12/02/2014 01:41 pm ET Updated Feb 01, 2015

A Shock to the System

My life was transformed in 2006 when I walked into an orphanage for the first time. Walking through those doors had a profound impact on me. I was in shock.

I was even more shocked to learn that the 50 or so kids in that orphanage were just the tip of the iceberg. Millions of children live outside of parental care and are warehoused in institutions. So many in fact, that we cannot even get an accurate count. Why? I have only been able to conclude it is because of the great shame associated with the truth of how we are treating these children. It is easier to turn our backs, and that is precisely what the world has done.

What I could not reconcile is that there are opportunities to reunite many of these children with their birth families and kin and to place others in permanent families through adoption. Yet there was no global organization focused on solving this problem. That is what caused me to become a social entrepreneur and to create Both Ends Burning, an organization whose name speaks to one of society's greatest under achievements -- our inability to place vulnerable children with the families that so urgently want to care for them. Every child needs and deserves a family.

Over the last few years, our organization focused on mobilizing the power of public opinion and building a base of support here in the United States. We have advocated to make these kids a human rights priority in US foreign policy. But just a few weeks ago, we started on the next phase of our strategy. We engaged with child welfare delegates from nations around the world to understand their efforts, their successes, and the obstacles they are facing. We took the critical first step. We listened.

Child welfare officials from 19 countries spent three days exploring, sharing, learning from each other and from expert advisers, with only one question in mind; "How do we get the world's most vulnerable children into permanent families?"

I was afraid we would only hear political rhetoric, and the reasons why things can't change. I was shocked, again. This time pleasantly. The conversation was open, honest and real. The camaraderie was astounding. This international group of influential people embraced becoming a catalyst for change. Every participant joined us in forming a working group, which we will refer to as the Global Permanency Coalition. We each committed to working together to create effective solutions.

Going into the symposium we realized what we were doing was unprecedented. There had never been a global forum devoted to this topic. Now that it has happened, we are determined that it serve as a springboard for real change.

Finally, after eight years, the original shock to my system has begun to give way to hope and optimism.

Craig Juntunen
Founder, Both Ends Burning Campaign

To contact Craig