Emily Hedin (Cooke Graduate Scholar ’09) is recognized as a 2017 Matthew J. Quinn Prize recipient for her exceptional leadership of Building Dignity, a nonprofit in Lima, Peru. Shortly after graduating from Macalaster College, Emily co-founded Building Dignity in 2008 with the goals of enhancing education, training local leaders, and supporting neighborhood-led development in Villa el Salvador, one of Lima’s most under-resourced districts. When the first Building Dignity community center was built, the 25,000 people living in the district did not have access to nonprofits, police protection, or social service agencies. Seeing that she needed more training to chart Building Dignity’s trajectory, Emily earned a master’s degree in International Development at Oxford University with the support of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation.
With Emily’s leadership, the organization has tripled its budget, expanded the volunteer corps by 53%, and scaled operations from one community center to two. In addition to leading her staff, Emily led 30-40 hours of programming each week for more than 150 young people to provide academic support, leadership training, arts education, life skills development, and mentorship. Macalaster College Professor Paul Dosh, co-founder of Building Dignity, says that in Villa el Salvador, “Emily never stopped moving. Few development professionals live where they work, so when Emily chose to live on the second floor of the Building Dignity community center, the neighbors took notice. Living amid the community meant Emily was available, day or night.” To further increase Building Dignity’s impact, Emily also initiated robust community engagement that included home visits, parent assemblies, and partnerships with community leaders.
In the past few years, Emily has successfully transitioned leadership of Building Dignity to local Peruvian leaders and the organization continues to thrive without her. Though the transition was expected to slow the organization’s progress, instead Building Dignity added more staff members and a cohort of program alumni returned to lead and mentor the next generation of youth. Professor Dosh sees this as a testament to Emily’s profound leadership. “Observe how these adolescents speak with confidence, how they treat each other with respect, how they model engagement and empowerment,” he says. “That is Emily Hedin’s legacy in Villa el Salvador.”