Movers + Shakers:
North Texas Social Innovators You Should Know

Dallas-Fort Worth is home to dozens of creatives who are changing the face of urban planning, social, and educational innovation.

The Altruists

Dallas-Fort Worth is home to dozens of creatives who are changing the face of urban planning, social, and educational innovation. Here are some to watch.


Brittany Merrill Underwood

Founder of Akola Project

Underwood is the founder of the Akola Project, a nonprofit that for more than a decade has trained and employed marginalized Ugandan women and later women referred by Dallas nonprofits to create a line of upscale jewelry that has grown beyond its flagship store in Dallas and onto the shelves of luxury retailer Neiman Marcus. Underwood hopes her social impact brand can be a model for others. 

“We really believe there’s no higher impact you can have as a brand and as a product than having impact through every step of your value chain, production process, and giving it all back,” she said. 


Courtesy: Alex Wolf Photography

Salah Boukadoum

Founder of Soap Hope

Sarah Boukadoum, founder of Soap Hope

Boukadoum founded Soap Hope in 2009 to sell all-natural body-care products online. The company invests 100 percent of its profits toward anti-poverty efforts for women worldwide. The social entrepreneur also is a crusader for making Dallas the “impact city.”

“Just as Silicon Valley concentrated technical resources and talent, I believe we have the opportunity right here in Dallas-Fort Worth to concentrate impact resources and become a huge driver for the scale of impact solutions all around the world,” Boukadoum said during a 2016 event.

More recently, Boukadoum has teamed with Kyle Lukianuk to develop a new impact investing tool for businesses looking to make a difference called The Good Returns Group.

Bill Holston

Executive Director of Human Rights Initiative of North Texas

The Alabama native practices business law with Sullivan and Holston Law firm and is an avid human rights advocate. Holston has volunteered thousands of hours of his time to the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas, which offers free legal services to refugees and immigrants who have experienced human rights abuses. He writes regularly for in a blog on the organization’s website here.

Jo Giudice

Director of Dallas Public Library System

Giudice was named to lead the system in 2012. She has worked for the library systems since 2004. She received her master’s degree in library and information science from the University of South Carolina-Columbia, and graduated from the University of Florida. Under her leadership, Giudice has worked to keep libraries throughout the city an epicenter of community and a haven for some of the most vulnerable. 

Kevin Moriarty

Artistic Director of Dallas Theater Center

Kevin Moriarty [Photo: Karen Almond]

Kevin Moriarty [Photo: Karen Almond]

Since 2007, Moriarty has led Dallas Theater Center through a number of initiatives, including the move into the Wyly Theatre; the establishment of the Brierley Resident Acting Company; the creation of Public Work Dallas; and an extensive series of new play productions.

Last year, DTC brought home a coveted 2017 Regional Theatre Tony. As Dallas ponders its cultural arts future, Moriarty expects to see greater participation.

“That burst of creativity that’s happening not just in the Arts District, but throughout the city as a whole is the new frontier that all of us who care about Dallas are most excited by,” Moriarty said. 

Katherine Kei Adams and Isabelle Kei Adams

CEOs of Paper For Water

The primary mission of Paper For Water is to raise money to fund water wells around the world giving access to clean water and sanitation in developing countries. The young Dallas sisters started by selling origami ornaments at a local Starbucks. Following the overwhelming response, they created Paper For Water’s parent nonprofit Keiki International Foundation out of their desire to help other girls around the world go to school rather than spending their time hauling water. 

“I think one of the best things you can do is tell more and more people about the issue,” Isabelle told PEOPLE magazine in 2015. “Most people take water for granted, and they don’t even think that maybe people around the world — and even in the U.S. — might not have it.”

Suzanne Smith

Founder of Social Impact Architects

Smith has been reshaping the business of social change for more than two decades. She’s an educator, writer/blogger for Social TrendSpotter, TEDx speaker, and coach to social sector organizations. Smith pioneers meaningful and sustainable social solutions to create real, scalable impact. She holds an MBA from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.


Suzanne Smith, center, with Catherine Cuellar, left, and Salah Boukadoum. [Photo courtesy of Young Leaders of America Initiative]

Daron Babcock

Executive Director of Bonton Farms

Babcock created Bonton Farms as an agricultural undertaking that aims to restore lives, create jobs, and ignite hope in the impoverished Bonton neighborhood of South Dallas. The area has been designated a “food desert” and Babcock believes the farm can be a source of local, healthy food for residents.

The nonprofit took part in United Way of Metropolitan Dallas’ GroundFloor accelerator program for early-stage social ventures. In December, work started on a market where fresh foods harvested from the farms can be sold. 

“It’s not like we’re in some third world country … We’re in [Dallas] and we have people that are sick and dying simply because they don’t have access to food,” Babcock said during a 2016 event while talking about Bonton Farms’ start.

Daron Babcock, executive director of Bonton Farms (center) accepted the $25,000 audience award at the United Way “OneUp the Pitch” event in April 2017.

Keith Jacobs

President of RefillWise

Jacobs is president of RefillWise, a subsidiary of Luscinia Health, of which Jacobs also is president. RefillWise is a prescription drug savings and customer engagement company that offers its members tools to decrease the cost of prescription drugs. Before RefillWise, Jacobs was CEO of projekt202, an Addison-based user experience consulting firm. 


Miguel Solis

Dallas ISD Trustee

Solis is the executive director of the Latino Center for Leadership Development, which serves as an incubator for the next generation of leaders dedicated to improving the Latino community. 

In 2013, he became the youngest member ever elected to the Dallas ISD Board of Trustees. He was selected as board president in 2014. In 2015, he was elected by board members as first vice president.

Wende Burton

Community Philanthropy Director for the Communities Foundation of Texas

As community philanthropy director since 2010, Burton has lead the foundation’s focus on economic stability and asset building for working families. She has more than 17 years of experience in business process improvement, curriculum development, and organizational development. 

Sarah Cotton Nelson

Chief Philanthropy Officer at the Communities Foundation of Texas

As CFT’s chief philanthropy officer, Cotton Nelson develops new grantmaking programs and oversees the foundation’s annual outgoing grants. She previously worked for 12 years as a survey research methodologist with the Rand Corp. She’s also been the caretaker of grants and research for the Dallas Women’s Foundation and led a center for at-risk youth in Los Angeles.

Her work serving the community has garnered her recognition outside of North Texas. In 2017, she was named to a network of change-makers called the Presidential Leadership Scholars. 

Ben Leal

CEO of Jubilee Park and Community Center

Leal began his public service career in the office of the governor of Texas, and later served as a legislative director for the Texas House of Representatives. Leal came to Jubilee Park and Community Center in 2010, where he shepherds the nonprofit that strives to be a catalyst for change in the underserved southeast Dallas neighborhood.

Last summer, the nonprofit worked with The Old Church at Jubilee Park and Jewish Family Service of Greater Dallas to launch much-needed mental health care services for the community. “When you’re growing up in poverty, you’re already dealing with trauma and stressors in your life,” Leal told The Dallas Morning News in July. “These children are in need, and these families are in need of an outlet, someone to talk to, someone to speak out with.”

Michael Sherrod

Michael Sherrod

Michael Sherrod

William M. Dickey Entrepreneur in Residence at TCU’s Neeley School of Business

Sherrod works with students and faculty across TCU’s colleges and disciplines, in classes, and university programs fostering entrepreneurial thinking, processes, and real-world applications.

He’s held a number of roles in journalism and publishing including stints at the Texas Tribune and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Sherrod also has worked for,, and started Black Dove Media.

“We need to expand our entrepreneurial efforts into every nook and cranny of education,” wrote on Dallas Innovates. “This isn’t about teaching business skills per se. It’s about teaching the entrepreneurial mindset through the lens of each discipline.”

Nakia Douglas

Executive Director of TRIO and Precollegiate programs at the University of North Texas at Dallas

Since 2004, Douglas has had key leadership roles in Dallas ISD, including DISD Executive Director of the South Oak Cliff Feeder Pattern and is the founding principal of the Barack Obama Male Leadership Academy.

In October, the Lincoln High School graduate was named executive director of TRIO and Precollegiate programs at the University of North Texas at Dallas. He’s received a number of recognitions including 2015 DISD Magnet Principal of the Year, the 2015 Phi Delta Kappa Trailblazer Award, and a 2016 SMU Luminary Award.


Lizzie MacWillie

Associate Director at buildingcommunityWORKSHOP

MacWillie leads People Organizing Place, the participatory city-shaping initiative that positions local stakeholders as experts to help shape their neighborhoods. She’s also helping to manage [bc]’s multi-year art initiative with Downtown Dallas Inc.,which aims to engage Dallasites with their city in a positive way through art.

She has master’s degrees in architecture in urban design and design studies in art, design, and the public domain from Harvard University. 

Thor Ericsson

Managing Director of buildingcommunityWORKSHOP

Ericsson directs bcWORKSHOP’s four offices in Dallas, Brownsville, Houston, and Washington, D.C.

He has experience in nonprofit management, design and planning programs, and community informed design. Previously, he worked with Design Center Pittsburgh and volunteered in the Philippines with the Peace Corps.

Patrick Kennedy

Founder of Walkable DFW and is a member of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit Board.

Kennedy serves on the board of the Congress of New Urbanism, and is a leading advocate for walkability in Dallas and other Texas cities. He is a partner at the Space Between Design Studio in Dallas where he leads the urban planning and livability consulting practice.

Last year, he was one of three North Texans on Planetizan’s ballot for the “Most Influential Urbanists” of all time.

Holly Reed

Holly Reed, Managing Director of External Affairs with Texas Central [Courtesy: Technology Ball]

Holly Reed

Managing Director for External Affairs, Texas Central Partners 

Reed is managing director for external affairs at Texas Central Partners, the company working to bring high-speed rail service between Dallas and Houston.

She previously worked 25 years with Dallas-based AT&T. “Both of these companies connect people and ideas,” Reed said in a Q&A with the Dallas Business Journal in August.

Sharon Lyle

Sharon Lyle

Sharon Lyle

Co-founder of Public City

Lyle is co-founder of Public City, a culture-driven public engagement consultancy and studio. She is a board member of KERA, the public radio station in Dallas.

She also culled together thinkers, doers, creators, and inventors to share their work as the founding director of TEDxSMU. 

“This is a city I want to bet on. These are people I want to do business with. This is a time I’m proud to live in Dallas, and excited about what the future holds for the city,” Lyle wrote on Dallas Innovates.

Doric Earle

Managing Director of Forward Planning; Co-founder of Dallas Unity Fund

Earle has more than 25 years experience as an executive for large corporations, creating consultancies, and launching new service concepts. He holds a PhD in public affairs, with a focus on urban policy from UT Dallas, and sits on the boards of several nonprofits and is engaged in startup ventures.

His firm, Forward Planning, is deeply involved with community Place Building (redevelopment) in South Dallas. Last fall, the Dallas Unity Fund’s proposal to bring quality, workforce housing to South Dallas was selected as a finalist for The Real Estate Council’s inaugural Shark Tank event

[Photo: Chase Mardis]

A version of this list first appeared in Dallas Innovates 2018, an annual magazine that showcases Dallas-Fort Worth as a hub of innovation. Read more about the region’s game changers, disruptors, creatives, and our new frontiers in the digital edition.


The Altruists: North Texans Are Making Social Innovation Their Mission

From national nonprofits launched out of homes to game-changing ideas that have cultivated millions of dollars for the nonprofit sector, the region is a launch pad for numerous movers and shakers who are making a significant communal impact.



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