Accidental advocates: Speak out to find your voice

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?

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 did you find your voice as a new advocate?

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Join Idealist on March 11 as we launch a new global movement for action and change!

 

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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.

APRIL GREEN

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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How a female-focused bike shop is shifting gears

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Leah Benson behind the counter at her new shop.

In the new Gladys Bikes shop on North Williams Avenue in Portland, Oregon, there’s a sign on the mirror next to the rain gear and helmets. It says “you look perfect.”

Owner Leah Benson opened the shop last month with the intention of starting a bike repair and fit studio specifically catering to women and women-identified individuals. The name come from famous women’s suffragist Frances Willard who called her beloved bicycle “Gladys.”

“Everybody deserves to feel comfortable on their bike and welcomed in a bike shop, and unfortunately that’s not the case for a lot of people,” Leah says.

She knew she wanted to offer an alternative to the intimidating and exclusive vibe of many bike shops, so she left her job at a local nonprofit a year ago and dedicated herself full-time to setting up the business. To help her get started, she tapped into some micro-enterprise development classes offered through Mercy Corps and talked to a lot of shop owners in the Portland bike community.

Part of the reason Leah opted to start a small business instead of a nonprofit or bike coop was the frustration she’d felt with the constraints of grant cycles and funders at her nonprofit job.

“You can do a lot of good work in the nonprofit sector, but you’re always going to be beholden to other people’s deliverables,” she says. “I wanted to step out of that.”

Before she started setting up Gladys Bikes, Leah was pretty dismissive and negative about the for-profit world.

Gladys Bikes' saddle library. (photo via Gladys Bikes Face Book)

There’s a saddle for every body.
(photo via Gladys Bikes Instagram)

“I used to think that if you’re making money, you must be doing something wrong,” she says. “And then I was like, no, small businesses are usually just trying to make enough to get by while providing a valuable service.”

An experienced fundraiser from her nonprofit days, Leah raised a fair amount of the capital she needed to start her business from private donors. She also worked a handful of odd jobs over the past year to make extra money: juice truck cashier, nonprofit consultant, assistant stylist for a Nike photo shoot.

To keep her budget on track for the coming year, she’s also in the process of setting up an Independent Development Account (IDA) with Mercy Corps, a special type of savings account that helps small business owners build assets with a 4-to-1 matching program.

The people have spoken

One of the most useful things Leah did to make sure Gladys Bikes was on target with its services was to ask people directly what they wanted from the shop. She ran focus groups made up of people she knew, people she respected, and people that were referred to her to find out what they asked for most.

“It was one of the most fun and productive things I’ve ever done,” she says. “It was a great way for us to air our frustrations about bike shops that aren’t set up with women in mind while brainstorming some wildly great ideas.”

One of the awesome ideas inspired by the focus groups is Gladys Bikes’ one-of-a-kind saddle library.

“A comfortable saddle [the part of the bike seat you sit on] can be really body-specific in some pretty personal ways,” Leah says. “And a lot of the time, when there’s a piece of bike gear made for an ‘average person’ or ‘unisex,’ that usually just means ‘man.’”

To help achieve a more comfortable ride, customers can check out different saddle shapes and sizes from the library, try them out on their bikes for a full week, and bring them back later.

“Feeling good when you’re on your bike is really important,” she says. “It’s all about getting it set up in the way that’s most comfortable for you.”

What are some of your favorite socially-conscious small businesses?

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