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According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics (NCCS), more than 1.5 million nonprofit organizations are registered in the United States. And behind every nonprofit organization is a talented, dedicated, altruistic founder with a compelling mission and a transformational vision. These nonprofit founders profiled below exhibit the essential attributes of an impactful nonprofit leader, and their organizations will undoubtedly better the world this year.
Seth Maxwell – Thirst Project
Seth’s life is busy and full- just the way he likes it! Like most 20-somethings, Seth wears many hats: Son, Friend, Entrepreneur, Activist, Producer, Actor and Speaker. Seth is the Founder & CEO of The Thirst Project, a creative and diverse non-profit organization located in the heart of Los Angeles. The Thirst Project has made a bold commitment to ending the clean water crisis.
Seth is a storyteller at heart, and has spoken internationally at over 300 schools, countless churches, and numerous conferences, including the TEDx Hollywood Youth Conference, the Nexus Global Youth Summit, the Master’s of Science in Communication Commencement Ceremony for Northwestern University, Envision’s Global Youth Leadership Conference in Washington D.C., and meeting with Obama Administration Officials at the White House to discuss how to activate Millennials for social justice and social change. Seth serves the United States Department of State as a member of their U.S. Speaker Program for International Programs representing the United States as a leader in his fields at events and conferences abroad. Seth challenges people to fulfill their true purpose in life & become an engaged and socially-conscious human being.
He also is passionate about providing relief for those impacted by the clean water crisis, HIV/AIDS pandemic, feeding the hungry and providing support for the millions of orphans and widows in our world today. Additionally, Seth serves on the Board of Directors for Heartland Film, a national arts organization based in Indianapolis and the Board of Directors for the Andrew Gomez Dream Foundation.
Jean Paul Laurent – Unspoken Smile Foundation
Jean Paul Laurent is the Founder, Chairman & CEO of Unspoken Smiles Foundation. Since its inception in 2014, Jean Paul has grown Unspoken Smiles Foundation into an impactful nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting both long-term oral health and economic security in the world most disadvantaged regions.
Jean Paul’s philanthropic achievements have garnered recognition from a variety of prestigious organizations including the United Nations, Clinton Foundation, Ashoka, NYU Alumni, and recently received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters for his extensive philanthropic contributions to his community and beyond. His passion for social entrepreneurship, oral health, and public-private partnership have led to Unspoken Smiles Foundation being recognized as the preeminent global hub in the field of Dentistry. As CEO, Jean Paul works across two key program areas— oral health education and prevention, and the Unspoken Smiles Fellowship—to help ensure better, access to quality dental services for the greatest number of people. By developing, supporting, and incubating those initiatives, Unspoken Smiles Foundation is building confidence, improving health, and transforming futures in underserved communities across the world.
Jean Paul holds an Executive Masters in Public Administration from Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs.
Reshma Saujani – Girls Who Code
Reshma Saujani is the Founder and CEO of Girls Who Code, a national non-profit organization working to close the gender gap in technology and change the image of what a programmer looks like and does. With their 7-week Summer Immersion Program, 2-week specialized Campus Program, after school Clubs, and a 13-book New York Times best-selling series, they are leading the movement to inspire, educate, and equip young women with the computing skills to pursue 21st century opportunities. By the end of the 2018 academic year, Girls Who Code will have reached over 50 thousand girls in all 50 states and several US territories. The results speak for themselves: 88% of alumni have declared a CS major/minor or are more interested in CS because of Girls Who Code.
Reshma began her career as an attorney and activist. In 2010, she surged onto the political scene as the first Indian American woman to run for U.S. Congress. During the race, Reshma visited local schools and saw the gender gap in computing classes firsthand, which led her to start Girls Who Code. Reshma’s TED talk, “Teach girls, bravery not perfection,” has more than three million views and has sparked a national conversation about how we’re raising our girls.
Reshma is a graduate of the University of Illinois, Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, and Yale Law School.
Albert Manero – Limbitless
Albert is the co-founder of Limbitless, a nonprofit dedicated to bringing 3-D printed bionic arms to children around the world with disabilities at no cost to their families. The organization uses additive manufacturing to advance personalized bionics and solutions for disabilities. Albert has a PhD in mechanical engineering from the University of Central Florida
With help from communities and sponsors, the organization’s goal is to build and deliver 5,000 custom-designed bionic arms to kids in need by 2020.
Jake Wood – Team Rubicon
Jake Wood is the cofounder and CEO of Team Rubicon, a nonprofit organization that recruits, trains and deploys military veterans to disaster zones around the world and within the United States. Since 2010, Team Rubicon has scaled to nearly 100,000 volunteers and deployed teams to some of the worst catastrophes of the century. A rapidly growing social enterprise, Team Rubicon is as known for its unique corporate culture as its ability to mobilize teams at a moments notice.
As a Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps, Wood deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan as a Scout Sniper and earned the Navy-Marine Commendation Medal. A leading veterans’ advocate, Wood has briefed President Obama on veterans’ issues, met with former Presidents Bush and Clinton on veteran transition and disaster response and testified before a Senate committee to improve mental health care services for returning veterans. He has also appeared in the major media, including MSNBC, CNN, NBC, ABC, Al Jazeera, US News & World Report, Forbes, Fox News and penned an op-ed for The New York Times. In 2014, Crown Publishing published Wood’s book, Take Command: Lessons in Leadership.
Juliana Rotich – Ushahidi
Juliana Rotich is a technologist, strategic advisor, entrepreneur, and keynote speaker. Juliana serves as an advisor to the councils of BASF, Risk Cooperative, Africa Technology Ventures (ATV) and the Lemelson Foundation. She is a trustee of Bankinter Foundation for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Spain, board member of Digital Impact Alliance and the Kenya Vision 2030 Delivery Board.
Juliana co-founded Ushahidi Inc., a non-profit tech company, which specializes in developing free and open source software for changing how information flows in the world. She strategically spearheading Ushahidi to be translated into over 30 languages, over 90,000 deployments and a 20 million populations reach. She was instrumental in increasing business development revenue and philanthropic capital into Ushahidi and its related initiatives like iHub.
She is also Co-founder of BRCK Inc, a hardware and services technology company based in Nairobi, Kenya. BRCK was formed to realize a vision for enabling communication in low infrastructure environments by developing useful, innovative, and exciting hardware-centered technologies in Kenya. She is a Director in the Kenyan entity BRCK Kenya Ltd and drives partnerships for tackling social problems through appropriate technology.
Amitabh Shah – YUVA Unstoppable
Amitabh Shah launched Yuva Unstoppable 14 years ago at a mere age of 23. After completing his MBA from Yale, he passed up a JPMorgan Banking Wall Street offer to work on the real streets of India. He decided to launch this volunteer movement after he discovered immense suffering experienced by his elderly 82-year-old nanny, Kamlaben, while she was abused by her son’s family. Amitabh gathered friends and began volunteering at homes for the elderly, slums and orphanages.
Touched by the stories he came across every day and inspired by the enthusiasm of other young people to volunteer, he founded YUVA Unstoppable—to act as a catalyst in the development, improvement and growth of children. He learnt that there is a lot of goodness in this world and everyone wants to do something to help other so they simply do not know how to go about it. Amitabh truly believes in what gandhiji said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” There was a serious resistance for the ﬁrst year from his friends and family. They asked, “Why do you want to start serving others so early? Why don’t you wait till you are 60 and when you are a billionaire or retired from a top company?” Amitabh did not give up though and, in fact, his family is his biggest cheer leader now.
Today, Yuva Unstoppable is India’s premier youth movement which has mobilized over 1,50,000 volunteers to beneﬁt over 5,00,000 underprivileged children across 40 cities of India. They partner with 75 top institutes, like UNICEF, Google, United Way, KPMG, Deloitte, IBM, Coke, Reliance, Adani, etc. and have transformed over 700 government schools with better toilets, improved drinking water, scholarships and digital literacy.
Rachel Wurzman and Jennifer Nicolaisen – SeekHealing
Dr. Rachel Wurzman and Jennifer Nicolaisen are co-founders of SeekHealing, a non-profit serving those at risk for heroin & opioid overdose in western North Carolina. SeekHealing provides free support services to anyone at any stage in the addiction healing process.
The program is designed to provide long-term support to people as they change their relationship with certain behaviors or chemicals, and to assist them in making effective, meaningful transitions back into the community. Following the latest neuroscience on addiction, SeekHealing is rethinking rehab and bringing an innovative focus on promoting authentic connection experiences to help create communities that are more resilient to addiction.
Jennifer’s work began when, after sponsoring and supporting a close friend through heroin detox, she discovered to her dismay the absence of accessible, comprehensive post-detox aftercare services.
Teaming up with neuroscientist Dr. Rachel Wurzman, they developed SeekHealing’s program of destigmatization and authentic relating to address the fundamental social isolation that drives humans toward addiction. In the first year of operation, over 100 Seekers joined the program, committing to growth into happier, healthier humans.
Paula Froehle and Steve Cohen – Chicago Media Project
Paula – A producer, director, visual artist, educator and entrepreneur based in Chicago, Paula has had an extensive career in education, entrepreneurship and the arts.
As Co-Founder and CEO of Chicago Media Project (CMP) – the innovative multifaceted philanthropic community of documentary film lovers who believe in the power of media to bring about social change and move hearts – Paula guides over 50 members in the philanthropic support of social impact films and filmmaker sustainability. She also co-manages CMP’s equity fund Chicago Media Project Invest/Impact (CMP I/I) that invests in commercially viable documentaries. In 2016, Paula and her partner Steve Cohen founded the annual Doc10 Film Festival in Chicago. Additionally, Paula is a member of the Gamechanger Films film fund, whose mission is to finance and produce feature films directed by women.
Steve – A producer, investor, philanthropist and attorney, Steve is the Co-Founder and Board Chair of Chicago Media Project (CMP), the innovative multifaceted philanthropic community of documentary film lovers who believe in the power of media to bring about social change and move hearts. He is also the Co-Manager of Chicago Media Project Invest/Impact (CMP I/I), the equity fund side of CMP that invests recoupable equity in commercially viable documentaries. In 2016, he co-founded the annual Doc10 Film Festival in Chicago, with the goal to bring 10 cinematically powerful non-fiction films to Chicago to illustrate the power of great storytelling.
Steve has overseen more than $3 million dollars of grant and equity funding for numerous documentaries including the top-grossing biopic of all time WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR? (Focus Features), THE FEELING OF BEING WATCHED (Tribeca 2018), THE FOURTH ESTATE (Showtime) and STEP (Fox Searchlight), to name a few. He also served as an executive producer on 306 HOLLYWOOD (Sundance 2018), FLY and the upcoming documentary THE INFILTRATORS. Steve was a co-producer on BLUE WALL, TROPHY (CNN Films), VOYEUR (Netflix) and the 2017 Academy Award-winning documentary ICARUS.
Chicago Media Project (CMP) – is a multifaceted organization that provides support to documentary films and filmmakers. Known as an innovator in its field, CMP is at its core a philanthropic community of documentary film lovers who believe in the power of media to bring about social change and move hearts. Created by Paula Froehle and Steve Cohen in 2014, CMP uses a unique Community Model of Philanthropy that aggregates generous membership contributions to support impactful films and media organizations through four areas of programming: direct film financing, large-scale community events, exclusive member events and tech & media innovation. Since 2015 CMP has granted more than $300,000 to over 15 social impact documentary films through its Impact Grand Fund, which supports early stage funding, filmmaker sustainability and innovation in outreach.
Michael Faye – GiveDirectly
Michael Faye is the President and co-founder of GiveDirectly, which has been ranked a top international charity by GiveWell, recognized by FastCompany as one of the top 10 most innovative companies in finance, and was said to be “sending shockwaves through the charity sector” by the Guardian. GiveDirectly gives cash directly to poor households in Africa via mobile transfers.
He’s also the CEO and co-founder of Segovia Technology, which is making it easier for organizations to pay anyone, anytime, anywhere in the emerging markets. Michael’s work on international development has been published in the American Economic Review, Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, Foreign Affairs and he’s spoken extensively on development and philanthropy. This year he joined the World Economic Forum’s community of Young Global Leaders. In addition, Michael is a term member of the Council of Foreign Relations and was named one of Foreign Policy’s 100 leading Global Thinkers in 2013. He holds a PhD in Economics from Harvard, where he also studied Math and Classics.
Brandon Nicholson – The Hidden Genius Project
Founding Executive Director of The Hidden Genius Project, a nonprofit tech startup built to empower young men of color to transform their lives and their communities through training in technology, entrepreneurship, and life skills.
An Oakland native, Founding Executive Director Brandon Nicholson has always felt a deep sense of commitment to promoting equity in the public realm, particularly in the education space. Previously, he was a Senior Associate at Social Policy Research Associates (SPR), where he conducted research, evaluation, and analysis across a range of key social policy areas. Brandon has conducted substantial research in the areas of education and youth development, with a particular focus on issues of equity and access in K-12 education for underserved populations. He has considerable experience investigating linkages among race, class, and youth development.
Brett Hagler, Alexandria Lafci, and Matthew Marshall – New Story
Brett Hagler is the CEO and a Co-Founder of New Story – a nonprofit that pioneers solutions to build thriving communities around the world. Brett is a cancer survivor, author, speaker, Y Combinator alum, and 2016 Forbes 30 Under 30 Entrepreneur. In 2017, New Story was named by Fast Company as one of the “Most Innovative Companies In The World,” and Brett was named one of the Top 100 Most Intriguing Entrepreneurs by Goldman Sachs in 2018.
Alexandria Lafci is the Head of Operations and Co-Founder of New Story – an innovative nonprofit that transforms slums into sustainable communities around the world. Alexandria has a decade of work, academic, and volunteer experience in domestic and international development. She taught in inner city D.C., led financial capacity building efforts in rural Central America, and briefed African heads of state on poverty alleviation through land reform, and was recently named to the 2016 Forbes 30 Under 30 list.
Matthew Marshall is Co-founder and Head of Product at New Story – an innovative nonprofit that transforms slums into sustainable communities around the world. Matthew is a Y-Combinator graduate, World Economic Forum Global Shaper, University of Georgia alum, and Forbes 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneur. Matthew is driven to use human-centered design and software to create a remarkable donor experience, maximize impact, and increase team efficiency.
New Story and ICON have partnered together to build a 3D printer specifically for the developing world and have successfully printed the first home. This innovation will mean: $4,000 for one home is the cost, it takes 12-24 hours to print the home and better quality shelter for families. One billion people live without basic shelter, linear improvements will never reach this market. The world needs a quantum leap in affordability, speed, and quality to reach families exponentially faster.
New Story is a Y Combinator-backed nonprofit that uses technology and innovative processes to build holistic communities in the developing world that include components like a school, clean water, and income opportunities. ICON technology enables unprecedented design collaboration and customization for New Story initiatives, increasing community buy-in. Local labor will also operate the machines, creating new advanced manufacturing jobs.