One of the obstacles to doing good we frequently hear from you, our community, is not having a mentor; that teacher, guide, coach (sometimes friend) who helps you navigate challenges, introduces you to new people, and continually encourages. In short, a person you can trust and who you know has your back.
Sure, it can be great to have a mentor sometimes. But do you really need one? Here are three people who would argue no:
I have lots of people who I look to for various things. And they’re friends, but actually I think right now I’m getting inspiration from the people I work with, which sounds totally corny but I’m learning everyday. Especially being at a technology not-for-profit that works with young people. My COO pushes me all the time. She is 29, and a foot taller than I am, and bolder and smarter and I learn from her everyday. Everybody, at all levels of the organization, I am learning from them and being kept on my toes and having to keep up. It’s a great feeling.
The truth is, I have never really had the desire to seek out one person to be my sounding board and long-term coach; it’s a lot of work on my end, on their end, and is a little too hierarchical for my taste. Instead, I prefer to connect with people when I have a problem I need help solving.
I do this because I believe that when you start from a place of wanting to solve a problem—instead of wanting to follow a particular person—you open more doors. People younger than you, older than you, people in different fields and professions, people in different communities, become problem solvers. You are also more deliberate and focused about what you need, which makes it much easier for people to actually help you (I am struggling with creating a strategy for X vs. I don’t know what I’m doing about anything).
I meet a lot of young people who waste a lot of time worrying about finding a magical mentor who will help them to greatness. But greatness will only come from within you. Yes, you need to learn from others, but seek wisdom from many.
What do you think? Have you benefited from “the one”? Or are you a believer in spreading the mentoring love?
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.
Kelly presenting the user journey her team created for 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.
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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’re in the NYC area and want to participate, the next Weekend Workout will be May 31-June 2.
Gail and teacher Boyce Mhone at the Ching’oma school
When Gail Swithenbank made a trip to Malawi this January, e-learning wasn’t on her mind. She was visiting the Ching’oma school to check in on a scholarship program she’d helped create for children to attend secondary school and study permaculture—low-tech, sustainable agriculture methods.
But when she visited one of the high schools the scholarship recipients would attend, she saw that they needed more support than just tuition.
“It was two rooms, no windows or doors, few desks. No books or paper. Just two blackboards. The teacher had one book that they all copied from. Kids are walking seven kilometers each way to get there,” she says.
Gail realized that for the scholarship to make much of a difference, the students would need textbooks and materials. A library full of books could really help, but it would be better if they could ‘leapfrog’ directly to e-learning using low-cost laptops.
Bridging the digital divide
But an e-learning program would be challenging to implement; only about 5% of Malawians have internet access, according the World Fact Book. Even if provided with low-cost computers, the students wouldn’t be able to reliably access the trove of knowledge and learning platforms online.
Some new technology offers a way around this problem. Developer Jamie Alexandre and a team of volunteers recently released a free, portable version of the content and software produced by Khan Academy, a free online educational platform. This new version, called KA-Lite, is designed to work offline. In addition to video lessons and interactive exercises, it allows teachers to track the progress of each student while they learn at their own pace.
When Gail heard about this, she saw the potential. She found more educational content provided by the RACHEL Initiative—free courseware, libraries, and an offline version of Wikipedia. By putting all of this on a Raspberry Pi, a $35 computer the size of a Smartphone that plugs into a T.V., she could provide a complete platform that’s nearly free and requires very little infrastructure. She’s spent the last few months learning about the technology and reaching out to her contacts in Malawi, who are excited about the idea.
The tools are new. The lessons are timeless.
As amazing as these new tools are, some of the most important takeaways from Gail’s story have very little to do with technology, and could apply to almost any project. Here are a few:
1. Expertise not required.
Gail admits she didn’t know much about e-learning or computer science before she started working on this project. So she reached out to people with related experience, like Janice Lathen of Powering Potential, who has been setting up computer labs in Tanzania since 2007. Gail has also spent hours on Skype with a nephew who studied computer science to get help with the technology. Sometimes, tenacity trumps knowledge.
2. Build on existing relationships and create new ones.
Great ideas can sometimes die on the vine without the right support. After working with school headmaster Gilbert Kaunda on the permaculture scholarship, Gail now has a local partner. He’s in a good position to make changes at the school and work with the local government.
She’s likewise reached out to potential partners, like Nathaniel Thayer Wight, who teaches science and sustainability at Bronx Design and Construction Academy in New York, about a possible collaboration between the two schools. Ultimately, Gail hopes to work with them and others to build a new e-learning facility.
3. Use what’s already out there.
Gail could have started a new nonprofit to support this project, done lots of fundraising, hired a staff to curate the e-learning materials and build the building. Instead, she’s leveraging existing institutions and tools: the school in Malawi, content from Khan Academy, and the community that’s sprouting up around Raspberry Pi.
By focusing first on the problem in front of her and connecting the dots, she avoided getting bogged down in details and spending extra cash. Sometimes being innovative just means assembling the pieces in front of you.
Gail’s story is just one example of people using new tech to solve stubborn problems. Do you know of another? Share it in the comments below.
At NYC’s Lab School for Collaborative Studies, you‘ll find tables for group work, encouraging notes on lockers, and students openly admitting their dreams, failures, and what makes them unique. Here’s how the high school is celebrating vulnerability in their hallways and beyond—and combating bullying while they’re at it.
Senior Lena Jacobs owns that she can ride a unicycle. After years of trying to hide his disability, her classmate Bryan Stromer owns that he has cerebral palsy. Tim Shriver, the school’s in-house Dream Director whose job it is to challenge and support students in putting their dreams into action, owns that he has his heads in the clouds.
In February this year, the three of them helped kick off “Own It,” a campaign at Lab to encourage students and staff to embrace individuality and end bullying. Walk down the school’s hallways and at every turn you’ll find questions on the wall such as: What makes you weird? What’s your wildest dream? What’s your greatest failure? What makes you you?
“Have you ever been in a classroom and the teachers would ask you what animal you’d be and why? You’d always hear people say a lion, tiger, or some other really strong animal. I remember I once heard this girl say she’d be a pig because she could roll around in the mud and and not care what people think of her. That’s such a positive thing; why can’t we all do this?” Bryan says. “ ‘Own It’ is a nicer way of saying be a pig.”
How it came together
At the end of the fall, the idea for “Own It” starting taking shape. With Lab being a relatively quirky school (students are asked on a daily basis to plot their feelings on a mood meter, for example), Tim would talk with students and Future Project Fellows about how to create a shared identity. At the same time, Bryan and Lena started thinking about how it could tie in with their work with the Stand Up to Bullying club, which Bryan co-founded three years ago.
“We knew we had an idea, and everyone was excited about it, but we weren’t sure how we were going to engage people around why this actually matters,” Tim says.
So they got to work and within a few months had planned a high energy, interactive campaign launch event for February. There were poets and emcees, videos, music, and art —and lots of momentum that continued after it ended.
“People say ‘own it’ now like it’s part of their vocabulary,” Bryan says. If you get something wrong in math class, instead of everyone laughing, people will say, ‘Own it!’ It’s a nice way to embrace mistakes and embarrassment.”
Tips for replicating the idea
A big part of “Own It” is spreading the idea to not only other NYC schools—three recently met with the Chancellor of NYC’s Department of Education—but beyond.
Whether you’re from a suburban or urban area, or attend a large or small school, here are their tips on how to make it happen where you live:
1. Keep it real with student leadership.
While it’s definitely a bonus to have Tim providing guidance, ultimately the campaign is student-created and student-led.
“At end of the day, it’s not a club. It’s something that exists within the entire school and affects everyone. It raises the spirits of the entire population,” Lena says. “We want it to stay in the student vibe.”
2. Grow a support network.
Aside from having a staff member they could trust, engaging other students kept them from getting stuck.
“You’re your own worst enemy. If you don’t have someone to keep pushing you to move forward, then sometimes you can end up holding yourself back,” Bryan says. “There are probably 20 of us who are equally invested in this idea and concept. If any of us are having doubts, we look to the support of peers.”
3. Create a catchy brand.
“Own it” is just a fun thing to say. And to create even more excitement, they pasted black and white flyers of the questions all over the hallways to create a buzz before the launch, keeping an element of surprise.
3. Toss out the notion of a standard school assembly.
Instead of an assembly, they called it a campaign launch and made it engaging from every angle. They showed a video Lena made of the teachers disclosing little-known facts about themselves. Poets read in the aisles. The audience participated talk show-style, complete with shouts and claps. Macklemore’s “Same Love” provided the soundtrack.
4. Create continual opportunities for people to own it.
At the launch, students were asked to sign a pledge. The pledge is now up in the hallways, along with index cards they filled out during the event of what they owned: fear of being locked in a coffin, love of Bugs Bunny, and dreams of traveling the world, among others. They even update their Instagram account daily.
“That’s been really cool because people have started following Instagram, and they look forward to it. I’ve been asked by a couple of people who are not directly involved with ‘Own It’ if they can be on it,” Lena says. “Even if we’re touching only one or two other people, it’s an impact we’re making and it’s exciting.”
5. Own your commitment to it.
The campaign had a rocky beginning at first, as people didn’t understand what the group was trying to do. But they persisted.
“Keep going forward and making progress no matter how small it is. It might seem really challenging to start, but once you figure out the idea, keep moving,” Bryan says.
Lena and Bryan may be heading off to college next year, but the hope is that “Own It” will live on. For them, being part of the campaign has helped them strengthen their friendship and connect with others they might not have ever known they had something in common with. For Tim, it’s confirmed something he’s had a suspicion about all along.
“The people who can say where they are most vulnerable are the ones who rock this world. If you look at history, you see it. You look at this school, you see it,” he says. “This is the opportunity we have. Not only to say you can stop bullying, but this is the way to make you the most powerful person you can possibly be.”
Want to keep up to date with the campaign? Follow them on Facebook and Twitter.
Inspired to bring “Own It” to your school? Email email@example.com.
Over the past few years, TED talks have become a popular way of sharing knowledge on pretty much anything. From robot technology to guerrilla gardening, the topics tackled by TED speakers have a limitless breadth, and the events are known to pack auditoriums and concert halls across the world.
But what about smaller, isolated communities who don’t have access to this bottomless pit of information, whether it be in person or via TED’s online video archive?
They create their own version.
TEDx Kliptown participants outside of the event’s first venue.
Both Kelo Kubu and Kevin Otieno have championed these new kinds of TEDx talks in twoAfrican villages. Kubu used a “TEDx in a Box”—an all-in-one kit of equipment needed to put on a talk—to hold Kliptown, South Africa’s first talk in 2011 and Otieno used the aid of other veteran TEDx organizers to get TEDx Kibera (one of Kenya’s largest slums) off the ground in 2009.
“It’s important to share [TED talks] with other impoverished communities, since the majority of the people in these communities have lost hope in life,” says Otieno. “We’ve already seen the small impact made in Kibera. People can learn, be encouraged, be motivated and be inspired to think big and differently. And they didn’t have that before.”
While their events both followed a similar structure of a regular TEDx talk, both Kubu and Otieno worked hard to mold the events into something the locals would want to attend, if not continue on their own. From promoting a simplistic, bare-bones image—as to not intimidate the largely impoverished attendees—to knowing what snacks to bring, the two successfully piqued the interest and imaginations of their specific communities by finding common ground.
Why you might like to try this
Sparks local and global idea-sharing. In Kliptown, Thulani Madondo, the leader of South Africa’s One Laptop Per Child branch spoke about the program’s efforts to bring new technology to remote communities and classrooms. In response, local children in the audience who had received laptops through this program recorded their own TEDx discussion on how they use it. “What was interesting to me was the ease at which the community caught on to the idea of TEDx and wanted to make their own,” says Kubu. “And to see both the creator of the laptop program and the children who received it side by side brought it full circle.”
Empowers community. Otieno says that TEDx Kibera has changed people’s perceptions on who can teach. “They realize that despite their socioeconomic status they are not different. They can’t choose where they are born but they can choose what they want to be.” Since TEDx became a reoccurring presence in Kibera four years ago, new businesses led by event attendees have popped up across the sprawling slum.
Provides insight on universal technologies. The TEDx in a Box kit contains tablets and smart phones that can be plugged into projectors to screen TEDx talks. Kubu says that bringing this usually foreign technology to small communities is a huge step in global education, especially for youth. “Kids catch onto new technology faster than adults. It doesn’t matter if they are in a rural community or in New York City. With just a simple tablet or smart phone in a classroom, children can become global citizens,” says Kubu. “This is the future of education.”
Gomba, a local artist, speaks about art, empowerment and life in Kibera at the TEDx Kibera event.
How you can replicate it
While each area‘s TEDx events should be uniquely crafted to make sense in their community, Kubu and Otieno agree that the idea is meant to be universal. If you’d like to host a TEDx in your small community, or know of one that could benefit from a TEDx event, consider these tips from Kubu.
Do your homework on the location. Community members will only be interested in the talk if the topics relate to real issues and ideas that are relevant to their society. For example, in Kibera, Otieno invited the head of a local art studio to speak, encouraging listeners to contribute to the space. “To make it work, you have to know something about the community. You have to know what their needs are and how it can benefit them,” says Kubu. “It has to make sense.”
Find the right messenger. Kubu says that, if you aren’t from the area, it’s key to connect with a community leader to spread the word about the event. People feel more comfortable hearing about a new idea when it comes from a familiar source.
Make the audience comfortable Be sure to create a welcoming atmosphere for attendees. If they’re used to sitting on the floor, don’t bring chairs. If social events in their community usually involve snacks, make sure you bring the right ones.
Make cost a non-issue. “It’s important to show the community that putting on a event doesn’t have to cost a lot of money,” she says. “You can make money a barrier, and we don’t want that. We want people to see that it’s easy and can be something they would have done on any other day.”
Provide tools to keep it going. Kubu left a stack of TED DVDs at Kilptown’s library—one of the few places in town with electricity and a DVD player. Now, locals visit the library weekly for an arranged viewing of a talk.
“Ideally, I’d like to see Kliptown put on their own TEDx talk,” she says. “But all we can do is start the idea. The rest is in their hands.”
Interested in curating a small-scale TEDx talk? Contact Kelo Kubu at Kelo.Kubu@gmail.com or Kevin Otieno at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thirty years ago, in the small northwest Indian village of Tilonia, a rundown tuberculosis sanatorium lay vacant—its collection of once-crowded buildings gathering sand and bleaching to white in the desert sun.
Now, after an inspired rejuvenation, the 45-acre campus is home to one of the most successful education centers in the world: The Barefoot College.
Built in the 70s as a platform to empower local poverty-stricken villagers by sharing regional skills (like farming, building, and manufacturing using local resources) and traditional knowledge, the Barefoot College now serves as a model of rural higher education throughout India and the world.
From teaching residents how to build successful and lo-tech water supply schemes to creating powerful working roles for women in communities where most jobs are left to the men, the college has sparked a shift in education tactics on both a local and global scale.
But what helped this small institution become so powerful? According to the college’s extremely modest and media-shy founder Bunker Roy, it all comes down to maintaining a solid focus throughout the development and growth of the organization.
A woman at the Tilonia Barefoot College campus works on a solar engineering project. (Photo by UN Women Gallery via Flicker Creative Commons)
In 1972, a small group of young professionals started the college with the intention of melding the minds of urban professionals, who were educated in a modern college setting, with poverty-stricken villagers, who were skilled in traditional tasks passed down through generations in their small community.
Bringing these two seemingly opposite pockets of educated individuals together could widen the minds of both groups, thus upending the hierarchical, wealth-based education system for the best, the staff thought.
This progressive model worked—but only for so long.
Changing the syllabus
A decade after the college’s start, most of the urbanites had returned to financially secure jobs in metropolitan centers, leaving the villagers in complete control of the campus.
Thus began a new phase in the college’s direction. Cut off from external aid, the students boosted their self-sufficiency as a community, relying on their new-found knowledge of external technologies (solar energy and clean water systems) and already embedded traditional wisdom.
The women of Tilonia began to install solar panels in the college’s roofs, significantly cutting back on the village’s electricity bills. Teachers reintroduced puppetry, a past traditional teaching tool, into classrooms that once were struggling under western education-based lesson plans. They were pulling themselves out of a rut with the simple trust in their own developed skills.
Roy saw this as a substantial turning point in the school’s metamorphosis.
“This is one of the Barefoot College’s greatest accomplishments—to reduce dependency on the urban professionals and demonstrate the capacity and competence of the poorest of the poor,” Roy said.
The original idea of the college, to acknowledge traditional skill-sharing education platforms, had essentially remained the same, aside from shedding the urban influence. Which turned out to be precisely what Roy had wanted it to be.
“For an unemployed and unemployable semi-literate rural youth to be providing a vital service in a village, effectively replacing a urban trained paper-qualified doctor, teacher, and water engineer is a totally revolutionary idea,” Roy said.
This twist in focus helped steer the college onto the expanding path it’s on today.
Teaching by example
At a 2008 Pop!Tech conference, Bunker Roy shows how the college uses traditional educational tools, like puppetry, to teach. (Photo by Pop!Tech via Flick Creative Commons)
The college has inspired 20 similar schools to pop up across India, and works with small, impoverished villages across Africa and the Middle East to train locals in creating their own similarly founded campuses.
More than 200 semi-literate people have been trained in solar engineering for village energy sources and 500,000 now have access to safe drinking water through an array of hand pumps and rainwater catchment systems designed by students.
And, many times, the students become the teachers. Recently, outside professionals have visited the Barefoot College to learn traditional construction techniques from skilled villagers to use in urban settings.
Locally, struggling villages have found a new sense of economic stability and self-respect through the college’s efforts.
“It has been the job of the Barefoot College to provide that critical space for the poor to grow from ‘no-human beings’ in the eyes of so-called civilized society to a responsible, respected and accepted ‘barefoot’ professional,” Roy said.
But while the college has found sturdy ground in Tilonia and across the globe, Roy said that the idea to create a new type of rural education system was fated to be a challenging push against the norm.
However, his original intentions have anything but diminished.
“It is an eternal struggle,” Roy said. “But the struggle and the challenge make it worthwhile knowing that it’s making a tangible difference.”
An ongoing experiment: can our community’s collective brainpower help an idea become reality?
After a service trip to a Guatemalan school during his junior year of college, Samuel McPherson knew he wanted to do something more to improve education worldwide.
“Going to the school with a group of 25 people and seeing the amount of change and impact we could have changed my perception of what was possible,” he says.
The 23-year-old Gainesville, Florida native is obsessed with all things social entrepreneurship. As an undergraduate Samuel studied entrepreneurship at Pace University, then got his Master’s at University of Florida. Everything he does is seen through this lens. Whether it’s interning for UNICEF or working in sales for an educational research company, Samuel views each experience as a learning opportunity for his new venture, Reciprocity.
The idea for Reciprocity is inspired by the one-to-one model made famous by TOMS shoes. When you buy a USA-made canvas bag, an international school of your choice receives a custom bundle of educational supplies. Bags because Samuel noticed on that on college campuses it was the one thing students all had in common, and education because he believes it’s essential for freedom of choice.
“Education is the bottomline of everything,” he says. “I strongly believe people should be able to make their own decisions about how their life plays out and the opportunities they take. That becomes very difficult without an education.”
Samuel is still figuring it out, but right now roughly 50% of the bag proceeds will go to the schools, who will keep the consumer update about how the supplies are positively impacting the students. Consumers who have contributed to the same school will also be connected to one another.
The concept of Reciprocity has gone through many iterations, and so far Samuel has a website and one of three bag designs ready to go. Currently in Washington, D.C., he is working on refining his idea and turning Reciprocity into an organization, seeking partners, and encouraging schools to participate.
“I’ve learned everything I can learn and now it’s time to put the feet to the ground,” he says.
Here are the challenges he is currently facing:
For Reciprocity to work, Samuel needs to find schools worldwide to provide context about their institution, communicate with the consumer, and be the point person for the delivery of supplies. Schools say they are interested, but fail to follow through.
Currently Samuel is solo, but would love a team of people who could give advice and mentorship about creating organizational structure and guidance, as well as working with youth and/or educational institutions.
Since the company will have different bag styles, the development and production of the product can be expensive, the cost of which Samuel is currently self-financing. From investors to crowdfunding to grants, any potential avenues of funding would be beneficial.
How you can help
School in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala where Samuel volunteered at. (Photo via Samuel McPherson.)
Do you know of any schools Reciprocity might be able to help support?
Samuel is considering moving toward a more project-based approach i.e. 150 individuals purchase bags and proceeds go to installing a well in a school/village as opposed to providing finite supplies that will run out. What do you think?
How can Reciprocity stay away from creating a dependency and instead have a lasting impact on the students?
How can schools can best keep in touch with consumers given tech limitations and time constraints?
Samuel is planning on launching a Kickstarter campaign. If you’ve done one before, do you have any advice on launching a successful one, especially when it comes to video creation?
Marketing folks: Recommendations on how to best spread the word?
Do you have any general feedback about the business model or website itself?
Do you know of any organizations that might want to develop a strategic partnership?
Are you interested in collaborating, mentoring, or giving any of your time to Reciprocity?
Welcome back! Is it time to explore a career in education? (Photo Credit: Charlottes Photo Gallery, Creative Commons/Flickr)
Hope you’ve been sharpening up your pencils and writing your name inside your textbooks, because it’s back-to-school season!
Okay, so most of us aren’t students anymore (though if you’re thinking about it, check out our Graduate School Fairs!), but there are still lots of ways to get back to school this September.
Roseville Community Charter School in Newark, New Jersey is looking for a First Grade Teacher. This kindergarten through second grade charter school focuses on college prep and their ideal candidate possesses an “unyielding belief in all students’ ability to achieve at high levels, demonstrated success in yielding high results, and experience teaching in urban school environments.” If that sounds like you, check out this great opportunity.
Being in front of the classroom isn’t the only way to help students. The DC Public School system’s Office of Human Capital is at the center of a series of reforms focused on having exceptionally effective teachers in every DC public school classroom. They’re seeking a Coordinator of Teacher Effectiveness Strategy, who will work on a range of innovative initiatives spanning teacher recruitment, selection, compensation, evaluation, recognition, and retention. Washington, DC is working hard to create the best educator force in the nation, and this is an awesome chance to join them.
If you’re just looking to get started in your education career, Harlem Village Academies, one of the highest performing urban school networks in the country and a national leader in the education reform movement, is seeking a Development Intern to support their development, fundraising, and administrative work. You’ll gain experience in urban education while making a valuable contribution to education reform. The internship is paid and offers school credit.
The Friends of PS169 in New York, are looking for tutors for special education students in grades 1 through 8. An educational background isn’t a requirement, but patience is. You’ll work one on one with students who who are on the autism spectrum, have significant cognitive delays, are severely emotionally challenged, sensory impaired or multiply disabled to close the achievement gap. The school year’s getting started, and they’re still in need of passionate tutors, so sign up soon!
Whether you’re working in a classroom, supporting people who do, or giving students that extra push outside of class, there are lots of ways to get some school spirit. Are you working in education? Tell us about it!
An ongoing experiment: can our community’s collective brainpower help an idea become reality?
For Melanie Lockert, who grew up singing in the choir and performing high school plays in Los Angeles, theatre is the one place where she can really be herself. But the business side — auditioning, networking, etc. — has left Melanie feeling increasingly disenchanted as an adult. “I don’t believe the system functions in a way that is conducive to self-esteem and communication,” she says.
Animal exercises with third graders at Harlem’s PS 175. (Photo via Melanie Lockert.)
“Theatre of the oppressed doesn’t shut out anyone. It doesn’t say your experience is wrong and my experience is right. Everyone can be an actor,” she says. “ It’’s a mobilizing tool for people who have never spoken in public and who have never expressed issues in a safe environment where they can feel comfortable playing.”
Melanie recently relocated to Portland, Oregon after getting a Masters in Performance Studies at NYU. While in New York, she taught theatre at PS 175 in Harlem with the New York City Mission Society and before that, managed art programs for underserved youth in Los Angeles. She wants to draw from her experiences teaching and work with this same population to create plays based on issues they or their communities face.
“It’s a way to open up a dialogue about what these young people want, and what they want out of their lives, addressing some of the things they want to see change in their community,” she says.
Melanie is currently in the planning stage. Here are some challenges she has identified:
As a newcomer to Portland, Melanie is struggling to connect with organizations whose constituents could benefit from theatre of the oppressed.
Finding people is one thing. Locating a space where they could practice and perform poses another logistical consideration.
When she’s not playing with a local theatre company, Melanie is actively seeking full-time employment and volunteering opportunities with arts organizations, both of which have been difficult and detract her from focusing on the project.
Like most people with an idea, Melanie continually fights the doubtful voice inside her head: What if this isn’t a good idea? Is such a program necessary? Give up the dream and focus on making a living instead?
How you can help
Do you have advice for overcoming paralyzing doubt?
How can Melanie start meeting the right people who would be interested in making this idea happen?
Do you know organizations in Portland working with youth (or women) that might be interested in having Melanie teach a workshop at night or on the weekends?
How she can find a free or low-cost community space that would host the program?
If she wanted to scratch working with organizations all together, how could she recruit youth by herself? What would be the legal logistics to consider?
An ongoing experiment: can our community’s collective brainpower help an idea become reality?
Shannon Mouillesseaux is from a town in upstate NY that has one traffic light, one gas station, one grocery store, and one bank. “It is a rural community that, when I was growing up, was primarily inhabited by farmers and blue collar workers,” she says.
With few opportunities for high school graduates, Shannon had a fleeting moment when she considered joining the military in high school after being repeatedly targeted by recruiters. While some of her classmates opted to don camo, she realized the military wasn’t for her.
Faced with increasing college costs and decreasing economic opportunities, more and more teens are considering military service after high school: http://to.pbs.org/teensmilitary. Photo via Creative Commons (Flickr user Frank Juarez).
Wanting desperately to study anthropology, Shannon instead attended university and spent her junior year in Nepal. There, she was exposed to the trafficking of women and girls, an eye-opening experience that was the catalyst for her eventual work with refugees at the United Nations.
Her experiences with displaced communities around the world have exposed her to the plight of those most affected by war. Yet, back home, she was struck by the (mis) perception that violence is the only answer to violence. After 9/11, Shannon frequently heard variations of the phrase “Let’s blow them off the map” in her hometown. When she would suggest engaging in dialogue as an alternative response, she often felt inaccurately viewed as anti-American.
“The fear that has arisen within our culture, leaving many people afraid to experience other countries and cultures for fear of falling victim to a terrorist attack is, for me, worrying,” she says.
Her solution to alleviating some of that fear and violence? Pen pals for the digital age.
Specifically, Shannon envisions a two-fold project for youth in the U.S. and overseas who may not have the opportunity to travel. The first component, which she would pilot in her hometown and in Afghanistan, would connect “at-risk American students of all ages via video conference with displaced communities abroad” throughout the school year. The second would send high school students to safe, developing countries during thesummer to help out with humanitarian projects. Ideally, this would happen after the children have established relationships.
Sometimes her work takes her to IDP (internally displaced persons') camps like this one in Kabul, where she hopes to pilot the program. (Photo via Shannon Mouillesseaux.)
By creating a link between communities affected by war, Shannon hopes this type of cross-cultural exchange will help young people understand each other’s lives better and ultimately contribute to promoting peace on an individual level – even when governments are at odds.
Shannon is still refining her idea. Here are some challenges she has identified:
Working in an office with other collaborators would be one thing. Going at it on her own is very different. Without support and a more formal infrastructure, Shannon is unsure how to take the next step to give the project momentum.
Getting the language right is critical. She’s concerned that the project might be seen by some in the U.S. as anti-patriotic.
She has lots of questions about how to incorporate this into a school curriculum and, separately, the implications and logistics of sending teens abroad.
Like most projects out there, finding the right funders is a challenge.
How you can help
Shannon would love to see this idea grow and succeed. Can you offer her any advice?
Are there similar long-term projects or programs that appeal to students of all ages?
Do you know of any projects or programs that could offer insights, best practices, and/or lessons learned?
If you are a student, parent, teacher, and/or refugee, what aspects of these ideas appeal to you? What concerns come to mind?
Regarding sending teens abroad: Does the program need to be entirely separate from the school system, so that the school is not responsible legally? If so, how can Shannon ensure that both she and the project are protected?
Do you know of a rural community that might benefit from this type of project?
What other funding sources might want to help get a project like this off the ground?
If you’ve successfully launched a project, what piece of crucial advice would you share?