A Day in the Life

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Welcome to A Day in the Life. In this section clients will share how they turned their passions into actions! Read interviews with some people who are doing what they love. We hope you'll be inspired by their stories!

Scroll down to read the articles or use the links above to jump to a specific section.

Women’s Rights Activist, Shannon Galpin 1


No one ever made a living simply carrying a protest sign or burning a bra. But there are ways to turn your passion for justice, animal rights or whatever else gets you fired up, into a career.

Shocked into action by personal experience, Shannon Galpin turned her passion for women’s rights into the non-profit organization Mountain2Mountain and is helping Afghan women gain independence through cycling.

JMA: Tell me about your background.
SG: I laugh when people ask what my plan was or how I got here because there was no set trajectory. I thought I was going to be a modern dancer. I graduated from high school a year early and I don’t know if I turned in one college application. I got an apprenticeship with a dance company in Minneapolis. I realized becoming a dancer is all-consuming. That’s all you are.

I moved to Europe to go to school when I was 19 and went down the road of getting certified to teach Pilates. Then I got a degree in sports therapy with the idea of working with dancers. I ended up working for 10 years with rugby and hockey players, so big, burly men, not delicate, graceful dancers.

JMA: How did you get from sports therapy to activism?
SG: Now that I look at the why, I realize my path was always there. I am my father’s daughter in that I have an entrepreneurial spirit. I have never worked for anyone else. I am good at creating something out of nothing. But my career as an activist really started when I moved back to the states. I was pregnant with my daughter at the time and my sister was attacked. At that moment, I decided to stop ranting about injustice and do something about it. It was truly a 180.

My sister’s attack was the spark, but the other part came from the fact that I was attacked in Minneapolis. I was raped and nearly killed when I was 18. When it happened to my sister too, I thought, “What the fuck is going on? This is our culture.”

We are 10 years apart in age, but I was 18 at the time of my attack and she was 19. We are both very strong, independent women — we’re tough mountain girls from North Dakota. We both fought not to let the attacks define us. But, when I went down to her college and took her to the police station, I thought: Why are we not standing up?

Overnight, I created Mountain2Mountain.

JMA: How does Mountain2Mountain work? What was your goal for the organization?
SG: I really wanted to look at how one woman could help empower women in conflict zones. I started with the theory that humanitarian aid is dysfunctional. We don’t see enough organizations working person-to-person in conflict zones where women’s rights are at their very worst. That’s where I wanted to be. I was aware of such a waste of money and resources in Afghanistan. Let’s say you have an organization there to empower women, but because of security they can’t leave the compound. You’re saying, “I know best and we’re going to empower you to do things the way we do them in my country.” It’s just another form of subjugation. Of course there’s also great work going on there, too.

The idea is connecting communities and cultures. Mountain2Mountain also ties to this subtext of an old Persian proverb, “No matter how high the mountain, there’s always a road.”

JMA: How did you get started? Did you have support?
SG: Everyone thought I was insane. I have no background in international relations and I was going to a war zone. People actually said, “What right do you have to be an activist? To work in Afghanistan?” But, I am smart. I know how to ask questions and I know to surround myself with people who know more than I do. I want to learn and I don’t let my ego get in the way.

In terms of support, my ex-husband and I co-parent and he’s great. Knowing my daughter is with him when I go makes it possible for me. I wouldn’t be as comfortable doing this if she was with anyone else.

JMA: What made you nervous about launching a nonprofit — in addition to the war zone aspect?
SG: It was basically: I’m doing this and this who I am. Onward.

The thing that did worry me, and the place where I made a boatload of mistakes, is around the structure of the organization. There are a lot of rules and there’s a lot of paperwork and that side has freaked me out.

JMA: As a nonprofit, you can’t always just hire someone. How did you address that problem?
SG: It’s still a learning process. With the organization, I would procrastinate until every deadline because I have this awesome programming and I want to work on that. I have learned and managed as I have gone along, but I am at a point when I am thinking about hiring an Executive Director. I recognize that means letting go of ego and control and allowing myself to lead the organization but give over the day-to-day.

JMA: What are some of your biggest accomplishments?
SG: The Streets of Afghanistan project. The first time I went to Afghanistan, I had one meeting scheduled. I knew I wanted to create a photo exhibit to raise awareness about the Afghanistan that people in the U.S. don’t see. It ended up as a collaboration between Afghan and U.S. photographers. Over the course of two weeks, the team installed five public exhibitions and two photo stagings at historic sites in Afghanistan to show that art has a place in conflict zones.

It was a four-year process and everyone thought it was insane. I had Afghan expats telling me Afghan people wouldn’t understand it. There were so many ignorant statements. But it was successful and now it is up for an international public arts award. I had the idea and I knew it would work.

If I had listened to the first — and last — person who said no, I wouldn’t be here. I am seeing the same thing with the cycling program.

[In 2009, Shannon became the first woman to ride a mountain bike in Afghanistan in an effort to challenge perceptions of gender barriers. Mountain2Mountain has given long-term support to the country’s first women’s cycling team and plans to help with equipment, racing and travel fees, and to work with partners, the government and the International Olympic Committee to look into the potential of training and preparing the team for the next Asia Games or future Olympics.]

People need to see something before they can get behind it, which is really frustrating. I either need to get better at explaining my vision or accept that people need the time to catch up and get it.

JMA: Where are you with the cycling team?
SG: We’re making plans for the first-ever women’s bike race in Afghanistan and going out to train in the central part of the country where they are more progressive about women’s rights. We’re pushing boundaries. The hope is that promoting cycling as a sport that represents the country leads to freedom of mobility for all women.

We’re hoping this will become an annual event. We have a few women Olympians coming over for a training clinic with the girls. We’re also organizing a global solidarity day so that on race day, cyclists all over the world can show support for the girls and they can see that the world is watching.

JMA: What advice do you have for someone who wants to start a nonprofit?
SG: Starting a nonprofit will take a lot of risk and a lot of faith. You have to be über sure of what you believe in so you can rally the masses. I would not advocate for anyone to do this the way I did. I sold everything I had — including my house. I’m personally not good at the compromise; I’m all or nothing, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do the foundational work and research while you transition. But, at some point, you do just have to leap and take action.

JMA: So have you been able to make a living running a nonprofit?
SG: Organically, I survived because of the money from the house. My ex and I split up our assets and, instead of investing in a house, I put everything into Mountain2Mountain. I had a little nest egg, but I was raising a daughter with no financial security. That kept me going. I got to a point where I could take partial salary, and the hope is that by the end of this year, with a book and a film coming out, we can run this as a small business. Speaking engagements help. National Geographic named me adventurer of the year and that helped to give me a hook. A speaking engagement can pay the rent.

JMA: What’s the bottom line?
SG: You have to remember that you are running a business — people probably gave me that advice early on and I probably ignored them. But, it’s true. This is a business, not martyrdom. You have to sustain yourself, or you will have to stop. There’s a feeling with nonprofit that people who start them aren’t business-minded. But I talk a lot about not self-sacrificing. You can’t do this if you have to take on another job or you burn out. That’s my best advice.

Don’t wait for people to rally; just get it done. I am a huge believer that at some point you just have to jump. They say, “Jump and the net will appear.” But it’s not that it appears. It’s that you’re flying and you better learn to knit really, really fast so you don’t go splat.

Learn more about Shannon Galpin, Mountian2Mountain and the Afghan National Cycling Team

NOTE: Photo credits included with file name on each photo.

 

Women’s Rights Activist, Shannon Galpin 2


No one ever made a living simply carrying a protest sign or burning a bra. But there are ways to turn your passion for justice, animal rights or whatever else gets you fired up, into a career.

Shocked into action by personal experience, Shannon Galpin turned her passion for women’s rights into the non-profit organization Mountain2Mountain and is helping Afghan women gain independence through cycling.

Women’s Rights Activist, Shannon Galpin 3


No one ever made a living simply carrying a protest sign or burning a bra. But there are ways to turn your passion for justice, animal rights or whatever else gets you fired up, into a career.

Shocked into action by personal experience, Shannon Galpin turned her passion for women’s rights into the non-profit organization Mountain2Mountain and is helping Afghan women gain independence through cycling.

 

 

Women’s Rights Activist, Shannon Galpin 4


No one ever made a living simply carrying a protest sign or burning a bra. But there are ways to turn your passion for justice, animal rights or whatever else gets you fired up, into a career.

Shocked into action by personal experience, Shannon Galpin turned her passion for women’s rights into the non-profit organization Mountain2Mountain and is helping Afghan women gain independence through cycling.

 

[Jody Michael Associates] leads you to achieve what you believed was impossible. This process can be difficult, but the reward is beautiful.”

-- Zackary A. Prince, Paralegal/Writer
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