“I always believed that I have something important to say and I said it.” —Lou Reed
Lou Reed (photo courtesy Michael Ochs Archives, via dailymail.co.uk)
Last week, punks everywhere mourned the loss of Lou Reed, the iconic singer-songwriter from New York City whose signature toughness, honesty, and dark romantic sensibility have influenced rock music for the past 40-plus years.
But Reed wasn’t known only for his musical contributions; he was a figure to be reckoned with.
Clad in black leather in the age of hippie cotton and beads, notoriously deadpan in interviews, and collaborating with artists ranging from John Cale to wife Laurie Anderson to Metallica, Reed was always his own man, doing the things he wanted to.
Are you trying to drum up support for a project you’re working on—monetary or moral?
Whether you’re drafting language for a Kickstarter page, getting ready to make a speech to city council about your new neighborhood initiative, or prepping for the fundraising event you’re throwing at a local school, the way you tell your audience your story can make the difference between their committing support and walking away.
There are countless good tips out there about how to make people sympathetic to your cause—things like opening with a joke, keeping it short, including real-life examples, and giving a call to action.
Another great one is discussing your failures to show the audience that you’re not afraid to admit your mistakes, are okay with being vulnerable, and—most importantly—that you’ve learned from the past and are better prepared to take on the task at hand as a result of previous missteps.
All eyes on you? Turn the attention from a misstep into heartfelt support. (photo courtesy Shutterstock)
The failure you choose to highlight could relate directly to your current idea, or not.
For example, if you’re trying for the third time to start an after-school art program in your neighborhood, you can explain what you’ve learned from your first two attempts, and how that knowledge makes your plan uniquely equipped to succeed this time.
Or, if you haven’t failed at this particular endeavor before, try dredging up an experience from high school or your first job that relates—maybe you learned the hard way to ask for help when you need it, or to speak up when you see something amiss around you.
Whatever story you choose, here are a few pointers about how to tell great fail tales in print and in person from Brooklyn, New York writer, performer, and storytelling coach Andrew Linderman:
For many people (myself included), the only thing scarier than failing is talking about failure. Maybe you’ve hit a parked cop car, peed your pants in front of the high school rowing team or cried in front of a group of Chinese school children*. Whatever the case, you’ve probably failed a few times in your life.
To help you tell stories about screw-ups, shortcomings and unfortunate incidents without coming across as a bitter shrew or a total moron, follow these rules and you’ll be able to talk about failure without looking like one.
1. Don’t pass judgment.
The point of storytelling is to recreate an experience for your audience, so avoid passing judgment about any of the characters (yourself included!) in the story. The easiest way to do this is to eliminate comparatives (i.e. “better”, “worse”, “faster”, etc) and superlatives (i.e. “worst”, “best”, “fastest”) whenever possible. Instead, turn these comparisons into declarative statements (from “the best shot putter in Brooklyn” to “the #3 shot putter in the 18-22 age cohort in Brooklyn”). Specificity will help your story while making the narrator (you) more relatable.
2. Avoid complex explanations.
If you’re talking about failure, it’s natural to want to explain away a decision through your own interpretive lens. Don’t do this. People love stories about a good flop, so don’t cheat them of the experience. One quick way to cut down interpretation is to eliminate explanatory words (“because”, “why”, “knew”, “understood”, “decided”, “realized”) from your story. Don’t tell an audience why something is important, show them how it is important.
3. Show (don’t tell!) us your emotions.
Stories are filled with emotions and feelings, but manipulating your audience into feeling a particular way won’t help them relate to your experience. Skip emotive words (i.e. “happy”, “sad”, “excited”, “worried”) in favor of active phrases (“I smiled and screamed: “Awesome!”) that show the audience how you’re feeling. When you spend the time to recreate an experience, the emotions will shine through.
It takes time to tell stories about failure, but if you use these tips, you’ll be able to get over life’s hurdles faster and tell richer stories in the process. In the words of Samuel Beckett: “Try again. Fail again. Fail Better.”
In a blog post titled “Overcoming Your Negativity Bias,” The Energy Project founder Tony Schwartz explains that we all come with a built-in evolutionary imperative to pay more attention to the bad things in life than the good—the lion chasing you, for example, rather than the nice feeling you had after eating a delicious dinner.
But now, in a time when most of us don’t have to worry about hungry lions, consciously shifting our attention away from negative thoughts and onto positive ones “such as joy, contentment, interest, pride and love pays huge dividends.”
This practice is sometimes referred to as “overcoming negativity bias.”
“It’s a simple concept,” he writes. “We construct our internal reality–our experience of the world—in large part by where we put our attention. More often than we recognize, we can make that choice consciously and intentionally. Doing so influences not just how we feel, but also how we perform, individually and collaboratively.”
In the world of ‘doing good,’ it can be especially easy to let negativity encroach: your program didn’t get the funding you were counting on, your star volunteer called out at the last minute, the wrong email went out to donors—and it’s hard not to take it all to heart because you’re passionate about what you do.
Try this quick tip: the next time you feel negativity creeping up and your energy grinding to a halt, take two minutes away from what you’re doing and write down everything you feel grateful for in the present moment.
Schwartz writes of his own experience with this attention-shifting practice: “Saccharine as it may sound… I got on a roll, and after just a couple of minutes, I was not only feeling remarkably better, but also far more able to concentrate on the task at hand.”
Josh Heller and Nicole Kelly tried an experiment last summer. What would happen if they got their friends to descend on a small town in the U.S. as part of an intentional, temporary community?
“Cities are really expensive and it’s crazy to think that someone who is a struggling artist or creative should have to spend half their income on rent,” Josh says. “The thing is that less affordable places are less desirable. The idea for Summer Commune was that we could make a place desirable by bringing the people we think are cool.”
Josh, a travel writer for Matador Network, and Nicole, who was a grad student at UC Irvine for fiction writing at the time, were perfectly poised to lead the project. Avid travelers by nature and community builders by default, the couple already had a list of people they knew they could reach out to.
So they got to work. They read books about communes past, deciding that in the age of Craigslist, people could simply sublet their own apartments. They set up a Facebook group, website, and Tumblr blog. They called it Summer Commune, and at the beginning of June, rolled into the city of Moscow, Idaho to find their faces on the front page of the local newspaper.
“Moscow was a perfect place. It’s this unique city that is close to Washington, has two major universities, and there’s only several hundred thousand people. So it’s pretty remote and isolated, but you still have artists, intellectuals, and old hippies. A lot,” Josh says.
Before they arrived, Moscow residents ranging from farmers to Buddhist professors were waiting to welcome them with open arms. Those who came from other places—thinkers, comedians, designers, and other creatives, some of which Nicole and Josh knew and some of which they didn’t—were at a liminal time in their lives and excited to connect and explore. What started out as an initial way to live cheaply became something much deeper.
“A lot of people who came were looking for an alternative. People wanted to test out another way of life, another way of having community, another way of doing things. They were open-minded and curious,” Nicole says.
Over the course of the summer, Nicole and Josh held weekly open meetings at a nearby tavern for the core group of 10 Communers and the 60-plus interested locals to commingle. They also hosted literary readings, salons, a variety show, and a Pecha Kucha night at other venues throughout the city.
“The mayor told us that the tourism initiative we put together was something she had tried to pay for and it had not come out so well. Our grassroots efforts had really stimulated the local economy during the summer,” Josh says.
When Nicole and Josh weren’t orchestrating events, they and other Communers were hanging out with punk and bluegrass bands, dining with aging hippies, making friends with the coffee shop and co-op crowd, hanging out on a farm, and volunteering at the city’s Artwalk. They fell in love with Moscow—and with an alternative way of living.
“For me personally, it made me be more open to living other places and seeing other parts of America I was less interested in before,” Nicole says.
3 things they wish they did differently
From the beginning, the two wanted Summer Commune to be a model that anyone anywhere could take and copy. If you want to create one of your own, here are three tips to keep in mind:
1. Be clear about who you want to target.
They initially pitched the idea just to artists, but realized halfway through that Summer Commune would’ve been great for anyone who worked remotely or wanted to, like freelancers, small business teams, etc.
2. Write a manifesto.
While Summer Commune was always an exploratory project which they wanted to give room to breathe, having principles of community framework from the beginning would’ve helped. “We wanted it to be collaborative, but I realize now that was unrealistic,” Nicole says. “I think people wanted a structure but they didn’t want to help build it. A lot of people felt, ‘We’re happy to be here, but what do you want from us?’”
3. Email the mayor.
Nicole and Josh were so focused on amassing a crowd to go with them that they unintentionally forgot about local outreach. When they saw how responsive Moscow was, they realized they could’ve easily gotten in touch with local government, city council, and more much earlier, possibly tapping them for budget and infrastructure help.
“It was cool to see something come to fruition. I’m now more excited by having ideas and actually building them out,” Josh says.
“When people would ask, ‘What are you doing with your life?’ that would’ve stressed me out a year ago,” Nicole adds. “Now it’s fine. I know now opportunities will present themselves and that I can make my own things.”
Of course, Nicole and Josh did many things right and would love to share their tips on choosing the right place, branding, and more. Get in touch by emailing email@example.com.
Originally designed to draw in a new audience, LitPunch is a series of social networking events hosted by the editors, book reviewers, directors, and volunteer coordinators of the five participating literary organizations. Chris Jones, Marketing Director at The Loft Literary Center, explains that sharing responsibilities between the organizations has worked well for LitPunch because of good communication and mutual respect between the partnering groups. “We have a great working relationship because we’re all open and flexible,” he says.
Ever-evolving, LitPunch offers community members a chance to chat with the minds behind some of the most prominent literary organizations and presses in the country. Back when LitPunch got its start in 2011, the gem of the program was an actual punch card that participants could get stamped at “punch worthy” readings and lit events around the cities. After filling a card by attending 12 events (a “knock-out”), the card could be used as a $15 gift certificate at a participating indie bookstore.
While this was a fun idea at first, about a year into the program, participants started complaining about losing or forgetting to bring their punch cards and the program started to lose steam. Rather than giving up on the idea, the organizers decided to tweak their approach and transformed the program into a series of social networking events (from punch cards to punch bowls, some would say).
Why you might like to try this
Distributes your marketing efforts. With literary events like readings, there is sometimes a burnout effect that comes from inviting the same core group of followers again and again. Pooling your lists and inviting a bigger number of folks to begin with can help avoid this. Teaming up also lends a razzle dazzle effect to events and makes them really special—people love knowing that this is the literary event to go to.
Lightens logistical responsibilities. Nonprofits and small presses are usually strapped for staff time and have a lot to do besides organizing community events. By sharing the responsibilities of who does what, you can lessen the burden on all of the groups.
Increases fans and supporters. One of the big questions the members of LitPunch had in the beginning was if they were already sharing the same core group of supporters. They each sent out a survey to try and figure this out, and what they found was encouraging. “Most people were at least aware of the other organizations, but they definitely became more aware after we teamed up. It seems like most felt connected to one or two of the organizations, but few were circled into all five very strongly,” Chris says. He considers this one of the biggest successes of their coalition—that LitPunch really has exposed people in the community to new opportunities.
How you can replicate it
Creating new coalitions can be a challenge, but Chris has some advice for nonprofits looking to team up, whether for a literary endeavor like LitPunch or otherwise.
Guests mingling at January’s LitPunch mixer.
1.Pick your collaborators wisely.
There comes to a certain point where without a central leader, trading off on responsibilities just isn’t efficient anymore. For the folks at LitPunch, five organizations is just right: “Any more and I think it would become a little unwieldy.” The most important trick to forming a strong coalition is to make sure that your missions are really on point. You want to be able to focus your efforts in the same direction when it comes to the consistency and style of your events, including collaborative efforts in grant proposals and reports, and reaching out to the right potential audience members.
Community projects need to be focused enough to have a clear goal that fits into what your organization does, but—especially when you’re working with other organizations—coalitions need to be able to change and grow with time. As Chris says, “If you’re too rigid, it’s just not going to work.” LitPunch has changed dramatically since its start in 2011, and its constant evolution has been a big part of its longevity.
3. Ask for feedback.
As LitPunch has grown up, the participating organizations have been very committed to seeking out and responding to feedback from their attendees. When people reported they were losing their punch cards too often to make it worthwhile, LitPunch did away with the cards. When people said they wanted to meet with more editors and talk books with the best of ‘em, LitPunch delivered. Give people what they want, and your program will be successful.
4. Make it fun.
The spirit of LitPunch comes from that nostalgic drive for racking up points and winning awesome prizes that many folks have carried with them since childhood. This fun energy has electrified all of the events and marketing efforts of LitPunch, even after the end of “knock-outs.” At the next LitPunch mixer in June, for example, attendees will be able to win prizes from their favorite presses and bookstores by playing literary signature bingo which rewards them for mingling with the editors and organizers of the participating LitPunch groups.
This consistent effort of LitPunch to give “normal” readings and literary events extra flare has certainly attracted a great deal of attention for the program and for the participating organizations.
“The turnout was overwhelming,” Chris says about the 2013 LitPunch kick-off this past January. “It was so cool to see a bar packed with people who were all there because they love books as much as we do.”
Boulder Food Rescue volunteer Kim Abcouwer picks up food at a local Whole Foods. (Photo credit: Cliff Grassmick.)
It’s no news that America is one of the largest waste generators in the world—just take a look at a Portland, Oregon dump a day after Christmas to refresh your memory.
But how far have we gone? According to a March 2013 study by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the U.S. wastes around 40 percent of all edible food. While a big chunk of this waste is generated by private homes, restaurants and grocery stores across the country add a hefty contribution (86 billion and 43 billion pounds, respectively, in 2008).
These alarming numbers—paired with population of those going homeless and hungry in the states—are the leading reason 25-year-old Hana Dansky decided to co-found the country’s first food “rescue and redistribution” nonprofit, Boulder Food Rescue.
“After learning about the national problem with waste, I did research locally,” says Hana. “There was enough food thrown away in Boulder County to feed the county’s entire homeless population—which was crazy. So we did something about it.”
Hana, along with two other friends, started talking to local grocery stores and homeless shelters in 2011 to see how they could connect the two. Soon the small team began pedaling trailer-toting bikes between multiple grocery stores, cafes, shelters, soup kitchens and residents for at-risk community members. They had become the missing link.
“It’s great how willing most store managers were to contribute and how badly the community needed their excess food,” Hana says. “Filling that gap makes all the difference.”
Now, 150 volunteers, 16 regular donors and a 501(c) 3 certification later—and the thriving Boulder Food Rescue is ready to share their model with other communities in need.
Why you might like to try this
Shrinks waste. Sure, this is an obvious one, but the national statistics alone make it a convincing reason to kickstart your own food rescuing system. Why toss a shelf of day-old bread or a box of barely wilted lettuce in the trash when others are pinching pennies to make a sandwich?
Supplies those in need. Hana says that a recent survey done by Boulder’s largest shelter revealed that 66 percent of its dining hall’s produce comes directly from Boulder Food Rescue. “It’s amazing to positively influence the diet of so many people who need it,” she says. “And the need is definitely out there.”
Strengthens community. Since the food rescue got off the ground, a handful of community members have offered their varied help to keep it rolling. “Not only have we connected food to those who need it, we’ve seen this community open up as a resource, offering skills and their passion for others without a second thought,” says Hana.
How you can replicate it
Build donor trust. Hana says that create strong and trusting relationships with grocery store and restaurant managers is the trickiest part of her work. She avoids major chains, based on their overarching restrictions on donations, and focuses primarily on local food sources. “Usually,” says Hana, “we can sit down with the store managers in person and talk about our mission and process—specifically how they aren’t responsible for any of the food after its picked up.”
Know your rights. Many potential donors shy away to avoid potential conflict with FDA regulations. But, Hana says, the national 1996 Good Samaritan Act—allowing businesses to donate food to nonprofits without claiming any responsibility—strengthens most donors’ interest. Plus, nonprofit donations benefit businesses when tax season rolls around.
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.
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.
What kid doesn’t love a snow day? Of course it’s a day off school, but, more importantly, waking up to a world that has been transformed by a fresh layer of snow adds a bit of magic and wonder to a child’s life.
On January 12 of this year, the city of Seattle was treated to an epic, fun-filled Snow Day. But this event was specifically designed for adults.
It started with a snow fort and castle-building competition, which later became the setting for the the world’s largest snowball fight. 6,000 people joined in, and a new Guinness world record was set. The day ended with a pub crawl that allowed community members to warm up, as well as make new friends.
The event was the brainchild of Neil Bergquist, who managed to pull of the impressive feat while also serving as the Director of SURF Incubator, a community-supported network of digital startups. Neil relied on his own entrepreneurial skills, and the support of his network of friends and contacts, to turn Snow Day into a reality.
“I wanted to do something disruptive. Snow Day was an opportunity for the city to come together and showcase everything we love about the Northwest,” he says.
The event was a fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Clubs of King County. In addition to raising an impressive $50,000, it also helped participants connect with the youth organization’s mission to inspire and enable all young people to realize their full potential as productive, responsible, and caring citizens.
Why you might like to try this
Creates a meaningful experience, while raising money. “Our mission was to raise money for kids by helping people remember what it’s like to be one,” Neil says. Snow Day went beyond the traditional charity auction or dinner, and provided a memorable, shared experience for Seattleites.
Shines a spotlight on the beneficiary’s work and mission. There’s no doubt the Boys and Girls Clubs of King County got more than money out of the event. Neil is proud of the fact that the event garnered global media attention, and created positive buzz for the nonprofit. It helped bring attention to the Boys and Girls Clubs’ other fundraising efforts, as well as generated fresh interest amongst potential volunteers. As Neil says, “The publicity they received was hard to put a dollar value on.”
Prioritizes fun and community. Neil recognizes the powerful community-building effect of something as iconic as a snow day. “Snow days are a time where the world shuts down. The stresses of our daily life come to a close, and people just focus on the here and now. And on each other.”
How you can replicate it
While Seattle’s Snow Day was the first of its kind, Neil says he can imagine similar events happening all over the world. He says the spirit of Snow Day is something everyone can relate to, and provides a healthy way to bring communities together.
If you’d like to bring a Snow Day to your community, consider these lessons from Neil and his team. Remember that Neil started this without any official institutional backing. He does have entrepreneurial skills, a pretty high risk tolerance, and a great network of supporters, but he says there’s no reason others can’t achieve the same kind of success.
Think big. A Snow Day that attracted 100 people wouldn’t have made nearly the impact that this 6,000-person exercise in “managed chaos” (Neil’s words) had. When the team realized they had the potential to break a world record, they knew they had to pull out all the stops.
Get your ducks in a row. Neil refers to the date and the venue as the “anchor pieces,” around which everything else needs to work, so deal with those first. He recommends securing an iconic venue, like the Seattle Center, as a backdrop. For a risky endeavour like Snow Day, you need to make sure you’re properly insured. Do your research. As Neil says, “You don’t just call up Allstate and say, ‘Hey, we’re having the world’s largest snowball fight.’”
Make your own high-quality snow. Neil says if he organizes another Snow Day, he won’t bring in 160,000 pounds of snow in 34 dump trucks like he did this year. Instead, he’d investigate the several ways to create snow on site.
Do your homework. Neil and his team are now experts on snow. They read studies on the dangers of snowball fights (they made sure goggles were available at the event after learning that eye lacerations are the number one cause of injuries during snowball fights). They conducted snow-quality tests in the Cascade mountains, and did scenario planning (how would various weather conditions affect the event?). They took the details seriously.
Leverage every resource you can. Neil relied on the time and skills of his committed team of friends. He made use of personal connections to convince 36 corporate sponsors to get on board with an unprecedented, and, frankly, rather risky, endeavor. The team used their personal networks to blow up social media, eventually selling out the event a week in advance. They got a radio partner on board, and benefited from the free promotion. Neil believes creating mutually beneficial relationships was the key to getting the promotion he needed.
Build a strong brand. Neil managed to get the “Snow.co” domain and the @SnowDay twitter handle, which he says added to the legitimacy of the event from the get go.
Be prepared for a lot of work. Everyone on Neil’s team had a full-time job, in addition to their Snow Day responsibilities. Neil reports, “There was a team of six of us that were working all the time. I probably put in 80 hours per week for the five or six weeks leading up to the event. I loved the idea, and I wanted to make it happen.”
A month before the event, with 4,000 tickets sold, the Snow Day team still didn’t know how they were going to transport the 160,000 pounds of snow needed.
“The difficult part is maintaining the confidence that you’re going to find a way,” Neil finally says. “If you have a vision, you’re going to give everything it takes to deliver on that vision, even though you don’t always have all the answers.”
- Want to plan a Snow Day in your own community? Reach out to Neil Bergquist for information and advice: email@example.com.