events around us. Most journalists are given assignments instead of making them. We are naturally skeptical of salesmanship and marketing/PR puffery; we work well with structure and want steady jobs (although the upheaval in the industry is changing that). But, in short, journalism isn’t an industry predisposed to innovation and that’s why you see so few journalism startups. But as I saw the impact that storytelling could have in the lives of Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, I knew that I had to take a risk in the face of these obstacles.

Certainly, our road hasn’t always been smooth and surely there will be many more bumps ahead. However, we have learned from every experience and failed forward to get to where we are today. We lost our first pitch contest to NewU, a group that gives grants to minority journalists, in September 2014, and then we lost three more Aging 2.0 pitch contests after than until Ilan finally won the Chicago Aging 2.0 contest in 2016—and still we didn’t make it to the national convention. The White House Summit on Aging loved our idea and approached us to participate in their 2015 summit only to cut us weeks later because we were too unproven. We’ve been blown off by investors and our bosses took extremely dim views of our extracurricular activities.

I’m taking a huge risk and it may well fail—indeed more startups do than succeed. But we feel passionately that stories can be used not just to inform the masses in a newspaper or magazine, but to affect change on a personal level, to build community where none exists. So instead of writing about the president-elect, I might be writing about your grandma, or your friend’s grandma, and nothing would make me happier.

Feeling inspired? If you’re ready to begin your own Be Fearless journey start by downloading the Case Foundation’s free Be Fearless Action Guide and Case Studies.

Be Fearless Spotlight: 3 Lessons Learned About Building A Kinder + Braver World

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.   

Feeling inspired? If you’re ready to begin your own Be Fearless journey start by downloading the Case Foundation’s free Be Fearless Action Guide and Case Studies.

Be Fearless Spotlight: Crossing the Canyon for Brain Cancer Research

This Spotlight is a part of a special blog series 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 Nicola (Nike) Beddow, Director of Communications and Partnerships at Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure (ABC2). ABCis a current grantee of the Case Foundation and partners with leading entrepreneurs, scientists and researchers to drive cutting edge research and treatments to find a cure for brain cancer. On October 11, 2016, Beddow hiked the Grand Canyon, rim to rim, with the 3000 Miles To A Cure team. Her story below originally appeared on the ABC2 blog, and exemplifies the organization’s commitment to living the Be Fearless principles. 

The Grand Canyon is one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Its breathtaking rock layers tell our planet’s history. Over five million people a year visit this spectacular and twisted carving in the earth. They come to the Canyon to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and other milestones in their lives. For a group of 18 hikers, including myself, we crossed the Canyon, rim to rim in one day, for brain cancer research. Some of us ran it, most of us hiked it, all of us successfully completed the crossing with a renewed sense of purpose and hope (despite a few blisters and varying levels of physical exhaustion!)

“We have an unknown distance yet to run, an unknown river to explore,” said John Wesley Powell, an American naturalist who led a geographic expedition to explore the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon in 1869.

Fortunately, we knew a lot more than Powell when we began our descent into darkness at 5 am from the North Rim. We all had trained for the 23.5 mile hike that crosses the Colorado River, but trust me, there were still a lot of unknowns. First and foremost: Would our group make it out unscathed? Trail signs warned us, “Down is optional; Up is Mandatory.” Over 250 people have to be rescued from the Canyon each year.

Crossing the Canyon for Brain Cancer Research team pose for a photo at 5 am before they start their descent into the Canyon from the North Rim.

I was eager to start this journey. I didn’t think about whether or not I could make it—I had to make it, there was no other option. I wanted to honor the tenacity and grit of my sister Dana who died of brain cancer at the age of 31. I wanted to share stories of Dana’s life and legacy with her daughter Kati. I wanted to dedicate stretches of my hike to friends in the brain tumor community who have faced this hideous disease and have inspired others. I wanted to raise critical research dollars to help 3000 Miles to a Cure and ABC2 (Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure) speed new treatments for brain cancer patients.

Crossing the Colorado River.

Twelve hours after we began hiking, the last few steps out of the Grand Canyon on the Bright Angel Trail were exhilarating and bittersweet. Thirty years ago, when my sister Dana and I were in our early 20’s, we took a trip out West to visit the Grand Canyon. After a fun night of camping on the South Rim, the next morning we decided to just hike the Bright Angel Trail…no water, no preparation, nothing! The trek seemed easy for a while, until we got to Plateau Point and realized we had to climb all the way back up before sunset. I was on the verge of heatstroke and Dana was begging other hikers for water. Yes, we were idiots. We trudged our way back up in time and laughed at our foolish attempt to be cool hiker girls. We promised we would return to the Canyon one day. Sadly, that never happened. I miss my sister. I’m sure she was with me in spirit (and she probably made the last few miles even harder just to kick my behind!)

Nike with her sister Dana (left) and their friend Lee (right) at the Grand Canyon in 1986.

I am grateful to Maria and Lucia Parker from 3000 Miles to a Cure for leading this expedition and introducing me to so many passionate and committed individuals, including the amazing team at Primacy. Primacy is a digital agency that is developing an innovative virtual reality platform for cause-driven organizations like 3000 Miles to A Cure and ABC2 to share our missions and tell our real-life stories in more compelling ways. They shot 360 degree video in the Canyon and interviewed a number of us. As the project develops, I’ll be providing updates.

The Crossing the Canyon 2016 team.

I will forever carry street cred that I crossed the Grand Canyon, Rim to Rim! Most importantly, I’ll carry with me the conversations I had with my fellow hikers who had lost someone to this hideous disease or that had encountered other struggles in their lives, but found hope and healing through this communal experience.

Feeling inspired? If you’re ready to begin your own Be Fearless journey start by downloading our free Be Fearless Action Guide and Case Studies.