Callie Joyce Brauel ’09
When Callie Brauel ’09 began recruiting homeless teenage mothers in Ghana for the nonprofit she co-founded as a Carolina undergraduate, she routinely asked the girls what they wanted to be when they grew up. One girl began to cry. No one had ever asked her that before.
That sealed the mission for Callie, and she turned down a full-ride scholarship to a master’s degree program in Italy to devote herself to teaching the young women vocational skills and to growing her organization called A Ban Against Neglect.
“We are giving these girls an opportunity to not think day-to-day-survival mode,” Callie said. “They can look at their potential and have a future for themselves and their children.”
ABAN began as a residential program in Ghana for young women willing to commit two years to learning life skills, adopting a vocation and taking care of themselves and their children to break the cycle of poverty. This year, it has shifted its focus to prevention, transitioning from a residential program to a day program to intervene before the women become homeless and pregnant. By redirecting resources from the residential component to a vocational/education program that heavily emphasizes entrepreneurship, ABAN will be able to increase the number of young women it helps.
The idea for ABAN came to Callie during a study abroad semester at the University of Ghana. She noticed the many homeless children on the street, many of them young teenage mothers, and she saw the vast amount of litter, much of it discarded plastic water sachets. She also hit it off with two other students, Rebecca Brandt from Concordia University — who is now pursuing a master’s of social work at UNC — and Emmanuel Quarmyne from Ghana, who became her co-founders of ABAN.
As a class project in Ghana, Callie and her colleagues formed a plan to recycle the water sachets into handbags. When she returned to the U.S., she enrolled in Kenan-Flagler Business School’s “Launching the Venture” course to learn how to monetize the recycled bags to support a nonprofit that would give the homeless young mothers some vocational options and try to break their cycle of poverty. Her business plan won the Carolina Challenge entrepreneurship competition in 2010, and the $15,000 prize money served as seed capital for ABAN.
But Rebecca Brandt said that had Callie not won the competition, she still would have found a way to make ABAN a success. She focused her drive on a social justice cause and backed it with sound business principles. She inspires trust to the point that she has been able to persuade investors to get involved in a social justice organization without any guarantee of making money. Most people give out of their largesse, said Scott Wells ’82, a member of ABAN’s board of directors. Callie, he said, started sharing first, before she’d even made any money.
“Launching the Venture” put her in touch with mentors, such as Jim Kitchen ’87, who turned empty space in his Franklin Street office into a business incubator with ABAN as its first nascent business. Jim repeatedly called on her to overcome her terror of public speaking to stand up in class and give her pitch for ABAN. She rose to the challenge, gained confidence in her entrepreneurial abilities and let her faith in her mission come through.
Callie was born and raised in New Hampshire. She came to Carolina to escape the nine-month winters of the Northeast. Her father died when she was young. She appreciates life deeply and is intentional in her relationships. At her wedding earlier this year, she arranged for guests to be able to camp out on the grounds of the lodge where the reception was held so that cost would not inhibit anyone from attending. At UNC she was a Phillips Ambassador, which enabled her to study in Hong Kong, and a Public Service Scholar. As a student, she still made time to mentor a middle-school girl all the way through to high school graduation by volunteering for years with Blue Ribbon Mentor Advocates.
In 2012, Kenan-Flagler honored her with its Outstanding Young Alumni Award.
Today, Callie serves as ABAN’s U.S. country director. Now in its fifth year, ABAN has a staff of four in the U.S. — all UNC alumni. Callie only recently began taking a salary that could be considered a living wage, and she continues to live humbly. ABAN’s annual budget is about $400,000, met through the sale of the bags made by the young women in Ghana and by grants and private donations. ABAN has provided internships for more than 60 UNC students
The hard part for Callie is when occasionally a young woman leaves the vocational and life skills residential training program prematurely and returns to a life in the streets. She has learned to concentrate on those who stay.
“Every life changed is our biggest success,” she said.
Callie feels committed to ABAN as her life’s work. But she strongly believes, as she says, “you don’t have to go to Africa and start a nonprofit to fight injustice. Everyone can help make the world a better place. Just look at the injustices in your backyard and put your foot down.”