Javan Van Gronigen is Behind the Tech of Your Favorite Charities
Written By: Matthew J. Black
Photographed By: Damien Noble Andrews Fifty & Fifty
Stories are all around us every day. They come from friends and family, on the radio, social media, and in the news. Every life has a story, and when we consider how spread out the human race is across the planet, we often forget that we share connections to distant people far greater than we ever could’ve known. Fifty & Fifty founder Javan Van Gronigen and his team have found a way to make us remember that we are all part of the same human condition and global community.
When we’re young, hopefully we learn skills to apply toward a trade. When we’re older, we hope we can use these skills to further our careers. For some of us, there’s an added desire to give back to the world. In Javan’s story, his career as an art director and digital lead, and his need to give back led him to the same place. He now heads a social impact agency that enables some of the best, well-intentioned organizations all over the world to spread their message and tell their story.
One look at the list of organizations Fifty & Fifty works with tells it all. There’s the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the United Nations, and Kids In Need of Defense (KIND), just to name a few. These are heavy-hitters in the global effort to eradicate evil activities and promote peace and goodwill. But while they grapple with the best ways to do this and how to help people in need, Fifty & Fifty concerns itself with the mission of spreading their unique message.
Insert Javan’s 16-person team of “creatives, strategists, writers, dreamers, and technology buffs all using what we love to engage the world in the worthwhile,” to use his own description. What this team loves is spreading the word, and they do it by telling stories. For example, one of Fifty & Fifty’s latest partners is Syria Street (syriastreet.com), who is partnered with the ICRC.
On the homepage of Syria Street, a GIF shows a man smoking a cigarette in the middle of the street. He’s looking at us, and though he is silent you see him and another man in the background look up, then backward, as if tracking the path of a jet in the sky. This is a subtle, yet powerful image that is meant to show the reality of life in two divided communities in the Lebanese city of Tripoli, which resides on the Syrian border. The conflict in Syria may be well known, but what is lesser known is that the violence spills over into surrounding communities. These particular communities in Tripoli are separated by a street ironically called Syria Street, and they find themselves at odds over who they support in the conflict.
While news organizations provide quotes and concern themselves with geopolitics, Fifty & Fifty helps tell the story of the people who live there. Visitors to the site can read about Zaynab, a little girl with a bedroom painted in pink. She’s afraid to go to sleep at night because of the bullets that occasionally infiltrate her walls, and her dreams.
While many of us don’t relate to bullets flying through our bedrooms, perhaps we can empathize with Abbas the shopkeeper, who struggles to keep his business open on a daily basis. There’s also Ahmad Ibrahim Ali who is a humble seller of coffee and vegetables, but because of the conflict, is marginalized into having to sell to only one of the two communities.
Partnering with several organizations to spread awareness about such hardships, Fifty & Fifty doesn’t stop there. In 2010, Javan began work on another of his projects to benefit organizations helping the world. He created an application called Donately (donate.ly), which helps nonprofits raise money for their causes by offering a smooth, streamlined process for contributors to donate.
Bringing awareness and offering a means to raise money are the cornerstones that enable the nonprofit world to operate. Javan recognized this early, but the skills necessary to make this happen didn’t come overnight. While his career was still in its early stages, Javan got a job as Art Director for a company called Digitaria. There he enjoyed working to advertise top brands such as Sony, HP and TaylorMade, “but it took me time to realize that why I was designing was just as important as the fact that I was designing to begin with.”
The next job he took addressed his need to use his skills for good when he began working with Invisible Children as the lead in their digital department. Invisible Children is an organization that brings awareness to conflicts in Central Africa, and specifically targets helping the innocent children who are caught up in the violence. This is where he discovered the fusion of his skills by effectively advertising the causes he believes in.
After leaving Invisible Children to found Fifty & Fifty in 2009, Javan held onto the many relationships he fostered in the nonprofit world, as well as web development. It’s evident that he continues to work with these connections as Fifty & Fifty enjoys “continued relationships and advisors whose advice and support we still hold dear to this day.” An example of this is the Director of Syria Street, Brandon Tauszik, who was a Videographer and Photographer at Invisible Children when Javan worked there.
Making connections and sustaining relationships is what good business is all about. Javan has certainly accomplished this and made it his model for how his nonprofit operates. As they continue to expand their relationships, Fifty & Fifty will seek out “like-minded partners.”
In many ways Javan’s story is the story of Fifty & Fifty, and his message is best told in his own words: “To all those social good businesses out there with a true drive for the worthwhile, expect a knock at your door, if not today, tomorrow,” he said. With their unique and artistic method of communicating, the applications they work on and the stories they tell, we can’t wait for those organizations to answer that knock on their door.
Make Your Moment: Need an example of how Fifty & Fifty finds ways to connect with you? Check out United Way’s “Make Your Moment” (makeyourmoment.org) campaign. Fill out a short quiz and United Way will tell you what your answers say about you, and what cause you might be interested in. If you want to get involved and give back then this site is for you.
What’s In A Name? The name Fifty & Fifty comes from research concluding that aid given, rather than bought or earned, rarely has the impact intended. If the communities and individuals in need of help invest their time and effort in the projects then success is far more likely. Nonprofits can provide aid and ideas that fulfill half the picture, and the very people they help have to provide the other half for success. It’s a fifty, fifty tradeoff.
Fifty & Fifty Projects
Biolite – (bioliteenergy.com) Bringing clean energy to the world.
Lifestraw – (lifestraw.com) Bringing clean water everywhere.
IJM – (ijm.org) Ending global slavery.
Build On – (buildon.org) Empowers US urban youth, and builds schools worldwide.
Caring Across Generations (caringacross.org) – Enables the elderly to live a quality life.
Fifty & Fifty
629 J St, Ste 207
San Diego, CA 92101
From United Way to Biolite, Fifty & Fifty is Doing Good Work Through Technology