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Isabel Wang and Margot Bellon of ‘Bridging Tech’: “ Stay focused”

Isabel Wang — Grow the team and include dedicated individuals with novel ideas as soon as possible. In the first few months after we started Bridging Tech, we added a few students to start the team and create new programs. At the end of our first campaign, I realized that we needed much more help, so I […]

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Isabel Wang — Grow the team and include dedicated individuals with novel ideas as soon as possible. In the first few months after we started Bridging Tech, we added a few students to start the team and create new programs. At the end of our first campaign, I realized that we needed much more help, so I immediately sent out messages to the Stanford community to grow the team. Now, we have eight teams focused on running different aspects of Bridging Tech every day, but in the beginning, our small group of four students handled all of these tasks.

Margot Bellon — Stay focused. So many people who we sought advice from wanted us to focus on phones or tablets or internet, but we knew that we were only able to donate computers in an efficient and effective manner at the time. It is important, especially when first starting up, to stay focused on one task in order to do it well and establish credibility.


As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Isabel Wang and Margot Bellon of Bridging Tech.

Isabel Wang is a rising senior at Stanford University studying Symbolic Systems, an interdisciplinary major focusing on the interactions between computer science, neuroscience, psychology, linguistics, and philosophy. She grew up actively leading community initiatives improving race relations and her local government’s public health programs. At Stanford, Isabel continued her interest in social justice by researching interventions for equitable children’s education at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, and improving technology that provides educational empowerment to youth, parents, educators and healthcare workers in low and middle income countries. Outside of her academics, Isabel enjoys acting, helping the elderly and personally researching human behavior and the mind.

Margot Bellon is a rising senior at Stanford University majoring in Biology and minoring in Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies. At Stanford, she is involved with volunteer work at a local Palo Alto homeless shelter called the Heart and Home Collaborative, where she directly witnesses technology inequity in the Bay Area. She also conducts research on sexual assault prevention work on campus and has been involved with advocacy work for Planned Parenthood. After graduation, she will pursue a Master’s in Epidemiology at Stanford and has aspirations of becoming a physician in order to directly address disparities in women’s health. In her free time, Margot enjoys long distance running and engaging in all things outdoors!


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?

Isabel Wang: Igrew up in Shaker Heights, a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, that is known for its focus on improving social justice within the community. I got involved in race relations initiatives early on because I became acutely aware of racial tensions that were evident in our everyday lives. Eventually, I grew as a leader in my local race relations student organization, and I began spearheading race relations curriculum for my high school, organizing community forums dedicated to improving social justice through spreading awareness of implicit bias and serving on my school district’s Superintendent Advisory Council to work on achievement gap initiatives.

Additionally, as one of the four summer interns on the Public Health track for the Cleveland Clinic Science Internship, I researched Cleveland’s violence epidemic and worked on public health outreach initiatives related to education and safety for underserved communities. I was able to join my mentor and attend strategy meetings with the Cleveland City Council Subcommittee on Violence Prevention.

My work spearheading race relations initiatives in my community was awarded the Princeton Prize in Race Relations Certificate of Accomplishment, and my reflection on these personal experiences was awarded the Ohio Civil Rights Commission Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Award. Through all of these life-changing experiences, I realized how important social justice is to me, and working on social justice initiatives quickly became a longstanding passion in my life.

Margot Bellon: I grew up in San Mateo, CA in a French immigrant family. The focus in my family was always on hard work and obtaining a high level of education in order to be successful and give back to the community. Coming to college, I recognized what privilege I had to be from a family that prioritized education as much as mine did, and I sought to give back to my community through the medium of education, whether that was through tutoring students in the community, volunteering at homeless shelters, volunteering at a children’s home in Bolivia, or starting Bridging Tech!

You are currently leading an organization that aims to make a social impact. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?

IW: The digital divide is the inequitable access to technology that is tied closely to socioeconomic status and race. There are over 11 million children in the United States alone that do not have access to a proper device for learning at home, such as a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet, and from further research, I learned that low-income, minority students make up the majority of those without technology access. Currently, this lack of technology, combined with already existing educational inequities, could exacerbate existing academic gaps by up to 20% for disadvantaged students.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the digital divide is more acute than ever; through conversations with the directors of homeless shelters across the country, I learned that students without access to technology simply are not attending their classes, which means that they may be held back a grade in school for reasons outside of their control. The pandemic has heightened the need for technology access. Additionally, students from underserved backgrounds already start on an unequal playing field in education, and the digital divide, especially during times of necessary remote learning, threatens to widen these disparities every day.

Bridging Tech is a 501(c)(3) non-profit public charity that Margot and I founded in late April 2020 to bridge the digital divide and achieve improved social justice by making education and technology access more equitable. We give personal, permanent laptops for learning and enriching educational programs to children affected by homelessness throughout the country. We offer these services by partnering with homeless shelters, academic nonprofits, and refurbishing organizations, all of which align with our mission to improve children’s education. I believe that giving equitable technology access will make a great impact in social justice.

Furthermore, with our focus on improving the root causes of the digital divide, we offer free tutoring and mentorship programs to the students we serve so that they can succeed in school and have the freedom to choose their own paths after they graduate — including pursuing higher education. Through Bridging Tech’s services and technology access advocacy, we strive to ensure that our students have the equitable opportunity to learn and eventually rise from poverty.

MB: Bridging Tech wants to help end the cycle of poverty and generational inequity by providing an equal opportunity for educational success for all students, regardless of income, race, background, or housing status. Being affected by homelessness is a significant predictor for future homelessness or financial struggles, and Bridging Tech wants to ensure that all students have an opportunity to obtain an education, develop job-readiness skills, and have decision-making power over their futures. We also want to get involved in policy advocacy and develop the network to influence local legislation. After having had numerous conversations with people affected by homelessness in homeless shelters around the country, Bridging Tech has unique insight into the educational struggles of these youth, as well as the flaws in the delivery process of loaner computers from schools to youth affected by homelessness. For example, many students in the SF Unified School District that were promised computers from the school districts never received any. This is an issue that Bridging Tech would like to shed light on in local legislation.

Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?

IW: When I started my undergraduate studies at Stanford University, my exposure to Silicon Valley drew me to study the amazing applications of technology. I recognized that there are so many opportunities to change the world and improve people’s lives by utilizing the power of technology, so I began to merge my interests in technology and social justice.

I joined the Stanford Graduate School of Education SPARK Lab as a Research Assistant. Our lab studies the effects of psychology video interventions on social-emotional learning skills, with the purpose of improving educational equity by giving students in underserved communities access to the skills that will help them succeed in school. The more I learned about the layered difficulties that disadvantaged students face, the more passionate I felt about improving children’s education.

Alongside this experience, I was selected as a Product Manager for a web app called Internet of Good Things with the United Nations Children’s Fund, otherwise known as UNICEF. Internet of Good Things shares educational content and expert knowledge, free of data charges, with children in low and middle-income countries to bridge the digital divide. Some countries added school curriculum to Internet of Good Things so that students could continue to learn during the COVID-19 pandemic, even if they did not have access to Wi-Fi or could not pay for a data plan. Through my firsthand exposure to these issues of the digital divide, along with my overwhelming passion for social justice, I began to recognize the importance of technology access to children’s development and equitable education in our modern society.

While traveling around the Bay Area to go on short hikes with friends or meet students for my lab’s research study, I noticed some of the same inequities between affluent and impoverished neighborhoods that were evident in Cleveland and linked to both socioeconomic status and race. The disparities near Stanford seemed to exist on a much larger scale due to the proximity of Silicon Valley. I realized that more work needed to be done in all corners of the world to address systemic inequity by tackling the ubiquitous issue of the digital divide. My experiences with technology and social justice inspired me to take action and make progress on breaking generational cycles of inequity.

MB: I volunteered at the Ninos con Valor Children’s Home in Cochabamba, Bolivia, for two months providing sexual health workshops to the girls in the home. There, I noticed that there were only one or two computers for a house of 20–30 girls. This posed significant challenges to the after-school learning environment of the girls, since they all had to share a computer for their homework, so many did not get to spend the time they wanted to on assignments, causing them to fall behind in school. Additionally, I volunteered at the Heart and Home Collaborative shelter in Palo Alto, CA, and observed that many of the single, older women in the shelter would go to Starbucks and other public centers during the day to use free wife, since there wasn’t Wi-Fi at the shelter. When COVID hit, they were no longer able to go to these stores / restaurants to use Wi-Fi, and therefore had significant struggles connecting to the internet. From there, I couldn’t imagine what it was like for the youth that were affected by homelessness in the Silicon Valley to do online school. At the time, I was also tutoring local students (who had computers) with their online academics in the Bay Area, and saw that these students were entirely reliant on technology for their education. As a result, Isabel and I connected with each other again (we lived in the same residence our sophomore year, called Outdoor House at Stanford), and we got in touch with the Hamilton Families family shelter in SF right away. We soon realized how many youths did not have computers in this shelter, and it did not seem right that there was this dearth in resources in the center of the Silicon Valley, the heart of technology innovation, so Isabel and I sought a way to bridge the gap.

Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?

IW: In the spring, all undergraduate courses at Stanford were held remotely due to COVID-19. Since all in-person activities were canceled, I could no longer volunteer and spend time giving back to the community, which is something that I personally value. I was on a mission to find a way to use my current skill set to effect positive change and improve people’s lives during the pandemic.

I began reflecting on my experiences with social justice and educational equity, and the final moment that made me decide to step up and improve the community was simply concluding that I have the experience and ability to impact people’s lives, and I want to give back to improve children’s education. After that decision was made, the only question was how to make the greatest impact.

When Margot and I came together with our collective experiences in educational equity, we wanted to help children affected by homelessness improve their education through technology. By meeting with our friends at Hamilton Families, which was our first shelter partnership, we realized that many children were going to be left behind in school without devices due to socioeconomic difficulties outside of their control. This shocking conversation prompted us to officially come together as two young women passionate about social justice to build Bridging Tech from the ground up.

Even through many obstacles, my passion has always carried me forward. I believed in my skill set and in our cause, and that brought me to the point in which I had to step up and lead this initiative.

MB: When I realized that the kids who did not receive loaner computers from the school districts were not going to school at all and so were almost definitely going to be held back a grade in school, I became extremely motivated to pursue this start-up idea to the fullest. It felt like there should be something else — another social service in place — that could be the safety net for these students in case the school districts ran out of computer supply. But, there wasn’t for many students, and Bridging Tech had to step in to ensure that the students in the most need of academic help were indeed able to go to school, and were able to benefit from free tutoring services that other, more privileged families are able to afford. That is why Bridging Tech also started free tutoring and mentorship services for students in the shelters we serve.

Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?

IW: We sought mentorship from experienced professionals before we did anything else, and I believe that the amazing guidance we received from our Board of Directors and their networks, along with the advice we received through the Stanford Alumni Mentoring Network and Haas Center for Public Service, allowed us to set a solid, growth-oriented foundation for Bridging Tech. For example, our Board Chair generously gave many hours of his time every month to mentor us and help us improve our leadership skills. I have learned so much about running an organization in the past year from both personal experience and the advice we received from our incredible mentors. Without their help and expertise, we would not have been able to make Bridging Tech into a thriving nonprofit.

Another important step we made was to research the issue we were trying to solve. We met with the directors of each of our homeless shelter partnerships to learn about their students’ educational experiences during COVID-19, and I remember being shocked when learning that students in certain cities do not receive loaner devices for learning even though learning is mostly remote at the moment. I researched statistics on the digital divide to understand the size of the problem and contacted individuals in philanthropy to ensure that our giving is effective. Then, we utilized our newfound knowledge to lead an effective first campaign and set up the overall operations of Bridging Tech. The common thread throughout our journey to start Bridging Tech is that we were excited to reach out to experts and learn from their knowledge. I believe that our curiosity and passion to improve social justice truly drove the creation of Bridging Tech.

MB: We immediately identified mentors to help provide advice, contacts, and general guidance. Whenever we would have an idea for expansion in the beginning, we would run these ideas by our mentors to make sure they were on board. We also made a website as soon as possible so that people knew who we were and knew how to find out more about our organization. We also almost immediately applied for 501(c)3 status so that people would be motivated to donate to our cause since they would receive tax-deductible receipts. Additionally, we put out volunteer-recruitment announcements because building a team can always be beneficial for providing more hands to accomplish project goals. Finally, we tried to advertise our organization as much as possible by creating accounts on social networks, emailing family and friends, posting on Nextdoor, etc.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

IW: The most interesting thing that has occurred since founding the organization is the shift from our team reaching out to potential partners, to community members reaching out to us. Due to the recent growth of Bridging Tech, I have noticed an amazing outpour of support from community members who want to volunteer and help in any way that they can. Some people have nominated shelters that they would like us to partner with. Many people are excited to host technology drives on our behalf or start company-wide fundraisers for Bridging Tech. A few community members have met with us to give their expertise. We have even received messages from people who reach out on behalf of organizations to partner with us and improve the digital divide in entire cities. I am excited for what the future holds, and I am glad that people know that we welcome all support.

MB: I was lucky enough to go to the Upward Bound House shelter in Los Angeles to deliver a couple of computers to students, and hearing the direct impact of the donations was really inspiring. There, I met a girl in 6th grade who was attending Zoom class on her Mom’s phone, and was having a hard time engaging in class, doing her homework, and fully participating in school. Hearing that the computer would not only help her do better in school, but that it would also permit her Mom to have her phone back during working hours and answer work calls, etc. made me cognizant of the secondary impacts of Bridging Tech. We not only help children’s education, but our computers also help other members of the families we serve. The girl was absolutely thrilled about her new computer, and was especially excited that the computers was hers to keep. I realized that so much in these students’ lives are borrowed (the shelters they stay at are temporary arrangements, the clothes they get are hand-me-downs, etc), and to have a personal device that is yours to keep helped develop the girl’s confidence. Additionally, the mother of the girl kept emphasizing that asking for help is all you can do when you are in a situation like theirs. Because the mother asked for help and admitted she needed help, Mariah got a brand-new computer. This was an inspiring message: everyone needs help sometimes, and it is okay to seek out support from the community if you need it.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?

IW: I absolutely love talking to people and learning about their backgrounds, stories, and interests. Early on, during one of my scheduled 30-minute video calls with a mentor from the Stanford Alumni Mentoring Network, I was so intrigued by our conversation about necessary computer programs for children’s education during this period of remote learning, and how to design programs for accessibility and equity with disabilities in mind, that I ended up talking to my mentor for close to two hours. From this experience, I learned two things. First, though I had a wonderful time and it was a great break in the middle of the day, I became more cognizant of time restraints in future calls to respect others’ schedules. Second, I realized that people are open to having quality conversations with people when the topic is interesting.

Now, when meeting new people, I am more sensitive to their expectations of our conversations. I come prepared with a general agenda in mind, but I still like to spend more time than expected getting to know their backgrounds, because this allows us to find shared views and discuss issues surrounding those topics. I find that this creates a positive environment of brainstorming and occasionally opens new channels of thought that would not have been possible without free-form conversation.

MB: During our fall technology drive in the Bay Area, we collected all sorts of donations from the community, from 2000 Mac Books to headphones to landline phones to flash drives. Members of the community essentially viewed us as an “e-waste” service that was doing good for children’s education. It was funny to see the most random technology be delivered to us, given that our mission was to provide computers for children’s education. Unfortunately, when we delivered these donations to our partner refurbisher, called Tech Exchange, which refurbishes the pieces of technology that it can and then returns to us equivalent models that we can donate, only 2 of around 35 items were viable to be refurbished. Afterwards, we knew to be extremely specific with the technology we were requesting from the community: “Must turn on when plugged in, younger than 2012, preferably no Macs, functional tablets, functional smart phones” and that was it. We were in the process of separating ourselves as an organization from being a nonprofit liaison between refurbishers and shelters from a nonprofit that serves as a used-tech refurbisher.

None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?

IW: Our Board Members have been the most supportive mentors we could have asked for. They constantly give us new ideas for growth and set aside time to talk whenever we encounter roadblocks. Our Board Chair has brought so much passion to the project since we started Bridging Tech, and he taught us how to start an effective campaign, ask for support from professionals, and forge partnerships. His contacts in the Bay Area have also helped us share our cause with a wider audience. Our Board Chair even introduced us to our other Board Members, who have similarly brought an inspiring amount of passion to our cause. Through the reach of their networks, we have received support from over ten countries around the world.

One of our Board Members helped us receive one of our first grants from a major technology company. Another one of our Board Members is a lawyer and continues to guide us through filling out all of the necessary paperwork for a 501(c)(3) non-profit public charity. Another one of our Board Members shaped the messaging of our campaigns and taught us how to communicate our requests. Our Board Members continue to surprise us with fantastic suggestions based on years of experience in similar fields. We are so incredibly grateful for their time, expertise, and encouragement. They have helped us make Bridging Tech a thriving nonprofit.

MB: One of our most influential mentors is a General Partner at Canvas Ventures and he gave us important advice about what it takes to found a start-up, whether that be a company or a non-profit. He sent us the book, Give and Take, which taught valuable lessons about how helping others drives us to attain success. One of the most influential things he helped us with was helping us build an impressive Board of Directors with expertise in different areas who would help give us a holistic outlook on our efforts and direction as an organization. He described that he had founded a start-up in the past, and that the key to success is to always think about your start-up. Dedicated founders are always ruminating about how they can best direct their efforts and build their organization. He was a true inspiration for us, and we were connected to countless donors, companies, and other non-profits because of his network and willingness to help us out.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

IW: I think it is really important that we try to learn as much as possible about the people we serve, so we ask our contacts at our shelter partnerships to either introduce us to some of the families or explain their current educational needs to us. One of the families we serve in Denver told us that their two kids were trying to attend classes through the use of a single cell phone, which I learned is not an uncommon situation. This was difficult for multiple reasons, including limited access to a device for homework, one child not being able to attend school when the other child needed to use the phone, and the phone dying after prolonged use. In addition to these frustrations, this family is affected by homelessness and has had to move often without a stable point of shelter. At one point, the parents were even considering pausing their children’s education until they could buy a computer so that their kids could have a fulfilling educational experience. Now, both of their children have received a Bridging Tech laptop, and the family believes that these stable pieces of technology will help the kids succeed in their education.

MB: The girl from the Upward Bound House shelter from above.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

IW:

  1. Donate to our cause: Community members can donate 200 dollars to give at least one child affected by homelessness a permanent laptop for learning, and 1000 dollars will help at least five children. Through our campaigns, supporters can even choose specific cities they would like to help. Additionally, we always ask that donors check their companies’ matching funds policies to see if theirs will apply to a Bridging Tech donation. These matching gifts have helped us tremendously in the past, as monetary contributions sometimes double. Additionally, if they have devices sitting around unused, we urge them to visit our website and pledge to give their device to Bridging Tech so that we can wipe their data, refurbish the device, and give the device to a child who needs it right now.
  2. Get involved with our cause: Community members can volunteer to host technology donation drives in their cities. We will help them plan the logistics of the event so that we can easily refurbish the devices and send them to the students we serve across the country. They can also volunteer to help us pick up and drop off individual device donations in their city or volunteer to be the central point of contact for device donations in their city. Additionally, it would be helpful to receive advice and feedback from the community to learn how we can improve our operations. Finally, they can share our cause with their family and friends to spread awareness about the importance of bridging the digital divide. It is crucial that the community realizes that the digital divide will not go away without our work in bridging the gap.
  3. Partner with us: If community members work at companies that have computers, laptops, and tablets that get refreshed every few years, we would love to be introduced to one of their contacts in the IT department so that the discarded technology can be donated to Bridging Tech. Also, if they have any connections to local or national policymakers, we would love to meet with them. We want to make sure that school districts and local governments allocate enough resources to significantly improve technology access for children’s education, so we are excited to meet with anyone involved in policy to learn about how we can get involved. Finally, if they are interested in mentoring the students we serve or getting their company involved in hosting a career workshop, we have multiple mentorship opportunities available, and we urge them to reach out to help our cause.

MB:

  1. To members of the community: Donate your used devices to our cause. All functional computers help make an invaluable difference for children’s education. This also helps with sustainable computer recycling.
  2. To national politicians: Make sure that there is Wi-Fi in shelters and transitional housing apartments around the country. Many students affected by homelessness who receive our computers are in shelters without Wi-Fi, so half of the digital divide is not solved for them. We need to make sure that every family affected by homelessness has at least two hotspots (or more depending on the number of children they have).
  3. To local legislators: Make sure that students, through government subsidies, get long term technology that they can keep at home. Often, loaner computers are slow to be distributed or are not distributed at all. Additionally, when students can only use borrowed computers at school, they do not have the flexibility of doing their online work whenever they want. We need to make sure that all students get their own technology because tech has become an essential and fundamental part of modern education. Also, make sure that all families affected by homelessness have phones and email accounts so that they can be contacted by the schools of their children to become aware of when loaner computers are being distributed, etc.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

IW:

  1. People want to help; they simply do not know how to start. I learned this over time by speaking with community members and mentors. When we started our first 300-device campaign, I felt very uncomfortable asking people I just met for support, especially for a new and budding nonprofit. However, I learned over time that people are excited to give to a cause that is solely focused on improving the community and positively impacting people’s lives. Additionally, many community members were even more excited by the fact that we were a team of students and that they were supporting a grassroots movement to get devices into the hands of children affected by homelessness. Now, I feel more excited to speak with supporters and explain how they can get involved because of this shift in mindset.
  2. Grow the team and include dedicated individuals with novel ideas as soon as possible. In the first few months after we started Bridging Tech, we added a few students to start the team and create new programs. At the end of our first campaign, I realized that we needed much more help, so I immediately sent out messages to the Stanford community to grow the team. Now, we have eight teams focused on running different aspects of Bridging Tech every day, but in the beginning, our small group of four students handled all of these tasks.
  3. Make extra time to listen to team members’ ideas. Our team members are brilliant and so dedicated to improving Bridging Tech. They constantly come to us with new ways of improving our services or making processes more efficient, and I have learned over time that they have amazing suggestions whenever I need their help. For example, one of our team members mentioned offhand that we would eventually need to change the way we were messaging each other. At the time, we had fewer than twenty team members and used text messaging to communicate. I had gotten so used to texts since Margot and I text about Bridging Tech all day, and this quick suggestion made me realize that we needed to switch to a communications platform to allow for organizational growth. Now, our team is even larger, and I am so grateful that our team member spoke up and we made the switch earlier.
  4. Hold strategy meetings often. There is so much information that we are constantly learning about the issue we are trying to solve, so it is important that we meet often to determine if there are any changes that need to be made to our current procedures and educational offerings. Bridging Tech has given out laptops to children in grades K-12 since the start of the nonprofit. Recently, however, we have found that many young students may benefit more by receiving tablets instead. We are continuing to gather data on effective devices. This type of research may affect the way in which we source devices. On the other hand, it is very important that we set goals for the year and for future years early on so that we have a trajectory in mind. I have learned over time that it is important to not only strategize but also document our ideas so that we have a set, agreed-upon plan going forward.
  5. Build team morale early on; breaks are an incredibly important ingredient. It is easy to get into a routine of constantly working and meeting with team members on all days of the week, but I learned recently how refreshing and important breaks are for life balance and morale. Along the same line of thought, it is necessary to be a role model and emphasize an environment of open communication and flexibility. Whenever a team member approaches me with a request for more help or time off, I respect their request and try to fulfill their needs. I have found that this respect not only makes our relationship stronger, but it also makes the team feel more united and dedicated to our shared cause.

MB:

  1. Stay focused. So many people who we sought advice from wanted us to focus on phones or tablets or internet, but we knew that we were only able to donate computers in an efficient and effective manner at the time. It is important, especially when first starting up, to stay focused on one task in order to do it well and establish credibility.
  2. It is super important to create a positive team environment and check in with team members to make sure everyone is happy with the work they do on your team. This helps with volunteer retention. Our volunteers have been extremely motivated and have done more than their fair share of work while working with us. I think this is because they not only feel connected to the cause, but they also feel like they have decision-making power and the ability to lead a particular aspect of the organization.
  3. Make as many connections as possible early on. Interacting with several shelters from the beginning of our nonprofit helped us better understand students’ needs across the country, which helped us develop our theory of change.
  4. Develop a theory of change. It is important to have a clear-cut mission statement from the beginning of your project that is intentional and is based on a practical method of solving the problem in society you are trying to solve. Being focused on students affected by homelessness was important for us because these are the most disadvantaged students in school districts around the country. Starting with this population would be the first step to tackling generational cycles of inequity.
  5. Identify mentors. Professionals with years of experience can provide invaluable insight to you as you develop a project from the ground up. Our board really helped to encourage the decisions we took and steer us away from ideas that were less feasible.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

IW: To start, there is still so much that needs to be improved in the world. I motivate other young people like me to activate their inquisitive mindsets and never stop learning about our world. If people constantly learn, they will quickly find problems that need to be solved. As young people, it is up to us to identify these issues and improve the world. Even through offering solutions to improving children’s education through Bridging Tech, I have learned that there are so many additional ways to improve our students’ lives and educational experiences. The more we learn, the more questions pop up, so I urge young people to discover their passions by asking questions and get involved by applying knowledge to make a difference.

It is incredibly important that all young people believe in themselves and trust that they can make a positive impact in their community. If we find the best use of our current skill set and are passionate and dedicated to leading the change, we can truly improve people’s lives. One person’s actions, no matter how seemingly inconsequential, will create ripples in the community and inspire social change. Making a positive impact in society is important because even improving one person’s life is beyond meaningful.

I encourage everyone to lead with confidence and compassion, and to always show gratitude to the people who helped along the way. Very quickly, hard work and dedication will shine through and show tangible results.

MB: So much of our success in society depends on the hard work of our parents or guardians, of the social systems that are in place to make sure that we have free education or adequate healthcare, and the social networks that we have that help us socialize, feel confident in society, and stay motivated to do better. When we are lucky enough to have these three components in our lives that enable us to lead healthy and productive lives, it is our responsibility to give back to the society that nourished us and to provide others who are less fortunate with help to ensure that they have the equal opportunities that you had. All humans are created equal, and we want to make sure that if we are privileged, we do as much as we can to return some of that privilege to the society that gave it to us in the first place.

Doing good for society exposes you to so much diversity and gives you an invaluable perspective that is hard to find in the classroom or in the private workspace. Having a well-rounded outlook helps you lead pivotal conversations and important change in society. Additionally, having exposure to lives with less privilege than your own helps you recognize your luck and feel inspired to help change the course of life for others who did not have the same opportunities that you did.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

IW: I would love to have a meal with Bill and Melinda Gates to learn about the best ways to give effectively from their years of philanthropy leadership and making informed decisions about giving. They continue to set the vision for their foundation and stress the importance of data-driven decision-making. I am curious to learn about the insights that they have garnered through data analysis on the tangible impacts of their programs, especially in regard to children’s education and health. It would be wonderful to apply this knowledge to improve the effectiveness of Bridging Tech’s educational services and similarly utilize data to form excellent strategies for scaling our operations and helping as many children as possible.

MB: Bill Gates. The Gates Foundation’s strides in American education have been transformative for children’s academic success. The Gates foundation recognizes that graduation rates for black, Latino, and low-income students lag behind the national average, which is a disparity that Bridging Tech is trying to address. I want to understand the Gates Foundation’s theory of change — which grantees they fund and why in order to help promote educational equity — and I want to hear his advice on how Bridging Tech can approach our mission of promoting educational equity and “bridging the digital divide” as efficiently as possible.

How can our readers follow you online?

Readers can follow Bridging Tech by visiting our website www.bridgingtech.org often and signing up for emails at the bottom of the page. Additionally, our Instagram username is @bridgingtech, our Twitter username is @BridgingTech_, our LinkedIn URL is www.linkedin.com/company/bridgingtech and our Facebook URL is www.facebook.com/bridgingtechcharity. Finally, I motivate anyone interested in giving expertise, volunteering or joining our team to email us at [email protected]

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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