It’s been a minute since we have put out a new episode of Charity Matters and it’s hard to believe we are already at Episode 61! Thank you to all our amazing subscribers and listeners. It is so fun meeting new people and telling their stories. More than that, learning what interesting ways people are changing the world.
Today’s guest, Nicole Smith is the founder of the Dignity Defense Institute, a nonprofit that is setting out to educate humanity on human value. Their mission is to become an amplifying force for the defense of human dignity. Join as Nicole shares her story about working on the PR side of human crisis and how that work and the birth of her daughter inspired her to use her voice to help create change.
Here are a few highlights from our conversation:
Charity Matters: Tell us a little about what Dignity Defense Institute does?
Nicole Smith: Our primary focus is on educating on the foundation of human value. In order to transform culture so that the offenses that we see within cultures across the world, typically is found within this idea that we can measure human value by another criteria other than simply being human. So if we were to educate culture on the inherent value of the human person, we change the course of offenses against the human person.
We base our organization around action committees. So these Action Committee committees are in all the different what we call symptom industries. So trafficking, disability community, orange culture, drug culture, those are different, fronts to the human person, they’re all really interconnected.
Charity Matters: Did you grow up in a philanthropic family?
Nicole Smith: Yes, my father by trade was an entrepreneur and inventor. But by service, they were youth ministers that founded churches across the US. So I grew up with a lot of at risk youth in our home. My mom was a counselor for Judo, juvenile detention center for girls in our community. So exposure to a world beyond just four walls of a home that was very instrumental in forming what I would do in the future.
Charity Matters: What was the moment you knew you needed to act and start Dignity Defense Institute?
Nicole Smith: I got an undergraduate in political science and a master’s in law and public public policy. With the intention of going forth being an attorney in the public space. I ended up sort of landing on the communication side of the public policy world. It wasn’t intentional, but I graduated during the recession and attorneys were a dime a dozen. So I sort of took a different track.
I had a job at a constitutional law firm controlling their communication, and we called it the court of public opinion. We had a lot of affiliates across the world, in which we would advocate on their behalf of different cases. For example, it could be a child bride of Uganda, or a sex slave of Afghanistan. We did a lot of cases of imprisonment in prison. Religious minorities, Turkey, Sudan, like Iran, we did a lot of different varying cases.
I was going into places in the world in which justice wasn’t often seen. So if you were going to go into Iran, justice is not what you would come out of the court systems finding. So we would go to the court of public opinion, we had one of the cases where he was a joint American Iranian citizen, but we advocate on his behalf. We got over a million signatures on his behalf, Obama included him on his Iranian deal.
In January of 2020, I got to DC to sort of launch this concept with a group of individuals. It was interesting to watch the world at that time. By consequence, I was pregnant with my second little daughter. And she would be born in distress and sustained brain injury during that process. And she now has cerebral palsy as a result.
I mentioned her birth because I say it’s when the mission was given flesh and bone. So I had to help these little girls across the world, and I could never hug them, I could never give them a kiss and say they were special, like they deserved. But now I could do that to my own daughter.
Charity Matters: When do you know you have made a difference?
Nicole Smith: I call it the short term and the long term goals. You have to be focused on that short term, because that’s the climax, the shift and perspective of the impact for that individual. And then to be patient enough for what that long term goal is beyond it is really important. It takes time to change culture and it’s not going to just be overnight. So we have to look at those metrics, and internally of the impact that we’re having. I say the epiphany point is where the individual that you speak to gets it. I can’t tell you the rewarding feature of that, where the light goes on their eyes.
Charity Matters: If you could dream any dream for your organization, what would that be?
Nicole Smith: Increase our reach obviously. We want to have a greater reach within our communities so that we can really creatively educate through stories and thought provoking ideas of questions. That’s the big dream is just the growth and influence because that’s how we educate people. We want to have more of those stories of victory with people that have had their climax moment. And they’re on the other side of it and they’re living their new normal.
Charity Matters: What life lessons have you learned from this experience?
Nicole Smith: The funny thing is my 10 plus year career has been around nonprofits and nonprofit leaders and nonprofit volunteers. But it’s a different perspective. When you’re on the other side of that it. I’ve grown millions of dollars and donor money. But I’ve never been on the other initiating part of that journey where I’ve always built amplified off of a starting point. And to take responsibility for that has been just really very challenging. We’re still a new organization, we’re still running and there’s been more delays and I ever wanted to because my daughter is my priority. There is victory in those lessons that I can’t and would never want to take back. Even if this didn’t grow into this massive idea that just changed the face of our world. I can’t take back the lessons that I learned and I’m a different person because of it.
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