Posts by guest


Crowdfunding tips from the pros at CauseVox

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.

Growing up, maybe you were the 4th grader who sold lemonade for 25¢ a glass to help feed hungry kids. Or maybe more recently, you’ve been rocked by the correlation between global warming and the natural disasters that hit developing nations the hardest.

Whether you’re a born do-gooder or had a life-changing experience somewhere along the way, crowdfunding can help you scale your social impact.

Here are a few tips to get started with crowdfunding your social good project.

Create a point of view

crowdfunding point of viewYou want to do some good. Great! Now what good, exactly?

You know what distinguishes vivid, memorable dreams from the vague, forgettable ones?

Details.

It’s not enough to want to make the world a better place, you need to tell the world how you plan to do that:

●      What particular problem are you trying to solve?

Is there a lack you want to fill? A mistake you seek to correct? Or even something good you want to make even better?

●      What’s your strategy for solving the problem?

What tools are at your disposal?

●      Who are you helping by solving this problem?

By trying to help all seven billion people in the world, you’ll hardly accomplish anything. Instead, start with seven and slowly but surely, you’ll start to reach more.

But you must have a point of view on how you’re going to change the world. Follow our guide on how to form a point of view before you start crowdfunding.

Identify your story

Your story is your most important asset in a crowdfunding campaign. It’ll drive people to take action for you, whether they share your story with friends or feel moved donate to your project themselves.

shutterstock_105363872Specifically, your story is important to crowdfunding for a couple reasons:

1. It’s an invitation

The fact that 27 million people are enslaved throughout the world ought to be convincing enough for anyone to get involved, right?

Ideally, yes; the reality, however, is that most people are more intimidated than moved to action by such statistics.

We’re more easily won over by the emotion and imagery that stories evoke than by plain numbers. Narratives bridge the gap we perceive between the helpers and the helped.

Learn how to use storytelling for your nonprofit or project.

2. It’s your own motivation, too

Spoiler alert: At some point during your crowdfunding campaign, you will hit a wall. What’s gonna keep your nose to the grindstone?

Your memory of the sight of faces, the smells in the air, the sounds, the tastes, the textures.

Your story will remind you that it’s not about hitting certain numbers, that people’s lives are at stake. Your story will keep you motivated, encouraged, and inspired through your crowdfunding campaign.

Create your tribe

Your tribe consists not only of the people you hope to serve, but those who will serve alongside you.

Social enterprise is a team sport; your people—prospective staff, board members, supporters, clientele—will help you work smarter, and not unnecessarily harder. Any successful crowdfunding campaign takes the time to create a community of believers that will help amplify the marketing and funding of that campaign.

It’ll be helpful to consider other like-minded social enterprises and projects not as your competitors but your teammates, as though you were all members of a relay team. Then, figure out which leg of the race you’re running: are you starting off? the anchor? in-between?

Create a crowdfunding campaign

STR-CauseVox-Fundraising-SiteNow that you’ve sketched the fundamentals of your social enterprise or social good project, you can create a fundraising site to start crowdfunding. An effective crowdfunding campaign has the following elements:

Visual storytelling

That a picture conveys a thousands words is cliche for a reason. It takes less time for someone to get your vision by watching a two-minute video than by reading a 600-word article. Rest assured that putting the time in to tell your story through a well-made video is worth the effort.

Impact metrics

You’ll need to show the crowd the power of their collective dollars.

For example, members of the Mocha Club donate $9 a month toward the organization’s project areas (clean water, orphan care, health care, etc.). By forgoing three coffee shop drinks every month, you could: give clean water to nine Africans for a year, save one child from malaria, or extend the life expectancy of one person living with HIV/AIDS.

Number-crunching that highlights the potential progress your enterprise could make instead of harping on the severity of the problem are what will compel the crowd to join your cause.

Seamless branding

Hopefully, you’ve invested time and thought into branding your social good project or social enterprise. Branding is more than just picking colors and creating a logo—it’s about the impression you make.

Your brand presents your identity to the public. A branded fundraising page is like a lighthouse that helps guide boats to harbor.

Studies have shown that branded donation pages get more donations than generic, unbranded pages!

Leverage social media

crowdfunding social mediaI’ve intentionally saved this step for the end, since you need to be grounded before your grow!

Most, if not all, of your crowdfunding efforts will take place online, and social media will play an important role. In fact, social media is a key tool. But no amount of social media savvy and strategy will make up for a lack of substance.

But by now, you have established a solid foundation: you’ve clearly defined your identity and point of view and story. Now you’re ready to broadcast your presence! This is where social media steps in.

Here’s one simple, obvious-yet-easy-to-forget strategy in using social media: Keep it social.

This is about connecting with people.

In your effort to quantify and measure and be results-oriented, remember that all of this is ultimately supposed to be people-oriented. Make sure your numbers and statistics represent people with unique stories and gifts. You’re starting a social enterprise, after all.

Wrapping up

Crowdfunding to launch your social enterprise is about more than raising money—it’s a means of building relationships. Your tribe, your clients, and your supporters are part of the momentum that will sustain the movement you’re starting.

Taking this holistic approach to starting your own social enterprise or social good project will set you up for success, not just survival.

SaraChoe_headshot

Sara Choe is a crowdfunding expert at CauseVox, a fundraising platform focused on crowdfunding for nonprofits and social good projects. They’ve helped thousands of people raise millions of dollars via crowdfunding.

Tags: , , , , ,



Can cookies connect us? One Minneapolis blogger’s year of happiness experiments

As 2013 draws to a close, we’re taking some time to pay homage to Idealists who’ve made a commitment to doing good across 365 days.

I used to work as a grant writer for a Minneapolis poverty-fighting organization, and respected the all-encompassing approach they took to their work: meet people’s basic needs for food, housing, education, and employment, and also try to give them hope through encouraging pep talks and personalized action plans.

But I realized over time that our program didn’t really complete the circle. After basic needs and a sense of hope, people also need to have a connection to others, to their community, to thrive instead of just survive.

After realizing this, I reflected on different aspects of connection for a couple of months: how can we foster connection with people, especially strangers? What makes one person feel they can connect with another, and what turns them off? I decided that the best (and most fun) way to answer my questions would be with a public experiment.

I wrote three simple poems that morning:

 

balloons

“Magritte Jennifer” with balloons.
(photo courtesy Jennifer Prod)

“I talk to strangers

hoping to meet

someone like you”

 

“a day without you

is like a morning

without coffee”

 

“your smile

made me forget

my parking ticket”

 

Then I called a screen printer and had them transferred onto large balloons. I filled them with helium and hung them in fun places around the city: attached to a bicycle, wrapped around a doorknob, twisted around a tree trunk.

Now, I can’t speak for the strangers in the street since I never saw them find the balloons, but I did get an amazing response online when I blogged about the experiment—lots of nice comments about how people wished something like that would happen to them, and even more about how they would like to do something similar in their own communities.

The feedback inspired me to plan more extreme “random acts of happiness.” I wanted the next to be interactive so I could gauge its true impact.

I’ve long been a fan of Henry David Thoreau, and try to live by the simple wisdom imparted in his classic book Walden. So this past July, I decided to celebrate America on the 4th, and Thoreau on his birthday, the 12th. I baked cookies to look like Walden Pond, made fun cards out of Thoreau quotes, and threw a little birthday party in the streets of Minneapolis.

Planning the experiment felt similar to throwing a birthday party for a friend. The excitement level was high, and I was anxious to make sure everyone had a good time. But my nerves about the public’s reaction skyrocketed as I walked out the door with cookies and cards in hand. Would anyone be receptive? Would people laugh, or smirk? I steeled myself for the worst and started off down Hennepin Avenue.

The first two people I approached denied my cookies, looked at me askance, and probably thought they had just avoided being poisoned. The third beamed when I mentioned Thoreau and asked if she could have two cookies (of course!). Then a trio of guys came over and asked if I was giving out treats. I told them about Thoreau’s birthday, they said they’d never heard of him, then each took a cookie and a card and walked away, munching happily.

cookies2

Jennifer’s Thoreau Birthday Party experiment.
(photo courtesy Jennifer Prod)

I met senior citizens, hipsters, big burly men, and women in sundresses. I talked with some about Thoreau, some about cookies, some about other topics altogether. Overall, I’d estimate that 10% thought I was disguising a kind act as a malicious crime, 20% thought I was weird, and 70% wanted me to meet their mom—not bad!

But I’d say that in 90% of cases, these strangers and I made a genuine, if brief, connection. I reached out with a simple gesture, and most of them reciprocated with kind curiosity. We met on middle ground. Over cookies.

Plus I had more fun talking to a bunch of strangers on the street than a bachelorette has dancing in Vegas.

That night in bed I journaled my ideas for more connection experiments. I wanted to find other ways to make people smile, see whether I could get a participation rate greater than 70%, and, selfishly, continue to feel the levity that comes with creating random acts of happiness.

Since then, I’ve enacted 40 more experiments—ranging from bubblegum competitions in the park to making ice cream with strangers at a lake—and there are 50 more I want to do next year. These random acts have put me in contact with hundreds of new people, let me in on unique stories about my neighbors, and taught me how easy connections can be to make—and how happy and whole they make us feel.

headshotoption

Jennifer Prod is a blogger who believes in the power of creativity, positivity, and chocolate chip cookies. Most of Jennifer’s project ideas are replicable almost anywhere; if you want to get happy and create some connections, check them out on her blog.

Tags: , , , , ,



How to slay your self-doubt

This week’s spotlight: all things death.

shutterstock_71283640

Illustration by Jan Hyrman

When you think about why you’re having trouble getting started on or continuing with a project, do the reasons ever sound like, “I just don’t have any good ideas,” “No one will believe this is going to work,” or “I’ll never be able to see this through.” If so, you may have some self-doubt dragons to slay!

Check out these ideas and tips from Authentic Coach Samuel Collier on how to boost self-confidence and turn obstacles into stepping stones.

 ***

While some of us are already living a life filled with confidence, many of us only ever fantasize about being sure of ourselves. More often than not, we are plagued by an annoying, nagging voice inside our heads telling us we aren’t capable of or worthy enough to do the things we want to do.

So how do we get over our self-doubt and claim the life we’ve always dreamed of?

The answer is by “growing up.” This is not the same type of growing up we all went through during childhood where our parents and schools raised us, taught us how to survive, and how to be good people.

This growing up is about reclaiming our childhood and our natural birthright of confidence and curiosity. It’s also about redefining our relationship to fear through the choices we make.

Growing up is a process. It takes time to transform from being a person who doubts him or herself into a self-realized person of courage, curiosity, and confidence. But this journey is possible, and it’s all about the choices you make.

Courage may come easy for some, but both courage and confidence can be generated in everyone. All it takes is the commitment to begin changing with small steps towards the life you want and building a state of mind that will sustain it.

We should first recognize that fear is a survival mechanism, not a character flaw. Most anxiety and belief systems are an adaptation to stressful situations we learned in childhood. So we just need to upgrade our systems. How do we do that?

1. Redefine all fear as positive.

Courage does not mean the absence of fear. Courage means being afraid, but doing it anyway. Without fear, life would be dull, drab, and static. Fear is a core emotion for a reason and it gives life much of its color. If we had no fear, there would be no potential for growth.

2. Remember that real fear has a purpose.

Ninety nine percent of the time the fear you’re feeling is a false fear, meaning one that is not based on any immediate physical danger. When you are feeling afraid you should gauge the likelihood of your worst fear coming true. Most of the time, you will see that it is unlikely ever to happen.

3Face fears gradually and gently.

Break down insurmountable tasks so they become manageable. Use baby steps and follow a schedule that isn’t overwhelming. A more gradual process will strengthen your resolve and I guarantee the sense of power you begin to feel will be enough to keep you going.

4. Become friends with failure.

You alone have the capability to start facing your fears, so don’t give up when you fail. Recognize that when you fail, it’s not permanent—it’s part of the process of learning how to do better.

Befriend your failures, your fears, and the process and you will be rewarded!

-1

Samuel Collier is the Authentic Coach, helping people awaken to their self-confidence and activate their hidden potential. Visit his blog and website, or email him at samuelbcollier@gmail.com.

Tags: , , , ,



December 1 is World AIDS Day

Since 1988, when the United Nations declared December 1 as the first World AIDS Day, people worldwide have paused each year to unite in the fight against HIV, show their support for people living with the virus, and commemorate those who have lost their lives to AIDS.

A quarter-century since the first World AIDS Day, amazing progress has been made, but enormous challenges remain.

HIV1

IAVI colleagues stand their ground.
(photo courtesy IAVI)

AIDS-related causes have killed 36 million people and continue to kill more than 1.5 million each year, including more than 250,000 children. Some 35 million people live with HIV today. While the number of new HIV infections is slowly declining, there were 2.3 million more in the last year alone. In sub-Saharan Africa, more young people report that they’re using condoms, but overall HIV/AIDS knowledge levels remain low. Even in the well-connected and aware United States, more than one million people live with HIV, one in five of them without knowing it.

Seven million people who need HIV drugs cannot get them, including nearly three out of four children with HIV. Many children have lost one or both parents to this epidemic, putting their access to education and healthcare at risk.

The global AIDS community stands behind the ambitious UNAIDS goal of “three zeros by 2015”: zero new HIV infections, zero AIDS-related deaths, and zero discrimination. We have our work cut out for us. Barriers of stigma, prejudice, healthcare access, and economic and social inequality remain very high.

Those living with HIV need attention, quality healthcare, and social support—and we need to do more to prevent people from getting infected in the first place. Many public- and private-sector scientific, health, and humanitarian organizations are working to expand the current HIV “toolbox,” which includes such biomedical, structural, and behavioral interventions as antiretroviral treatment, community-based health education, condoms, voluntary medical male circumcision, and protocols to prevent mother-to-child transmission.

But these tools remain out of reach or of limited effectiveness for many who need them. For example, in sub-Saharan Africa, home to more than 70 percent of the world’s cases of HIV, women and girls often remain less educated than, and socially and economically dependent on, men. They are often unable to insist that their partners use condoms, or to seek counseling and treatment in confidence. New tools that empower and enable women to learn about and take care of their own health are critical to changing this picture.

A preventive AIDS vaccine would be a powerful new tool. Modeling studies show that adding an AIDS vaccine with even limited efficacy to the HIV prevention arsenal could dramatically impact the infection trajectory. But finding and developing a vaccine against HIV/AIDS continues to pose one of the greatest scientific challenges of our time.

At the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), we strive to ensure that an effective and accessible AIDS vaccine becomes a reality. A nonprofit public-private research and development partnership, IAVI collaborates with more than 50 academic, industry, and government organizations around the world to accelerate the development of AIDS vaccines, and to advocate for the HIV prevention field.

As IAVI president and chief executive officer Margie McGlynn said in our World AIDS Day statement:

“There has been tremendous success in treating millions with HIV over the past three decades, but a great deal of continued commitment, innovation, and persistence will be needed to realize the vision of a world without AIDS.”

Ensuring the development of a safe, effective AIDS vaccine for all is a mission each of us at IAVI takes personally. Please visit www.iavi.org to learn more.

Are you interested in joining the fight against HIV and AIDS? Search Idealist for almost 10,000 ways to get involved through a career, volunteer work, or an internship.

Tags: , , , ,



Project Homeless Connect: Why we need more one-stop shops like this

Across the U.S., there’s no shortage of people, projects, and organizations working to address homelessness. On Idealist alone, there are over 13,000 opportunities. In the spirit of spreading good ideas, today we’re featuring a snippet about Project Homeless Connect, an all-day fair which makes resources and services more accessible to the people who could use them most. To date, it’s been replicated in 264 cities from Baltimore to Denver to Portland.

This post by Scott Keyes originally appeared on ThinkProgress, a political news and analysis website.

8078213874_c6f7efd649_z

Trimming hair at a Project Homeless Connect event in Chapel Hill, NC
(photo courtesy townofchapelhill on Flickr’s Creative Commons)

Say you’re homeless and you set out on Monday to run a single errand: get a discount train pass. You fork over $2 for the half-hour bus ride to get down to the San Francisco Mutual Transportation Agency office in order to apply. Another 30 minutes waiting in the lobby.

When your name is finally called, the meeting ends after two minutes because you don’t have an ID. So you hop back on the bus, out another $2, and head over to the County Clerk’s office. But because you didn’t bring a proof of residency document from a local shelter, you can’t get an ID. By this time it’s nearly 4:00 pm, the office will be closing soon, and you’re out enough money for a sandwich.

Indeed, when you don’t have a lot to spend, the path of any errand can be fraught with pitfalls.

Cris-crossing town on a bus is neither cheap nor quick. Agencies can have weird hours, and many homeless people don’t have access to the Internet to see what time they close.

What if you forgot a document? Some places won’t take you without an appointment, while others need you to come back for a follow-up next week. And even after you’ve secured an ID, a bus pass, and other bare minimums, your bag may get stolen one night, and you’ll have to repeat the entire process.

These are the mishaps that can make it extraordinarily difficult for a homeless person to satisfy a single need. And there are so many others besides: a shelter bed, a spot on the low-income housing waiting list, health care, a haircut, food. All this time spent trying to satisfy your basic needs is time not spent at work or in school.

But an innovative program from San Francisco is changing the game with a simple idea: bring all the service providers under one roof for an all-day fair.

Project Homeless Connect (PHC) began in 2004 under then-Mayor Gavin Newsom. If someone doesn’t have an ID for a bus pass, she doesn’t have to schlep across town to get one and come back tomorrow, because the DMV has a booth set up at the event. She doesn’t need to sign up for an appointment with a doctor or optometrist or dentist weeks in advance; she can walk up and be seen immediately.

It’s a one-stop homeless shop, and it’s helped over 70,000 people in San Francisco alone over the last decade.

Read more about how Project Homeless Connect works here.

What other one-stop services shops do you know about? What other issues could this work for?

Tags: ,



TypeFace: How public art is helping Milwaukee residents find their voice

The value of art reaches beyond traditional museums and formal exhibitions. I have seen the arts galvanize communities, unite diverse groups of people, and provide a starting point for dialogue around difficult and important social issues. Art is a unique and powerful tool we can use to understand our communities.

There are important conversations people living in marginalized neighborhoods of Milwaukee, Wisconsin want to have, and art could be the perfect catalyst, but their voices are absent or muted in art’s more traditional settings. The museum is no longer sufficient.

Enter the TypeFace public art project, which unveiled a couple of weeks ago on some of the city’s vacant and foreclosed spaces.

TP-5

Milwaukee’s Sherman/Washington Park neighborhood.

Funded by a $50,000 grant from the Joyce Foundation, the project provides a different forum, one that is accessible to everyone—no opening hours, admission fees, or shushing. Public art, after all,  is a community conversation held in the open where you can talk as loud as you want.

But what makes this project different from other public art installations? I admit that even as a borderline-obsessive lover of public art, I am wary of “feel good” mural projects. As an ethnographer, I am wary of those attempting to come from outside a community and play savior.

TP-4

Milwaukee’s Lindsay Heights neighborhood.

But TypeFace avoids these pitfalls by making conversation its centerpiece, not an afterthought. Featured artist Reginald Baylor’s installations result directly from the year Milwaukee documentarian Adam Carr spent with residents of four of Milwaukee’s roughest neighborhoods, talking with them about their lives and communities.

These are neighborhoods with high rates of crime, poverty, and unemployment; areas where people live but others rarely visit.

“People will come to areas for art, food, and entertainment,” explains Jeremy Fojut, ART Milwaukee president and my TypeFace tour guide when I visited. Giving people a reason to come into these areas is one of TypeFace’s goals.

 

TP-2

Milwaukee’s Harambee neighborhood.

Each installation is covered with words and phrases from Adam’s interviews in each community that evoke a variety of emotions: good, bad, angry, brash, hopeful, reflective, realistic.

Quotations range from the serious—“How can I turn the fight into something positive?”and “Challenge them to act” at the Puzzled and Amazed site in the neighborhood of Harambee—to the silly and abstract: “They had my name carved in an ice cream cone” at the Panel Discussion installation in Sherman/Washington Park.

TP-3

Milwaukee’s Burnham Park neighborhood.

A perfect example of how public art can engage a community, TypeFace is more than inspirational. For cities with dead spaces, these conversation-centric installations can motivate residents to use public art as a way to talk with their own communities. TypeFace does not suffer from “savior syndrome,” but is a creation of the communities it’s in, made with residents very literally writing the script.

The year of conversations, workshops, and meetings is apparent in looking at the installations, and it’s exhilarating. By acknowledging the struggles and frustrations as well as the hopes and aspirations of the neighborhoods, TypeFace encourages us to begin knowing these communities and to continue the conversation.

To learn more about TypeFace and how you might bring something similar to your community, contact info@typefacemke.com.

Linkedin #1-1Jordan Kifer is the co-founder of the “Art Is” project and a recent graduate of the University of Michigan where she completed her thesis “Como Ser Afro-Latino/a? Examining Afro- and Latino/a Identities in the United States.” Jordan is a regular contributor to INSIGHT Magazine and works as a development assistant for Sojourner Family Peace Center in Milwaukee. You can find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Tags: , , , , ,



Do we miscast rural communities as places to leave behind?

Rural communities are often portrayed in the media as unfortunate starting places—restrictive, provincial hometowns that promising individuals must escape in order to reach their full potential.

But possibility and wealth of different kinds can be found outside big, prosperous cities. Read how one Guyanese woman saw great potential in a tiny community in eastern Ethiopia.

This post written by Grace Aneiza Ali originally appeared on OF NOTE, an online magazine focused on global artists who use the arts as catalysts for social change. 

IMG00041-20101021-1540-768x1024

School girl from Harrare, Ethiopia.
(photo courtesy Grace Aneiza Ali)

There are no paved roads directly to Chaffe Jenetta—a small Muslim coffee farming community nestled in the remote terrains of Harrar in eastern Ethiopia. Telephone lines and electric wires are rare in these parts. Women are immersed in their day—fetching water, gathering wood and sticks to stoke fires, and cooking for their families.

Among their company, lush mountains and endless blue sky, I felt at home.

It was 2010 and my first time in Ethiopia, in fact my first trip to Africa. I had learned from growing up in Guyana and from a year traveling throughout India that there was no preparing for the rural countryside. You simply show up and let the land lead. So, I embraced Ethiopia with the same deference.

The journey to Harrar had started in New York City where I live. I was invited to travel with the staff and board members of The Abyssinian Fund, an NGO with a home-base in Harlem, New York, that works with coffee planters in Ethiopia’s rural villages like Chaffe Jenetta, helping them to grow better coffee, earn higher incomes, and improve social services with clinics, schools, and access to clean water.

While members of our group toured the village, I spent most of my time with the school children. One little girl in particular, about nine or ten years old, caught my attention—simply because of the way she clutched her notebooks. I asked for her name, but either she was too shy to tell me or didn’t understand my question. I pointed to her books and asked if I could look at them.

Her notes, written in Oromo, the local language of Chaffe Jenetta, filled up every usable blank space. Her handwriting was in the margins, on the inside and outside of the covers, written horizontally and vertically.

I recalled my own primary school days in Guyana when notebooks and paper were a luxury. Instead, we had hand-held chalkboards and little bits of chalk. It was cheaper, but it meant everything that was written had to be erased. So I would gather sheets of paper wherever I could find them and glue or sew them together to make books.

It was within those pages that I could invent the life I wanted. I wanted to be a writer.

Like that little girl at my side in Chaffe Jenetta, I left no free space unmarked in my hand-made books. I too wrote in the margins, within the covers, and sideways. As I turned the pages of her book, I wondered if this was where the stories of Chaffe Jenetta were being kept. Were they scribbled within the margins? Were they tucked in between the covers?

One of the Ethiopian guides that accompanied our group had remarked, “These are the forgotten people.” He had never been this deep into the mountains of Harrar and was visibly moved by the agrarian way of life in Chaffe Jenetta.

Perhaps what he was witnessing made him feel as a foreigner in his own land.

But as I stood there looking through this little girl’s notebooks, nothing about her seemed forgotten to me. There was a boldness about her. There was a joyfulness about her. What I saw was a young girl thriving amidst her circumstances.

I’ve found this to be universal from Harrar to Harlem—people thriving amidst contradictions, thriving in the messiness of life, thriving in the tragedies, thriving in the challenges, the hurts and the disappointments.

Notebooks may seem trivial when compared to the serious needs in Chaffe Jenetta like clean water, clinics, and paved roads. But they represent the freedom to dream, to create, and to imagine a future for oneself.

For that little girl, her future begins within the pages of her notebook—just like my dreams began for me. It was clear by the way she clung to her books, their pale blue covers tattered and torn, that what was written in them was of value. They were sacred to her.

Far too often the narratives about women and girls in rural communities whether they be in Asia, or Africa, or South America, are centered on an urgent call for them to look past the proverbial courtyard, to aim for a life beyond the confines of the village, to shed the veil. And we tell them that not doing so would render them invisible, marginalized, or trapped.

We’re wrong.

Chaffe Jenetta is not another nameless village in another ubiquitous story of poverty in Africa. It is a challenging but wealthy place—albeit not material wealth. It is not a place to flee from, but one to be nurtured and supported.

The little girl I met could one day turn out to be a powerful voice for Ethiopia. She might become a writer herself, sharing with the world its multiple stories. And to do so, perhaps she will find herself returning to those very notebooks.

GRACEGrace Aneiza Ali is the founder and editorial director of OF NOTE. She’s also an Adjunct Professor of Literature for the City University of New York, a World Economic Forum Global Shaper, and a Fulbright Scholar. She currently hosts the Visually Speaking series at the Schomburg Center, which examines the state of photojournalism through the lens of contemporary photographers and image-makers. Grace was born in Guyana and immigrated to the United States when she was fourteen years old. Guyana continues to inform and influence her worldview.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,



10 lessons from a sharing economy organizer

This post by Mira Luna originally appeared on Shareable, an online magazine that’s all about—you guessed it—sharing. 

Get Down and Dirty Oakland!

Community organizing in action: 400 Oaklanders at the Laney College Community Garden for the Get Down and Dirty work party.
(photo via 350.org on Flickr’s Creative Commons)

I frequently talk with amazing social innovators that have great ideas, but don’t know how to implement them through community organizing.

It’s something that you learn by doing and takes years of on the ground experience, self-reflection, and feedback. I also studied community organizing in school and with groups who do trainings, which was helpful in getting a framework to examine why and how what I do is effective or not.

After 10 years as a practitioner, it seems community organizing is more important than ever. Occupy Wall Street is powered by participatory organizing structures. Community organizing was central to Obama’s successful 2008 presidential campaign. And new sharing economy companies like Airbnb have on the ground community or city managers to help build trust among users and grow their businesses.

So whether you’re a neighborhood leader, worker coop member, politician, or sharing economy entrepreneur, community organizing can help you better serve your community.

Here are my top 10 lessons from 10 years of community organizing that you can use today:

1. Involve the communities you want to work with from the very beginning to get their perspective on what you are doing.

Offer them something in return for their input. Especially involve different kinds of people you want to work with. If someone sees only people with green hair working initially on a project, they might think, “that’s a project only for green-haired people,” and people with purple hair might feel uninvited or simply uncomfortable at your gatherings.

2. Listen well and communicate.

The best community organizers listen to the people they work with rather than imposing their ideas. They adjust their projects based on feedback, sometimes even scrapping the project for an emergent idea coming from the groups they listen to.

But don’t take too much of their time. Think of specific questions and ways they might want to participate. Don’t drain their interest with endless debate, mandatory meetings, or bureaucracy, unless they really like that kind of stuff and have the time.

3. Make room for people and groups to participate, including leadership roles, project ownership, and increased responsibility if they desire that.

Offer them something in return for their participation, especially if you are working with low income communities (don’t be a parasite).

4. Adapt to the circumstances, and be willing to let go.

Community organizing is like improvisational dance. Only if you can gracefully respond to changing circumstances—including your own role, position, and ideas—will your project thrive. A healthy dose of humility and fluidity in project design go a long way.

5. Clarify your vision and values.

Try to work with people who at least share your basic values. When conflict arises, you will at least have some common ground to stand on and move forward. Lack of shared values, even in one group member, can sometimes tear an otherwise healthy group apart. Clear vision and values will help you figure out how to affect change and practice what you preach.

6. Have faith and tenacity.

If you can get past the phase where you feel as if you are going out on a limb with your project, you will hopefully notice people starting to express excitement about and commitment to it. This means you should keep going despite obstacles, because you have an idea that has staying power. Next you may need to convert the project to a functional organization.

7. Make your organization open but structured.

Use transparency methods, open meetings, accountability, and involve your members, clients, employees and/or volunteers as much as possible without being too cumbersome and dragged into trivial details. Delegate noncontroversial or minor tasks to committees, but involve as many stakeholders in key decisions as possible.

Try to get consensus. Only if you have buy in will you get willing volunteers or employees to execute it. Because of this, I believe consensus is more efficient in the long run, IF people have training in consensus and communication.

8. Relationships and partnerships are the crux of community organizing.

Be a good partner by communicating regularly, helping your partners, and asking them for support. Reciprocity and communication build healthy two-way relationships that are the strong foundation of a community organization.

Create ways for people in your organization to take care of each other (like gift circles or rewarding with timebank hours) and your organization’s partners (e.g. give free tickets, classes, or reciprocal publicity). If partners’ needs aren’t being met, the partnership will not last.

Imagine and map your organization as web of overlapping and nested circles of participation, impact, and responsibility. Nurture your relationships at all levels from clients and consumers to producers and funders to community members who are influenced by your work, and all other stakeholders. Think how this web can become more connected, participatory, and stronger, which will make your work overall more powerful.

9. Create a safe space for people to criticize without retribution, including your partners.

This will help your project or organization grow and mature and will help you appear responsive to critics, maybe even converting them when they realize that you care what they think. For local businesses, this may mean a paid focus group with community organizations, members, or leaders.

Value everyone’s perspective—everyone has a piece of the truth. This will also help confront unspoken hierarchies that may threaten your group’s culture. Have a skilled mediator on hand for challenging conflict.

10. Have fun together.

Take time to just enjoy each others’ company. Eat and play together, have bonding time. Studies indicate that most relationships that thrive have a greater number of positive interactions than negative ones. People tend to add things up.

If you have good times together on a regular basis, the bad times will seem more like a bump or a curve in the road than the end of the road. Make the work itself enjoyable. As activist Emma Goldman once said, “If I can’t dance, it’s not my revolution.”

Do you have community organizing tips of your own to share? Let us know in the comments!

Tags: ,



How “just do it” might be stopping you in your tracks—especially if you’re an introvert

You have an idea to make the world a better place. So just do it, right? Well, that’s often easier said than done, especially for introverts. Here are three strategies to help you work with—not against—your introversion to make things happen.

slow

Introverts: slow down to get ahead
(photo courtesy Herr Olsen, Flickr Creative Commons)

Has this ever happened to you?

You take on the task of brainstorming big-picture ideas that you want to bring to life in a powerful way. You devote time to making a long list of possibilities. And in those moments of inspiration, you create multiple intentions that all feel equally important, equally urgent. That urgency causes you to rapidly shift gears; your thoughts jump to how to translate those ideas into tangible outcomes or actions. That’s when the flow stops, and your inspiration right along with it.

Goodbye, creativity… hello, resistance.

We’ve all experienced this at some point, and I’d venture to guess that introverts—those who gain energy from solitude and feel drained by prolonged social interaction—have felt it more than most.

As an introvert, I love the inner world of ideas, more than I tend to love the outer world of actions. That inclination is neither good nor bad; it’s just how I’m wired. The challenge comes when I start being manipulated by our “Just do it!,” externally-motivated culture. In feeling pressure to DO my ideas (turn ideas into actions), I sometimes push aside my deep need to BE with my ideas, to let them settle in and expand and take shape.

Many people—usually extroverts—believe the introvert’s love of thinking means that we’re not doers at all. So introverts try to counter that false perception by acting before we’re ready. The result? Instead of giving our ideas space to breathe, we become obsessed with how they’ll fit into a spreadsheet or grant application. We end up feeling stuck, lacking inspiration, and being overwhelmed—all red flags that pop up when we don’t honor our need to think before we act.

If you have great ideas but get stuck on implementation, consider your readiness for action: there’s a chance you’re not really stuck at all; maybe you’re simply getting ahead of yourself.

To gauge your readiness, take the time to notice where the pressure to “go, go, go!” is coming from. Is it from fear, or from confidence?

Leading from fear (for instance, rushing to action because we’re afraid we won’t meet others’ expectations) cheats our process—and our vision—of much-needed time to develop and mature.

When you feel able to take small steps forward with a sense of confidence and abundance, then you know you’re ready.

Here are a few ways for in-our-heads introverts—or anyone who feels stuck—to balance the being with the doing:

1. Slow down.

Slowing down allows you to focus on putting one foot in front of the other, to do each necessary and very doable step before making the next move. Allow yourself space to sit with your ideas long enough that you can discern which ones are most important.

2. Listen carefully.

If we rush to doing, we miss the messages that come from our inner wisdom. Put your idea out there. Pause and listen to what comes back. Act on what you hear. Listen again. Make adjustments based on the feedback. Give yourself intentional space (days, not minutes) to simply listen.

3. Trust the process.

Sometimes, it’s hard to move to action when we get bogged down in uncertainties. It’s easier to stay in the theoretical, because reality is too unpredictable. But if we slow down and listen carefully, we create more space for the process to unfold as it should (not as we might force it to). And with each step forward that comes out of honoring our process, trust grows. We learn to trust that we can handle whatever happens.

We introverts are more likely to create a healthy balance of being and doing if we give ourselves space, solitude, and silence to hear our inner truth. Then we can hear it saying clearly:

Slow down.
Listen carefully.
Trust the process.

Beth

Beth Buelow was seven when she outlined the marketing plan for her first entrepreneurial venture, 23 when she learned she was an introvert, and 38 when, in 2010, she put the two together to create The Introvert Entrepreneur. She is a professional coach, blogger, podcaster, speaker, and author of Insight: Reflections on the Gifts of Being an Introvert. Find her on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

 

Tags: , ,



From fired up to burnt out: 7 tips to help you sustain a life committed to social justice

Zen

Kim Crosby, 2012 SOUL Sanctuary participant (photo credit: stone circles)

When she was an organizer in the 1990s, Claudia Horwitz began to notice that many of the people she worked with were overworked, exhausted, and stressed out. Responding to the urgent need she saw in the activist community, Claudia founded stone circles, an organization that works to strengthen and sustain people committed to transformation and justice.

Since 2007, stone circles has been based in Mebane, North Carolina at The Stone House, a retreat and training center on 70 acres of land. One of stone circles’ primary goals is to address high rates of burnout among activists and organizers.

Burnout is more than just a busy week at work—it’s the long-term result of carrying continual stress, exhaustion, anxiety, or isolation.

Here are some tips from stone circles for addressing burnout:

1. Develop a personal practice.

A practice is simply a habit that gives us energy and reminds us of what matters most. Having a practice helps us pay concentrated attention to the inner voice—a presence that has the power to continually re-inform the activities of our daily lives. Mindful breathing, yoga, meditation, prayer, and journal writing are all examples of personal practice. Choose a practice that replenishes you and commit to doing it daily for a month. This can help make it a habit.

2. Come back to your body.

When we are disconnected from of our bodies, we separate ourselves from essential wisdom about what we need to thrive. Reconnecting with the body might mean establishing an exercise routine, practicing an embodied awareness tradition like yoga or t’ai chi, seeking the support of a holistic healer or medical doctor, or simply scanning the body with awareness before laying down to sleep at night.

3. Connect with the natural world.

Find some way to connect with the rhythms of the ecosystem you live in. This might mean paying attention to the changing of seasons, planting a small garden, or finding an open green space in which to spend time regularly. There’s infinite wisdom in the dance of life, growth, and death.

4. Identify the specific causes of your burnout.

The Maslach Burnout Inventory identifies six areas leading to burnout:

  • Workload (too much work, not enough resources)
  • Control (micromanagement, lack of influence, accountability without power)
  • Reward (not enough pay, appreciation, or satisfaction)
  • Community (isolation, conflict, disrespect)
  • Fairness (discrimination, favoritism)
  • Values (ethical conflicts, meaningless tasks)

After identifying the source, name it out loud. Brainstorm with someone you trust about how to specifically change this aspect of your work life.

5. Tell your story.

Exploring your own history and learning from others’ can be a powerful way to understand both the factors of your stress and your capacity to thrive. Questions to consider include: Why did I enter this work? How do my family, community, and educational background impact my work? When do I feel most alive and happy? When do I feel most overwhelmed?

6. Cultivate hopefulness.

It’s easy to be consumed by short-term and immediate tasks; be sure to take time to imagine the world you’re working toward, alone as well as with the people you collaborate with. The more clarity you have about your intentions and dreams, the more you will radiate the power of possibility.

7. Take a well-structured pause.

Make space in your schedule for extended silence and discernment. Look for a retreat center or rent a cabin for one. Look into retreats specifically for activists, like SOUL Sanctuary, offered by stone circles at The Stone House, or the Windcall Institute. Take a few days to remember what you love about your work and what makes you passionate about your cause. Get away from your workplace (and even from the community(ies) for which you work) on a regular basis to identify the source of your stress, and to give yourself space for renewal.

Taking the time to do these things can feel selfish, but addressing your own needs will make you a healthier, more effective agent for change—and give you the strength to continue your work for many years to come.

 

mulllj12Lindsey Mullen is an intern at stone circles at The Stone House. She studied social justice at the University of Alabama, and is currently a Master of Divinity student at Wake Forest University. She is interested in sacred rest, restorative justice, and intentional living.

Tags: , , ,