Amanda Nguyen is the CEO and founder of Rise, a social movement accelerator. She is a 2019 Nobel Peace Prize nominee and star of the Emmy-nominated documentary “Rise Above.” She unanimously passed the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights, after having to navigate the broken criminal justice system after her own rape. 31 laws protecting more than 84 million sexual violence survivors have been modeled off of her federal law. The federal law was the 21st bill in modern US history to pass unanimously on the record. In recognition of her work, Amanda is a Heinz Laureate, Nelson Mandela Changemaker, Forbes 30 Under 30, Foreign Policy 100, Time 100 Next, Frederick Douglass 100, and Marie Claire Young Woman of the Year. Previously, Amanda was appointed by President Obama to the State Department as his Deputy White House Liaison and served at NASA. Amanda graduated from Harvard.
Rise Justice Labs (RJL)
One-line project summary:
Rise Justice Labs’ mission is to help everyday people pass their first law.
Present your project.
Cities across America have incubators for tech startups, but nothing like that exists for civil rights. Now we are demystifying this path for everyone, we are going open-source with Hopeanomnics. With our new civil rights accelerator, Rise Justice Labs, we’re spreading what we’ve learned to new places and new causes so everyone can claim their place in our democracy. It is built on our belief that the best people to solve problems are those who live them every day. Rise is not a voice for the voiceless; instead, we’re passing the mic so that everyday people may elevate their own voice.
Submit a video.
What specific problem are you solving?
American democracy doesn’t give all an equal voice. At Rise we call it “democracy suppression”. Like “voter suppression”, democracy suppression doesn’t outright prohibit engagement but rather discourages citizens from exercising their constitutional right to petition the government by creating unique obstacles to access the legislative process. Simply, the system is rigged. Both the process by which lawmaking happens and lawmakers themselves are failing Americans. Change, instead, happens most effectively and directly by civil society members actively fighting for progress on the grassroots level. Rise’s new venture, an accelerator for civil rights campaigns is specifically built to give everyday people a blueprint to access democracy. We do this by giving resources and training to organizers and writing a playbook which open-sources the obstacle course and suppression methods politicians are using to suppress democracy.
What is your project?
Rise Justice Labs will help everyday people pen their own rights into existence by:
Centering everyday people and the problems they face. Rise deeply believes that the solutions to the world’s most pressing problems sit with people who live these problems everyday. Those problems can be solved when you invest directly into the impacted communities.
Following a unique organizing and training model. Rise’s theory of change builds on the idea that hope can come from anywhere. Rise’s Hope-a-nomics organizing curriculum serves as a blueprint to drive democracy and scale hope that can easily be applied to other social issues.
Creating an environment of experiential learning. Brad Feld, cofounder of world class accelerator TechStars, stresses the importance of the accelerator model for its “immersive education, where a period of intense, focused attention provides company founders an opportunity to learn at a rapid pace.” Experiential learning is a critical component in order to scale-up missions and efforts. Rise Justice Labs will immerse participants in a 3-month full-time advocacy boot camp. Through this model, Rise Justice Labs will, as Feld asserts, “compress years’ worth of learning into a period of a few months.”
Who does your project serve, and in what ways is the project impacting their lives?
The people who have the solutions to the world’s most pressing problems are the people who live that problem everyday. RJL helps everyday people pass their first law. With support from RJL participants pen their own rights into existence. In this sense, RJL participants come from the group of people most impacted by the law they seek to change. Passing rights should directly, positively impact the RJL participant and their community. Rise is not trying to be the voice for the voiceless. Instead, we’re passing the mic to them.
Which dimension of The Elevate Prize does your project most closely address?Elevating opportunities for all people, especially those who are traditionally left behind
Explain how your project relates to The Elevate Prize and your selected dimension.
There is a gap between those who are impacted by laws and those who hold the pen to write these laws. This gap is filled by paid lobbyists but when democracy works only for the highest bidder, it is not a democracy anymore. The communities who bear the consequences of laws are often financially disadvantaged and therefore left out of the democratic process. Rise has always been survivor led. We have now created America’s most efficient legislative reform movement by passing 31 laws for 84 million people. RJL carries on this spirit by directly empowering communities who are left out.
How did you come up with your project?
When Cameron Marsh and Kyra Parrow lost their friends in the Parkland shooting, they were 18 year-olds with no connections, no experience, no resources, and no recourse—part of the vast majority of Americans who go about their lives believing that they are powerless to effect change. Too young to run for office, it would have been easy for them to assume that the only remedies at their disposal were the vital, but limited, tools of voting and marching. Instead, they reached out to me to teach them how to do for gun violence what Rise has done for sexual assault 31 times over. Last year, fourteen months after their friends were taken from them, Cameron and Kyra saw their first bill signed into law in Colorado: a bipartisan measure to help keep firearms away from those who pose risk to themselves or others. They learned to pass this law through Rise Justice Labs. Cameron and Kyra were the first people to use Rise Justice Labs. Reforming an issue as divisive as gun violence seemed impossible, but after joining RJL, Kyra and Cameron have not only passed their first law, but are planting the seeds for many more to follow.
Why are you passionate about your project?
There has never been a more important time in modern history for grassroots organizing. While voting and marching lie at the heart of our democracy, and running for office is a noble pursuit, there is an enormous opportunity to make change between those two poles.
There is a market gap between those whose lived experiences have the capacity to inspire innovative solutions, and those who hold the power to pen these solutions into law. Our current system does not provide all citizens a fair opportunity to engage with the democratic process - we’ve experienced this first hand. There exists no grassroots training academy with a consistent track record of passing bipartisan laws for millions of people. Rise has the ability to offer these tools to others because we’ve successfully gone through the system 31 times over. So why shouldn’t we share this with others?
Our goal at RJL is to provide a solution to the mounting frustration, tribalism, and waning faith in our democracy. People provide the passion, and Rise provides the blueprint to make change in their own community. Rise Justice Labs is about empowering people to find their own place in a democracy that—after all—belongs to them.
Why are you well-positioned to deliver this project?
We hold America’s record for the most efficient legislative reform movement in modern US history. Working with regular people who have no training and no proximity to power, we’ve taught sexual assault survivors to write laws and navigate the legislative process. Rise has successfully passed 31 laws securing equal protections under the law for over 84 million survivors of sexual assault. We cracked the code that for so long has kept people from believing that they could make a difference, and were honored to have been nominated for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of this progress.
Rise has the highest return on investment for creating progress in modern America’s legislative movements: for every dollar invested in Rise, 84 people have earned civil rights. Rise Justice Labs helps people start their own social movements, open sourcing critical details historically relegated to paid lobbyists and returning lawmaking abilities to the people, for the people and by the people. With the mission to help everyday citizens pass their first law, we give them the resources to do so to accelerate their social movement. We are “democratizing” democracy.
Provide an example of your ability to overcome adversity.
After my rape, I felt despair. But I also felt fire. So when I met a broken criminal justice system, I rewrote the law. Together, with a team called Rise, we organized and did the impossible -- passed the Survivors’ Bill of Rights unanimously through Congress. The first time I told my story to politicians it was 6 straight hours listening to politicians debate the feasibility of my rights. They didn’t care. I cried that night. But the next morning I got back up and did it again. In my Uber to Congress this intimidating man was my driver. He asked me why I was going to the capitol and when I shared my story, this once intimidating man started crying. He told me that his daughter is a rape survivor too. When he stopped the car he asked to shake my hand and said, “thank you for fighting for my daughter. Has anyone told you that I love you today, I love you.” I’ll never forget that dad. He helped me overcome the fear I had going back into the Senate that day. 7 months later, Congress passed my bill which granted civil rights to 25 million rape survivors.
Describe a past experience that demonstrates your leadership ability.
The night before the Massachusetts Statehouse was going to close, I sat in the airport waiting for a flight to Boston. Then I got a call - “I’m sorry the Speaker will not bring the bill for a vote”. Tears rolled down my face. After struggling, I mustered whatever courage I had. Even if hope was low, I asked my team to believe in the rights we were fighting for. We organized for 14 straight hours training grassroots organizers, knocking on every Representative’s office door, and rallying people to call in. At the end of the 14 hours the Speaker relented and brought up the bill. It passed unanimously. Half a million rape survivors have civil rights because of that. Even if they knew I was scared, they decided to join me in the fight. That day taught us that the voice of the people matter. Now those organizers I’ve trained have gone on to pass their own laws. Leadership, to me, is about helping people see the power that is already within them. I’m so glad I was able to play a small role in their journey to create the change they want to see in the world.
How long have you been working on your project?
Where are you headquartered?Washington D.C., DC, USA
What type of organization is your project?Nonprofit
Describe what makes your project innovative.
Rise has built a first-of-its-kind civil rights accelerator to help other hopeful young people claim their rightful place in our democracy and write laws of their own. The Rise Justice Lab is just like the incubators that already exist for tech startups and small businesses—it offers coaching, mentorship, and other support to help people break down barriers to entry and find success. Our goal is to demystify the path we’ve walked, helping new people and new causes make their way through the obstacle courses of bill drafting, committee hearings, and vote-whipping that exist in every state.
This is a time of tribalism and of waning faith in our democracy. When politicians divide the world into “us” and “them,” they lose sight of their directive to serve their constituents. As a result, people suffer. We have an opportunity to make the change we want to see in the world. Everyone should have the agency and access to change their country for their better, no matter where they come from, or who they are. No other legislative movement has been as successful in modern US history, and no one else has been able to create as much legislative change as Rise. We are uniquely situated with a wealth of first hand knowledge to create lasting change. To share this knowledge, we have built the world’s first civil rights accelerator after years of grassroots organizing to support Americans in our constitutional right push our democracy toward a more perfect union.
What is your theory of change?
Hope is a renewable resource. No one is powerless when we come together. No one is invisible when we demand to be seen. Rise’s movement is a resolutely optimistic vision for America: we believe that everyday citizens can pen their own rights into existence, just as we have done at Rise, 31 times, for 84 million people.
Our theory of change is rooted in the idea that everyday people can make a tangible difference in their own community. We saw that with our pilot acceleration. Students who watched their community be torn by gun violence turned that into a tangible positive change. We also see that everyday with our organizers. When we passed our first federal law, over a million people reached out to us from all around the world to make that same change. Without these everyday people combined with our innovative training curriculum, we wouldn't have the demonstrative success that we do.
Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your project address?
In which countries do you currently operate?
In which countries will you be operating within the next year?
How many people does your project currently serve? How many will it serve in one year? In five years?
The number served has been broken down below:
Rise as an organization currently serves 84 million survivors. At this time next year we expect that number to reach around 90 million survivors. In five years, we expect to have passed our United Nations resolution to serve 1.3 billion survivors worldwide.
Rise Justice Labs has currently served our pilot program of about 20 organizers. After launching next year. We expect to have an initial class of two incubated organizations with capacity to have 6 organizers working full time in training at our headquarters, and many more working remotely as volunteers. In five years time, we would like to be able to operate 10-20 incubations at any given time remotely or in our main office in D.C.
What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?
Our goal within the next year is to successfully train and mentor the first full cohort, allowing Rise to further validate the Rise Justice Labs proof of concept. The next Rise Justice Labs cohort will take place between January and March 2021. The 117th United States Congress will run from January 3, 2021 to January 3, 2023, making January 2021 the most opportune time to set our first full cohort up for success. Additionally, as most state legislative sessions in 2020 began in January or February, and most ended between March and May, It can be assumed the state legislatures will follow a similar schedule for 2021. Our goal is to provide our first full cohort with an expanded version of the same tools, trainings and resources we provided Kyra and Cameron so that after one year, we are able to show that one full class of social movement campaigns successfully completed the Rise Justice Labs accelerator program.
Within the next five years, we aim to have a solid foundation of five successful cycles of cohorts as we continue on our journey of training and mentoring the next generation of social changemakers.
What barriers currently exist for you to accomplish your goals in the next year and in the next five years?
Rise needs to grow financially in order to grow our staff in order to successfully implement Rise Justice Labs. Our goal is to provide the tools and training necessary to empower organizers to do what Rise has done 30 times over. This is an endeavor that requires financial support, additional staffing and office space to provide those wanting to make lasting change for their communities the focus and resources they deserve.
As Rise Justice Labs is the first civil rights accelerator of its kind, we are paving the way for others to take back democracy just as we have helped survivors throughout the country do the same. We can look to other industries such as the tech industry for similar models to help guide our mission- and we have done exhaustive research here- but we are pioneering a new space in social justice advocacy and reform. Though we might be blind to what the future may hold for such an accelerator model, this barrier also provides new opportunities for everyday people to create lasting change.
How do you plan to overcome these barriers?
RJL plans to overcome these barriers by fundraising and partnering with foundations that look to empower individuals to make this country better. Through generous gifts from individual donors and grants from foundations that aim to bring lasting change, we believe that we can not only overcome our own financial barriers, but help everyday people overcome the institutional barriers that stand between them and a more equitable society. With the help of our peers, mentors, and those who have the financial means to make a difference, we will make the democratic processes in this country accessible to the people.
As a pioneer in social justice acceleration, our barrier is the unknown. We do not have a civil rights accelerator model that precedes us, having already paved the way- we are the ones leading this movement. As such, we believe the only way to overcome this barrier is by continuing to move forward. We are fortunate to have a track record of passing 31 laws. Additionally, we have models from other industries to look to for guidance and recommendations- borrowing tools and repurposing them in a way that makes sense to the social justice space. We will overcome the barrier of the unknown by continuing to do the work, continuing to listen to those around us, and continuing to evolve so that we can help others have a voice in their democracy in the most effective and efficient way possible.
What organizations do you currently partner with, if any? How are you working with them?
Rise is currently partnering with several organizations under the collaborative Survivor’s Agenda led by ‘me too’ International, National Women’s Law Center, Justice For Migrant Women, and National Domestic Workers Alliance. This collaborative meets weekly to discuss the development and implementation of a national agenda that is shaped by survivors of sexual violence. The collaboration was launched in June 2020, and we will be hosting a virtual summit in September 2020. Additionally, Rise is partnering with RAINN through our initiative Survivor Safe Haven which utilizes restaurants and grocery stores to connect survivors to resources and information during COVID stay at home orders. A survivor can walk into a designated safe haven and say the code word, “Rise Up 19” and a staff member will provide them a safe space and connect them to RAINN’s hotline to talk to a trained professional. Lastly, Rise has partnered with Supermajority to share organizing resources as we prepare for the 2021 cohort for Rise Justice Labs.
What is your business model?
We serve the community by passing civil rights. 84 million people have benefited from this. The community needed these rights because before our law rape survivors were being discriminated against by the criminal justice system. For instance, rape kits - the evidence that is collected from one’s body - could be destroyed before being tested. Some survivors were charged up to $2000 for their kits. Some states deny survivors a copy of their police report and patient medical examination. After becoming America’s most successful legislative reform movement, we decided to open source our method, called Hopeanomics, and create RJL to train other people how to pen their own rights into existence.
What is your path to financial sustainability?
We are currently building out recurring revenue through our existing foundation, corporate, and individual supporters. We’ve also received interest from donors who want to support an individual accelerated campaign issue. These, combined with our existing network of donors will act as a strong core revenue stream to consistently support Rise cohorts for years to come.
If you have raised funds for your project or are generating revenue, please provide details.
Funding sources from the past 12 months:
Schusterman Family Foundation: $400,000 annual recurring grant
Craig Newmark Philanthropies: $500,000 grant
Chan Zuckerberg Initiative: $155,000 grant
Uber Technologies, Inc: $50,000
If you seek to raise funds for your project, please provide details.
To create the next generation of organizers, Rise is seeking to raise approximately 3 million over the next 18 months to support the next phase of Rise Justice Labs. To successfully train and mentor the next generation of social changemakers, Rise must grow its staffing structure, office capacity, and financial resources to support programmatic and operational needs to fully launch Rise Justice Labs. This budget would fully fund the Rise Justice Labs accelerator program for 4 cycles of cohorts. For each new class of social movement campaigns, Rise commits to in-depth Hopeanomics training to identify legislative strengths and roadblocks, storytelling opportunities with lawmakers and media, routes to like-minded coalitions for support, and daily coaching. In addition, accelerator classes will also receive organizing training, introductions to legislative networks, access to professional services such as lawyers, accountants, and lobbyists, office space, and seed funding.
What are your estimated expenses for 2020?
Current estimated expenses for 2020 are approximately $800,000, though that is subject to change given the COVID pandemic.
Why are you applying for The Elevate Prize?
We are applying for the Elevate Prize so that we can successfully train and mentor the next generation of social changemakers. Our goal is to help those who live the issues they want to solve be the ones leading the charge to make lasting change in their communities. As we have successfully helped survivors pen their own rights into existence 31 times over, we now want to pass the mic to others so they may do the same by providing them with the necessary tools and resources to write their own laws. In order to do this Rise must grow its staffing structure, office capacity, and financial resources to support programmatic and operational needs to fully launch Rise Justice Labs. A $300,000 grant from the Elevate Prize can help us move the needle of democracy back towards the people, changing the overall system for the better. This prize will help Rise Justice Labs break down the financial and staffing barriers that currently block us from bringing democracy to everyday people in America who deserve the opportunity to uplift their own communities. The Elevate Prize will allow Rise to further validate the Rise Justice Labs proof of concept by helping us provide the right resources and tools for the next cohort in 2021. Financial support will not only enable Rise Justice Labs to break down its own barriers to success, but also lower the barriers for everyday people to write their own laws.
In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?