Q&A with Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation

For the past eight years, Born This Way Foundation has been diligently working to raise awareness about mental health. They have spoken with hundreds of thousands of young people across the world in their efforts to stop the stigma surrounding mental health and to make the world a better place.

GRAPHIC BY NINA ROGERS

For the past eight years, Born This Way Foundation has been diligently working to raise awareness about mental health. They have spoken with hundreds of thousands of young people across the world in their efforts to stop the stigma surrounding mental health and to make the world a better place.

Founded in 2012 by Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta (more commonly known as Lady Gaga) and her mother Cynthia Germanotta, Born This Way Foundation was created to raise awareness about mental health and make the world a kinder place. During the past eight years, the foundation has worked across the country with young people through a multitude of programs to bring awareness about mental health and end the stigma surrounding it, while also spreading kindness and love. The Sagamore spoke with president and co-founder Cynthia Germanotta, executive director Maya Smith and Channel Kindness editor Aysha Mahmood on April 9.

Do you think that there is enough education on mental health in the current health class curriculum?
Smith: I do not think so. The foundation’s three goals are: 1.) Make kindness cool 2.) Validate the emotions of young people around the world and 3.) Eliminate the stigma around mental health. There’s a ton of really great examples of starting to talk about mental health in schools, whether it’s included in your health class, it’s a teen mental health first aid curriculum, it’s a bring Change to Mind or an Active Minds club on campus. We need to do it more. As a society we need to be just as proactive about our mental health as we are about our physical health. I don’t think we’re there yet. The thing that I’m hopeful about is that your generation is painting a different picture. You guys are creating solutions to the problems that you’re facing. The thing that inspires me everyday is that although we have not yet eliminated the stigma around mental health, the young people are going to be the ones who finally do change that.

How do you see schools, communities and workplaces being changed in the future by this foundation and other, similar campaigns?
Germanotta: Overall, in any environment, we’re hoping that three goals will be met. My daughter has been in the industry for over a decade and we were talking about the fact that her followers and her supporters were growing up and entering the workforce. We were interested in whether or not kindness was going with them into the workforce and if not, why?. We partnered with the Chamber of Commerce and started a program called the “Business of Kindness” that looked at kindness in the corporate world and how employees were reacting. We found that a kind work environment led to better mental health; hat was everything from knowing where your resources are for mental health, your boss coming in and caring about you. affecting not only mental health, but also the bottom line. Employees are more productive, they’re more present at work and many other things. We’re hoping to see it continue to take root and see a lot more of it in the future.
Mahmood: In terms of social media, this will be our fourth year doing BeKind21, which is a tradition we started two years ago. The gist of it is that research shows that doing something for 21 days creates a habit and we wanted to create a habit of kindness. We wanted to create this habit for themselves, for their community, for the environment, for their schools and for their workplaces. Last year we had 41 or 42 million acts of kindness around the world just from this challenge. Bringing that online was incredible to see because so many people shared what kindness meant to them. We hope to not only improve how people view their own mental health, but to change the way they see kindness as a whole and make it a habit. Through social media we hope that people continue to make kindness a habit and see that kindness and mental health really go hand in hand.

What advice would you give to young people trying to create their own organizations?
Smith:
There are two things I would say. First,I couldn’t have imagined that this was going to be my job. I couldn’t have imagined that I would get to ask myself what the world needs everyday, and do what I can to help meet that need. I wish someone had told me earlier that kindness and doing good and helping people was a job that I could have. Second, there is a lot of good happening in the world. , look at what the unmet needs are in the world and how you can help. A lot of people want to start non-profits and that’s absolutely amazing, but we should work together and make sure we’re not duplicating. is uniquely suited, your voice matters and you’re going to do so much good in the world.
Mahmood: Be inclusive. Be accepting. Be diverse. Ask people their pronouns and make sure people feel included. That’s just so, so important right now in a world where we have the choice to be kind. Make that choice and make sure that everybody feels accepted. Inclusion is what helps us feel connected and together in the world.

Social media can tend to be a negative space. What was your vision going into creating a kind social media atmosphere and what kind of feedback have you received from young people?
Smith: we knew what we wanted to do was build a platform that didn’t tell the story of young people for them, but could amplify the stories and voices of young people. When we started this project, less than a couple percent of stories in traditional media were about young people and when the traditional media did cover young people, it would be about disengaged, apathetic, violent young people. We knew that wasn’t the case and that young people weren’t being portrayed accurately as the hopeful, resilient, strong, innovative people that we know are. Lady Gaga wanted to create a platform that would allow young people to tell stories about themselves instead of having their stories told for them. That was the impetice of starting Channel Kindness.
Mahmood: One of the ways that people are responding to it is that we have some posts sometimes that say “tag a friend!” and we’ve found those to be overwhelmingly popular. I think that’s telling as to how kind the younger generation is. They want to make sure their friends are okay, mentally healthy, and know that their friends are there for them. We try to translate everything that we do socially into physical acts as well. Some of our posts deal with mental health like asking: “How are you feeling today?” or saying “It’s okay to not be okay.” That phrase is so much more normalized now because more people are saying it and posting about it socially. By translating these social media posts that we have, we’re seeing a lot more kindness and a lot more talks about mental health in person.