Belle Sweeney: Founder & Executive Director The Schoolbox Project
#SheInnovates Stories: Innovation is solving the world's problems. What problem are you solving?
Belle Sweeney: Millions of refugees have one thing in common: trauma. We will never “solve” this problem. We can, however, equip responding volunteers with programming that can mitigate the short and long term effects of trauma, education on how to prevent re-traumatization and exploitation, and a model that is nimble enough to respond rapidly to a variety of situations.
#SheInnovates: When did you realize your innovation was a breakthrough?
BS: Within hours of the first container being delivered, it was painted, stocked and serving about 50 children. However, many [children] were being repeatedly removed from activities due to challenging behavior. Volunteers needed help to understand how trauma impacts the brain and how that informs behavior. The idea for a training program that could travel with each box started to take shape. As I walked home that night, I thought, “There’s something here.”
#SheInnovates: What were some unexpected obstacles you overcame in the innovation process?
BS: The first two years were endless obstacles and nonstop learning. Having the right team to support you, call you out, and communicate well through it all, is key.
#SheInnovates: What inspires you to love your work?
BS: Witnessing the ripple effect of supportive, nurturing teacher relationships with children who have endured unspeakable trauma is endlessly inspiring. I feel lucky every day that I can play some small part in it.
#SheInnovates: What do you hope that young women coming behind you take from your work?
BS: Every single one of us has the ability to ease suffering in this world. To notice something that needs to be done and just show up and figure out how to do it. Wait for that idea that is bigger than you, bite off more than you can chew, and just start chewing. You'll know the idea when you see it.
#SheInnovates: Why are women in innovation important?
BS: Talent is distributed evenly, opportunity is not. Today's problems impact us all, and it’s time to accept nothing less than a “speak up” culture. Without it, we risk missing countless opportunities for progress, for discovery and for solutions to the seemingly endless challenges we are facing. Innovation is just the implementation of creativity. If we can get out of the way, support women with the time and space for creativity, and keep encouraging, nurturing and financing these life-changing ideas; then more opportunities will start to exist to encourage other women’s empowerment, by driving broader social change.
Interviews have been lightly edited for clarity and length.