Posts by Rebecca Olson

Who you gonna call? 3 online tools to connect you with experts

On Idealists in Action, we love to tackle your biggest obstacles to doing good. One we hear a lot is, “I don’t have the skills or knowledge to start something.” This week, we’re taking that behemoth down.


Sometimes you need to bring in the professionals. Image via IMDB.

Sometimes you need to bring in the professionals.
(image via IMDB)

Here at Idealist, we’ve written many times about harnessing the power of community to get things done. We can do more together, and tapping into the skills and knowledge of other people is a big part of why.

While finding collaborators with mad skills can be relatively easy if you’re already integrated into a niche community or have buckets of money, it’s harder when geography, time constraints, or lack of funding eat into your ability to find that special someone you just know is out there.

Fortunately, there are a lot of resources online that can connect you with talented people whether you’re looking for pro bono consultants, mentors, board members, volunteers, or creative partners.

We have to say, Idealist is a good place to start. By searching the profiles of other Idealists like you, you can find and connect with like-minded do-gooders in your area (and around the world).

Here are a few other options we think are especially handy-dandy:

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Book review: What Makes a Hero? The Surprising Science of Selflessness

On Idealists in Action, we love to tackle your biggest obstacles to doing good. One we hear a lot is, “I don’t have the skills or knowledge to start something.” This week, we’re taking that behemoth down.

HERO-REVISEI’m kinda over the hero thing.

In contrast to their ancient origins in epic poetry and lofty myths, heroes and heroism today seem to have gotten wrapped up in our cultural view of altruism.

Although the meaning of “hero” is in that delicious group of highly subjective nouns that people love to debate, I tend to think it’s a bad idea to call those who engage in good and generous acts “heroes.”

Adorable child superheroes aside, when we conflate superhero stories with commonplace altruism, it implies that acts of goodness and giving are somehow extraordinary and outside the range of normal behavior.

In Elizabeth Svoboda’s new book What Makes a Hero? The Surprising Science of Selflessness, the author tries to get to the bottom of whether or not this is true. Is it normal for humans to be generous? What would possess someone to rush into a burning building to save another person? Why would someone who lives in poverty donate money to a charity?

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What Idealist founder Ami Dar learned from his mom


Idealist founder Ami Dar is a pretty special guy.

Israeli-born and raised in Mexico, he backpacked through South America as a young man with an idea reverberating in his mind: what if there were a global network that could help connect people and organizations, so we could do more with all the resources we have?

As soon as the Internet was ready, Idealist was born.

Now, we’d like to revisit a commencement speech he gave at the City University of New York a few years back.

And guess where a lot of his big ideas and values came from? His mama.

“My mom taught me a few important things through her words but mainly through example… Keep fighting, cut through all those fears, treat each other well, and never stop laughing.”

Here’s to all the mothers out there who are leading the world with persistence, love, and strength.

What did your mama teach you? Enlighten us in the comments.


Photo album: A love letter to the human body

At Idealist, the sporting world is not our usual beat. The Olympic Games, however, hit us where we live as an inspiring, international gathering of outstanding individuals and teams. So we’re taking this opportunity to pay homage to excellent athletes, winter beauty, fun games, and a host of other concepts we could tie (even tenuously) to Sochi. Welcome to Olympics Week on Idealists in Action.

For many, the Winter Games are a celebration of national pride and the triumphs of the human spirit. But this Valentine’s Day, we’re also thinking of the Olympics as a love letter to the human body.

How flawlessly can we twist on skates mid-air? How fast can we propel ourselves across a stretch of snow? What’s physically possible for us to achieve, and what form does this perfection take?

New York-based photographer Howard Schatz took on the latter question in his 2002 photography book Athlete, a collaboration with his creative partner and wife Beverly Ornstein. By photographing 125 Olympic athletes, they revealed an incredible diversity of shapes and sizes among our world’s champions.

Juxtaposing wiry with stocky, tall with short, male with female, the series lovingly disproves the notion that an “athletic” body should look one particular way.


Photography by Howard Schatz


Photography by Howard Schatz


Photography by Howard Schatz

And all together…


Photography by Howard Schatz

[photography by Howard Schatz, enlargements via reddit]

Whether it’s for Valentine’s Day, the Olympics, or another occasion altogether, how did you show love this week?


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The Art Shanty Project creates a dreamy village on a frozen lake


Not your typical ice fishing hut.
[image via Art Shanty Project Facebook]

When winter comes to Minnesota and encases the lakes with a thick layer of ice, you start to see little shacks popping up. Just one or two at first, and then by the dozen, the small wooden or fiberglass houses line up in tidy rows out on the lakes.

“Ice fishing shanties are really like this whole other kind of village. They’re created to be temporary and unstructured, but together they really become a whole community,” explains Melinda Childs, Executive Director of The Art Shanty Project.

“We wondered what would happen if we applied an artistic lens to this kind of temporary public space.”

A far cry from the walleye jigging and beer sipping typically associated with ice houses, The Art Shanty Project, a nonprofit organization, commissions local artists to build mini art shacks and interactive gallery spaces out on the ice.

Designed to bring people together and get them thinking about art, the shanties are a one-of-a-kind artist-driven community that’s different each year—adding a little bit of Burning Man to what is usually just Grumpy Old Men.


The Art Shanty dance troupe spells it out!
[image via Art Shanty Project Facebook]

In operation since 2006, The Art Shanty Project sets up camp on the surface of one frozen lake in the Twin Cities metro area and is free and open to the public every weekend in February until the 23rd.

This year it’s on White Bear Lake, a northern suburb of Saint Paul, and features 20 unique structures each with a different theme.

The lineup includes an elevator shanty that simulates the sensory experience of riding in an elevator, a sunrise shanty where dawn breaks every 30 minutes, a dance shanty heated completely from bodies in motion, a shanty where people can brush up on their curling techniques, and a gallery where people can encase small treasures like keys and rings in tiny blocks of ice.

There’s also a giant bicycle-powered polar bear puppet that leads a ‘sparkle parade.’


[image via Art Shanty Project Facebook]

“We encourage the artists in each of the shanties to have an interactive element. There are also performances out on the lake. In the case of the sparkle parade, led by the polar bear bicycle, they’ve been encouraging people in the community to make costumes and there will be a participant parade through the village,” Melinda says.

With temperatures dropping well below zero for a good portion of the winter, the public is primed for a little pick-me-up. This year, Art Shanties is expecting over 20,000 visitors.

“Art Shanties is a creative way that winter can be fun because you can build community, you can participate in the arts, you can be physically active,” Melinda says. “It’s really about embracing winter.”

See more images of this year’s Art Shanties here or make a donation to help keep them on the ice.

What’s your favorite community-building way to “embrace winter”?


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Meet 3 winter athletes who defy convention (and get bonus points for style)

At Idealist, the sporting world is not our usual beat. The Olympic Games, however, hit us where we live as an inspiring, international gathering of outstanding individuals and teams. So we’re taking this opportunity to pay homage to excellent athletes, winter beauty, fun games, and a host of other concepts we could tie (even tenuously) to Sochi. Welcome to Olympics Week on Idealists in Action.

Stereotype: Jocks are boring.

Broken by: Hubertus von Hohenlohe, wacky Mexican ski rock star

Hubertus von Hohenlohe gets a gold metal in awesome.

A world-class photographer, pop star, and (incidentally) German prince, he’s also a six-time Olympian in men’s Alpine skiing, and the only athlete representing Mexico in the winter games. And he’s 55 years old.

“We (in Mexico) are 100 million people and the only chance we have (of winning a medal) is up to me, but we don’t have to look at it like that. You have to see it as I’m an ambassador of this country, an ambassador with style and a human force that goes beyond the result,” Hubertus says in this interview for CNNMexico.

To represent Mexico, Hubertus has opted to compete while wearing a special Spandex ski suit patterned after the traditional dress of Mariachi musicians.

By raising some eyebrows this time around, he’s hoping to raise the profile of Mexican athletes in future Olympic games.


What a “style ambassador” wears to compete in the Olympics.


Stereotype: You can’t teach old dogs new tricks.

Broken by: Jacki Munzel, 50-year-old speed skating powerhouse

Four years ago, Jacki Munzel was watching the Winter Olympics on TV with her daughter.

“We looked up at the TV and speed skating was on… She said, ‘You could try speed skating.’ And something inside of me, that fire from within, it grew and I was like, ‘Yeah, I could do that’,” Munzel said in this KSL interview.

Jacki had never speed skated before she made the decision to start training for the 2014 Olympics, though she wasn’t totally starting from scratch.

A professional power skating coach who trains NHL players, Munzel has been ice skating her whole life. In 1984, she even qualified to go to the Olympics for figure skating. But tragically, when a life-threatening eating disorder took her off the ice for those games, Munzel put her Olympic dreams to rest.

Then, thirty years later, after much training and re-training, Jacki ranked in the top ten for speed skating nationals and beat her personal best by 15 seconds in the U.S. Olympic trials.

Although her time wasn’t fast enough to get her to Sochi this year, her story proves that, well, there’s always 2018.


Jacki was a fierce competitor against speed skaters younger than her children.


Stereotype: Girls aren’t strong enough to ski jump.

Broken by: Lindsay Van, Jessica Jerome, and women athletes the world over

For the first time EVER, women will be allowed to compete in ski jumping at this year’s Winter Games.

This is partially a result of the efforts of two U.S. women skiers, Lindsay Van and Jessica Jerome, who spoke out about the injustice of being excluded again and again by suing the Vancouver organizing committee for gender-based discrimination in 2010.

“I didn’t do it to prove anything, but people needed to see that women in this sport are capable of jumping really far, and we’re capable of having our own event,” Van said for NBC Olympics.

The lawsuit raised enough attention that in April 2011, women’s ski jumping was approved as an official event for the Sochi Games.

We’ll be cheering for all of the women ski jumpers who compete this year as they soar through the air like magnificent Valkyries!


Lindsay Van flies the length of 1.5 football fields, NBD.
[image via Sparknotes]

What inspiring, kooky, or otherwise amazing athletes are you rooting for this winter?


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A month after the bombshell interview, Laverne Cox’s idea is still amazing

At Idealist, we love good ideas of all kinds, but especially those that turn commonly-accepted notions on their heads, get us to confront our beliefs, and (maybe) stir up a little trouble. To honor ideas brave and bold, and inspired by Sydney, Australia’s Festival of Dangerous Ideas, we welcome you to Idealist in Action’s Dangerous Ideas Week.

Today’s inspiration: actress and activist Laverne Cox.

Photo credit: ABC/Disney

Carrera and Cox deflected awkward questions and drew attention to the violence and injustice facing the trans community.
(photo credit: ABC/Disney)

Last month, Laverne Cox appeared alongside model Carmen Carrera on Katie Couric’s daytime TV talk show Katie. During what was meant to be a special show to raise awareness about issues facing transgender individuals, both women ended up facing a series of awkward and personal questions about their bodies.

Which they rebuffed in a super-classy way.

The interview has made its way around the internet because both women totally schooled Couric on how to respectfully talk to (and interview) trans people, which was pretty amazing to hear.

While the entire interview is inspiring, one of the most striking moments is when Couric asks Cox about whether or not she considers herself a role model. In her response, Cox coins a fantastic new term more of us should start employing:

I would never be so arrogant to think that someone should model their lives after me, but the idea of possibility. The idea that I get to live my dreams out in public hopefully will show other folks that that is possible. And so I prefer the term ‘possibility model’ to ‘role model.’

Thank you, Laverne, for changing the conversation from what we should be, to what we could be.

Also worth watching is Cox’s recent keynote address at the Creating Change 2014 conference earlier this week.


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Go ahead, keep your desk messy—science says it’s okay

This week on Idealists in Action, we’re exploring the concept of Home.

Research suggests that having a messy desk might make us more imaginative.

When it comes to workspaces, whatever works for you is best.
(image courtesy Shutterstock)

As a generally unkempt person, I tend to take issue with the “messy desk, messy mind” principle that tidy folks occasionally bring up (usually with one eyebrow cocked). But it turns out that science is on my side.

New studies are showing that it’s less important to rid your workspace of clutter than it is to design and organize a space that fits with your personal tastes. When we have control over the look and feel of our workspaces, it increases our productivity and all-around efficiency.

Psychologist-turned-writer Dr. Christian Jarrett explains this—and other new workspace organization research—in the 99U article “The Perfect Workspace (According to Science)“.

Though he asserts that individual tastes rule, Jarrett does have some decor ideas that work well for most people. Try working these into your own personal decorating scheme:

Choose rounded furniture and arrange it wisely

If you have the luxury of designing your own workspace, consider choosing a layout and furniture that is curved and rounded rather than sharp and straight-edged.

Creating this environment has been linked with positive emotions, which is known to be beneficial for creativity and productivity (added bonus: there’s also less chance of knocking an elbow or knee on a sharp corner).

Take advantage of color, light, and space

Choosing the right color and lighting scheme for your office is one of the simplest ways your environment can enhance your performance.

For instance, exposure to both blue and green has been shown to enhance performance on tasks that require generating new ideas. However, the color red has been linked with superior performance on tasks involving attention to detail.

Make use of plants and windows

If you only do one thing to optimize your workspace, invest in a green plant or two.

Research has repeatedly shown that the presence of office plants has a range of benefits including helping workers recover from demanding activities and lowering stress levels.

But however you decide to decorate or organize your space, says Dr. Jarrett, the most important thing is to do whatever you can to create “an office space that you feel happy and comfortable in.”

Messy desk, it is!

What kind of space do you do your best work in? Share with us in the comments.



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Why I bought a house in Detroit for $500

This week on Idealists in Action, we’re exploring the concept of Home.

Photo by Mike Williams (via Buzzfeed)

Drew Philip boarding up the windows of his house in Detroit.
(photo by Mike Williams, via Buzzfeed)

Drew Philip was 23 years old when he bought his home in Detroit for $500 at a live county auction.

This powerful essay, originally published on Buzzfeed, chronicles how the author rebuilds his house—and makes himself a home—out an abandoned building filled with plastic bags, rotting carpet, and broken car parts.

Although Detroit has been talked about a lot lately—both as an almost post-apocalyptic cityscape of decay, and as a new hotspot for young, poor, (usually) white artists—the author describes the community he’s discovered there in terms of its kindness:

It’s been happening quietly and for some time, between transplants and natives, black and white and Latino, city and country—tiny acts of kindness repeated thousands of times over, little gardens and lots of space, long meetings and mowing grass that isn’t yours. It’s baling hay.

It’s the Detroit that’s saving itself. The Detroit that’s building something brand-new out of the cinders of consumerism and racism and escape. I’ve attended a four-person funeral for a stillborn baby that could have been saved but for poverty. I’ve nearly been shot by the police during a stop-and-frisk. I’ve seen three structure fires within a block of my house. But I’ve also walked out of my house to see hundreds of tiny snowmen built by neighborhood children. I’ve seen tears in the eyes of a grown man releasing a baby raccoon into a city park that he had saved from being beaten to death by teenagers.

Some scrappy teachers just opened a school in a formerly abandoned building behind my house. I stretched a ladder through the missing window of the abandoned house next door and nailed it to the kitchen floor to reach the peak of my own roof.

Read the full essay here.

Have you ever taken on a tough project that’s brought you a better sense of home? Tell us about it in the comments.



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Awesome photographer shoots grandmas in band t-shirts; blows the doors off his own stereotypes

This week on Idealists in Action, we’re exploring the concept of Home.


Photography by Jay Hynes

Jay Hynes didn’t set out to prove that grannies rock, but he definitely did.

By photographing grandmas in their homes wearing punk and metal t-shirts in a photo series called “Grandmas Rock,” the Melbourne-based photographer aimed to contrast the rebelliousness represented by rock n’ roll with the more prim and proper lifestyles he expected from his subjects.

A former advertising art director, Jay recently switched career paths to become a full-time music and portrait photographer. He wanted a photo series in his portfolio that would combine his interests in portraits, domestic spaces, and bands—and look really awesome.

As he went out to meet the women he’d be photographing, his assumptions and opinions about what “normal” grandmas do and how they live started to unravel. For starters, their interest in participating in such a conceptual art project was a delightful surprise.


Photography by Jay Hynes

“I think this part is almost cooler than the actual photos—the fact that all of them said, sure, I’ll do that!” he says. “It showed me that they were trusting and supportive, but more than anything that they were interested in doing something out of the ordinary.”

Before the shoot, Jay sat down with each of the women—strangers that he’d connected to through friends—over a cup of tea to get a sense of their personalities.

“That time spent with them made me realize how much I miss my own grandma,” he says.

Although his project started out as a way to contrast rock n’ roll with the straight-laced exterior of grandmas, he came away from the project inspired by how rad these golden girls really are.

“They don’t take life as seriously as people assume they would. I think if I had asked a bunch of 40-to-50 year old women to do the same thing, the answer would have been no.”

Right on, Jay! We think grandmas are pretty punk rock, too.


Photography by Jay Hynes

See the complete photo series here.

Have you ever started a project and ended up surprised by how it changed your perspective? Tell us about it in the comments below.



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