An Incredible Day at the White House

July 2, 2009

Thrilling, humbling, inspiring – in the afterglow of Tuesday’s event at the White House, all three words still apply. It was fun, for sure – how could it not be, with all the energy and personality 12-year-old Richard Ross brought to the stage? I have a few reflections, though, on some behind-the-scenes moments that really stand out for me.

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Thrilling. The lights and cameras and POTUS (President of the United States). Pat Christen introducing the work of HopeLab to the world. Just being in the White House for an event. There was a lot to be excited about. But the most thrilling moment for me was when Richard Ross, a middle-school student from San Francisco who helped test our first gDitty prototype, looked up from the podium while speaking to smile at the room. Before the event, Richard was nervous but determined to share his experience with gDitty. At that moment, I think he realized everyone was listening and loving what he had to say. In the room, you heard every camera suddenly go off to capture that incredible smile. He’s a great kid, and it was a thrill to see him truly enjoy the moment.   

Humbling. Vanessa Nunez, a graduate of Genesys Works who spoke at the event, made me think differently about what it takes to achieve success. Having dinner with Vanessa and others Monday evening, I asked her how she responded when she got the call to be on stage at the White House. She didn’t hesitate. I was impressed that, at such a young age (she’s just finished her freshman year in college), she is so certain about the importance of seizing opportunities when they present themselves. That just may be the essential ingredient to success. I was humbled by how much she’s achieved in her young life – and how much more she hopes to achieve. All the speakers at the event were remarkable. Geoff Canada of Harlem Children’s Zone is such a passionate, engaging speaker who gives voice to both the challenges and opportunities in underserved communities, and the poignant story Bonnie CLAC founder Robert Chambers tells about the moment he decided he had to do something to help hard-working people being exploited by a system they didn’t understand is incredibly moving. But Vanessa and her determination stand out for me.

Inspiring. After the event was over, Pam Omidyar said something that really sums up the day for me: “Dream come true. Now think big.” That, she explained, was her reaction when data on Re-Mission was published in 2008, a high point in her journey with HopeLab as founder and board chair. I think being recognized by the President and the White House was a special moment for social innovators everywhere – a dream come true, even. But let’s all look ahead and think big.

At the end of an incredible day at the White House, I think the spotlight on innovative nonprofits provided by the President is an unprecedented opportunity. Let’s take a note from Vanessa and seize it to connect, collaborate and do more together!

Watch the full event at C-SPAN (HopeLab and Richard Ross at 10:20, Obama at 32:30).