Originally published in the Winter 2021 issue of Georgia Magazine.
Media does more than just entertain or inform. For Rara Reines, it’s the path to social change.
The idea took shape in early 2018 as Reines wrapped up her third year at the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs. A student in the Jere W. Morehead Honors College, Reines was interning at Ashoka, a global organization headquartered in Virginia. The company is considered a pioneer of social entrepreneurship, a practice that applies innovative solutions to address deep-rooted cultural, societal, and environmental issues. There she met Sebastian De Beurs, a student at the University of Texas at Austin.
The pair had seen firsthand how racial and gender inequality and lack of access to education affected their home communities and populations around the world.
“We were both at the point where we wanted to be more entrepreneurial and address a lot of these issues,” says Reines AB ’19.
Their idea was to create a digital network called GroundBreakers that promotes and connects leaders around the world who are driving change in their communities in focus areas including public health, education, human rights, and racial equity.
Through Reines’ and De Beurs’ connections at Ashoka and other networks, the media hub began to take shape—first as a podcast and blog, eventually growing into an innovative, worldwide network of leaders and volunteers.
With articles and interviews, the platform highlights the impact of these leaders and spurs others to action. In three short years, the virtual hub has grown to support 75 leaders in 65 countries around the world.
These GroundBreakers include Zarlasht Halaimzai, who is expanding trauma-informed support for refugees in Greece through the Refugee Trauma Initiative, and Dave Okech, who is addressing food security in Kenya through aquaculture.
“Media is such a big piece of this, of how people change,” says Reines. “We’ve seen people turn to GroundBreakers as a source of solutions in many ways—and action, more importantly.”
The platform also supports leaders and communities through its own initiatives. Currently, the team is developing a racial equity guidebook, which will address racial equity on a global scale, centralize best practices, and connect leaders.
Clearly, GroundBreakers is global, but its Athens roots run deep.
A native of Clarke County, Reines’ passion for community building began at a young age. In 10th grade, she received a grant from HERLead, a fellowship program for young women leaders, to fund a local art enrichment project in Athens community centers. HERLead also paired Reines with an international mentor—Kah Walla, a social activist and political figure in Cameroon.
This engagement sparked Reines’s interest in social entrepreneurship and eventually led to seed funding that helped launch GroundBreakers.
Reines says that having these formative experiences between the ages of 14 and 16 is critical. “They affirmed my commitment to the idea of a mutual, global learning exchange,” she says.
Her passion has taken her from Athens to New York to Rwanda and many places in between. She currently resides in Washington, D.C., working as a research associate with Ashoka while also advising and supporting GroundBreakers.
But Athens is never far out of mind. Reines works closely with UGA students and alumni to continue growing the GroundBreakers network. One is Briana Hayes BSHP ’21, who established RISE, an organization to help rural UGA students find community and empowerment.
“I will always have engagement in Athens,” says Reines. “I think there are incredible leadership efforts going on, and I’m deeply invested in working towards a more inclusive Athens.”