The Quest for Water: Elizabeth De Wetter Organizes 6K Fundraiser to Build Wells in Zambia

Water covers roughly 71 percent of the earth’s surface, yet there’s not nearly enough of it for millions of people in developing countries. In their never-ending search for  water, women and children around the world walk an average of six kilometers or 3.7 miles every day—and the precious little water they can find is often contaminated.

The irony is not lost on Elizabeth De Wetter, a past attendee of the Sullivan Foundation’s Ignite Retreat and a sophomore majoring in psychology at Sullivan Foundation partner school Sewanee: The University of the South. That’s why she and her team at Strong Women Strong World (SWSW) next gen are working to raise funds for two wells in Zambia while also promoting the upcoming World Vision Global 6K for Water, to be held remotely around the planet on May 16.

Related: “Pledge My Check” campaign asks financially stable Americans to donate their stimulus checks to help people in need

SWSW next gen is a pilot initiative launched in conjunction with World Vision and Brake the Cycle. De Wetter’s project is an offshoot of the World Vision Global 6K—it will raise money for World Vision while providing participants a chance to pay whatever they can afford to enter instead of the standard $50 registration fee. “We realize that many people are struggling financially right now and may not be able to donate that amount,” De Wetter said. “SWSW next gen is offering a sliding scale registration fee for our 6K so everyone who wants to participate can—any amount or nothing at all is OK.”

Anyone who signs up to participate in the race through SWSW next gen’s online registration form can also make a donation towards building the wells in Zambia, helping to ensure clean water for two communities in that country. To learn more or to sign up to participate, click here.

this is a photo illustrating the World Vision Global 6K for Water

Of course, the coronavirus pandemic has changed the dynamics of fundraising events like the World Vision Global 6K. “Instead of the typical format of a race, where we would start and finish at the same points, we are encouraging individuals and their families to participate from their own treadmill, neighborhood streets or trails, while respecting social distancing,” De Wetter said.

De Wetter has long been passionate about clean water accessibility and discovered she could make a difference by joining SWSW next gen. “When I heard the statistic that, each day, women and girls around the world will walk the distance of the moon and back to gather clean water, I was shaken,” she recalled. “I was blessed enough to be welcomed by multiple members of the organization who immediately helped me get involved and later encouraged me to contribute with my own projects, which is where the idea for doing our own 6K came from.”

Related: Two Wofford College social entrepreneurs plant a SEED. for global change

De Wetter knows the scarcity of clean water doesn’t just mean people sometimes go thirsty. “Something as simple as a lack of clean water erases almost any and all opportunities for education, in addition to contributing to poor health, hygiene and sanitation, which in turn leads to disease and death,” De Wetter notes. “Each day 1,000 children under the age of five will die from diarrhea caused by contaminated water. These deaths are totally preventable!”

photo of woman in Africa who must deal every day with a lack of clean water

Water scarcity is a gender issue equity in developing countries. Women and girls must collect water for their families every day, which prevents them from getting an education, working at a job or starting a business.

Additionally, since women and girls are typically responsible for collecting water, it’s a gender equity issue as well. “This often keeps them out of school, which means that instead of learning and preparing for a job or starting their own business, they are at an increased risk of assault, child marriage, childbirth mortality and continued poverty,” De Wetter said.

Something as simple as digging a functional well can transform a community in a country like Zambia. “We can provide clean water to an entire village of around 300 people by building a well that costs $15,000,” De Wetter said. “This will allow girls to attend school rather than spending all day gathering water for their families. It will provide women and girls with a means to care for their menstrual hygiene instead of having to put their lives on hold each month. It will free families to focus on their education, businesses and livelihoods rather than spending hours collecting water that will only make them sick.”

De Wetter adds that a donation of $50 can provide clean water to one person for their entire lifetime.

Related: Elon Musk’s brother wants to build a “super farm” to address food insecurity

photo of Elizabeth De Wetter

Elizabeth De Wetter

De Wetter’s interest in changemaking led her to the Sullivan Foundation’s Fall 2019 Ignite Retreat, which she described as “an amazing experience in so many ways.”

“The mentors who spoke and led groups over the weekend were so inspiring, encouraging, and passionate that you couldn’t help but get excited about making a difference,” she recalled. “It was an experience that shifted not only the way I think about problem solving but also my belief in humanity. Being surrounded by so many other young people who also want to make a difference and are actually doing so gave me so much hope!”

De Wetter has found her tribe of fellow changemakers with World Vision and SWSW next gen and wants to continue to enlighten others about clean water and its impact on basic human rights. “I am disturbed by so many of the injustices in the world and passionate about making whatever impact I can during my lifetime,” she said. “This is an area where I can actually make a very tangible impact in a relatively short period of time and truly change people’s lives just by getting the word out, raising awareness and money, and educating people on the importance of clean water. What a miraculous way to use some of my numerous blessings to help others!”

“Pledge My Check” Campaign Asks Americans to Donate Their Stimulus Checks to People in Need

Many Americans desperately need the stimulus checks being issued by the government to pay utility bills, buy groceries or make their mortgage payments as the coronavirus pandemic continues. But for more privileged Americans it’s free money that they can spend however they choose—and a group of volunteers from North Carolina hopes they’ll spend it to help others in dire need.

The group, including Sullivan Foundation Ignite Retreat alumnus Jordan Bowman, has launched a website called Pledge My Check, which encourages people in financially stable positions to donate all or part of their stimulus checks to help those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Related: The quest for water: Ignite Retreat alumnus Elizabeth De Wetter organizes 6K fundraiser to build wells in Zambia

Kevin Miller, a Raleigh, N.C. social entrepreneur and one of the project’s creators, said that, right before the stimulus checks started going out, he “saw Best Buy advertising $1,200 TVs and thought to myself … if people can use their check to buy a TV, how can we try and convince them to turn that money towards doing some good?”

More than $50,000 was pledged from 100 people across 15 states in the first week. As of this writing, the site has raised nearly $90,000 from 145 donors, and the number continues to rise. The organizers’ goal is to reach $1 million in pledged donations.

Individuals are encouraged to donate directly to the people, causes or organizations they want to support. Pledge My Check does not accept or process the monetary donations; instead, it provides an online record of the pledges and sends follow-up emails to make sure the donations were made.

“The idea is to encourage folks to pledge in a way that is life-giving to them and others,” said Bowman, a business administration major at North Carolina State University. “There is complete freedom in how people pledge, but we are encouraging them to consider local causes and to be creative in how they can use this money to support their neighbors, nonprofits and small businesses.”

The site records and displays recent pledges from donors like Kirsten. “My husband and I decided to donate 50 percent of our total checks,” she said. “We’ve made monthly gifts to several organizations: Heifer International, UNICEF, The Arts and Science Center of Southeast Arkansas and Doctors Without Borders.”

Related: Wofford College social entrepreneurs plant a SEED. for global change 

Other highlighted organizations include Meals on Wheels, and GiveDirectly. The site also allows organizations to create their own custom pledge pages for free.

The Pledge My Check initiative is the work of an all-volunteer team based in Raleigh-Durham. “This project is all about bringing out the best in our communities,” said co-creator Ryan O’Donnell. “When the stimulus checks were first announced, I felt this was a simple way for people to help their neighbors.”

Lead designer Bethany Faulkner agreed. “I’m fortunate to be in a stable financial situation,” she said. “I wanted to help, and this stimulus check is an opportunity to redirect that vital financial support to those who need it most in our community. We built this tool to enable that and make it a community effort, even as we’re separated in our own homes.”

photo of Jordan Bowman and a group of young people involved in Journeymen Triangle

Pledge My Check cofounder Jordan Bowman, far right, also founded Journeymen Triangle, a mentoring organization that teaches emotional intelligence to middle- and high-school boys.

In addition to co-founding Pledge My Check, Bowman serves as executive director of Journeymen Triangle, a mentoring organization that teaches emotional intelligence to middle- and high-school boys. He attended the Sullivan Foundation’s Ignite Retreat in the fall of 2018—his second semester at North Carolina State. “At the retreat, I found inspiration and encouragement to continue building the Journeymen program,” he said. “I was able to practice and refine my pitch, and I met really awesome students and facilitators that I am still connected with today.”

photo of Jordan Bowman of Pledge My Check and Journeymen Triangle

Jordan Bowman

“The Ignite Retreat came at a pivotal time in my path and led me to double down my time and energy investments in Journeymen and other social entrepreneurial ventures,” Bowman added. “By the end of 2018, I had raised enough money as board president of Journeymen to resign from the board and come on as the first paid staff member of the organization. Last year [2019] I was able to hire a program director, and we grew our program 300 percent!”

Bowman expects to graduate from North Carolina State in either May 2020 or December 2020, depending on the pandemic. Meanwhile, he also works part-time as an associate for North Carolina State’s Business Sustainability Collaborative, which teaches students how to use business as a force for good. And he’s building a virtual community called Brother Hang. He says Brother Hang “allows men from across the world to belong in a community that cares about authentic connection and developing the mature masculine together. We share vulnerably our emotions, struggles and successes.”

“I am now heading into the close of my chapter at NC State and am looking forward to being a student of life full-time!” Bowman added. “I am excited about pursuing other projects and ventures. When the opportunity presented itself to build and grow Pledge My Check, I jumped in, and I can’t wait to see what other adventures are waiting for me as we enter into this new, beautiful, post-COVID-19 world.”

photo of Jordan Bowman at a Sullivan Foundation Ignite Retreat

Jordan Bowman is a past attendee of the Sullivan Foundation’s Ignite Retreat.

“Navigating the Unknown” Webinar Series Features Brin Enterkin and Kaveh Sadeghian

This week’s installment of the Sullivan Foundation’s “Navigating the Unknown” webinar series features two leaders in entrepreneurial education: Brin Enterkin of the Watson Institute and Kaveh Sadeghian of the Center for Social Impact Strategy. Hosted by Spud Marshall, the Sullivan Foundation’s director of student engagement, the webinar will be streamed on Instagram Live at 12 p.m. (ET), Wednesday, April 29.

Beginning this week, the “Navigating the Unknown” series will feature only one webinar per week instead of the previous schedule of two per week. Here’s more information about this week’s guests:|

Brin Enterkin

Brin Enterkin, The Watson Institute
With locations in Boulder Colorado, Boca Raton, Florida and Guatemala City, Guatemala, the Watson Institute is “a reimagined model of education for next-generation innovators, leaders and entrepreneurs,” according to its website. The Institute’s courses and workshops are designed to empower students to build impactful and successful careers while developing solutions to the world’s greatest challenges. Enterkin, who serves as executive director of the Institute’s Boulder location, previously founded the African SOUP, a nonprofit that operates a nursery school, a nutritional outreach program, sustainability projects and a national education program aimed at revitalizing Uganda’s teaching methods. A graduate of Sullivan Foundation partner school Berry College, Enterkin also co-founded Mpower Biomass Energy Company, a commercial renewable energy company in Uganda, and has been recognized as a Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneur. Her articles, including “Top 6 Ways to Join an African Rise” and “The Only Road Out of Africa,” have been published in the Huffington Post.

a photo of Kaveh Sadeghian

Kaveh Sadeghian

Kaveh Sadeghian, The Center for Social Impact Strategy
Sadeghian is the creative director and founding member of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Social Impact Strategy and a faculty member for the Executive Program in Social Innovation Design. He designs and facilitates leadership development programs, leveraging leading practices in organizational psychology and design thinking to help impact leaders work more effectively and compassionately. Outside of teaching, Sadeghian consults for high-impact organizations and speaks at purpose-driven conferences, designing and leading interactive workshops that increase clarity, confidence and community. According to the Center’s website, he has trained more than 4,000 impact leaders, and the online programs he helped design have reached more than 90,000 learners to date. Prior to co-founding the Center, Sadeghian was a change manager for Ashoka, where he managed the development, launch and expansion of a nationwide high school social entrepreneurial incubator program.


Winthrop University Honored as a Top School for First-Generation College Students

Sullivan Foundation partner Winthrop University has been honored for its efforts to create positive and productive experiences for first-generation college students.

The Center for First-generation Student Success, an initiative of NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education, and The Suder Foundation, have designated Winthrop University as one of its 2021-22 First-gen Forward Institutions.

The First-gen Forward designation recognizes institutions of higher education that have demonstrated a commitment to improving experiences and advancing outcomes of first-generation students. Selected institutions receive professional development, community-building experiences and a first look at the center’s research and resources.

Related: Winthrop University’s Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award winner overcame racism, poverty to earn graduate fellowship from National Science Foundation

“As a first-generation college graduate, I am keenly aware of the challenges associated with navigating higher education: the use of unfamiliar terminology, the assumption that one knows how to ‘do’ college, or that one even knows what questions to ask,” said Shelia Burkhalter, Winthrop’s vice president for student affairs.

“Student Affairs is excited to work with TRiO Student Support Services, the McNair Scholars program and the rest of the Winthrop community to think more strategically about serving first-gen students at Winthrop,” she continued. “While we look forward to advancing the success of first-generation students, the student success literature confirms that efforts to advance first-generation students will ultimately benefit all students on campus.”

According to the U.S. Department of Education, 33 percent of higher education students today are the first in their family to attend college. Winthrop mirrors the national statistic, Burkhalter said, noting that approximately one-third of Winthrop students identify as first-generation, when defined as a student whose parent(s)/legal guardian(s) have not completed a bachelor’s degree.

That population includes Imani Belton, an integrated marketing communication major and chair of the Council of Student Leaders (CSL), Winthrop’s student government body.

Related: Winthrop University to collaborate on Miracle Park for people of all abilities

“Throughout my time at Winthrop, I’ve been able to connect with first-generation faculty, staff and students, which has made my collegiate experience 10 times better because of bonds we’ve created,” she said. “Being a first-generation student is a point of pride for me and other Winthrop students who have benefited from learning on a campus that provides outreach and services for students like us.”

Winthrop has already made significant strides in first-generation student support and outcomes:

The TRiO Student Support Services Program has supported first-generation students for more than 15 years, providing students with a variety of services such as personalized academic counseling, tutoring, individualized needs assessment and more.

Since 2009, the McNair Scholars program has prepared first-generation, low-income and underrepresented undergraduates to be successful in Ph.D. programs through research, extensive support and transformational opportunities throughout the junior and senior years.

Within the Division of Student Affairs, the Office of the Vice President as well as the Diversity and Student Engagement office facilitate events to celebrate first-generation students and graduates (for example, among the faculty and staff) and to raise awareness regarding issues impacting first-generation student success.

“Through the application process, it was evident that Winthrop University is not only taking steps to serve first-generation students but is prepared to make a long-term commitment and employ strategies for significant scaling and important advances in the future,” said Sarah E. Whitley, senior director of the Center for First-generation Student Success.

To learn more about first-generation efforts at Winthrop, contact Burkhalter at or Kinyata Adams Brown at

Related: Winthrop University breaks record for freshman applications

About NASPA and the Center for First-gen Student Success
NASPA—Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education—is the leading association for the advancement, health and sustainability of the student affairs profession. Its work provides high-quality professional development, advocacy and research for 15,000 members in all 50 states, 25 countries and eight U.S. territories. The Center for First-generation Student Success is the premier source of evidence-based practices, professional development and knowledge creation for the higher education community to advance the success of first-generation students. Visit and for more information.

This story has been edited slightly from the original version appearing on the Winthrop University website.

Dr. Stephanie Raible Seeks Social Entrepreneurs to Participate in Leadership Study

Dr. Stephanie Raible of the University of Delaware (UD) is seeking experienced, full-time social entrepreneurs to participate in a study titled, “Social Entrepreneurship: Entrepreneurial Leadership or Responsible Leadership.”

Dr. Raible is an assistant professor of social entrepreneurship at UD and leads campus efforts in social entrepreneurship through her joint appointment between UD’s Department of Human Development & Family Sciences and Horn Entrepreneurship, the creative engine for entrepreneurship education and advancement at UD.

Dr. Raible is also the 2020 chair for the Social Entrepreneurship SIG of the U.S. Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship. Additionally, she is a Faculty Fellow of the Sullivan Foundation and served as the Winter 2020 Faculty Director of the UD Winter Session in Berlin and Munich, Germany, where she taught a course titled “International Social Entrepreneurship Ecosystems: Germany.”

Here is the approved description of the study:

“Experienced, full-time social entrepreneurs wanted to participate in the study, Social entrepreneurship: Entrepreneurial leadership or responsible leadership, which aims to explore the leadership approaches, philosophies, and practices of individuals who have been full-time within their social entrepreneurial roles for 3.5 years or longer in the United States. I am inviting you to participate in this study participating in a one-on-one phone, Zoom, or Skype interview. The purpose of the interview is to hear more about how social entrepreneurs experience view their roles as leaders both within and outside their organizations. The information learned from this study may help educators and mentors increase their understanding of how social entrepreneurs experience their roles as leaders. For their participation in this study, eligible participants will be offered a $25 online gift card. To volunteer your participation or confirm your eligibility to participate, please contact Dr. Stephanie Raible at; please note, direct messages outside of email will be redirected to email channels and promptly deleted.”


“Service Is a Lifestyle I Live By”: Meet the Sullivan Award Winners at the University of South Carolina

By Page Ivey

A pair of highly accomplished seniors at the University of South Carolina, a Sullivan Foundation partner school, have been honored with the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award for the 2019-20 school year. The Sullivan Award is given each year for outstanding achievements, campus leadership, exemplary character and service to the community.

The Sullivan Award is the University of South Carolina’s highest undergraduate honor. It’s awarded annually to two graduating seniors. Here’s a closer look at this year’s recipients:

Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award winner Sophia Bertrand (center) with her parents

Sophia Bertrand
While earning her bachelor’s degree in experimental psychology and participating in research, including a neuroscience project at the university’s Institute for Mind and Brain, Sophia Bertrand also managed a 3.9 GPA and even squeezed in a study-abroad experience every year of her college career.

In addition to her neuroscience project, Bertrand, who came to South Carolina as a Capstone Scholar from Roswell, Georgia, has received the Magellan Apprentice and Mini-Grants to conduct her own research evaluating the development of “Theory of Mind”—the ability to see someone else’s perspective and relate to them emotionally—in hearing-impaired children. She conducted her research at the Hearts for Hearing Institute in Oklahoma and presented her results at Discovery Day 2018.

Related: Sullivan Scholar Sara Busaleh: Serving Others “Gave Me Hope When I Was Hopeless”

But it is in study and service abroad that Bertrand has found her calling. “I studied abroad every year at USC because I have a deep appreciation for understanding different cultures,” Bertrand said. “This widened my perspective, and my coursework began to translate to service abroad because service is a lifestyle that I live by.”

She received the Excellence in Service-Learning Award from the UofSC Leadership and Service Center this past fall in recognition of her extensive service projects both locally and internationally.

Bertrand has also participated in UofSC medical service-learning trips to Nicaragua and Guatemala and a public health intervention in Costa Rica. In the U.S., Bertrand has participated in programs to feed the homeless in Columbia and Atlanta and was a math and English tutor for Gamecocks Aiding Refugees in Columbia.

Also during her time at South Carolina, she has helped connect the university community with the international service organization Rotary. She even established a mentor program that connects students with Rotarians. “The goal is to give students the opportunity to network and find mentors in their fields of study, in support of their professional development and success after graduation,” Bertrand says.

Bertrand, who also is a member of Phi Beta Kappa, is planning a career in healthcare and would like to work outside the U.S.

Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award winner Kevin Gagnon

Kevin Gagnon
While earning his bachelor of science degree in computer science, Irmo, S.C., native Kevin Gagnon used his computing skills to help a historically black community near the university tell its story.

“Coming into USC, research was not something that I expected to be involved in,” wrote Gagnon, a first-generation college student and a member of the South Carolina Honors College, in his award nomination essay. “However, with the guidance of some amazing professors and research-heavy honors classes, I realized that it was not only something I could achieve but also something that I could excel at.”

Gagnon helped build a mobile application for the Ward One community of Columbia to share its story of oppression. The project also helped connect the neighborhood to the university.

In addition to serving as a College of Engineering and Computing peer mentor, Gagnon worked on projects looking at subjects as varied as neural network architectures and the detection of altered mental status in emergency department clinical notes.

“My work has also led to several publications in many different subject areas, each referencing my education at USC,” Gagnon said.

Related: Sullivan Award winner Alexus Cumbie’s poetry, policy and passion for changemaking

Last year, he teamed up with a biology student and others to develop a stroke identification application that won the 2019 Siemens Healthineers Innovation Think Tank’s annual external exhibition in Germany.

Gagnon’s non-academic interests focused on broadcasting: He worked at the student-run campus radio station WUSC for all of his four years as a student, serving two years as news director. He also was a producer and host of the On Campus podcast. And he was a creator and curator of the Mobile Museum Exhibit for the university’s Museum of Education.

“I am grateful to USC for the opportunities it has afforded me, and I hope to continue to give back in every way that I can,” Gagnon said.

The University of South Carolina presents the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award each year to the most outstanding senior female and male student. It recognizes college students of noble character who have acted as humble servants to others by putting service to others before self-interest.

This article was compiled and edited slightly from two separate stories appearing on the University of South Carolina website.

Wofford College Social Entrepreneurs Plant a SEED. for Global Change

As founders of a new social enterprise called SEED., Mackenzie Syiem and Grace Gehlken, both students at Sullivan Foundation partner school Wofford College, put a lot of thought into everything they do—including the placement of that seemingly incongruous period at the end of their company’s name.

It’s definitely not a typo.

The two young women—Syiem is a freshman and Gehlken a sophomore—are part of the growing menstrual equity movement, aimed at ensuring that girls and women around the world have access to the feminine hygiene products they need without stigma and without giving up their basic human rights. Period.

Related: Scotland’s Parliament makes sanitary products free to all women

It’s a cause that’s dear to both of their hearts, as is the idea of using the principles of free enterprise to do good in the world. Syiem and Gehlken decided to partner up after meeting through Wofford’s Launch program, which helps students develop an entrepreneurial mindset and supports them in establishing business ventures.

Their goal: To create a social-impact business that empowers artisans and craftspeople to sell their products—such as jewelry, artwork, bags and more—internationally, with profits going to support the programs that Syiem and Gehlken care about. Along the way, they hope to use SEED. (which stands for Sowing Empowerment Every Day) to help impoverished communities around the world bootstrap their way to economic success.

this photo shows social entrepreneur Mackenzie Syiem of Wofford College, who is passionate about promoting menstrual equity

As a native of India, Wofford College freshman and SEED. cofounder Mackenzie Syiem has experienced the stigma surrounding menstruation personally and has become a passionate advocate for menstrual equity.

“SEED. first became a concept around January 2020,” recalls Syiem, who hails from Shillong, Meghalaya, India, and plans to double-major in English and Spanish at Wofford. “My partner, Grace, and I have this overwhelming passion to help people. That’s where SEED. as a concept really originated … The inspiration for SEED. was really just the fact that both of us connected over our love for people, travel and service.”

As a high schooler, Gehlken, a double major in Finance and Spanish from Charleston, S.C., had developed a strong interest in sustainable community development and economic empowerment. Syiem, too, was still in high school when she became passionate about the fight for menstrual equity after watching the Academy Award-winning short-subject documentary, “Period. End of Sentence.” The film explored the stigma surrounding menstruation in India and a group of women who learned how to make and sell their own low-cost sanitary pads.

“Watching that really clicked a lot of things in my life together,” Syiem reflects. “It verbalized for the first time this strange and unpleasant experience I had had my whole life of being shamed for a natural body process. Growing up in India, I saw firsthand how negatively menstruation was viewed and how women had to suffer from this shame, all because of a lack of proper education on the subject.”

Related: Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award winner Malik Seals on a quest to cure multiple sclerosis

“This cause is very important to Grace and me because that experience isn’t isolated to India,” Syiem adds. “There is a global problem surrounding menstrual equity that needs to be fixed because no girl deserves to miss school because she doesn’t have the resources or feel ashamed of something that is so incredibly natural.”

Syiem and Gehlken may be young, but they’re already global citizens and travelers. So they feel confident they can build connections in developing countries and put together the network of suppliers they need for SEED. “Our partners are both the artisans that we want to procure products from and the organizations and community leaders we want to work with to support social programs in those places,” Syiem said. “We find partners through our travels, research and mutual connections. Honduras and Tanzania are both places that Grace has been to and made connections in. She’s been traveling to Tegucigalpa, Honduras, every year since seventh grade. I have connections in India since that’s where I was born and raised. We’re always excited to travel to new places and find even more communities that we can work with!”

Although social enterprises like SEED. are designed to generate a profit, fostering social change is what Syiem and Gehlken are really all about—and they only want to team up with other serious changemakers. “We are very intentional when we choose our partners,” Syiem said. “We want to make sure that our partners are dedicated to making true change. Our artisan partners will benefit from the work opportunities, and the organizations we partner with will benefit from our support financially. We will also work to highlight both the artisans and the organizations and make sure that our customers know where and how they are making an impact.”

photo of social entrepreneur Grace Gehlken of Wofford College

Grace Gehlken, one of the co-founders of SEED., believes economic empowerment is a far better solution than charity when it comes to addressing social issues.

Including community leaders in solving social issues is crucial to real economic change, Gehlken notes in a blog on the SEED. website, and nonprofits can only help so much before their efforts become counterproductive. “Although charitable organizations who give money and resources to those in need provide short-term relief, charity is not the answer to ending poverty,” Gehlken writes. Citing a 2011 study showing that charity fails to significantly reduce poverty, she notes that it has, in fact, “contributed to the creation of a permanent underclass, the breakdown of family structures and the degrading of self-worth. Many nonprofits approach poverty alleviation with their own methods and solutions. They fail to recognize the need for community leaders to be included in identifying the problem and providing solutions.”

Gehlken stresses that economic empowerment is the best way forward for struggling and underserved communities—and for women as well. “At SEED., economic empowerment is ingrained in our business model,” she writes in the blog. “We buy our products from artisans in both local and global communities, such as handcrafted art and jewelry. We then in turn sell those products and donate a portion of the proceeds to our program partners. We believe in supporting already established organizations rather than trying to create our own in order to allow community leaders to develop their own solutions with tools and resources that will empower them. As a result, SEED. will not only support multiple community development projects but will also play a hand in economically empowering hundreds of local artisans.”

Related: Jonathan Molai: My life was forever changed by Sullivan Foundation’s Ignite Retreats

SEED. will initially focus on selling its partners’ products on the company website, but Syiem and Gehlken will also look for direct sales opportunities with farmers markets, boutique shops and other local retailers. To raise money initially, SEED. marketed handcrafted “Dare to Dream” earrings created by a Spartanburg, S.C. jeweler—and quickly sold out. They will continue to hold fundraisers while applying for grants to support the business.

SEED. quickly sold out of Dare to Dream earrings, a Spartanburg, S.C. artisanal product that’s helping to finance the social enterprise in its start-up phase.

“Finances are a big concern for start-ups and even more so for social ventures like SEED., but we are confident that we can gain the support we need to carry out our vision,” Syiem said. “We are very aware that we cannot do this alone nor do we want to. We believe in the power of community and feel very comfortable asking for help when we need it.”

Syiem also got a confidence boost from attending the Sullivan Foundation’s Fall 2019 Social Entrepreneurship Field Trip to Raleigh, N.C., last September. “I got to meet amazing entrepreneurs who had created powerful social ventures and hear directly from them about their experiences,” she recalled. “That trip inspired me and helped me feel like I could do the same thing that all those amazing founders had done as long as I had the passion and was willing to put in the work.”

Related: Campbell University student discovers power of creative placemaking during social entrepreneurship field trip to Chattanooga

“The greatest lesson I got from that trip was to just do it,” Syiem continued. “There’s no real instruction manual to starting a business. So much of the experience is figuring out things for yourself and doing what works best for you. There’s always help when you need it, and you should never feel hesitant about reaching out for that help, but you can’t get that help if you don’t start in the first place. So, I’m very grateful for Sullivan and that trip. It empowered me and made me feel like what I had to offer was worth offering.”

And what Syiem, Gehlken and SEED. have to offer are products that can set off a chain of positive events globally, they believe. “Our products will stand out in the marketplace because when you buy a SEED. product, you’re not only supporting our social programs— you’re stimulating local economies and empowering artists,” Syiem said. “You are playing a direct role in shaping the world to be more mindfully interconnected and symbiotic. We want to empower people to do more with what they choose to buy. And, hopefully, that taste of mindfulness and empowerment will create a snowball effect that will allow them to feel empowered in other parts of their lives.”

In short, she adds: “We want to change the world and we want everyone to play their role in changing it. That’s it. That’s the vision. It’s that simple.”


This Week’s “Navigating the Unknown” Features Four Cutting-Edge Social Entrepreneurs

The Sullivan Foundation’s “Navigating the Unknown” webinar series returns this week with four cutting-edge social entrepreneurs in the fields of digital media, professional training and education. Guests this week are Romain Vakilitabar of Pathos Labs and Justin Simpkins of WYRD on Wednesday, April 22, and Victor Saad of Experience Institute and Monica Tinyo of Hudson Lab School and Prehype on Friday, April 24.

Hosted by Spud Marshall, the Sullivan Foundation’s director of student engagement, the webinars will be streamed on Instagram Live at 12 p.m. (ET), Wednesday, April 22, and 5 p.m. (ET) on Friday, April 24. Here’s more information about this week’s guests:

Romain Vakilitabar

12 p.m. (ET), Wednesday, April 22
Romain Vakilitabar, Pathos Lab

Romain Vakilitabar is founder and chief artist of Pathos Labs, a nonprofit laboratory that works to increase compassion and mutual understanding by leveraging entertainment, media and technology – including virtual reality (VR) – to create narratives that change deeply ingrained biases and beliefs. “We believe that implicit bias is born when there isn’t necessarily the room or platform for people of different identities to engage with one another,” Vakilitabar explained in a promotional video for Pathos Labs. “And so with VR, we’re focused on creating a point of exposure to the different identities that exist beyond your relatively small and enclosed echo chamber.”



Justin Simpkins

Justin Simpkins, WYRD
Justin Simpkins and his team at WYRD (pronounced “weird”) are building a new category of culture by modernizing the many pathways to civic engagement. According to its website, WYRD “is built on the belief that in order to solve our world’s biggest challenges, we need to organize and direct a paid workforce to fully carry out the most impactful solutions.” Working with a network of experts, freelancers and producers who want to use their skills to improve the world, WYRD helps brands “take ownership over solving challenges like never before” and allows consumers to work with their favorite brands to address issues in their communities. “WYRD breaks down our biggest challenges into bite-sized milestones, allowing for progress to seem attainable,” the website states.



Victor Saad

5 p.m. (ET), Friday, April 24
Victor Saad, Experience Institute

Named to Forbes 30 Under 30 list in the field of education in 2015, Victor Saad founded Experience Institute (EI) as a place where college students and career professionals could learn and grow through short-term, real-world experiences. According to its website, EI “works with institutions and companies to help define experience-based learning paths at various seasons of life and work.” During the COVID-19 crisis, EI has offered workshops and coaching to help teams and managers make the switch to remote work, including instruction in using the phone, video and other digital communication tools effectively. EI also developed the “What’s Worth Doing” deck of cards “for life’s big (and small) decisions.”


Monica Tinyo

Monica Tinyo, Hudson Lab School and Prehype
Monica Tinyo is a digital fabrication and maker specialist for Hudson Lab School in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. As a designer with a masters degree from the Parson School of Art and Design, she “aimed to make products and services that help facilitate experience-based learning for all ages.” She has worked as the Tinkering Teacher at Camp Hudson, providing kids with the tools “to be ambitious through planning, collaboration and hands-on testing.” Hudson Lab School is a personalized, project-based K-8 school in New York that “integrates collaborative, interdisciplinary, project-based learning and thoughtful self-reflection with the academic fortitude of a classical liberal arts education,” according to its website. Hudson Lab School’s 26-acre campus allows a combination of indoor and outdoor classroom approaches. Tinyo is also the entrepreneur-in-residence at Prehype, a New York collective of entrepreneurial people who help each other build new ventures.


Sullivan Scholar Sara Busaleh: Serving Others “Gave Me Hope When I Was Hopeless”

Sara A. Busaleh is the recipient of the 2019-20 Sullivan Scholarship at Sullivan Foundation partner school Berea College. In this thoughtful and moving essay submitted with her scholarship application, Sara reflects on her life in service, how she came to be involved with the nonprofit La Casita Center—and how serving others gave her hope when she was otherwise hopeless.

I always say that the best way to spend your free time is through service. I immersed myself in community service as soon as my circumstances allowed me to. I was 12 when I volunteered for the first time ever with an organization.

To give a little backstory, my dad is from Saudi Arabia and my mom is Mexican raised in the U.S. When I was 11, my parents separated, and we (my four sisters, my single mother, and myself) moved from Saudi Arabia, where I had grown up alongside my father’s family, to Louisville, Kentucky. Upon our arrival to the U.S., my family and I lived in a community house called Casa Latina with other families who were like us—with no money, no job, and no safety net. I was terrified and shocked by the fact that I never would return to my homeland, Saudi Arabia.

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Nevertheless, things got better. La Casita Center is a non-profit neighboring the house we were staying in, and the individuals there helped us with many basic necessities like clothes, food and resources to find jobs. The mission of La Casita Center was aimed at serving others, especially the Hispanic and Latino population, and was done out of pure intentions. I was so humbled to know that there are truly good people who dedicate their lives for the well-being of others, for ​my well-being.

Here we were, my family and I, afraid of our past (in addition to my parents’ separation, there were personal circumstances that put us in a risky situation when we moved) and hopeless at times. I felt like I had nothing to fall back on. Everybody in my family was going through the same emotional roller coaster I was going through. Close family friends, my teachers, and my support system were all left behind in Saudi Arabia. I was lost.

It was almost oxymoron-ish when I started volunteering with La Casita Center. For one, I was one of the recipients of the many benefits they offered. I was being helped by La Casita while at the same time volunteering with them to help others. I was inspired to become a volunteer, plus I was not comfortable enough to join any after-school activities or social groups at my new school. After school, I would go to La Casita’s office to do homework and help them sort out donated food and clothes in the designated banks and closets.

Related: “The Beloved Community”: Sullivan Award winner Alexus Cumbie’s poetry, policy and passion for changemaking

As I grew older and continued to live in Casa Latina, I became more involved with the nonprofit next door. Many of my weekends were spent in the kitchen cooking for their fundraising breakfast events or weeding the yard around La Casita Center’s office. I always get emotional when I mention my journey of starting community service because I feel like that was when I was enlightened (no hyperbole intended). I remember when large Hispanic and Latino families would come with their starving infants (some probably had been without food for a couple of days), and, for me, another child at the time, this would break my heart. These children and these families who came with nothing were my motivation to want to give all the time I could to help La Casita. I fostered a passion for community service through volunteering with La Casita and filled a void that I had when I first moved to the U.S. with compassion and an essence for humanity.

Eventually, my family and I had to move out of our temporary stay at Casa Latina and found our own space. We moved out to another part of town when I was 15. It was devastating for me to have to leave because spending my evenings at La Casita would not be so easily reachable anymore. I was losing a part of me that was dedicated to service, especially the kind of outreach service La Casita Center did and one that I was accustomed to. Regardless, I was ​not going to stop volunteering because this was what gave me hope when I was hopeless. Service was what ​made me​ when I felt broken and when I left my home in Saudi Arabia to come here in search of a new one.

Related: Meet Hailey McMahon, Berry College’s first Algernon Sydney Sullivan Scholarship recipient

If I had to feel one thing for the rest of my life, it would be gratitude. I am grateful that each day I wake up and can give back to a world that has given me more than I could have ever asked for. I work with children at local elementary schools, teaching them about global issues and empowering them to feel confident in serving this global community. At the local public library, I teach adults Spanish classes in hopes that they gain the knowledge they need to connect with the broader community.

As a recipient of the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Scholarship, my development and commitment to service will be embraced and expanded. My goal for my upcoming summer breaks is to get involved in a wider range of community service activities and to implement this as much as possible. The only obstacle that could arise, preventing me from this involvement, is having to work in order to save money for the upcoming academic years. This scholarship will facilitate my academic journey at Berea College so that service, along with academics, can become my priority. I am grateful for this opportunity to apply and would be incredibly honored and humbled to become a Sullivan Scholar.

Sara A. Busaleh is a freshman at Berea College. She has not declared a major yet, but she is on the path for a double major in Psychology and Spanish and a minor in Sociology.

Former Volleyball Star from Cumberland University Now Saving Lives in Pandemic

Cumberland University graduate McCrea Barney has transitioned from the volleyball court to the healthcare field fighting one of the toughest pandemics the world has seen in 100 years.

McCrea transferred to Cumberland from Faulkner State Community College in Bay Minette, Alabama. She registered 1,115 assists in two seasons for the Sun Chiefs en route to one NJCAA National Tournament appearance where she met the Cumberland coaching staff.

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“Cumberland was at nationals recruiting and ended up recruiting four of us. When I did my official visit, it felt like home. Everyone was very welcoming. I fell in love with the campus,” Barney said about her recruitment. “Cumberland gave me a chance to gain a degree in nursing and still continue to play volleyball. Not many colleges allow that.”

In 2013, Barney played in every single set for Cumberland, mainly as the team’s libero, collecting 323 digs. She earned Mid-South Conference Scholar-Athlete honors that season.

Her senior year she posted 141 digs and 154 assists in 82 sets. McCrea enjoyed the bus rides the most during her playing career, saying that “…we shared so many laughs. That’s where we bonded the most.”

photo of McCrea Barney in her volleyball team shirt

McCrea Barney

McCrea Barney spent one more year at Cumberland to finish out her nursing degree graduating in May 2016. She has since moved back home to Mandeville, Louisiana, 35 miles away from New Orleans, to work at Lakeview Regional Medical Center. She normally works nights on the Cardiac Progressive Care Unit as an RN-BSN but has been shifted to the COVID-19 unit.

“We get one gown per patient all night unless it gets soiled. I reuse the same mask, goggles and helmet with a face shield all night. I have to wipe them off every time I enter and exit a patient’s room.”

Louisiana currently has 9,150 cases of coronavirus across the state with 310 reported deaths. Over 2,170 cases were reported yesterday causing Louisiana to pass Florida for the fifth-most cases in the United States.

“It’s mentally, physically and emotionally draining. People are dying and suffering alone. This disease is unknown. It’s scary.” Barney added.

Related: Mercer University grad focuses on HIV prevention in Peace Corps work

McCrea Barney not only showed great leadership in her sport at CU but translated it into her profession. She has shown incredible strength, dedication, selflessness and compassion for her community.

She is taking this horrible situation and finding a way to make it positive.”I like learning hands-on so I have learned a lot from this pandemic,” Barney said. “The only positive thing from this is how the community is supporting healthcare workers and my team has worked together. We’ve become more of a family.”

This article was edited slightly from the original story appearing on the Cumberland University website.