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Helping Women Get Back On Track After Prison, With A Little Crowdfunding

Mission:Launch is trying to support women using entrepreneurship to overcome the challenges that come with being released from incarceration.

If you want to launch a crowdfunding campaign, there is no shortage of niche sites that can help you reach your goals. In many cases, mainstream crowdfunding sites like Indiegogo and Kickstarter make the most sense—they get enough virtual foot traffic that even casual passersby might come across your project. But certain categories can get lost in the fray on these platforms. Girltank, a newer crowdfunding site, addresses one of them: female social entrepreneurs getting their organizations off the ground.

Girltank’s initial batch of projects range from a children’s museum in sub-Saharan Africa to a pop-up learning center in a Mumbai slum. One of the most compelling projects, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit called Mission:Launch, deals with an issue—what happens to women when they leave prison?— that’s pretty specific to the incarceration-happy U.S.

Laurin Hodge, the founder of Mission:Launch, has a personal connection to the topic: her mother spent a decade going through the prison cycle of pre-trial, trial, jail, and re-entry for a white collar crime. Hodge’s mother is lucky; she has a strong family support system. That’s not the case for a lot of women re-entering society, some of whom emerge with only the clothes on their back—and very little information on what resources they can seek out.

Anyone leaving prison after an extended sentence also faces the very serious problem of being left behind technologically. "We live in a world where we expect one app or technology announcement to change everything. Being stripped from society is like being stripped from technology," says Hodge.

Hodge envisions the Mission:Launch platform as a place that delivers resources, peer support, and assistance in developing re-entry plans for formerly incarcerated women. Think of it as one-stop shop for community, information on basic needs (like where to find shelter and food), as well as training for web-based platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Hodge is currently in the process of building a partnership with the Washington, D.C., public library for the training programs. "The thought is that if you’ve had a very public trial, you need to create new data points, to create a new narrative online," she says.

At the moment, Hodge is operating Mission:Launch in lean startup mode. "We wanted to take existing platforms and build community," she says. The nonprofit has a basic website, but it’s putting up all of its collected fact sheets on re-entry to society on Pinterest—a site that has a notably high percentage of female users. She’s also building relationships with prison-related agencies and halfway houses (where women serving time at federal facilities are released to after a certain point) to spread the word.

Mission:Launch is aiming to raise $5,000 on Girltank—a modest amount of money that will go towards generating immediate awareness about the nonprofit’s mission. "Information is free and easy to find in the world we live in, except in this community," she says.