A group of Goalkeepers community members

Community  Spotlights  Stories of Leaders

Goalkeepers’ Voices

Every Goalkeeper has a story—a story about their journey, their big idea, or the moment they connected the dots. These six Community Spotlights, created from conversations with Goalkeepers in 2021, feature a sampling of our diverse community members who lead with profound vision to advance progress toward the 17 Global Goals.

Gary White: Engineer, Listener, Catalyst

CEO and co-founder, Water.org
Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation
A photo of Gary White

Close your eyes and imagine a world without a 24/7 news cycle or social media. Now imagine you want to change the lives of billions of people, by helping them access clean water and sanitation. Where would you even start? In the 1990s, with the internet in its infancy and live news not yet something we could carry in our pockets, Gary White found a way. He began drumming up excitement and funding through simple face-to-face networking. Seems like a daunting task for anyone, but for Gary it was a calling.

“What struck me then is what would strike anybody even today—it’s just the fact that so many people don’t have safe access to water and sanitation”, he says.

Armed with wide-eyed optimism and a background in civil engineering, Gary knew he had the tools to think about this challenge in the simplest terms: How many different communities, people, and families can we help? Gary was raised with a simple humanitarian approach: You should put more into the world than you take out of it, and when you see injustice, you should try your best to correct it. He saw potential for change rather than hurdles and obstacles. Some might say his naiveté served him well.

The aha moment

It took years for Gary to turn this vision into an organization. WaterPartners International, as it was first called, wanted to do more than help families in need. It sought to solve the global water crisis. But to do that, Gary knew he needed to find the solution within the problem. “People who don’t have access to water and sanitation really should be seen as the source of their own solution, but how do you catalyze that?” His aha moment came during a trip to India in the early 2000s, when he met an elderly woman who had built her own latrine. When asked how she got the money to build the toilet, she told Gary she’d gone to a loan shark to borrow the cash—with 125% interest. And that’s when he landed on the idea of microfinancing. If Gary could get people access to affordable loans, he could connect those loans to capital markets and reach hundreds of millions of people. “That’s the solution,” he says. And the WaterCredit Initiative was born. He also developed and now leads WaterEquity, the first-ever impact investment manager dedicated to ending the global water crisis in our lifetime, with an exclusive focus on raising capital and deploying it to water and sanitation businesses that serve people living in poverty.

But no matter how we spin it, clean water and sanitation just don’t have the same initial appeal as the other Global Goals. Yet, through a merger with H2O Africa, Water.org was born and the organization began an evolution that combined storytelling with Gary’s expertise in all things engineering. Since then, it has continued to put people and communities at the heart of its work. Before Water.org came along, a lot of water charities used an outdated supply-driven approach that too often epitomized a colonial mindset: Send teams of engineers into a village, drill wells, leave; rinse and repeat. Gary believes in the demand model. His approach involves working with governments and communities to find out what they need and then build from there. Not the other way around. Trust and agency are what drive Gary’s vision.

Working smarter, not harder

Through Gary’s inclusive approach, Water.org and WaterEquity have helped more than 38 million people in 11 countries access water and sanitation through small, affordable loans. Although the global water and sanitation crisis persists, Gary is all about working smarter, not harder. And partnerships are the way to do that. “How do you really blend together? How do you find these kinds of disparate concepts that are happening and incorporate those into what you’re doing?” Gary says. His answer is to borrow from different fields, apply one set of lessons to a completely different area of work, and build on the ideas of others. By solving issues of water, sanitation, and hygiene, we can advance progress on the other Global Goals downstream.

Gary is nothing short of ambitious. It’s in every molecule of his being. Just ask him about the 600-mile bikepacking trip he’s planning. With that kind of drive, there’s no telling what’s on the horizon. Or the water’s edge.

August 2021

Gary White speaks to a Water.org borrower near Kancheepuram, India.
Photo courtesy of Water.org
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Gregory Rockson: Global Health Advocate, Problem-Solver, Innovator

Co-founder and CEO, mPharma
2019 Goalkeepers Global Goals Progress Award
Goal 3: Good Health and Well-Being
A photo of Gregory Rockson

It’s easy to put Silicon Valley on a pedestal. It’s home to some of the largest tech companies in the world and the most coveted roles in digital innovation. But Gregory Rockson had his sights set elsewhere: home. Though he originally planned to pursue a job at Google after earning his college degree, he changed his mind when he learned about the thousands of preventable deaths attributed to lack of available medications in hospital and outpatient settings in Ghana. So he returned home and started a different career at warp speed. Gregory is co-founder and CEO of mPharma, a digital platform spanning eight countries that solves the problem of patients lacking quick access to safe, affordable medications. It addresses the twin obstacles of supply chain inefficiencies and high prices by connecting patients with providers who can diagnose their illness and connecting providers with well-stocked pharmacies that charge affordable prices.

Hope, agency, and innovation

Gregory’s journey is infused with hope. “We are in a pivotal moment in Africa, a continent that accounts for so much of the world’s disease burden,” he says.

“Yet we are also very hopeful, because we think that the solutions to rebuilding a new health care future really lie in our hands.”

The solutions that Gregory invests in through mPharma tell a story of agency and innovation, which have only been accelerated by COVID-19. In the wake of the earliest coronavirus cases in Europe, Gregory began asking himself, “What if this gets really bad?” In a series of moves that at first seemed premature, he began making phone calls to find out what goes into creating COVID protocols and made the difficult decision to reduce company spending. He ordered polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing equipment from China and got permission from hospitals and local governments to repurpose mPharma labs as COVID testing sites. “We helped about eight African countries build the diagnostic infrastructure from scratch,” he says. Like a true “impatient optimist,” Gregory helped create a new system by and for Africans.

Redefining global health

In line with his visionary response to the pandemic, Gregory is also thinking about what’s next in comprehensive patient care and how to get more eyes on innovation that is by and for Africans. While global health efforts largely center on specific infectious diseases, he focuses on patient health more holistically. mPharma is tackling patient education on noncommunicable diseases such as high blood pressure and diabetes—chronic health conditions that put people at higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19 and HIV/AIDS. Gregory says, “In Africa, I think that is sort of the big change that we need to see—a way to start thinking about human-centered health care rather than thematic areas, and thinking about the health of the continent. Wouldn’t that be better?”

November 2021

Gregory Rockson opens one of the first shipments of PCR equipment that mPharma deployed for COVID-19 diagnostics.
Photo courtesy of mPharma
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Lady Mariéme Jamme: Activist, Visionary, Tech Evangelist

Founder, iamtheCODE
2017 Goalkeepers Global Goals Innovation Award
Goal 4: Quality Education
A photo of Lady Mariéme Jamme

In many parts of the world, tech education for girls and women is either nonexistent or grinds to a halt before high school. But in the past decade, we’ve seen people like Lady Mariéme Jamme tackle the educational inequities that leave girls and women behind. For her, coding is much more than stringing together 0s and 1s—it’s a path to new possibilities for women and to becoming breadwinners. Below are four of Lady Mariéme’s core principles for changing the future of technology education for the next generation of marginalized girls and women.

Technology is power

When Lady Mariéme arrived in the United Kingdom as an immigrant speaking no English, she needed to develop reliable, money-earning skills. She started with cleaning jobs in hotels in the southeast of England, but says, “I wanted to learn how to code because I wanted to be relevant like my peers.” Her journey began in a local library, where she taught herself to master Excel. Two years and many spreadsheets later, she had learned a total of seven new programming languages. Today, as a full-stack developer and teacher, she teaches her students skills that open doors to sought-after, high-paying developer roles. And, in what becomes a virtuous cycle, her students use their skills to build solutions for problems like poverty, internet connectivity, and refugee aid. Win-win.

Coding is a form of connection

“I don’t want people to see the word coding and be put off,” Lady Mariéme says. Coding was more than a job for her. She actually started coding to tell a story. But her story is not an easy one to tell. As a 5-year-old in Kaolack, Senegal, she was abandoned by her aristocratic parents. At age 11, she was abused by her Koranic teacher. Not long after, she was trafficked to Paris. It was only in her late teens that she found refuge in the UK. It’s where she first took to that library. Today, Lady Mariéme works with young girls from Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp, creating space for them to share their difficult stories. Through learning new life skills and processing their stories, they can connect to—but also transcend—their past. As one of her South Sudanese students, Patience, put it, “I'm a refugee, but it’s not written on my back.”

Digital skills enable marginalized girls and women to reach their potential

Lady Mariéme’s students are often young girls and women who come from marginalized communities. Many bring with them stories of trauma. Lady Mariéme’s focus on mental health helps her identify girls whose learning speed and creativity are a means of survival. “That’s why it’s important that we utilize coding and the entire mechanism of learning fast and quickly to marginalized communities,” Lady Mariéme says. Through coding, her students learn how to convert their innate resilience, tenacity, and critical thinking to digital skills that they’ll need if they want to succeed in the global workforce.

Coding reinforces compassion

Technology can drive solutions, but more than that, it can catalyze deeper change.

That’s why Lady Mariéme is both a teacher and a mentor. “Mentoring is a transaction based on knowledge sharing, compassion, empathy, and kindness”, she says.

When teaching young girls to code, she uses that opportunity to help them learn about the 17 Global Goals. From climate change to quality education, her students use coding as a beautiful tool for advocacy and imagination. As young developers, they strengthen their attention to detail, which forces them to think about the user on the other side. It makes them stop and ask, What does the world need, and how can the world pay attention to us young refugee girls?

July 2021

Celebration of 2019 October Day of the Girl in Kakuma Refugees Camp in Kenya with Refugee Girls.
Photo courtesy of Lady Mariéme Jamme
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Racha Haffar: Activist, Entrepreneur, Visionary

Founder, Youth Against Slavery Movement
Goal 5: Gender Equality
A photo of Racha Haffar

Racha Haffar was 18 years old when she almost fell into a human trafficking trap. She needed income to afford postsecondary education in the UK and responded to an ad for babysitting jobs. She later realized this ad was false. In this sense, Racha is one of the lucky ones—she soon became aware of how many other girls in need of income and lacking economic empowerment had fallen for these ads and become modern-day slaves. Racha’s narrow escape stoked a fire in her to speak out about this alarmingly common, yet seldom acknowledged, evil.

A passion for intersectionality

In her work, Racha is increasingly frustrated about how the reality of human trafficking often gets left out of broader conversations about human rights, gender equality, and economic empowerment. Her passion for intersectionality stems from her own childhood pain. Racha feels she has never quite fit any mold. “I was always the outsider,” she says. Her mother is Tunisian, and her father is half Syrian and half Palestinian. No matter where she lived, she has been othered: In Dubai, she was the Tunisian who didn’t belong; in Tunisia, she was the Syrian who didn’t speak French; and now in the United States, she is the immigrant. She also recalls being othered due to gender when growing up. Stern family restrictions were placed on her to preserve her femininity and purity, and her interests in ballet and horseback riding were cut short as a result. Racha believes that discriminatory sociocultural norms enable objectification, and thus dehumanization, of women. “Everything is connected,” she says. “We need to look at [this work] from an intersectional approach—that’s how we achieve justice without leaving anyone behind.”

Racha engages by claiming global spaces and anchoring the narrative of human trafficking through other gender-related causes. One such global space is the Youth Against Slavery Movement (YASM), a nonprofit organization that Racha has been building for the past four years and will officially launch soon. Based in New York, its mission is to create an inclusive world free of slavery in all its forms through engagement and empowerment of youth around the world. Beyond YASM, global collaboration is another way in which Racha hopes to transform the world and discussions around human trafficking. She founded the Anti-Slavery Collective for Generation Equality that 150 civil society organizations have joined; it includes activists working on economic empowerment, sexual and reproductive health, technology, and climate change.

We’re not just bodies

One thing Racha wants people to know about the life of an activist? “We’re not just bodies.” Activist work can take a toll on the body, and Racha is no exception. She has suffered sciatica, a herniated disc, and a torn meniscus in the course of her work, as well as psychological fatigue and hurt. It has become vital for Racha to listen to her body, teach herself how to rest, and prioritize well-being. “Being burned out isn’t normal, though our toxic work culture makes it seem normal. Mother Nature is my solace and number one escape,” she says. Racha loves writing as a way of working through mental fog, as well as taking all opportunities to dance, swim, and live her life in a way that accords her freedom. Indeed, at the center of Racha’s life and work is a fierce belief in freedom. Her message for her younger self, and for all women living in this world who aren’t seen, economically empowered, accepted, or included, is to declare rebellion.

“It is the right of every woman, every human, to rebel against everything that denies them existence and humanity,” she says.

May 2021

Racha Haffar presents her nonprofit work at the 2018 Africa Youth Conference in Nairobi, Kenya.
Photo courtesy of Emad Karim, UN Women
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Rahim Abas Kiobya: Climate Action Hero, Educator

Founder and Project Manager, Geospatial Tanzania
2018 Goalkeepers Youth Action Accelerator
Goal 13: Climate Action
A photo of Rahim Abas Kiobya

Goalkeeper and 2018 Youth Action Accelerator participant Rahim Abas Kiobya understands the urgency of climate action for the entire plant and wants to do something about it. Rahim is the co-founder and executive officer of Geospatial Tanzania and its initiative Data for Local Impact. In Tanzania, climate change is taking its toll. Rahim co-founded Geospatial Tanzania in 2017 to gather data from health organizations and dig into the relationship between household air pollution and disease to promote better alternatives for the environment. To Rahim, climate action is not an option, it’s our new way of life. Here are three things Rahim wants everyone to know leading up to COP26. Take notes, because they affect each and every one of us.

Climate change is a public health crisis

Rahim says, “We came up with the idea of addressing climate change impacts on public health because it affects the food we eat, the water we drink, and the air we breathe.” According to the World Health Organization (WHO), household air pollution in Tanzania is responsible for roughly 4 million premature deaths each year, which includes deaths from noncommunicable diseases such as stroke, heart disease, and lung cancer. And if you’re wondering what’s causing most of that pollution, look no further than charcoal and firewood. They’re the most commonly used types of fuel for cooking at home, and they’re wreaking havoc on air quality. The alternative? Clean energy.

Climate action is needed now

Climate change is ravaging natural resources everywhere, but in Tanzania, where many people depend on natural resources for their livelihood, the fallout is even more devastating.

Rahim puts it best when he says, “Without a good environment, our life is in danger.”

In Rahim’s travels, he sees a lack of urgency around climate action, especially among people who don’t farm for a living. In his own country, people do not have that luxury. The reality is that no one has that luxury: Climate change is affecting the entire planet, not just Tanzania. Heatwaves are a breeding ground for pathogens. And those pathogens lead to diseases like COVID-19 and malaria. Ending climate change now means stopping the next pandemic in its tracks. Who’s in?

Climate action needs everyone

The beauty of Rahim’s work is that he gets to collaborate with professionals across all sectors. He says, “We are working hard on our data to show how we are talking about SDG 3 (Good Health and Well-Being) and public health and how we can use SDG 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy) to come up with innovative products.” With help from other professionals who work on climate change mitigation, Geospatial Tanzania can set up community campaigns to stop deforestation for the production of charcoal and firewood. Rahim is a self-proclaimed ambassador for Goal 17, Partnerships for the Goals. What we all need to remember is that climate action needs global collaboration.

October 2021

Rahim Abas Kiobya displays biomass briquettes for clients in Tanzania.
Photo courtesy of Geospatial Tanzania
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Shameran Abed: Changemaker, Optimist, Resilient

Executive Director, BRAC International
Goal 1: No Poverty
A photo of Shameran Abed

Poverty doesn’t happen overnight. One day you lose your job, and then a few months later you lose your home. With no income in sight, your ability to provide food and health care for your family vanishes over time. For years, Goalkeeper Shameran Abed has worked to end poverty, knowing that this is the reality for millions of people.

Continuing a legacy

Like many of us, Shameran made the best of the worst in the last year. With traveling on hold, he spent more time with family, dabbled in online chess, and adopted better habits. Outside of his home life, he is a humble advocate who carries on his father’s legacy every day. In 1972, his late father, Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, founded BRAC, then known as the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee. The organization was created to help refugees get their lives back on track after Bangladesh’s War of Independence. In 2007, it was renamed Building Resources Across Communities (BRAC) to reflect its expanded reach, from Bangladesh to neighboring countries and continents. Shameran carries out his father’s vision as senior director of BRAC’s Microfinance and Ultra-Poor Graduation programs.

Although BRAC is now global, Shameran hasn’t forgotten its community-based roots. “We built programs based on what we saw as challenges faced by the communities where people in poverty live,” he says. But following a community-based model doesn’t mean that BRAC thinks small. Its approach is quite the opposite. Today, BRAC is best known for its Ultra-Poor Graduation Program—a time-bound program that moves people out of extreme poverty. That same approach is now part of an ambitious global plan to move 21 million people out of extreme poverty. It’s aptly named The Audacious Project.

Progress on Global Goal 1 requires creativity. BRAC uses a multifaceted approach to help people get out of poverty—from providing health services and education to promoting gender equality and agricultural development. It also collaborates closely with a diverse set of partners, including governments and nonprofits, to help create better livelihoods in communities.

Centering women and girls

For decades, BRAC has committed to a simple and scalable approach. “Instead of going wide, we try to go deep,” says Shameran. Going deep means seeing extreme poverty as a denial of basic freedoms and human dignity, and in turn centering the people who invest in and build their communities—particularly women and girls. Shameran and his father saw firsthand—whether in Bangladesh, Uganda, or Liberia—how women save money and make sure their families can get by. Shameran continues BRAC’s tradition of approaching poverty through an intersectional lens, with a deep understanding of gender equality, economic empowerment, and quality education. Under Shameran’s leadership, the conversation around poverty focuses on long-term solutions and is committed to capacity building and generational wealth.

Relationship building

Another nuance to Shameran’s vision is that technology should not replace relationship building. Striking a balance between “tech and touch” is at the heart of BRAC’s human-centered approach. Shameran warns that having a phone and an account doesn’t make someone feel financially included. He says,

“If we don’t meet them regularly, if we don’t talk to them and know what’s going on in their lives, how can we develop and design products for them?”

The way he sees it, technological advancements should always be in service to the customer.

Shameran doesn’t shy away from conversations about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected BRAC’s work. He is using this moment to create more urgency around BRAC’s mission. The organization is working every day to meet the challenges brought on by the pandemic and serve new populations of people who are dipping back into poverty or entering poverty for the first time. And behind the scenes, Shameran’s flexibility, empathy, and leadership are helping all of us imagine a future with no poverty.

June 2021

Shameran Abed visits the Humanitarian Programme at Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh
Photo courtesy of Shamim Hossain, BRAC