World’s First Communal Living Room

(From Connectors Malmö’s website)

Would you and your community benefit from a crowd sourced living room?


The Pop Up Space is literally just an empty room in the city of Malmö, Sweden where residents of the local communities are able to drop in and vote for what they’d like to see the room become. At the end of the week the votes are counted and one new feature is added to the room.


So, as it states on “Today, the room might be an empty room. But next week it might be filled with hundreds of pillows and a pizza oven.”


We caught wind of this story from Connectors Malmö’s Co-Director Julieta Talavera, who was a dedicated participant of Idealist’s Connector Initiative last year. Julieta became inspired by the idea of connecting social innovators so that they are able to collaborate and assist each other in bringing change. This inspiration, along with her own intention of bettering the world, sparked something in her that made her leap into action.

According to their site “Connectors Malmö is a community of people from here and there, doing this and that to make our city a better place.”


The Pop Up Space is part one of Connectors Malmö’s first featured project which they hope will lead to a prosperous career of positive change for their community and eventually the world.

Julieta explains “The neighborhood in which we are launching this space has significant social problems including unemployment, low integration and low community morale.”


The team over at Connectors Malmö says that the purpose of this experiment is to create a community-sourced hub that not only allows the diverse local community to work together in its creation but that will also act as a forum for people to think creatively with one another. They hope that once everything gets running this can be a comfortable place for locals to meet with each other, as well as social entrepreneurs from all around the world, to come up with unique solutions for local challenges.

(From Connectors Malmö’s website)


This is where Connectors Malmö’s second phase comes to play. If everything goes according to plan, Connectors Malmö plans to launch the Residency, or The Live-In Lab, at the end of the Swedish summer this year. The Residency will be a place where six to nine chosen individuals (the Residents) will live and work together. These individuals will be social entrepreneurs who are looking to use their skills in a way to help better both the local community and the world. The Pop Up Space is the common area where these individuals can collaborate both with each other and with the local community. This is why Connectors Malmö has rightfully dubbed it ‘The World’s First Crowd Sourced Living Room’.


This initiative is currently in what the team is calling ‘the pilot period’ and will be until mid-April. During this period, they have a number of backers who are willing to help them test the waters before going forward full-throttle with all of their plans.


Julieta and the team have thrust their vision into action with the launch of The Pop Up Space.  If this initiative gains traction, and the idea of communal living rooms begins to spread across the globe, participating communities would be building their own unique proverbial ant hills, where everyone puts their skills and resources together to construct a mutually beneficial utopia.

What’s an idea that you have that you would share in your community’s communal living room? Let us know in the comments!

Tags: , , ,

Pro tips for your pro bono experience

Stuck? Feeling hopeless? Unsure of your next step? For the almost two decades Idealist has been around, we’ve been asking you—our community—to tell us about the obstacles you face when trying to turn your good intentions into action. We’ve compiled a short list of the top-reported obstacles, and now we’re blogging about them one by one.

This week we present: money.


There are always two sides to an issue.
(photo via Shutterstock)

Let’s say your project is close to becoming a real-deal nonprofit or social enterprise. Now there’s all this legal jargon to navigate—and you don’t know where to start.

On top of that, you’re a bootstrapping entrepreneur and don’t have mega cash to shell out to get all the answers you need.

So maybe you check out the Foundation Center or wade through hundreds of articles online. But you’re still confused and need more one-on-one attention.

One solution? Find a pro bono lawyer.

But like sustaining any good project, making that relationship work requires patience and understanding. Here’s how to make the most of it.

Get up, stand up for your rights

We wrote recently about Drive Change, a food truck in NYC that trains and employs formerly incarcerated youth.

Founder Jordyn Lexton wasn’t sure if she wanted it to be a for-profit or nonprofit entity. So when a big-name law firm offered to help, she eagerly jumped at the opportunity.

It didn’t turn out to be quite the experience she hoped for.

“I recognized in myself that I was less persistent, and less authoritative, because they were doing it for free,” she says. “It pushed back the timeline, and a couple of mistakes they made pushed back our incorporation status.”

In the end, however, the extra time gave Jordyn the opportunity to explore more options about what Drive Change wanted to be.

She learned a ton from the experience, and the biggest tips she has are to make sure your lawyer is familiar with tax law, especially as it pertains to nonprofits, and that he or she works for a supportive firm that can help them access answers quickly. And while you don’t need to invite them to your wedding, make the relationship as personal as you can.

“Meet in person—a lot. Get to know them and build the relationship so they become more invested in you and your work,” she says.

Courting your lawyer

New Jersey Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts (NJVLA) is a nonprofit that helps artists and arts organizations understand their legal rights and navigate messy problems.

To date, their lawyers have collectively put in over 4,300 hours for a total of 1.7 million dollars in legal fees—for free.

“We’re greasing the wheels of arts in the state,” says board president Peter Skolnik.

NJVLA offers three types of pro bono services: Legal Lines, Law Fax, and Full Service Representation. Have a problem registering copyright for your photographs? Give them a call. Need help deciphering your recording contract? Send them a fax.

If you have an issue that isn’t going to be solved by a simple phone call or fax, NJVLA offers the whole shebang for artists and organizations that fit within certain income guidelines. They start the process by sending an email blast to their cadre of 250 volunteer lawyers to see who would be the best match.

Once you’ve secured your counsel, Peter advises being clear about what you need from the start.

“It’s important for clients to try their best to drill down to what the real problem is, rather than providing so much background that it becomes difficult to understand what the legal issue is,” he says. “Decide what ‘triggering’ event made you realize you need a lawyer.”

Lawyers have lots of different obligations, after all. It can be challenging for them to balance their time, and to do something for free when they only have so many hours in the day, especially when they have paying clients. They’re only human.

But that doesn’t mean they can slack off. From Peter’s perspective, the duty they have is the same.

“One on hand, you shouldn’t assume that because you’re not paying, a lawyer can take a week to get back to you,” he says. “On the other hand, nonpaying clients should assume that lawyers are looking out for interests in a professional manner. If that’s taking longer than expected, you should be sensitive to the fact that your lawyer knows what has to be done and when. It will get done.”

Have you ever worked with a pro bono lawyer or are you one yourself? Tell us about a good experience you’ve had.

Tags: , , , ,

Are you a jolly good fellow? 4 opportunities for you this fall and beyond

Fall is the perfect time to turn over a new leaf—and get more serious about making your world-changing ideas happen. Here are four fellowships to help you level up:

Atlas Corps Fellowship

  • WHO: Rising nonprofit leaders ages 23-35 from around the world with a Bachelor’s degree and English proficiency. There’s only one catch: U.S. leaders can’t apply.
  • WHAT: You’ll be placed at a U.S. organization with all living expenses paid, and receive leadership training throughout the year. After 12 or 18 months, you go back to your home country to share best practices, show off your new skills, and more.
  • WHEN: Deadline to apply is November 1.

Don’t fall into bad habits—apply now!
(photo courtesy LilKar on Shutterstock)

Unreasonable Institute Global Fellows

  • WHO: Open to anyone in the world with a for-profit or nonprofit social venture. The only things you need to demonstrate are strong business chops and your ability to continually iterate on your idea or product.
  • WHAT: If chosen to be one of 12, you’ll receive a more than reasonable package of customized mentorship, access to 250+ investors and funders, and support from others who have gone before you.
  • WHEN: Deadline to apply is November 7.

Global Health Corps Fellowship

  • WHO: English speakers 30 years old and younger who have an undergrad degree and believe health is a basic human right, regardless of past experience.
  • WHAT: Once accepted, you’re paired with a local from a health organization for one year of ‘frontlines’ teamwork in Burundi, Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda, Zambia, or the U.S. (Boston, DC, Newark, or New York). Super cool bonus: an end-of -year retreat in Uganda.
  • WHEN: Applications open November 6; deadline to apply is January 26.

PopTech Social Innovation Fellowship

  • WHO: Social innovators in both the for-profit and nonprofit worlds. Applicants who pop have three to five years of experience, and are already working in organizations that have potential for growth.
  • WHAT: You and and 19 others will participate in an all-expenses paid program where established innovators and leaders will help you focus on scaling your innovation, culminating in a presentation at the annual PopTech conference. The rest of the year, you’re tapped into an alumni network to help you get media coverage and funding.
  • WHEN: Nominations open in February 2014.

Interested in more opportunities? Search Idealist for more than 1,500 fellowships around the globe.

Resource tip: The Opportunity Daily has all sorts of great fellowships, funding, and more sent directly to your inbox each day.

Tags: , ,

This food truck is driving change for youth just out of prison

This week’s spotlight: all things prison.


Jordyn and her sweet food spread. (photo courtesy of Jordyn Lexton)

In her English class at East River Academy one day, a school for incarcerated youth on Riker’s Island, Jordyn Lexton had her students read Langston Hughes’ poem “Harlem (A Dream Deferred).”

After the group discussion, one student asked if he could be an architect someday. She told him yes. Another student who had been sleeping throughout the class raised his head and shouted, “Hell no! No disrespect, Miss, but you’re selling dreams.”

In that moment she realized that most of these kids would never actually have a chance to live their dreams—not because they didn’t have the potential, but because the system was broken.

Her students were all 16, 17, and 18 years old, yet charged as adults in the New York state prison system, one of only two states to do so. And even if they were lucky enough to leave East River Academy with a high school diploma or GED, the chances of them ending up back in jail were high—70% would return, in fact. Future employment and further schooling would be also tough due to their felony record.

“Regardless of what I was doing inside the facility, it wasn’t enough. I wanted to literally stop selling dreams and actually create channels for young people to have a successful reentry experience,” Jordyn says.

So she left teaching at the beginning of last year to start working at the Correctional Association of New York on the Raise the Age campaign. She got interested in prison reentry, and afterward, worked at the Center for Employment Opportunities.

An unabashed foodie, Jordyn then had an idea: what if she opened a food truck in NYC and hired her students once they got out of jail? The idea stuck with her. So she started working at Kimchi Taco Truck to learn the ins and outs of the mobile food world.

“If knew if I was asking people to pick up the truck, drive it to a site, turn it on, get it going, do sales, clean up, bring it back—I wanted to know what that entailed and felt like. And it’s not easy by any means,” Jordyn says. “The knowledge of that experience gives me an edge.”

Food with a side of social justice

While organizations like Homeboy Industries and Mission Pie have been touting the therapeutic benefits of culinary arts for a while now, Drive Change is really the first of its kind.

“We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel, we’re trying to take the program and put it onto wheels,” she says.

One goal is that Drive Change will play parent to a bevy of other food trucks. Its first child, set for a soft launch at the end of November, is Snowday, inspired by the time Jordyn was 12 years old and had “the most amazing food in her life” on a family trip to Canada: maple syrup over snow. Other mouthwatering items on the menu include maple bacon Brussels sprouts and pulled pork bacon maple sliders, among others.

“I don’t want someone to come up to me and say, ‘This tastes like it has a social mission,’ ” she says. “I want you to walk away having this amazing food experience and then later, if you find out it’s one of the trucks by Drive Change, then you feel even better about the fact that you contributed to a lofty social goal.”

Although it won’t hit you over the head, that lofty social goal is the main entree. Jordyn envisions hiring a cohort of eight to ten formerly incarcerated youth, and training them over a period of eight months on everything from how to use propane gas to social media marketing to accounting.

The overarching goal of Drive Change is expansion: to train more kids who can use the skills they learned to get a job or open their own food truck; to make Drive Change the go-to caterer for social good events in the NYC area; and to help start lots more trucks in other cities.

The journey hasn’t always been easy for Jordyn, but it’s always felt right.

“If you have a good enough idea and the experience to know what it takes to bring it to life, and the ability to get investment from a number of community stakeholders, then I truly believe there’ll be enough support and noise whatever the hurdles,” she says. “And something positive is going to come out of it.”

Interested in seeing how this story progresses? Follow @DriveChangeNYC and @Snowdaytruck on Twitter, and like Drive Change and Snowday on Facebook. 

Drive Change is always looking for partners. If you know a corporate sponsor who might be interested in events or catering, or a food business interested in developing or donating menu items in exchange for promotion, get in touch with

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Should you quit, or just do The Dip?

We’ve all heard the phrase, “Quitters never win and winners never quit.” But author Seth Godin would argue quitting is good—if you’re smart about the right time to do it.

From his book The Dip:

“Never quit.” What a spectacularly bad piece of advice.

Actually, quitting as a short-term strategy is a bad idea. Quitting for the long-term is an excellent idea.

I think the advice-giver meant to say: Never quit something with great long-term potential just because you can’t deal with the stress of the moment. Now that’s good advice.

So, let’s say you have an idea for an unique arts project for after-school youth. You’ve been thinking about it for years, have spent months refining your plan, hours getting the word out, and countless minutes perfecting your funding appeal. You’re so close to making it happen.

But there’s a snag: the school you were going to partner with backed out and no other school seems to be stepping up as a replacement.

This, my friend, is what Godin calls “the Dip.” It’s the moment when things don’t seem to be going your way and you’re starting to question if all your effort is worth it.



So your project? Godin would say it’s time to change your tactics, not quit the plan. No one quits the Boston Marathon at mile 25, right?

It’s human nature to quit when it hurts. But it’s that reflex that creates scarcity. The challenge is simple: Quitting when you hit the Dip is a bad idea. If the journey you started was worth doing, then quitting when you hit the Dip just wastes the time you’ve already invested.

Quit in the Dip often enough and you’ll find yourself becoming a serial quitter, starting many things but accomplishing little.

Simple: If you can’t make it through the Dip, don’t start.

Have you ever fallen into the Dip? How did you deal with it?

Tags: , ,

The Future Project: Helping students change the world with their wildest dreams

This week’s spotlight: all things education.

Screen Shot 2013-09-11 at 12.26.47 PM

Dream Director John-Michael Parker performs with his students at the 2013 RevolutionNYC at Columbia University, a celebration of the impact and growth Future Project students created during the school year.
(photo courtesy The Future Project)

What are your wildest dreams?

That’s the question Dream Directors are asking students in 14 high schools across New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Washington, DC this year as part of The Future Project.

“We want students to be unleashed to follow their dreams. When we think of unleashed, we think of possibilities rather than potential, which is an interesting word but sounds finite,” says National Dream Director John-Michael Parker. “Our Dream Directors push students to be the best version of themselves, and help them realize that their passions give them enormous, even infinite possibility.”

The Future Project started in 2010 when Andrew Mangino, a former speechwriter in DC and John-Michael’s schoolmate from Yale, along with fellow speechwriter Kanya Balakrishna, first dreamed up the idea of giving youth the encouragement and tools to aim beyond getting straight A’s.

Their original plan was to support volunteer coaches at underperforming schools; however they saw an even bigger possibility in more directly unleashing the passions and dreams of the folks right there in the school. Now, their model is all about having paid, full-time Dream Directors at schools that, more than anything, want The Future Project there.

“There’s so much goodwill and so many good ideas that aren’t being acted on because of all the other expectations placed on schools,” says John-Michael. “We realized if we could find the very best folks to put in high schools to do a job that utilizes the incredible resources, energy, and passion that already exists, and be someone that sparks other people to act on their ideas, then that would be an effective way for the Future Project to work.”

The name of the organization is the tool Dream Directors use to help their students make their ideas happen: “future projects” are any ventures that use students’ passions to enact change, like starting a club or launching a school-wide campaign.

At Wilson High School in DC, for example, future projects so far have included everything from a dance-a-thon to an art magazine to a nonprofit that will bring baseball equipment to poor communities in Nicaragua.

Not shy about their love for Ashoka, you might think of The Future Project as a community of young social entrepreneurs in training.


Do you want to help students unleash their imaginations?

While Dream Directors are a little bit of everything—part teacher, part guidance counselor, part performer, part intrapreneur, part coach—there’s nothing stopping you from playing that role in your school right now.

If you’re an educator or school staff member, and proudly have your head in the clouds, here are John-Michael’s tips for drawing out the best in the youth around you:

1. Ask students about their dreams.

What realities do they want to create for themselves, their school, and/or the world they live in? Listen to their answers. Then ask questions to figure out what’s holding them back, and challenge them to take their next step.

2. Tell them about yours.

Share your dream to write a novel or sing in a band or make healthy food widely accessible. Shout it from the bleachers. If you can’t be an example of passion, inspiration, and dreaming, how can you expect them to be?

3. Make it okay to fail.

Let your students know that the worst that can happen from failing is that their ego is momentarily bruised; the best that can happen is they gain a newfound sense of purpose and direction.

4. Work passion into the classroom experience.

Great teachers do this all the time: they create an environment where all sorts of expressions of creativity are encouraged. Allow students to do assignments through the lens of what they love to do, whether that’s drawing, making videos, etc.

And finally, there’s no need to limit dreaming to just the classroom.

“We created something new with this character that is a Dream Director. And we don’t want that to be limited to the means and resources of our company, or the employees we can get,” says John-Michael. “As we look to the next phase, we see a vision where The Future Project offers a way for folks to be Dream Directors in all sorts of communities and institutions: prisons, companies, hospitals, and more. We want it to be an idea out in world that people can take and act on themselves.”

What are your wild dreams to make a better world? Share them in the comments below and at

Tags: , , ,

Legal Cuts: Law office + barbershop = community


Barbers on the job at Legal Cuts.
Not pictured: the lawyer working in the back.
(Photo via Legal Cuts on Facebook)

“Traditional law offices can be intimidating, but folks are comfortable sharing their problems with a barber,” says Donald Howard, the 32-year-old attorney-coiffeur who opened a combination barber shop and law office in New Britain, Connecticut this past spring.

“I thought it was the perfect marriage,” he continues. “People could feel comfortable in this environment and feel they can trust the lawyer. I want to make sure legal services are available to these people,” who he believes may be intimidated by walking into a traditional law office.


Legal Cuts price list
(Photo via Legal Cuts on Facebook)

The tough job market many recent law school grads are facing prompted Howard to think outside the norm and become the entrepreneur of a “hybrid business.” (Legal Grind, a combo law office and coffee house in Santa Monica, was considered the first when it opened in 2009.)

In Howard’s case, the impetus to start was two-fold: he needed a job, and he wanted to help his neighbors.

“I believe the barbershop is the epicenter of the community,” he says. “People can come in here and play checkers or chess and get to know their surroundings. … It’s gimmicky, but I want people to know that it’s a gimmicky thing that could work and it can help them out.”

Read more about the events that inspired Howard to open Legal Cuts in this Connecticut Law Tribune story.

Do you know of other hybrid businesses that are creating jobs while aiming to better serve a community? Educate us in the comments below.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Put a bid on it: How a Portland, OR auctioneer is keeping the city’s nonprofits afloat

Johnna Wells BGF photo

Johnna at the 3rd Annual Shake It Til We Make It fundraising auction and event for The Brian Grant Foundation,
held last year at the iconic International Rose Test Garden. (Photo credit:

Every weekend for nine months out of the year, auctioneer Johnna Wells stands up in the center of a room filled with hundreds of people, sometimes thousands, and tries to raise the most money possible for that night’s nonprofit.

Her auction chant is automatic at this point; the mental juggling is all about reading the body language of the bidders at key tables, making sure she gets the minimum amount for the donated goods, and sustaining the energy of the crowd.

It’s become second nature for Johnna, who is admittedly shy otherwise.

“I’m more uncomfortable in a room of ten people than a thousand,” she says. “But once I get up there and get a microphone in my hand, it’s almost like my superhero cloak. I feel at home, and less exposed in that way.”

From artist to auctioneer

Johnna’s been around the rapid-fire auction environment her whole life. Her mom and dad owned and operated auction houses in Coeur D’Alene and Post Falls, Idaho, which specialized in antiques and collectibles.

As kids, every day after school, she and her brother would help their parents get read for the weekly Friday night auction, and every Friday night, they would listen to the patter of their dad’s bid call, rolling out their sleeping bags in the clerking room while buyers checked out with their treasured wares.

“It seems nerdy, but it’s an interesting and cool community of little vignettes of stories and lives,” she says.

But Johnna outgrew the family business as she got older. After studying art at the University of Idaho, she moved to Portland and began a series of art-related jobs ranging from window dressing to jewelry design. During this time, she started to question whether or not she could continue to pay the bills as an artist—and if it was fulfilling her desire to do good in the world.

Then her dog died back home. On a whim, she quit her jewelry store job, got on a plane, and chose a seat that happened to put her next to two old-timers who’d known her grandparents and told her tales of days long ago.

“Sometimes it feels like once an action is put in motion, you know you’re on the right track when the rest of those pieces start to fall into place and remind you that you made the right decision,” she says.

She ended up staying in Idaho for the summer. Coincidentally, her father’s health took a bad turn and she further learned the ins and outs of the auction method when her parents opted to leave the family farm and move into a condo. It was during that summer that she decided to go to auction school and, afterward, apprentice at a local fundraising auction company back in Portland before starting her own business.

Portland’s powerhouse fundraiser

Now Johnna is one of the seven percent of women auctioneers around the world, and a 2005 International Auctioneer Champion.

Her company, Benefit Auctions 360, works with a variety of Portland nonprofits including Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, Cascade AIDS Project, and the homeless youth organization p:ear.

The fundraising auctions, which Johnna likens to “original crowdfunding,” are anything but small affairs. Throughout the course of the year, her team works with each nonprofit to strategically plan and promote each auction and event. Venues range from art museums to the Veterans Memorial Coliseum; performers have included local and famous musicians alike, from Julianne Johnson to KISS; and donated goods run the gamut from an original Gus Van Sant photograph to being a roadie for the band Rush.

This spring alone, Benefit Auctions 360 has raised a total of $14 million—and they’ve made their own donation to every organization they’ve worked with. For many of city’s nonprofits, the money they raise in one night is what keeps their doors open throughout the year.

“Years ago, I had my very first auction with p:ear. Seconds before I took the stage, Executive Director Beth Burns came over to me. She put her hand on shoulder, squeezed it firmly, and said, ‘We’ve barely got any money in the bank. So don’t mess this up,’ ” Johnna says. “I was shocked, but it really set the tone early on for how important this work is.”

Johnna is successful any way you look at it, but she doesn’t let it get to her head. In fact, she’s anything but comfortable.

“There’s always the potential to make whatever you’re doing bigger and better. And there’s also the potential for it to unravel at the seams. It all depends on you,” Johnna says. “I’m scared every day that I’m not doing the right thing, that I’m not doing my best. I think that’s a good thing. It keeps you on your toes and makes you work that much harder.”

Check out the Benefit Auctions 360 blog for tips on fundraising, auction planning, and more.

Follow them on Pinterest for auction and event ideas.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

What can world-changers learn from software developers?

This is the final installment of a three-part series detailing lessons learned from the world of software development that can be applied to the social change work. Previously, we talked about identifying obstacles to action and using data to inspect and adapt. Today we’re talking about the importance of making small improvements along the way.


It often takes a series of smaller ideas to get to the big one you love. (Photo via ratch on Shutterstock.)

Have you ever been really excited about a new project, but you’re not sure how to start? Some people prefer to plan as much as possible from the very beginning, while others just want to dip their toes in with a small step. These two approaches are common in the software development world. The first approach is called “waterfall,” and the second is known as “iterative.”

Iterative development is at the heart of Agile software development strategies. Iterative methods assume that in a complex project, there will be too many variables (sometimes called “risks”) to account for up front.

Instead, the goal is to identify the smallest possible increment that will prove or disprove a hypothesis. And we build only that part!

Of course, we might have other ideas in mind, but we focus on building a small piece and then we collect feedback from people, see how it’s actually being used (which is sometimes different from how we expected), and figure out the best way to move forward.

Iterating in the social good space

Linda Kay Klein leads the Work on Purpose program at Echoing Green, a social impact accelerator which has awarded $31 million dollars in start-up funding to over 500 promising social entrepreneurs in 40 countries since its founding in 1987.

Work on Purpose is a perfect example of iterative program development. Linda says she was originally brought on to promote a book by the organization’s senior vice president, which illustrated one principle for finding your purpose through the stories of five of Echoing Green’s social entrepreneurship Fellows. She says at that time, Echoing Green had a hunch that it could become more than a book, but they weren’t sure where it would lead. It was unclear how her job would take shape, but both Linda and the organization were willing to take a risk.

Over the next two and a half years, Work on Purpose evolved under Linda’s leadership. Echoing Green’s staff identified nine more principles for finding your purpose, each of which are now illustrated via stories and taught through interactive activities. The stories and activities became a series of workshops, then an online learning platform, and eventually a curriculum on which faculty and staff of over 50 colleges, universities and nonprofits have been trained.

Linda and her colleagues evaluated each piece of the program at every step along the way via surveys, focus groups, and one-on-one meetings. They even refined their evaluation methods as they went, drawing upon research in the fields of education, psychology, and organizational behavior to develop proxy measures that would enhance their evaluative methodologies. She credits this formative evaluation process for the fast growth of Work on Purpose from a book into a successful program.

Linda believes Echoing Green’s “evaluate early and often” technique is relatively common in the social entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs have a long history of evaluating buyers’ responses to products and changing them up as needed; social entrepreneurs do the same thing with social programs and products.

“Our Echoing Green social entrepreneurship Fellows are all in start-up phase,” Linda adds. “They haven’t had a long enough history for longitudinal research, so—like the Work on Purpose program did—they evaluate and make changes in real time. That’s what being scrappy is all about.”

She says that traditional nonprofits haven’t always done this, instead evaluating programs at the end of a long pilot phase, perhaps missing opportunities to make adjustments along the way.

Evaluate early, evaluate often

Here are some things to keep in mind for an iterative approach to program development:

  • Identify your MVP (Minimum Viable Product). This might not be applicable to every social good project, but it’s probably applicable to more than we realize. Your minimum viable product is the smallest deliverable possible that will prove or disprove a hypothesis. This means getting something in front of real people as soon as possible, like Echoing Green’s first round of workshops, and collecting feedback before iterating further. Be careful not to confuse this with “the least amount of work we can do.” It’s not small for the sake of small; it’s the minimum needed to isolate variables and learn as much as possible.

  • Evaluate against problem statements, not solutions. In software development, it’s tempting to evaluate success based on simple metrics like traffic and feature use. But every feature is attempting to solve a problem, and if people are using the feature but the problem isn’t solved, the feature has failed. Similarly, in the world of social good, projects must be evaluated on their impact, not their use. Echoing Green set goals not only about the number of schools who would adopt their curriculum, but also the impact the curriculum would have on participants.

  • Use proxy measures. Linda credits the TCC Group with helping to shape the way Echoing Green approached evaluation for its Work on Purpose program, specifically helping them identify trustworthy measures that would allow them to project longer-term effects than they were actually able to assess. As an example, research shows that people who feel more related to one another are more likely to work on one anothers’ behalf. With this research as a proxy measure, the Work on Purpose program can now assess participant’s long-term likelihood to work on behalf of others simply by measuring whether or not they felt more related to others after a workshop.

How have you used an “evaluate early and often” approach to iterate on your programs?

For another example of iteration in action, check out our post about Farmigo, a company that’s bringing the farmers market to you.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Want to make a difference but feel overwhelmed? 5 tips to help you get started


Sometimes following through on your vision can be hard. Don’t despair. (Photo via Thinglass on Shutterstock.)

You know the kind of difference you want to make in the world. But like many, you may find yourself stuck, asking yourself, “Where do I start?”

Too many people have wonderful ideas that they never put into action because they get overwhelmed at the beginning. Largely this happens because they let fear guide them instead of their inspiration.

The bad news: as human beings we give our fears life, and treat them as though they are real. This happens quite automatically. Fear is a survival mechanism that was created in the pre-historic age when human beings were at constant risk of being in fatal danger.

The good news: courage is not the absence of fear. It is looking it straight in the eye and acting anyway. Will you fail? Maybe. But it isn’t certain. How will you know if you don’t try?

So where do you start? Anywhere. Here are some recommendations to help you begin your journey:

1. Know your vision.

It is difficult to know how to get there if you don’t know where you are going. Create a vision and do it in a way that your brain will process it most powerfully: through pictures. Go through some magazines (or the Internet) and choose images that represent the vision: the people working with you, the community you will impact, the future for yourself. Hang your vision where you will see it every day. There will be days when you will want to give up and having this permanent reminder of your ‘why’ is crucial.

2. Tell people about it. 

Share your vision with anyone who will listen. Sharing your idea will keep you motivated as you get reconnected to your goals with each conversation. More importantly, you will be amazed by how much others want to support you in your endeavors and are willing to connect you to the right people.

3. Don’t do it alone.

The number one cause of  feeling overwhelmed is trying to do it all alone, and being overwhelmed creates fear. Hire a coach or join a meet-up for support. Ask people for help, seek out partnership, and build a team.

4. Fail.

Waiting for the ‘right time’ keeps you in perpetual procrastination. You will make mistakes. But this forces us to be creative, often landing us in better places. Welcome failure as an opportunity for growth.

5. Have fun.

When we are enjoying ourselves and have opportunities to play, we activate the parts in our brain that are the most creative and productive. So don’t forget to have a life that brings you joy.

Remember, fear is a natural part of our humanity. But in the end, YOU you have complete control over whether it stops you. The only way you truly fail, is if you quit.

Now go forth and be awesome!

IMG_7589rvsmwebStephanie Staidle, founder of The Right Brain Entrepreneur, is a professional development consultant and creativity specialist. She works with new and seasoned entrepreneurs as well as companies that are, by definition, very successful, but feel they are stuck at their current levels of performance. By tapping into the resources that are underused in many people, namely, ‘right brain thinking,’ she helps improve creative problem solving, innovation, communication and team building resulting in higher levels of performance, employee satisfaction and competitive advantage. Stephanie offers online and local workshops, corporate training, and individual coaching. Learn more about her services and sign up for her free newsletter here

Tags: , , , , ,