Cynthia Germanotta: Born This Way Foundation

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Cynthia Germanotta is President and Co-Founder of the Born this Way Foundation. Led by Cynthia and her daughter Lady Gaga, Born This Way Foundation was founded in 2011 to foster a more accepting society. The Foundation is dedicated to creating a safe community where individuality is celebrated by connecting youth with the skills, resources and opportunities they need to build a braver, kinder world. Please visit Born This Way Foundation and the Foundation Launch for more information.




Ann Paisley Chandler: What does engagement mean to you?

Cynthia Germanotta: Engagement means that our youth are involved in the Born This Way Foundation movement in their communities, and they are participating in acts of kindness and bravery that will empower them to change the world. Youth are convening, connecting, communicating and contributing in safe places where they can effect positive and sustainable change.
Chandler: What motivated you to start the Born This Way Foundation?

Germanotta: Born This Way Foundation is mine and my daughter’s passion project. Her followers motivated us to create the Foundation and to formalize a movement that had already begun.  Her message was resonating with so many youth who were looking for help and answers and she felt compelled to respond.  She was concerned about the increasing number of youth who were experiencing meanness and cruelty and who didn’t have a safe place to deal with it. They wanted to step up with her and be brave together. My daughter has said that her fans gave her strength to “tap into her own wounds and access her inner strength…they were the key to her heart.” She said, "Mom, I want to inspire and empower youth to build a kinder and braver world." We always talked about working together to achieve good in this world and this was the perfect opportunity.

Chandler: Discuss the Foundation’s three core partnerships with The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur FoundationThe California Endowment, and The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University.

Germanotta: We are very fortunate to be aligned with our founding partners, The MacArthur Foundation, The California Endowment and the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard. They believed in us and our mission from the outset and each brings their respective strength to the table. 

The MacArthur Foundation supports creative people and effective institutions committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. They have a lot of expertise and knowledge in the Digital Media and Literacy (DML) space which is an important skill set that we hope to support and develop within our youth base.

The California Endowment expands access to affordable, quality health care for underserved individuals and communities, and promotes fundamental improvements in the health status of all Californians. They will continue to be a great partner in the foundation’s health and wellness initiatives.

The Berkman Center’s mission is to recognize, study, and engage with the most difficult and fundamental problems of the digital age, and to share in their resolution in ways that advance the public interest. Our youth live online and it is important to understand how to harness that capability and power in a positive way. 

Chandler: Please describe Born This Way Foundation and its 3 pillars: Skills, Safety, and Opportunity

Germanotta: Born This Way Foundation is a movement that has evolved into a foundation. The Foundation aims to foster a more accepting society where differences are embraced and individuality is celebrated. In order to work towards this goal, we have constructed the three pillars of our foundation, called SSO (Safety, Skills, and Opportunity). Through our research and partnerships, we understand that youth need access to safe environments in which to work, lead, and learn. They also need to acquire skills in order to operate effectively, as well as the chance at opportunities to realize their own ability to create change.

Chandler:  Born This Way Foundation recently held its official launch event in February of this year at Harvard. You must have been so pleased with the success of the event. What has been the public’s reaction, and what kind of feedback have you received since the launch?

Germanotta: The public's reaction to the Harvard launch has been amazing. Within the first 48 hours, thousands of supporters joined the Born This Way movement and our base has continued to grow.  We are grateful to Harvard for providing such a wonderful venue for the launch, to Oprah for helping us raise awareness and sharing a similar passion, and to our partners and supporters who believed in us and made the event such a success. The feedback has been equally exciting. In particular, we have received great comments about our mission and the quality partnerships we have formed.  We continue to work closely with our partners to shape our strategy.  Many are also impressed with the caliber and balance of our Research Advisory Board (RAB). Everything we are doing is deeply rooted in research.

Chandler: Often there's more competition in philanthropy than collaboration. One of my favorite parts of the Harvard launch was when Lady Gaga said it is not the priority of Born This Way Foundation to be the best foundation but rather to partner with other experts in the field to achieve the best results. 

Germanotta: We believe strongly in the mission of Born This Way Foundation, but we are also realistic about the fact that we are creating a behavioral shift, and we cannot do it alone. Meanness and cruelty are global. This is everyone’s problem, and everyone owns the solution. We have adopted an “open tent” philosophy and invited our partners into the tent. The analogy I like to make is that Born This Way Foundation is the portal for others to plug into.   We don’t intend to compete and we don’t intend to reinvent the wheel, rather we hope to leverage best practices that already exist. This is a true case of strength in numbers and by joining forces we can scale and have far greater impact collectively than we would on our own. 

Chandler: What new developments have occurred within the Foundation and since the launch event?

Germanotta: Since the launch, Born This Way Foundation has been working hard on a number of new programs and partnerships.  At the launch, we introduced the foundation’s model of Online, On The Road and Down The Street and our new developments align with this model and ensure that our services are accessible to youth no matter where they are.

We launched our website earlier this year, followed by Born Brave Nation which is a call-to-action for youth to mobilize and get involved in their communities around acts of kindness and bravery that help build a new “nation” where people are more compassionate and accepting of one another. We will be launching a toolkit that will help guide youth in this process. We also launched our Youth Advisory Board (YAB) and Research Advisory Board (RAB), two critical components to our long-term success. Our mission is centered on youth, and we believe it is paramount to integrate the “voice” of youth in programs that are rooted in research.

We also announced a partnership with Viacom and are very pleased to team up with them as our lead media partner to help amplify our message through their extensive youth platforms.  

In addition, we developed a “back to school” campaign with Office Depot to provide limited-edition products that supported Born This Way Foundation’s mission of helping to encourage today’s youth to grow up feeling confident about their individuality and good about their place in their communities.

At the end of this year we will be announcing a significant and revolutionary event that will coincide with the US launch of my daughter’s tour.  

Chandler: Born This Way Foundation recently launched a youth-led initiative which will empower youth to name their own movement and encourage them to lead the charge in their own communities. Discuss Born Brave Nation.

Germanotta: The Born Brave Nation will be compiled of localized groups of supporters who will be dedicated to affecting change in their homes, schools, and local communities. In addition to connecting BTWF supporters to one another, this grassroots effort will serve as the perfect tool for anyone who wants to bring the Foundation’s pillars of Safety, Skills and Opportunity to their own community. We will supply youth with a Toolkit outlining activities and events to help provide infrastructure while also empowering them to identify and solve issues that are unique to their local groups and communities.

Chandler: What excites you most about the impact of individual engagement on your overall goals?

Germanotta: What excites us the most about the impact of individual engagement on our overall goals is the impact and power of collective action. What begins as a grassroots movement has the ability to scale to a positive global revolution with sustainable and measurable change. As my daughter said at our launch, "I don't believe one person has the ability to change the world.  Humankind can change the world."

Chandler: Do you see a strong potential of a formal partnership with the government/educational sector? If yes, what might that look like?

Germanotta: The Foundation does see the potential for partnerships with the government sector, particularly in the area of civic and community engagement.  We believe that youth can learn many of the empowerment skills they need by becoming more engaged in their communities.  And we believe the educational sector is key to developing and supporting Social Emotional Learning (SEL) skills in curriculum.  In the case of the government sector, these partnerships might look like alliances with government organizations that offer youth-supported community service programs. With respect to the educational sector, these partnerships might look like alliances with academic institutions that care about expanding SEL in our schools and communities.

Chandler: What innovative ideas does the Foundation presently have in the pipeline, e.g. the BTWF “ambassadors?"

Germanotta: Some of our most innovative ideas are in the area of connecting youth with their communities in ways that are youth led but with an element of adult scaffolding. We want youth to have the confidence, skills and opportunities to own it. Our objective is to create connections that are sustainable and that evolve over time. We have formed an amazing Youth Advisory Board that consists of 24 youth from around the country. We held our first Youth Summit this summer on the Paramount lot in Los Angeles to begin the process of developing “ambassadors” who will be the “voice” of our work. They will be the ones to plant the seeds and help us carry out our mission in real life through work in their schools and communities. We plan to expand this model by hosting annual events to scale our “ambassador” program. We have other very exciting and innovative ideas that will be announced in the coming months.

Chandler: Where do you think society is with the issues of bullying and accepting differences? What is your prognosis for the future?

Germanotta: I feel that we as a society are struggling with the issues of meanness and cruelty, of which bullying is one.  Social media has created another place for these acts to occur and has complicated the ability to hold people accountable.  We are moving forward in the area of increasing public awareness and drawing attention to the issue and working backward to address the root cause.  With the increases in teen suicide, depression and other health disorders, as well as the absentee rate at school, we are far from accepting one another's differences. 

With respect to our prognosis for the future, we believe that in spite of these issues, there exists a groundswell and a willingness among youth to be change agents, and we have the opportunity to create a behavioral and cultural shift. We want to find the tipping point.



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