Shannon Farley Contributor
Fast Forward Contributor Group
Force-of-nature. That’s how I would describe the five innovators you’re about to meet. I’m thrilled to share my annual roundup of tech nonprofit leaders who are transforming the social impact tech space. These entrepreneurs have big visions for improving lives through technology. What sets them apart: the leaps they took in 2021 to deliver on these visions. Each meeting a pressing need amplified by the pandemic, here are five innovative social entrepreneurs building tech solutions for communities across the world.
Cecilia Corral, Co-Founder & VP of Product at CareMessage
For underserved communities, access to key health information can save lives. This is especially true in the midst of a global pandemic. Uniting her engineering background and experience growing up in a low-income immigrant household, Cecilia Corral co-founded CareMessage to drive positive health outcomes for communities through accessible technology.
Cecilia built CareMessage into a scalable, data-driven tool that transforms how safety net organizations engage with their patients. These organizations (think free clinics and community health centers) leverage CareMessage’s platform to reach patients via text message, streamline care, and improve internal processes. The result: Cecilia and her team currently reach 10M patients across the U.S.
CareMessage’s 2022 focus is to grow this number. Cecilia plans to do so by scaling CMLight, CareMessage’s COVID-19 platform designed to communicate critical information about the virus. From guidance on getting tested and vaccinated, to where to find food and rent relief, more than 300 organizations have delivered COVID-19 information to millions of patients via CMLight. As we tackle the continuous challenges posed by the pandemic, it’s clear that Cecilia and her team at CareMessage will provide key support to at-risk communities.
Heejae Lim, Founder & CEO of TalkingPoints
We don’t often talk about the parent-educator partnership. But for families – particularly under-resourced, multilingual families – strong communication with their child’s teachers can be transformative. Heejae Lim experienced this first-hand. While her mother was able to play an important role in her education because she spoke English, she saw her peers with non-English speaking parents struggle. Today, Heejae’s building TalkingPoints, an accessible platform connecting traditionally marginalized families with teachers to unlock their child’s potential.
TalkingPoints removes systemic barriers to effective, equitable family-school partnerships through two-way translation, scaffolded resources, and content. In 2021, Heejae led her team in facilitating over 100M conversations between educators and families. It’s working: 93% of teachers saw their students improve in attendance, engagement, and well-being thanks to TalkingPoints.
Heejae and TalkingPoints are on an ambitious mission to impact 10M families and teachers by 2023. To get there, they’re building a next generation platform with expanded, research-driven engagement tools. “This is our once-in-a-generation opportunity to invest in families as a catalyst for student success,” says Heejae.
Christina Guilbeau, Founder of Hopebound
As a middle school teacher, Christina Guilbeau witnessed the harm caused when youth lack access to mental health resources. Her experience was symptomatic of a larger trend; in the U.S., half of lifetime cases of mental illness begin in the early teenage years – yet 14 million children attend schools with no mental health staff. Christina is trying to solve this problem with Hopebound, a digital platform connecting under-resourced youth with video-based virtual therapy.
Innovative in its approach, Hopebound enables at-risk youth to receive mental health support from mental health clinicians in masters programs, who earn the supervised clinical hours they need to graduate. 2021 was an exciting year for Christina. Her leadership earned Hopebound recognition as one of eight nonprofits funded by Zoom Cares. And, Hopebound celebrated providing its 1,000th free virtual therapy session. As Christina looks ahead to serving the next 1,000 and beyond next year, she’s excited to scale Hopebound’s impact by growing her team, increasing school and community partnerships, and bringing on more counselors.
Namya Mahajan, Co-Founder of Rocket Learning
In India, 150M children don’t have access to preschool. At the same time, 75% of their families are on WhatsApp. Namya Mahajan saw this as an opportunity to use technology to transform early childhood learning in her home country. She joined forces with an all-star team of technologists and education experts to found Rocket Learning. In short: Rocket Learning reaches parents in India where they are – on WhatsApp – to empower them to strengthen their child’s foundational learning through videos and educational activities.
Rocket Learning has taken off…fast. Since launching in March 2020, Namya and her team have already reached 300,000 students across India through their WhatsApp-based learning platform. They’re just getting started. Rocket Learning’s partnerships with state governments, paired with its scalable technology, are poised to propel it to even greater impact.
Coming off recently-won awards from MIT Solve and the World Economic Forum, Namya and the Rocket Learning team are ready to take on India’s education gap in 2022. Next year, Namya plans to support the early learning of 1M children across five states in India. Keep an eye on this innovator.
Aly Murray, Co-Founder & Executive Director of UPchieve
There are over 40M low-income children in the U.S. whose chances of graduating from college are significantly lower than their higher-income peers. Aly Murray was one of them. With a lack of resources in high school, Aly nearly gave up on attending college. But she made it, and now she’s paying it forward by democratizing access to academic support through UPchieve. Her north star? To give all students the opportunity to finish high school, attend college, and achieve upward mobility.
Using the UPchieve app, high school students get paired with a live volunteer tutor in under five minutes. This year, Aly and the UPchieve team passed the exciting milestone of 10,000 low-income students served across all 50 states. These high schoolers have requested an on-demand tutor over 50,000 times on the platform. Thanks to UPchieve, they got the help they needed.
Looking ahead, Aly has a lot in store for UPchieve. She’s most excited to expand UPchieve’s tutoring offerings to support more science and humanities subjects, as well as add a new feature that allows students to “favorite” tutors and be more likely to be matched with them. Driven by innovation and a commitment to students like her, Aly is bent on making UPchieve the tool she wished she had.
As we continue to grapple with the challenges of the pandemic, the need for these tech solutions will become even more pronounced. I’m grateful for these inspiring leaders for their unwavering commitment to supporting communities, and I look forward to following along as they reach – and surpass – their goals this next year.