M. Night Shyamalan Foundation Takes "Action to Make a Better World"

Peak Johnson, for GPA -- The M. Night Shyamalan Foundation (MNSF), in partnership with the Global Philadelphia Association, presented its first public program “Action to Make A Better World” on April 17 hosted by the Penn Museum (3260 South St.).

The museum event space was filled by an audience eager to learn more about the small foundation and the grantees who it assists.

This panel discussion featured founders M. Night Shyamalan and his wife, Dr. Bhavna Shyamalan, Vice President of the MNSF, with three of the foundation's grantees, to discuss their work and the progress of the foundation.

Global Philadelphia Executive Director Zabeth Teelucksingh moderated the panel.

One of the grantee panelists, Katie Meyler started an organization called “More Than Me” with no funds and no experience in 2011. The mission of “More Than Me” is to make sure education and opportunity, not exploitation and poverty, define the lives of the most vulnerable girls from the West Point Slum of Liberia.

TIME recognized Meyler as a 2014 Person of the Year for leading “More Than Me” in the fight against Ebola. Under Meyler’s leadership, “More Than Me” worked to meet community needs quickly by serving children made vulnerable by the epidemic and empowering local leaders and their communities to identify, transfer and reintegrate patients and survivors.

"[They] came, took pictures, cried and did something about what they saw," Melyer said, recalling how the Shyamalans ventured to Liberia and traveled through the slums and living conditions.

The MNSF supports community leaders and activists, working to remove the barriers created by poverty and inequality which prevent communities from unleashing their full potential.

It accomplishes this task by focusing on core tenets: social justice, equality, the power of education and leadership. During the panel, Shyamalan explained how he and other members of the foundation locate and identify potential grantees.

"We don't approach this work as if we’re coming to save the community,” Dr. Bhavna said. “It's out of a feeling of responsibility for our own global community."

Another grantee panelist, James Kofi Annan, had been sold into slavery at the age of six and started his organization “Challenging Heights” in 2003 to save other children from a similar fate and empower them through education.

“Challenging Heights” has liberated over 1,000 trafficked and enslaved children from the fishing and cocoa sectors of Ghana, in addition to preventing over 1,400 children from falling victim each year.

“Having gone through the pain of abuse and the opportunity of education is why I created ‘Challenging Heights’,” Annan said.

The final grantee panelist and University of Pennsylvania graduate Alejandro Gac-Artigas was seven when he and his family first immigrated to the United States.

Gac-Artigas founded the "Springboard Collaborative" in 2011 in an effort to mend the education and achievement gap in low-income communities.

"It's accepted as a norm that all children can learn, it's our mission and goal that all parents can teach,” Gac-Artigas said.

This being its first public program, the MNSF plans to have a similar showcase again next year. 

More images from the event can be found on the GPA Flickr page.