Laurindo Garcia and Jason Ortiz: Modern Day Pioneers Using Technology to Power Social Change

Levi Strauss & Co.
April 4, 2016

In 2004, Laurindo Garcia went in for a checkup – a routine requirement to apply for a work visa in Singapore. Over the course of the next ten minutes, his world would be turned upside down.
He was diagnosed HIV-positive. What’s more, while Laurindo was reeling from this news, his doctor offered him a non-medical prognosis: he was likely to see his visa application denied, lose his job and face deportation.
Refusing to give in to fear, Laurindo dug in his heels. He drummed up his knowledge of the virus, got on treatment and managed to stabilize his health. Then he got to work.
Inspired by the resilience and pluck of the gay community, and buoyed by his own personal history of activism, Laurindo created a social enterprise called B-Change.  B-Change leverages the power of technology to drive improvements in the health and human rights of LGBTI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex) community and people living with HIV/AIDS in Southeast Asia.
Laurindo and his team have developed some unique online platforms. HIV Advocates, sponsored by the Levi Strauss Foundation, connects activists confronting the discrimination associated with the epidemic through policy reform and community mobilization. Be promotes the online engagement of young LGBTI people, and Plus plows through barriers of social stigma to connect people living with HIV with vital information and a supportive online community.
Laurindo’s team has expanded from 3 to 14, with staff members in Bangkok, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Manila and Singapore. Among the recent hires is Jason Ortiz, who left a lucrative career in investment banking to join Laurindo as his manager in New York City.
On a recent trip to San Francisco, Laurindo and Jason stopped by the LS&Co. headquarters in San Francisco to chat about B-Change—what they’ve accomplished, what they’ve learned and what’s next.
In your own words, what is B-Change?
Laurindo: We’re in a period of transformation as an organization, but in a nutshell, B-Change is a technology social enterprise. All of the people who make our team are predominantly LGBTI and hail from the Asia-Pacific region, and our experience provides us with a unique perspective on how we use technology to promote social change.
Jason: The B-Change group consists of three areas of specialization. There’s product development, run out of Singapore, and they’re there to build these platforms for how we engage with communities. There’s community and stakeholder engagement, run out of Manila: those are the people literally on the ground, working with people who are in need of help and seeking our resources. And then we have research, which I’m heading up, that we set up in New York last year; we take data that arises from the community engagement from our platforms, and we share that information with others to propel their efforts to do good.
How would you describe B-Change’s success so far?
Laurindo: We are a social startup and have the challenge of creating value while achieving positive social impact in our community. We have to build our own infrastructure and foster talent. It’s a tall order, and I’m really fortunate to have a good team around me.
Jason: Laurindo is being shy about our successes. Last year we came out with a cyberbullying webinar, and now we are being featured in publications, and our research is getting into academic journals. We’re here in San Francisco to help take the two technology platforms we’ve been beta testing—“Be” and “Plus”—to the next level.
Can you tell us more about “Be” and “Plus”?
Jason: They are websites that you can access online – either on a computer web browser or on a mobile phone. This is how we help people in Singapore, Manila, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta access services. The “Be” is targeted toward young LGBTI people and “Plus” is targeted toward those in our community who are HIV-positive. Both platforms help people find services on the ground. When we get out of beta, people who are seeking these services will be able to rate the level of community-friendliness, kind of similar to Yelp. We do our work in five local Asian languages, and we’re really excited about these products.
What kind of response and traction has B-Change received?
Laurindo: When we first started testing out our ideas in social media and in cyberspace, our initial offering was content – so videos and educational material explained what sexual orientation and gender identity means, and explained what to do if you were recently diagnosed with HIV. The reception has been very warm, we have close to 60,000 followers across all of our social media channels, and I want us to perform better in terms of engagement around our web resources.  A lot of people said to us it’s about time that this type of information is available in their local languages – and that it’s written in a way that is from the community and non-judgmental.
Jason: When speaking with Daniel Lee, the Executive Director of the Levi Strauss Foundation, during this visit, he said: “This generation right in front of you, so many of them died of the HIV epidemic. Now, it looks so different. People living with HIV can live these long, healthy lives and all of that comes from education and from sharing your story.” It’s what Laurindo – and all of us who were inspired to join B-Change – are doing right now. So much has changed in just such a short time—it may seem like it’s taking a long time, but it’s not.  We’re excited to be a part of the change.
Editor’s note:  In June, Laurindo will speak alongside other LSF partners at the Millennial Impact Conference (MCON) in Washington, D.C. The three-day program of speakers, events, panelists and networking opportunities will focus on a variety of issues including inclusive entrepreneurship, leadership, social justice and more! If you’re not in the D.C. area, don’t worry—online viewers can access the sessions via livestream by registering here.
This is part of an ongoing series designed to feature people who are changing the world. Our Modern Day Pioneers are impacting everything from culture to social issues to the environment, and they’re challenging the status quo in a unique way. We hope these stories will inspire and empower you to live your life to its fullest in Levi’s®
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