At 2 am, 28-year-old Martina Taylor starts her day. As a PhD student in business administration, she tackles her reading list before her full-time job as a cybersecurity engineer starts two hours later. On good days, she’s done by noon. On others, she can work a 12-hour shift. It’s a schedule that would have anyone ready to relax when Saturday came around, but Martina doesn’t rest. Her weekends are dedicated to improving the lives of those living in her native country, Sierra Leone.
Martina was nearly a teenager when she moved to the U.S. with her family from the small African nation. Her access to resources that aided her academic and professional success were a stark contrast to what she saw on her visits home as she got older. The lack of resources there convinced her to enact the change she wanted to see, and in 2019, she founded Breaking Boundaries with Innovation (BBI).
As president of the organization, Martina leads a team of 11 between the U.S. and Sierra Leone on a mission to provide education and healthcare resources and, eventually, initiating technology programs as part of school curriculums. Though starting in her hometown of Freetown, Martina intends to expand BBI through West Africa and beyond. For now, she connects students with technical professionals for mentorship and partners with hospitals and clinics. Her Sponsor a Child initiative provides scholarships, supplies and laptops to schools and laboratories. And the more than $20,000 in cash and donations she raised in 2022 has gone to launch the BBI Cares program.
What inspired you to get started with this initiative?
The more I went back home, the more I realized the amount of help that was needed there. I’ve always been interested in business and technology, but the country that I come from isn’t so tech savvy. When I went back in 2017, I realized that more healthcare was needed, not just technological programs. Mothers were dying giving birth to children. Children were dying, because they didn’t have the right care. When a mother gives birth in the U.S., they have access to some basic things that the baby needs. In Sierra Leone, they didn’t have any of that.
I reached out to some friends who were born in Sierra Leone or who are first-generation Americans. In 2019, we were officially able to start BBI as a nonprofit. Encouragement from family members who have worked in nonprofits really helped. We had to go through the whole process in both countries, because there are certain things you can’t do in another country as an international organization unless you partner with a local nonprofit.
We got donations from American organizations, and in Sierra Leone, we partnered with a local orphanage that we were already sending resources to. We were able to sponsor 50 kids to go to school for a year among other things. In December 2022, we launched our own nonprofit in Freetown and started the very first BBI Cares program that supplied more than 100 mothers at two hospitals in Freetown with the basic things needed for a newborn. We were also able to donate supply-filled backpacks to more than 100 kids from primary and secondary schools. We’re currently funding a housing project with our original partner and are making sure their kids are staying in school.
Tell us about your volunteer role with Breaking Boundaries with Innovation.
I’m the chief executive officer. One of my tasks includes coordinating fundraising and donor communication to raise funds for the organization’s annual BBI Cares donation drive. While I’ve been doing my doctorate, a lot of the work has shifted to my team leads. I also have an assistant who checks in with them on a daily basis. I do what I need to do as the head of the organization: meeting people, making strategic decisions and things like that.
When we get invited to events, we try to split it across team members in the U.S. Sometimes, I go. Other times, my V.P. or treasurer will go. Everybody’s a BBI representative, and people need to see different faces.
What are your long-term plans or goals for the organization?
We’re working towards getting our technology program started. The long-term goal is for the schools and the country to make technology a part of the curriculum so that kids take it seriously.
Another thing is our mentorship program. I became an engineer not because I was necessarily interested in engineering but because I had the right people to mentor me. My interest grew when people encouraged me. We want to do that. There are a lot of kids in Sierra Leone who can be great engineers or leaders in STEM with the encouragement, mentorship and coaching to challenge them to greater heights.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?
It’s seeing the results. The impact that we’re creating has been my biggest motivation. Last year, when we launched our BBI Cares event, it was heartwarming to see how appreciative people were. Some people were in tears. You could see that they were thankful for the basic things they couldn’t afford themselves. Up to the point that we were leaving the country, there were still people still thanking us.
What have you learned through your experiences as a volunteer?
I’m always looking for a way to be a blessing to others, and volunteering is one way I can do that. When you give your time and energy to people, there are rewards that you don’t even anticipate. It has absolutely nothing to do with money or title or any of that. It’s just an amazing feeling.
What do you want people to learn from your story?
Do what you love and love what you do. Always make sure that for every blessing received, you be a blessing to somebody else. If you’re confused about doing anything, do some research. See what’s already out there. See how you can be of help, because help is always needed everywhere.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Martina? Find local volunteer opportunities.