Last year we celebrated Juneteenth with the debut of our Champions of Change list. We've seen how Champions of Change can have lasting impacts on their organizations — unlocking greater innovation, accelerating success in new communities, and providing a healthier environment for people to thrive. This year, in continued celebration of Juneteenth, we wanted to go a little deeper to share three in-depth stories of Champions of Change as they work to shape a more equitable world.
First up in our spotlight series is Jessica Rolph, co-founder and CEO of Lovevery, whose mission is to give families a support system for a better future. Research shows that babies and children learn by "categorizing". Early on, they show bias toward familiar identities, but they also start to show negative bias with less-familiar identities. Lovevery aims to provide positive exposures to lots of different groups, to help prevent that negative bias from developing.
As educational expert Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop has written, children need "mirror" stories that are positive reflections of people who are like them. They also need positive "window" stories about people who are less familiar. Learning about others through a "window" story can help build familiarity and empathy, prevent negative bias from forming, and help children become more inclusive. Lovevery books offer a broad range of characters and are intentional about reflecting diversity, especially in terms of race and other identities like disability. And in alignment with Montessori educational principles, Lovevery books focus on real-life stories, often including families from the Lovevery community.
One example is This or That, inspired by a mom who wrote to suggest that Lovevery create a book about Black hair care. It features twin toddler boys getting ready: "They spray water to refresh their curls, and get their hair braided. Self-care is a classic part of Montessori, so we were thrilled to use a more inclusive lens," Jessica explains.
In our conversation, Jessica discusses the development of a doll that uses a wheelchair. Lovevery engaged Rebekah Taussig, a writer, teacher, and advocate with a Ph.D. in Disability Studies. A wheelchair user since childhood, Taussig has written about growing up longing for that "mirror" experience of seeing disabled characters; her contributions to the doll's design have been invaluable.
With its inclusive approach, Lovevery is shaping a world of more informed and inclusive children's products and books. Jessica says that she's eager to continue highlighting historically-excluded identities, especially around race and disability. And we've witnessed firsthand how she centers equity and inclusion at the core of product development and company building.
She also fully recognizes the challenges that accompany all she envisions. We asked her about roadblocks and the strategies she has experimented with to meet them. Here's what she told us:
Prioritize lived expertise: When people say "expert", society often thinks of institutional credentials (a valuable kind of expertise, but not the only kind). Lived expertise brings tremendous value that's often overlooked in hiring. Lovevery's definition of "expert" is intentionally expansive, for example: The Disability Advisory Council's expertise spans clinical practice, academic credentials, advocacy work, parenting disabled children, and adults with lived experience of physical disability and autism.
Customize access: Lovevery recently launched a Disability Support Service for families whose children have disabilities and learning exceptionalities, making it possible to customize a Lovevery subscription to suit their child's unique goals and interests.
Embrace remote work: The shift to remote work has allowed Lovevery to hire in a broader range of markets. The company has doubled its percentage of racial diversity in its US employee base since last year.
Make time: Sometimes, inclusion efforts can feel daunting. Jessica's approach is to ensure that equity and inclusion initiatives receive adequate time and budget, and recruit experts to contribute to each project. She points out that traditional methods were developed over long timelines, so it's important for leaders to allow ample space for new initiatives to evolve and improve.
In our conversation, Jessica also reflected on the current moment, concluding, "I see Juneteenth as a time to celebrate progress — but also, crucially, a time to renew our commitment to further progress. There is always more work to do, and Lovevery is honored to be a small part of it."