Five local innovators are creating opportunities for underserved populations, and they’re achieving it with ingenuity and passion. They represent a nonprofit tech startup, a global center on climate change, the private sector/city government, an art museum and a community-based doula agency for black women. They are examples of innovation in diversity and inclusion in Madison, and they are the recipients of this year’s M List awards.
Three organizations and two individuals are recognized this year. The organizations are Harambee Village, the Loka Initiative and Maydm. The individuals are Annik Dupaty and Shiva Bidar. Collectively their work is wide ranging. Harambee Village teaches mothers about breastfeeding and living well; the Loka Initiative collaborates with faith leaders around the world to help solve environmental crises; Maydm teaches girls of color how to code; Dupaty incorporates inclusion in her work as a museum events planner; and Bidar promotes diversity within UW Health as an employee and helps distribute funds to community projects as a city alderwoman.
Each honoree has a track record of providing ways for people to enrich their lives and gain new experiences. They are being honored because they see unmet needs in their communities and are seeking to solve those problems creatively. In turn, they are raising the profile of Madison as a place where all people have opportunities to thrive. And because Madison has some issues to address before it can be seen as a best place to live for all of its residents, Madison Magazine considers the 2019 M List award recipients as agents in an evolutionary process to fully embrace diversity, inclusion and equity in our city. They are evolutionary forces for change.
Cracking the Code: Maydm
Kya Johnson sat in a conference room at Badger Rock Middle School as she recalled the first time she learned to code. Her elementary school curriculum touched on the basics of computer language, but it wasn’t until she was in seventh grade that she caught on to coding and began to enjoy it. That’s when she took a coding class offered by the nonprofit Maydm. None of the adults in her life worked as coders or knew how to develop apps, websites or software, so she hadn’t considered it as a career option before Maydm began its partnership with Badger Rock Middle School last year. Maydm offers scholarships and skill-based programs that prepare young women and students of color for the technology sector.
Winnie Karanja, Maydm’s founder and executive director, listened attentively as Johnson shared her experience. Johnson’s story is one that resonates with her, and one she sees as a microcosm of a larger trend of racial and gender inequality in the fields of STEM — science, technology, engineering and math.
Karanja herself did not learn to code until she was a senior in high school. She was one of only two female students and students of color in class — a pattern of underrepresentation she observed then and has continued to see since becoming more involved with the tech field. “If you don’t have a parent who works in the STEM field and you’re not seeing yourself represented there, you’re not going to see that as a job opportunity,” Karanja says, adding that STEM is growing in importance and tech is involved in practically everything we do. “If we’re not making sure that these communities and groups that have been traditionally underrepresented have access, then we’re faulting ourselves as a community.”
Providing access to skills leads to high-wage employment and fosters economic growth, Karanja says. It is a key factor in addressing equity and disparity issues not only in education, but also in health, housing and other areas. So when she heard from a former elementary school principal in Madison that a national nonprofit organization had ignored the school’s inquiry about organizing a coding class, she knew she had to start Maydm.
Badger Rock Middle School is the first in the Madison Metropolitan School District to include Maydm in its project-based curriculum. Principal Hong Tran says Badger Rock is a smaller school with fewer resources and relies heavily on community partnerships to create opportunities for its students. Having worked with nonprofits and having witnessed the economic displacement in the San Francisco Bay area during the tech boom, Tran says Maydm’s innovative and collaborative approach to community development stands out as refreshing. “Beyond the technical skills, it’s the orientation toward service, toward capacity-building and investment into our community and students” that is the most innovative, Tran says.
By organizing summer programs, introducing mentors and offering paid internships to its participants, Maydm hopes to “shift the perspective on where talent and brilliance is,” Karanja says. “Because there’s underrepresentation, it means that people need you so much more.” –HC
Higher Powers: The Loka Initiative
Finding solutions to environmental crises around the world seems insurmountable, but local scientists and educators are exploring how faith leaders could ignite a global movement to address climate change.
The Loka Initiative, housed within the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, focuses on engaging faith leaders to help solve environmental issues in their communities and become part of decision-making processes as stakeholders. Loka aims to support faith leaders in designing projects and helping them with capacity-building and public outreach.
“Whenever we are with the Dalai Lama, he reminds us that there are 7 billion people on the planet and the majority of those people self-identify as belonging to a faith tradition, about 80%,” says Richard Davidson, founder and director of the Center for Healthy Minds. “If we can educate faith leaders and if we can help bring them on board with faith leaders who already presumably have some commitment to personal transformation, we can facilitate the use of their leadership roles and their connection to 80% of people on this planet to help bring increased ecological awareness that can be part of the personal transformational journey that they are also involved with.”
In May, Loka held a three-day symposium at the Holy Wisdom Monastery in Middleton. Titled “Faith in Action for a Flourishing Planet,” it convened participants of various religions and beliefs, scientists, scholars, policymakers and educators to share information, build partnerships and examine strategies for faith-led environmental efforts. Organizers say attendees’ religious affiliations included Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism. Some traveled from as far away as Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Kenya and Nepal.
Dekila Chungyalpa, director of the Loka Initiative, says she also sought out indigenous people — or “First Nations,” as she also calls them — to participate in the symposium because of their fundamental philosophy of how creation and caring for the earth is “holistically integrated” into their cultures. Participants’ tribal affiliations included Ojibwe, Cheyenne, Ho-Chunk, Mandan-Hidatsa-Arikara, Menominee and Navajo.
“It’s really important to me that First Nations are at the table from the very beginning, that they are recognized for not just their wisdom and their traditional ecological knowledge but that they are recognized as primary stakeholders,” she says.
Chungyalpa, who worked at the World Wildlife Fund and at Yale University before starting the Loka Initiative, says working with faith leaders has been “a completely heart-opening process” in which she had to let go of what she had studied and how she was trained in the scientific world. “I think it’s because faith leaders, for those who are interested already in environmental and climate work, are coming to it from a perspective of values and from a perspective of wanting to protect and take care of all life.”
The Loka Initiative launched in 2018, and Chungyalpa says it plans to offer a noncredit course online and a two-semester certified program designed for faith leaders. Fellowships are also offered. The initiative also partners with these UW–Madison entities: the Center for Religion and Global Citizenry, the Division of Continuing Studies, the Global Health Institute, the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and the Religious Studies Program. –KLM
A Change Maker: Shiva Bidar
For Shiva Bidar, innovation in diversity and inclusion isn’t about high-tech solutions or new inventions. It’s about giving people the funds they need to create their own positive change.
Bidar, chief diversity officer at UW Health and Madison Common Council president (and a member of numerous boards and commissions), has influenced both UW Health and the city of Madison to get funding into the hands of organizations doing good work, without distracting them with onerous requirements.
Bidar, who was born in Iran and grew up in Spain, was first elected to the Common Council in 2009 and joined UW Health in 2016. She was promoted as the organization’s first chief diversity officer just six months later.
She says UW Health has made an effort in recent years to make diversity a priority through the company’s community initiatives. Over the past three years, UW Health has refocused on organizations “that are truly doing what I call grassroots work in communities of color and the LGBTQ community.”
UW Health does so through donations to local organizations without requiring an application, and, Bidar says, some of those donations come with no strings attached.
“We believe in trust-based giving,” she says. “Getting away from what has traditionally been seen as sponsorship to really just providing funding unrestricted, and let them decide what they’re going to do. They’re experts, they understand the work that needs to be done, they’re doing the work, they’re embedded in the community.”
In fact, Bidar refrains from calling these donations “grants.”
“Usually when you use the word ‘grant,’ it comes with expectations,” she says. “This is just saying, ‘You are doing the work. Here are the funds that we just want to give you to support your work.’ ”
It was with a similar attitude that Bidar led the development of the city of Madison’s Emerging Opportunity Program in 2013. The idea for EOP, she says, was to provide seed funding to smaller organizations that may not have traditionally received funding.
EOP provided $150,000 to small organizations in 2019, a relative drop in the bucket compared to the overall city budget, but the program doled it out in amounts that can effectively boost nonprofit startups.
Bidar says the program has more value than the dollars. It has offered new organizations “a foot in the door for city funding, to get in and get some funding, to get acquainted with the processes of the city.”
Beyond funding, Bidar cites innovation in how UW Health has integrated diversity and inclusion into its day-to-day business. Last November, her team launched a series of “microlearnings,” 15-minute lessons that managers can easily integrate into their regular team meetings on topics from the history of racism to health care disparities to identifying microaggressions.
“For us to really make an impact and make it sustainable, these have to be ongoing conversations,” she says. “It’s not like you reach a destination. You need to continue talking about it, increasing your comfort and capacity to really talk and tackle these issues.” –RC
Vivid Impact: Annik Dupaty
There has been a splash more color in events put on by the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art lately, and Annik Dupaty has had a hand in it. For starters, take a look at Chroma, an event held in April 2018 that Dupaty created as director of events and volunteers at MMoCA, along with a cross-functional team. From 8 p.m. to midnight on a Friday night, the museum offered three floors of artist-designed spaces in unique, color-rich environments with multisensory exhibits and group art projects, along with music, specialty cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. The immersive experience was described in its promotional material as a celebration of color — “how it feels, its intensity and beauty, and the way we use it in our lives.” Chroma, with its emphasis on creativity, diversity and inclusion, relates to the mission of MMoCA under director Stephen Fleischman. That mission, according to the museum’s website, is to exhibit, collect and preserve modern and contemporary art, as well as to provide transformative experiences that educate, reflect and inspire people as individuals and a community.
Chroma was a sold-out event, but it was only one of MMoCA’s major events that Dupaty manages. She plays a big role in organizing Art Fair on the Square (one of the largest events in the state which attracts an estimated 200,000 attendees), the MMoCA Art & Gift Fair, Art Velo and Hair Affair. These events raise funds for the museum and provide engaging experiences for the community. Additionally, Dupaty coordinates MMoCA’s exhibition opening celebrations and has oversight over more than 2,300 volunteers, plus event staff and interns. Born in Racine, she grew up in Madison and graduated from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee with main areas of study in art history, museum studies and Africology.
She is quick to give credit to others at MMoCA for furthering diversity and inclusion, but Dupaty also has made noticeable contributions, such as selecting jurors for the arts fair panels that represent “a more diverse range of expertise and perspectives” across multiple disciplines; developing and launching the Emerge block as an addition to Art Fair on the Square (giving exposure to early-career artists and artists from diverse communities, as well as providing them an opportunity to sell their work); helping to “identify, build and sustain” community partnerships to increase engagement with diverse audiences; and working with her staff to diversify the entertainment and music played at MMoCA events.
Dupaty has developed partnerships and collaborated with a variety of community organizations and individuals. One example was a partnership with Sabrina Madison, founder of the Progress Center for Black Women. MMoCA hosted the after-hours party for Madison’s 2017 Black Women’s Conference and hosted the conference in 2018. “Working with Annik Dupaty made the conference a rewarding experience for the participants,” says Madison, who is also a member of the advisory group that selected this year’s M List honorees. “She welcomed us, made us visible to the public and introduced the participants to MMoCA, because many of the women had never been to the museum.”
Dupaty says she and her staff “go out of our way” to make everyone feel welcome and “comfortable being who they are” at the museum. –FPC
Nourish to Flourish: Harambee Village
“Harambee” in the Swahili language means “let’s pull together.” It is the African concept of everyone working collectively for the good of the entire community. Harambee Village is an organization that brings together professional women who are trained as doulas, or birth companions, to work for the benefit of expectant mothers and their babies. Doula, a Greek word, means “woman’s servant.”
Harambee Village is modeled after the former South Madison Health and Family Center-Harambee, a nonprofit that opened in 1995 and closed in 2010 due to lack of funding. The former center, often referred to as just “Harambee,” aimed to serve as a national model for integrated delivery of social services when it launched 24 years ago. Harambee Village extends that organization’s legacy of providing a variety of health and social services to an underserved community.
Doulas Tia Murray and Tamara Thompson founded Harambee Village in 2014 to carry on the work of the original Harambee. The center — which is run by executive director Micaela Berry, a business partner of Murray’s — focuses on maternal health care and black babies. As a teen mother, Murray needed maternal support and education on breastfeeding and went to Harambee for help. She received the kind of care she sought from health providers who were women of color, understood her background and culture and met her needs in a respectful manner. From this experience, Murray started on the path to becoming a doula.
“When the original Harambee existed, there was the deepest decline in black infant mortality and black preterm births in 2007,” Murray recalls. “When Harambee closed in 2010, black infant mortality rates continued to increase.” The findings of a report released last fall by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that Wisconsin had the highest mortality rate for infants of non-Hispanic black mothers — 14.28 per 1,000 live births. And according to a November 2018 Wisconsin Public Radio story, the preterm birth rate among black women in Wisconsin is 54 percent higher than the rate among all other women. Harambee Village seeks to reverse the trend again and lower black infant mortality by providing doula care to all mothers, especially women of color, and by using grassroots connections and community partnerships to offer a variety of equitable resources.
Thompson’s story is similar to Murray’s. She was also a young mother and sought out Hershey Barnett-Bridges at the African American Breastfeeding Alliance of Dane County Inc. Thompson became a peer counselor and later earned certification as a lactation counselor. She also became a doula and says it was important for her to do so because of “all the layers and complexities of what it was like to be black in Madison.” Thompson says she is working toward becoming a full-time midwife so she can offer more support at Harambee Village to mothers as they give birth.
Through Harambee Village, both Thompson and Murray trained 15 doulas in 2016, another five in 2018 and 13 more this year. Murray’s ultimate goal — through her research, academic and professional career — is to improve systems and increase support to all women (particularly women of color and other marginalized groups of women) as they give birth. She says these changes are necessary and go hand in hand with the work of doulas to be supportive of women and their babies. –FPC
About the M List
This is the seventh annual presentation of the M List awards, designed to recognize innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit in Madison. The category has changed every year. In past years, the magazine recognized dozens of recipients annually. But in 2019, we’ve refreshed the M List by choosing just five worthy recipients. The magazine has also partnered with Madison365, a nonprofit online news outlet, which chose Bidar as its special M List recipient.
“Shiva is truly one of the most dynamic, dedicated, innovative leaders Madison has seen,” says Henry Sanders, publisher and CEO of Madison365. “When you think about innovation in diversity and inclusion, she’s the first person who comes to mind. It’s an honor to make Shiva our pick for the M List.”
Sanders was part of the advisory team that helped select the 2019 M List recipients. Other team members were Zach Blumenfeld, founder and CEO of CultureCon; Neil Heinen, editorial director of Madison Magazine and WISC-TV; Sabrina Madison, founder of the Progress Center for Black Women; Karen Lincoln Michel, publisher and executive editor of Madison Magazine; Brennan Nardi, former communications director of the state Department of Safety and Professional Services and a former editor of Madison Magazine; and Mark Richardson, president of Unfinished Business and CEO of GigBlender.
Also, the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce has been a partner since 2013, when Nardi created the M List along with chamber president Zach Brandon.
This year’s award recipients are serving and including diverse populations through their work.