When Marisol Maldonado was a little girl, it was never a question that part of her life's work would include advocating for those without a voice, and connecting them with the services they need. Her travels -- from the Caribbean to Central America to cities across the United States -- have shown her the commonalities that bind every corner of humanity: to remove the obstacles standing in the way of personal and community empowerment, and to live a life worth remembering.
She has established herself as a consistent voice in the philanthropic arena, working in the tough but rewarding trenches of cause marketing. And social media has only enhanced her standing, providing a major platform, and greatly expanding her vision for a better world through charity and strategic partnerships. As a social entrepreneur, she combines her passion for helping, her engaging personality and a keen eye for smart strategy to elevate awareness and positive action for causes. These attributes make her a force for good in social media as well.
We recently caught up with this philanthropic dynamo to see what drives her and fuels her passion for helping others.
You've had a long career in both business sponsor-ships and philanthropy. I see that your business is modeled on these two areas.
Yes, but the two actually overlap fairly seamlessly. My business is designed to increase brand awareness through social media. I work with a lot of businesses throughout the city, and therefore, I have various business contacts. At the same time I have a passion for philanthropy and giving back to the communities that support these businesses. Businesses and philanthropic organizations rely on each other to be successful and I'm able to help them develop the relationships to do so. Corporations and small businesses will reach out to me seeking opportunities to support special causes knowing that I'm already aware of upcoming philanthropic projects or events in need of support. On the other hand, local charities will reach out to me seeking advice on business sponsorship. So basically, we are all working together, leveraging our areas of expertise with one goal in mind to create successful, thriving communities.
What type of charitable, community projects are you typically drawn to?
I have always been drawn to hunger relief organizations. I feel like this is a problem with a fairly attainable solution. I think all it takes is awareness. I just can't imagine human beings turning away from the opportunity to help feed people in need. It doesn't require a lot of effort or cost a lot of money. In my heart, I honestly believe it's just an awareness issue. I think people don't realize how many people are faced with this challenge including children, the elderly and entire families. You don't necessarily have to give money to support these charities. Often these organizations are simply looking for people to volunteer their time. Volunteering time is a tremendous help because the food has to be organized, packed and delivered to food pantries and then distributed to the hungry.
My other passions involve women's health issues and local youth initiatives. Often I look for organizations with tools and resources to help the youth navigate around all of the challenges that they are faced with on a daily basis.
You're very involved with teen issues. And this has been the case since your late teen years, right?
My involvement with teen issues began at an early age and was really nurtured by my mother and by our church. I'll never forget when I was a teenager, our church group visited an orphanage in Haiti. There were children of all ages including teenagers just like me, but they didn't have bare necessities, no clean water, no clean clothes and no food. It was heart wrenching and it changed my life forever. My mom was struggling to raise me, my two brothers, and my little sister, all by herself and she was struggling to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. But what I saw in Haiti was a level of poverty I'd never seen before. From that moment, I told myself regardless of my personal situation, I would always do whatever I could to help someone else in need. Growing up, I watched my mom demonstrate this behavior on a regular basis. It was almost an unspoken rule in my house. My mom even brought in one of my high school friends to live with us because her home life was so unstable. We didn't think about how we were going to afford or even make room for another teenager in the house. We all pulled together and did what we had to do to help her out. She stayed with us all through high school and then went off to graduate from college.
Now I support an organization called Global Teen Talk, and co-produce the Global Teen Talk Radio Show every Sunday. It reaches into the lives of teens with straight talk on topics and issues such as education, personal development, technology, health and fitness, social skills, finance, addictions, conflict resolution, relationships, self- empowerment, fashion and safety. The show offers them helpful tips, resources and tools critical to learning valuable life lessons, building character, problem-solving, career choices and managing relationships. The show allows teens to call in, voice their opinions and dialog with other teens and guests.
How has social media transformed and elevated what you're doing?
Social media helps me increase the brand awareness and the overall exposure of the organizations that I'm involved with. For example I was recently recognized by Al Dia News as the most followed Latina in Philadelphia on twitter. With 8,840 twitter followers, I can easily and quickly generate excitement and support for the local causes that I'm involved with. In addition, various organizations and businesses reach out to me using social media tools simply because they have the ability to see some of the things that I have done in the past. Most importantly, social media enables me to provide a platform to those who need a voice. But not just any platform. Social media allows me to connect the right people with the right cause, at the right place, at the right time.
Late this year, you will be taking part in an endeavor to feed over a million people who are hungry in four different parts of the world. How did that come about?
I actually got involved with this because of my connections to Haiti charities that began when I was a teenager. In January 2010 Haiti suffered a catastrophic earthquake and I wanted to help. In March 2010 I joined Stop Hunger Now as a volunteer at the event Philly Feeds Haiti where we packaged 180,000 meals in one day, and sent them to Haiti. Shortly after that event I was asked to join the advisory board. In October of 2011 I embarked on a "Service Trip" to Nicaragua to visit the Stop Hunger Now partner ORPHANetwork. We visited programs in Nueva Vida, a refugee camp in Cuidad Sandino, on the outskirts of Nicaragua. Nueva Vida currently hosts six feeding initiatives which Stop Hunger Now is partnered with.
In October, Philly Feeds the World and Stop Hunger Now, in partnership with a local relief organization, will gather 5000 volunteers at the Philadelphia Convention Center to package 1 million meals to go to Asia, Africa, Central America and Haiti. I'm helping with the development of the Social Media campaign and I will be reaching out to recruit volunteers. I'm excited.