kristiewang's blog

Wetlands Not Dams: Q&A with Ashoka Fellow Hannarong Yaowalers, Thailand

In Thailand, citizens routinely clash with government officials over the construction of dams that destroy fisheries and habitats. Recently, protesters have rallied against the Xayaburi “mega dam” currently being constructed on the Mekong River in neighboring Laos.

Fighting Climate Change With Indigenous Livelihoods

In Indonesia, where forests are being destroyed at the highest rates in the world, an untapped solution exists for balancing conservation with economic expansion.

This article originally appeared on

Why golf and its teachable moments have the power to bring out the best in kids - with the First Tee of Monterey County

The First Tee of Monterey County taps the power to golf to help kids learn the skills to be resilient and succeed in life. Executive Director Barry W. Phillips sat down with Changemakers to discuss why golf and its teachable moments have a unique power to bring out the best in kids.


Why is golf a particularly powerful tool for supporting kids in Salinas? 

Makers Of More: Sparking Local Economic Opportunity And Social Change Together

“How do we find a way to reconnect communities with local businesses, local resources, but more importantly, with each other?” This question, posed byKen Banks at Pop!Tech, is being echoed by an innovative generation of problem-solvers who are looking to strengthen local economies while simultaneously tackling community issues.

Unlocking Entrepreneurship + Solving the World’s Sanitation Crisis

David Auerbach discusses how his organization, Sanergy, helps community residents in developing countries become entrepreneurs by creating sanitation solutions.

This article originally appeared on

Play for Bringing out Empathy and the Best in Kids: Interview with Jill Vialet, Founder of Playworks

Jill Vialet, Ashoka Fellow and Founder of Playworks, sat down with Changemakers to talk about launching her organization in the Bay Area and why the Playworks “pro-social” model works to help kids play and learn at their best.

Playworks has its roots in the Bay Area. How did you get started launching your idea and building relationships with local schools?

Fostering Youth Peacemakers: Soul Shoppe interview with Ashoka Changemakers

What can parents do about bullying and how can schools become safe places for learning? Soul Shoppe co-founder Vicki Abadesco sat down with Ashoka Changemakers to discuss the root causes of bullying and tips for parents and children. Soul Shoppe creates empathy-based learning environments that eliminate bullying at the roots. Their work fostering youth peacemakers made them winners of the Building Vibrant Communities challenge!

The Empathy Debate

Roman Krznaric believes that empathy "allows us to challenge prejudices and create political change." But how can we strengthen our empathy skills and who can we learn from?

Winners Announced for Building Vibrant Communities: Activating Empathy to Create Change competition

The David and Lucile Packard Foundation and Ashoka Changemakers have announced the six winners of Building Vibrant Communities: Activating Empathy to Create Change! The challenge sought local initiatives that tap the power of empathy to strengthen communities and equip young people to become leaders of change.

How To Use 'Muscular' Empathy To Drive Social Change

Lisa Bennett writes about how empathy can be tapped as a powerful force for creating change.

Meet the Building Vibrant Communities Judges

We’re honored and thrilled to announce the expert judges of the Building Vibrant Communities challenge! They are:

Cedric Brown: Managing Partner, Kapor Center for Social Impact


Finalists Announced for Building Vibrant Communities: Activating Empathy to Create Change

Please join us in congratulating the Finalists of the Building Vibrant Communities challenge! After receiveing more than 200 entries, 86 top entries were selected as Semi-Finalists. Now, 23 top Finalists will go on to the final judging round of the competition.

Activating Empathy to Create Change News Roundup

Finalists will be revealed on 9/3! Until then, we’ve rounded up top stories about empathy making waves as a powerful driver of change in communities. (Photo: NERDS (Native Education Raising Dedicated Students) is a Semi-Finalist of the Building Vibrant Communities challenge and is featured on the Ashoka Changemakers Instagram this week!)

But first, a few announcements:

5 Empathetic Strategies To Inspire Climate Action Now

Lisa Bennett on why people avoid engaging in the fight against climate change--and how empathy can be tapped as a powerful solution. This article originally appeared on

Semi-Finalists Announced!

See video

From a pool of more than 200 entries, the short-listing team at Ashoka Changemakers has selected 86 Semi-Finalists of the Building Vibrant Communities: Activating Empathy to Create Change challenge. 

Video caption: Early Entry Prize Winner and Semi-Finalist iLead+Design submitted this video illustrating its unique model for teaching students empathy skills and how to use design thinking to solve problems.

Project Happiness – Equipping Young People with Emotional Resilience, Self-Awareness, and Empathy

Project Happiness (PH) teaches students the skills to build emotional resilience, self-awareness, and empathy. Informed by neuroscience, positive psychology, and mindfulness, PH “teaches kids to be happy and strong from the inside” and helps adults strengthen social and emotional skills as well, said founder Randy Taran.

Early Entry Prize Winners: Project Happiness and iLead+Design

See video

More than 200 entries were received for the Building Vibrant Communities competition!  We’d like to say a huge THANK YOU to everyone who entered. Due to the overwhelming response, we are pushing back our timeline one week and will be announcing Semi-Finalists on July 24.

Video caption: A trailer for the film produced by Early Entry Prize Winner and Semi-Finalist Project Happiness. The film is part of Project Happiness' set of tools for helping young people and adults strengthen the skills of empathy, emotional resilience, and self-awareness.

Enter Before Thursday 6/26, 5pm PDT for an Extra $1000! Plus tips for creating a winning entry

You can still continue to revise your entry up until the final deadline. Entering early means you'll be eligible to win one of two early entry prizes of $1000. All entries remain eligible to win one of four $100k Activating Empathy Prizes, or one of two potential Idea Prizes.

What makes a winning entry? Top entries meet the Assessment Criteria, and they also make a compelling case for the problem they are trying to solve, and for their specific model for achieving impact.

“Take your genius and your optimism and your empathy and go change the world” : Bill and Melinda Gates on the Power of Empathy

See video

Last weekend, Bill and Melinda Gates addressed Stanford’s graduating class, and urged them to use empathy and optimism to change the world. The couple delivered a poignant speech illustrating why innovation and optimism alone were not enough to make the world better.

Bill said, “Even in dire situations, optimism can fuel

Activating Empathy to Create Change - News Roundup

We’ll be posting the latest news from around the web on innovative empathy projects that help build vibrant communities! Check back weekly for more news and insights about putting empathy into action. 


The world’s first Empathy Museum

Ashoka Changemakers and Packard Foundation Launch an Online Competition

Building Vibrant Communities: Activating Empathy to Create Change

New online competition will award $500,000 in prizes to initiatives that activate empathy in order to strengthen communities in five California counties

"Empathy-based ethics are the essential foundation for 21st century changemaking," says Bill Drayton, the CEO and founder of Ashoka. "If we had to name a single, overarching success factor among our global network of social entrepreneurs, it would be the ability to put empathy into action."

Tumblebugs: Filling the Physical Literacy Gap in Early Childhood Education

As a gymnastics program in Nova Scotia, Tumblebugs is showing young children that exercise can be the foundation for play, fun, and most importantly, physical literacy. 

Brock Niagara Penguins: Where Disabled Youth Play and Compete Alongside Their Peers


The Brock Niagara Penguins is the only sports club of its kind in the Niagara, Ontario region that enables disabled youth and adults to come together and achieve active, healthy living. Penguins offers three programs for para-athletes: swimming, a wheelchair basketball team, and bocce ball.

Maria Umar: Women Powering Work Changemaker

Maria Umar founded Women’s Digital League (WDL), a virtual firm and pilot project in Pakistan, to train hundreds of women with the tech skills they need to gain economic empowerment.

A Women’s World: Virtual Offices and Gender Gyms

Today, social innovation is pioneering a new reality for women across the Middle East and North Africa, from Turkey to Egypt to Saudi Arabia.

Competition Launch: Women Powering Work in MENA

General Electric and Ashoka Changemakers launched an online competition today in search of innovative solutions that will advance economic opportunities for women in Middle East, North Africa, Turkey and Pakistan. Women Powering Work: Innovations for Economic Equality is calling for initiatives that enable women to achieve economic equality, strengthen their families and communities, and benefit equitably from economic growth. 

Nutrients for All: Thriving Ecosystems for Productive, Resilient Food Systems

Natural ecosystems ensure that vital nutrients flow from soils to food to people. Thriving ecosystems are the bedrock of healthy nutrient chains, the basis of all life on the planet.

So what’s the issue?

Double Win for Haiti: Human Waste into Valuable Fertilizer

SOIL is enabling communities in Haiti to transform human waste into a resource for sustainable livelihoods, agriculture, and reforestation. The organization is creating a lasting impact by seeding a new economy based on nutrients—one that a multinational corporation is now pledging to support.

The New Farm Bill: An Opportunity to Create a Sustainable Agricultural System

Change could be on the horizon for agriculture and food in the United States. The controversial 2012 Farm Bill, which failed to pass in November, is back on the table and due for a rewrite. (For a recap of the original “Secret Farm Bill” and how it failed, read this).

The new Farm Bill could be a tremendous opportunity to finally introduce both incremental and systems-level innovation in the way we eat and grow our food.

It’s important to note that the Farm Bill affects more than just farmers—it impacts everyone who, well, eats.

Have a Slavery-free Holiday: Buy Ethical Chocolate


This isn’t intended to ruin your holiday cheer, but it definitely caused me to think twice before buying big-brand chocolate for an upcoming holiday fête: Much of mainstream chocolate contains cocoa produced by child slaves.

Helping Refugees Heal: Pathways to Wellness


While working as a social worker at a refugee resettlement agency, Beth Farmer saw that mental health support was a major gap in the services accessible to refugees.

“When you’re driving a client to a job interview, and they’re crying and telling you that they lived in the woods for three years, sucking water from mud, and that their newborn baby and wife were killed in front of their eyes — of course, you start to think that this person needs some extra support,” she said (in an understatement).

Even after fleeing unimaginable circumstances like terror, murder, rape, or torture, refugees face extraordinary challenges. There are about 15.4 million refugees worldwide (not including 27.5 million internally displaced people); and less than 1 percent eventually qualify for resettlement with the UN after a rigorous application process.

Refugees who do make it to the United States are immediately under pressure to quickly gain economic self-sufficiency.

Wal-MartCare – Could it Work?

Should we be celebrating the fact that Wal-Mart is considering joining the health care industry? The retail giant made big news last week when NPR learned that it was seeking partnerships with health firms for a major expansion of its in-store medical clinics. According to Wal-Mart’s request, the retail giant wants to “dramatically: 1) lower the cost of health care while maintaining or improving outcomes, and 2) expand access to high-quality health services by becoming the largest provider of primary health care services in the nation.”

Most of the commenters that weighed in for NPR’s article expressed doubts. Ann O’Malley, physician and senior health researcher at the Center for Studying Health System Change, said:

"Maybe Wal-Mart can deliver a lot of this stuff more cheaply because it is an expert at doing this with other types of widgets, but health care is not a widget and managing individual human beings is not nearly as simple as selling commercial products to consumers.”

I admit, my first reaction to the news was also skepticism. Wal-Mart’s abysmal reputation for “rolling back” employee health benefits doesn’t seem to make it a frontrunner for becoming the savior for America’s worsening health care crisis.

Tech and Design for Social Change – After the Hype

Recently, I’ve been posting about innovative gadgets (health-related devices last month and fresh water yesterday). We’re experiencing a unique and exciting cultural moment: while design and innovation once trended towards the production of sophisticated, expensive technology, innovators are now creating elegantly simple and inexpensive solutions that have the potential to make a big impact on the world’s problems.

But it’s important to remember that creating lasting social change takes more than just a gadget or technology, no matter how revolutionary. The infamous PlayPump fiasco illustrates the potential pitfalls of models that rely on a new device without seeing the bigger picture. 

Simple Gadgets for Fresh, Clean Water

Access to freshwater for agriculture, drinking, and household use will be potentially one of the greatest challenges facing the world as our population crests over 7 billion and demand increases for both drinking water and agricultural goods that need water. Add drought-causing climate change and desertification to the mix, and we may be facing a global freshwater crisis.
Innovators are looking ahead, however, and coming up with better ways to make the most of scarce resources. Here are five up-and-coming technologies—all simple and affordable—that are helping people access clean water and use it more efficiently.

Update on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (Yes, It’s Still There)

One-third of all albatross chicks die on the Midway Atoll, often as the result of being mistakenly fed plastic by their parents.

The North Pacific Gyre is commonly known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. But a more accurate description might be a giant vortex of plastic soup, roughly twice the size of Texas. 
Awareness of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is widespread, but it hasn’t translated into widespread action—yet.  
Tackling the challenge is daunting, but the truth is that we CAN all do something to end plastic waste in our oceans. But first, here’s what we know so far (e.g., the scary part):
6.4 million metric tons of plastic circles the globe.

China’s Cultural Crisis – Bystander Apathy and Empathy


Last Friday, YueYue, the toddler that was run over twice in China and ignored by 18 passersby, died from her injuries. The incident was caught on closed circuit camera, and the online video of YueYue lying bleeding in a gutter while pedestrians and bikers swerved to avoid her went viral and garnered over 1.5 million views on Youku video, a popular video sharing site.  
Nationwide, newspapers and online communities have continued to discuss how such horrifying inaction might reflect a deeper cultural problem in China. While many Internet commentators have pointed to the possibility that in China, ethics have been left behind in the wake of economic development and urbanization, I think there’s more to the issue.

A New Paradigm for Biomedical Research


In the world of biomedicine, a few trailblazers are envisioning a new way for researchers to share information and accelerate the progress of curing human disease. According to Stephen Friend, Ashoka Fellow and founder of SAGE Bionetworks, academic and commercial researchers typically work in isolation. They are “hunting and gathering,” accumulating data that becomes protected intellectual property. In this competitive atmosphere, research is often duplicated, and progress that could be accelerated by cooperation is stonewalled. 
SAGE Bionetworks is working to change that. The nonprofit hopes to create a new paradigm of cooperation through an open-source commons that incentivizes information sharing and, ultimately, benefits health consumers. 

Engineering a Way for Businesses to Partner with Schools: An Interview with Lila Ibrahim

“Engineering students want to solve the world’s problems and to use engineering to do so.”
In this Ashoka Changemakers interview, Lila Ibrahim, an internationally-recognized leader in the field of engineering and business, discusses how she encourages women to become technologists, and how to build successful private-sector partnerships that strengthen science, technology, education, and math (STEM) learning in schools. 
Ibrahim is a partner of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB), a leading venture capital firm in Silicon Valley. Before joining KPCB, Ibrahim had a diverse 18-year career with Intel Corp, where she led the startup business of Intel's Emerging Markets Product Group, as well as Intel’s Digital Village Initiative, which delivered technology projects to advance entrepreneurship, health, education, and e-governance all over the world. Ibrahim was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum and was featured on the cover of ForbesWoman (2009) for her role in promoting women in technology.
During the past decade, Ibrahim has established and sustained three computer labs at the orphanage in Lebanon where her father was raised. She earned her bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Purdue University, where she continues to guest lecture. 

Good News in Rwanda: Strong Strides in Maternal Health

Just 17 years ago, civil war in Rwanda culminated in a horrific 100-day genocide that killed between 800,000 and 1,000,000 citizens. Today, however, the country is making notable strides towards the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals, and against all odds has doubled the life expectancy of its citizens. Despite the scars left by decades of violence, Rwanda’s story is changing into one of hope and pragmatic determination at the local and national level.
Through an ambitious set of health reforms, the country is saving the lives of children and mothers. The backbone of Rwanda’s newly-decentralized health system is its vast network of over 45,000 local community health workers. Each village elects three members to serve as trained community health workers — one each for maternal health, child health, and community health. 
Because 85 percent of Rwanda’s people live in rural agrarian areas, more than an hour’s walk from the nearest health center, the presence of local health workers is vital, particularly for pregnant women.

International Day of Rural Women


Every October 15, the United Nations celebrates the International Day of Rural Women. Rural women make up nearly half of the world’s farmers, and in some countries represent over 60 percent of the agricultural labor force. When you consider that the world’s population is set to double by 2050, the importance of rural women for food security around the globe comes into sharp focus. 
Rural women are also arguably the backbone of many societies in the developing world. According to the International Fund for Agricultural Development, “across the developing world, rural women carry the main responsibility for providing the food, water, and fuel needed by their families. And the quality of the care that mothers give to their children and other household members influences the prospects for healthy and productive lives for all.”
By celebrating rural women, we recognize their invaluable role, as well as the need to address the obstacles that they continue to face. While men may have access to land, education, financing, and technology, women seldom have these same opportunities. 

The New Minimalism: Five Low-Cost Health Gadgets Express Genius in Simplicity

Around the world, innovators are going back to basics. Since September, The New York Times has been running an ongoing segment, “Small Fixes,” featuring low-cost health solutions that have a big impact. 

The simple solutions include using vinegar to assist in removing pre-cancerous cervical lesions and folding a sari cloth four times to create a filter that reduces 99 percent of cholera in water.
The innovations featured in the NYT are remarkable in their simplicity, affordability, and cleverness. (The NYT did, however, include LifeStraw in its featured solutions, which has been under fire for the past year for its controversial incorporation of carbon credits to offset its steep production costs.)
With the simplest of solutions often proving to be the most effective (a la Occam’s razor), we at Changemakers have become fascinated with the new wave of low-cost health gadgets, which could dramatically reverse health care’s trend towards the more complex and expensive. Here are five more emerging health innovations — elegantly simple and affordable — to look for on the horizon. We think they’re pretty nifty, and hope you will, too.

Texas: Doing Something Right

Transforming inmates into entrepreneurs in Texas — and saving millions of tax dollars

Texas has been the center of a swirl of controversy lately in two very different arenas: the state’s enthusiastic embrace of the death penalty, and Republican frontrunner Rick Perry’s touted track record of job creation. Perry’s history of job creation has come under fire from numerous critics, as well as a new study revealing that Texas’s poverty levels rank the second highest in the nation.

But deep in the heart of Texas, there’s a promising light for real job creation — and for bringing positive change to the criminal justice system.

Health Innovations in Asia: Making More Health With Less

A team of emergency medical responders at Emergency Management and Research Institute (EMRI). EMRI's state-of-the-art call response centers are able to dispatch over 2600 free ambulances across multiple states in India to respond to medical, police and fire emergencies. via

Skyrocketing health care costs are a global problem, but creative entrepreneurs in South and Southeast Asia are figuring out how to do better with less. Changemakers worked with its network partner, The Center for Health Market Innovations (CHMI), to spotlight four promising strategies that innovators in this region are using to tackle high out-of-pocket costs and simultaneously ramp up the delivery of quality health care. 

These cutting-edge, cost-saving health solutions are homegrown, within ecosystems of limited resources. Leveraging both technology and creative business models, they are proving once again the old adage that necessity is the mother of invention. 

Supporting the Free Press

Photo from a Citizens for Democracy letter signing campaign in Pakistan, covered by Global Voices blogger, Sana Saleem
Is journalism getting better or worse in the new media landscape? And what does that mean for democracy? During the Arab Spring earlier this year, new media seemed to not only generate unusually multi-faceted news coverage, but also play a role catalyzing the revolutions themselves.
Still, reactions to the state of news today continue to fluctuate between anxiety and elation. On the one hand, the digital age blesses us with access to more information than ever. On the other, the ability of the news infrastructure to serve the public interest seems to be threatened on all sides. 
The free press has been long recognized as the life-blood of democracy; informed citizens are necessary for a just and functioning democratic state. But commercial networks are influenced (some would say enslaved) by market interests, and public media is vulnerable to political meddling and funding cuts. The new media is generative, iterative, disruptive, democratizing, and fragmenting all at once. 
What’s the average American citizen to do? Where do we put our focus, energy, and money? How do we ensure that we get both the information we want and the information we need to be smart citizens? 

“Telling a Story is a Form of Activism”: Interview with Naveen Naqvi

Changemakers recently sat down with Naveen Naqvi, co-founder and executive director of Gawaahi, to discuss her work in Pakistan’s turbulent and often violent environment, where she uses citizen media as a tool for political engagement and raising public awareness. 
Gawaahi, which means “witnessing” in Urdu, is a Pakistan-based citizen-sector organization that produces digital stories of survival and resistance. Through its online platform, Gawaahi shares stories about women's human rights, child sex abuse, unfair labor practices, and religious persecution. 
With a background in journalism, Naqvi was previously the senior anchor and morning news presenter at DawnNews, Pakistan's first English-language channel. Before that, she was a producer for NBC News and online contributor for Naqvi is serving as an expert commentator for the Citizen Media competition.

The Anti-bullying Movement: Where do we go from here?

Across the United States and around the world, the anti-bullying movement has become a rallying force. From celebrities telling gay teens that “It Gets Better” to the world-wide attention paid to a bullying incident in Australia captured on video, the problem of bullying in schools has garnered heightened media attention and is being tackled with increasingly stronger laws by communities.  

There are anti-bullying laws of varying strength in at least 40 states. Last week, New Jersey enacted the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, the nation’s toughest anti-bullying state law yet; it received both cheers and criticism. The law includes a requirement that teachers and administrators report incidents of bullying to the police, and has raised questions about who should be held accountable for protecting students. It has also sparked debate around the potential implications of criminalizing bullying, as well as how schools are going to pay for anti-bullying programs, given already-slashed budgets and overworked teachers.
But schools and communities agree on the critical nature of the problem. Studies have shown that bullying leads to increased incidence of mental health issues later in life and lower achievement levels, especially for minority students. In fact, according to a Harvard Medical School study, verbal abuse — even without physical abuse — acts like a neurotoxin, having serious effects on brain development, most markedly in students in their middle school years.

Sustainable Farming and Livelihoods Take Root

Organic and fair trade agricultural SMEs are expanding their markets despite the global economic downturn, and are getting a boost in the developing world through organizations like Root Capital. The nonprofit investment fund recently acquired a loan package of $4.9 million from the Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF), a member of the U.S.-based Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) Group. 
Root Capital will use $3 million of the funds to expand its ability to lend to sustainable coops and agricultural SMEs in Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. Another $1.9 million will go towards a technical assistance initiative to help the organizations strengthen their financial skills.
As the organic cotton export industry in India has demonstrated, sustainable agriculture has the power to support sustainable livelihoods for small-scale rural farmers. Global demand, mostly from developed nations, for organic and fair-trade agricultural products has grown over the past few years, even throughout the global economic downturn. 

Citizen Media Trends: Digital Tools in India Catalyze Participatory Citizenship and Combat Corruption

Access to media in India is accelerating in both traditional and new digital forms. Television and radio are reaching more people than ever, and unlike much of the world, print readership in India is strong and on the rise. Although universal Internet access is far from a reality — only about 5.3 percent of India’s population uses the Internet, according to the World Bank — rapid changes to the way people access news and share information are on the horizon. 
Internet access and the use of social media tools for personal expression and news-sharing is fairly strong in cities and among middle- and upper-income groups. Prominent Bollywood actors, like Aamir Khan, are contributing to the mass popularity of blogging and tweeting, and due to its sheer population size, India ranks globally as one of the highest participants in top social media sites like Facebook. 
The situation is far different in rural areas, which have extremely limited access to digital communication technology. But awareness is growing. Last year, the Internet and Mobile Association of India reported that only 16 percent of the rural population was aware of the Internet. This year, that number jumped to 69 percent. 

Interfaith Means Cooperative Action for a Better World

  Amidst the tidal wave of riots that swept the United Kingdom earlier this month, stories emerged of different religious faiths working together to protect one another from violence and support the cleanup of London.

Changemakers Top 10 Summer Reads

Wilting from this summer’s record temperatures? We’ve got 10 great books to get you energized.

We asked social innovators from around the globe, including a few members of the Changemakers team, to tell us about their favorite summer reads. From poetry to memoirs to personal wisdom guides, our summer reading list is packed with insight and knowledge that is guaranteed to get you pumped to make change.

So load up your beach bags and e-readers—there isn’t a more perfect way to escape the August heat than a great book (and possibly air conditioning)!

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