Maria Weston Kuhn: Driving Toward a Safer Future for All

by | Aug 18, 2023 | Heartivist Of The Week

In the car with her family that cold winter morning in 2019, Maria Weston Kuhn had no idea how her world would change – or how she would change the world.

That day a distracted driver crashed into her family’s car head on, and Maria and her mother suffered severe injuries. Maria’s brother and father, however, came out of the crash unscathed. At the time, none of them realized that their fates were part of a larger pattern in which women are 73% more likely than men to be injured in the same frontal crash. Like most Americans, Maria didn’t know these statistics when she suddenly became one of them – but she knows about them now, and she is determined to change them with her organization, Drive US Forward.

Gender Inequity in Transportation 

Although Maria was forced to take a medical semester off from college, both she and her mother thankfully survived and eventually recovered from their injuries. During Maria’s  recovery, her grandmother mailed her a Consumer Reports article about the gender inequities in crash safety testing, prompting Maria to begin researching this issue. She soon discovered that the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) car crash safety standards do not use a representative female crash dummy when testing vehicles. The “female dummy” the DOT uses, the Hybrid III 5th, not only has the internal structure of someone assigned male at birth but is also never tested in the driver’s seat of the car. This means that the DOT’s crash safety test results are not representative of women’s safety in cars, especially while driving. Fortunately, there exists a much more accurate female crash dummy, the THOR 5F. But despite the huge gender disparities between crash injuries and fatalities, the DOT argues that equally testing the accurate female dummy is not worth the expense.

After learning this, Maria wasted no time pursuing change. Through an internship with Senator Angus King’s office, she familiarized herself with the practicalities of policy and later published her first article on gender inequality in transportation. This exposure helped her connect with other crash survivors as well as members of Congress and car company executives. Still, Maria  often felt like she was “just screaming into the void” when she spoke with powerful figures who seemed to listen, but then took no action. Maria realized that, alone, she would be limited in her ability to make meaningful change in the face of institutional barriers – so she decided to create a larger grassroots movement focused on Gen Z advocacy.

Unsure of how to start an organization, Maria reached out for resources and discovered The Pollination Project’s seed grants. Remembering the day she received her grant, Maria says, “I was walking down the street, checking my phone, and I swear a ray of sunshine came from the clouds. I felt so lucky to be able to be in this position and try to fix something. I felt empowered.” The tools that Maria purchased with the funding supported Drive US Forward’s growth, allowing them to accept donations, among other big steps. “We couldn’t have even formed really without it. We have grown a lot from there, it’s sort of built and snowballed. I do feel as though we have a lot of momentum right now.”

Raising Public Awareness

Drive US Forward launched on International Women’s Day 2023 with the goals of raising public awareness, empowering and engaging young people, and mobilizing grassroots support for change. The timing seemed serendipitous when, on the very same day, the U.S. Government Accountability Office released a report finding the DOT’s crash test dummies inadequate and giving them until September 4, 2023 to fix it. Drive US Forward immediately honed in on this opportunity, spreading the word on social media and encouraging congressional action to support the inclusion of an accurate female dummy in crash testing. The organization recently made great progress when the language they worked on with members of Congress made it into both chambers’ Appropriations Reports, which means that the accurate female crash dummy could be implemented sooner than expected.

“It feels like such a hopeful time,” Maria says, reflecting on the past few months of advocacy and community building. “[Before,] I felt like I was facing these mountains, these institutions with huge amounts of apathy. Now, I feel like part of a team. It feels so inspiring, like such a blessing. I could not have done this without my team. I’m so grateful for everyone who’s been involved.”

Take Action – Help Drive US Forward

You can learn more on Drive US Forward’s website and take action today by:

Join Us 

If you are inspired by this work and have an idea for a project that addresses an issue that you are passionate about, we’d like to invite you to submit an application and together we will build a better, more compassionate future! 

If you would like to support the work of more changemakers like this around the world, please visit our donation page and make a gift today!


Academic professionals Carla Forte Maiolino Molento and Rodrigo Morais-da-Silva founded Cell Ag Brazil at the end of 2023 with support received from The Pollination Project. The objective of the newly created association is to reflect, contribute, and promote the development of cellular agriculture in Brazil through proactive promotion and unifying actions among different audiences interested in the development, production, and commercialization of food through cell cultivation processes. 
With a seed grant, they founded the organization and designed a logo that represents their mission. They are now inviting people and organizations to participate in the association so that it gains greater relevance. 
Their members will be distributed across three chambers: 1) academia, 2) private sector, and 3) third sector and civil society. With this, they aim for diverse representation and to create a positive movement to act in different areas to promote and accelerate alternative proteins in Brazil and Latin America.
Billions of animals involved in food production in Brazil will be impacted in the medium to long term from this work. Data from IBGE (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics) indicates that approximately 6.1 billion chickens, 56.5 million pigs, and 30 million cattle were slaughtered in Brazil in 2022. 
With this association, Carla and Rodrigo may help reduce the number of non-human individuals involved in food production as they help to speed up the replacement process with alternative proteins.
In this World Day of Social Justice we celebrate the transformative impact of The Pollination Project and our dedication to seeding the essential change our world needs. Since its inception, The Pollination Project has been at the forefront of empowering grassroots initiatives, providing the crucial support needed for small-scale projects to blossom into powerful agents of social change.

Our unique model of micro-granting has enabled a diverse array of projects across the globe, touching upon various facets of social justice including environmental sustainability, poverty alleviation, gender equality, and human rights. From providing clean water solutions in remote villages to empowering women through education and entrepreneurship, we always believed in the power of individual action to create a collective impact.

Each project funded is a testament to our faith in the inherent goodness and potential of every person to contribute meaningfully to the betterment of society. These initiatives not only address immediate community needs but also foster a culture of empathy, equity, and inclusiveness - essential pillars for achieving true social justice.

On this World Day of Social Justice, let's draw inspiration from the myriad projects The Pollination Project has nurtured. Their work reminds us that each small seed of kindness and action can indeed grow into a mighty force for good, paving the way for a more just and compassionate world.