February 21, 2019
In December 2018, Clowns Without Borders (CWB) brought its mission of “promoting resilience through laughter” to Myanmar, where it toured with a clown show about a very serious subject: landmine safety. Executive Director Naomi Shafer MBA ’17 was one of the three clowns on that tour, reaching an audience of 9,000 displaced people with 12 shows and a workshop.
“Our mission is in some ways tiny, but I love that the outcome of our work—a moment of levity—is accessible to anyone,” said Naomi, who became executive director of CWB last June. “It’s exhilarating—and daunting—to see the direct impact of our work. An audience member in a refugee camp in Myanmar told me, ‘Before this our only shared experience was displacement. Now we share laughter.’”
Naomi credits her Marlboro MBA program with giving her the organizational skills and systems thinking to sustain CWB. When she started in 2015, the ‘staff’ were all volunteers, so a big piece of her work has been creating an organizational structure with employees, payroll, fundraising, and a governing board.
“A big focus of Marlboro’s program is for each student to make a career by following their passion,” said Naomi, who was drawn to clowning as a great balance of structure and creative license, vulnerability and expressiveness. “I was skeptical that I’d be able to sustain myself and work with CWB. It’s because of Marlboro’s emphasis on personal development that I’m able to do this work. The systems-thinking classes gave me a way to think about global displacement and distill concrete actions I can take to effect change.”
Clowns Without Borders reached 47,000 displaced people in 2018, in places around the world including Haiti, Lebanon, Mexico, Colombia and Puerto Rico, often at sites without infrastructure of water, roads, and electricity. With a budget of $125,000, that’s a cost of $2.60 per audience member. “That outcome is a balance of strategy, passion, and a networked approach,” said Naomi.