Dear Mark Zuckerberg: Meet a Game-Changer in Every State

January 13, 2017

(Students at the Inspired Teaching Demonstration School problem-solve while a lead teacher and resident Inspired Teaching Fellow discuss the lesson. Photo credit: M2Film via the LEGO Foundation. )

This piece, which highlights Center for Inspired Teaching and the Inspired Teaching Demonstration School, was written by Simon Stumpf and originally appeared in Medium.

Dear Mark,

Happy New Year! Thank you for sharing your personal challenge for 2017 of visiting and meeting people from every state in the US in order to, as you say, find a way to change the game so it works for everyone.

As you plan your travels, you may want to meet up with Ashoka game-changers and changemakers across the country, in all 50 states.

These entrepreneurial women and men hail from every corner of the country and all walks of life. The big ideas and surprising partnerships they set in motion are often more imaginative and enduring not in spite of their point of origin but because of it.

Here goes — and we look forward to following along!

  • Alabama — Meet up with volunteer members of the Etowah Visitation Project, a community-led outreach program that works to end the isolation of immigrants detailed at the Etowah County Detention Facility. With training and national coordination provided by CIVIC and its co-founder Christina Fialho, the team at Etowah is part of a national watchdog network for human rights abuses and a force for transforming current immigrant detention policies and practices.
  • Alaska — Take a floatplane to Cordova and a boat out into the Copper River Delta with Dune Lankard. Let him tell you about his efforts to preserve wild salmon culture through the Eyak Preservation Council’s innovative blend of cultural, financial, and political interventions.
  • Arizona — Meet young climate change advocates organizing with PowerShift and get inspired by the “rooftop revolution” underway as modern solar arrays pop up with funding mobilized through Mosaic’s innovative, crowd-funded “kickstarter for solar” model. Both the youth advocacy and solar financing innovations are the brainchild of environmental entrepreneur Billy Parish.
  • Arkansas — Visit with Little Rock-native Casey Woods, the founder of Arms With Ethics which partners with communities, law enforcement agencies, gun retailers, and local governments in every region of the country to help reduce the illegal flow and use of firearms.
  • California — Tour L.A. with Andy Lipkis of TreePeople and see how he and leagues of volunteers and city employees are realizing their dream of a greener, shadier and more water-secure city by promoting trees and tree-mimicking, water-capturing technologies.
  • Colorado — Sit in on a master class at Watson University in Boulder. Founded by Eric Glustrom, it’s a degree-bearing incubator for student innovators, leaders and entrepreneurs working to solve the toughest social and environmental challenges.
  • Connecticut — Go on a boat ride with Bren Smith of GreenWave in New Haven and check in on his vertical, ocean farms that sequester carbon, produce abundant sea greens, and are transforming unemployed fishermen into 3D Ocean Farmers.
  • Delaware — Visit a health center with Mark Edwards and let him show you how, through his work with UpStream USA, he is ensuring that every health center in the state eliminates barriers that prevent women from obtaining the full range of contraceptive methods so that all women are empowered to become pregnant only when they want to.
  • District of Columbia — Get inspired at the Inspired Teaching Demonstration Public Charter School, a professional learning community of master teachers, teacher residents, and diverse students taking part in Aleta MargolisCenter for Inspired Teaching — an organization building a future in which children are not taught what to think, but how to think.
  • Florida — Get a glimpse of a world without student debt with Felipe Vergara in Miami. The organization he founded, Lumni, finances students’ educations through Income Share Agreements (ISAs) so they can finish their studies without taking on debt, so long as students agree pay a fixed amount of their salary for a set period of time after graduating.
  • Georgia — Join David Lubell for the annual Welcoming America summit, a national convening of civic leaders from places like Atlanta, Decatur, Norcross, and Clarkson (as well as from across the country!) who are leading a movement of inclusive communities becoming more prosperous by making everyone feel like they belong.
  • Hawaii — Meet the movers-and-shakers who helped Hawaii become the 2nd state in the US to pass a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, working with Ai-Jen Poo’s National Domestic Workers Alliance.
  • Idaho — Every summer, teams of three strangers hop on an RV to” find their own roads” in life as part of Roadtrip Nation’s multimedia effort to, as co-founder Mike Marriner sees it, reinvent career counseling, replace the Myers-Briggs, and help make education relevant for young people. Tune into Idaho Public Television or watch out for RTN’s iconic green and blue RVs as they crisscross the country (and take in sites like Lake Coeur d’Alene and interview upperclassmen at University of Idaho).
  • Illinois — Shadow a Cure Violence ‘violence interrupter’ working in Chicago with Gary Slutkin, a former epidemiologist who believes we need to tackle violence — and its spread — the same way we do infectious diseases.
  • Indiana — Spend recess with the kids at Nora Elementary School in Indianapolis and see how a team of Playworks catalysts for play are ensuring that recess is a positive and productive time for all kids. This way, according to founder Jill Vialet, young people can develop empathy and come back to class energized and ready to learn.
  • Iowa — In the largest pork-producing state in the country, tour a slaughterhouse with Temple Grandin, the woman who has arguably done more than any one other people to transform the way livestock are handled and slaughtered so that the process is as humane as possible and animals go to their deaths calmly and without fear.
  • Kansas — Go on a stroll through Lawrence (or Topeka, or Kansas City) with a member of a local Hollaback! chapter. Founded by Emily May in 2010, this international movement is building a global community and clear legal framework to end street harassment.
  • Kentucky — Tour a state-of-the art manufactured (“mobile”) home with Stacey Epperson, the founder of Next Step and a firm believer that — despite the stigma attached to them — high-quality, factory-built homes are the most environmentally-friendly and affordable path for low-income homebuyers to build wealth.
  • Louisiana — Build a DIY aerial mapping kit out of kites, soda bottles, and a hacked point-and-shoot camera with Shannon Dosemagen of Public Lab, a community that came together after the BP oil spill to democratize science and directly address the environmental issues that affect people.
  • Maine — Hitch a ride with Katherine Freund of ITNAmerica. Starting with Portland, ME, she’s developed a national transportation model that ensures that older Americans transition from diving to being driven with dignity, transforming the lives of seniors in rural areas and beyond.
  • Maryland — Join a Thread volunteer on an early morning errand, a late night tutoring session, or for a last-minute car ride… doing whatever it takes to help students realize their potential. Thread founder Sarah Hemminger has shown that radically and permanently reconfiguring the social support structures of students in the bottom 25% of their freshman class can have life-changing impact… on both them and their volunteers.
  • Massachusetts — Sit down with Jake Shapiro of the Public Radio Exchange and learn how PRX’s growing community of listeners, producers, and stations are collaborating to reshape public radio, expanding its audience and its appeal.
  • Michigan — Meet inspiring black men who are transforming Detroit with native Michigander Trabian Shorters of bMe as your guide.
  • Minnesota — Spend time with Minneapolis teachers who believe ‘global competence’ is as critical a 21st century skill as reading or math and who, with training and support from Dana Mortenson’s World Savvy, are integrating engaging, hands-on global competence education into their practice.
  • Mississippi — Sit with the women who are improving birth outcomes for women of color in Mississippi (and beyond) as part of Kathryn Hall-Trujillo’s Birthing Project, the “underground railroad for new life.”
  • Missouri — Go for a morning walk with the St. Louis chapter of GirlTrek, a movement of Black women reestablishing walking as a healing tradition in Black communities which Kansas-native and co-founder Morgan Dixon sees “as tribute to those who walked before us.”
  • Montana — Channel your inner wizard with either of the Missoula-based chapters of The Harry Potter Alliance, an international community turning online fandoms into real-world forces for change founded by superfan Andrew Slack.
  • Nebraska — Cattle ranches in Nebraska were some of the world’s earliest-adopters of “mob-grazing” — short-duration, high-intensity grazing inspired by the symbiotic relationship between wild herbivores and savanna ecosystems, a model championed by Allan Savory of the Savory Institute. Spend an afternoon on a healthy grassland and, if you have time, be sure to also check out the Tallgrass Network in neighboring Kansas and Missouri!
  • Nevada — Get to know Rushika Fernandopulle of Iora Health. His simple yet radically different approach to restoring humanity to healthcare focuses on opening new practices with aligned partners (like Las Vegas’ Turntable Health) that center around team-based and tech-enabled care that puts the patient first and a payment system based on care, not billing codes.
  • New Hampshire — Let Paul Bradley take you on a tour of a resident-owned community where, with the support of ROC-USA, “trailer park” residents were able to form a cooperative and become the owners of the land under their “mobile” homes.
  • New Jersey — Make some music with the teachers and students at Paterson Public Schools and with David Wish, the founder of Little Kids Rock. Don’t worry if you’ve never played an instrument before; the idea behind improvising and creating your own music is that kids learn how to fail and try again, how to work together, and how to be content creators, not just content consumers.
  • New Mexico — Join a video conference with Sanjeev Arora of Project Echo in Albuquerque, specialists from the University of New Mexico, and rural primary care physicians across the state. See for yourself how sharing and demonopolizing the specialist’s knowledge is acting as a “workforce multiplier” and transforming rural healthcare.
  • New York — Shadow a “dream director” for the day and ask Andrew Mangino, the co-founder and CEO of The Future Project, what happens when you infect the overall culture of a school with the sole belief that anyone — student, teacher, janitor — can command their environment and effect change.
  • North Carolina — Head to Wagram, NC and spend the day with Noran Sanford of Growing Change and the local “reclamation team” of young, court-involved men who are flipping a decommissioned ‘work farm’ prison into a community hub, garden, and youth center.
  • North Dakota — Share a meal with Nick Tilsen, a founder of the Indigenous People’s Power Project at Standing Rock (and the Thunder Valley CDC back at his home on Pine Ridge in South Dakota) and learn about social change models powerful enough to overcome intergenerational poverty.
  • Ohio — Did you know that Jeff Edmondson in Cincinnati is the godfather of the collective impact movement? Let him tell you the story of how theStrive Together network is connecting 10,200+ organizations to impact 8.2 million+ students across the country.
  • Oklahoma — Grab lunch at a highway truck stop with Kendis Paris, the founder of Truckers Against Trafficking which was launched in Oklahoma (and is now headquartered in Colorado) as a way help victims of trafficking by positioning truckers as the eyes of the nation’s interstate system and activating them as a national rapid alert network when needed.
  • Oregon — Stop off in Eugene and meet up with Susan Sygall of Mobility International. Susan is building a more global and interconnected disability rights movement by ensuring its rising leaders have ample opportunities for international experiences and collaboration.
  • Pennsylvania — Use the Grounded in Philly map to find an active urban garden, or some vacant, neglected public land to turn into one! If you want to map your hometown and help launch your own local league of community land access advocates, get in touch with Paula Segal of 596 Acres (a partner to the folks in Philly).
  • Rhode Island — Let Nicholas Reville of the Participatory Culture Foundation convince you of the virtues of radically democratized, online video viewing via a decentralized, open-source media environment.
  • South Carolina — If you find yourself mourning the loss of a loved one, ask Lennon Flowers to connect you to a Dinner Party in Greenville or Charleston. In these and nearly 300 other cities around the world, young people gather around dinner tables to transform life after loss from an isolating experience into one marked by community support, candid conversation, and forward movement.
  • South Dakota — Chat with an employer in Sioux Falls who, thanks to Kevin Kirby of Face It TOGETHER, now understands that addiction is a chronic disease and that helping employees seek company-funded chemical dependency treatment is best for his bottom line, as well as his colleagues’ wellbeing.
  • Tennessee — Attend a service led by Rev. Jennifer Bailey in Nashville and then join her as she facilitates healing and wellbeing programs for marginalized religious leaders through her work with the Faith Matters Network.
  • Texas — Spend an afternoon in a Houston school where the educators are taking part in Megan MarcusFuelEd program, an initiative that trains and supports educators as secure, attachment figures (like counselors and other emotional laborers) and not just as content deliverers or classroom monitors.
  • Utah — Visit the folks in the newsroom at Deseret News to gain an appreciation for their rigorous reporting not just on problems but on how people are responding to them, an outcome of their work with David Bornstein’s Solutions Journalism Network.
  • Vermont — Let Alisa Del Tufo of Threshold Collaborative be your guide as you get to know local farm women, young people, “placemakers”, and others using oral history and narrative to address community and social challenges.
  • Virginia — Head to Herndon and spend a day on the farm with Adele Douglas, the woman who created the industry standards for meat and dairy products that are “Certified Humane Raised and Handled”.
  • Washington — Tour Seattle’s Bullitt Center — the greenest commercial building in the world — with Jason McLennan of the Living Building Challenge, a rigorous performance standard that challenges us to ask “what if every single act of design and construction made the world a better place”? (And also check out his School of Regenerative Design!)
  • West Virginia — Go for a jog with Girls on the Run of North Central West Virginia in Morgantown. Founded by Molly Barker twenty years ago, chapters like this one serving Barbour, Harrison, Marion, Monongalia, Preston, Taylor and Wetzel counties offer life-changing, confidence-building, character development programing for young girls during their critical preteen years that blend exercise, positive reinforcement, and encouraging role models.
  • Wisconsin — Join Amelia Franck Meyer of Alia in visiting foster children across the state and experience for yourself the paradigm-shift that results when you commit to permanency and secure attachment (over just physical safety) as the foster care systems’ foremost goals.
  • Wyoming — Go on a hike through Yellowstone National Park with Angelou Ezeilo of Greening Youth Foundation and learn how she’s helping ensure that the predominantly white conservation field can become as diverse and inclusive as America is today.

Safe travels, Mark!

All the best,


Simon Stumpf is the Director of Venture and Fellowship for Ashoka USA and a cofounder of the All America Initiative. In 2016 alone, Simon visited 19 states to meet with systems-changing social entrepreneurs and help build a robust, representative class of Ashoka Fellows. When he’s not on the road, he’s based in bucolic rural Wisconsin with his wife and kiddos.

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