A woman in her thirties with long, curly brown hair, wearing a black t shirt and pants, standing with her hands on her hips, in an ally between houses being built, on a gravel road, with trees in the background,
Alexandria Lafci's ambitious startup is helping build sustainable communities in Haiti, El Salvador, and Bolivia—and it's only the beginning.

Crowdfunding a Better World: New Story Changes Lives One Home at a Time

Teach For America alum Alexandria Lafci saw the effects of homelessness on her students. Now her nonprofit is combating the issue on an international scale.
Friday, July 22, 2016

Raise enough money for 100 homes in 100 days: The goal was daunting, but New Story co-founder Alexandria Lafci (D.C. Region ’11) didn’t even blink. “We ended up raising the funds for that in just 92 days,” she says. “With our purpose, it wasn’t hard to get motivated to reach it.”

She and her cofounders set the 100-in-100 goal after their nonprofit’s successful pitch to Y Combinator, the renowned Silicon Valley startup incubator that has a harrowing 3 percent acceptance rate.

New Story classifies as both a real estate and tech startup, but its objective is not to maximize profits by erecting high-rise apartment complexes on the Upper East Side of Manhattan or developing McMansions for suburban enclaves just outside San Francisco. Lafci is engaged in a different kind of business: offering the currency of hope. New Story changes the trajectories of vulnerable families by crowdfunding the construction of life-saving homes in countries like El Salvador and Bolivia.

 

 

In the case of the Y Combinator pitch, Lafci and her cofounders, Brett Hagler, Mike Arrieta, and Matthew Marshall, were building the 100 homes in Leveque, Haiti—a place so ravaged by the effects of the devastating 2010 earthquake that years later, families are still living in tents and plastic shacks.

The long-term consequences of this situation were familiar to Lafci from her days as a Teach For America corps member in southeast Washington, D.C., where some of her sixth graders were homeless. “That would lead to absences and have a long-term impact on them academically,” she says. “It would impact their mental and physical health, which in turn would affect their families and communities.

“What I’m ultimately interested in is the cause of poverty. In the classroom, I got to see it through multiple vantage points and immerse myself in the issues in a way I couldn’t do via policy or academia. I also learned that you can’t do everything yourself—you need the collective effort of everyone.”

 

 

Such is the mantra of New Story; Lafci and her cofounders value collaboration instead of acting unilaterally.

“Like TFA, we approach the communities we serve with an asset-based mentality,” she says. “We’re very much looking at which organizations on the ground are already doing a great job, and seeing how we can be partners with them. Instead of just creating a presence, we see how we can be a supplement or addition toward helping improve and sustain a community.

“There are so many people involved—from my cofounders to the local governments helping us create communities from the ground up —that I feel really grateful to play a small part in making it all work. So many things have to align to make these life-transforming moments happen.”

After building 151 homes in Leveque, New Story and its homegrown allies are erecting 90 more homes in Nuevo Cuscatlan, El Salvador, while commencing a project in Mizque, Bolivia. Their project in Bercy, a second community in Haiti, includes 58 homes funded by NFL star linebacker Elvis Dumervil, the son of Haitian immigrants.

 

A smiling man in his thirties, with a shaved head, wearing a grey shirt, white pants and sunglasses standing with his arms outstretched, on a sunny hillside overlooking a village and fields.
NFL linebacker Elvis Dumervil traveled with New Story to fund the building of 58 homes in his parents' homeland of Haiti.

 

“I’ve always wanted to be a part of something where you could give back, but it was a matter of who I wanted to decide to be a partner with. Making sure people are getting 100 percent of what is donated is important,” Dumervil said in a recent documentary produced by his team, the Baltimore Ravens. “To come out here and be able to provide homes that allow families to start thinking about other ventures that they can do [like] create businesses. … That’s how you start communities.”

New Story’s work in a third Haitian city, Minotrie, is a project that will build over 300 houses and will include a partnership with the tech consulting firm Intellinet to fund the purchase of land for 115 homes within the community called "The Net."

“Working with partners on the ground is important, because depending where you are, the concerns might be different, and the local organizations are valuable resources,” Lafci says. “In El Salvador, a lot of homes were on landslides, and in addition to being geographically dangerous, dirt floors have a high correlation with disease.

“In Bolivia, we want to move families out of houses with mud walls because they’re the breeding ground for an insect nicknamed the ‘kissing bug’ that carries the Chagas disease. The lack of clean water and power is another factor affecting quality of life. A safe home with access to basic life necessities is vital to graduating families out of survival mode.”

 

 

At its bare bones, New Story is a nonprofit that relies on donations, so its donors are a vital part of that process.

“We want our donors to know that we’re as transparent and accountable as possible,” Lafci says. “Every single penny donated goes directly to home-building costs. Our operation costs are fundraised separately. We also use video proof of impact, so we send videos online to donors so they can see the house they’ve funded and the family whose life is being transformed by it.”

One example of this transformation Lafci cites is from El Salvador.  A woman had to climb 30 or 40 mud stairs to reach her home, which was perched at the edge of a hill. When it rained, the stairs washed out and the roof caved in. The day she moved into her new home, Lafci says, the woman was jumping up and down, “overcome with joy.”

 

A group of men and women stand behind a podium with NASDAQ written on it, cheering and clapping, while the screen behind them is displaying the words "New Story" on a blue background.
New Story was invited to ring the NASDAQ opening bell last September.

 

New Story’s success has Lafci—recently named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list for social entrepreneurs—and her co-founders expanding their vision to building 1,000 communities of homes in the next 10 years.

“There are so many organizations building shelter around the world, and we believe we’re developing best practices on how to build houses for vulnerable populations sustainably and thoughtfully,” she says. “We’re looking to create a model and playbook that could be outsourced, so we’re doing case studies in certain locations.”

Though it’s a model startup, New Story won’t be going public and issuing an IPO anytime soon. Nonetheless, Lafci and her team recently found themselves ringing the NASDAQ opening bell after a chance meeting with the stock exchange’s chairman.

“When we met the goal of 100 homes in 100 days, NASDAQ invited us to celebrate,” she says. “It showed how far we’ve come in just a short time, and it gets you excited to think about what the future will bring.”

 

Inspired?

Join our diverse force of leaders shaping the course of our nation.