Connectors, this is your blog! What do you want to see?

Idealist started a blog in 2006 to share with our community a variety of tales and tips about turning good intentions into action. Our subjects spanned everything from cupcakes to incarcerated youth to software development.

Then, this past March, we launched the Idealist Network and began devoting the blog entirely to stories about and for Connectors—you wonderful volunteers at the heart of this platform for action and change.

So now, the blog is your oyster! And we want to know: what do you want it to be?

GLOBE

  • What would you most like to read about that we haven’t covered yet (or haven’t covered enough)? Could you use more advice about how to run Team meetings, or how to talk about the Network? Would you be inspired by more stories of the positive change the Network is helping to create? Do you want more open questions to get you and your Team members thinking? Or…?

Please send your ideas to idealistblog@idealist.org, or leave them as comments below.

Thank you! We want to write what you want to read.

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Open question: Have resources, need connections?

We’ve noticed some Teams talking about how they live in a resource-rich community, but feel that all the great stuff they have to offer could be put to better use if they were more connected.

This is a good problem to have, and tackling it is one of the goals of the network: how do we connect more resources and people so that fewer opportunities for action are missed?

Here’s what some of you are saying about it:

AJ in Lima, Peru:

I would love to see a better network of contacts here in Lima—a real forum people know they can turn to for resources. In Lima today, there’s a lot of dynamism between the government, third-party organizations, and the people.

There are many energetic, passionate social justice movements going on, and when Ami presented his analogy of the apartment building, I couldn’t help but think Lima was just the same: a space filled with people and ideas that would benefit from better coordination.

Normally I’d say that being enthusiastic will help me as a Connector to keep the momentum going, but there’s already so much energy and passion at play here on the part of the people themselves—they just need a solid network to complement their efforts!

Nick in Atlanta, Georgia:

Atlanta is a city of the civil rights movement, and the history down here is a very active one. What’s great about the city is that there’s a nonprofit for everything you can think of. We have some serious market saturation going on. So there’s no lack of opportunity to serve.

But what I hear a lot from the organizations I’m meeting with is that as much as we have all these different organizations out there trying to promote positive change, there’s a real lack of connectivity and collaboration.

Kieve and Noah in Austin, Texas:

We have a very large non-profit sector here in Austin – over 7000, and potentially growing. This is a little daunting when it comes to connecting people to organizations and volunteer opportunities.

What would help us, is to get some input from sister cities/teams that also share this unique demographic. How they are getting started and what first steps they are taking in tackling such a large span of organizations. Can you shed some light on this for us… or connect us to a similar group or groups?

Fellow Connectors, what do you think? Does your community have a wealth of resources but need help connecting them? How are you and your Teammates approaching the issue?

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Open question: How can we get others to self-identify as Connectors?

A few weeks ago, Denver Connectors met to get to know each other and talk about how their collective skills could help the city.

Nate Savery brought up this question that we imagine has been on your mind, too:

“How can we find the individuals out there who already have connecting roles in the community? They may not be affiliated with Idealist. They may not even recognize themselves as facilitators. So how do we reach them and get them to self identify?”

Nate suggested a video that would show how the often-invisible actions of Connectors are crucial in making social change happen.

We think that’s a stellar idea. But we’d also love to hear from you. What ideas do you have for drawing Connectors out of the woodwork?

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Open question: How can we keep our Team motivated?

Connecting can be like exercising or healthy eating: we enjoy doing it and see the benefits, but it can be hard to maintain motivation and stay on track. How can we make staying active as Connectors easier for each other? Here are some ideas from Teams who are tackling this issue already.

Connector Kieve from Austin, Texas writes on her Team’s page that they’ll try a standing weekly meetup:

To keep us more productive and accountable to each other, we thought it was good to meet on a weekly basis. It’s too easy to have personal things crop up and forget something. There was a request for another day besides Saturday. So, we’re going to shoot for Monday nights at the Dog & Duck Pub at 5:30pm. They’ve got wifi and some good grub and beers if that’s your thing. If you can’t make it that early, no problem. We’ll plan to be there for a couple hours. As meetings evolve, they may become shorter or start later. We’ll see how it goes.

For the Bucharest, Romania Team, Connector Diana posits that staying in regular touch will be key to keeping her spread-out Team together:

Until now, we have had 2 online meetings and we plan to continue to organize weekly online meetings (every Monday). [Also,] we are planning to organize monthly meetings with the Team, having the objective to share lessons learned, as well as resources (people, ideas, materials).

We have agreed that it is very important to hold our Connectors team kernel together, because this will be the real support to build trust, encouragement and move things forward at our local level.

Nick in Atlanta, Georgia is not only a Connector—he’s also an Idealist Community Manager, helping to maintain our Atlanta Local Page. On the Atlanta Team page, he recently offered a couple of options for staying in the loop:

I have been hosting a very informal networking get-together on Mondays (except the last Monday of the month) from 6pm to whenever you want to leave… [And] I wanted to just throw this out there:

I will be at Dancing Goats Coffee Dancing Goats Coffee Bar tomorrow (Saturday, 3/22) at 2pm if anyone feels like meeting. There is no agenda. I will be wearing and Idealist.org t-shirt and am planting myself there for at-least 1 hr (longer if people show up) so we can get to know one another… I would love to meet the wonderful Connectors of Atlanta.

Has your Team started a weekly beer or coffee meet-up, or a regular online base-touch? We’d love to hear how you’re staying on track and motivated—please share in the comments below!

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Idea File: No internet? Just call Question Box

A stripped down version of the internet (read: no Facebook or YouTube) is now available in some developing areas.

Idea

What causes rotting of cassava roots? Why are my tomato leaves turning white? Can a mother with HIV pass it on to her baby? How can we control soil erosion in our village?

These questions and more can now be easily answered in Uganda through Question Box, a project of the nonprofit Open Mind that aims to make Internet access in developing countries as common as soccer.

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In Pune, the team recently created a Question Box with solar panels. They're also about to launch a box that can reach multiple information lines (e.g. the hospital, government, etc.). Photo via blogger Paul Smith (bitter wallet).

Here’s how it works: the curious call a given number. At the receiving end, operators search online and answer the caller’s question in one of Uganda’s 14 national languages or regional dialects. If the internet or power is out, operators can browse an offline repository of local knowledge to pass on the needed information.

In Pune, India where Question Box is currently being piloted, this idea of a box is taken in the most literal sense. All locals need to do is push a green button on a metal box hanging somewhere in the streets, and are connected to an operator faster than you can say namaste.

Both the Indian and Uganda models are all about ease: “Any solution must require the person to take no more than one step from what they already know.”

Why we’re adding it to the Idea File

  • Circumvents the limitations of the web. If you’re like me and speak one of the top ten languages on the internet, then you probably take for granted that we have access to an incredible wealth of information with just one click. But the world has 1,000+ languages, and Google is available in “nearly 40″ of them.
  • Gives most everyone access. Reaches people on the margins: the illiterate, women who are excluded from communication, the visually impaired, and those who are too poor to even have a mobile phone.
  • Provides employment. Operators have the opportunity to use their language skills, and make some money while they’re at it.
  • Utilizes local knowledge. In many villages, knowledge is passed down from generation to generation, or neighbor to neighbor. Question Box not only places values on its importance, but helps capture it for future use.

How you can replicate it

Luckily for you, the folks at Question Box want you to take their idea and run with it. Here’s how:

  • Organizations, government or companies: If you want to set up your own, on their website right now is a friendly invitation for you to partner with them. They’ll adapt the hotline to your needs, and help you get it going.
  • Community organizations: Indigo Trust recently gave Question Box a grant to complete development of Open Question, an initiative that combines open source tools and how-to manuals so that anyone anywhere can set a hotline up themselves. They’re currently looking for testers.

Could you see Question Box working in your community or another you’ve adopted? Why or why not?

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