• March 2014

Sara Potler LaHayne Is Working to "Move This World"

Move This World is a global nonprofit that uses creative movement as a way to transform conflict, violence, and bullying in communities.

In partnership with schools, community-based organizations, families, and corporations, MTW is building and connecting more peaceful communities in the United States in Baltimore, Newark, New York City, and Washington, DC, and internationally in Colombia, Europe, and the Philippines.

Founded by Sara Potler LaHayne, the organization has worked with more than 10,000 students in 22 cities on four continents to build and connect more peaceful communities.

“Our hallmark program is an innovative, evidence-based curriculum that engages students Pre-K through 12th grade, as well as educators, administrators, families, and corporate leaders in movement-based activities that promote empathy, mediation skills, and conflict transformation,” says LaHayne. “In this way, we foster cumulative skill-building that grows with the individual and produces measurable impact to promote social change through the art of movement.”

A Fulbright Scholar in Colombia in 2007, LaHayne says she came up with the idea for the program when she was teaching at an elementary school in Bogotá, where she saw conflict and violence among the students all around her. Then, one day at recess, watching students dance to reggaeton music on a boom box in the school parking lot, she had an idea.

“I saw how inspired they were through their laughter and movement,” explains LaHayne, who approached the school’s PE teacher to discuss how she could use music and dance as a way to potentially end the violence she saw. The teacher agreed to let her develop a program—and the Move This World movement was born.

Lessons Learned

When LaHayne returned to the United States in 2008, she launched the program in Washington, DC., where she quickly learned that students there had experiences of violence that were different from the students in Bogotá.

“So I adapted the curriculum to respond to the needs of the DC community,” she says. “It was an important lesson to learn, and today each program we create is tailored to the needs of the local community—while remaining true to the universal value of empathy that Move This World upholds.”

Move This World has evolved its curriculum to work with a range of age groups. Last year in Brooklyn, for instance, teachers at a newly opened elementary school were seeking ways to foster community and connection with teachers. LaHayne’s organization lent a hand, and also helped a school in Baltimore that specializes in working with emotionally disturbed students.

Her program seems to be making an impact.

“Parents report significant increases in emotional maturity in their children—including one mom who said that thanks to our program, her daughter is making friends for the first time since the death of her father,” LaHayne says, noting that in 2013, aggregate data collected showed a 48 percent decrease in violent responses to bullying for the population she serves.

Survey results also showed:

  • A 15 percent increase in listening to others,
  • A 30 percent increase in liking group work,
  • A 25 percent increase in the children’s likelihood to try new things.
  • In one classroom, there was an 86 percent increase in the ability to manage anger.
  • In another, there was a 60 percent increase in ability to think independently when faced with social pressures.
  • In one middle school in 2012, suspensions dropped from an average of 53 per semester to 12 school-wide, after one semester of MTW programming.

In 2014, LaHayne is launching a virtual platform for distance learning.

“This will include a digital menu of empathy-education activities accompanied by videos and grouped by grade level,” she shares. “Part of the virtual component will include invitations to school leaders to attend virtual hangouts for resource sharing, and consultation on individualized action plans and community building.”

With an annual budget of $750,000, LaHayne says her program is sustained through fees, and operations are subsidized through philanthropic contributions.

“Our goal is to work with clients to help them raise government, multilateral, or philanthropic funds to cover fees, so that under-resourced schools and community centers can afford our programs,” she says. “The bottom line is to help students develop social and emotional skills, so they will be primed for success.”


About Sara Potler LaHayne, founder & CEO of Move This World

A life-long dancer and previous professional performer, LaHayne was a Fulbright Scholar in Bogotá, Colombia, when she authored, implemented, and evaluated the original Move This World curriculum with 3rd graders in Colombian public elementary schools. Today she is the CEO of Move This World, a program that transforms conflict, violence, and bullying through creative expression in communities with more than 10,000 individuals across 22 cities in four continents.

A graduate of the University of Virginia, LaHayne is a Global Shaper with the World Economic Forum; an American Express Ashoka Emerging Innovator; a Cordes Fellow with the Opportunity Collaboration; and a Peace X Peace 2012 Women, Power, & Peace Award Winner.

She has presented at conferences on five continents and has been featured in Forbes, The Washington Post, and The Guardian.

For more information about Move This World, visit movethisworld.org.

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