I was so excited when I was asked to be a part of the Social Impact Hero interview series. Their team interviews change-makers because they want to inspire future generations to be change-makers too. (So great!)  Here's what they had to say about their work: 

"Every day, amazing people empower our communities promoting sustainable development, fostering social change, and improving lives of women, men and children.
Those people are all around us and they are a true source of inspiration for anybody that aspires to affect positive change in the world.
Even though this people didn’t set out to seek recognition, their forward-thinking ideas and impact of their projects have inspired us to tell their stories and we hope they will inspire you too."
Check out my interview here, or below.  
(Reposted with permission.) 


Jessica, what inspired you to start I’ll Go First?

I’ll Go First started with a simple conversation I had while doing humanitarian work with survivors of the commercial sex trade in Cambodia. At that time I had been working in the field of survivor empowerment with survivors of commercial sexual exploitation for well over ten years helping with investigations, restorative treatment and economic development. Just before doing this outreach visit, I was emailed by a organization and asked to share my personal story in front of a large audience.

While on a break on the outreach I started expressing my hesitation and reluctance about coming public with my own history with my dear friend AnnaLynne McCord. After venting for a few minutes she turned to me and without hesitation said, “Well, look who is still stuck in the brothel.” I was stunned, to say the least. She continued, “You’re the one who is always telling survivors to not be ashamed of their past and to share their story, but you won’t share yours. Should I call Somaly Mam (anti-trafficking advocate) to come rescue you?”

I looked around the room at all of the brave survivors surrounding me and realized that she was right. I hadn’t been practicing what I preached. Without realizing what I was committing myself to, I steadied myself and responded with, “Fine. I’ll go first.”

And, what happened next?

A few weeks later I found myself standing in front of over a thousand strangers, sharing my personal story of overcoming abuse and tragedy. Timidly, at first, I brought to light parts of my story I had never shared with anyone, or even acknowledged to myself. I shared my history of molestation and sexual assault; of times when depression kept me in bed for days. I confessed to spending my childhood feeling ashamed and unloveable and of having seriously contemplated killing myself a number of times throughout my adolescent years.

When I finished, I was greeted by a crowd of audience members eager to share their story because, in sharing mine, they had found the strength to speak out on behalf of themselves. I realized then the healing power of sharing our stories, and how transformational this can be for ourselves and for those around us. I knew I was “on to something” but I wasn’t sure what yet.

So, what did you find out?

Eventually, through research and development, I realized story telling has its roots in neuropsychology- actually story telling is highly affective for the recovery of trauma survivors, in that, it helps reintegrate the brain hemispheres that become non-communicative because of trauma. There’s this sense of ‘splitting’ that occurs between hemispheres. Narrative exposure and testimonial therapy help reformat neural pathways between hemispheres, reorganize and reframe our thoughts so we rid ourselves of maladaptive thought processes that are no longer helpful for us as coping mechanisms.

When we consider this and the near 90% worldwide mobile phone penetration, the possibilities for supporting the recovery for formerly unreachable marginalized trauma populations is endless. We now know these type of trauma recovery interventions are effective low barrier to entry mechanisms are helpful, impactful, and we now have access the technology to make that access possible in a way we’ve never had before. It’s a very exciting time!

The spirit of I’ll Go First celebrates resilience, overcoming abuse and trauma, and breaking free from what shames us, because know that recovery is 100% possible.

Which are the best accomplishments you had so far with I’ll go first?

In March we were a top five finalists for the NYU Digital Mental Health Pitch-A-Thon, and as of November, we’ve just received 501c3 status. To date we’ve engaged with over 300+ stories over our beta platform at www.illgofirst.com, and are building out survivor and community based intervention partnerships in India, Nigeria and Canada.

What about difficult moments? Did you have any? If so, could you please tell us one and how you overcame it?

Many! Digital mental health, mobile mental health, or tele therapy, is a new field (with many names). Bringing together all the stake holders (psychology, global mental health, and technology) and overcoming the learning curve has been a challenge. Fortunately we’ve built a robust advisory board with talented, brilliant people, to make our vision a reality.

Ultimately, what would you like to give to the people involved with I’ll Go First?

We want to offer a discreet, self-empowering, accessible platform for them to receive the mental health support and help them deserve. Access to mental health care, particularly from trauma, is a necessary human right, that is far too inaccessible for too many. For the sake of humanity, addressing this gap and closing it is part of what keeps us up at nigh

And what have you gained personally from working on I’ll Go First?

It’s been really inspiring to meet our constituents in the field, and the tireless, hard working and inspiring mental health workers attempting to address these psychosocial challenges on the ground with trafficking survivors, refugees, and even IDPs. They show us that, yes, recovery is possible, and with hard work and dedication, every life we help change, has a ripple effect more far reaching than what we can see; to their families, communities and ultimately uplifting their societies for the betterment of the world.

What are the next challenges in front of you and I’ll Go First right now?

We are looking to build a sustainable product that allows us to scale gradually, country by country, and provides us with the means to research global mental health and mobile mental health’s impact.

Which achievements would make you happy in the next year?

We hope to be beta testing in the field with our strategic partners by Fall 2016.

How can someone get involved with I’ll Go First?

We would love for you to sign up to be a beta test for our platform and curriculum. The more people who engage with the platform, the better and more intuitive it becomes. Also, we would love to have you come volunteer with us by becoming a crisis text counselor through I’ll Go First for Crisis Text Line. We have free training, and you can volunteer anywhere there is Internet. And, if you, or someone you know has a story of ‘overcoming’ a history with some sort of trauma and abuse, and has shared it publicly before, we would love to highlight them in our “Resilience” series. Part of what makes story telling and media so powerful is that it helps us see what is possible, so we’re curating stories from everywhere to show everyone that no matter your background, healing is possible.