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Female Powered Startup Using Analytics for Activism

By Mikayla O’Reggio

Activism Always’ AI platform produces analytics and recommendations to support the social media engagement of mission driven organizations. This sector understands the value of data in operations, but the majority of organizations lack resources to perform data analytics. Activism Always’ hybrid service combines an internal AI platform with strategy analytics, maximizing organizations' data capabilities and impact. Activism Always was founded by four students: Mikayla O’Reggio, Chelsie Lui, Hoa Nguyen, and Jin Pu.

How did you come up with the idea for Activism Always?

With similar interests in applying data to social impact movements and activism, our team met through TechSoup and ParsonsTKO’s Data Strategy Mentorship Program. Together, we worked through the summer on a project analyzing social engagement around the Black Lives Matter Movement, particularly following the murder of George Floyd. This project brought us together to think more critically about the application of data in activist work and what we could achieve as a team to combine data technology with storytelling, visualizations, and social justice. Following our presentation of this project, Black Lives Matter, Always (blmalways.org) at TechSoup and ParsonsTKO’s Data for Social Impact Conference, we received a positive response from the approximately 200 nonprofit executives, supporters, and activists in attendance. We knew this couldn’t be the end of our work together in this field, which is why we stayed in contact following the summer and began working under the team name of Activism Always.

Did you start the venture alone?

Nope! Our founding team consists of the same four wonderful ladies from our initial summer project: Miki O’Reggio, Jin Pu, Hoa Nguyen, and Chelsie Lui. Apart from being friends, we make up a diverse team of young entrepreneurs and academics. Mikayla is in the last semester of her Environmental Economics and Human Rights studies at UC Berkeley and currently manages strategy and operations for Activism Always as the team’s Chief Executive Officer. Jin is a recent graduate from Columbia University’s Master’s in Business Analytics, and is currently working as Activism Always’ Chief Analytics Officer. She will be beginning work as a data analyst based in China in early-2021. Hoa is a recent graduate of San Francisco State University’s Master’s in Business Analytics, and is the Chief Information Officer. She works full time at Activism Always to ensure quality of the hybrid services and escalate the AI platform technology developing process. Chelsie is a 4th year Communication Studies major with Chinese, Ethnic Studies, and Science and Risk Communications minors at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. She is passionate about the relationship between humans and tech communication. She works as the Chief Research Officer on the team, assisting Activism Always’ communications development and leading project research.

Miki O’Reggio, Chief Executive Officer

How did you manage uncertainty in early stages of business? Were you ready to pivot if needed? Did you keep it a very lean MVP?

We are still very early, and we are still trying things out! And there’s a lot of uncertainty! Honestly, we’ve been pivoting basically every two months to work on some other aspect of Activism Always. There’s no way we’ve reached or decided what our final form is. We started as a student initiative, interested in learning more for ourselves about the relationship between nonprofits, social justice movements/activists, and data. But since then, we’ve developed a business model in which we believe is the most feasible way for us to continue our work at the moment. Who knows what might happen in a month or two or six. 

Our team is blessed with a somewhat even split between visionary and more cautious perspectives ― leading to interesting conversations and great momentum for moving forward. This split and our teamwork allows us to manage uncertainty in a way that is (from our understanding) not always the case with team projects. We gain a lot of confidence in weighing our thoughts and plans with each other, allowing space for personal interests and side-tasks, while sharing similar goals to benefit Activism Always and the communities we serve. I think we also gain quite a bit of confidence from trust in each other as individuals since we are friends, and there’s a greater level of personal respect and interest in maintaining those relationships alongside our businesswomen personas.

Our MVP was built to be quite lean and we’ve had the opportunity to develop as we progress. All our technology is being adapted and developed by our data team, Jin and Hoa. We’re excited to continue work on it, testing our methodology and technology as we begin taking on clients.

Jin Pu, Chief Analytics Officer

What advice would you give to other founders just starting to build a company?

Follow your passions and find your people. Our team could not have done what we’ve accomplished so far without the support of each other, the support of the entrepreneurship community, and the support of innovative partners in the data and social impact space. We are really grateful for the opportunity to even get as far as we have, especially as students working through a pandemic. 

Also, in building a company and in our individual lives, we really think it’s important to remain critical about our work and impact. We have to be listening and staying flexible as individuals, as a team, and as an entity. We know we’re not going to get everything right, but there’s pride behind our work, and we believe we need to take responsibility for the quality and impact of our work ― where we can help, we want to, and we believe it necessary to take advantage of those opportunities.

Hoa Nguyen, Chief Information Officer

Is it possible to build a successful company without burning out or damaging other parts of your life (studies, family, health, etc.)?

We sure hope! Our team consists of two current university students and two recent Master’s graduates. Since the start of our team, we have been wrestling with the too-real complications of scheduling and dividing work. In doing this, there is always work to be done, and for our team’s work with Activism Always, it feels like there may be even more work in that we’re doing some really experimental stuff with multiple stakeholders (foundations, nonprofits, investors, partners, clients...) right off the bat.

I think our team manages work/life balance relatively well, and considerations about everyone’s life outside of work are a big part of our internal communications. Being friends as well as business and project partners, we are comfortable with communicating our concerns and personal matters, but we know that isn’t true for all companies (not to make a judgement that you have to be friends with your co-workers). There still needs to be clarity in the standard for professional communication within the company, and those lines of communication open space for shared values of boundaries, mutual respect, and consideration for others’ humanity that can support keeping work-life balance. Imo who knows really?

Chelsie Lui, Chief Research Officer

How has COVID-19 challenged you as an entrepreneur and how are you overcoming those challenges?

COVID-19 has been devastating for all of us individually at Activism Always, just as it has affected people all over the world. However, one thing we did make out of COVID-19 was an opportunity to connect more boldly with people, communities, and organizations outside of our immediate comfort-zone or geographical location. Our team is split between four different cities (and soon across two counties), and we have never met in person. However, the opportunity to join a virtual, remote data strategy program as we were sheltered at home was the setting in which we were united.

On a day-to-day, week-to-week basis, we see both benefits and drawbacks to working remotely through COVID. On the good side, there are many more options and programs that are held virtually and can thus accommodate our scattered team, as well as allow our student team to work more flexibly between classes and client interviews. However, there are drawbacks to not being able to connect as closely with our partners, peers, and clients. We are missing out on those networking and bonding experiences that the entrepreneurial space offers to its founders, and we cannot wait for a period where we can safely meet each other and the communities we are a part of in-person.

What impact do you want to have? Is your startup objective "getting rich" or "changing the world"? Is control or success more important?

Nonprofit organizations don’t have resources to effectively draw data insights. Working with data can result in disempowerment for the organization (loss of autonomy to external expertise, data segmentation). Additionally, a simultaneous history of data and algorithmic abuses have led to mistrust in the data ecosystem, both on an individual level and in terms of ethical organizational practice.

Understanding that the nonprofit field lacks resources to tap into their organization’s data, our technology and service allows nonprofits to flexibly and reliably organize data into easy-to-access insights and visualizations. Our team develops and implements data analysis technology in a way that is both technically and financially accessible to users. As we grow, we hope to develop an easy-to-access product that allows nonprofits to access this type of technology with the option of additional consulting.

To make as much of an impact while we can, we’re looking to support long-term change for both our business and the communities we serve. For all of us founders, our work doesn’t start or end with Activism Always. From before we began, we already had projects, coursework, passions around the topics of social justice, and Activism Always is only one initiative of many in our individual lives. For us, this business is more interested in the success, the impact of our work rather than personal control over an industry or field. And while it would be amazing to imagine the scope of impact we could make as a team, we believe our team is grounded in the dream to serve rather than seek to benefit our collective egos. There’s a lot of work to be done in this space, and it will need all the hands and voices it can get.

If you want to continue to follow these women's story, follow them on social media:

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