A global citizen with an extraordinary vision, Mary Ann Thompson-Frenk is changing the world one community at a time.
By Francisco Chairez and Coco Salazar
Renowned speaker, published author and international award-winning sculptor are just a few of the roles she takes on, but being a humanitarian is what the Mexico native identifies with most. As co-founder and president of Dallas-based nonprofit Memnosyne Institute, Thompson-Frenk is on a life mission to help communities around the world navigate the pros and cons of globalization.
That’s because there’s so much at stake. On the positive side, globalization has radically increased economic growth in emerging markets like India and made goods more affordable in developed countries such as the United States. Conversely, it’s driven American jobs to lower-cost countries and created a breeding ground for multinational corporations to engage in unethical labor and environmental practices in less regulated countries while gaining political clout. Along with technology advancements and increased international travel and access to information, a global economy can promote consumerism and influence societal values that diminish cultural diversity, according to reports.
“We live in a globalized society where you can’t just think of thingslocally because what you do in one place of the world affects another side directly,” Thompson-Frenk told Infórmate DFW in an interview. “We are more interconnected and more interdependent than ever before, so we have to be thinking systematically or we won’t survive.”
Communities, companies and governments working together for the greater good is no easy feat. The Memnosyne serves as a catalyst by creating local, national and international collaborations to bridge economic, racial, religious, cultural and gender divides. Through these connections and its programs, the institute imparts and enables the exchange of knowledge in areas such as indigenous culture; health and medicine; art; spirituality; and environment, science, economics and technology.
Empowering people to make conscious efforts toward global economic, environmental and social sustainability is a lofty task, yet in line with values that became intrinsic with Thompson-Frenk at a young age. “My father always instilled in me an intent of ‘don’t look away,’” she said.
Adopted at just five days of age, Thompson-Frenk was raised by Debra and the late John Thompson, a former civic leader and 7-Eleven CEO who is credited for evolving his father’s ice-making, family business to the household name it is today. It’s easy to dismiss Thompson-Frenk as a trust fund baby who’s had it all without struggle, but some of her greatest life lessons stem from fighting for the simple yet essential things often taken for granted.
She vividly remembers spending much of her childhood at the now-named Children’s Medical Center of Dallas battling seizures, migraines, asthma attacks, and speaking impairments due to hearing loss. She deeply values the ability to have better control of her body, breathing and speech. The endless days working through those health issues became defining moments that made her commit to aim for excellence and take a stand for compassion, integrity and others’ rights.
“I know how hard I had to work to meet the same goals as others due to my health,” Thompson-Frenk said. “For me, it was not a conscious decision but rather lived.”
The Dallasite is perfectly aware not everyone has the luck of being raised by parents who could afford expensive medical care and other opportunities she’s been blessed with. Living by the motto of “See the world through other people’s eyes” has also kept her humble and empathetic toward those less fortunate — while giving us a Latina who’s using her power to resolve world issues.
Global Impact Starts Locally
The Memnosyne’s work to empower people to navigate the effects of globalization starts within communities. Thompson-Frenk’s hometown is no exception.
Take Food Source DFW, an interfaith food distribution program her team created to fight food waste and eliminate hunger. “We discovered that 40 percent of donated food was spoiling before it could get to the needy, with an estimated 70 billion pounds ending up in landfills every year,” Thompson-Frenk said. “The missing link was in coordinating the relations between companies and food pantries or shelters and providing them with a service to transport the donations.”
By teaming with third parties such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency to expand the distribution of donations, the Memnosyne has ranked as the No. 1 organization in the fight against food waste for the past two years. Also, through the program, businesses have donated over 7.9 million pounds of food and resources to date, she added.
To help protect the planet, the Memnosyne launched digital news publication Green Source DFW. In addition to informing about environmental sustainability practices and initiatives, Green Source hosts community engagements such as its annual awards program and the Oak Cliff Earth Day Festival. By facilitating collaboration between environmental groups, scientists, investors, businesses and the overall Dallas-Fort Worth community, the publication also fosters cohesive innovations.
Such efforts to minimize problems aren’t just a shot in the dark. The Memnosyne’s programs are based on a process Thompson-Frenk and her husband developed called Social Acupuncture, which identifies sustainable, impactful solutions by analyzing the relationships between influences contributing to challenges.
To empower entire communities to do the same, the institute is working with Spiral Dynamics human-development theory expert Don Beck and artificial-intelligence engineer Thomas Johns to realize the Vital Signs Monitor. The innovative device will deliver a real-time data approach to understanding worldviews or systems of thinking held by individuals, organizations and societies. The process maps the interconnections between different aspects of socialization — including the environment, economics, demographics and religion — and society’s resulting motivations, especially the influences that connect them. This will measure and track the “vital signs” of a society as a doctor would a human body, helping society to “diagnose” itself.
Big D residents and visitors will get to experience that process via an interactive hologram that’ll leverage virtual reality technology similar to video games to further ease self-assessing shared community challenges and needs. The device will be accessible at the Memnosyne Center for Outreach, which is to be constructed on land donated by serial Dallas developer Mike Hoque.
“When I go around the world people say, ‘Dallas? You’re doing all of this in Dallas?’” Thompson-Frenk said of the conversations that arise with colleagues, noting that her advisory and board experiences with organizations in New York, Chicago and London confirm Big D is relatively young in its cultural and physical development. “I say, ‘Yes, Dallas — it’s an exciting place to be! Where else in the country do you have that: The opportunity to shape the city and its direction?’”
Considering Dallas’s own population — Hispanics reportedly comprising nearly 42 percent — and the array of individuals impacted by globalization, efforts to celebrate cultural and spiritual diversity also form an integral part of the Memnosyne’s agenda. The institute advocates minorities’ and indigenous people’s human rights and the importance of diverse insights in resolving global challenges. Within the Hispanic community, the focus is instilling pride and empowering people to take control of their narrative.
“We live in a very opportunistic time,” Thompson-Frenk elaborated. “Unfortunately, many Latinos don’t have that sense of pride and self-confidence that comes from knowing the level of sophistication and civilization their ancestors have achieved. When history is denied and achievement is denied, then the future is denied.”
In addition to creating cultural exchange opportunities, the institute further familiarizes minorities with their culture and background. Its “Walking 2 Destiny” event at its Juneteenth Festival some years ago, for example, resulted in approximately 1,500 children of different backgrounds learning about emancipation and liberation through art, entertainment and stories that contained empowerment messages.
“It’s always been about helping people to discover their common humanity and empowering them to create the culture they wish to be a part of in the world,” the Latina said of her greatest passion.
She believes that, as tomorrow’s ancestors, we each have the responsibility— and power — to consciously choose how we impact the world around us. Her advice was to take part in causes that truly inspire us. Heart, after all, guides her work to make the world a better place.
“You will never be better than the person who does something because it’s their life’s passion,” Thompson-Frenk added, relaying her father’s words of wisdom. “Whatever it is you are choosing, it has to speak to your heart.”