Breakthrough partners with Penn’s Wharton Leadership Program to graduate class of ‘catalysts’ committed to making violence against women unacceptable

Human rights organization Breakthrough announces Catalysts for Culture Change class of summer 2015

NEW YORK — This week, the U.S. center for the global human rights group Breakthrough and the Wharton Leadership Program of the University of Pennsylvania congratulated the 20 graduates of its pilot New York City training of Catalysts for Culture Change.

Breakthrough is a global human rights organization working to drive culture change to make gender-based discrimination and violence socially unacceptable and build a world where all can thrive. With centers in India and the U.S. (New York City), Breakthrough’s programs are designed to reach people where they are, make human rights relevant and urgent, and inspire individual and group action to challenge the cultures and norms that enable violence to persist. The Wharton Leadership Program of the University of Pennsylvania — which strives to develop global leaders with an understanding of how they can make a positive difference for their communities, employees, customers and investors — partnered with Breakthrough in developing the curriculum. Breakthrough was the winner of the 2014 Lipman Family Prize administered by the Wharton Leadership Program, leading to this collaboration.

This two-day workshop in Manhattan expands on Breakthrough’s years of deeply transformative leadership and advocacy trainings in India. There, Breakthrough has equipped more than 100,000 people to act for human rights in their own spheres. In the U.S., Breakthrough is also piloting workshops that train fraternity and sorority members to create campaigns designed to prevent campus sexual assault by challenging the norms, assumptions, and behaviors that allow it to persist.

“This group of dedicated, committed change makers coming from all walks of life are stepping up and asking the right question: ‘What can I do to make a difference?’,” said Breakthrough’s U.S. Country Director Phoebe Schreiner. “Now they have the knowledge, tools, and confidence to spark dialogue and mobilize action in their communities and spheres of influence. By activating them, we are expanding and strengthening the movement to end violence against women, bringing us closer to the tipping point of radical, transformative culture change — creating a world where all of us can thrive.”

Breakthrough’s graduates come from diverse sectors and backgrounds — from corporate leaders to personal trainers, philanthropists, college counselors, teachers, consultants, nonprofit leaders, PR pros, small business leaders, education specialists, artists and performers, administrators, bartenders, statisticians, public health officials, and more.

According to Schreiner, the very training itself is groundbreaking. “Capacity-building trainings for violence prevention are often exclusively delivered to service providers, social workers, or others already experienced in the field. Breakthrough is creating pathways for ‘everyday’ people make a tangible difference in their homes, communities, campuses, offices, classrooms, performance spaces, even bars or gyms. To drive lasting culture change, we need more committed leaders, allies, and partners — gamechangers — to be informed, equipped, and empowered to make a difference.”

Pre- and post-evaluation of the training captured the following impact:

  • 100 percent of participants agree they have the tools to address gender-based violence in their communities.
  • 85 percent of participants feel confident they can identify and take advantage of opportunities for action in their communities.
  • 100 percent of participants understand the connection between gender norms and narratives and gender-based violence.
  • 100 percent of participants can identify the norms or aspects of culture in their community that drive violence against women and girls.

“This training was life-changing,” said Celia, a participant. “It opened my eyes to how pervasive this issue is throughout our society, and how we have to stop letting the ‘little things go’ that perpetuate attitudes and actions that can lead to violence and discrimination against women. I am now motivated and equipped to take action.”

“Hearing from survivors of violence against women helped me better understand new ways to educate other men about how to help prevent violence,” said Mickey Martinez, digital strategist and HIV/AIDS educator. “I’m grateful to Breakthrough’s catalyst training for giving me the skills and knowledge I need to help end violence against women.”

Breakthrough will continue to support their graduates over the next year to implement projects in their communities, and invite new catalysts to join the community — the “Breakthrough Generation” — for future rounds of trainings (for more information, visit

“It was an incredible experience to spend two days in a room with such a diverse group of people there for the same reason: to learn how to make violence against women and girls unacceptable,” said Joe Samalin, Breakthrough’s senior program manager and facilitator of the training. “People of different races, genders, ages (ranging from teens to folks over 65) and sexual orientations were there. Participants represented communities ranging from the corporate sector to journalists, students, nonprofit staff and activists working on issues from environmental justice to prisoners’ rights and HIV/AIDS. There were craft beer creators, martial arts instructors, barbacks, lawyers, PR professionals and more working on together on this issue. And now they will take this information back to their communities to change culture and challenge violence.”

Catalyst training participants had small and large group discussions on gender — what society tells us it means to be a man or a woman — and how that plays out in communities. They learned key dynamics often present in domestic violence and relationship abuse, such as the different types of abuse and obstacles to victims/survivors seeking help or support. Participants also discussed common forms of sexual violence — ranging from sexual assault to street harassment to trafficking to female genital mutilation —  and those dynamics and how to support survivors of these types of violence. They also learned about the power of storytelling and other tools for change that they could use to catalyze change in their respective communities, and how to turn those tools into sustainable action.

The catalysts will be staying in touch with each other and Breakthrough through a closed, catalyst-specific Facebook group, email list serve, and in-person get-togethers to allow them to swap stories of successes, challenges and more. Participants have been invited to participate in Breakthrough’s upcoming October catalyst training to share what they have done with the next generation of catalysts and help mentor them moving forward, building towards the Breakthrough Generation.

For more information or to register for the October training, contact Joe Samalin (


Breakthrough ( is a global human rights organization working to make violence and discrimination against women and girls unacceptable. Our cutting-edge multimedia campaigns, community mobilization, agenda-setting, and leadership training equip men and women worldwide to challenge the status quo and take bold action for the dignity, equality, and justice of all.