Global aid workers need aid, too

As we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this week and people across the U.S. come together to help each other and work toward solving our common problems, we’d like to pose the question: what exactly is social good?

Coincidentally… Welcome to Ideal-to-Real Updates, a series where we check in with idealists taking action on their good ideas to see what they’ve been up to and what gems of wisdom they’ve been learning.

Last July, we wrote about Shannon Mouillesseaux, a New York state native with a passion for international development.

At that time, she shared with us her idea for a penpal and travel exchange project that would match at-risk students in the U.S. with kids in developing or war-affected countries.

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Shannon with a family in rural Oman.

We recently caught up with Shannon again to ask about the status of that project, and what else she’s been up to in the past year and a half. She wrote to us from her current post as a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) protection officer overseas, assisting refugees and helping advocate for those who are unlawfully detained.

Through the Idealist blog, I learned of a great project already underway, which has a strikingly similar objective and approach to what my project aspired to do. It’s called Project PeacePal. The executive director Sarah Wilkinson and I connected and have remained in touch to support one another. For one, I was able to refer another Idealist member who had connected with me, following the blog post, to PeacePal to assist Sarah with social media efforts.

Shannon would love to collaborate with PeacePal in the future, but she’s currently involved with all sorts of other projects: setting up iSurvived, an advocacy and support group for UNHCR staff who have survived trauma; creating a website to connect and support global aid workers around the world; and writing a children’s book series to encourage cultural and humanitarian awareness.

I am *always* working on what I call “my personal projects” on the side of my work. Most of them have a similar theme: to educate people about realities in the global South, advocate for aid workers, and help improve our development models and systems, which I think are largely outdated and in need of retooling.

I feel propelled to act on behalf of other humanitarian staff in order to better protect and support them. After all, how can we expect to be effective in our roles as development workers if we don’t first ensure that we are healthy and adequately supported? As the environments in which we work become decreasingly secure, our organizations need to take action to better prepare us, protect us, and support us. We each have a role in advocating for this, too.
Go Shannon! We’re rooting for you. Looking forward already to checking in next year.
If you’d like to help inspire young people around the world to become peace builders, connect with Project PeacePal. To learn about and support the international aid worker community, visit global aid worker.

 

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

 

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Alex’s collaborative movement for fair taxes in Oregon

Welcome to Ideal-to-Real Updates, a series where we check in with idealists taking action on their good ideas to see what they’ve been up to and what gems of wisdom they’ve learned along the way.

A little over a year ago we wrote about Alex Linsker, an Oregonian who was undertaking the ginormous task of overhauling the state’s tax system through his initiative, Tax and Conversation.

It’s a big project to lead, but Alex has been taking small steps forward. Since we last spoke, he’s talked with thousands of people—friends, influential people in the state, tax experts, people affected by underfunded state and local services—to learn more and get buy-in for the project.

“Sometimes the work gets tiring but then I talk with someone who is affected by tax and who cares about people, and that inspires me and shows me the way forward,” he says.

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Alex taking notes at a City Club of Portland meeting.
(photo courtesy Rachel Loskill, Program & Communications Director, City Club of Portland)

Most of the people he’s met with have been referrals. Others have been chance encounters with everyday Oregonians.

Once, when Alex was biking home from an event, a guy walking on the sidewalk stopped him while he was at a stoplight. He was a farmer and former Marine from Eastern Oregon, and started telling Alex about his son and grandson, and a motorcycle they all rode over the years. He talked about limits and rules, and Alex saw the connection to Tax and Conversation, which on a fundamental level, is about the same thing.

“He leads an agricultural co-op and he sends out two trucks each day: one sells milk to Idaho, and the other gives cream, cheese, and gas to Oregonians who can’t afford it. He wanted the tax system to change so the people around him can buy those things,” Alex says. “Even though he doesn’t speak the same words I do, we realized we share a lot of the same values. We talked about tax, food, medical care, government, courts, schools. I listened, he listened, we learned and agreed.”

The idea is that this farmer’s voice and thousands of others are informing the rewrite of the current policy, which in a nutshell is this: people and companies who have the most money pay less tax.

Alex wants to flip this system by refunding all payroll tax to residents, ending Oregon income and property taxes, and progressively taxing net assets. This will simplify tax law so that people can better understand where their money’s going, and create more jobs, especially for teachers.

Of course, it takes time to build momentum. As the co-founder of The Collective Agency, a democratically-run shared workplace, Alex knows one thing for sure: only move forward if the majority agrees to move forward.

“There was one week last year where I had an idea, and asked people about it. They all said it was terrible. If I think something is good, and everyone else says it’s terrible, then it’s not worth pursuing,” he says. “So there are a lot of checks and balances.”

The project has had its ups and downs and there’s a lot of work ahead—like raising $15 million (!) for a statewide campaign—but for Alex, the sometimes taxing nature of it is anything but an obstacle.

“This project is a mix of statistics and empathy. It’s similar to how I started Collective Agency, but a lot harder,” Alex says. “I’m constantly choosing to work on this. It’s challenging, but I’m meeting amazing people and it’s fun.”

Want to help? From referring to writing to donating, there are many ways you can support Tax and Conversation.

If you’re looking to start a similar initiative where you live but don’t know how to begin, feel free to get in touch with Alex for tips and advice: Council@TaxAndConversation.com.

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Help Maha and Hikmat give secondhand clothes more sparkle

Happy January! Welcome to Clean Start week.

An ongoing experiment: can our community’s collective brainpower help an idea become reality?

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By teaching sewing skills to women like this participant in their fall workshop, Second Chance hopes to provide economic independence to women in rural areas of Lebanon. (photo courtesy Second Chance Facebook)

Meet Maha and Hikmat

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Maha, left, and Hikmat
(photo courtesy Hikmat Al Khansa)

Sparkle jeans. Dip-dye. Metallic piping. Maha Mrad’s got more style in her manicured little finger than many of us have in our whole closet.

Maha’s obsession with fashion started when she was about 10. Her cousin was drawing pictures of dresses in her sketchbook and they caught Maha’s eye. Though her cousin’s interest turned out to be more fleeting, Maha’s been designing interesting outfits and patterns ever since.

As a student at Haigazian University in Beirut, Lebanon, she found a way to connect her passion for fashion with her studies in social entrepreneurialism.

With a partner, friend and fellow student Hikmat Al Khansa, she’s laid the groundwork for a new social good business, Second Chance, which will revamp secondhand clothing into eco-friendly recycled and upcycled fashions.

“I put together the idea and sent it to Hikmat with a feeling that she’s gonna laugh about it,” Maha says. “Surprisingly she liked it and we went through with it.”

Maha, Hikmat, and eight other student collaborators at their university have been working on the model and marketing plans for Second Chance. After they finish their degrees, Maha and Hikmat plan to go into business together to make their idea a reality.

“She’s the best partner I could think of,” says Maha.

The intention

While thrifting and DIY fashion may be commonplace in the US, in Lebanon and many other countries around the world, buying new and designer clothing remains a status symbol that makes shopping for and buying secondhand clothing unpopular.

Because of this, Hikmat explains, “It’s hard for Lebanese people to admit to buying used clothes even if they do it frequently.”

Second Chance hopes to make over both the clothes themselves and the reputation of previously-owned clothes by upgrading outdated garments with stylish twists. With help and training from a well-known designer, Maha and Hikmat plan to hire women from rural areas around Beirut to do the sewing and redesigning.

“We’re trying to show people that it is okay to wear secondhand clothing,” Maha explains. “Wearing such clothes can be trendy and helpful to both community and environment. It’s not something to be ashamed of.”

Obstacles

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Some of the custom designs created for Second Chance’s 2013 pilot exhibition (photo courtesy Second Chance Facebook)

In fall 2013, Maha, Hikmat, and their fellow student collaborators launched a pilot program of Second Chance and organized a 10-day training workshop for seamstresses.

The result was a fashion exhibition featuring over 70 unique designs. While reception was good, the students sold fewer clothes than they were hoping to.

Maha takes the lack of sales at their initial exhibit in stride, saying, “The biggest lesson I learned is to be more patient and not make an obstacle of myself. It’s all about the attitude.”

As students, Maha and Hikmat are still learning about business management and intend to get Masters degrees in management before they launch Second Chance.

In addition to finishing school, they also need to find partnerships with more established fashion designers or brands to help build their reputation. For their pilot project, they enlisted the help of a local tailor to train the women (rather than a famous designer).

When Maha and Hikmat make a real go of it, they’re hoping to get a big-name designer involved to help increase their visibility.

“People here are all about appearance and prestige,” says Maha.

How you can help

  • Do you know of similar projects in the US or elsewhere around the world that Maha and Hikmat could learn from?
  • Are you connected with a well-known fashion designer or existing clothing brand that wants to get involved in a social good project in the Middle East?
  • Are you or do you know a lawyer in Lebanon who can offer advice to Maha and Hikmat as they set up their business?
  • Do you know of a potential marketing or advertising firm that could offer professional branding services to Second Chance?

Reach out to Second Chance through their Facebook page.

Are you a practical dreamer with an idea that’s just starting to take shape? If you’d like to be a part of this series, or know someone else who would be a good fit, email rebecca@idealist.org.

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Reciprocity + Co: The power of collaboration and perseverance

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One of five tote bags from Reciprocity + Co. The blue straps indicate your money will go to a featured health project. (photo courtesy reciprocityandco.com)

Almost one year ago, we wrote about Samuel McPherson, a young social entrepreneur who was starting a company to help improve education worldwide. The idea for Reciprocity + Co. was simple: buy a canvas tote bag, help a school get needed supplies.

But executing this model proved difficult, and Samuel realized the one-to-one model wasn’t sustainable. Wanting to support more long-lasting projects like installing wells and building schoolhouses, he made some changes.

In the time since we last spoke, Samuel developed a partnership with the crowdfunding website GlobalGiving, with the goal of raising $1,000 for projects across five issues: health, hunger, human rights, children, and education. Now when you buy a Reciprocity + Co. tote bag, a portion of your money goes to a cause of your choice.

During his journey, Samuel realized the power of collaboration—and perseverance. He wrote on his blog after a meeting with GlobalGiving:

As I was leaving their office, filled with adrenaline and excitement, I began thinking about the history of Reciprocity + Co. and all that has happened over the years. I started to reflect on one of the most important lessons I have learned about starting the company: nothing is more important than never giving up.

There were a number of times when most signs were suggesting that I should close up shop and consider Reciprocity + Co. a failed attempt. There were times when I had no sense of direction, nobody asking what was next, and moments when I realized my friends and family were convinced it was done.

There came a time about a year ago when I had to decide if I was going to keep the website or shut it down. I couldn’t bring myself to do this. It was not in the cards. I began working through ways to reinvent the company. I took a fresh perspective and brought new life into the idea. I started from scratch and rebuilt everything.

How did Samuel know he needed to keep going and make it through the dip? It was a gut feeling.

Have you ever wanted to quit but your instincts told you otherwise? Tell us about it!

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Idealist community (that’s you) steps up to help bring healing project to veterans

We love it when this happens.

In an Ideal to Real story this past May, we profiled Ellen Severino, a Brooklynite interested in alternative medicine who’s striving to bring the Japanese spiritual healing practice called Reiki to the military community. Since then, Ellen reports that the Idealist community (that’s you) has really stepped up to help her.

So far, she’s been blogged about by The Omega Institute and has made plans to attend their Veterans, Trauma & Treatment conference next month; has been collaborating with Military Musters to become their first practitioner in New York; and is looking into getting Reiki master training so she can teach others how to perform the treatment—especially people involved with the armed forces.

Plus, there was this potential game-changer:

Lori Nolen contacted me through Idealist several weeks ago. She has stepped up to the plate in a major way, providing an enormous amount of expertise and mentoring. It’s a great example of the benefits of community.
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 Ellen recently renamed her initiative the “Reiki Service Project” and adopted this snappy logo.

Lori is working through the final course of her master’s degree in nonprofit management at Regis University in Denver. For her final paper, she’s tasked with preparing a development (ie: fundraising) plan for the nonprofit of her choice. She’d researched well-established organizations for projects before, but never a startup, and Ellen’s project appealed to her.

She contacted Ellen through Idealist to ask if she could use the Reiki Service Project (RSP) as her case study.

“When I finish,” she wrote, “you’ll have a platform upon which to base your resource-building plan. You’ll have full rights to everything I write to use or change as you wish. And, perhaps others can replicate it after it is successful.”

Ellen gave Lori the green light, so for next six weeks, they’ll work together to build a viable development plan for the RSP. In the meantime, Ellen left us with these thoughts:

A month ago, it seemed like nothing was happening, everything was going at a snail’s pace. And then suddenly, there got to be a flow.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and think, “I should have had this done last week.” There’s nothing scarier than when you get that anxious, overwhelmed feeling, and you can get paralysis that way. So you just have to go one bite at a time. Just say, “Okay, what’s one email I can send right now? What’s one website I can read?”

You don’t need 15 hours to take a step toward making things happen; you need 15 minutes. Pick the very doable, small tasks, and feel the satisfaction of making progress. That moves you along.

Idealist has a very generous community. Even if they couldn’t help directly, many people reached out to say, “I think what you’re doing is great, and best of luck.” In this world, it’s so nice to have those pats on the back.

If you’d like to contact Ellen about the Reiki Service Project, send her a message through Idealist. Go community!

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Help Bethany start an art bus for homeless youth

An ongoing experiment: can our community’s collective brainpower help an idea become reality?

Meet Bethany

In between sludging through snow banks to bring supplies to homeless camps in Utah and working at a homeless women’s shelter in Portland, Oregon, Bethany Haug took some time off to get her MFA in creative writing.

She spent two years writing poems about love, transportation, and motor homes. She also started teaching developmental writing and creative writing to young people. Put all of that together, and you can see where she might have gotten the idea for the art bus.

“Kids who are homeless and aren’t in school or have large obstacles in their lives could definitely use a creative outlet. They need to be encouraged to read and write and create. And even if you take self-expression out of it, being creative is just something positive to do with your time while you’re trying to survive,” she says.

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Bethany in Portland’s International Rose Test Garden

The intention

Bethany wants to build a traveling arts education center and zine-making bus to give homeless youth the chance to express themselves.

She understands that drop-in centers don’t always work for homeless teens and runaways, but hopes a mobile center could bring arts programming and non-traditional educational resources directly to them.

“The advantage of mobile outreach is that even though you might be affiliated with a drop-in center that has rules and obvious hours, you’re outside of that. You are stepping into their space as opposed to asking them to step into yours,” she says. “Because of that, mobile outreach has been particularly effective in reaching people who live in camps or who might be for whatever reason uncomfortable in social service buildings—especially with homeless youth who might be runaways or have come from foster care and don’t want to share their identity with authorities.”

And while the opportunity to be creative is important, the secondary purpose of the art bus would be to team up with existing homeless service organizations to connect the kids who come to her bus with other essential services and survival resources.

“Only after those needs are taken care of can someone start to think about self-expression,” she says.

She envisions the bus working in one of two ways—either as a center that moves across the country teaming up with many organizations that might not have the resources to offer arts programming, or as the mobile branch of one drop-in center in a city where there’s a lot of need.

“I live in Portland right now, and we’re lucky to have some of the best homeless youth services in the country,” she says. “But I wonder what other communities could really benefit from this.”

Obstacles

Bethany has researched some existing creative mentoring services but hasn’t reached out to any organizations just yet. While she feels confident that this is a great idea, she’s never done anything like it before and feels pretty overwhelmed.

“I don’t even know if existing agencies would take me seriously. Like, do they even care?” she says.

Some of her biggest obstacles so far include:

1. Funding. Bethany currently works full-time as a caretaker for disabled adults, but she would rather be working on the art bus. She wants to know if there’s enough money out there that she could make this her primary job, or if any existing social service or community arts organizations would hire her to run this kind of program for them.

“I’m preoccupied with having to survive right now. I have student debt and I don’t have any savings—it’s just not financially feasible for me to think about doing this full-time right now,” she says.

2. Lack of business development and budget management experience. “I don’t have any knowledge or training in this. I have nothing to compare to and no experience, so where do I start?”

3. Building partnerships. Bethany wants to run this program in tandem with other organizations but isn’t sure how to start the conversation.

“I want to approach organizations that work with homeless youth but don’t have any creative writing programming, or with literary arts or community service organizations that don’t reach out to homeless youth but would like to,” she says. “But what do I say to them? And why would they work with me if I’m basically on my own and have no experience or money?”

How you can help

  • Does this project already exist somewhere else?
  • Can you think of an organization that might benefit from a partnership with the art bus?
  • Can you connect Bethany to other organizations or programs that work in creative mentoring for homeless youth?
  • Can you offer any advice about organizational structure or funding options for a program like this?
  • Do you know of any other mobile programs Bethany could look at as a model, whether for social good or otherwise?
  • Do you have any tips for how to approach a homeless youth organization?

If you have any bright ideas for Bethany, leave them in the comments below or send her a message through Idealist. If the project progresses, we’ll keep you posted!

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Are you a practical dreamer with an idea that’s just starting to take shape? If you’d like to be a part of this series, or know someone else who would be a good fit, email celeste@idealist.org.

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Help Ellen help veterans with alternative medicine

Memorial Day reminds us to reflect on the meaning of the military in our lives and the experience of the military community. Read how one idealist is striving to lighten their burden, one person at a time, and how you can help.

Meet Ellen

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Ellen Severino

“I’ve always been drawn to complementary healing treatments,” says Ellen Severino, a Brooklyn resident who volunteers at the borough’s Fort Hamilton army base. “I was trained in reflexology many years ago and more recently was introduced to Reiki. I received several treatments and found them to be very powerful—like they shifted, or realigned, something inside me. I felt more balanced and at ease.”

Reiki is a hundred-year-old Japanese spiritual healing practice that uses light touch to bring balance and relaxation to the body and mind. Wanting to learn more about it after her own treatments, Ellen enrolled in Reiki classes at the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies in Rhinebeck, New York a few years ago.

“My dad was a World War II veteran who dealt with PTSD [posttraumatic stress disorder], although there was no such diagnosis back then. He had a full life, but PTSD did limit him. I have often wondered how different his life would have been if he had received appropriate treatment. PTSD remains an enormous issue in today’s military. Reiki is by no means a cure-all, but I’ve seen it really improve the quality of people’s lives. It can be an effective tool in creating a sense of well-being.”

The intention

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Ellen gives a soldier a Reiki treatment.

Ellen started volunteering to provide Reiki treatments at the base in August of last year, and has committed about eight hours a week since. “This is a community under a tremendous amount of stress, and their resources are limited—there are year-long backlogs of vets waiting for services, and in the meantime, they’ve more than picked up the tab,” she says.

Anyone in the military community is welcome to participate in what Ellen’s been calling “The Reiki Service Project,” including enlistees, their families, civilians who work on the base, and employees of the nearby VA hospital.

“I offer Reiki treatment in a very conventional, straightforward manner,” she says. “It is an elegant and simple practice.”

So far, she’s received enthusiastic feedback. “I have 6’2” Marines coming in skeptical,” she says. “I give them a brief explanation of what Reiki is and say, ‘Give it a try.’ They’re usually surprised by how much better they feel. I’ve done at least 400 20-minute sessions, and out of those, only one person said she didn’t feel any different afterward. The soldiers I see report feeling better, sleeping better, and being able to interact with their families with more patience and ease.”

Ellen would like to spend more time offering Reiki at the base, but can’t afford to be a full-time volunteer. She would also like to see Reiki treatments made more available to the military community at large, but isn’t sure how to take the next steps.

Obstacles

So far, Ellen has shared her idea with several people and knows at least four other Reiki practitioners who would volunteer their time. She was also recently invited by a colonel at Fort Hamilton to present about Reiki on a “resiliency training” panel for over 250 army recruiters. Despite this support, Ellen is still facing some challenges:

1. Organizing.

“I lack business savvy,” she says. “I’ve looked into creating a nonprofit to expand this work, but need someone with expertise to explain the pros and cons. Perhaps there is a better way to move forward.”

2. Funding.

Ellen feels strongly that military personnel shouldn’t have to pay out of pocket for these services, but she needs ideas for alternative funding. “The good news is the overhead is very low: space is provided by the military base, Reiki doesn’t require special supplies, I don’t need to develop a product. But it still needs some money to keep it going. People tell me to look into applying for grants, but I don’t know how to single out the most likely funders, or much about the application process or writing grant proposals.”

3. Expanding.

“This is a national concern,” says Ellen. “Many military people are unsatisfied with the medical choices available to them—they want alternatives to the conventional treatments. Creating programs to educate them and offer treatments like Reiki would empower them to take charge of their healing.”

Ellen knows many practitioners successfully implementing Reiki programs in different settings, but hasn’t seen anyone near her doing it on a big scale. “There’s a program in Fort Bliss designed by the military that employs Reiki,” she says, “so they have publicly recognized its benefits. They’re also using it at Walter Reade and other veterans’ hospitals. But it should be out there more.”

How you can help

  • Are you a Reiki or other complimentary healing practitioner who has created a nonprofit and could offer advice?
  • Do you know about grants available for alternative medicine projects?
  • Are you a Reiki provider who would like to volunteer with Ellen, or start your own volunteer project in another area?
  • Are you a member of the military community who could introduce Ellen to useful contacts in your network?
  • Can you give Ellen advice about the pros and cons of starting a nonprofit versus a business to advance her work?

If you have ideas, please leave them in the comments below or send Ellen a message through Idealist. We’ll keep you up to date as The Reiki Service Project progresses.

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Help Kirsten start a nonprofit incubator

An ongoing experiment: Can our community’s collective brainpower help an idea become reality?

Kirsten Doherty can’t say enough good things about Lowell, Massachusetts. As the birthplace of the industrial revolution in the U.S, home to numerous public institutions and a diverse immigrant population, the city has a rising creative economy with new projects and initiatives springing up all the time. Many are calling it a renaissance.

Kirsten LinkedIn

“We also have very smart people with brilliant ideas to make Lowell a better place to live,” she says. “What we are missing, I believe, is a physical space—like a resource center or incubator—for people who want to be creative and do good.”

Kirsten knows a thing or two about the situation, having spent 15 years working in fundraising and lived in the city of 100,000 for six years. She’s also currently interning with Lowell’s Department of Planning and Development.

“But there are some gaps in my training. I want to see this happen, but need help.”

The intention

Kirsten says she often notices artists and others active in the community having meetings at Starbucks because they don’t have a place to do business. She sees a need: these people should have a space to work.

“A lot of the people starting things here have great ideas,” she says, “but they’re often on these tiny staffs where they’re experts in their program, but need back-office support and help with the other stuff—graphic design, accounting, grantwriting—so they can focus on their missions. I want this place to provide one-stop shopping for those services.”

Obstacles

Kirsten says she’s very well connected in Lowell, but admittedly, she doesn’t know everything. So far she’s planned meetings with Third Sector New England and Space With a Soul, two nonprofit spaces in nearby Boston, to learn more about how they got started and get a sense of how they operate.

She also recently submitted an application to the UMass Lowell Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s Merrimack Valley Sandbox project, which gives annual seed money awards to local aspiring entrepreneurs. But the more ideas she can collect and connections she can make, the better.

Kirsten is most concerned with getting advice to help shape the following three aspects of her idea:

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Boott Cotton Mills Museum, Lowell, MA. (Photo via Kirsten Doherty.)

1. Spatial and organizational layout. “I’d like to get different ideas, especially about how organizational membership could work—like, would you need to have a 501(c)(3) to join, or maybe just a fiscal sponsor? How would we handle groups with controversial missions?—and the physical layout of the space. What are some different models for those things?”

2. Funding. “I’m particularly interested in ideas for funding and governing/leadership models,” Kirsten says. “I sort of picture a place with reasonable rental fees that the participating nonprofits would pay for—and maybe they could get some help from government grants or private philanthropy?”

3. Staffing and maintenance. “I want to see this happen, and am up for helping to launch it—maybe be on the advisory board?” says Kirsten. “But ultimately, I don’t think I would be the best ED or manager, so would need options for that. And for staffing, I’m not sure if full-time people or consultants would be the way to go… Or what!”

How you can help

  • Do you know any nonprofit spaces like the one Kirsten envisions?

  • Do you have advice to share about organizational structure, membership, fundraising, governing, or staffing options for a center like this?

  • If you’re part of an organization that belongs to this type of nonprofit space, or would like to, share notes on your experience or needs with Kirsten.

  • Do you live in the Lowell or Boston area and want to help turn this intention from ideal to real, or know anyone else who might?

  • Can you think of another way to address the community issues Kirsten’s identified, besides opening this type of nonprofit space?

If you have any bright ideas for Kirsten, leave them in the comments below, or send her a message through Idealist. If the project progresses, we’ll keep you posted!

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Are you a practical dreamer with an idea that’s just starting to take shape? If you’d like to be part of this series, or know someone who would be a good fit, email celeste@idealist.org.

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So you say you have an idea to make your community better. Let us help.

Over the past few months, you’ve helped members of the Idealist community take one more step forward on their idea. (Go ahead. High five yourself in the mirror for a moment.)

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Act on your idea before the light burns out. (Photo via Spigoo on Flickr’s Creative Commons.)

Together you:

  • Offered Lisa your expertise on how to best connect job seekers looking for a new career, and encouraged her to take advantage of what’s already out there.
  • Helped Alex further refine his idea to institute a progressive income tax in Oregon.
  • Reached out to Everita in support of artists and learned more about what’s going on in the post-Soviet region.

We know there are more world-changing ideas out there hiding in notebooks, scribbled on napkins, and retreating in heads.

No matter what stage you’re at in your process, we’d love to hear from you.

  • Individuals: Whether you want to start something of your own, volunteer with an existing organization, or simply want to be a better neighbor, let us know what challenges you’re facing and advice you’d need.
  • Organizations: Looking for knowledge on how to implement a new program, campaign, initiative, etc. or want to improve an existing one? Facing an institutional roadblock you’re sure another organization somewhere has experienced? Tell us about it.

Sometimes saying it aloud is all you need to do to get the momentum going. We promise we won’t bite.

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Don’t waste another minute. Send your awesome ideas to celeste@idealist.org.

 

 

 

 

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Help Lisa help job seekers find new careers

An ongoing experiment: can our community’s collective brainpower help an idea become reality?

Meet Lisa

For Lisa Melendez, “local” means much more than where she buys her groceries or sees a movie. It’s a way of life, a way of connecting with others, a way of giving back.

“I’m a community activist at heart, and a person who can find and identify opportunities where a lot of people don’t,” she says. “I love bringing people together. I love making conversations happen. I love convening.”Lisa

Lisa was born and raised in East Harlem, NY and has a wide range of experience working on community initiatives. She’s done everything from lobbying local government to change welfare laws to coordinating an international HIV/AIDS panel to matching prospective board members with nonprofits to working in administration at a hospital.

A mother of two, Lisa is now living in upstate NY as a stay-at-home mom. When she’s not taking her kids to extracurricular activities or attending school events, she spends her spare time developing a new organization geared towards matching early childcare providers with local families.

She’s ready to jump back into the workforce, this time with a different focus. Tech companies seeking to improve the quality of life are appealing to her, but she lacks the skillset required for most positions. Still, she’s hopeful and has been applying nonetheless.

“I’m not afraid of first times. Just because I’ve never done this before doesn’t mean I am not capable or shouldn’t do it,” she says.

The idea

Given her experience looking for jobs, and the experience of many in the U.S., Lisa would like to connect prospective job seekers looking to switch industries with the right resources to give them the best chance of success.

Starting with her home state, New York, her target audience is middle-aged, male and female displaced workers.

“We have no real choice here but to begin embracing the notion that your career can begin in one place and end up in another,” Lisa says. “I see it everywhere. People are reinventing themselves all the time.”

She envisions three components:

  1. On-line product/community that includes a search engine, services clearinghouse, emerging industry profiles, career paths, industry-specific skill profiles, and more.
  2. Live tour for candidates who want to meet an actual person and learn about a particular industry from an insider.  This would also be a chance to identify shadowing, returnship, and matching opportunities.
  3. Matching of non-traditional, prospective job seekers for shadowing of established employees in area of interest.

“In a time where so many of us feel as if we are submitting our resumes into the great abyss, we are having to become innovative in how we present ourselves to potential employers,” she says. “Many are asking the question, “How can I get employers to see I can do this job?”

Obstacles

Windingroad

Career paths can be long and winding, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. (Photo via allison.hare on Flickr’s Creative Commons.)

This is the first time Lisa has shared her idea. Here are the challenges she currently faces:

  1. She doesn’t know where to start.
  2. It’s been hard for her to anticipate the resources – human, financial, and otherwise – she needs to move it forward.

How you can help

  • Besides VocationVacations, which Lisa finds pricey, does this idea exist somewhere else?
  • Has there been any thinking around this issue, and if so, what kind of progress has been made?
  • Who are the key players and organizations she should tap into?
  • Where can she find more information on career transitions?
  • What kinds of expertise would be most helpful in the technical development? Are there low-cost or pro-bono services?
  • For the live tour component, how can she best identify experts who’d be willing to share insider information?
  • Given job competitiveness, would folks even be interested in having somebody shadow them? Why or why not?
  • Regardless of which industry you work in, would people be interested in participating?
  • Would you be interested in talking about or helping out with this idea?

Leave a comment below or send her a message through Idealist and if the project progresses, we’ll keep you posted!

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Are you a practical dreamer with an idea that’s just starting to take shape? If you’d like to be part of this series, or know someone who would be a good fit, email celeste [at] idealist [dot] org.

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