Distinguished Young Alumni Awards Citation
Anthony Stuart Deifell '91
When the University wouldn't fund a service learning program conceived by a small handful of students, their de facto leader approached the students directly with a referendum to tax themselves to pay for it. And the students approved it. He convinced students to raise their taxes to pay for the startup of APPLES, a program that would marshal student energy to work on behalf of the have-littles in society. Politicians could learn a lot from Tony Deifell '91.
And Tony has continued to find success in unlikely and improbable ventures. This is the guy, after all, who taught photography to blind students and published their photographs in a book reviewed by the likes of The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Utne Reader. An activist and an artist who used his education at Carolina and Harvard to create social change, not enrich himself. A guy who created, through viral marketing, a highly successful online and offline worldwide participatory art project from the piercing question of a child who called him late at night and asked, "Why do you do what you do?"
The WDYDWYD.org site has drawn over half a million unique viewers to see the self-expressive works that some 5,000 people have posted so far.
Tony made his mark at Carolina by exercising his political savvy to better link academic and service work to help create APPLES. Students apply their bright ideas to the real needs of the community, then bring what they've learned back to the academic discussions in their classes. Students, course content and the community benefit.
Michael Ulku-Steiner '92, one of the APPLES organizers, recalled scrambling to keep up with Tony's "frantic creativity, hoping we could make happen even a few of the many good ideas that came cascading out of Tony's brain."
Tony planted those idea seeds and tended them with funding, leadership, volunteers and other resources. Many sprouted into full-blown public service organizations. His first job out of college was CEO. He founded the Institute for Public Media Arts in Durham, a nonprofit linking youths, public service and media arts. The institute featured user-generated content long before such storytelling became pervasive through YouTube. Not that he sought eyebrow-raising titles, but as his projects grew, involving more people, larger budgets and more fundraising, he realized that, as he says, "The more that's at stake, the more you need flexibility and final say."
His commitment to social entrepreneurship prompted his business degree. He wanted to effect social change. He knew the key to it would be drawing from other disciplines, and business was a big one.
The Clinton White House recognized another Tony Deifell creation, a national model of diversity education using video diaries to address race issues. He was appointed to the national advisory board of Rock the Vote, received a national leadership fellowship from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation National Leadership Program and was awarded a fellowship for "significant talent in the fields of technology, entertainment or design."
Tony's talents were recognized before he left Carolina. He is a member of the Order of the Golden Fleece and was twice named N.C. Student Photographer of the Year for his photojournalistic work for The Daily Tar Heel.
In 2004, Tony took on the role of chief strategist for KaBOOM!, a market leader for community-built playgrounds and skate parks. He applied the traditional financial analysis tools of his business school training to erecting play areas in underserved neighborhoods. He worked on KaBOOM!'s online social-networking platform and designed a national city-based advocacy platform called "America's Most Playful Cities," which Harvard Business School featured as a best practice and a learning case study.
Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, Tony considers North Carolina his home, as he has spent more years in the Triangle, Asheville and Wilmington than anywhere else in the world. These days, he lives in San Francisco and does media consulting at the juncture of social change and for-profit businesses. He helps organizations trying to make the world a better place grow and thrive, and aids for-profit businesses in becoming more socially responsible to increase their impact. He gives leadership talks and seminars to corporations.
Tony Deifell has spent the past 17 years creating exceptional opportunities, for himself and, more importantly, for countless others.