Summer 2016

Small Steps to Save Lives

One in five children under five years old dies from pneumonia in Southeast Asia countries. Sara Karim, born in Kazahkstan, and well-traveled throughout Central and Southeast Asia, was unable to shake the image of so many preventable child deaths from her mind.  Pneumonia, she knows, is easily avoided with an inexpensive vaccine for young children. As a LearnServe Fellow, Sara founded VaccinAsia, to spread awareness to families and healthcare providers in Southeast Asia about the necessity of vaccination and facilitate access to vaccines.  She partnered with GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance and provides informational brochures on vaccination in several languages common in the region on VaccinAsia's website.

VaccinAsia is one of the 52 ventures our LearnServe Fellows, from schools across the DC metro area, pitched at the 2016 LearnServe Panels and Venture Fair on Thursday, April 21 at the Maret School.

>> Learn more about Sara's venture, and meet our other winners on LearnServe's blog

Incubator Ventures a Hit at Microsoft

As Timia Ferguson examines the mainstream media, she sees that one set of voices is consistently under-represented: that of women. Through her organization MissInterpreted, Timia aspires to "Miss-lead the media." Using original video production she inspires young women to pursue careers at the intersection of media and STEM. Timia's own powerful voice was front and center on April 4 as she kicked off the 2nd Annual LearnServe Incubator Pitch Competition at Microsoft's Innovation and Policy Center in Washington, DC. The students in LearnServe's year-long follow-up to the LearnServe Fellows Program laid out their plans, including technologies to fight the transmission of infectious disease, empower young artists, overcome teen depression, promote religious understanding, and showcase women in STEM.

The 14 LearnServe Incubator students, unflappable under pressure, pitched their ideas to a panel of judges including Sydelle Moore (DotClick Strategies; Sydelle Cosmetics), Vanessa Young (Cisco; Little Black Book), and Microsoft's Allyson Knox and Namema Amendi, and moderated by Danielle Tate, founder of MissNowMrs. and author of The Elegant Entrepreneur. Audience Choice voting resulted in an unprecedented 3-way tie. Please join us in congratulating the winners of our Incubator Pitch Competition:

1st Place, Audience Choice: Rohan Suri, kTrace
Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology
Using Bluetooth technology to track the spread of infectious disease

2nd Place: Joycelyn Banson, Encouragement Party
Parkdale High School
Lifting the spirits of children wrestling with long-term illness

Audience Choice: Davy Adise, Shalaam
Sandy Spring Friends School
Bringing together Muslim and Jewish teens

Audience Choice: Saeviona Garrett, Eccentric Beauty
Paul International Public Charter School
Strengthening self-confidence through art

Social Innovation: Seeded

At a high school already wrestling to bridge racial and socioeconomic divides, Helena and Elena realized how their school's "open lunch" model often underscores wealth disparities. Those who can afford to eat off campus often do. Others face the stigma of eating their meals in the school cafeteria. Through Biting Injustice, Helena and Elena have re-imagined the Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School cafeteria, aiming to reframe it as a dynamic, attractive space for all students to eat.

Helena and Elena represent one of the 12 middle and high school student teams to compete in LearnServe's first annual Seeding Social Innovation Pitchfest. Unlike our LearnServe Fellows, these students – from across 8 schools – took social entrepreneurship as an elective course, for credit, during the school day. These school-based courses follow LearnServe's Seeding Social Innovation social entrepreneurship curriculum.

Congratulations to our 2016 Seeding Social Innovation winners:

Judge's Choice: Helena Hailu and Elena de Toledo, Biting Injustice
Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School

Audience Choice: Amadou Sene, Stop Bullying
Washington International School

Venture Fair Award: Diamond Artis, Streets of Southeast
Friendship Tech Prep Academy

Don't Interrupt the Changemakers

"Those who say it cannot be done should not interrupt the people doing it," reads the Chinese proverb painted onto the wall of Honest Tea's headquarters in Bethesda, Maryland. (The office, and the inspirational quote, are a highlight of our LearnServe Incubator Program's site visits each year.) For Seth Goldman, Honest Tea co-founder and LearnServe Gala featured speaker, that quote underscores the power of social entrepreneurship.

The three siblings recognized with LearnServe's 2016 Entrepreneurship Award - Mary Sun, Jessica Sun, and Matthew Sun - could certainly be described as "the people doing it." Mary is founder of The MedX Program which seeks to revolutionize undergraduate pre-health education. Jessica is CEO of Kids Are Scientists Too, a LearnServe Venture that now offers hands-on science education for elementary school students across 8 states. Matthew launched Synapps to help young people gain service hours and web design experience by building websites and apps for local non-profits. Their stories were so inspiring, they led bestselling author, LearnServe parent, and Gala MC Dan Pink to rewrite the proverb: "Those who say it cannot be done should get out of the way of the Sun family."

>> Visit our YouTube channel to Meet the Sun Family and hear Seth Goldman's Welcoming Remarks

Global Connections

Our LearnServe Zambia, Paraguay, and Jamaica groups have returned safely home after a successful 2.5 weeks serving communities abroad. During our mid-June Weekend Institute, our final training before the groups headed to the airport, Deloitte consultant Randy Crooks offered travelers a crash course in design thinking. Upon arriving in country, each LearnServe group then led an entrepreneurial design workshop with their host communities. Together, LearnServe students and their local counter-parts designed the social change projects they would implement together over the subsequent days.

To further give students a taste of what to expect in-country, our Weekend Institute featured the national cuisine from each country – including Paraguayan empanadas, Jamaican curries, and Zambian nshima and even fried caterpillars. Once overseas, students fully immersed themselves in local food and culture, challenged their own assumptions, learned from grassroots community leaders, and forged lasting connections. Reconvening next month, students will focus on public speaking and story-telling to share their insights and inspiration with their peers.

>> Catch up on their adventures and impact on our blog and Flickr accounts (Zambia, Paraguay, Jamaica) or check out the video postcard produced by our LearnServe Zambia team, with highlights from their experiences overseas.

Hurry Up and Lead

by Scott Rechler, Director and CEO of LearnServe International
Each spring, as our LearnServe students prepare to pitch the social ventures they have been cultivating all year, there is a moment when I find myself wishing that they were the ones driving our country's civic and political agenda. Their creativity, empathy, passion, and vision stand in sharp contrast to the headlines I read each day, most dominated by tragedy and misunderstanding. Our students give me hope that we may one day be able to write a future different than our present.
  • I fervently believe that Black Lives Matter, yet too often feel personally powerless when it comes to tackling the prejudice that taints police-civilian interactions, reinforces education disparities, and limits professional opportunities. So I applaud the efforts of Chris and Desmond to mainstream African American history in DC schools; of Nick and Alexis to cultivate understanding between law enforcement officials and minority youth; and our alumni who have joined Operation Understanding DC to fight racism and discrimination in all its forms.
  • After celebrating months of groundbreaking wins for the LGBT community, culminating in nation-wide recognition of marriage equality, I have followed with concern the vocal surge in transphobia, with public bathrooms as the latest proving ground. So I commend Will for launching Your Queerstions Answered, a podcast for high school students designed to demystify the transgender community.
  • I have watched in disappointment as political leaders have peddled fear and misinformation to paint sweeping generalizations and distrust of immigrants and Islam, undermining the values of diversity, respect, and understanding we work so hard to ingrain in our students. So I stand by Alejandra as she fights the stigma of being an ELL student through her anti-bullying campaign; Val as she humanizes the Syrian refugee community by sharing their stories and cuisine; and Davy as he bridges Muslim and Jewish teens.
I believe in LearnServe because I believe in the future that our students are working so fearlessly to build.

>>Read More

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