Dennis Karpes

Ashoka Fellow
Fellow Since 2009


This profile was prepared when Dennis Karpes was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2009.
The New Idea
As a marketing specialist, Dennis has witnessed firsthand the power of branding to influence the behavior and the social patterns of large groups in society, especially youth. Combining his marketing expertise with his awareness of the potential power of a group representing more than half of the world’s population, Dennis built Dance4Life as a powerful global brand for positive, youth-led social change. His targeted message, adjusted packaging, innovative delivery channels, global partnerships with brands and international stars, and massive celebratory events that gather agents of change around the world have allowed societies to harness the power of young people to foster a global youth corps that is equipped to understand problems, find creative solutions, and lead concrete actions against one of the world’s most pressing issues: HIV/AIDS.

Behind the brand is a product. Dennis wants all teenagers to embrace social change and join the Dance4Life movement. He began by focusing on one concrete issue, HIV/AIDS, because it is easily understood, accessible, and actionable for young people across the world. Dennis established a team to design a simple yet powerful and attractive step-by-step information-to-action training and coaching program, through which any young person can effectively find the confidence, motivation, and tools to become agents of change. First attracted and enthused by the marketing and large events, young people find support through their school, local Dance4Life branches, partner organizations, and franchisees.

By bringing hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurial and socially active youth together in a movement from a variety of contexts, and by using events and technology to connect them, Dennis is fostering a powerful counterweight to the uneven distribution of power in the world. These youth will lead their generation toward a more democratic, entrepreneurial, and socially responsible direction. They are already shifting adults’ attitudes, as schools and parents allow them to be entrepreneurial and to talk more openly about the taboo subject of HIV/AIDS.

So far, over 300,000 teenagers have been through the transformative Dance4Life experience, including launching their own actions against HIV/AIDS (i.e. awareness raising, advocacy, peer-to-peer training, and fundraising). They have celebrated their successes with their peers and developed an understanding of their own power to generate social impact, which will influence the rest of their lives. Dance4Life plans to reach 1 million young people by 2014, and broaden the movement to target other UN Millennium Development Goals.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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