Online mag founder Birungi Ives talks about storytelling

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Sometimes, people can pinpoint their professional turning point when things being clicking. For Birungi Ives, that moment occurred September 2011.

“So much has happened in a short amount of time,” Ives said.

That’s when the Point Dume resident, founding editor-in-chief of GEOF.US, an online magazine Ives calls “a socially responsible lifestyle magazine,” landed an interview with supermodel Christie Turlington Burns, spoke face-to-face with activist Allie Houston (wife of Paul Hudson, better known as U2 frontman Bono), and entered “a whole new realm. It got me more hungry and made me more bold to stepping out my comfort zone. I haven’t gone back to comfort zone since.”

She certainly hasn’t. Ives recently posted an article on Lura Calder, who has received international attention this month regarding the Culver City resident’s transcontinental custody battle over son, Leo, with his Italian father. Ives interviewed Calder at Point Dume Marine Science School, where Ives’ son is enrolled. She spearheaded a petition to Congresswoman Karen Bass, Sen. Diane Feinstein, and Sen. Barbara Boxer toward overturning the verdict, to “put in place more protection for parents in this type of violent situation.”

Calder told The Malibu Times, “Birungi has done an incredible job [covering Calder]. She is passionate, thorough, and writes thought-provoking, beautifully written articles.”

Every month, Ives updates GEOF.US’ content, with recent themes including “Activism in Hollywood,” “Earth Day,” “Poverty,” “Africa” and now “Haiti.” Ives, who interviewed WeAdvance.org’s Maria Bello for the latter, hopes to land fellow Haiti mouthpiece Sean Penn, politically active actor George Clooney (Darfur), and green-energy champion Leonardo DiCaprio. An unintentional journalist, “I like telling stories,” she said. “Mine happen to be real.”

GEOF [Global Echo Online Forum] began as a blog in 2007. Topics span the gamut of socially conscious Ives’ interests. Eschewing negative headlines, “I wanted to report from a perspective of change. What are people doing to find solutions?”

Ives befriended Turlington Burns via Twitter, and they discussed her child-welfare cause, Every Mother Counts. In pursuing Rikki Lake, Ives learned, “Her nanny was really the story,” she said of Marie Da Silva, founder of a Malowi orphanage. Mary Steenburgen and daughter Lily McDowell, co-owners of eco-friendly candle vendor Nell’s Compass, ”reached out to me,” continued Ives, still stunned. Fashion designer Donna Karan told her, “You are a visionary.”

Born in Cambridge, MA, Ives, of Ugandan heritage, grew up in the greater Boston area (Somerville and Brockton) as her father went for his Ph.D at Harvard and her mother pursued her master’s in Library Sciences at Tufts University. At 16, she was accepted to Mount Holyoke College, where she majored in African and African-American Studies, graduating by 21.

In Summer 1997, she met her husband, industrial engineer Jamie Ives, who was attending college nearby. His educational pursuits led them to Nottingham, England, where, for five years, Ives worked as the consultation liaison between the City of Nottingham and its African-Caribbean community. Her husband’s work brought the couple to Virginia Beach, where they married in 2001. Son Jediah, now 8, arrived in 2004.

Via Jamie’s work, they moved to Clearwater, FL, then Huntington, NY( Long Island), Florence, SC, and now Malibu, what Ives considers a progressive city that keeps her engaged.

However, something happened en route: the economy tanked.

“When we put house our Florida house on the market, we rented,” Ives said. “We took an extreme loss on the house. Money was extremely tight.”

The couple found themselves underwater. Ives’ job rejections mounted: Estee Lauder, Newsday, Starbucks, Rite Aid. A web-designing gig for a green Chicago hotel fell through, but researching made Ives realize, “I’m not finding it all in one place.” GEOF magazine was born.

As the sand shifted under her feet, Ives rolled the dice and gambled on herself, even as everyone around her, even Jamie, doubted her new venture’s viability.

“He’s very pragmatic,” she said. “I do feel it was a blessing in disguise. It forced me to say, ‘OK I’m going to keep getting better.”

“People had doubts,” said her college pal, Boston-based neurobiologist Madelyn Baez-Santiago. “She had been a full-time, stay-at-home parent for nearly five years…But Birungi did it.” With NBC Women’s Networks head Lauren Zoloznik’s encouragement, Ives grew her endeavor “from Yahoo Site Builder to what you see today,” employing five writers.

“The beautiful story on Lura Calder…,” said Armando Gallo, who authored book of Genesis “Evolution of a Rock Band, ”was written and published within 24 hours…The world, deaf until then, followed…”

“Birungi is a woman on a mission for global good,” said activist Kelly Meyer, wife of Universal Studios chief Ron Meyer.

Her story, she believes, proves the everyman can make a difference.

“It doesn’t have to be as grandiose as forming a foundation,” she said. “Everyone on an individual level can help affect change.”

To read Ives’ interviews, visit GEOF.US.

Photo by JoAnn Guilfoil Photography