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UW-Whitewater professor joins ‘unreasonable’ effort to meet world’s challenges

Ann Garvin finds herself drawn to people with big ideas.

Ideas that others might call crazy or unreasonable, like turning calories into a commodity to save lives in Third World countries or revolutionizing an industry with a single business model.

It’s these kinds of ideas that led Garvin to a “Do Lecture” in California, where entrepreneurs and big thinkers from around the world gather to share innovative ways of thinking and doing.

“I went there specifically because I wanted to make a bigger impact and I wanted to go to a place where people were talking about solving the world’s biggest problems,” said Garvin, who is a professor of health at UW-Whitewater.

There, she heard from 28- year-old Daniel Epstein, founder and CEO of the Unreasonable Institute, which is a nonprofit that helps fund, mentor and connect ventures that address some of the greatest challenges in today’s rapidly changing world. Since 2010, the Unreasonable Institute has helped 82 ventures raise nearly $38 million via crowd-funding to benefit more than 2 million people in 37 countries. Crowd-funding is an online platform where donors and investors can support ventures of their choice.

The institute’s biggest focus might be bringing the world’s most unreasonable thinkers into the same room—virtual and actual—to launch ambitious ideas to meet the needs of millions of people.

Epstein noted in his California lecture that the institute is also a strong supporter of “The Girl Effect,” a movement that helps pull girls out of poverty and sexual slavery. This struck a chord with Garvin, who—with the help of her students—has raised $15,000 for the charity over the past eight years. This shared interest made Garvin determined to present to the institute her solutions to what she considers the biggest problem of our time—health.

“So after his presentation, I went up to him and said, ‘I think it’s amazing, what you’re doing, but if your entrepreneurs don’t stay healthy, then it’s game over. I don’t know if you’ve considered how you’re going to push the idea of health as much as you’re going to push entrepreneurship and innovation—because without health, you’ve got nothing,” she said.

Garvin said she sees the importance in thinking on a bigger scale when it comes to health and how personal wellness works in tandem with business success in every aspect.

Epstein was convinced. A few months later, Garvin became one of 16 scribes who fuel the website’s multichannel blog forum and video library with ideas and advice from successful entrepreneurs and leaders from around the world.

“What makes me different and valuable to them is that I’ve been a health educator for many years, but I’m also a fiction writer,” she said. “What I really want to do is story-tell health so people find it more accessible.”

Garvin is the author of two fiction novels, “On Maggie’s Watch” and “The Dog Year,” both published by an imprint of Penguin Group. Like in her books, she uses humor and relatable material in her blogs to connect to her readers and get them to think about health as a priority.

One particular post caught the attention of Mark Moore, one of 12 venture leaders in the 2013 Unreasonable Institute’s six-week mentoring program. He’s the founder of MANA Nutrition, a North Carolina-based nonprofit combating international childhood malnutrition.

Moore wrote back to Garvin in an email saying, “I thought you’d enjoy hearing that your words resonated with another completely unreasonable person.”

“The reason it resonated with me is because we spend a lot of time working on getting people well on the other side of the world. You can kind of focus on the wrong things and miss out on your own personal wellness, and she said it really articulately,” Moore said.

Her post’s effect on Moore and feedback from others spurred Garvin to turn her students into active participants. Working the blog forum into her course curriculum, now 140 UW-Whitewater students have joined the global conversation on the website.

“I want them to think about the fact that our health is connected by so many different threads and learning about other people’s lives and experiences and successes can only help them see themselves in that light as well, as people who need to care about themselves, their environment, their lives, their world,” she said.

Garvin’s cardinal intent is to have students understand that every one of them is his or her own startup business.

“We’re all start-ups. We’re all trying to have a successful life, and I thought they could all learn from these innovative minds about how they think,” she said. “It opens up the students’ worlds a little bit … It’s getting people out of their culture so they can see how other people live, and maybe they’ll find more value in their own personal culture and take care of themselves more.”

Garvin plans to stay actively involved with the Unreasonable Institute and hopes to eventually turn her essays into a book about health. She said her experience writing for the Unreasonable Institute has been refreshing in the way that it looks beyond normal methods of reasoning.

“Sometimes, when I feel sort of down because of the weather or some awful thing on the news, I can say to myself, ‘Thank goodness the Unreasonable Institute exists,’” she said. “There’s this whole army trying to figure out really good things. I love that there’s evidence that these good people really exist.”

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