Posts by April Greene


Time to say goodbye… and hello!

Way back in 2006, we started the Idealists in Action blog to share tales and tips about turning good intentions into action with the Idealist community.

In March 2014, we launched the Idealist Network—a platform to help people everywhere connect and take action on any issue that concerns them, locally or globally, online and in person.

Now, we’re devoting our blog entirely to the stories and strategies of the Network—particularly as they relate to Connectors, the volunteers at its heart. And to keep everything in one place, we’re going to start blogging exclusively on the Connector Hub—please come visit us there!

If you signed up to get daily digests from Idealists in Action, you’ll stop receiving them today. But don’t fear! If you sign up to be a Connector, you’ll get a daily Connector Update email with links to our most recently-posted stories (along with news from your Team, updates about Network happenings all over the world, and other great stuff).

Plus this site will remain up for your searching pleasure—peruse our archive of thought-provoking, inspiring, quirky, fun, and useful posts anytime you like!

Thank you for eight wonderful years. We look forward to seeing you around Idealist, and, as always, please feel welcome to drop us a line with any thoughts or questions at idealistblog@idealist.org.

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Tales of Tools and Tactics: Host a civic write-a-thon

Tools and Tactics are replicable templates Connectors can use to multiply and amplify action and collaboration in their communities. We find they also make for great stories about people all over the world who are promoting good in interesting ways.

A new breed of online projects that make a difference in local government are popping up in cities around the world. One of the best parts of these new models? Anyone can contribute something, regardless of their tech skill level. With this Tool and Tactic, you can learn how to produce a crowdsourcing event that involves the community and begins a collaboration between government and citizens. No coding required!

In 2012, the city of Honolulu debuted Honolulu Answers, a website intended to allow citizens easy to access government information. Building the site was pretty simple; filling it with content turned out to be the challenge! With help from Code for America, the city hosted a day-long “write-a-thon” wherein more than 55 community members and city employees collaborated on researching and writing 120 answers to common civic questions.

Below, Sheba Najmi, a 2012 Code for America Fellow, tells us about her personal experience helping to organize the event:

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Q: What was something that surprised you about how the write-a-thon went?

A: One of the things that took me by surprise was that 14 city staff members (including a police officer in full uniform) came to participate. They were there, bright and early, at 8:45 AM on a rainy Saturday, unpaid.

I was surprised and grateful that they made the time to share their expertise with citizens, and in the process of answering citizens’ questions, I could see their perspective shifting—from the way the city is structured internally to the way things would make sense from a citizen’s perspective. They explained things to the people, and they also sat down with their computers to write answers to questions themselves. This was truly the first time I’d seen “government being what we do together” in action.

I was also very touched by their dedication to doing “homework assignments” for four months afterwards. I asked them to review and rewrite citizens’ answers over and over, and they did. Not because they were mandated to, but because they wanted to.
And a nice update: Oakland, California city services website Oakland Answers is holding its second annual write-a-thon this weekend! Great to see this idea spreading. Check out their event website: oakanswers.eventbrite.com.

Read the civic write-a-thon Tool and Tactic here.

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Meet an Action Group founder: Lissa in San Diego, California

Connector and Action Group founder Lissa Tsu is committed to helping people make the leap from online to on-the-streets action.

“I think Action Groups are exciting because they can be as big or as small as you want them to be,” she says. “They also get people offline and actually engaged in making the world a better place.”

Originally from Southern California, Lissa attended Boston College before making San Diego her home base. “I actually started volunteering early in life,” she says, “but going to a Jesuit university really cemented my love for immersing myself in under-served communities.”

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Lissa and her daughter

Lissa considers herself a “Connector-type” in her personal as well as professional life. “I am always thinking about how people I know can help out other people I know. It makes me feel like a part of a community,” she says.

“I feel my strength is following through on what I said I would do. I rarely commit to things and then not follow through. I am thoughtful about how I want to spend my time and energy so when I commit to something, I commit.”

The Action Group Lissa started is called Downtown San Diego Planter/Bed Beautification. Why this focus? “I started with an AG that would personally make my day,” she explains. “Living in Chicago for eight years I saw how truly beautiful sidewalks can be and what a difference that makes in living and working in a place.”

“San Diego streets need a lot of love and I think that if we revitalized them we could really improve the image of SD. I live and walk downtown with my daughter most days so I would love a few flowers to brighten the path.”

One challenge Lissa’s facing so far is recruiting others to join her and start taking action. “I’m a little stuck here,” she says. “I think the largest challenge is that once you set [an AG] up it seems easy to get sucked back into ‘cyber world.’ And I would love some more ideas about how to let the SD community know I started a Group so they could choose to join me.”

Other AG founders: how have you recruited members to join your group? Post a comment below or write directly to Lissa through her Idealist profile.

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Tech Tip: How to sign up as a Connector (video)

If you’re not a Connector yet or want to give someone else a hand with signing up, this short-and-sweet instructional video will show you how easy it is to get started.

 

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Tales of Tools and Tactics: Loan assistance for careers in social good

Tools and Tactics are replicable templates Connectors can use to multiply and amplify action and collaboration in their communities. We find they also make for great stories about people all over the world who are promoting good in interesting ways.

College debt can greatly affect the career paths of recent graduates concerned about paying back their loans. New York University’s Stern School of Business recognized this issue and developed a loan assistance program for MBA graduates working for the public good.

Through the program, alumni earning $100,000 or less while working for a nonprofit or social enterprise can receive as much as $15,000 annually towards their school loans.

Our Tool and Tactic on the subject can tell you more about instituting this benefit at your school, and this article on Stern’s website, featuring alumna Dorrit Lowsen, is a perfect case study in how the positive effects of the program can be felt beyond graduates’ bank accounts. Lowsen, a 2008 Stern MBA graduate, has spent the last few years living and working in different countries as an IT project consultant for social enterprises:

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Dorrit Lowsen (photo via NYU Stern School of Business)

“I’m incredibly thankful to Stern for recognizing the importance of nonprofit work and for supporting alumnae like me who sometimes forgo larger salaries in more traditional industries to do other meaningful work. Because of the Loan Assistance Program, my decision to switch career tracks into the social enterprise sector went from a tough choice to a no-brainer. ”

Read the rest of Dorrit’s story here, and check out the loan assistance Tool and Tactic here.

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Video: “Together We Can Do More”

Our video team recently hit the sunny springtime streets of New York to ask Connectors why they’re excited about the Idealist Network.

Here are their top takeaways, in two bite-sized minutes:

What excites you about the Network?

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The wheel’s been invented: Resources you can use now

Not reinventing the wheel is an important part of this Network, starting with identifying existing resources that can help us all be more effective Connectors. Finding and sharing these resources is a group effort, and we’re already seeing some great offerings bubble up from Teams.

Take these three, recommended by Connectors in San DiegoFayetteville, and St. Louis:

Tool Box

Jude Jordan Kalush of San Diego, California likes The University of Kansas’s Community Tool Box, an online suite of resources for people who want to up their social good game:

“The Community Tool Box was created to help people build healthier communities and bring about the changes they envision. We provide educational modules and tools to help people work together to make their communities what they dream they can be. Although the Community Tool Box has thousands of pages of resources, its design makes it easy to find what you want.”

 

Bank

Amanda Bancroft of Fayetteville, Arkansas suggests consulting the Solutionary Knowledge Bank’s Community Engagement Sources section which has how-tos on everything from developing a community asset map to creating a shared vision as a team. The Bank was created by Grand Aspirations, a non-profit which cultivates youth leaders:

“This knowledge bank was compiled for sustainable community organizers around the world to allow for the replication of innovative green economy projects and the sharing of tools and resources. We hope the site will allow organizers to avoid ‘recreating the wheel’ and rather harness the work of others to build more effective projects which meet the needs of their communities.”

 

Fairplays short

Lloyd Kinder, of the St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri Teams, offers an innovative spin on the traditional (aka un-fun) meeting model with Fairplays:

“A ‘fairplay’ is a fun event in which all attenders, if possible, take up to 5 minutes each to give a speech, a performance, or just an introduction, which are called acts. The purpose of fairplay acts is to facilitate maximum information, education and entertainment. Members may do their acts individually or in groups. Speeches may be informative, educational, and or entertaining. Performances are educational especially for performers. Performances may also be demonstrations, which are also educational for audiences. Cooperation is involved in preparing for Fairplays and ‘executing’ them.”

Do you have a resource to recommend to the Idealist Network? Post it to the Resources section on your Team’s page!

You can also share it in our discussion forums, or drop us a line at idealistblog@idealist.org.

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Tales of Tools and Tactics: Donate time through pro bono services

Tools and Tactics are replicable templates Connectors can use to multiply and amplify action and collaboration in their communities. We find they also make for great stories about people all over the world who are promoting good in interesting ways.

Organizations need helping hands of all kinds. Those with skills in especially great demand—like lawyers—do an extra-good deed when they donate their time and expertise to people who need it. If you’re a lawyer or work in a law firm, this Tool and Tactic can show you how you can help nonprofits and individuals who could benefit from your support.

Jessica Perrin is Head of NGO and Social Enterprise for TrustLaw Connect, the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s global pro bono service, based in London. Below, she tells us why it’s so great to go pro bono.

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Q: How did you get into pro bono work, and what’s your favorite thing about it?

A: Up until joining TrustLaw, my career had firmly been on the NGO side. When I made the jump to the pro bono sector and started here, I knew we had something big to offer. I knew the value of external expertise for NGOs, and I knew that without it most organisations aren’t able to have the impact they set out to.

So, what does it look like sitting on the other side of the table? In all honesty, it’s pretty wonderful.

Instead of working with beneficiaries who want to create change in their own lives, I have walked into a buzzing network of passionate lawyers who are willing to help create that change using their own expertise, and from their desk! This means my day job is saying ‘yes’ to NGOs who reach out for pro bono legal support, ‘yes’ to helping them grow, ‘yes’ to helping them have an impact, and ‘yes’ to my favourite question of all: ‘Is it really free?’

To learn more, read the Tool and Tactic here.

Interested in becoming a Connector? Get started here!

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Connectors, this is your blog! What do you want to see?

Idealist started a blog in 2006 to share with our community a variety of tales and tips about turning good intentions into action. Our subjects spanned everything from cupcakes to incarcerated youth to software development.

Then, this past March, we launched the Idealist Network and began devoting the blog entirely to stories about and for Connectors—you wonderful volunteers at the heart of this platform for action and change.

So now, the blog is your oyster! And we want to know: what do you want it to be?

GLOBE

  • What would you most like to read about that we haven’t covered yet (or haven’t covered enough)? Could you use more advice about how to run Team meetings, or how to talk about the Network? Would you be inspired by more stories of the positive change the Network is helping to create? Do you want more open questions to get you and your Team members thinking? Or…?

Please send your ideas to idealistblog@idealist.org, or leave them as comments below.

Thank you! We want to write what you want to read.

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What Connectors have in common

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When you signed up to join the Idealist Network, you saw our What makes a Connector? list that explains some basic things all of us have in common. For example, Connectors:

  • Want to work in a spirit of generosity and mutual respect
  • Have a passion for connecting people, organizations, and resources
  • Are willing to be neutral

But we’ve started to notice that a lot of Connectors have other things in common, too. Looks like a lot of you…

Want to find kindred spirits

“I first signed up because I feel lonely out here,” says Amanda in Fayetteville, Arkansas. “I want to meet more people who think like this.”

“I’ve been wishing to connect with other action-oriented folks,” says Steven in Seattle, Washington.

“I don’t want to be by myself doing good work. I want to be with everyone else doing good work,” says Ginny in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Are excited to help people take action on their own terms

“Nowadays society doesn’t wait for the political people to act in their interest. Through Idealist, I see people confirming this phenomenon of ‘taking my life in my hands, because I can,’ ” says Diana in Bucharest, Romania.

“There are so many young people and so much energy as the city is growing and rejuvenating. It’s a good time to give people the tools to ensure it grows in a direction they envision,” says Karim in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

“You have to be able to address the issues within your society with your own work plan and your own means, little by little impacting society. I think that’s what’s great about the Idealist Network. It enables you to do this,” says Ibrahim in Kampala, Uganda.

Enjoy being there for others

“I’m easy to talk to. I don’t get overly worked up over things. I’m a good co-conspirator. And I’m good at getting things moving, but I don’t like to steal people’s thunder,” says Adam in Bozeman, Montana.

“I don’t feel a need to lead on other people’s ideas/projects but I like assisting with implementation,” says Leonie in Brisbane, Australia.

“Connecting people is what I do and have done my entire life. I see the inherent value of connecting people and ideas,” says Ellee in San Francisco, California.

Connectors, do these characteristics resonate with you? What else have you noticed that you and your fellow Connectors have in common?

If you’d like to suggest a stellar Connector to be profiled on Idealists in Action, shoot us an email: idealistblog@idealist.org.

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