Civic Action

An Accelerator of Impact: Life After Winning the John P. McNulty Prize

July 23, 2019  • Aspen Global Leadership Network

In 2018, Henry Crown Fellow Mehrdad Baghai won the John P. McNulty Prize for his venture, High Resolves, a global organization that trains high school students to resist hate and prejudice. It has been a whirlwind year for Mehrdad and High Resolves, with he and his team finding many new and exciting pathways for growth. We caught up with him to see how winning the McNulty Prize has impacted their trajectory.

Tell us what is was like to win the John P. McNulty Prize. 

When Anne Welsh McNulty and Aprile Age called me last year to give me the good news about winning the McNulty Prize, I was surprised, humbled, and excited. Although I had a sense of the honor of such an award, I had no idea how winning the prize would impact ou social venture. Beyond the ceremonies and the money lies the true value of what Anne, her family, and her team have created-a significant accelerator of impact.

Before the official announcement, I began to realize that the doors the McNulty team intended to open for High Resolves were beyond my expectations. Without doubt, the year since has been our biggest in terms of growth, in large part due to the benefits from winning.

All organizations would appreciate winning $100,000 in unrestricted funds, but for some, that alone may not be game-changing. What else does the prize bring? 

First and foremost, the prestige of winning the McNulty Prize granted us immediate credibility around the world. Governments, foundations, corporations, and individuals suddenly gave us the benefit of the doubt. People started conversations with us assuming we must have an innovative and compelling approach. In turn, the sudden uptick in legitimacy drove up the confidence of the team. The feeling of being on a winning team was exhilarating and self-reinforcing. Our team members entered conversations and explored opportunities with a heightened sense of belief in themselves.

How is the Aspen Global Leadership Network helping grow the initiative? 

Winning the McNulty Prize drew serious attention to the story of High Resolves within the AGLN. We deepened our existing conversations and formed new partnerships to expand the impact of High Resolves across the world, from new cities in the United States to new countries like Brazil and India. It led to the integration of High Resolves learning experiences into this year’s Action Forum and Youth Action Forum. High Resolves is becoming a global force because we have been able to tap into the power of the AGLN community to grow our footprint and to amplify our impact.

Does any of the attention carry over outside the Aspen Institute community? 

Very much so. The McNulty team arranged for me to participate in several important forums outside the Aspen Institute universe. These stages lent us further credibility and exposed us to potential new supporters from major networks and organizations. We were put directly in the path of serendipity. Speaking on an evening panel at the Global Philanthropy Forum led to a deep discussion with the team from Cinepolis, the second largest cinema group in the world. Attending the Skoll World Forum in Oxford led to deep conversations with Teach for All. Both organizations are now partnering with High Resolves to leverage film and video to mobilize young people worldwide to use their voice and energy to address global challenges.

What surprised you most from winning the prize? 

Well, as you know, the McNulty team produces videos of the highest quality. We were privileged to have Johnny McNulty, Nina Sawhney, and A+B Pictures film our work. The two short-form videos they produced received thousands of views, but also became important marketing assets for us. To our surprise, we were given access to over 40 hours of raw footage, which we can now use to create a range of new promotional video clips. We could not have anticipated that benefit.

Finally, how has this affected you personally?

This experience has changed the way I now tell my own story. Intense personal coaching by communications expert Laurie Chock gave me the courage to push outside my own comfort zone and to speak my truth with conviction. To say that Laurie’s impact on me was immense would underplay the relationship we developed through the McNulty Prize process. I think I became a more authentic voice as a result. This has been an experience like no other and we owe a great deal of gratitude to Anne, her family, and her team for this generous gift to our cause.