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Jessica Newman ’01: Philanthropist, Equestrian, Global Explorer

Founder and President of JustWorld International

A liberal arts education sets up graduates for a wide variety of international careers. Students benefit from a transformative education and AUP’s global outlook; this unique experience leads to many alumni continuing to collaborate with the University after they graduate. JustWorld International is a nongovernmental organization that transforms the lives of children in developing countries by partnering with local organizations providing education and nutrition, health and hygiene, and vocational and leadership training programs. Founded in 2003 by AUP alumna Jessica Newman ’01, JustWorld has kept close ties to the University ever since, acting as a model example for current students seeking to build a fairer global community. Today, JustWorld helps over 7,000 children in Cambodia, Guatemala, Honduras and the United States.

Newman didn’t have a traditional AUP trajectory. While studying for a BA in International Affairs, minoring in international communications, she also pursued a career in top-level competitive show jumping. “For eight years in a row, I did Fall semester,” she explains, freeing up the rest of her time for competing. “I remember that AUP was always really inspirational.” She cites the firsthand experiences and diverse backgrounds of her classmates as a motivating factor in her future career. Newman herself has an international background; her mother is French and her father is American. She traveled the world as part of her equestrian career, though this rarely took her to developing countries. That all changed in 1998, when she visited Honduras to volunteer in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch. “It completely changed my life, it both shocked me and motivated me,” she says. She returned to Central America not long after for a year-long stint in Costa Rica.

Through AUP she was introduced to the world of NGO work. When she graduated, by that time a veteran global explorer after nearly ten years of study, she moved to Washington DC for a year, working as an intern for Oxfam America. Later, she turned her attention to establishing JustWorld International, fueled by her desire to effect positive change across the globe. Her love of all things equestrian also inspired the initiative; JustWorld raises funds from the international equestrian community, both in the US and Europe and in the countries in which it works. “In Guatemala, there is a significant equestrian community, and they raise funds for our project there. Not 100% of the money is coming from outside.”

The JustWorld story is part of AUP’s history, and JustWorld’s community counts numerous former students. Cofounded by Newman and fellow AUP alumna Hilary Betaille ’00, the organization was originally set up as a subsidiary of the University. Professors Waddick Doyle and Hall Gardner, both still active members of AUP’s faculty, acted as advisors during the early stages of the initiative. JustWorld’s first projects manager, Astrid Corvin-Brittin ’04, was also an alumna. Most recently Mia Crocetti Marzotto ’14, an AUP graduate and keen equestrian, has acted as a rider ambassador. She is part of a network of more than 350 such ambassadors worldwide. There is great scope for future collaboration; JustWorld International is ever expanding, and today has a European subsidiary, JustWorld Europe.

World-class equestrian events regularly host the organization, allowing it to both fundraise and engage in awareness-raising campaigns with the sport’s global community. The organization encourages equestrians to “ride for a cause” by supporting projects across four key pillars: education, nutrition, health and hygiene, and cultural development. “We work with local partner organizations that are not politically or religiously affiliated,” she says. Two of these partners, Los Patojos in Guatemala and the People Improvement Organization in Cambodia, have been named on a list of CNN Top 10 Heroes. In 2018, JustWorld also started a new literacy initiative in the US working with migrant communities.

The latest project, the Tote Change campaign, focuses on Guatemala and raises money for education programs being run by Los Patojos. The initiative partners with female artisans in the country, who produce handmade tote bags with unique designs, thereby keeping traditional crafting techniques alive while encouraging female empowerment. The project supports nearly 400 schoolchildren across Guatemala. “Everything we do focuses on education,” explains Newman. “Education comes first, and then it's supported by nutrition, health and hygiene, vocational and leadership training.” She says that AUP ingrained in her the belief that education is the only way to break the cycle of poverty. “AUP was always dear to my heart, and it inspired me to become who I am today.”