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Letter from President Obama
Letter from David Simas, CEO
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DIVERSITY, EQUITY, AND INCLUSION
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A Human Network
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A Human Network
You may already know Robert Katende’s story. He grew up in the slums outside of Kampala, Uganda, where his intelligence and talent as a soccer player helped him defy the odds to attend university and become an engineer. Knowing personally just how much potential existed in the margins of Kampala’s society, Robert began coaching soccer and later chess to the children in Katwe, the city’s largest slum. It was there that he coached and trained a young girl named Phiona Mutesi, who eventually became Uganda’s National Junior Chess Champion and “The Queen of Katwe,” with a best-selling book and Disney movie to follow.
Vanessa Paranjothy’s story hasn’t received the same attention yet. She founded the startup Freedom Cups in her native Singapore, a company which helps provide menstrual cups to the 70 percent of women worldwide who don’t have access to adequate sanitation for their periods.
It was at the Obama Foundation Summit in Chicago where Robert, an Africa Leader, first met Vanessa, an Obama Foundation Scholar at Columbia University. When he heard about Vanessa’s work, he knew Freedom Cups could make a difference in the lives of the young women in his chess academy who, lacking sanitary products, would often have to miss school or chess practice during their periods. “How can we get this to Uganda?” he asked her.
This is one of the primary goals of the Obama Foundation: to ensure that people doing impactful work around the world know each other, support each other, and help each other achieve even more. We want people to see the work they do in their communities as part of a broader effort, because when they create change in their world, it ends up changing ours.
And while the Summit is a powerful way to connect leaders once a year, in one place, we want to create a way for those pursuing change to meet at any time, regardless of location—a digital platform that forms a human network.
We’re in the early stages of testing this platform with some of the emerging leaders from our programs, giving them a way to connect with each other and tap into the resources and expertise that the Obama Foundation is assembling. Eventually we hope to give all the participants of our programs—and maybe one day visitors to the Obama Presidential Center—a way to connect with other people around the world who share their passion for progress.
And maybe then you won’t just know Robert’s story or Vanessa’s story, but the story of thousands of changemakers connecting across the planet.
Because no one changes the world alone.