Tales of Tools and Tactics: Create a resource inventory for your Team

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

A great thing about the Idealist Network is that everyone brings their own skills, connections, and knowledge to the table. A great thing about Google Docs (or even a spiral notebook) is that they allow you to use a simple template to create an inventory of all these resources. Share the knowledge, Team!

Below, Connector (and Idealist video producer) Liz Morrison of the Brooklyn, New York Team tells us a little about her experience starting such a resource inventory.

BK Connector Meeting 2

Team Brooklyn. Liz is on the left.
(photo courtesy Liz Morrison)

Q: What’s been the biggest challenge of creating or maintaining your resource inventory and how have you addressed it?

A: The biggest challenge has been getting people to start using it! I’ve mentioned it at meetings, posted it on our Team page’s discussion board, and talked it up to every Brooklyn and New York Connector I’ve met. We’ve started to see people filing out the first sheet with contact information, which is great and helpful. But the next step is to get them to complete the info in the other tabs—that includes memberships/affiliations, meeting locations, and existing action resources.

In order to continue growing this document, I’ll keep giving friendly reminders about it at meetings and explaining the various information categories people can contribute to; post it again on our discussion board; and maybe print a paper copy for people to fill out on-the-spot at our next meeting. Hopefully as more Teams start creating their own resource inventories (like San Diego), more Connectors will learn about the concept and start using it as a matter of course!

To learn more, read the Tool and Tactic here. Interested in becoming a Connector? Get started here!

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Field Report! Second Team meeting in Brooklyn, New York

On Wednesday April 16, six Brooklyn Connectors came together for our second meeting. We had a fun discussion that ranged from coining the adjective “connectory” to discussing ways we can build and support our Team.

Over the course of two hours we tackled the following questions:

What are some of the best ways that we can connect the Connectors?

We have a Team of 57 Connectors spread out across our large borough (fun fact: Brooklyn could be considered the 4th largest city in America!).

As we grow our Team, it’s important to us that we spend time building and strengthening our bonds to one another. We came up with some ways to spread information about ourselves and stay connected between meetings.

  • Use the Team message boards more to keep Connector conversations going between meetings

  • Encourage everyone to fill out the Brooklyn Team Resource Inventory spreadsheet so we can collect our shared knowledge, spot connections, and identify skills

  • Create a Doodle survey to find out what meeting times work best for the most people

  • Create a collaborative Google Map where Connectors can plot their location within Brooklyn so we can see if there are more Connectors in our specific neighborhoods

What do we need to be the best Idealist Connectors/Idealist ambassadors?

Before we reach out into the community, we want to make sure we’re being good ambassadors for Idealist and this movement. We decided to plan some future meetings to address our needs.

  • Common language to describe this Idealist movement. Before we start recruiting more Connectors or introducing ourselves to the greater Brooklyn Community, we want to brainstorm some common language and an “elevator pitch” that will quickly describe our mission, goals, and work. We know that Idealist is also working on this wording, so depending on when we schedule this meeting, we can tweak what Idealist creates to best fit the Brooklyn team.

  • Host some Connector trainings to help us build up similar skill sets. Possible training sessions could include:

    • Idealist 101: An introduction to all the things you can do on Idealist.org. Once we know more about the site, we can encourage more individuals and organizations to use Idealist tools to connect with opportunities for action.

    • Action Group Facilitator Training: Give some insights on the best ways to structure meetings, run discussions and brainstorms, help people identify obstacles to action, and follow through on their good intentions.

    • Social Media Boot Camp: Discuss and learn about how can we use our personal social media channels to amplify and spread the Brooklyn Team’s work and message.

    • Best Ways to Reach Out: Invite people from .orgs/.coms/.govs to talk to us about the best ways to reach out to their particular sector when we need help or want to invite them to participate.

  • Schedule fun, informal events to give Connectors time to get to know each other. From happy hours to team rock climbing, the purpose of these events will team building and social bonding. We scheduled our first “Bring a Friend Connector Social” for Wednesday night, May 7th.

Do you live in Brooklyn? Join the Team! Live elsewhere? Check out Teams in your area. Not a Connector yet? Read all about it and join us.

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A shore thing: How soup is rebuilding community in the Rockaways

Robyn hotfood Station 59th St

Robyn set up a hot food station on a street corner a few days after Hurricane Sandy devastated her neighborhood.

Almost exactly a year ago, Hurricane Sandy devastated much of Robyn Hillman-­Harrigan’s Rockaway Beach neighborhood in Queens, New York.

“Nothing was where you expected it to be,” Robyn says. “It felt like our beach town had turned into a war zone over night.”

At that time, Robyn wasn’t thinking about founding a nonprofit and opening a community restaurant. She was thinking about how she could help her neighbors.

On the first day after the storm, she started by bringing batches of hot cocoa, tea, and coffee to the people around her. The next day, she and her friends set up her propane camping stove outside on a makeshift table made from driftwood. They cooked batches of soup and warmed up donated food. A line formed down the block as people came out to eat a hot meal and find comfort in community.

A few days into the disaster, Robyn took a step back and thought about how she could increase her impact beyond that one street corner. She realized she needed better communication, a bigger kitchen, and a system that would help her reach the maximum number of people.

So she formed a Facebook group and asked her network for specific donations. The response was overwhelming. A friend lent space in his restaurant’s kitchen. Another worked with farms upstate to donate produce. A number of people volunteered to help cook and deliver the soup.

Thus, the Rockaway Rescue Alliance Shore Soup Project was born.

Since then, Robyn has centered the project around her two passions—providing access to healthy food options, and building community around food.

So far, the Alliance has founded a community garden, hosted workshops on nutrition, and continued to cook and deliver organic soups to homebound residents. They also recently ran a successful Kickstarter campaign for a summer food truck that provides healthy pay-­as­-you­-can meals to the residents of the Rockaways, who are still living in a food desert.

They’re now more determined than ever to be a resource in their community for a long time to come. Currently, they’re raising seed capital to open SHORE, a pay-­as­-you­-can restaurant that will double as a community center.

Robyn is excited to move into this next phase, though she knows it will continue to be hard work.

“Throughout this process there’s been a lot of red tape and struggle. And we’ve learned that things change and new needs arise,” she says. “This process requires continuous readjustment and the ability to shift and adapt.”

RobynStairs

Robyn delivering meals to the residents of Rockaway, Queens.

Lessons learned

1. Follow your passion and you will find your path.

Robyn has always cared about increasing access to healthy food and community building, and directly after Sandy, she found ways to use her passion to help.

“We just launched right into it. We were so excited and determined,” she says. “We didn’t think about a year from now. We didn’t think about worst case scenarios.”

2. Word of mouth can build momentum and make it real.

In the days following the storm, Robyn realized that people in other parts of the city didn’t know about the devastation in her neighborhood. But she figured that if they did, they would want to help.

That led her to creating a Facebook page, where she posted photos of the devastation and of her efforts to provide warm meals and a feeling of community. And people did pick up on it; just through word of mouth, she was able to get donations and volunteers. It also forced her to name the project, making it more official and sustainable.

3. Talking to people helps you gain wisdom and build a network of supporters.

Before jumping into growing the organization, Robyn took time to talk to people to get their feedback and advice. She started by reaching out to members in her community, then found other organizations who were doing similar work. These informational interviews provided insightful advice and also helped her to build a strong network of supporters.

Along with the residents, these supporters have helped the Shore Soup Project grow from a relief effort into a real, forward-thinking organization—something Robyn never could have imagined before the storm.

“We all have the power and ability to do things. If we choose to harness that power, we can do so much. But if we let our doubts stand in the way, we will never start,” she says. “The storm was the catalyst that helped me overcome those doubts and take the first step.”

The Shore Soup Project is hosting a benefit event to raise seed funds for their SHORE restaurant this Wednesday, October 23, in New York City. If you like delicious food, local booze, and great art for auction, check out their event page on Idealist for ticket details and to RSVP. If you attend, you may be featured in an upcoming Idealist video!

Shore Soup Project is also looking for volunteers to help them cook and deliver soup, as well as to fill a part-time position as their Head Chef and Kitchen Manager

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Stuck? Try problem-solving like a designer

The idea

People first, ideas second. Might sound obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many of us forget this – even in the social good world.

This idea of empathy is the key driver behind design thinking, a creative approach to problem-solving that’s gained buzz in recent years thanks to the mammoth design and innovation consulting firm IDEO.

But it’s not just the territory of big companies. Brooklyn-based The Design Gym is taking design thinking and putting it in the hands of the community. Through facilitation and storytelling workshops, giant hackathons, and their Weekend Workout, (which attempts to solve a problem from a real organization or company)  their belief is that anyone can be innovative – if you just exercise that muscle.

“There are lots of organizations that don’t talk to customers. That part of what we’re doing isn’t groundbreaking, it’s just showing them a new approach. You get so stuck in management and growth and systems and all of a sudden you lose touch with those people who can provide you very simple solutions,” co-founder Jason Wisdom says.

Design thinking in action

A typical Weekend Workout works like this: You come in on Friday night for a crash course on design thinking complete with beers and improv exercises. On Saturday, you go through the entire process on a problem that everyone can relate to, like park services or airline issues, using the 5 phases: learning from all the people who touch this problem in someway, making sense of what you learned, generating solutions from those learnings, experimenting or testing those solutions (many failing), and telling the story of what you learned. When Sunday comes around, you’re challenged to use that process again on a real client.

mIles

Kelly presenting the user journey her team created for miLES.

There’s been seven workouts so far, with past clients including the Acumen FundMakeshift Magazine, HolsteeThe Future Project, and Made in the Lower East Side (miLES).

With miLES, for example, students were asked to find a way for artists, teachers, and more to utilize the 220+ vacant storefronts in the Lower East Side, and also keep the landlords who wanted to rent them to higher paying customers (i.e. bar and restaurant owners) happy. They came up with pop up shops. And not only that, but a central hub of carts where people could find signage, seats, tables, and more so they could set up and take down their store with ease.

A few of the clients from the Weekend Workout, such as Makeshift and Holstee, took on students after it was over to help put their ideas in action. That’s one of the big goals of Design Gym: develop relationships with companies and organizations so the students can gain both experience and exposure.

“They’ve been our biggest evangelists in terms of helping us find new opportunities, “ Jason says. “And we support them getting jobs or consulting gigs, or give personal coaching around their careers. As long as people know you’re absolutely committed to their success, they’ll bend over backwards to help you as well.”

Tips for replicating the idea

Jason and his team would love to first get The Design Gym firmly planted in NYC, then expand to other places.

But if the idea of a Weekend Workout makes you want to immediately start to do the heavy (or light) lifting of bringing one where you live, here are his tips on how to make it successful:

1. Find a point of focus.

Sit with the organization or company beforehand and tease out the problem. “We want the problem to be big enough to satisfy the organization and do something significant, but small enough that it can be implemented,” he says. Things like, “What’s the future of our organization look like?” is way too wide for a short timeframe, narrow down those problems or opportunities.

2. Tap into different communities and locations.

Bounce around to different spaces. Or if you can’t do that, partner with a space that can bring in diverse clients. Design Gym frequently hosts their classes at the Brooklyn Brainery, an eclectic, community-driven education space where you can find classes on everything from how to run a marathon to making marbled papers to being a connector.

“One of our primary drivers is to continually enforce that diverse community. Because the solutions are so much more interesting due to the communities diverse backgrounds and it’s fun to connect with people who would never get  to be around each other otherwise,” Jason says.

3. Make everything in the space fair game.

class

A team, client (Holstee) and community celebrating after a fun-filled and exhausting weekend.

During the prototyping phase, when students are experimenting with ideas to see if they’ll work, encourage them to use whatever is front of them. At the Brainery, students will often use stuff from the classrooms: frying pans, duct tape, 2×4’s, etc. “The more props you can show us, the better off it is. We’ve had students present back in haikus and built structures, also some teams presented through brilliant songs,” Jason says.

4. Embrace your students’ inner geek

Anyone can attend the Weekend Workout and everyone who does is there for one reason: to learn new things. While most students tend to be in their late 20’s to early 40’s, their backgrounds run the gamut from novelists to 5th grade science teachers to product leads at Google.

“With the problems we’re working on being so diverse, people start to feel this applies to them, whether they’re in healthcare or a tech startup or construction,” Jason says. “What they have in common is that they’re geeky people.”

5. Don’t be a helicopter instructor.

The less you do, the better off your students are. “We found if do a really good job at the explanation and creating structure, and leave them alone, the better off they are,” Jason says. “Allowing them to go through and fail a little bit and do things wrong and learn from that is an important part of the process. And it takes us standing back a little bit for that to be able to happen.”

Another tip: Don’t try to force groups based on personalities you think might work well together. Whether you group people together or randomize it, the results ware usually the same.

6. Show your appreciation.

“Everybody has busy lives in this city. So we want to thank people for deciding that out of all the places they could possibly be, they’re spending time with us,” says Jason. They’ve shown their gratitude by giving students a bag with a Moleskine notebook, bottle of wine, and handwritten thank you card.

7. Empower.

Design Gym just launched a train-the-trainer program, where they have students come back from previous weekends and learn the skills necessary to become a really strong facilitator. Finding them long-term engagements with organizations or companies is another priority, and they’re toying with creating a consulting firm run by students.

8. Create continual opportunities for community. 

They’ve hosted happy hours, rotating potlucks, and more. “Our big epiphany was our first happy hour. We had 23 students in the class, and 21 came out to happy hour and said they wanted to continue to be involved in whatever it is we’re doing,” Jason says. “That to me was such validation we’re doing something right. And in the end, they become close friends.”

Are you an organization in the NYC area that could use some creative problem-solving at a Weekend Workout? Or want to implement a similar project where you live? Get in touch with Jason: jason@thedesigngym.com.

If you’re in the NYC area and want to participate, the next Weekend Workout will be May 31-June 2.

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How one group is making a community in Brooklyn safer

Each day, people like you have ideas on how to make the world a better place, but don’t know how to put their ideas into action. To help you take the first step, we’re profiling budding social entrepreneurs who are tackling issues that are important to them, one step at a time.

The idea

In 2011, a series of sexual assaults occurred in Brooklyn’s Park Slope and surrounding neighborhoods. Sensing a general feeling of vulnerability and disillusionment, a group of neighbors stepped up to create a safety alternative.

“I just felt like something more had to be done,” says Jessica Silk. “Having the police on every block isn’t going to help. It’s a community long-term effort that is going to make the community safer.”

Safe Slope was thus born. In addition to escorting female and LGBTQ-identified locals home at night, the all-volunteer group promotes anti-violence education and advocacy, as well as partners with local organizations and coalitions such as New Yorkers for Safer Transit. “Getting people to be aware and feel they can take action is our big picture goal,” Jessica says.

Obstacles

Jessica’s first step was to ask around the community to gauge interest. After hosting a meeting to get the ball rolling, Jessica spoke to the executive director of RightRides, who happened to live in the neighborhood. She had volunteered with RightRides previously and knew that although the focus was driving people home rather than walking, it was a model the group could learn from.

Armed with good advice and knowledge about everything from dispatch systems to volunteer vests, Jessica and her neighbors started getting more of the community on board. Still, they encountered challenges:

Obstacle: Volunteer burnout
Solution: A lot of volunteers signed up at first in the spirit of helping neighbors, but then the number declined. Jessica thinks a big reason for this was because volunteers had to stay up late waiting for a call, which often didn’t come. A longer-term solution they created was a reservation system where people can call in advance so volunteers know if they are expected ahead of time.

After marching through the streets of Brooklyn, Jessica Silk and other members of Safe Slope welcome the community to a rally featuring speeches from local advocates, activists, and elected officials. (Photo via Jessica Silk.)

Obstacle: Ensuring safety for everyone
Solution: The initial screening process weeds out potentially violent vigilantes and/or disrespectful volunteers through extensive essay questions. The volunteers also walk in pairs, and the group is working on obtaining a grant that would give volunteers money for a cab home at the end of the night.

Obstacle: Establishing legitimacy
Solution: People hesitated calling because they were unsure of how the system worked, and collaborators were leery about engaging with such a grassroots group. Wanting to advertise their program and build general anti-violence awareness, they organized a neighborhood rally that thousands of people attended. It garnered Safe Slope widespread media attention but more importantly, embedded them at a local level. “We were able to meet some people who were doing anti-violence work for a long time,” says Jessica. “It was good to be connected to a larger movement but also to realize that there are already so many people doing amazing things in our community.”

Obstacle: Fear of being culturally insensitive
Solution: With a large percentage of the Park Slope area Spanish-speaking, the group translated the materials into Spanish for the rally, which is one reason Jessica thinks the event had such diverse attendance. Post-rally, however, they realized they didn’t have the capacity to attend to the full community on a longer-term basis. Currently they are working on recruiting more Spanish-speaking volunteers in addition to the two they have, and continually take into account the varying perspectives on police involvement from culture to culture. Safe Slope also just recently expanded to the Sunset Park area, which means recruiting Mandarin-speaking volunteers, and are hoping to leverage their existing partnerships to counter violence affecting communities of color, such as stop-and-frisk practices by police.

Advice

Since Safe Slope has been in existence, attacks have declined and neighbors are constantly on the lookout for one another. The group continues to evolve and always keeps in mind the the most important lesson they learned when first starting out.

“Part of why we were successful is that we were willing to take the risk to do something. We were willing to fail,” Jessica says. “We went in with the attitude that if this is not what the community wants, we won’t do it.”

Besides getting community buy-in, here’s how Jessica thinks you can move forward on your idea:

  • Do your research.
  • Identify the gaps.
  • Partner with others.
  • Honor the legacy of what went before you.

“Be bold. Allow yourself to be the person to start something,” Jessica finally says. “Even if it doesn’t work out, at least you tried.”

___

Interested in starting a similar program in your community? Feel free to reach out to Jessica for advice: safeslope@gmail.com.

 

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