Posts by April Greene


Accidental advocates: Speak out to find your voice

Laurie Landgraf wasn’t always an advocate.

But in the summer of 2011, shortly before the former teacher was to start enjoying retirement in the small-town Wisconsin “dream cabin” she’d purchased with her husband Dave, he was killed by a distracted driver while riding his bike. Although evidence showed the driver was talking and texting at the time of the crash, no felony charges were filed and she instead received mere traffic citations.

Today, Laurie makes her voice heard by standing up for cell-free driving.

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Advocates come from many paths to care for the rights of others.
(photo courtesy Shutterstock)

Like many advocates, Laurie received her call to service by happenstance, not through honed intention. And it hasn’t been easy to take on this new identity, especially in the face of so much anger and grief. In 2013, Laurie spoke with the storytellers at Living Proof about her journey. Here are some excerpts:

I’m feeling more comfortable calling myself an “advocate.” I’m working towards that. And it’s definitely been a process. When I spoke at [my first] event to about 50-60 people, I was not very prepared; I just spoke from the heart. But I did find my voice there, and that was the beginning of feeling like this is the direction I should go in.

It surprised me to find my voice; I had been quiet for so long. I couldn’t physically and emotionally wrap my head around the whole thing because I was just in such a grief state. But I started realizing that I’ve got this experience I could turn from a tragedy into something positive. What I’m hoping to do is to tell the truth behind the tragedy.

It isn’t easy to speak out. It will always bring me back to that day and what I experienced. So that takes courage and it also takes practice. But I do think the long-term is—and I have heard this from other advocates—that if you can make a difference in one person’s life, or make one person think before acting, that really is what it’s all about.

Read more on the Living Proof blog.

How have you found your voice as a new advocate?

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Global aid workers need aid, too

As we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this week and people across the U.S. come together to help each other and work toward solving our common problems, we’d like to pose the question: what exactly is social good?

Coincidentally… Welcome to Ideal-to-Real Updates, a series where we check in with idealists taking action on their good ideas to see what they’ve been up to and what gems of wisdom they’ve been learning.

Last July, we wrote about Shannon Mouillesseaux, a New York state native with a passion for international development.

At that time, she shared with us her idea for a penpal and travel exchange project that would match at-risk students in the U.S. with kids in developing or war-affected countries.

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Shannon with a family in rural Oman.

We recently caught up with Shannon again to ask about the status of that project, and what else she’s been up to in the past year and a half. She wrote to us from her current post as a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) protection officer overseas, assisting refugees and helping advocate for those who are unlawfully detained.

Through the Idealist blog, I learned of a great project already underway, which has a strikingly similar objective and approach to what my project aspired to do. It’s called Project PeacePal. The executive director Sarah Wilkinson and I connected and have remained in touch to support one another. For one, I was able to refer another Idealist member who had connected with me, following the blog post, to PeacePal to assist Sarah with social media efforts.

Shannon would love to collaborate with PeacePal in the future, but she’s currently involved with all sorts of other projects: setting up iSurvived, an advocacy and support group for UNHCR staff who have survived trauma; creating a website to connect and support global aid workers around the world; and writing a children’s book series to encourage cultural and humanitarian awareness.

I am *always* working on what I call “my personal projects” on the side of my work. Most of them have a similar theme: to educate people about realities in the global South, advocate for aid workers, and help improve our development models and systems, which I think are largely outdated and in need of retooling.

I feel propelled to act on behalf of other humanitarian staff in order to better protect and support them. After all, how can we expect to be effective in our roles as development workers if we don’t first ensure that we are healthy and adequately supported? As the environments in which we work become decreasingly secure, our organizations need to take action to better prepare us, protect us, and support us. We each have a role in advocating for this, too.
Go Shannon! We’re rooting for you. Looking forward already to checking in next year.
If you’d like to help inspire young people around the world to become peace builders, connect with Project PeacePal. To learn about and support the international aid worker community, visit global aid worker.

 

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TAPIN: Through self-reflection, a broader definition of ‘social good’

As we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this week and people across the U.S. come together to help each other and work toward solving our common problems, we’d like to pose the question: what exactly is social good?

When my co-editor Celeste told me in November that she heard about a cool new art project we might want to blog about, I was psyched to learn more. As an aspiring creative and an Idealist interested in how individuals can beat obstacles and connect with each other to live the best possible lives, the language on TAPIN‘s homepage spoke to me:

TAPIN seeks to make the world a more emotionally connected place. Our community connects through interactive art installations that explore the broad spectrum of human emotions. We believe true freedom comes through exposing our most intense emotions and finding new power to remove the barriers around our dreams.

I attended TAPIN’s first public event in New York last month—titled “OUT FEAR. TAP IN: An Installation on Beating Fear to the Punch”—and founder Anne Koller agreed to let us feature the project on the Idealists in Action blog.

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TAPIN’s first exhibition focused on bringing fear out of the shadows.
(photo courtesy Kathryn Weill for TAPIN)

Before our phone interview, also joined by TAPIN’s head storyteller Becky Burton, I wrote out some questions to get us started: “What would you say to members of the Idealist community about how to ‘unearth the clues of what drives their emotions and harness them for good,’ as you say on TAPIN’s website?” and “What challenges have you faced since you started TAPIN, and what have you tried doing to overcome those challenges?”

But our conversation wound up taking a different turn. Here’s Anne:

After working in social good for some time—in favelas in Brazil, in coffee fields in Rwanda, at Davos [the World Economic Forum annual meeting] with some of the world’s most powerful leaders—I thought I would have become a diplomat by now, or work in the foreign service. I speak four languages, I have a Masters degree in public administration from Columbia… Sometimes I have guilt and ask myself why I’m not still out there.

But what I’ve learned is that we are unable to create true social good if our service is inauthentic, if it feels responsibility-driven and not in line with our true purpose. Social good is about aligning with what makes us truly unique and then magnifying that to serve others. Someone else might feel that working in an orphanage is their purpose—in fact, I know lots of people do, and that’s a wonderful thing—but it’s not mine.

All the world needs from you is to be a lot of what you are. Capitalize on that, drive it forward. The more you can work with your own alignment, the more powerful your contribution can be.

A friend recently said to me, ‘With TAPIN, you’re allowing people the opportunity to feel free and be themselves.’ I don’t know what else social good is, or what else I could be doing.

And this strikes me as a perfect time to redefine social impact. We—all the people who are shaping the world today—can redefine it for ourselves.

Becky then broadened the scope in the other direction, pointing out that social good is not just about rethinking what roles we should fill as individuals, but also about rethinking who we should try to serve:

For people who want to take action, there’s an expectation for social good that it only serves disadvantaged communities, but we think social good is for everyone. Social good is everyone finding their purpose and living their passion—it’s not only about helping people in a state of crisis. It can take the form of a very simple action that just brings a smile.

So how can each of us find our purpose? In Becky’s words, how can we “get down to what excites us, what we’re good at, and share that with the world”?

TAPIN thinks exploring your emotions is a good place to start.

“Examining your happiness or fear can help illuminate the root of what actually makes you happy or fearful,” Becky says. “It might be different than you think.”

Read more about TAPIN’s approach to facing emotions and making creative experiences around them on their website, watch this video about their founding, or support their goal to create four installations in 2014 on Indiegogo. If you want to start a project like TAPIN and would like some advice, feel free to get in touch with Anne at wetapin@thetapin.org. And read more about loving the bliss of everyday on Becky’s website, Gus McAllibaster.

What does social good mean to you? Tell us in the comments.

 

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‘Service’ is stodgy. What’s a better word for what we do?

As we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this week and people across the U.S. come together to help each other and work toward solving our common problems, we’d like to pose the question: what exactly is social good?

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What’s this guy doing? You tell us.
(photo courtesy Shutterstock)

At Idealist, we’re all about helping people find the information, connections, and resources they need to turn their good intentions into action.

As blog writers, we’re all about making keen, conscious word choices that we hope will excite, motivate, and paint a vivid picture for our readers.

At the intersection of these aims is one of our favorite essays by Idealist founder Ami Dar, published as part of Fast Company and Catchafire’s “Co.Exist: World Changing Ideas and Innovation” series in the spring of 2012. Here’s an excerpt:

Outside of the military, who goes to a dinner party and asks people where they “serve”? Only we, the organizations and foundations that make up the “service industrial complex” talk this way. People want to build, coach, teach, help, and if we want to engage them, we have to talk like them.

Read the whole thing on Co.Exist.

What words might better describe “service” to you? Tell us in the comments.

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Clean, lean bike orgs are wheeling and dealing social change

Happy January! Welcome to Clean Start week.

We had a ton of fun posting about this female-centric bike shop a couple of months ago, and it got me thinking about the variety of socially-conscious bicycle concerns working around the world to bring this energy-efficient, inexpensive, and healthy form of recreation and transportation to more people.

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Me and my beloved bike
(photo courtesy Crazy Nick)

Here’s just a wee smattering of shops, cooperatives, and nonprofits that have two missions: one bike-related and one… that’s something else good.

Mountain2Mountain

In 2006, North Dakota native Shannon Galpin started a nonprofit to help empower women and girls in conflict zones. After working on projects in Pakistan and Nepal, Mountain2Mountain ventured into Afghanistan with programs that “use the mountain bike as a vehicle for social justice with survivors of gender violence.”

In a country that largely considers it a cultural crime for a woman to ride a bicycle, Mountain2Mountain is distributing bikes, hosting all-female bike retreats, and supporting the burgeoning Afghan National Women’s Cycling team.

“Using bikes, long a symbol of freedom of mobility, and a tool of the women’s suffrage movement in America in the early 1900s, we are unifying the women we work with to pedal a revolution of change for women’s rights,” writes Shannon on Mountain2Mountain’s blog.

Bikes Not Bombs

Longtime Boston-area heroes have been “using the bicycle as a vehicle for social change” since 1984. Staff and volunteers work to collect thousands of used bikes and bike parts each year, and restore them to workable condition before shipping them to others who can use them for transportation, skill development, or employment in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean.

They also offer bike-centered vocational training, and sell used bikes to support their efforts.

“From the way we get around, to what we have access to, to which people and which neighborhoods have which resources,” says the BNB website, “the bicycle is so much more than the sum of its parts.”

Re-Cycle

Northeast of London, this UK org has a similar mission to BNB’s, but their secondhand bikes all go to partner organizations in Africa.

Re-Cycle offers a number of satisfying ways to get involved with their efforts: they can help you organize a used bike collection in your community, throw a “sponsored bike ride” to raise money, or give you an incentive to clean out your garage—they’ll take old bike parts, tools, and manuals off your hands and put them to good use. (You can even donate your junk car! Ironic?)

Wash Cycle Laundry

This company is a laundering service that transports dirty goods between customers and commercial washing machines entirely by bicycle.

Founded in 2010 and serving central Philadelphia, Wash Cycle rejects “diesel power” as the only way to move heavy loads; uses only locally-made, hypoallergenic cleaning products; and works with city organizations to hire people in the market for a “second chance” job to get back on their feet after being unemployed or incarcerated. Fresh!

Baltimore Bicycle Works

BBW is proud to say they’re the city’s only worker-owned and democratically-operated bike shop. They’re full-service (meaning they’ll make any repair you need and can consult on “bike fit” issues) with a mission to “put more people on bikes because they’re practical, sustainable, beautiful, and fun!” They also rent bikes and sell used ones.

BBW pledges you’ll have a good experience with them at every turn because “every person you interact with at our shop is either an equal owner of the business, or someone working towards becoming an owner. This translates to exceptional customer service and a deep commitment from all of our staff members to making sure you receive quality service and advice.”

And that’s really just the tip of the top tube! You can search Idealist to find over 200 other bike-related organizations worldwide, and over 100 opportunities to get involved with them.

Happy riding (and change-making)!

Have a great story that weds human-powered transit with social good? Send it to april@idealist.org or share it as a comment.

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Not sure how to get moving on a project? Stop cryin’ and start taking baby steps

Do you want to help make a difference, but find yourself surrendering even before you begin because you don’t know where to start? Do you keep shaping an idea in your head but not taking any action?

You’re not alone. There are many reasons we can end up feeling lost when we want to change the world. Maybe…

  • You feel overwhelmed by all the elements you think it will take to make your dream a reality.
  • You believe you don’t have the time or energy to commit to a long-term project.
  • You’re not willing to pick just one of your good ideas to focus on.

The list could stretch to infinity. But whatever the reason, if you’re just standing by, paralyzed by procrastination and toying with excuses, fears, and doubts, you won’t ever start.

Luckily, there’s one simple key that can get any project going. It’s called: Just start somewhere.

It doesn’t really matter where. Your first step will dictate where your next one should be, and the dominoes will fall from there. You just have to get started.

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Don’t know where you’re going? That’s okay. Just take the first step.
(photo courtesy Shutterstock)

Step by step

Here are some ways to take that first good step. Try them, and your project will begin to take shape.

  • Verbalize your idea. Share it with your friends and peers; speak it out loud. Talking about your project will generate a stronger commitment to yourself to take action. You even stand a good chance of finding allies among your listeners who will want to help so you don’t have to act alone.
  • Focus your magnitude. If you’re thinking of an idea so big that you can’t imagine how to address it, scale it back and start with something smaller. For example, if you want to fight hunger, don’t start with a goal to end hunger all over the world. Instead, begin by learning how to help those suffering from hunger in your own community and scale your efforts up from there.
  • Find a similar project. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Do some research and see if you can find a person or organization doing the same type of work you want to do. If you can identify a few, you can ask for their advice or see if they’re interested in joining your project—or you might find that you want to join theirs! This practice will save you time and enrich your perspective.
  • Divide and conquer. Define the main things you need to accomplish in order to reach your goal and write them out in chronological order as best you can. Then set time limits to meet each of the steps (you’ll have to estimate; just try to be realistic). Your goals and the timeline are likely to change as you progress, so modify the list as you go. But if you stay committed to it, you’ll keep your focus and avoid getting distracted.
  • Just take action, here and now. Think: what’s one step I can commit to right now? What’s one step I can take today? Don’t think about it too much; it doesn’t have to be anything big. In fact, at the beginning, it should be just enough to give you the feeling that you’ve taken action and gotten the ball rolling. This will motivate you to do more!

In short, if you don’t know where to start, just start by completing a first step as soon as possible. As Anne Frank wrote, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”

What project would you love to work on this year? What first step are you taking to start it?

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How imagination ruled in 2013

You probably know that at Idealist, our big focus is helping you turn your good intentions into action. You may have even heard our sometime-motto, “Imagine, Connect, Act.”

Because we’re so into people taking that first step, we’re always psyched to see imagination and creativity get top billing.

We loved this post on GOOD that offers seven ways innovative thinking influenced 2013—from students rapping about science to astronaut YouTube videos—and wanted to share it with you as the year comes to a close.

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Get imagining!
(photo courtesy Shutterstock)

How will you imagine, connect, and act in 2014?

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Money week roundup: Opportunities & ideas

Stuck? Feeling hopeless? Unsure of your next step? For the almost two decades Idealist has been around, we’ve been asking you—our community—to tell us about the obstacles you face when trying to turn your good intentions into action. We’ve compiled a short list of the top-reported obstacles, and now we’re blogging about them one by one.

This week we present: money.

Trying to change the world can be expensive work! So this Money Week, we’re sharing some ideas and opportunities to help you secure the cheddar you need to turn your awesome ideas into real-world action.

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Crowdfunding infographic by Anna Vital and Vlad Shyshov,
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Nothing attracts a crowd like crowdfunding

This buzzword has become annoying to some (check out this amusing McSweeney’s send-up), but it’s been more than a flash in the pan for a reason.

In the past five years, Kickstarter alone has been the conduit for raising $918 million to help fund 53,000 creative projects. And now they’re far from the only game in town: Indiegogo, AngelList, and Crowdfunder are just a few of the other major players on the scene.

Interested in learning more about your crowdfunding options?

  • This good Forbes article breaks down what different sites offer and how to find the one that’s best for you.
  • See our recent guest post by the heads at CauseVox to get ideas for a workable crowdfunding strategy.

Show me the money

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These opportunities will have you feeling like this guy.
(photo courtesy Shutterstock)

If you want to try from the reverse angle and go for funding that’s already been allotted for specific purposes, here are a few current opportunities:

  • Presidio Graduate School’s Big Idea Prize “awards a full-ride scholarship to a Presidio degree program for the best ‘Big Idea’ to move the needle in sustainability.” The deadline for admission in fall 2014 is May 15 of next year.
  • You don’t necessarily have to be a 501(c)(3) to apply for grants. DoSomething.org hosts a database of grants available to entrepreneurs.
  • If you’re part of a nonprofit and want to get your website in order, apply for Elevation’s $1-for-$1 match program. For every dollar you spend on design, programming, and related work, the web solution company will chip in a dollar of their own. Last year they gave about $500,000 to 150 organizations.

Pick up some knowledge

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Restock your brain library.
(photo courtesy Shutterstock)

Or maybe the time is right for you to hit the (proverbial) books and read a little more about different funding options. Here are a few ideas:

  • Don’t be afraid of corporate fundraising—there are dollars and non-monetary support to be found in the business community. For some tips on how to break in, read this DoSomething.org Q & A.
  • Online fundraising (and fabulously-named) gurus Stay Classy have a whole section on their blog dedicated to helping you get money. Check out guides such as “Growing a Community of Fundraisers,” “The 4 Phases of an Effective Peer-to-Peer Campaign,” and “Avoid the Big Mistake.”
  •  If you’re in a position to make grants, we know that giving money away (or doing it well, anyway) is seldom a walk in the park either: it can be tough to decide who gets funding, especially as strategies change. “Storytelling & Social Change: A Strategy Guide for Grantmakers” is a free-to-download publication that aims to “serve grantmakers interested in so-called ‘narrative strategies’ for their funding and communications programs.”

Party with a purpose

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Break out the costume box.
(photo courtesy Shutterstock)

From the “mixing business with pleasure” file, here’s With Love… The New Generation of Party People—a new book and accompanying website geared toward helping you put on great fundraising parties. Find ten complete party plans with everything from invitations to music playlists to help you show your friends a good time while bringing in some cash for your cause.

Have you had a good fundraising experience recently (or a not-so-good one)? Share your story in the comments.

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VIDEO: How disaster can feed inspiration (the Shore Soup story)

Back in October, Idealist video producer Liz Morrison blogged about the Shore Soup Project, a new nonprofit in Queens, New York.

Right after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Robyn Hillman-­Harrigan made the simple decision to begin cooking hot meals for her Rockaway neighbors who had no heat, no electricity, or no homes. That first step started a life-changing journey that combines her passions for healthy food and community building.

In the year since, Robyn has established the project as a nonprofit and become its executive director. Shore Soup continues to cook and deliver healthy food to home-bound neighbors, but its scope has grown to include restoring a community garden, building an urban farm, hosting workshops on nutrition, opening a summer food truck, and planning a restaurant-slash-community center to provide healthy pay-­as­-you­-can meals for residents and visitors alike, no matter how much is in their wallets.

Watch Robyn’s personal and powerful story in her own words, and get inspired to start taking action on something you care about. As Robyn says, “It’s cliche to say every journey begins with a single step, but it’s true. You never know where it will take you.”

Robyn’s story is just one of countless examples of people in the Idealist community taking small steps that make a big difference. Do you have a “small steps” story to share? Email it to april@idealist.org.

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Naho Iguchi Spent a Year In Berlin Jobless And Free Of Standard Responsibilities

Naho Iguchi took a year off.

But the artist and former TEDxTokyo director wasn’t studying on sabbatical, and she didn’t buy a backpack and round-the-world flight package.

She was just being Naho.

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Naho at TEDxKyoto in 2012.
(photo via Shareable.net)

With the financial support of 22 donors, Naho lived without a job or other standard responsibilities for a yearlong experiment in what someone could do if he or she were free from social constraints.

“What could happen if a person completely follows her intuition and five senses when making decisions, without worrying about income or rent or about social expectations—in other words, the sources of fear and anxiety that drive people to stick with the current economic system?”

Here’s a taste of the answers (and additional questions) she found, from her blog:

Vision and goal are something that we human make up in order to illustrate our future and motivate us to keep going. I strongly agree that there are occasions where vision and goal are highly relevant and powerful to have. But, not all the time.

If we are contended with the present state and also the way that we’ve walked along there, then why do we need to be bothered to think about future and run after it?

For more on the ideas behind Naho’s project, read this interview with her on Shareable.

If you’ve been involved with a long-term personal project, tell us: what intentions did you explore?

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