asylum seekers

Katie Sgarro

2015 MCN Conference; Campaign; Fellowship | Undergraduate University: University of Pennsylvania, BA

Katie Sgarro Picture  (2).jpg

My MCN Story:

"As the winner of the 2015 Millennium Campus Conference (MCC15) Millennium Peace Prize, a prize celebrating youth activism advancing cultures of peace, I was given the chance to launch the “#AsylumConnect: In Pursuit of Happiness, Freedom and Safety” global peace campaign at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City in August 2015. Supported by MCN and The MCJ/Amelior Foundation, this prize presented me with the rare opportunity to break down prejudices. It introduced me to a panel of global development expert mentors, and over 450 student leaders from more than 50 countries around the world. It let me present my case, an argument for respecting the humanity of all people, to delegates who live in countries where it is still illegal to be gay.

During the 2015-16 academic year, in partnership with MCN, AsylumConnect hosted monthly, two-hour, interactive webinars to keep global student leaders engaged in the campaign. Throughout the year, the AsylumConnect global peace campaign was able to engage over 40 global campaign members. Our campaign allowed us to raise awareness for our organization, LGBTQ asylum seekers in the U.S., and global LGBTQ rights. (Throughout this campaign, I also participated in MCN’s 2015-16 Millennium Fellowship program for further guidance and support.)

Long past the campaign, MCN has proved to be a major ally for AsylumConnect. The MCN team has consistently gone out of their way to invest in our success - from serving as our first fiscal sponsor to Raina Fox, MCN’s Partnerships Director, providing ongoing insight as a member of our Advisory Council. MCN has played a pivotal role in helping AsylumConnect to attract unprecedented attention to our cause. By believing in me, MCN has allowed me to believe in myself and as a result, AsylumConnect has been able to transition from an unincorporated volunteer initiative with a vision into a fiscally sponsored nonprofit making significant strides towards achieving its goal of providing the first online resource database for LGBTQ asylum seekers in the U.S."

Student Leadership:

"AsylumConnect began as a multi-pronged project that was national in scope. For our first major grant application (the 2015 University of Pennsylvania's President's Engagement Prizes), we proposed AsylumConnect would encompass the following activities: an online resource catalog (via website and mobile app), a grants program to support LGBTQ asylum seekers’ basic human needs, themed educational webinars, and animated how-to videos. During our interview for Penn’s President’s Engagement Prizes, it became clear that the judges thought our proposal contained too many moving parts and would have been stronger if it was more focused.

After this initial mistake, we worked to refine our proposal to reflect the selection committee’s emphasis on feasibility. With this recommendation in mind, we decided to focus AsylumConnect on delivering one primary service: improving and scaling the first online resource database for LGBTQ asylum seekers in the U.S. (This revised proposal would ultimately win our first major funding, courtesy of MCN and The MCJ/Amelior Foundation.)

Today, I believe in the value of specializing - on pinpointing a clear gap in services and focusing exclusively on solving that one need. I’ve learned that for social entrepreneurs, particularly young student leaders, one’s ability to curb ambition to match feasibility often proves to be an accurate predictor of future impact and sustainability. As a young student leader, you will never have all of the answers. As a result, it is vital to focus your efforts, to build responsibly, and to be willing to incorporate feedback to strengthen your initiative."

First Experience with Social Impact Work:

"Before I co-founded AsylumConnect at the age of 21, I had never heard of “social entrepreneurship” or even the greater field of social impact.

I was introduced to social impact through the lens of a specific cause, which resonated with me so deeply that an introduction quickly transformed into a lifelong pursuit.

On a crisp winter morning, early in AsylumConnect’s development, I traveled to the NYC LGBT Community Center to attend a panel discussion on the challenges of seeking LGBTQ asylum in the U.S. There, I found myself face-to-face with former LGBTQ asylum seekers, who shared stories of their tremendous resilience  —  recounting the hate and brutality they were forced to overcome to simply sit before me. Their words provided me with almost instantaneous clarity, rearranging my personal and professional priorities.

Their words shattered my existing life plan  —  resurrecting a new one in its place. Today, I still revisit that moment whenever I need motivation to push forward with AsylumConnect."

Katie Sgarro is a writer, social entrepreneur and LGBTQ advocate. She is Co-Founder & President of AsylumConnect, a fiscally sponsored nonprofit creating the first online resource database for LGBTQ asylum seekers in the U.S. She received her B.A. in Health & Societies from the University of Pennsylvania and her M.S. in Management Studies from Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management in Chicago. To learn more about Katie, visit her personal website at: