Meet an Action Group founder: Lissa in San Diego, California

Connector and Action Group founder Lissa Tsu is committed to helping people make the leap from online to on-the-streets action.

“I think Action Groups are exciting because they can be as big or as small as you want them to be,” she says. “They also get people offline and actually engaged in making the world a better place.”

Originally from Southern California, Lissa attended Boston College before making San Diego her home base. “I actually started volunteering early in life,” she says, “but going to a Jesuit university really cemented my love for immersing myself in under-served communities.”


Lissa and her daughter

Lissa considers herself a “Connector-type” in her personal as well as professional life. “I am always thinking about how people I know can help out other people I know. It makes me feel like a part of a community,” she says.

“I feel my strength is following through on what I said I would do. I rarely commit to things and then not follow through. I am thoughtful about how I want to spend my time and energy so when I commit to something, I commit.”

The Action Group Lissa started is called Downtown San Diego Planter/Bed Beautification. Why this focus? “I started with an AG that would personally make my day,” she explains. “Living in Chicago for eight years I saw how truly beautiful sidewalks can be and what a difference that makes in living and working in a place.”

“San Diego streets need a lot of love and I think that if we revitalized them we could really improve the image of SD. I live and walk downtown with my daughter most days so I would love a few flowers to brighten the path.”

One challenge Lissa’s facing so far is recruiting others to join her and start taking action. “I’m a little stuck here,” she says. “I think the largest challenge is that once you set [an AG] up it seems easy to get sucked back into ‘cyber world.’ And I would love some more ideas about how to let the SD community know I started a Group so they could choose to join me.”

Other AG founders: how have you recruited members to join your group? Post a comment below or write directly to Lissa through her Idealist profile.

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Meet a Connector: Lotta in Arusha, Tanzania

The thing that most excites Lotta Saiteu about the Idealist Network? Its reach.

“I like the fact that Idealist connects people of all kinds,” he says. “I want to help give a common ground to all, especially to those who have no voice.”

With experience in marketing, tourism, anti-violence training, nonprofit management, and as the founder of the organization Volunteers Service for Africa, connecting comes easily to Lotta.

Most recently, he’s been working on a project that connects local human rights and women-focused organizations with each other and with overseas volunteers. He’s also been helping high school graduates find scholarships to study outside the country.

“Staying neutral enables me to act as a facilitator and nurture all sides despite any differences,” he says.


Women in Arusha market. (photo via Marc Wisniak on Flickr’s Creative Commons)

Home to more than 128 tribes, Tanzania is no stranger to difference, yet it is a peaceful and democratic country.

In Lotta’s opinion, the social sector is progressing (healthcare facilities are free for children under five and their mothers, for example, which has reduced the infant mortality rate) and there is no government oppression. The challenges he sees are corruption and shaky commitments from volunteers and nonprofit employees.

Still, Lotta is hopeful. He also wants to work across borders, connecting his city of Arusha with nearby Nairobi, Kenya, to create a platform for change.

“Arusha will benefit so much from this connectivity. There is much to be done here but knowing what to do and when and how is the challenge,” he says. “Being a Connector will give me a chance to learn new things and train others on what I have learned. I just think I have a lot to give.”

Live in Arusha? Join the Team! Live elsewhere? Look for a Team near you or start one of your own.

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Meet an Action Group founder: Geoffrey in Carpinteria, California

An appreciation for clean sand is the norm in his coastal community of Santa Barbara County, yet Connector Geoffrey Berz believes more can be done.

“Focusing on our beaches—a mutual love of just about everyone—can benefit Santa Barbara County by bringing those of all backgrounds to the beach cleanup and giving them a safe place for dialogue at various levels,” he says. “This dialogue can lead to identifying other needs in our community while building stronger ties between vastly different demographics.”

Surf Ready

Geoffrey ready to surf.

Strengthening ties across different groups and promoting collaboration is how Geoffrey spends his time when he’s not surfing and or playing beach volleyball. Professionally, he helps organizations scale up and problem-solve.

“This involves pooling resources, project management, shifting organizational responsibilities, and naturally, connecting individuals who have skills/needs that can foster positive change,” he says.

His Action Group, “Monthly Beach Cleanup,” is one extension of this work. Initially, he plans to reach out to the Idealist community to garner more support, and then go beyond, with an emphasis on face-to-face connection.

By being a part of the Network, Geoffrey ultimately hopes to expand his own circle of go-getting Idealists.

“Organizing action in an entrepreneurial spirit is not an easy task. It’s important to have individuals and organizations that are like-minded in the same place,” he says. “A place like Idealist.”

Feel the same way about clean beaches that Geoffrey does? Join his Action Group.

Curious about Action Groups? Find one near you or start one of your own!

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Meet a Connector: Stephen in Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Growing up in the small town of Brusly, Louisiana, just outside Baton Rouge, Stephen Hebert felt like an oddball. The environmental issues that mattered to him didn’t seem to matter to others. So he left eight years ago and was surprised to discover like-minded tribes in other states.

“I spent a lot of my life thinking that no one else thought like I did. So once I started to discover similar people, I became kind of greedy,” he says.

Stephen is now back in Brusly and is all about reconnecting with the community and finding more socially-minded people through the Idealist Network. As an ideas guy, he’s even dreamed of something similar that would match people’s needs to other people’s skills, and make it easy to get involved.

“It was pretty much that first email I got from Ami,” he says. “I was like, ‘Oh! It’s here. Someone is building this network.’ ”



Stephen at a recent Team meeting. (photo courtesy Ashifa Sarkar Vasi)

Stephen’s learned a lot about working with people as a result of all of the different roles he’s had over the years—from software developer to gas station attendant to Americorps teacher in a jail to, currently, restaurant manager. It’s in this last role that Stephen sees an especially good opportunity to become more engaged with Brusly as the owner is all about bringing the community together.

As part of the Baton Rouge Area Team, Stephen is hoping to share and learn with others who are as interested in connecting with their community as he is.

“Our local team is small, but we are pithy. It has been a great experience in co-leadership, as each of us brings something unique to the table that adds strength as well as perspective and balance,” he says.

Given his background in IT, Stephen is currently working on a wiki, blog, and map for the group.

He’s also been thinking about how to best categorize and make accessible all the resources, local events, public spaces, and good ideas happening in Baton Rouge for an inventory similar to the ones Brooklyn and San Diego created.

For Stephen, being a part of the Team also gives him the same satisfaction teaching does—that is, giving people an understanding and power they’ve never had before.

“The Connector role just seems so fundamental. You find out what’s good and then share it with other people looking for it,” he says. “That’s what I want to do. Empower others to get the things they want.”

Want to learn more about Stephen and his thoughts on community engagement? Feel free to get in touch.

Live in Baton Rouge? Join the Team! Live elsewhere? Look for a Connector Team near you or start one of your own.

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Meet a Connector: Renato Orozco in Belo Horizonte, Brazil

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Renato (in blue) and his Nossa Cidade team and volunteers.
(photo courtesy Júlia Duarte)

Renato Orozco describes himself as “an idealist who works each day to build something that makes my country a better place.”

To this end, he devotes his time to his project Nossa Cidade, a movement to transform small towns.

“I love to plant seeds. For me, planting seeds means connecting people, resources and ideas so that the seeds grow. I’ve always been interested in this – it’s who I am and a big part of my life has been recognizing it and doing it with my work,” he says.

Renato believes the moment is ripe for the Idealist Network to help his city.

“Belo Horizonte is awakening. People are interested in making change and are taking more initiative,” he says. “There’s already an atmosphere of change, of more activism, and this network can catalyze and activate things that already exist.”

For Renato, a big selling point of the Idealist Network is an emphasis on the face-to-face connection.

“Making progress on projects and ideas is hard. To have an online space is fine, but I believe you have to try to leave the virtual space as soon as possible,” he says. “For this to happen, people need to experience the pleasure and energy that comes from working with others. This happens most effectively face-to-face.”

Live in Belo Horizonte? Join the Team! Live elsewhere? Look for a Connector Team near you or start one of your own.

Renato Orozco es de Belo Horizonte, Brasil. Se define como “un idealista que trabaja cada día para construir algo que haga de mi país un lugar mejor. Quiero conciliar mi carrera con la generación de impacto”. Sin duda su compromiso es claro y de manifiesto lo pone su proyecto Nossa Cidade.

No hay duda que para Renato el papel de conector encaja con su personalidad: “Me gusta plantar semillas. Para mi plantar semillas significa conectar personas, recursos e ideas para que las semillas crezcan. Siempre fue algo que me interesó, es quien yo soy y la gran clave de mi vida fue reconocer esto y hacer de esto mi vocación”.

Él siente que esta red puede ayudar al momento en que se encuentra su ciudad. “Creo que en Belo Horizonte esta ocurriendo un despertar. Las personas están más interesadas en hacer un cambio y ser más proactivas. Ya existe una energía de cambio, de volverse protagonista y esta red puede ser una manera de catalizar y activar lo que ya existe”.

Con respecto a esta nueva red apunta “Tener un espacio en línea está bien, pero creo que hay que tratar de salir del o virtual lo más rápido posible. Es cuando conectas con otros que encuentras la motivación. Llevar adelante algunos proyectos e ideas es difícil. Para que esto ocurra las personas tienen que experimentar el placer de estar trabajando juntas y eso se consigue mayormente cuando las cosas pasan cara a cara”.

¿Vives en Belo Horizonte? Únete a este equipo. O si vives en cualquier otro lugar, encuentra el equipo de Conectores más cercano o crea el tuyo propio.

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Meet a Connector: Seana in Tulsa, Oklahoma

Seana Wilkerson has her fingers on the pulse of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

“I’m very active in community events and committees in Tulsa and I can’t help but spread the word about the opportunities that I hear about. It’s a passion of mine to facilitate the success of others,” she says.

Seana has a wide range of interests from photography and Harry Potter to human rights and global poverty. Currently, she works as a Diversity & Inclusion consultant and coordinator for DiversityConneX, an employment matchmaking website.


Seana Wilkerson

For Seana, who’s both local and global-minded, the Idealist Network is the perfect intersection of these two mindsets.

“It’s exciting because it seems much harder to get plugged in or have a global reach from where I sit in the Midwest. I’m hoping to catalyze my efforts and those in my region through it,” she says.

In Seana’s opinion, Tulsa is a great place to do something like this right now. The city is home to an award-winning young professionals network well as a collaborative, socially minded network of organizations and business leaders. The art scene is thriving, downtown is blossoming, entrepreneurship is encouraged, and small businesses rule – with two out of every five being started by minorities.

With all these pieces in place, Tulsa is poised to make these connections stronger. The challenge?

“I think every city struggles with how to get people engaged and the further south you travel in Tulsa, it seems the awareness and engagement drops,” she says. “Another challenge is that many people in the social impact scene are involved in several organizations and projects, so convincing them of another thing, even if it may make things easier in the long run, is tough.”

Seana is a one of two people on the Tulsa Area Team at the moment and remains hopeful that others will join. The Connector role couldn’t be any more suited to who she is.

“Neutrality doesn’t come natural because I hold strong opinions, but I recognize it is not all about me,” she says. “However, most of the time I get so excited thinking about ways to help someone that I don’t care if it is something I would do myself. I just want to see them reach that next step.”


Live in Tulsa? Join Seana! Live elsewhere? Look for a Connector Team near you or start one of your own.


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Meet a Connector: Anna in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

When Anna McKeon moved to Cambodia from the UK three years ago, her connecting powers multiplied.

“I’ve always been something of a connector, and that’s especially true in Cambodia,” the nonprofit communications consultant says. “Working as an expat you quickly become a point of contact for new people arriving in a country, or for visitors passing through. I enjoy introducing like-minded people.”

Anna’s also one of those people who’s linked to a variety of groups. A singer in her spare time, she has contacts in the music industry as well as at hotels and restaurants. With her job, she’s always in need of writers and designers, and stays in regular touch with different nonprofits and social enterprises.


Anna McKeon

“I enjoy meeting new people and am always happy to take some time out for a coffee, or send a few emails to introduce people,” she says. “I also try and be pretty open about my experiences in Asia – I believe in sharing mistakes I’ve made, so that other people can avoid doing the same!”

For Anna, transparency and a collaborative mindset are two things that make the Idealist Network most appealing.

Living in Phnom Penh, Anna can’t help but want to do more with the abundant resources around her. The city is home to a number of socially responsible for-profit initiatives and tech start-ups led by young Cambodians, for example.

It’s also a hub for large aid organizations as well as smaller nonprofits. In Anna’s opinion, real change can happen here because there are so many decision makers in one place.

The challenge? The greatest need isn’t in the city, but in the rural areas where most organizations tend to run their projects.

“This is good and bad—as it’s easier for people to make powerful connections here, but equally Phnom Penh is not representative of the majority of Cambodia, nor of the challenges that many people face in their daily lives,” she says. “However, it’s a very positive, dynamic place to be”.

With the Idealist Network, Anna hopes to make more connections happen throughout Cambodia, and has a particular interest in helping to facilitate responsible volunteerism.

So far she’s exchanged messages with another Team member and is hoping that when her workload lightens she can devote more time to the Network. But one of her work projects right now—where she’s connecting people from faith, travel, education, and corporate communities —is priming her for the Connector role.

“Neutrality is really about not judging others’ choices, and I think that is always important! So I’m getting quite a lot of practice,” she says.

Live in Phnom Penh? Join the Team! Live elsewhere? Look for a Connector Team near you or start one of your own.

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Meet a Connector: Amanda in Fayetteville, Arkansas

Amanda Bancroft connects people all the time. Locals come to her to find jobs, organizations to volunteer with, and more.

“I’m an introvert. I’m not a social butterfly. So it’s not based on me having a huge network of friends,” she says. “It’s more based on the way I think about the layout of cities and the layout of resources: what already exists out there, what events are coming up, what organizations are doing what and when.”

A former AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer, Amanda is obsessed with capacity building—that is, making sure people and nonprofits have the know-how to do more with the resources they have or fill in the gaps where needed.

When she’s not working at a clothing store downtown or studying to become a master naturalist, Amanda’s full-time volunteer gig is developing and blogging for Ripples. She describes it as “a loose global network of capacity builders and others who want to make positive impact with small droplets that lead to big waves.”

Amanda at Lookout

Amanda on a hike at Ozark Natural Science Center.
(photo courtesy Amanda Bancroft)

Amanda and her husband Ryan are currently creating a checklist of 30 questions for people to ask themselves before they take action. They range from “Does this action help or hurt the environment?” to “Does it support diverse communities?” to “Is there a foundation for long-term change?”

Amanda sees this accessible methodology as a way to encourage others to take their first step.

“Knowing how to think about making a difference might help people utilize these resources that are just flying all around us. There’s almost an overabundance,” she says.

Fayetteville has hundreds of nonprofits, tons of people motivated to do good, progressive values, a lot of creative types, grantmakers and donors, and in general, a culture of helping others.

But in Amanda’s opinion, people aren’t taking full advantage of all that’s there. For example, despite the large amount of nonprofits in the area, only a dozen or so are listed on Idealist.

Additionally, projects pop up and die all the time. Amanda would love to see lasting change, more ripples of action, and a shift in thinking about connecting.

“The Idealist Network could offer Fayetteville a lot in terms of connecting,” she says. “The trick and challenge will be to help people understand why connecting will get them what they want.”

Want to learn more about how Ripples might help you or your Team? Get in touch with Amanda:

Live in Fayetteville?  Join their Team! Live elsewhere? Look for a Team near you or start one of your own.

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Meet a Connector: Leonie in Brisbane, Australia

In Leonie Sanderson’s opinion, here’s what Brisbane has going for it: innovative groups that eschew traditional nonprofit models, diverse projects that don’t rely too much on government funding, and overall, lots of people-powered good.


The Brissie skyline
(photo by Cyron on Flickr’s Creative Commons)

What’s missing in “Brissie,” she says, is a sense of connectedness.

Nonprofits and groups typically compete for funding and resources, and they’re uninterested in banding together. For Leonie, this is one reason the Idealist Network is appealing.

“I am attracted to networks because I think more is possible. I like linking into the bigger picture. I believe there is value in a coordinated approach that doesn’t reinvent the wheel,” she says.

If there’s anyone suited to a Connector role, it’s Leonie. From hosting Feasts for Good to volunteering with the homeless on Sundays to being a Fellow with the Global Resilience Collaborative to leading her own informal do-good collective, she’s heavily involved in the Brisbane community.

She’s all about moving ideas into action, and she’s honest about what she can bring to the table.

“Actually I don’t know that anyone is ever truly neutral. It’s not possible as human beings,” she says. “However, I believe that I am good at facilitating change and encouraging new perspectives. I don’t feel a need to lead on other people’s ideas/projects but I like assisting with implementation.”

So far, Leonie is a one-person Team. To encourage others to join her, she’s considering her next step to be showing how awesome it is to be a part of a bigger network.

“I like to connect the dots, and I like collaborating,” she says. “I believe collaboration leads to better outcomes and more resilience.”

Do you live in Brisbane? Join Leonie! Live elsewhere? Look for a Connector Team near you or start one of your own.

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Meet a Connector: Blaise in Nairobi, Kenya


Local pride on the streets of Nairobi
(photo by Meena Kadri via Flickr’s Creative Commons)

When Connector Blaise Jabo was a kid, he saw firsthand the power of a network—albeit in the face of tragedy.

“When we were in Burundi as refugees, everybody was sharing solutions to people’s problems,” he says.

Blaise was raised in Rwanda but when his parents were killed in the genocide, he moved to Burundi with his uncle. He then attended college in Australia, where he studied computer security, and later in Kenya, where he received a Master’s in security management.

Having experienced the effects of the Rwandan genocide, this notion of security compels him.

“I believe it’s time we think of security in another dimension, because clearly our state securities have been failing us. We should put people at the center,” he says.

It’s no surprise that Blaise is drawn to the Network’s simple philosophy: freedom and dignity for all.

New to Nairobi, he’s planning to get together with another Team member soon. As for who else he’s hoping to meet, his criteria are pretty broad.

“Anyone with a heart to share,” he says.

Live in Nairobi? Join Blaise! Live elsewhere? Look for a Connector Team near you or start one of your own.

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