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Jessica Newman '01

AUP Magazine: A Meaningful Career

Equestrians for a Just World

Jessica Newman ’01 balanced her AUP education with a career in competitive show jumping. She went on to combine her passion for the equestrian and her desire to tackle poverty by creating JustWorld International – and, in the process, she brought a community together.

How can we build a just world? It’s an enormous question that can’t be answered by one person – to make headway, it takes a huge community working together. Luckily, I’ve never been alone in tackling this mission: as founder and president of JustWorld International, I have a whole team working with me to improve the lives of disadvantaged children around the world. The charity, which draws support from the international equestrian community, supports more than 7,000 children in Guatemala, Honduras, Cambodia and the United States by providing access to life changing programs across four main fields: education, nutrition, health and hygiene, and cultural development. We’ve recently announced an exciting new partnership with the Fédération Équestre Internationale (FEI), the international body that governs equestrian competitions worldwide. It’s a fantastic opportunity to grow our community and help even more children across the globe.

The equestrian community has long been an important part of my life; I started competing in top-level show jumping at a young age. It was for this reason that my AUP experience was unique: I did Fall semester eight years running as I was balancing my studies with my sporting career. I cherished my time at the University both because it allowed me to develop my intellectual side and because of the independence it offered. When you’re an athlete, you need to develop independence quickly, and a standard American college degree wasn’t going to give me the freedom to accomplish that. I also wanted to study in a place that had a diverse, international community that would make me feel at home. That place was AUP.

It was during my studies that my interest in the nonprofit sector was first fostered: in 1998, I volunteered in Honduras in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch. That was the first time I came face to face with real poverty; it changed my life, both profoundly shocking me and motivating me to give back through my work. After graduating – by that time I’d largely finished competing – I took an internship in Washington DC with Oxfam America, before turning my desire to help disadvantaged children into the beginnings of JustWorld International. The organization was originally set up in 2003 as a subsidiary of AUP. There weren’t really any charities working within the equestrian community at that point, so I thought, why not make good use of that network?

The passion and generosity of equestrians around the world continues to move and inspire me to this day. Our partnership with the FEI is expanding our reach within the community even further so we can better raise both funds and awareness. We are the FEI’s first charitable partner; it’s a natural fit as, even though we haven’t had an official relationship with the FEI until recently, we’ve always worked closely together. They thought we would be well positioned to filter charitable proposals and find out which projects would make best use of their funds. For us, the relationship also provides a valuable opportunity to work more closely with other equestrian disciplines; up until this point we’d tended to focus on show jumping – in large part because of my own competitive background. I’m thrilled to be bringing people from across the sport into the JustWorld family.

Along with my fellow riders, the AUP community was instrumental in getting JustWorld off the ground: in the beginning, we had AUP students heading out to scout projects and vet potential partners to make sure that funds would not be misused. The idea was to support local initiatives that were already doing fantastic work in our four chosen fields – people who were already leaders in their own communities. Nowadays, two of our partners – Los Patojos in Guatemala and the People Improvement Organization in Cambodia – have appeared on a list on CNN Top 10 Heroes. Los Patojos has been a partner for over ten years now. Juan Pablo Romero Fuentes started his community center in part of his family home in Jocotenango, Guatemala; since then, with our support, the project has grown into an accredited education program for local kids. Los Patojos now helps over 375 students by providing daily nutritious meals, an arts program and access to an on-site doctor. If we hadn’t started small, and hadn’t had members of the AUP community seeking out great projects like this one, we wouldn’t be where we are today. In fact, AUP alumni and faculty have been a constant source of support, involved at nearly every level of the JustWorld team. I cofounded JustWorld International with another alumna, Hilary Betaille ’00 – she was valedictorian in her year. Our first Projects Manager, Astrid Corvin-Brittin ’04, was also an alumna. Professor Waddick Doyle was closely involved in our early days; at one point, he came on a visit to our Cambodian project partner. Most recently, Mia Marzotto ’14, an AUP graduate and keen equestrian, has acted as a ride ambassador – one of over 350 active ambassadors worldwide who are committed to “riding for a cause.”

These ambassadors come from all levels of the sport; the only criteria to become one are that you be dedicated and motivated. They are such an important part of the work we do as an organization: raising awareness among young people leads to socially responsible adults down the road, so it’s very important to me to create pathways to giving back from an early age. I’m keen to make participation as accessible as possible, so that young athletes can get involved without having to sacrifice their training. This is something we will be able to greatly expand thanks to our FEI partnership, as we now have links to every equestrian federation in the world. We don’t only work with riders in Europe and the US; we have ambassadors across the planet, including in countries where we have projects, like Honduras and Guatemala. By drawing on the generosity of local equestrians, we ensure that not all the money that goes toward supporting our partner projects comes from overseas. Having the FEI network opens up avenues to new countries in which we haven’t yet had partners. I couldn’t be more excited about the new opportunities this partnership represents.

Improving the lives of disadvantaged children around the globe is a mammoth task, but the way to achieve it is to start small and push ever higher by inspiring more and more people to commit to the cause. Through our partnership with the FEI, we are building sustainable projects that respect a community’s past, that understand how a community works in the present and that contribute to a community’s future. I am proud to help more and more people from my own sporting community engage with this mission. I also hope to work ever more closely with AUP graduates, via internship opportunities and other collaborations, to spread this engagement to another community that is close to my heart. Together, we can work to make life better for disadvantaged children around the globe – and achieve our mission of making a more just world.

Article by Jessica Newman '01

This article appeared in the Fall 2019 Issue of the AUP Magazine

Read the full issue here