June 13, 2012
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Kari Davidson had been set to graduate with her class last week as the new owner of a visual communications design degree. Instead she boarded a plane on Wednesday bound for China.
The Huskies senior goalkeeper is on a 10-person team of undergraduates, graduate students and faculty from UW's School of Art/Division of Design that is giving a presentation there on water conservation in developing societies.
Davidson was thinking last fall season was her final soccer one at Washington. Instead she will be making more saves for UW this fall as a redshirt senior - while also saving something more precious and noble.
The lives of orphaned children and families in Haiti.
She has teamed with Seattle commercial real-estate agent Kaitlin Jackson to start Haiti Babi, a non-profit organization that seeks to employ and empower Haitian mothers that do not currently have the means to care for children forced into orphanages on the impoverished Caribbean island.
Last month, Davidson traveled with Jackson to Haiti for the first time.
"It is hard to put into words what I saw," Davidson told me before she left for China, "but it was amazing."
She and Jackson lived for 10 days in an orphanage in Cap Haitian. They met the mothers and their children the project is seeking to reunite. Davidson particularly adored a 2 1/2-year-old there, one that weighed just 12 pounds.
She and Jackson hired their first mother-trainer. That key first person will be teaching other Haitian mom employees to knit the baby blankets Haiti Babi hopes to be selling online by summer's end (at http://haitibabi.org/ and https://www.facebook.com/#!/HaitiBabi ).
What's not to love?
Davidson is also interning this summer at Microsoft's headquarters in the Seattle suburb of Redmond, working in user-experience design. That's where I caught up to her - barely - on Monday, as she taking a final bite during a condensed lunch. Last summer she was a business innovation intern at Nike world headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., minutes from her hometown.
Two summers ago, she worked on her own to find a volunteer organization. Inspired by the Huskies' preseason trip to Brazil in 2009, Davidson packed bags full of soccer gear and took a spontaneous, 17-day adventure to the West African nation of Ghana. Her red hair and height were a curiosity to the people there. Her soccer clinics were a revelation and joy (/ViewArticle.dbml?DB_OEM_ID=30200&ATCLID=208037576).
Just your regular college kid on one-woman soccer and social expeditions across the world.
Find me another 22-year-old student-athlete at a major Division-I school that is doing more than this driven, indefatigable and compassionate woman from Portland.
Heck, find me another athlete anywhere in America that is maximizing opportunities and contributing more to more people on and off the field than Washington's Kari Davidson.
"Yes, Kari is a high-energy lady!" her parents, Rich and Leah Davidson, wrote in an e-mail.
And she's not even out of college.
"Kari is a very special person. Anyone that meets her knows that," said Jackson, who earned a master's of science degree from UW last June then met Davidson in February a social enterprise start-up event in Seattle.
That's where Haiti Babi was born.
"I was actually surprised she was 22 and still in college. She holds herself so poised and professionally," Jackson, 27, said. "She's an impressive person in and of herself, just in her character and persona.
"Just that here she was, a 22-year-old senior, and she was spending a weekend at a social entrepreneurship conference. She could have been doing anything else. That in itself was impressive."
Jackson has been in real estate since 2006. She knows how good Davidson must be to have secured college internships with Nike and Microsoft in successive summers.
"She has the chops to hang with the big guys. But she what she really wants to do is social work that is meaningful, something that is bigger than herself," Jackson said over the phone Tuesday.
"She is always running around crazy busy, but it is because she is so passionate in everything she does. It is definitely inspiring, her enthusiasm and her passion to do something for others."
Nothing is more inspiring or impressive than Haiti Babi.
"A NEW REVELATION"
Davidson was seeking a higher social calling in late February when she was one of about 60 attending the SocEnt Weekend, a three-day think tank for turning social entrepreneurial ideas into potential startup companies. The event was at the HUB Seattle, a place for collaborative work on social issues in Pioneer Square.
Davidson had recently completed that transformative summer internship at Nike in 2011 exploring ideas in business innovation.
"I realized access to sport and sustainability were resonating with me more than the sport (itself) piece," she said. "It was a new revelation for me. There's something about the help piece that struck me."
She was also inspired having just finished reading the book "Start Something That Matters" by Blake Mycoskie, founder of the TOMS shoes company that donates a pair of shoes to a person in need for every pair it sells.
"It was the combination of a couple of these moments that made me realize there could be another avenue to explore my passions," Davidson said.
This Huskies keeper with a huge cause listened as 30 people pitched project ideas on Friday night at the SocEnt weekend. The remainder of conference's attendees then chose to join the pitches they liked most and worked on those projects into Sunday night.
Davidson loved what Jackson, who had family friends with connections to the Children of the Promise orphanage in Cap Haitian, was pitching: A non-profit company that would employ and empower mothers in Haiti so they could be reunited with their children out of orphanages and back into family homes.
"It really resonated with me because of my experience a couple years ago in Ghana," Davidson said.
It is estimated that one of every 10 children born in Haiti lives in orphanages on the island. Unemployment, especially among young mothers, is rampant. Finding clean water to live on is a daily challenge.
There are an estimated 500,000 children that live in Haitian orphanages, many because their parents cannot afford to provide them care and a home.
"Many children in Haiti in orphanages are not really orphans," Jackson says.
The 2012 CIA Fact Book shows an average of 2.8 children are born per Haitian woman. That data also lists Haiti's estimated 2012 population of 9.8 million as having 3.5 million children under 14 years of age.
The average per capita income in the United States is $47,200. In Haiti it's $1,200 (in U.S. dollars). That's the lowest in the Western Hemisphere and 205th out of 226 nations worldwide.
Jackson, with the help of Davidson and two others who joined them that weekend, gave a five-minute presentation on Haiti Babi at the end of SocEnt Weekend. They won the conference's award for the project that had the most potential global impact.
But Jackson says "he best thing that came out of it was meeting Kari. Kari and I got along really well right away.
"I e-mailed the team right after the weekend and I invited everyone to keep working on it. I got everyone saying, 'Sure. Keep me in the loop,' that kind of thing. Not Kari. She was like, 'YES! I do want to! Let's meet now!'
"She's just so passionate about this."
Jackson was honest from the start, telling Davidson she had no way to pay her for working on the project.
So what, Davidson responded, "I'm all in."
Jackson is the business and detail person, Haiti Babi's logistics planner and organizer. Davidson is the mind behind the haitibabi.org website. It asks visitors to "JOIN OUR ADVENTURE. We make hip baby products with an authentic cause of employing and empowering Haitian moms to provide and care for their families."
Davidson also does the non-profit's branding and the blanket designs.
"She's the creative backbone," Jackson says.
Last month Davidson and her business partner traveled to Haiti and lived at the Children of the Promise orphanage for a week and a half. They got to meet some of the orphaned children and separated mothers for whom Davidson has been tirelessly working all spring.
The Husky adored 1-year-old Sterly. Little Sterly's story is common there: His parents couldn't afford a house, food or simple medical care to keep him alive, so they sent him to Children of the Promise.
"They only take children that they know if they didn't take them they probably wouldn't make it," Davidson said of COTP.
Davidson also got to know Salnise. She is the 2½-year-old that weighed but a dozen pounds.
"Gosh, she was so sweet - and so small," Davidson said. "If she didn't have a mouth full of teeth you wouldn't have known she was 2½. She did no talking. She was very developmentally behind."
SOCCER AS A PROVIDER
How does a college senior carrying a full course load in design while as a goalkeeper training and playing each spring and fall inside the ultra-competitive Pac-12 have the time to sleep and eat, let alone excel as she does?
"I don't know," Davidson says with a laugh. "I start inventing time. I actually have a time machine in my back pocket.
"Soccer helps with my time management, with finding time in space."
Actually, soccer is the reason she is impacting so many.
Gallimore came to Davidson last fall with the idea of redshirting. It allowed Davidson to put off her final academic term in design for one year. It also gave her time to apply for pursuits in different disciplines that piqued her interest in helping others: the infrastructure of developing nations, entrepreneurship and the access of all people to sport.
Davidson and the Huskies had successfully applied for a medical redshirt season after a foot injury kept her out of Washington's 2010 run to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament, when the heroics of Jorde LaFontaine-Kussmann in goal led the Huskies on one of its best postseason runs ever.
After Davidson started a couple of games in goal last fall, LaFontaine-Kussmann won the starting job in her final, senior season. That's when the coaches asked Davidson if she would consider saving that extra, fifth season for 2012, even though she was on track to graduate this month.
The Huskies will be a sophomore-dominated team this fall. They have a potential star at Davidson's position in redshirt freshman Megan Kufeld, who played only two years of high school soccer in the Bay Area so she could train on the national level and is in the pool of players for the national under-20 team. But UW was looking at having just one senior on its 2012 team, midfielder Kelsea Brajkovich - and she redshirted 2011 because of injury.
Davidson had the boundless ambition and desire. Gallimore and Griffin was now offering the one thing she lacked in abundance: Time.
"I decided in November that I was going to graduate this spring but that I wasn't ready to give up soccer, first of all," Davidson says. "And I was really excited to have the opportunity to extend my education."
While delaying completion of her design degree she applied to the water conservation project that had her on her way to Nanjing, China, Wednesday. With the newfound time, Davidson also sought outlets for her entrepreneurial interests -- and extra academic credits -- at UW's business school. Faculty there told her of a technology meeting of start-up ideas in Seattle in which "you essentially try to get a company started in a weekend," Davidson said.
That's how she got to the SocEnt conference and met Jackson, sparking Haiti Babi.
"I wouldn't have time to do any of this if I didn't have a fifth year," she says. "It's been a little bit overwhelming at times. But I couldn't be happier."
Neither could Gallimore.
"The greatest thing is, not only does she want to come back, but we need her," UW's veteran coach said. "We need her personality. We need her leadership."
I asked Davidson what her teammates think of her and all she does.
"Sometimes I think they think I'm a little crazy. And sometimes I think they are a little bit excited for me," she said, laughing. "I think it's somewhere in between.
"I mean, the support of Lesle and Amy and the team in general, it's just been outstanding. Even though this is not soccer they are very aware that in order for me to be a better soccer player I need these opportunities for my overall life.
"If I didn't have that acceptance and encouragement, I couldn't do any of this."
HAITI BABI'S FUTURE
Davidson's and Jackson's plan for Haiti Babi is to start small with the trainer teaching the knitting to three moms to make baby blankets for six months of online sales at http://haitibabi.org/ and https://www.facebook.com/#!/HaitiBabi . The story behind the mom that made the blanket and the child the purchase is helping reunite will be written on each blanket tag.
They have raised $10,000 to fund the next six months of Haiti Babi through grass-roots contributions from friends and family. That will pay the three, initial employee moms $100 per month to work three days each week knitting, and will provide transportation to and from work plus lunch while they are on the job.
The Seattle entrepreneurs have received pro bono legal assistance on issues such as trade marking. They have received marketing and promotions advice from other friends and acquaintances.
But the project is at a critical crossroads. If it is to realize its larger, more sustainable and impacting goal of helping reunite more orphaned Haitian children back home with parents, it needs larger, longer lasting contributions.
Davidson and Jackson hope to turn Haiti Babi from an online-only enterprise to having blankets sold in retail outlets in the U.S., perhaps even at Nordstrom. They could then help hundreds and thousands of Haitian parents reunite with their orphaned children instead of a few dozen.
The potential for success is as huge as the need. The U.S. government has tried to stimulate investments in and economic help for Haiti by making products produced by projects such as Haiti Babi tax exempt.
But until they get bigger donations, these two driven women remain consumed by grass-roots fund raising and writing grant proposals --instead of expanding the employment opportunities far beyond three moms amid a sea of a half-million orphaned children.
"We're at a stage now where it's at a pivoting point with the amount of impact we can do," Davidson says. "If we can get a few more dollars we'll be able to make a larger and longer commitment."
This indefatigable, impassioned Huskies goalkeeper continues to make remarkable commitments, to societies that are not even her own.
I'd say that is worthy of a return commitment of some kind. Don't you?