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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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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How one company is bringing the farmers market to you

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 social entrepreneurs who are tackling issues that are important to them, one step at a time.

The idea

Here in Portland, Oregon, farmers markets are as common as bearded guys on bikes. I know I’m lucky, and I try to go to the one nearby my house every Sunday. Sometimes it doesn’t happen. So I end up buying produce at my local supermarket. And almost always, the tomatoes and peppers I buy are pricier, and just not as fresh.

Screenshot of an online farmers market.

But what if I could get what I needed delivered to the Idealist office every week?

That’s the idea behind Farmigo, a startup that’s disrupting the traditional industrial food complex as we know it.

It works like this: you, or someone else, starts a food community at a workplace, school, community center, or anywhere you visit daily. As a member of that community, you go online to the Farmigo website and choose what seasonal items from local farmers you’d like to buy: meat, fish, vegetables, baked goods, coffee, and more. The farmers then deliver the goods on a designated pick-up day. No chemicals, no handling, no middleman – and your dinner is as fresh as a chicken’s egg.

“For the person who understands the value of eating healthy but is not able to access enough healthy food, Farmigo just made it easier,” says founder Benzi Ronen. “For the folks who have wanted to get involved and become part of the solution, Farmigo provides concrete steps to take action.”

For the farmers, logistics aren’t as worrisome anymore. “Traditionally farmers are good at growing food, and sometimes we need help with marketing, sales, information management, and more,” says Nick Papadopoulos from California’s Bloomfield Farms Organics. “Farmigo is helping alleviate a whole host of pain points for us.”

Since becoming a part of Farmigo six months ago, Bloomfield Farms Organics has been able to connect with a whole new audience both online and offline  — more people have been attending their U-Pick Sundays, for example — as well as fostered collaborations with other farmers. When Nick meets with other farmers in the state, he asks questions, shares best practices, and bonds over the shared Farmigo identity.

This all sounds good and all but you might be thinking, What about the other food systems out there?

“Farmigo complements the farmers markets and CSAs by appealing to a segment of the population that were looking for fresh-from-harvest food in a more convenient fashion. Farmigo stands on the shoulders of giants; farmers markets and CSAs,”  says Benzi.

Obstacles

A couple years ago, Benzi, a decade-long Internet entrepreneur and executive, was about to start a family. “I started thinking, What kind of food did we want to have in the house to feed our baby?” he says.

Between awareness about eating healthier on the rise, the Internet reaching a tipping point where almost everyone is connected, including farmers, and social networks empowering people to influence one another, it seemed the perfect time to launch such a company.

Still, Benzi had challenges getting Farmigo up and running:

Obstacle: Lack of knowledge about farming
Solution: While Benzi’s previous experience included building software for CSAs, he admittedly didn’t know the first thing about harvesting crops. So he went around the country to 100’s of farms and spent countless hours talking with farmers about their challenges and issues. He then created technical solutions based on those conversations.

“I’m not a fan of working in an ivory tower. I believe in quick iterations. I interviewed 20 farmers, created mock-ups, interviewed 20 more, created more mock-ups, interviewed the next 20, got more feedback. Now we are taking the same approach to figure out the best possible experience for the consumer,” he says.

Fresh seasonal produce from Monkshood Nursery in NY, a local Farmigo farm.

Obstacle: Setting up food communities
Solution: Not a fan of cold calling, Benzi’s strategy is to instead find and coach hyperlocal food evangelists who are willing to kickstart a community where they are.

He’s met with success, as companies have started to use Farmigo as a way to show staff appreciation. Brooklyn-based social media agency Carrot Creative, for example, sponsors $10 toward each Farmigo purchase as a wellness benefit. Microfinance organization Kiva orders office snacks from Farmigo, and gives credit on the site as a work incentive.

Obstacle: Cultural attitudes about online ordering
Solution: Nowadays most of us order almost everything online from books to plane tickets to flowers. But produce is still lagging, despite services like FreshDirect and Peapod.

“The way we’re tackling this is not trying to get whole world to shift and buy online. We’re focusing on gaining widespread adoption within many small communities,” says Benzi.

To get people in the habit of buying kale with the click of a button, the Farmigo team helps communities host cooking classes, recipe contests, nutritional speakers, and more, continually directing them to the online component. With farmers, it’s proving to be the reverse.

“We’re seeing that farming is now becoming the new cool profession. College graduates are excited to plow the earth but they also want to be entrepreneurs and have control of their business” he says. “These young farmers are Internet savvy and know how to use online media, social networks, and mobile applications to connect directly with their consumers. They’re pushing us to build better technological solutions for their needs.”

Obstacle: Making time for family
Solution: Benzi has one daughter, with another child on the way. “A lot of people think starting a family and raising kids are obstacles. It’s not an excuse. If you’re passionate about something, then go out and do it,” he says. It helps that he has an understanding wife who is as entrepreneurial as he is, and he’s careful not to schedule meetings during his daughter’s bathtimes or mealtimes.

Advice

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Farmigo food community delivery in action.

While only in NY and CA for now, the Farmigo family is ever-growing. Soon, they’ll be expanding to other U.S. cities and releasing a knowledge hub for farmers.

A seasoned entrepreneur, here’s how Benzi thinks you can move forward on your idea:

  1. Since entrepreneurs are naturally optimistic, have a naysayer on board. “Make sure you have a co-founder or life partner who is critical of your ideas and pushes you to tests assumptions,” says Benzi.
  2. If you have a critical component to your success, it’s important to have multiple alternatives. If you have a partner who is absolutely crucial, have a back-up. Have two customers? Have a third ready. “It makes you much stronger. Because things will always go wrong,” he says.
  3. Enjoy the process. With Benzi’s other ventures, it was all about the end goal of creating a company. “In my last start-up there were long periods of time that weren’t fun. It sounds cliché, but this time around it’s about the journey itself,” he says.

“Farmigo’s mission is about making healthy food accessible to all households – this is something that has a benefit for society,” he finally says. “We hire our team members based on passion for our mission. This is a long and hard journey and we need people who are inspired to pour their hearts into this every day.”

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Ready to kickstart a Farmigo community of your own at your workplace, school, or community center? Get started here

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Help Seth create a beverage to better the world

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

Meet Seth

Growing up in Pound Ridge, NY, Seth Markowitz had to ride his bike for two minutes to get to his best friend’s house which was only two houses away. This isolation was compounded by the fact that he was considered a nerd, and a kid who didn’t understand why there was so much violence and hostility at school.

But then he went to summer camp. He made a ton of friends. He became empowered to be a leader. He was accepted for who he was.

“At the age of 11 it put this dichotomy in my mind: How come life sometimes can be so isolating and it can be so hard to find community? How come sometimes life can be so wonderful and communal?” he says.

His utopian summer camp experience proved formative. As an adult, Seth became fascinated with traditional hunter-gatherer societies that lived in camps, such as the Mbuti or Pygmies, and Native American tribes where there was little emphasis on possessions or competition, nearly everything was shared in an open and loving manner, and there was a lot of time to socialize and bond.

While studying at Bates College, he participated in a volunteer service program with a group of idealistic students that furthered his desire to return to how our ancestors lived. He witnessed how rewarding it could be to live, even for a short time, in a camp-like community of people devoted to helping others.

“I think tons of people would live comfortably, but modestly, and devote their lives to making the world a better place if they had the opportunity to do so,” he says.

The intention

When he’s not spending his days as a special education teacher, Seth thinks about how he can create an urban intentional community that has a cooperative, socially conscious business at its core.

Inspired by Newman’s Own, which donates 100% of its profits to charity, Seth envisions a business centered around a single-serving soft drink, eventually expanding to other products.

“I want to create a brand. And I want that brand to represent altruism,” he says.

Drawing from the model of Twin Oaks in Virginia, Seth hopes the business will support a community in the Bronx or Brooklyn. The community will be a worker cooperative, where the employees own part of the company, make democratic decisions, and as part of the employment contract, have the time to devote to service in the larger community and to each other.

His goal is to create a company that not only has a charitable mission, but provides its employees a fair living wage, good benefits and a community center/dining hall where they can conveniently gather and share meals. Ultimately, Seth’s goal is to build community within the company, in the neighborhood, and in the world.

Obstacles

So far Seth has a recipe for the soft drink, a brand name, a product name, and a label. He’s also gleaned knowledge from a friend of a friend about taste testing and focus groups.

Here are the challenges he is currently facing:

  1. Seth needs $30,000 in start-up capital to hire a consulting company that could perfect his formula, source ingredients, help design the label, create the nutrition facts, and find bottlers, labelers, and distributors.
  2. He’d love to find a trained business person with experience in the beverage industry, ideally someone who is also committed to his philosophy.
  3. Finding people who would be interested in starting an intentional community, as well as initial partners who have an entrepreneurial and sharing spirit, is crucial.

How you can help

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Seth doesn’t want to divulge the exact product yet, but he stands behind its awesomeness. (Photo via Ano Lobb on Flickr’s Creative Commons.)

  • Do you know of any other successful charitable business models or intentional communities Seth can learn from?
  • In general, what’s important to you in a brand?
  • When you’re at the store browsing beverages, what makes you pick up one bottle over another?
  • Where can Seth find philanthropic investors to help kickstart his company?
  • If you’ve started a socially responsible business, what are some key lessons learned?
  • If you have specific knowledge about starting a beverage company, what advice would you share about production, distribution, and marketing?
  • What are some challenges Seth should keep in mind when creating an intentional community?
  • Do you have experience working in a worker cooperative, and can you share your ideas about how to make this business model work?
  • Are you interested in living in an intentional community?

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

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Do you have an idea that’s just starting to brew? If you’d like us to consider posting it as part of this series, email celeste [at] idealist [dot] org.

 

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September grad degree fairs: DC, Boston, Providence, and more!

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Some of our favorite recruiters at last spring's DC fair. Photo: Julia Smith.

Thinking about going to grad school? You’re in luck: it’s Idealist Grad Fair season again! We kick off the season in New York and DC this week, and then head to Boston on Monday, Sept. 19 and Providence on Tuesday, Sept. 20.

See the full lineup and RSVP to a fair near you at idealist.org/gradfairs.

Why come to a Grad Fair?

Whether you know precisely what kind of degree you want or you’re just beginning to explore options, our events allow you to meet with lots of admissions counselors in one place; ask them what makes for a successful application; and even attend a free panel about graduate admissions and financial aid.

Why come to an Idealist Grad Fair?

Our fairs are designed specifically for people who want to further their social impact careers. Admissions folks have consistently told us that they get their best applicants at Idealist Grad Fairs, because members of our community really want to go on to create social change after they graduate.

At each event, you can learn about programs focusing on nonprofit management, public health, public policy, social work, education, international affairs, and many other fields.

How to sign up

The fairs are free and open to the public. Visit idealist.org/gradfairs and click on your city to RSVP.

See you soon!

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Start Spreading the News…

New Yorkers: Unless you can read over 90 languages, and visit every neighborhood of the entire metro area on a weekly basis to pick up more than 300 publications, how can you keep up with everything that’s going on around the city?

The Independent Press Association of New York offers a (free) way to make it easier: Voices That Must Be Heard, which ” translates and disseminates the best articles from New York’s immigrant and ethnic newspapers and magazines via email and on the internet.”

New Yorkers, no matter what their ethnicity, can gain a lot of perspective on their city and the world by reading this weekly roundup of articles. Readers can become aware of current events that aren’t given emphasis in the mainstream media, they can learn of opinions they wouldn’t have heard from people they know, and they can read articles that they may not have been able to comprehend before they were translated into English.

Even more importantly, many nonprofits, government agencies, and media sources subscribe to Voices That Must Be Heard. Some of them are undoubtedly using the diverse perspectives and news sources to make more informed decisions.

Do you know about any similar efforts going on in other cities or regions of the world? Leave a comment here to let us know.

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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