Good Idea: Open mic for connection-making

One of the best things that came out of the Portland Team’s meeting a couple of weeks ago? Nick Berger’s idea for an open mic.

It’s simple: bring together Connectors and people/organizations who need support for their ideas in one space. Think Sunday Soup (a grassroots model for funding small- to medium-sized creative projects through community meals), but instead of giving funding, you give connections.

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Connectors, think about all the potential this stage has! (photo via MaggyMcMagMag on Flickr’s Creative Commons.)

“Portland is full of people that have tremendously exciting and progressive ideas,” Nick says. “I imagine that the collective group of Connectors would be able to leverage resources, provide perspective, offer assistance, and/or connect them to resources that they might not have known about—in real time.”

Connectors would be encouraged to invite people whom they know personally. That way, there could be a more focused approach.

“Having Connectors bring in specific people with action-oriented ideas would also create a certain level of vetting, screening, and investment that might allow the process to find more stable roots and support,” he says. “This would also help keep Connectors ‘neutral’ through the initial incubation stage of the process, and allow us to take on some specific case studies or trial runs for larger-scale connecting.”

Right now, the idea is in its beginning stages. There are more logistics to be thought through, including space (maybe the Idealist offices or The Oregon Public House?), what the invitation would look like (casual or more formal with a space for listing needs?), and in general, how the night would flow (on the spot connections or more advance thought?).

For Nick, an open mic event would give Connectors a better sense of needs and strengthen what already exists in the community.

“There’s power in bringing people together in a space where organic dialogue and collaboration can be supported through reflective listening, inclusion, and openness,” he says. “There’s a greater potential to ignite sparks and create fire when all of the elements are in the same place at the same time.”

What do you think? Could this idea work in your community? Do you have thoughts on how best to organize such an event?

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5 tips to facilitate an awesome meeting

To Connector Monique Dupre, facilitation is much more than simply making sure a meeting runs smoothly.

“When you can draw out ideas and potential, amazing things can happen,” she says. “If people walk away from a meeting feeling empowered and motivated, you would see how that would change a lot of things – not only in the workplace, but on the personal level.”

Monique’s interest in facilitation began when she realized that the event planning she was doing for a variety of organizations and personal projects over the past 11 years – from helping refugees start gardens to fundraising at her daughter’s school to leading eco-culinary tours in France – required meetings.

In her experience, there is nothing worse than a meeting that goes on too long or has no clear purpose.

So she took an intensive workshop with renowned facilitator Barbara McKay, and began practicing what she learned. Here are her top five tips especially as it relates to Connector Teams:

1. Assign a facilitator.

A facilitator’s main role is to draw out people’s ideas as it relates to the agenda while staying neutral.

If nobody steps up, rotate turns. If someone is hesitant or thinks they might not be good at it, an alternative is to have them take notes on the board.

2. Have a clear agenda and stick to it.

At the beginning of the meeting, go around and ask people what’s most pressing to them to talk about and how much time they have. Once the agenda is agreed upon, post it up on the wall for everyone to see.

An ideal time for a meeting is one hour, but if it goes longer, make sure to take a break. Use a timekeeper to help stay on track. A “parking lot” is also a way to capture ideas or questions for another time.

whiteboard copy

Who said whiteboards had to be boring?
(photo via johnny goldstein on Flickr’s Creative Commons.)

3. Listen. Really listen.

The biggest responsibility of the facilitator is to make sure everyone feels heard. Writing ideas on a whiteboard, for example, helps people to see they were listened to. It also keeps things on track, and eliminates repetition.

Another way is to repeat back and summarize what someone just said: “This is what I heard you say. Is it okay if I put it like this?” This is good with someone who’s especially chatty.

“Even the most hot-headed, can’t-stop-talking person wants to be heard. Getting them to stop talking is the exact opposite of what should happen. Instead, channel that energy and conversation in the right direction,” she says.

How else to do this? Stand next to them. Encourage others who haven’t said much to talk. Pose a question and go around the room.

4. Ask specific questions.

Instead of questions that lead to “yes” or “no” answers, try questions that are specific and have “why” in them.

Think of it this way: asking a kid how their day was like always yields a vague answer such as “fine.” But if you ask who they went out to lunch with and why, you’ll find their answer to be much more robust.

5. Be humble.

Leave your ego and judgment at the door.

“The way I do it in my head is that I see each person as a treasure chest of amazing knowledge and wonderful experiences. They might not see it that way, but they are,” she says. “If you can step outside yourself and simply listen to what’s going on and who’s bringing what to the table, then I think you can be neutral in your actions.”

With all of this, Monique encourages you to practice  – with your partner, your kid(s), a stranger at the grocery store. Look people in the eye. Be in the moment.

“Facilitation can be learned. It’s stuff we do already but we don’t realize it. It’s just awareness and listening skills that overlap with every single conversation we have in life,” she says. “It’s communicating in a way that each person feels they have brought something to the table and walks away feeling good.”

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Feel free to reach out to Monique on her blog or contact her directly for additional advice: moniquedupre@gmail.com. For more good tips, Monique recommends Barbara McKay’s blog.

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Meet an Idealist Staff Member: Megan O’Leary on teamwork

Megan O’Leary, Community Relations Manager at Idealist, will be the first to admit that working on a team is hard. Really hard.

“It’s some of the hardest work we can do. I tell groups of people all the time, if you think it’s easy, you’re probably missing something,” the AmeriCorps alumna with City Year says. “But I think it can be really worth it.”

With the Idealist Network, Megan’s evolving role is part-cheerleader, part-resource, part-guide. So far she’s been reaching out to Teams with upcoming meetings, troubleshooting any problems, and in general, being a source of support for Connectors.

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Megan thanks her Girl Scout Brownie Troop in Tuscon, Arizona for introducing her to community service all those years ago.
(photo courtesy Briana Cerezo from Humans of PDX)

Being a part of a team is her favorite way to get work done. From her time with City Year, Megan has a ton of experience working with others toward a common goal.

She started out twelve years ago implementing service learning projects with middle school students in San Jose, California then formally came on board City Year as a fundraiser. Before long, she was leading the team as Deputy Director.

Then she moved to Sacramento in 2011 where she was in charge of opening a new site. It was a crazy time – her team was made up of strangers thrown together from ten different City Year sites and they had six months to open the doors.

As the new kids on the block, they worked extra hard to build bridges with the community, and get to know the systems already in place.

While reflecting on all these experiences, Megan’s had some realizations about what it’s meant to be a part of a team all these years, which as an only child, she admits she’s drawn to.

“Something I really struggled with in my first year of AmeriCorps is that I couldn’t always tell if the people on my team cared as much as me. There were any number of ways I felt offended that they weren’t always demonstrating their commitment in a way I thought was satisfactory or identical to what I was doing,” she says. “But I think everyone’s 100% looks different. You can’t give 100% everyday. You give what you can when you can.”

Her other advice for Connector Teams? Have a shared goal. Figure out what you’re doing and more importantly, why. Take the time to get know each other on a human level and share a meal. Realize the value you bring to the table. Appreciate one another. Lean into the process even if it seems scary.

“This might be hard or feel funky, but try it anyway. What do you have to lose?” she says.

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Megan would love to help your Team and hear what you’re up to. Whether you’re wondering what should be on the agenda to how best to do local outreach to which tech tools to use, Megan’s here for you. Get in touch: megan.oleary@idealist.org.

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Field Report! The buzz on Action Groups in Portland, Oregon

Last Wednesday, a couple of Connectors and Idealist staff met up to talk through Action Groups.

Connector Monique Dupre admitted she was considering starting an Action Group about sustainability in Portland, but was a bit hesitant.

“One of my thoughts was okay, I propose the group and we get together and then what?” she says. “I know what I’m interested in, but I don’t have specific examples or immediate action steps.”

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Connector Liqin chimed in and told the Team about her idea to start an Action Group dedicated to helping refugees and immigrants adjust in Portland. As an immigrant herself who came to the city from China nine years ago, Liqin especially sees the need to create a community interested in helping this vulnerable population.

The Action Group would bring people together to seek out what needs exist, share resources, and provide ways to get involved.

What she described was perfect – and the energy in the room suddenly shifted. Inspired by Liqin, Monique then had an idea that was more specific and exciting to her: an Action Group dedicated to saving the bees.

Within minutes, everyone around the table had something to offer: one person was eager to join, someone knew of a few organizations, another had recently spent time on a bee farm in Asia, and still another rode past a bee shop on her bike commute everyday.

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Both Monique and Liqin created their Action Groups right then and there. For the Team’s next meeting, an idea was put on the table to invite Connectors to share their ideas for Action Groups and launch three to five of them on the spot.

Once launched, Connectors would commit to seeking out Idealist members to join – especially those who are formally connected to organizations on the site or have listed the issue on their Idealist profile.

This spirit of intentional community building is how the Portland Team hopes to build buzz around Action Groups.

“It can be hard to get momentum around it,” Monique says. “What better way to do this but personally invite people?”
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What questions do you have about Action Groups? Ask away in the comments!

 

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Action Groups are coming soon

We talked about Action Groups with the Connectors who attended the NYC Team meeting on Saturday, April 5th, and found people were happy to hear that these Groups will give us the best of both worlds: you’ll be able to start an Action Group for your neighborhood, school or workplace, OR one for an issue you care about—like education, homelessness, or human rights. (In the latter case you’d still be acting as a neutral facilitator/moderator, but within the issue that moves you most.)

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Yesterday morning I flew to our Portland office, which is where we do all of our web development. I hadn’t been here for three weeks, and when I walked in I felt wonderfully superfluous. Everyone was out getting lunch, but the walls were covered with charts and notes reflecting all the feedback we’ve received from all of you over the last four weeks, and it was clear that things are moving in the right direction.

Later in the afternoon we had a good meeting all about Action Groups. We’re itching to share them with you and see what you think!

More soon…

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Stumble on a bed in a public place, settle in for storytime

On Tuesday, March 11, Idealist will launch a new network to help practical dreamers all over the world connect and take action on the issues that concern them. Preparing for the debut of this imaginative new effort has gotten us exploring the many facets of dreams: what are their purposes, their powers, their opposites?

Welcome to Dreams Week on Idealists in Action.

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Erica Thomas reads to strangers in the park as part of Dreamland.
(image courtesy Dreamland)

What would you think if you were walking through a park and happened upon a bed, a rocking chair, a lamp, and someone reading stories? Would you think you were dreaming? Would you think your dreams had come true?

Welcome to Dreamland.

read more »

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VIDEO: Portland rocks the MLK Day of Service

This past January 20th, the Idealist video team traversed the neighborhoods of Portland, Oregon to visit some awesome service activities happening as part of the MLK Day of Service. The thousands of volunteers they encountered clearly did a lot of good for the organizations they were helping, but they also told us it wasn’t just about giving back—it was also a fun, easy, rewarding endorphin rush.

 

 

It’s always great to serve on MLK Day, but remember that orgs need help all year long. You can search for thousands of ways to give back in your community, while getting some ‘good’ yourself—just visit Idealist.org/act.

How did you serve on MLK Day this year? Would you describe it as easy and fun?

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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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Uplifting billboard says don’t cry, pout, tells you why

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The Joy Team put up this billboard at NE Glisan and 27th in Portland, Oregon to spread acceptance and hope during the holidays.
(photo courtesy The Joy Team)

The holidays are a time to be grateful for the good things in our lives, but for a lot of people this season of celebration can also stir up feelings of loneliness and sadness.

To combat these winter blues, The Joy Team out of Vancouver, Washington has created a new billboard campaign to spread messages of acceptance and hope.

Here’s a sample:

  • You are so freaking awesome.
  • We believe in you.
  • Celebrate.
  • Cultivate your awesomeness.
  • Something wonderful is about to happen.

Nice work, Joy Team! I feel better already.

What encouraging message would you put on a billboard?

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How a female-focused bike shop is shifting gears

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Leah Benson behind the counter at her new shop.

In the new Gladys Bikes shop on North Williams Avenue in Portland, Oregon, there’s a sign on the mirror next to the rain gear and helmets. It says “you look perfect.”

Owner Leah Benson opened the shop last month with the intention of starting a bike repair and fit studio specifically catering to women and women-identified individuals. The name come from famous women’s suffragist Frances Willard who called her beloved bicycle “Gladys.”

“Everybody deserves to feel comfortable on their bike and welcomed in a bike shop, and unfortunately that’s not the case for a lot of people,” Leah says.

She knew she wanted to offer an alternative to the intimidating and exclusive vibe of many bike shops, so she left her job at a local nonprofit a year ago and dedicated herself full-time to setting up the business. To help her get started, she tapped into some micro-enterprise development classes offered through Mercy Corps and talked to a lot of shop owners in the Portland bike community.

Part of the reason Leah opted to start a small business instead of a nonprofit or bike coop was the frustration she’d felt with the constraints of grant cycles and funders at her nonprofit job.

“You can do a lot of good work in the nonprofit sector, but you’re always going to be beholden to other people’s deliverables,” she says. “I wanted to step out of that.”

Before she started setting up Gladys Bikes, Leah was pretty dismissive and negative about the for-profit world.

Gladys Bikes' saddle library. (photo via Gladys Bikes Face Book)

There’s a saddle for every body.
(photo via Gladys Bikes Instagram)

“I used to think that if you’re making money, you must be doing something wrong,” she says. “And then I was like, no, small businesses are usually just trying to make enough to get by while providing a valuable service.”

An experienced fundraiser from her nonprofit days, Leah raised a fair amount of the capital she needed to start her business from private donors. She also worked a handful of odd jobs over the past year to make extra money: juice truck cashier, nonprofit consultant, assistant stylist for a Nike photo shoot.

To keep her budget on track for the coming year, she’s also in the process of setting up an Independent Development Account (IDA) with Mercy Corps, a special type of savings account that helps small business owners build assets with a 4-to-1 matching program.

The people have spoken

One of the most useful things Leah did to make sure Gladys Bikes was on target with its services was to ask people directly what they wanted from the shop. She ran focus groups made up of people she knew, people she respected, and people that were referred to her to find out what they asked for most.

“It was one of the most fun and productive things I’ve ever done,” she says. “It was a great way for us to air our frustrations about bike shops that aren’t set up with women in mind while brainstorming some wildly great ideas.”

One of the awesome ideas inspired by the focus groups is Gladys Bikes’ one-of-a-kind saddle library.

“A comfortable saddle [the part of the bike seat you sit on] can be really body-specific in some pretty personal ways,” Leah says. “And a lot of the time, when there’s a piece of bike gear made for an ‘average person’ or ‘unisex,’ that usually just means ‘man.’”

To help achieve a more comfortable ride, customers can check out different saddle shapes and sizes from the library, try them out on their bikes for a full week, and bring them back later.

“Feeling good when you’re on your bike is really important,” she says. “It’s all about getting it set up in the way that’s most comfortable for you.”

What are some of your favorite socially-conscious small businesses?

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