By Darcel Rockett
Naperville resident Trisha Prabhu invented an app to curtail cyberbullying, and Wilmette native Chad Bernstein helps students find their path to purpose through music. Each is now $300,000 richer, having won spots in the inaugural cohort of 10 Elevate Prize winners.
Chosen from nearly 1,300 applicants worldwide by the Elevate Prize Foundation (founded in 2019 by Joseph Deitch), the organization’s purpose is to elevate humanity on a global scale by funding, guiding and scaling up the platforms of entrepreneurs with a social media following within the areas of health care, the environment, poverty, inequality, the arts and more, according to executive director and former Chicago Artists Coalition executive director Carolina García Jayaram.
“What’s been so great about launching Elevate at this moment is that we speak very much about our core values, like radical diversity, and it’s not falling on deaf ears,” she said. “I think people have been waiting for this for a long time. Unfortunately, it took a pandemic and George Floyd and a lot of things to kind of give people the permission to act out, seek out and take bigger risks. And that’s what we’re really excited about — investing in those big risk takers and those big bold ideas.”
Prabhu was 12 years old when two of her friends abandoned her and cyberbullying began. Having been bullied before, she said this was different because the harassment was digital and never stopped whether at school or at home. The harassment did end eventually, but the experience led her to use her skills as a coder to create ReThink: Conquering Cyberbullying, a patented app that forces the user to think twice before sending a hurtful text or tweet. The app detects harmful words and phrases as you type. Before you send the message, a ReThink alert pops up on the screen asking if you are sure you want to post the message.
Bernstein is a professional musician who found an opportunity to connect with and empower young people after an experience in a juvenile detention center in Miami. In 2008, his effort became Guitars Over Guns, which focuses on mentoring, artistic instruction, performance and trauma-informed care — interventions that help children age 11 to 18 in after-school programs in Miami and in Chicago. The father of four splits his time between Chicago and Miami. He brought Guitars Over Guns to Chicago in 2014, partnering with Haven Studios on the South Side.
A panel of 21 judges selected the winning innovators, activists and problem solvers who will be provided professional development services and have access to a network of partners, executives and decision makers to advance their work. Over two years, the Elevate Foundation will work with the winners to amplify their impact, share their stories, and build fan bases to further drive their work forward.
Prabhu, 20, a Harvard University junior said monumental shifts aren’t required to make a huge impact. That’s why the Elevate Prize is such an honor for her. It validates the work she’s done so far and hopefully shows other young innovators what a tech CEO looks like.
“How do we get Gen Z in a place where we’re thinking critically about this world that we’ve been born into, instead of just accepting it the way that it is? It’s partly working with groups and bringing them the technology; it’s also partly about educating this new generation,” she said.
Prabhu’s plans for the prize money includes expanding internationally, developing ReThink in different languages, adding new features to tackle issues like sexting. Her dream, given the funding, is to be able to pursue partnerships with groups like phone carrier companies and roll this out to millions of individuals around the world.
With the guidance and funds from the Elevate Prize Foundation, Bernstein hopes to expand Guitars Over Guns to 10 cities and 10,000 students by 2030. He said the win is a “total game changer.”
“I don’t know how else to say it: (The win) is life changing for the organization, for me, for our team and for the communities that we serve,” he said. “Something like Elevate … It’s like you’re treading water, and you’re not sure how long you’re going to have to because you don’t know when you’re going to see land next, and all of a sudden somebody comes by with a boat.”
The remaining 2020 winners include:
- Alexandra Grigore for Simprints, a nonprofit implementing biometric solutions to give people in the developing world hope and access to a better health care system.
- Amanda Nguyen for Rise Justice Labs, a millennial-driven social change incubator dedicated to helping everyday people champion their own cases, pass their first law, and become leaders in their own right.
- Brisa De Angulo for A Breeze of Hope, a Bolivia-based foundation that provides free legal, social and psychological services to victims of sexual violence.
- Dixon Chibanda for Friendship Bench Global, a Zimbabwe-based nonprofit that trains grandmothers to be community health workers.
- Fadi Daou for Adyan Foundation, a Lebanon-based foundation that promotes peace and spiritual solidarity through interfaith dialogue, education and understanding.
- Felix Brooks-church for Sanku, a Tanzanian organization that fights malnutrition for millions through technology that effectively “doses” flour with a precise ratio of nutrients, ensuring a healthy diet.
- Iffat Zafar for Sehat Kahani, an all-female health provider network that provides quality health care to those in need via telemedicine in Pakistan.
- Koketso Moeti for amandla.mobi, a community advocacy organization that turns every cellphone into a democracy-building tool so that people across South Africa can take action with others.
García Jayaram said connecting Elevate Prize winners to audiences around the world is a goal for the new foundation.
“We want people not just to learn and get more deeply involved into the issues that they’re already dialed into, but to be exposed to more of them,” she said. “That’s the kind of opportunity that we’re introducing in terms of social media training, public speaking, the ability to give these nonprofit leaders the tools that they need to be competitive within the 21st century and to be able to grow their causes.”