Field report! Team meeting in New York City

This past Saturday, 30 Connectors from across New York City met at the Idealist office in midtown Manhattan. It was a chance for people to share their thoughts and questions about being a Connector and to talk about next steps.

Who was there? Backgrounds ranged from therapists and graduate students to mental health counselors, retired professionals, and even an office relocation specialist.

At the heart of the conversation was the importance of neutrality to the Connector role: it allows Connectors to have a greater impact because they can support more people taking action on more issues. How? By connecting them with just the right tool, resource, or contact to help them move forward.

Team meeting at the Idealist office

Team meeting at the Idealist office

People were excited to meet each other—so much so that the large group (there are 120 people on the NYC Team) agreed they’d rather stay together than subdivide into smaller Teams, at least for a while, so that they can all help support each other as everyone gets started.

Suggestions for next steps included drafting talking points for recruiting more Connectors, using the NYC Idealist office as a hub for Connectors to work on materials together, trying a Tool & Tactic, and completing their personal profiles so that everyone could see what skills and interests exist already in the Team.

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Not a Connector yet? Get the details and sign up here! Want to start or join a Team in your area? Search the possibilities here.

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TAPIN: Through self-reflection, a broader definition of ‘social good’

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?

When my co-editor Celeste told me in November that she heard about a cool new art project we might want to blog about, I was psyched to learn more. As an aspiring creative and an Idealist interested in how individuals can beat obstacles and connect with each other to live the best possible lives, the language on TAPIN‘s homepage spoke to me:

TAPIN seeks to make the world a more emotionally connected place. Our community connects through interactive art installations that explore the broad spectrum of human emotions. We believe true freedom comes through exposing our most intense emotions and finding new power to remove the barriers around our dreams.

I attended TAPIN’s first public event in New York last month—titled “OUT FEAR. TAP IN: An Installation on Beating Fear to the Punch”—and founder Anne Koller agreed to let us feature the project on the Idealists in Action blog.

Kathryn for TAPIN3

TAPIN’s first exhibition focused on bringing fear out of the shadows.
(photo courtesy Kathryn Weill for TAPIN)

Before our phone interview, also joined by TAPIN’s head storyteller Becky Burton, I wrote out some questions to get us started: “What would you say to members of the Idealist community about how to ‘unearth the clues of what drives their emotions and harness them for good,’ as you say on TAPIN’s website?” and “What challenges have you faced since you started TAPIN, and what have you tried doing to overcome those challenges?”

But our conversation wound up taking a different turn. Here’s Anne:

After working in social good for some time—in favelas in Brazil, in coffee fields in Rwanda, at Davos [the World Economic Forum annual meeting] with some of the world’s most powerful leaders—I thought I would have become a diplomat by now, or work in the foreign service. I speak four languages, I have a Masters degree in public administration from Columbia… Sometimes I have guilt and ask myself why I’m not still out there.

But what I’ve learned is that we are unable to create true social good if our service is inauthentic, if it feels responsibility-driven and not in line with our true purpose. Social good is about aligning with what makes us truly unique and then magnifying that to serve others. Someone else might feel that working in an orphanage is their purpose—in fact, I know lots of people do, and that’s a wonderful thing—but it’s not mine.

All the world needs from you is to be a lot of what you are. Capitalize on that, drive it forward. The more you can work with your own alignment, the more powerful your contribution can be.

A friend recently said to me, ‘With TAPIN, you’re allowing people the opportunity to feel free and be themselves.’ I don’t know what else social good is, or what else I could be doing.

And this strikes me as a perfect time to redefine social impact. We—all the people who are shaping the world today—can redefine it for ourselves.

Becky then broadened the scope in the other direction, pointing out that social good is not just about rethinking what roles we should fill as individuals, but also about rethinking who we should try to serve:

For people who want to take action, there’s an expectation for social good that it only serves disadvantaged communities, but we think social good is for everyone. Social good is everyone finding their purpose and living their passion—it’s not only about helping people in a state of crisis. It can take the form of a very simple action that just brings a smile.

So how can each of us find our purpose? In Becky’s words, how can we “get down to what excites us, what we’re good at, and share that with the world”?

TAPIN thinks exploring your emotions is a good place to start.

“Examining your happiness or fear can help illuminate the root of what actually makes you happy or fearful,” Becky says. “It might be different than you think.”

Read more about TAPIN’s approach to facing emotions and making creative experiences around them on their website, watch this video about their founding, or support their goal to create four installations in 2014 on Indiegogo. If you want to start a project like TAPIN and would like some advice, feel free to get in touch with Anne at wetapin@thetapin.org. And read more about loving the bliss of everyday on Becky’s website, Gus McAllibaster.

What does social good mean to you? Tell us in the comments.

 

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

 

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How one group is making a community in Brooklyn safer

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

The idea

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

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

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

Obstacles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advice

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Testing, testing: Help make Idealist more usable

Want to help make Idealist better? We’d love for you to participate in our usability testing program!

What’s this all about?

There are lots of ways that we collect feedback from our users. One important one is to observe Idealist members “in the wild,” so to speak. Instead of asking your (undoubtedly valuable) opinion, we want to actually watch you use the site, and see what aspects of the site could be improved.

Sign up to participate here. We’ll be conducting in-person usability tests for those in the NYC area, and remote tests for people everywhere else (as long as you have access to a broadband internet connection and a telephone or computer microphone).

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Photo via Alishba Zarmeen

What to expect

Whether you participate remotely or come visit us, you’ll sit down one-on-one with me (Hi! Nice to meet you.), so I can observe while you use basic features of the website and ask a few questions about your experience. Usability testing is the kind of test where you can’t get a wrong answer, so there’s no pressure on you, just the website.  The most challenging part for you? Probably remembering to think aloud as you use the site.

Who we’re looking for

Everyone! Seriously, whether you have very little experience using the web or are as tech savvy as they come, you’re welcome to participate. Also, we’ll be testing features for individuals and organizations, so we’re looking for people who use the site in different ways: you could be a job seeker, a potential volunteer, an HR professional, volunteer manager, or your organization’s social media expert, or really anyone else.

What’s next?

  • We conduct usability testing on an ongoing basis, so if you’re interested, sign up! We’ll ask you a few questions to get a sense of how you use the site, and then I’ll be in touch when it seems like you’re a good fit for an upcoming usability test.
  • Can’t participate in usability testing? You can still make your voice heard publicly on Get Satisfaction or by sending an email directly to our Community Support Team through the contact page.

Thank you!

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[Idea File] FailFaire: An event of errors

Confronting mistakes head on is often done in the business sector, but not so much in the nonprofit world. Why? There can be a lot at stake – maybe you have to answer to donors, or you work with vulnerable populations, or you’re worried about offending someone.

But mistakes happen. They happen often. And if we’re honest enough to admit our mistakes to ourselves and to others—and have a sense of humor about it—we can learn a lot.

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Photo via Kristen Taylor (Flickr)

This is the philosophy behind FailFaire, an event hosted by MobileActive.org. The gathering focuses on errors related to MobileActive’s mission (using cell phones in development work). Attendees discuss how X project slipped through the cracks or why Y grant never came through. But instead receiving stern looks of disapproval, the atmosphere is open and supportive. Drinks and food are served alongside failures, and presenters are encouraged to be honest, light-hearted and even irreverent.

The idea is quickly catching on. The first FailFaire event was held in New York City this summer. The World Bank co-hosted an event in Washington, D.C. a few months later, and recently the Social Capital Market’s Conference copied the model and held one in San Francisco revolving around social entrepreneurship. The potential for FailFaire to be replicated all over the world, covering not only facets of the nonprofit sector but other fields as well,  is enormous.

If you’re failure-friendly, the site has a tip sheet of how to host your own event and a blog with some great stories and advice.

FailFaire could very well be the beginnings of a cultural shift in the nonprofit sector – and I have a feeling it won’t fail.

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