I’ve always been drawn to the collaborative efforts of Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and grassroots organizations around the world. It was fascinating to me that these agencies had the ability to fill gaps in basic human rights where governmental agencies may have dropped the ball. After undergrad, I completed a dual masters program in Europe in International Relations, then moved to New York City and worked in finance for close to a decade. During this time, I knew that there was something more that I wanted to do and it wasn’t until I had some extra time on my hands once my boys had both started school that I turned my attention to charity and back to what moved me. Having my own kids re-ignited my passion for giving back and I was particularly interested in how I could impact the lives of children around the world.
I started out working with the Robin Hood Foundation which really got the philanthropic juices flowing and ultimately motivated me to start my own venture. Coincidentally, (it’s all about timing!) my best friend, Brandyn Randolph who is the co-founder of Lady Savant Society (a membership based women entrepreneur group), was looking to get their members more involved in giving back to the community. I loved that small actions like volunteering in a soup kitchen could create such a big impact and it was then that I was inspired to do more. After a few short (but stressful!) months, I launched my own 501c3, The Lady Savant Foundation. I relied heavily on friends and peers for direction and with sheer drive and determination (and some naivete) we were up and running.
I loved that small actions like volunteering in a soup kitchen could create such a big impact and it was then that I was inspired to do more.
I partnered with World Assistance for Cambodia and set a goal to help build a school in rural Cambodia. I initiated the fundraising machine immediately and held our inaugural gala in May 2017 which was a major success. We surpassed our fundraising goal that night and ended up raising enough to build the school in rural Cambodia (equivalent to US grades 6-8) which now has approximately 280 students. We were able to raise enough funds to provide the school with: soccer fields with sports equipment, school supplies for each child, a computer lab, and an English teacher. We also created a Farmstead Capital Garden of Life which is a hands-on learning project for the students, as well as a sustainability project where the kids will learn how to farm the land and provide one meal a day to the students.
We’re also heavily involved in the Girls Be Ambitious Program, a program run by World Assistance for Cambodia. The most important part of the Cambodia initiative, it’s an incentive program aimed at keeping our girl students out of the human trafficking trade. To date, we have ‘adopted’ more than 20 of our girl students. It is critical in keeping the girls in school and safe vs working in factories or being sold (sometimes by their own families) to the sex trafficking trade. Visit our website to see some of their stories.
Liberia, like Cambodia, has seen their education system decimated by war and authoritarian governments. These types of post war/conflict zones need an exceptional amount of outside help in rebuilding. We have pledged funds to build at least one school with More Than Me, including a health clinic, and to assist in their effort to revamp the entire education system there. Katie was our Keynote speaker at our fundraiser last week and we couldn’t be more excited to partner.
Also, don’t be afraid to work together – collaboration and communication go a long way. At the end of the day, the reward you get from helping others is priceless.
What I’ve learned through my experience is that it’s easier than you think to make an impact. If you feel strongly about an issue, go out there and make a difference. A common misconception is that you need a ton of capital to make an actual impact to your cause…FALSE! I think a big obstacle to overcome when starting something like this is to actually envision it happening and letting go of your fear of failure. A great first step is to actually say it out loud to friends or family; it almost makes it real in a sense. Also, don’t be afraid to work together – collaboration and communication go a long way. At the end of the day, the reward you get from helping others is priceless.
How can you get involved?
Even if timing isn’t right for starting your own venture, partner up with one that is already doing good things. No one expects you to be the next Mother Teresa; don’t be afraid to get out there and spread your message and engage your community and family. We’ve even partnered with my younger son’s preschool to do artwork with ArtWare For Good for our Cambodia school, and are similarly doing a global art project with my other son’s entire elementary school. Take a look at your own strengths. Love fashion? Host a trunk show benefiting your favorite charity. Want to do something that includes your kids? A beach clean up is a great family activity. Want to do something bigger? Start your own 501c3 charitable organization. I’ve put together an easy step by step process to get the process going which I’m happy to share.
At the Lady Savant Foundation we are always looking to collaborate and bring awareness to our organization, so please reach out with any ideas or questions.
Erin Lepone, founder of The Lady Savant Foundation and Brandyn Randolph, founder of Lady Savant Society
Erin Lepone is the founder of the Lady Savant Foundation whose mission is to Empower the Next Generation, aiming to give the basic building blocks to kids around the world to be able to empower themselves through education and philanthropy. Erin lives with her family in New Jersey.