Scrolling through Jody Landers' blog is a strangely intimate experience -- one that embodies the way that the Internet has transformed our personal and private lives. Pages are colored with birthday cakes, first days of school and grandpa hugs; she openly blogs about her challenges as a parent and a wife, as if wanting to assure her readers that they aren't alone.
Landers is the wife of a worship pastor and has the warm, shy demeanor of a girl from a small town. Last month, while addressing a packed New York crowd at a gathering for the Adventure Project, an organization she co-founded with former charity: water program director Becky Straw, she admitted, "well, I have six kids so this isn't my typical Wednesday night."
At first glance, Landers is the young stay-at-home mother that many of us in the urban social change work would shrug off as irrelevant, but her role straddling two worlds -- the world of cutting edge social entrepreneurship and the religious charity-based paradigm -- is proving a smart one for creating maximum impact. With an average of 2,000 unique hits on her blog a day, it is obvious that her followers find her narrative a unique and important one to follow.
When her fourth son was born with a rare, life-threatening birth defect, Landers and her husband had what they consider a life-changing experience: "We had been too close to the pain and tragedy of parents losing their children and we decided we wanted to move our family toward places where we could be involved in reducing the suffering of others." That's when the young couple decided to pursue adoption from Sierra Leone, one of the poorest countries in the world.
After bringing twins Zeke and Kora home from Sierra Leone, Landers organized a group of moms from her church to connect around issues outside of their small town. Using their personal blogs as a platform, the group ended up raising around $350,000 in two years for clean water in Africa for what is now the fastest growing nonprofit in history, charity: water. As one of the star fundraisers for the organization, Landers was invited to Liberia, West Africa to see the water projects they had funded. There she met Straw, and within a year, they launched The Adventure Project (TAP) together.
The mission of the TAP is to support social enterprise, as well as to communicate the importance of creating jobs in developing countries. Unlike its nonprofit partners that train entrepreneurs on the ground, TAP also shares compelling stories of change, linking donors to each other and the campaigns they support. Essentially, the TAP founders describe their mission as "teaching others to fish."
This month marks the launch of TAP's health campaign, supporting Living Goods, a revolutionary program in Uganda, Africa. Living Goods trains women to become community health promoters, and earn a living selling essential health supplies and medicine at prices affordable to the poor. The women also provide regular check-ups to pregnant women and their newborns.
Landers associates her personal passion for this particular TAP campaign with the fact that her twins' biological mother died giving birth in Sierra Leone -- a death that could have been prevented if she had proper health care. Sadly, 80 percent of maternal deaths could be prevented if women had access to basic maternal and health services. "Knowing that jobs for these women can prevent the kind of tragedy that took the life of our twins' mother is really amazing. Ultimately for us, it's about creating a world where the adoption of orphans is not necessary."
The TAP founders are particularly moved by the individual stories that illustrate the importance of the social enterprise movement in the developing world. Both were eager to tell the story of a community health promoter named Babirye. Babirye was a young mother (and community health promoter) in Uganda with two daughters. Landers describes how she and Straw watched as Babirye visited the families in her community to check up on sick children, and sold a birthing kit to a pregnant mother. "People called to her as she walked through the streets. They knew her. They trusted her. They needed her. She held her head high as she told us about the school she plans to send her own daughters to," Landers smiles with pride. "The program in Uganda currently has over 650 women like Babirye. Next year, they hope to hire an additional 500 women."
In recent years, the value of women to their communities has been celebrated and received newfound emphasis in economic development. Women are often the caretakers, the breadwinners and the binding forces of their communities. Women entrepreneurs in particular, are important engines of rising family incomes and economic and class mobility. Describing her experience of these women, Landers explains, "They have the dignity of being able to lift their own families out of poverty. That's a powerful mindset that influences generations. When a woman is empowered with a job, she can feed her family, educate her family, and care her family. The ripple effect is endless."
For now, Landers continues her role at the grassroots level to solidify TAP's role as a leading nonprofit in the economic development space. She and Straw strive to promote positive images of self-sufficiency and dignity through job creation, a notion that marks a step away from traditional aid-based models. Landers is an intriguing character, and certainly an important one to watch as the social change space evolves. She acts as an important gateway to moms and other women who may have been historically disassociated from the world of social and economic impact by virtue of religious or political affiliation by pulling on the common experience of motherhood to draw her followers to TAP's progressive causes.
"Each of our children has added profound value to our lives. And I do believe that there is a fierceness to a mother's love that cannot be reproduced. And I think I realized that there is something universal about that. Supporting this campaign is an opportunity to live beyond those diapers, and Legos, and homework, and baseball practices and touch the lives of women we've never met."
For more information about getting involved, visit their website at www.theadventureproject.org.
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