2023 Indigenous Communities Fellowship


Natives Rising

Economic and spiritual empowerment through tech careers, entrepreneurship, STEM education, mentorship, community and belonging.

Team Lead

Danielle Forward

Solution Overview & Team Lead Details

Our Organization

Natives Rising

What is the name of your solution?

Natives Rising

Provide a one-line summary of your solution.

Economic and spiritual empowerment through tech careers, STEM education, mentorship and community.

What specific problem are you solving?

The problems we’re solving for the 9.7 million Native Americans in the US are complex, interconnected and multi-dimensional: financial hardship, poor access to STEM education, gender inequity in tech careers, and lack of self-confidence.

Financial hardship is often a prerequisite to solve many other issues, and so that’s where our mission begins. Native Americans have the highest poverty rate of any group, close to 27%—almost double the rest of the country, which averages close to 15%. A recent poll from NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found recent inflation has caused 69% of Native Americans significant financial problems, far outpacing every other group by at least 11%. 

When it comes to education, the Native American high school graduation rate is 51%. Of that 51%, approximately 5% proceed directly to four-year colleges and only 10% of those students graduate in four years. This translates to 1 out of 400 Native Americans graduating from a 4-year college within 4 years, or .002%. In STEM, Native Americans are the least likely to attend a school that teaches computer science out of any other group, with Native American women in particular being the least represented in computer science compared to any other group. According to National Center for Education Statistics data, of the 104,874 people who received a bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related field in 2021, only 68 of them were Native American or Alaskan Native women—a shocking .0006%.

Economic growth relies on innovation, and innovation often relies on the advancement of STEM. Several studies by McKinsey have proven that diversity enhances both innovation and business outcomes. At the same time, tech companies are struggling to hire diverse talent. How might we increase the number of Indigenous people at the table to contribute their unique perspectives and potential to STEM and the future of technology? How might we increase the number of Native women entering STEM careers and graduating with degrees in technology so that we have a more balanced and diverse group inventing the future? How might Native people in STEM receive the support they need to infuse STEM with Native cultural values of land stewardship and the interconnectedness of all things?

What is your solution?

With technology jobs continuing to stay in demand—often at six-figure incomes on average—by increasing the number of Native Americans in tech, we can improve the odds of innovation and economically empower Indigenous communities at the same time. By complementing this with a program for entrepreneurs, we can invest in both sides of the equation of innovation and economic growth for Indigenous communities.

Natives Rising is a nonprofit organization that economically empowers Indigenous communities through tech careers and entrepreneurship. We offer an ecosystem of programs: the largest online community for Indigenous professionals in tech to network and find guidance, a fellowship for Native women college students studying technical majors, a STEM summer camp for Native high school seniors, and in the future, an accelerator for Native founders to help them develop and launch their companies.

Within all of our programs we provide mentorship, community, inspiring role models, and coaching that leverages the power of neuroplasticity to change self-limiting beliefs and reignite inner confidence and pride.

For example, specifically for our Native Women's Tech Fellowship, we hold monthly cohort meetings to create a sense of belonging and community. We play social connection games and I invite Native female professionals in the industry to come speak and share their stories as positive role models, followed by Q&A. We also have monthly 1:1 coaching sessions with all our female fellows to further enhance their potential and give them that necessary guidance for their career development, or the emotional support they sometimes need. If anyone needs financial support, we provide scholarship funds so they can finish their bachelor's degrees in tech. 

Who does your solution serve, and in what ways will the solution impact their lives?

As a nonprofit organization, we’re an ecosystem of support and have different programs for different subsets of our target population: a broader community network for all Indigenous professionals in tech, a fellowship for Native women college students studying technical majors, a STEM summer camp for Native high school seniors, and in the future, an accelerator for Native founders to help them develop and launch their companies.

Although we have different programs, there are similar underlying needs we see across population segments: lack of guidance, financial hardship, lack of confidence, loneliness, discouragement, negative self-talk, and lack of direction or knowledge for how to achieve what they want.

Through mentorship, positive role models, community support, scholarships, neuroplasticity coaching, and networking, members of our programs will be able to receive the holistic support they need to reach their full potential in STEM or entrepreneurship. The new careers our members will be able to start will be transformative by providing financial security, social and emotional support, and pride in achievement, greatly enhancing self-esteem and overall emotional well-being.

Which Indigenous community(s) does your solution benefit? In what ways will your solution benefit this community?

Our programs are open to all Indigenous communities in the US, including Native Hawaiians and Alaskan Natives. Within that, we’re specifically targeting 1) Native female college students, 2) Natives interested in entrepreneurship, 3) Native high school seniors from all over the country interested in STEM careers and 4) Native professionals in the tech industry.

Our program offerings are mostly held online, with the exception of a few in-person events per year (one being our STEM camp).

There are two main ways we build our programs in a human-centered way: frequent feedback and user research interviews. We design our programs by first interviewing members of the population we wish to serve, and then we measure success in our programs using participant surveys on a quarterly basis to ensure we’re delivering what was intended. We use program feedback to continuously stay relevant and impactful. Since I have a service design and user research background, and collaborative brainstorming is something I’m professionally trained in, co-creating and crowdsourcing program curriculum with our members is also on the horizon.

How are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?

I personally made this journey myself, starting out as low-income and first-generation college student, raised by a single mother. After ten years of working towards my bachelors degree while working to pay for school on my own, I finally landed a life-changing job at Facebook. I reverse-engineered how I did it, and created Natives Rising to give others what I needed sooner: mentors, role models, community, networking, scholarship funds, coaching and guidance, help with finding jobs. I was able to transform my own life and opportunities this way, and now I'm building bridges for others. 

I have also personally experienced the prevalent self-limiting beliefs I see in our communities and healed them in myself, and so I know exactly what it takes to help others break through to believe in themselves. In addition to my background in tech at Facebook, I am now trained in NLP, Hypnotherapy and Life Coaching as a certified practitioner and I bring these powerful tools for behavior and belief change into our holistic empowerment programs. Using advanced emotional well-being processes that leverage neuroplasticity, I have specifically designed a program that boosts self-confidence specifically for Native American people. Our first pilot for this is our Native Women's Tech Fellowship. The program helps reconnect each person with cultural pride and self-confidence, and provides the tools for a strong sense of self and emotional well-being. A lot of the work necessary for more diversity in STEM (especially for women) is helping people believe that it’s even possible for them. I am also very well-read in feminist theory and indigenous history, and I weave in this knowledge often when coaching our fellows and students.

I am also trained in user research, so conducting user interviews is part of my professional background. That's how Natives Rising was created in the first place—I interviewed several Native folks and built Natives Rising in response to the insights and opportunities I discovered in those interviews.

For the entrepreneurship side, my co-founder Betsy has built 3 different companies and generated revenue in the millions. She started with a $50,000 grant for her first business. We both come from the target populations we're guiding.

Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?

Support the creation, growth, and success of Indigenous-owned businesses and promote economic opportunity in Indigenous communities.

In what city, town, or region is your solution team headquartered?

San Francisco, CA

In what country is your solution team headquartered?

  • United States

What is your solution’s stage of development?

Pilot: An organization testing a product, service, or business model with a small number of users

How many people does your solution currently serve?

7 to 200 (depends on the program)

Why are you applying to Solve?

We're excited to connect with other like-minded individuals committed to social impact and join the ecosystem of support that Solve has created for its visionary fellows. In addition to funds, exposure in the media, guidance from new mentors and coaches, and access to even more resources would greatly enhance the scope of our impact and mission. Thank you so much!

In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?

  • Business Model (e.g. product-market fit, strategy & development)
  • Financial (e.g. accounting practices, pitching to investors)
  • Human Capital (e.g. sourcing talent, board development)
  • Legal or Regulatory Matters
  • Monitoring & Evaluation (e.g. collecting/using data, measuring impact)
  • Public Relations (e.g. branding/marketing strategy, social and global media)

Who is the Team Lead for your solution?

Danielle Forward, CEO & Founder

Please indicate the tribal affiliation of your Team Lead.


How is your Team Lead connected to the community or communities in which your project is based?

Danielle is an enrolled tribal member of the Cloverdale Rancheria of Pomo Indians in Northern California and has devoted the last 6 years of her life to building the largest community of Native professionals in technology. She also worked for 10 years to make her way into the tech industry herself, paying her own way through college. You can read more about her journey into tech here.

More About Your Solution

What makes your solution innovative?

We use fundamental principles of Indigenous interconnectivity of all things to inspire our program design. For example, we're an ecosystem, because we realize that every individual is connected to everything else, and each dimension impacts the other. We support mentally, financially, socially, emotionally, physically and spiritually. We are also the only organization to specifically train our students with brain rewiring processes for lasting belief change and improved self-confidence. This is the spiritual support—through our programs, using advanced neuroplasticity processes, we reignite our students spirit. Many people don't understand that you can't just throw money and laptops at a marginalized group and expect change, because if they don't believe in themselves—even if they can pay their bills—they won't get anywhere. Our workshops get people out of survival and reignite their spirit. It's not just what we do, it's how we do it and why we do it.

Our grand vision is leading us up to a "reverse boarding school," which has never really been done before. But to get there, we have to get people out of living in survival, which is why we start with economic empowerment. Essentially, our program ecosystem will be the new school that heals and empowers Indigenous people mentally, spiritually, emotionally, and moves them up the ladder on Maslow's hierarchy of needs towards love and self-actualization. In fact, our personal definition of justice is "justice is equitable access to love." For too long, the story we tell ourselves has been about what we don't want, but at Natives Rising we're focused on what we do want, and that's how we become it.

What are your impact goals for the next year and the next five years, and how will you achieve them?

There are a few big opportunities on the horizon that would provide a large systems-level impact. The first is establishing a Federal Native American Chamber of Commerce. Presently, Native folks are the only group that does not have a Chamber of Commerce at the federal level. There is no organized way for Native American-owned businesses and corporations or federal agencies to connect. If we were able to implement this, we could funnel millions of dollars into female Native-owned businesses and profoundly affect Native communities for the better. The second is launching and scaling STEM camps and schools with a focus on Indigenous pride—essentially functionally as a “reverse boarding school,” a literal reversal of the assimilatory boarding schools the US government instituted between 1819 and 1969 that devastated our communities (which you can learn more about here). One of the main issues we see over and over is a chronic lack of belief in one’s self, chronic shame and low self-confidence in our Native communities (created in those boarding schools), which often perpetuates the same conditions of economic disempowerment, mental health challenges, high suicide rates, chronic health issues and more. In our research, chronic low-self esteem and chronic stress underpins much of the social duress in our communities, and it is one of the biggest blockers to Native folks (especially women) seeing themselves succeeding in STEM. Due to the above, it is an extremely common self-limiting belief to think they aren’t good enough for STEM, and so they don’t pursue it. We are the only organization directly addressing this huge opportunity to build up our people’s self-confidence, as it is a heavily overlooked issue in diversity inclusion work. 

When we launch the STEM ‘reverse boarding school’, it is very likely to make national news, potentially international. We would love to include Tiger Global’s name as part of that driver for profound and innovative social impact. A reverse boarding school is something that has never been seen before—a true vessel for holistic empowerment—which is what we stand for. In Indigenous cultures, a holistic view is important, with a focus that includes the entire human being—the mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical. 

Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your solution address?

  • 1. No Poverty
  • 3. Good Health and Well-being
  • 4. Quality Education
  • 5. Gender Equality
  • 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • 9. Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure
  • 10. Reduced Inequalities
  • 16. Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions

Which of the following categories best describes your solution?

A new business model or process that relies on technology to be successful

Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:

  • Ancestral Technology & Practices
  • Crowd Sourced Service / Social Networks
  • Software and Mobile Applications

In which parts of the US and/or Canada do you currently operate?

Entire US

In which parts of the US and/or Canada will you be operating within the next year?

Entire US

Your Team

What type of organization is your solution team?


How many people work on your solution team?

2 full-time staff, 3 part-time volunteers

How long have you been working on your solution?

I founded the community 6 years ago, and only within the last 6 months started working on it full-time.

What is your approach to incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusivity into your work?

Since we focus on very specific groups (namely Indigenous women) our leadership team represents our target population. When we think of diversity, it tends to be more about diversity of Native experiences and skillsets, for example: growing up on a reservation vs. suburbia, different family types, differences in socio-economic status, differences in beliefs. Each of our cofounders represents a different tribe and very different upbringing. Our board members also help us balance out a diverse perspective, one of whom is Dine Navajo, male, and a member of the LGBTQ+ community.

Your Business Model & Funding

What is your business model?

Our programs are completely free for Indigenous people. We are primarily funded by large grants from nonprofits and foundations that are committed to equity in tech and STEM. So in that sense, our key customers are the foundations investing in our shared mission. We tailor our programs by co-creating shared goals with our biggest donors and then deliver that impact. Our service is the social impact itself, specifically increasing Native women representing in tech.

Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, to other organizations, or to the government?

Individual consumers or stakeholders (B2C)

What is your plan for becoming financially sustainable?

We plan to build strong relationships with our current donors by showing impact and working towards recurring yearly grants. We already have 3 multi-year grants from different large donors. We also are prototyping our corporate sponsorship program, a successful model that's been proven by many analogous organizations. 

For corporate sponsorships, it could look something like this:

1) Database subscription of our members (for recruiters to have access to)
2) Events that companies pay to host with our members through their ERGs or CSR arms
3) Job postings within our community
4) Job placement fees

Google has already offered to pay $5000 per event and $5000 for an annual subscription to our database of members. 

Here’s a rough financial model: https://bit.ly/nr-model

Share some examples of how your plan to achieve financial sustainability has been successful so far.

Within the first year of official incorporation, we already have 3 multi-year grants from different large donors totaling $1.74 million. We're the only organization dedicated to increasing Native women in STEM, specifically technology careers, so primarily our funding is invested in that mission.

Solution Team

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