“Real Life Solutions”, With Douglas Brown and Shaney Jo Darden

Have Fun — This work is hard and very emotional, so you have to have fun to be able to take care of yourself and stay healthy. We wouldn’t have made it 20 years if we couldn’t pair this important work with joy in our communities. And a bonus, people are attracted to other people who are […]

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Have Fun — This work is hard and very emotional, so you have to have fun to be able to take care of yourself and stay healthy. We wouldn’t have made it 20 years if we couldn’t pair this important work with joy in our communities. And a bonus, people are attracted to other people who are having fun, so it calls more people into the cause and the mission.

As a part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women Leaders in Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Shaney Jo Darden, Founder and Global Chief Creative Officer.

The Keep A Breast Foundation. After a friend was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000, designer and artist Shaney Jo Darden founded the global non-profit organization The Keep A Breast Foundation (KAB) to raise awareness of breast cancer and to encourage prevention and early detection among young people.

Now, as KAB celebrates its 20th anniversary, Shaney Jo is a leading voice in the cultural conversation about breast cancer and her visionary youth-targeted campaigns and programs featuring irreverent messaging, inventive art, cutting-edge pop culture and technology are fueling a paradigm shift among non-profit organizations. Since inception, KAB has expanded globally to Europe and Africa — Non Toxic Revolution, Check Yourself, Treasured Chest and Fit 4 Prevention. The iconic “i love boobies!” message, one of KAB’s signature breast cancer outreach and awareness campaigns, has become a generational staple for the young people she’s reached.

Shaney’s fierce commitment to arming young people with knowledge about breast cancer prevention and awareness has inspired action sports athletes, musicians ranging from punk to pop, and leading contemporary artists to help broadcast the message. KAB’s signature plaster casts of women’s and men’s torsos, hand-painted by world famous artists and auctioned for the cause, help fund the important work she does via events at which she educates thousands.

An expert on breast cancer philanthropy, Shaney Jo has received many awards for her innovative fusion of advocacy, art, lifestyle-brand partnerships and street culture, and in the process has generated substantial funds for Keep A Breast via donations, partnerships, and licensing. She is a recipient of the Yoplait Champion Award, the SIMA Humanitarian of the Year Award, the MySpace Impact Award for Health and Safety. And notably, in 2011, Shaney Jo delivered the keynote speech for TEDxSanDiego’s “The World in Our Grasp”.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path? Can you tell us a story about what brought you to start a nonprofit organization?

I always wanted to be a fashion designer and I studied fashion in College. I lived in Southern California where surf and skate culture was really starting to grow. My passion was denim and I worked for many skate brands designing jeans for teenage boys. This was in the 90’s and this scene was really flourishing and I was so inspired by the creativity of the community. From art to music to fashion, this community was unique. I started hosting exhibitions highlighting all the creative talent. One day, one of the painters that I had been working with was diagnosed with breast cancer at 33. It was shocking because I had no idea you could get breast cancer that young. That moment was the spark that started me in the path of becoming an activist and starting Keep A Breast.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company? Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started Keep A Breast.

I think what’s most interesting and unique is how we deliver our educational programs and the people we have been able to work with along the way. It’s quite amazing to see so many guys stand up and share their stores of how cancer has impacted their lives. We have done self-check PSA videos where the guys show you how to do your self-check with bands like Blink 182, Fall out Boy. Pierce The Veil, Paramore, All Time Low, MXPX, Thursday, 3OH!3, Say Anything and more.

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

When you are working with such a serious topic, mistakes aren’t really funny. You just feel bad. I’ve definitely said all the things you’re not supposed to say to cancer survivors. I continue to learn with humility by asking people, listening, and learning from the community what the best ways are to be a co-survivor, caregiver, and supporter.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

The hardest times I’ve had with Keep A Breast was when i love boobies! bracelets became a global trend and sensation. It was a good time because we were growing and raising funds for our programs. I created the bracelet, similar to the livestrong bracelets, that were really popular at the time, but I put the KAB twist on it. I made them wide with bold “i love boobies!” letters and in bright colors. I would have never thought that people could get offended by the word boobies! All of a sudden teenagers were getting suspended from school and our bracelets were getting banned across the country. There was even a case where the ACLU represented two girls and their right to wear the bracelets. It went all the way to the supreme court. I started to get a tremendous amount of hate mail and messages to my email and personal facebook. People telling me that I was taking advantage of the youth of America with a get rich marketing scheme, that I was the anti-christ, that I was sexualizing breast cancer, that I was perverted and offensive.

I felt horrible and it really broke me down. I wanted to quit. I was asking myself if I was creating more harm than good. Then the good messages started coming. The messages of love and support from all over the world. Teens educate their peer’s about breast cancer prevention. I told myself, if two teens can stand up for their rights and go through getting kicked out of school and being taken to court, then I can keep going for them.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Running a non profit you need a lot of people that help you along the way. KAB would not be here without so many people and communities. Shout out to the artists who have painted breast casts, staff past and present, partners who amplified and supported our work, the street art community who embraced us so fully, and so many more.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Choose Love over Fear.

Is something my mom always told me. I feel like if you take the path of love you can’t go wrong. Sometimes it is harder, sometimes it hurts and sometimes it takes a lot longer. Most of the time when you choose Love over fear you get that feeling in your gut that you are flowing and all good things are coming our way. The times that i have chosen the fear path I always find it hard to walk that path again and I’m blocking my own growth as a person.

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. We’d love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?

Our vision is a world without breast cancer. But until then, our mission is to empower young people around the world with breast health education and support. We do that by educating young people about the true risks of cancer, providing ways of living a healthy, non-toxic lifestyle and providing the knowledge to perform your own “self check” to ensure early detection saves more lives.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We are unique in the fact that we are the only global organization that talks to young people about breast cancer prevention. The truth is that women are being diagnosed younger and younger, cancers are becoming more aggressive, and only 10% are linked to family history. With women in their 20s and 30s being diagnosed with breast cancer, you really can’t wait to think about it until you’re in your 40s or 50s. That’s where we come in. We meet young people where they are and provide information that resonates with their unique perspective. And we use art and music to get our message across.

Art can communicate complex feelings and emotions that I never could. Art can change lives, make people think, and make people act. And for KAB, it inspires people to be their own own health advocates. Whatever we do, art is always at our core. Even our art direction as a brand is core to who we are. Awareness unites our passions, and we use brand recognition as a form of art to create campaigns that appeal to younger people, help us achieve our mission, and help us raise funds.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We have a super exciting project in the works right now called the KAB Valley. The KAB Valley is a Boutique Wellness Center designed as a desert community that will provide the space and tools for visitors to explore and nurture an individual and collective wellness. This community experience will include, modern cabins to rest your head, retreat space for community enrichment and survivor support, youth programs on prevention led by artists in residence, plant-based cafe featuring locally made juices and small plates, wellness spa offerings for self-care and healing, and more.

Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful tech company? Please share a story or an example for each.

Transparency — I don’t think you can create something impactful and sustainable without trust. Trust between you and communities, partners, and members. If there is a benchmark in your industry, go for that transparency benchmark, or beyond! KAB is platinum rated on Charity Navigator, a benchmark in the nonprofit community, and that helps us communicate our financial and program transparency. We are also transparent with the fact that we work with brands that are aligned to our core values. To me, long-term impact is rooted in transparency.

Mission — Always make sure that everything you do relates back to the mission statement. Focus is so important to create the impact you’ve set out to make. Whenever we’re brainstorming new campaigns or creating new partnerships, we always go back to our mission statement and ask ourselves, “will this further the mission we have committed to fulfilling?” That keeps us in integrity to those we have set out to help.

Impact — We design impact measurements from our programs to report back to donors how far their donations have gone is also another form of transparency. All the little things we do on the daily are summarized each year into the impact we’ve made so we can share with staff, donors, and members of our community. I believe to keep momentum going, people need to see that their efforts are making an impact.

Real Life Solutions — When I realized the environmental factors of breast cancer, it sparked the need for a program with real-time solutions that weren’t too overwhelming. When we’re fighting large systemic issues, it’s important that people feel empowered in their daily life. Our Non Toxic Revolution program was our solution for that, where we give our community practical ways to lower their risk for breast cancer.

Have Fun — This work is hard and very emotional, so you have to have fun to be able to take care of yourself and stay healthy. We wouldn’t have made it 20 years if we couldn’t pair this important work with joy in our communities. And a bonus, people are attracted to other people who are having fun, so it calls more people into the cause and the mission.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

Yvonne Chouinard

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!

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