Are audiences ready for Operation Change?

Docu-series features Clinton, Elton John, others

Alone you can’t do much, but together you can change the world.

This motto of The Starkey Foundation is the inspiration behind a new television series.

The emotionally compelling docu-series “Operation Change” provides a look at challenging international issues that “we were told audiences aren’t ready for,” executive producer Steven Sawalich said. “We decided to go ahead and shoot the show anyway.”

The series follows Bill and Tani Austin and their son Steven Sawalich from the Starkey Hearing Foundation, a global non-profit organization that gives free hearing aids to those in need, as they are joined by celebrities and philanthropists to tackle some of the most challenging issues plaguing our world today.

“Operation Change” gives viewers access to some of the world’s most dangerous, desolate and poverty-stricken places.

The series features former President Bill Clinton, Sir Richard Branson, Sir Elton John, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Donna Karan and Harry Connick, Jr. among many others, each working to benefit a different region and local organization.

From the West Bank of Palestine to the wilds of Papua New Guinea, the series reveals the untold stories of some of the world’s seemingly insurmountable challenges, as well as its greatest heroes.

“Hearing loss is a global epidemic, impacting more than 360 million people worldwide, yet it can often be helped.  Hearing aids empower people to better connect with their families, communities, and the larger world,” former President Bill Clinton said in a press release. 

“I have seen first-hand the amazing impact that the Starkey Hearing Foundation and Starkey Hearing Technologies are having on people all around the world... It’s empowering people to live more independent, prosperous, joyful lives.”

According to executive producer Steven Sawalich, the series is about showcasing the work of people around the world, bringing a light to positive stories in negatively perceived areas.

In the first episode, the team travels to Haiti.

Beyond the planned destination, all bets are off. As they aim to target specific charities and highlight ways to help local communities, mundane unplanned interactions often become the focal point of an episode, as local folks, dignitaries and charity workers come together to effect change.

In Haiti, for example, Sawalich randomly met a father, Fritz, while walking the streets. Fritz lost his wife during the earthquake a few years back. Though unplanned, this interaction became a focal point of the episode, as the team sought to help Fritz.

“The purpose of this series in general is talking to people and seeing how we can help,” Sawalich said.


In the initial Haiti episode, shot three years after one of the most horrific earthquakes ever recorded, the team came face to face with a nation struggling to survive.

In the tent cities of Port-au-Prince lives a man who ties himself to his children at night because he fears they will be kidnapped. In Jacmel, a woman is still reeling from the death of her son, whom she lost shortly after the earthquake.

In Haiti, the team works with fashion designer Donna Karan, actress Maria Bello, entrepreneur Bill Rancic, and non-profit organizations including World Wide Village, We Advance (co-founded by Bello) and Karan’s Urban Zen.

“‘Operation Change’ came about really based on a project with the Starkey Foundation,” Sawalich said.

“(The Starkey Foundation) uses hearing as a vehicle to come into an area to listen to what they need, and use our network to figure out how to make a greater impact in that area.”

“We brought cameras in to film what was already happening,” Sawalich said.

According to Sawalich, as they filmed the series in 11 countries over a year and a half, The Starkey Foundation looked to find the right partner that shared their message and values. In Oprah’s OWN network, they found a natural fit.

Through this docu-series, The Starkey Foundation seeks to impart the message “together, we can change the world,” to viewers and help them find ways to make a difference and be inspired by others.

“It’s not about a dollar, it’s about donating an hour of your time, you can start by doing something with another person in your backyard,” Sawalich said.

For more ways to make a difference, visit

The first episode of the 10-part docu-series “Operation Change,” airs Monday, June 23, at 10 p.m. EST on the OWN network.

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