Avery Louis Bang is the CEO of Bridges to Prosperity http://bridgestoprosperity.org. Avery believes that every person has a right to safe access—and she has built an innovative, scalable approach to act on that belief. Since joining B2P as a volunteer in 2006, Bang has developed a scalable model to ensure safe year-round access to schools, markets and health clinics through pedestrian bridge building and training in rural developing communities.
As one of ENR’s Top 25 Newsmakers of 2012, Avery was also honored on ENR Mountain Region’s Top 20 Under 40 list in 2013, and was selected as one of American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Fresh Faces in 2011, recognizing the top ten Civil Engineers under 30. Avery is a Distinguished Young Alumni of The University of Iowa, recipient of the Recent Alumni Award from The University of Colorado at Boulder, and will be receiving an honorary doctorate degree from Clarkson University in May 2014.
Q: How did you conceive of Bridges to Prosperity? Was there a moment when you realized that your dream was possible?
AB: Bridges to Prosperity was founded by Ken Frantz. My dream originally was to help Ken develop his vision into a globally-recognized organization focusing on the challenge of rural isolation.
In March 2001, our Founder saw a photo in National Geographic Magazine that moved him to action and spurred the idea for B2P. The image showed men dangling precariously, using ropes to pull each other across a wide, high and broken bridge span over a portion of the Blue Nile River in Ethiopia. He took action to build a bridge for a community in need, and what began as a single crossing in a single country has become a global movement.
Q: A footbridge makes a huge difference to a community – 12% more children enroll in school, 18% increase in women employed, 24% increase in healthcare treatment – what are some of the stories you’ve witnessed that illustrate the work you’re doing?
AB: I see transportation infrastructure as a catalyst. I personally have worked in a number of communities where huge investments (by both local community members and outside organizations) have been made in building schools, digging wells, building and staffing health clinics etc. But, often these resources are only available to a fraction of a regional population due to the lack of rural roads and bridges. With a bridge, educational access is increased: health indicators improve and the economic disparity that often exists on either side of a river is removed.
Q: You’ve been honored in ENR and by the ASCE and your work with Bridges to Prosperity has gained a some well-deserved recognition. Did you imagine that you would end up doing this work? What do you envision the future holding for you?
AB: I am a bit reluctant of the limelight, but am honored that so many world-class institutions and organizations have recognized Bridges to Prosperity’s work around the world. If I can be the face of that incredible team effort, I am happy to do so. As an athlete that always did much better in team sports than solo ones, I believe strongly in the strength of a team and it’s such an honor to get to work with such great folks at Bridges.
Q: It seems like all the cool kids go to Denver. What do you love about that area?
AB: Such an under statement. There seems to be a ground-swell happening in Denver and whether the industry is international non-profits (check out our cool new office near downtown Denver: the Posner Center for International Development) or something a bit more traditional, people seem to be flocking here. I personally love the gritty feeling of ballooning arts districts, and we’re becoming known as a foodie destination. Not to mention, we are two hours from world-class skiing and an endless number of outdoor activities. I guess you could say I’m not complaining.
Q: What is something that the world should know? Maybe the best piece of advice that you ever received or the message you have for others.
AB: I remember my Aunt saying something about doing what you love, and loving what you do in the context of my after-school dance lessons and soccer practices, but I believe it’s really stuck with me into my career as well.