Optimism and Progress: Welcoming Change at World Savvy

Greetings, World Savvy community, 

This coming spring will mark 22 years for me as the CEO of World Savvy, and we continue to reach milestones that I could scarcely have imagined back in 2002. Together we have built an incredible organization: trusted, sustainable, and relied upon across the country to empower educators to make schools inclusive, relevant, and engaging for all students, inspiring young people to learn, work, and thrive as responsible global citizens. One of our core values as an organization is that we “intentionally grow and change”, and so, the news I am sharing today is offered in this spirit and with deep gratitude.

I am proud to share that now is the right time for me to start a thoughtful transition out of the CEO role. One of my deepest desires, always, was to build a leaderful organization that could meaningfully change the K-12 system, beyond my leadership. We’ve arrived in that place in the last year at World Savvy: the most experienced, talented national team we’ve ever assembled, rising demand and new partnerships across dozens of states, a stable and growing network of funding partners, and a proven approach that is now changing the conversation about what constitutes a quality education. Since 2002, we’ve reached more than 904,000 students and 7,300 teachers across 45 US states and 32 countries, and we’re positioned to impact millions more in the decade to come. And all of this is happening at a time when the world needs this work more than ever before–as we grapple with unprecedented levels of polarization and division, and complex global challenges that impact us wherever we live. Because of this, I know it is the right time to make space for a new executive to collaborate with our team to grow the organization to the heights we imagine in the decade to come: a thriving network of 10,000 schools centering global competence and building equitable, inclusive, and future-ready learning environments for all kids. 

Those who know me well know that I often stress the “Co” in my Co-Founder title, because I wouldn’t have begun this journey without my fellow Co-Founder, Madiha Murshed. I wouldn’t have stayed the course for so long without Madiha’s foundation, and without the tremendous team members and supporters who grew this work alongside me for more than two decades. I love this work, and it will always be an extension of my values and beliefs in the deepest way. It fills me with pride and optimism to see what began as such a small, ambitious endeavor making such an impact through the leadership of so many. 

As for what happens next, working closely with a Founder Transition Coach, we have created a Transition Team comprised of board members and staff to ensure that the entire process from now through the onboarding of a new leader minimizes disruption to our daily activities and supports our new leader as they take on the CEO role. Additionally, the Board has assembled a dream Search Team of board members and World Savvy stakeholders to lead the way in finding our next leader. A message from our Board Chair, Linda Ireland: 

As Board Chair, I am tremendously proud of what Dana has contributed over 20 years to bring World Savvy to this juncture. She is a marvel, living our values, inspiring so many to share in our mission, and working tirelessly to make World Savvy a leader in reimagining education to be what our young people deserve and our world needs. We are proud of the leaderful organization Dana has built. Our World Savvy staff, clients, stakeholders, and investors are incredible. As Chair of our Search Team, I am excited for what will come next for us all, especially the educators and students who will thrive as global citizens during World Savvy’s next remarkable chapter. We have a strong, experienced, and engaged Board committed to leaning into this transition with the intentionality, thoughtfulness, and enthusiasm it deserves. We have retained Good Citizen, a national search firm, to conduct a search beginning next month, with the intention of welcoming a new CEO by July 2024. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me at any time with questions or suggestions. ~Linda Ireland, Board Chair

Until next July, I will remain World Savvy’s very active and engaged CEO. Once our new leader begins, I will remain in a Founder-in-Residence role through the end of 2024, available to support new leadership and the organization in intentional ways that promote a smooth and effective transition. 

In this unique time of inflection, it is rising to the surface for me in visceral ways: we would never be here, at this place of national impact, without our phenomenal community of supporters, advocates, and partners. Many of you have already come forward pledging your continued full support when the day of my transition arrives. Thank you. It fills me with pride to know you see World Savvy as I do–a vibrant, strong, innovative, sustainable, essential organization much more powerful than any one person. My deep gratitude for each of you is hard to encapsulate, but it’s been the fuel for a movement that I have always believed, and will continue to, is changing education in the most important ways. 

In the coming months, we will transparently share our progress not only with respect to this transition but also to the critical work we continue to lead in schools nationwide. If you have any questions, concerns, or ideas about our transition process, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me, or to our Board Chair Linda Ireland, at ireland@humanvenn.com

Thank you, always, for continuing to be a part of this special community.

With gratitude,

Dana Mortenson
CEO and Co-Founder  

The Wildling + World Savvy: Let us tell you a story…

At The Wildling, stories are #1. Since the organization’s founding, The Wilding has been empowering youth to share bravely from their lived stories in a safe and meaningful way. And we can’t wait to invite you into the next chapter of this story: 

The Wildling is becoming part of World Savvy!

As we welcomed The Wildling to the World Savvy family with an open house this week, and as we work together over the course of the coming school year to embed The Wildling’s approach and resources to support World Savvy’s school partners, we want to invite you into this story. We are thrilled to be partnering together, and can’t wait to share more over the coming years about how The Wildling’s programming is better supporting educators and students to connect and share their stories, and how this partnership with World Savvy will expand the reach of this innovative and meaningful programming to students across the country. For now, we invite you to learn more about our journey to this exciting milestone…

World Savvy: What sparked your interest in this partnership?

The Wildling: When we met Dana Mortenson, we were inspired by her vision from the first moment. Having built The Wildling from the ground up four years prior, with stars in our eyes and a lot of grit, we were beyond impressed to hear about Dana’s story and how she had spent more than 20 years building World Savvy into an organization that works with entire schools and districts to inspire thousands of future-ready learners. 

The Wildling was always about imprinting young people with a sense that who they are matters first and that they have a story to tell and share that will inform their learning path—with the right guidance and approach. When we heard Dana share “cultivating connections” as a core pillar of World Savvy’s model—and the belief that each learner is part of something bigger—her words felt like an arrow striking right at the heart of our mission at The Wildling.

We knew after our conversation with Dana that we would be stronger together—and that is how we have always approached partnerships, feeling our way with intuition and knowing that we can harness that energy for more impactful results. We wondered: How could we leverage our impact and meet the great demand that was upon The Wildling after a pandemic and with a mental health crisis in front of us, and with educators who were asking for programs like ours to support their efforts to shore up their classrooms. We couldn’t be everywhere at once, and we had a lot to sort out to grow. When World Savvy asked about the potential for an integration, we knew right away that this was something we were interested in discussing further. This would mean giving our dynamic and impactful young program a home that would impact thousands, if not millions, of kids in the years to come—to feel and find their place in the world and to know how much they matter. 

World Savvy: This partnership was such an obvious fit for us. At World Savvy, we identify and nurture connections—between students and educators, among peers, between a school and the wider community—to make learning personal and relevant for all students. And one of the key ways that we as humans form connection is by telling stories, and cultivating empathy and understanding as we listen to others tell their stories. 

We are so excited to leverage The Wildling’s dynamic and engaging frameworks and resources in a variety of ways to better support educators and students. Year one of a World Savvy partnership is focused on Cultivating Connections—a theme that is deeply aligned with The Wildling’s program. There are a variety of ways for students to engage with the materials, from sharing personal narratives or utilizing the resources as a vehicle for sharing knowledge and encouraging discourse. Sharing together in this way helps students to develop key competencies they’ll use throughout their lives, such as engaging willingly and openly with others, demonstrating self-awareness about identity and culture, choosing empathy, and so much more.

What are you most excited about as The Wildling joins World Savvy?

The Wildling: Oh my. What are we NOT excited about? We couldn’t be happier. When people ask how this integration came to be, we say we have followed our curiosity from the very start. That is how The Wildling was born—a storyteller and an educator with big hearts and curiosity who wanted to help youth find their way back to the innate storytellers inside of them so they could share themselves freely and bravely. To have World Savvy approach us with the idea of an integration—watching The Wildling become an integral part of programming for classrooms upon classrooms of kids—is something we didn’t even understand was possible until the question was asked: What if you became part of us? 

We can’t wait to watch our program shine even brighter as we work together to reimagine what it looks like to cultivate connections in every classroom, making learning more personal and relevant for all people. This is a foundational belief we share as organizations. It is inspiring and expansive, and critical in this modern world to approach education in this way. It is essential.  

One thing we see every time we come together at a Wildling Story Jam, after-school setting, or school classroom, is that human beings at a very young age crave connection—to themselves and to their peers and to their teachers and to their caregivers and to the many people who are part of their everyday life. We have a tendency to forget that our innate ability as human beings to share from the content of our lives brings unity and community. It is this foundational piece of The Wildling that connects directly to World Savvy’s mission—you belong, you matter. YOU and YOUR STORY are where we need to start. We are meant to learn this together. 

To continue to follow our story, visit https://www.worldsavvy.org/contact/ and sign up to stay informed.

St. Anthony New Brighton Symposium

St. Anthony Middle School 8th grade students present innovative solutions to social issues through partnership with national K-12 education nonprofit World Savvy 

On Friday, May 5, 2023, 8th grade students across St. Anthony Middle School in Minneapolis, MN, culminated their middle school tenure with capstone project presentations to their families, teachers, and the larger community.

The capstone projects are grounded in the Knowledge to Action Framework, a youth-led design challenge that brings students together to create ideas for action in their local community. Students identify an issue they care about, build their knowledge and understanding of the complexity of the problem they are hoping to solve, and support the creation of informed solutions designed to tackle the issue’s root causes. 

“I’m so proud of the creativity students have shown with their projects, which range from websites to business plans, short stories to 3D models!” says Drue Schwitters, student teacher from St. Anthony-New Brighton Schools. “I also am impressed by their persistence as they work through these hard topics. We are so excited to see these projects come to life as we finish the year!” 

The end-of-year student symposium is part of a larger partnership with World Savvy – a K-12 national education nonprofit organization headquartered in Minneapolis, MN. World Savvy partnered with St. Anthony-New Brighton School’s 8th-grade capstone student council advisor Alison Criss to support the project design, curriculum planning, and scaffolding of skills throughout the school year to ensure students can successfully execute their projects. 

“I’m so grateful to partner with World Savvy this year! It’s been an opportunity for me to grow in my teaching practice, learning and applying new frameworks, strategies, and collaborative structures in my classroom,” says Criss. “I’ve felt supported during the entire process while being given the freedom to adapt their materials and make them my own. Writing an entirely new class was such a daunting task, but working with World Savvy turned it into a joy!”  

World Savvy has facilitated thousands of Knowledge to Action processes with schools nationwide. The process is a microcosm of World Savvy’s systematic work with schools to build more relevant, student-centered, and future-focused learning environments.

“By collaborating and cross-pollinating their ideas over the last few months, students have honed their skills and strategies for collaborative communication, inquiry-based research, analysis of the world through critical lenses, and strategic written and oral communication,” says Melanie Peterson-Nafziger, World Savvy professional learning facilitator who has been the lead partner with St. Anthony-New Brighton Schools. “In next year’s iteration of this capstone project, we intend to deepen students’ interdisciplinary investigations of local manifestations of globally significant issues right in their own communities. By investigating global issues that are deeply relevant in their own communities, St. Anthony students will perforate the walls of their classrooms, learning with and from community organizations and stakeholders and preparing to take action on globally significant community challenges.”

We are continuing to expand our work across the country. Connect us with a school or learn more about our school partnership opportunities.