Melissa Malzkuhn, ’04 & G-’08, founder and director of the Gallaudet University Motion Light Lab, is one of ten winners of the fourth annual Elevate Prize, which grants more than $5 million in unrestricted funding and supportive services across a group of diverse social changemakers working to solve pressing issues around the world.  

Malzkuhn’s award citation says that the Motion Light Lab is “an award-winning creative lab focusing on creating an equitable world through immersive content, literacy-based activities, and other initiatives that advances Deaf representation and competency across different sectors of society.”  

The Motion Light Lab, or ML2, is part of the Center for Visual Language and Visual Learning, a National Science Foundation Science of Learning Center. Malzkuhn is co-principal investigator with Dr. Lorna Quandt, a faculty member in the Ph.D. Program in Educational Neuroscience. ML2 is located in the Sorenson Language and Communication Center 

Melissa Malzkuhn standing in Times Square, New York City, under the billboard announcing her Elevate prize.

According to a news release from the Elevate Prize Foundation, “In the face of growing conflict and uncertainty around the world, this year’s ten recipients champion innovative solutions across a spectrum of pressing global issues, including sustainable development, nutrition, education equity, social justice reform, domestic/intimate partner violence, refugee rights, and representation of the Deaf community. 

“This year’s winners embody the essence of our foundation’s commitment to pushing boundaries and broadening the impact landscape. These remarkable individuals represent an expanded scope of social change – a pivotal shift in what is expected to be a pivotal year for the world,” said Joseph Deitch, founder of the Elevate Prize Foundation. “We are excited to join forces to amplify their impact and catalyze a positive ripple effect that goes beyond borders and disciplines, recognizing that their stories will motivate others to join the journey toward a better future.” 

Founded in 2019 by Deitch, the Elevate Prize Foundation is on a mission to “Make Good Famous” by bringing visibility to the work of changemakers, creating a fanbase for social good, and helping create a world where more are inspired to take action. The foundation will partner with these rising activists and social entrepreneurs, providing them with resources to raise visibility of their work and multiply their impact.  

This year’s Elevate Prize winners will each be awarded an unrestricted grant of $300,000. They will also receive tailored services, which include communications and content strategy, branding, social media training, and leadership development – all designed to help them amplify their stories, broaden their reach, and deepen their impact in making a positive difference in the world. 

This year’s Elevate Prize winners, in addition to Malzkuhn, are: 

Zarlasht Halaimzai, Founder of Amna, which aids individuals, organizations, and refugee communities by establishing secure spaces for rejuvenating group activities and mental health support while rekindling a sense of joy and belonging among forcibly displaced persons. 

Gayatri Datar, Co-counder and CEO of EarthEnable, which creates healthy and environmentally-friendly homes in rural Africa by using natural materials and green building techniques for those in need of rebuilding.   

Wawira Nijiru, Executive Director of Food for Education Foundation, which provides subsidized nutritious meals to primary school children, improves nutrition outcomes, ends classroom hunger, and improves school attendance and performance.  

Sonya Passi, Founder and CEO of FreeFrom, which is building an ecosystem of support to ensure that survivors of domestic and intimate partner violence have the resources to get safe, heal, and prevent future harm.   

Mpindi Abaas, co-founder and CEO of Media Challenge Initiative, a youth-driven organization building the next generation of journalists in Africa through training, mentorship, and experiential peer-to-peer learning models.  

Daniel Forkkio, CEO of Represent Justice, an organization using the power of media to engage audiences in reimagining the justice system and creating real demand for anti-carceral change and solutions. 

Isabelle Kamariza, President and Founder of Solid’Africa, which aims to preserve dignity, accelerate the recovery process, and promote health equity for vulnerable patients in public hospitals by supplying them with nutritious, healthy meals. 

Sam Bencheghib, co-founder of Sungai Watch, which protects and helps restore Indonesia’s rivers by developing and designing simple technologies to stop the flow of plastic pollution from going into the ocean. 

Dr. Kwan Stewart, Co-Founder of Project Street Vet, which provides medical care to the pets of people experiencing homelessness. Dr. Stewart was also named the 2023 CNN Hero of the Year. 

People magazine published an online story about Sonya Passi, the advocate for survivors of gender-based violence. on February 6. 

As part of the foundation’s second year collaborating with CNN Heroes, Dr. Kwan Stewart was named an Elevate Prize winner, receiving a grant of $300,000. Additionally, as part of the collaboration, the Elevate Prize Foundation matched donations up to $50,000 for all of the Top 10 CNN Heroes and will provide them with organizational capacity-building and tailored resources to bring visibility to their work and maximize their impact.  

This year’s Elevate Prize winners, as well as last year’s cohort of winners and the Top 10 CNN Heroes, will gather in Miami in May 2024 for the second annual Make Good Famous Summit to examine ways to put media, content, and creators to work to challenge inequitable systems and inspire lasting change.  

The Elevate Prize Foundation is a global non-profit that empowers social entrepreneurs and activists by providing them with the resources they need to amplify their impact. The foundation’s signature program is its annual Elevate Prize, which is awarded to 10 global leaders tackling pressing issues in innovative ways. The Elevate Prize Catalyst Award, another one of the foundation’s programs, recognizes prominent individuals for their commitment to inspiring global social action and using their influence for the good of humanity. In 2022, the foundation launched the Elevate Prize GET LOUD Award, a monthly grant to fuel grassroots movements and organizers on the frontlines committed to collective action and building power among communities.  

For more information, visit the Elevate Prize Foundation website and follow @ElevatePrize on Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. 

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