AnnaLise Hoopes is an educator, artist, and entrepreneur. She holds a B.A. in philosophy and art from the University of Notre Dame, a Ed.M. from Harvard University, and a California teaching credential. She has been an elementary school teacher, a nonprofit director, and a sustainable foods startup founder. In 2017 she launched The Changemaker Project because she believes in the power of young people to change the world. We met AnnaLise about a decade ago, and we are thrilled to share the exciting work of this wonderful humane educator.

Zoe Weil: Please describe The Changemaker Project and how it works.

AnnaLise: The Changemaker Project is a 501(c)3 nonprofit based in Berkeley, California which empowers youth to innovate social change. Our mission is to cultivate the next generation of changemakers – helping young people tap into the passion they have for social justice and providing them with the tools, skills, and resources they need to make meaningful change. We launched about two years ago, and since then we have engaged over 500 students in 19 countries to #bethechange they wish to see.

Our model is based around partnerships with schools and community groups who work with youth ages 13-24. We offer an online course that covers a range of social justice issues – everything from discrimination and social inequity to climate change and animal exploitation. Students then break into small teams, choose a problem to tackle, and create a unique solution using Stanford’s Design Thinking process. We provide support and mentorship along the way, and each school is paired with a “buddy school” in another country to facilitate cross-cultural exchange. The program culminates in our Global Pitch event, where teams all over the world present their ideas and compete to win seed funding for their projects. The event is a bit like a, “Shark-Tank-for-social-justice,” as students are pitching directly to investors and philanthropists to raise the funds they need.

Zoe: This is wonderful AnnaLise! What inspired you to create The Changemaker Project?

AnnaLise: Ever since I was young, I’ve felt overwhelmed by the number of problems in the world. I was constantly asking myself, “How can I use my one life to make the most difference?” I didn’t know where to begin. I volunteered with various groups to support different causes, and I even started a small nonprofit in the third grade selling crafts that my friends and I made in my basement to raise money for the local animal shelter. But I always knew I wanted my life to have a greater impact, and I wanted to get at the root of the challenges we face.

In college, I met Dr. Michael Greger when he came to speak at my university. My student group hosted him for dinner after his talk, and in the course of our conversation I mentioned that I wished there was a way to reach young people about the issues he’d spoken on. He said, “You should be a humane educator.” I’d never heard of humane education, but once he explained it, I knew immediately that it would be my life’s work. The idea of educating and empowering young people to be equipped to solve the myriad challenges that we face struck me as a powerful way to multiply my impact, and to this day it is what gives me the greatest hope for our future.

I know that young people care about social justice, and I know that they want to make a difference, just like I did. But they don’t always know where to begin. I started The Changemaker Project because I wanted to create a pathway for young people to become informed about the issues, receive the mentorship and the tools they need to take action, and feel empowered knowing that they can have a meaningful impact in the world.

Zoe: Can you share some particularly exciting projects that students have completed and received funding for? 

AnnaLise: Our students are very creative, and their projects span a wide range of approaches – from direct service to educational to inventive. We’ve had teams create technology projects such as a website that showcases the impact of the opioid epidemic in America, a device you can plug into your outlets to measure your electricity and compete with your friends to save energy, and an app that uses image-recognition software to show users where and how they can recycle various items.

We’ve also had many direct service projects including a group in Berkeley called “Haircuts and Connections,” which offers free haircuts, toiletries, undergarments, and breakfast once a month for people experiencing homelessness. One group in Norway organizes events for local refugees to learn language skills and experience Norwegian culture to facilitate cross-cultural exchange and strengthen bonds in the community. Another group offers free plant-based meals to folks living in the streets of Mumbai, India. The list goes on. I’m really proud of the work our students are doing to support their communities and tackle global issues. I can’t wait to see what Global Pitch 2020 will bring!

Zoe: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in getting The Changemaker Project started?

AnnaLise: The greatest challenge for me so far in doing this work has been fundraising. It’s difficult to get grants for an organization that is just starting out and is relatively small, though we were fortunate to receive a seed grant from The Pollination Project in our first year. One challenge is that most foundations want to fund work in a specific area (eg. poverty), and humane education is quite broad in its approach. We have developed a monthly donor program and we are slowly growing our donor base, but it takes time to become sustainable through individual donations alone.

Since I started The Changemaker Project two years ago, I have been working multiple jobs to support myself, which makes it difficult to develop and grow the organization. Fortunately, I truly love the work I do, and I couldn’t imagine anything I would rather devote my life to, whether I’m getting paid for it or not. I work with young people who want to change the world and I get to help them do it—what could be more rewarding and life affirming than that?

Zoe: We can relate regarding the grants! Most foundations are very specific, and humane education is so comprehensive. Anything else you’d like to share, AnnaLise?

AnnaLise: I just want to express my immense gratitude for you, IHE, and the amazing work you’re doing. You have been such an incredible role model for me, and I wouldn’t have started The Changemaker Project if it weren’t for you. Thank you for starting this movement and for helping me to be a part of it!

For more information about the Changemaker Project, please contact AnnaLise at [email protected].