Sara Ortega has done a lot of traveling. While in college and grad school she would jump on a plane every time her bank account permitted. The more places she went, the more people she met and the more life stories she heard that were so remarkably different from her own.
She stayed with dozens of types of people from elderly sisters in Spain to dorming students in Taiwan to U.S. volunteers in Kazakhstan. "It was incredibly eye-opening to hear what other people have confronted," she says.
Through these experiences Sara slowly became exposed to the challenges of international development. And while she reveled in the excitement and adventure of all the travel, there came a point when she wished for more purpose to it all than just fraying her passport's edges. Almost everyone she met seemed to be on an endless trek for more opportunities. And Sara realized that the likelihood that many of them would receive an adequate education to obtain those opportunities was depressingly small.
In 2008 Sara accepted a job in Ghana, West Africa working with an adult education program. As that contract came to a close, she began talking with a few coworkers about what they could do next to further their work in education. After many conversations at a local cafe, Mira Scholars Foundation was born in the Spring of 2009. The organization was designed to advance children's education around the world using the power of online media.
Mira is an entirely web-based nonprofit, featuring organizations that work on the ground with youth in developing countries to make incredible strides in education. The website features a brief write-up of each NGO with a specific funding request. The online community can then learn more about the program and choose to support it.
Sara now serves as the Executive Director of Mira. "It is a constantly growing labor of love," she says, "and I wish I had the capacity to involve everyone I know in this type of work." She describes the special nature of the Mira Scholars organization. It's not a 9-5 office type of environment, she says, but "everyday people with the capacity to provide great things coming together to help others in small ways."
Volunteers are a great example of those "everyday people." At Mira they perform important tasks such as legal and accounting work, donor outreach via Facebook, and setting up a monitoring system with the NGO teams in Cambodia. Sara recognizes the symbiotic relationship between her volunteers and her organization. "Everyone is so intelligent," she says, "and they understand that their skills, at any level, help Mira thrive."
Recently Sara used VolunteerMatch to recruit a volunteer to do some research and put together an in-house grant opportunities list. "I believe more people now understand that volunteering works to their personal benefits in this mad job search atmosphere," Sara explains.
Sara recently traveled to Cambodia to visit the first NGO's that teamed up with the online platform and to see firsthand the impact being made there. "It's my aim/hope that by 2012, we'll roll out additional operations in Latin America," she says.
Mira doesn't fall into the same category as traditional philanthropy, Sara says. "Aside from being web-based, all we're truly doing is telling people's stories who aren't fully able to tell it themselves. The concept is simple, and that's what makes it thrive."