Fiscal sponsorship might be the richest thing you can do

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.

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Mason and his crew on location in Georgetown, Guyana. The entire film was shot with locals who’d never acted. (photo courtesy of Jeremy Habig.)

Mason Richards left his homeland of Guyana when he was seven years old.

He grew up in New York, but memories of the Caribbean nation lingered in his mind as an adult. He could taste the abundant and diverse fresh fruit like mangoes and gunips. He could hear the coconut man come down the street with fresh coconuts to sell. He could recall the Sunday lime at the seawall in Georgetown, where he’d people-watch and relax with family and friends as the Atlantic Ocean hummed nearby.

The nostalgia never left him. In 2010, for his Cal Arts thesis, Mason made a nine-minute film that was his tribute to the place he couldn’t forget. The Seawall follows the story of Marjorie and her ten-year-old grandson Malachi, and the emotions they wrestle with as he prepares to move to America.

“There are more Guyanese living outside of the country than in it. I wanted to made a film for them, for all us, who’ve moved,” Mason says. “The film is about immigration, abandonment both personally and nationally, and going home. I hope that at the end of the feature, Guyanese in Toronto, London, and New York are going to feel something about giving back to this place that we all come from.”

The film made it as far as Cannes, but Mason wants to extend The Seawall‘s impact beyond the exclusive film festival. He’s now working on making it into a feature-length to further showcase the beauty of Guyana’s landscape and people, which he ultimately hopes will lead to more development in the country.

“I want to change the world. And I believe I can change the world by connecting to the things that affect me, and finding other people who feel the same way,” he says.

Money, money, money

But as we all know, changing the world takes time, hard work, and money. And for an independent filmmaker, finding funds can pose an extra challenge—some might even say a nightmare.

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The amount of support Mason has received has kept him going. Mason is a Sony Pictures grant recipient and is currently working on a series of public service announcements in Guyana. (photo courtesy Hal Horowitz.)

Fiscal sponsorship—where a nonprofit lends you their tax-exempt status so you can apply for grants and accept donations without hassle—is one way to go. Mason wanted to find a fiscal sponsor whose passions aligned with his, and ideally also use the relationship as a means of connecting with prominent Guyanese both at home and abroad.

He searched the Internet for days until he finally found Friends & RPCVs of Guyana (FROG), a D.C.-based nonprofit founded by former Peace Corps volunteers.

He was swayed by its mission of continuing to support his homeland, and got in touch. Scott Stadum, then president, wrote him back immediately.

“Scott, a non-Guyanese American, really loved the place. It was almost like he loved it more than I did, because I was so disconnected from it. It really inspired me,” Mason says. “FROG is promoting Guyana in a way I respect.”

FROG became Mason’s fiscal sponsor, and together they hosted fundraising events in both N.Y. and D.C. so he could go back to Guyana and shoot the film.

More than that, though, they formed a relationship that has only gotten stronger since they met five years ago. (Scott is now one of the feature film’s producers.)

So fiscal sponsorship can be more than a dry task—it can be a source of new connections and supporters.

Mason’s biggest piece of advice? Make it personal.

There are probably a lot of organizations out there that share your philosophy and whose help you can apply for with the click of a button. But it’s when you connect on a deeper level with its members that you’ll have the most success.

“I think a mistake people make is thinking that you need money right away to make everything happen. I disagree,” Mason says. “I think that if you have a strong alliance of the right people who are passionate about what you’re doing and who believe in your goal, then money will come.”

Have you ever had a fiscal sponsor? How did it go?

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Do we miscast rural communities as places to leave behind?

Rural communities are often portrayed in the media as unfortunate starting places—restrictive, provincial hometowns that promising individuals must escape in order to reach their full potential.

But possibility and wealth of different kinds can be found outside big, prosperous cities. Read how one Guyanese woman saw great potential in a tiny community in eastern Ethiopia.

This post written by Grace Aneiza Ali originally appeared on OF NOTE, an online magazine focused on global artists who use the arts as catalysts for social change. 

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School girl from Harrare, Ethiopia.
(photo courtesy Grace Aneiza Ali)

There are no paved roads directly to Chaffe Jenetta—a small Muslim coffee farming community nestled in the remote terrains of Harrar in eastern Ethiopia. Telephone lines and electric wires are rare in these parts. Women are immersed in their day—fetching water, gathering wood and sticks to stoke fires, and cooking for their families.

Among their company, lush mountains and endless blue sky, I felt at home.

It was 2010 and my first time in Ethiopia, in fact my first trip to Africa. I had learned from growing up in Guyana and from a year traveling throughout India that there was no preparing for the rural countryside. You simply show up and let the land lead. So, I embraced Ethiopia with the same deference.

The journey to Harrar had started in New York City where I live. I was invited to travel with the staff and board members of The Abyssinian Fund, an NGO with a home-base in Harlem, New York, that works with coffee planters in Ethiopia’s rural villages like Chaffe Jenetta, helping them to grow better coffee, earn higher incomes, and improve social services with clinics, schools, and access to clean water.

While members of our group toured the village, I spent most of my time with the school children. One little girl in particular, about nine or ten years old, caught my attention—simply because of the way she clutched her notebooks. I asked for her name, but either she was too shy to tell me or didn’t understand my question. I pointed to her books and asked if I could look at them.

Her notes, written in Oromo, the local language of Chaffe Jenetta, filled up every usable blank space. Her handwriting was in the margins, on the inside and outside of the covers, written horizontally and vertically.

I recalled my own primary school days in Guyana when notebooks and paper were a luxury. Instead, we had hand-held chalkboards and little bits of chalk. It was cheaper, but it meant everything that was written had to be erased. So I would gather sheets of paper wherever I could find them and glue or sew them together to make books.

It was within those pages that I could invent the life I wanted. I wanted to be a writer.

Like that little girl at my side in Chaffe Jenetta, I left no free space unmarked in my hand-made books. I too wrote in the margins, within the covers, and sideways. As I turned the pages of her book, I wondered if this was where the stories of Chaffe Jenetta were being kept. Were they scribbled within the margins? Were they tucked in between the covers?

One of the Ethiopian guides that accompanied our group had remarked, “These are the forgotten people.” He had never been this deep into the mountains of Harrar and was visibly moved by the agrarian way of life in Chaffe Jenetta.

Perhaps what he was witnessing made him feel as a foreigner in his own land.

But as I stood there looking through this little girl’s notebooks, nothing about her seemed forgotten to me. There was a boldness about her. There was a joyfulness about her. What I saw was a young girl thriving amidst her circumstances.

I’ve found this to be universal from Harrar to Harlem—people thriving amidst contradictions, thriving in the messiness of life, thriving in the tragedies, thriving in the challenges, the hurts and the disappointments.

Notebooks may seem trivial when compared to the serious needs in Chaffe Jenetta like clean water, clinics, and paved roads. But they represent the freedom to dream, to create, and to imagine a future for oneself.

For that little girl, her future begins within the pages of her notebook—just like my dreams began for me. It was clear by the way she clung to her books, their pale blue covers tattered and torn, that what was written in them was of value. They were sacred to her.

Far too often the narratives about women and girls in rural communities whether they be in Asia, or Africa, or South America, are centered on an urgent call for them to look past the proverbial courtyard, to aim for a life beyond the confines of the village, to shed the veil. And we tell them that not doing so would render them invisible, marginalized, or trapped.

We’re wrong.

Chaffe Jenetta is not another nameless village in another ubiquitous story of poverty in Africa. It is a challenging but wealthy place—albeit not material wealth. It is not a place to flee from, but one to be nurtured and supported.

The little girl I met could one day turn out to be a powerful voice for Ethiopia. She might become a writer herself, sharing with the world its multiple stories. And to do so, perhaps she will find herself returning to those very notebooks.

GRACEGrace Aneiza Ali is the founder and editorial director of OF NOTE. She’s also an Adjunct Professor of Literature for the City University of New York, a World Economic Forum Global Shaper, and a Fulbright Scholar. She currently hosts the Visually Speaking series at the Schomburg Center, which examines the state of photojournalism through the lens of contemporary photographers and image-makers. Grace was born in Guyana and immigrated to the United States when she was fourteen years old. Guyana continues to inform and influence her worldview.

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Throwback Thursday: Live from Argentina’s “Crazy Radio”

Did you know we used to create podcasts? Listen to one our favorites. 

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The staff and contributors of Radio La Colifata.

On the outskirts of Buenos Aires, tucked away from the ubiquitous tango clubs and steakhouses, is Hospital Borda, the largest and oldest mental hospital in Argentina.

But this isn’t your typical psychiatric ward. In the middle of its courtyard stands a small, bustling building full of recording equipment and unbridled energy, where each Saturday patients gear up to take the mic. This is Radio La Colifata, the first radio show in the world to be broadcast from a mental hospital.

This podcast follows Idealist staff member Celeste Hamilton Dennis, a transplanted New Yorker, and Cecilia Gil Mariño, a native Argentinean, as they give us an intimate glimpse as to why everyone from taxi drivers to famous musicians can’t get enough of Radio La Colifata.

We hear from staff and patients, or colifatos, as they like to be called, about how it all began, why it’s lasted almost two decades—and why this innovative form of public therapy has spawned 40 similar radio stations all over the world.

To listen in English, click here.

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Staff Spotlight: Claire Hansen, graphic design, and Guyana

In this series, we’re highlighting Idealist staff members who’ve made their ideas happen. Today’s spotlight is on Claire Hansen, our New York-based graphic designer who knows a thing or two about sisterly collaboration, working long distance, and navigating a culture outside your own. 

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Tessa and Claire in Guyana in 2007.

In 2007, Claire took a two-week trip to Guyana to visit her sister Tessa, who at the time was a Peace Corps Volunteer with the Red Cross in the capital city of Georgetown.

Tessa wanted to revamp an educational children’s coloring book about inappropriate touching titled “Your Body is Yours!” which was being used in the Red Cross’s “Be Safe! Guyana” program. The content was basically good, but the images looked outdated and didn’t reflect Guyanese people or landscapes. For kids to get the most out of the book, Tessa reasoned that the design and illustrations needed to be redone.

“The original coloring books were actual books,” Claire further explains. “We wanted to redesign them to be easily photocopied so each kid could have their own. And since a lot of the child abuse issues the country was struggling with were family-related, we wanted kids to be able to take the books home, so their parents and siblings might also see.”

Claire set to work researching the fashions, pastimes, and terrain of Guyana and re-illustrating and designing the book, also tweaking some of the language along the way.

“It was an interesting road to walk—between being representative and stereotypical,” says Claire. “As an illustrator, I wanted readers to feel familiar with the images but not appear to be reducing their culture to its symbols, or seem racist.”

When she finished all 24 pages, she made about 40 copies of the book back home in New York and sent them to Guyana to be distributed. The Guyana Red Cross then solicited donations and had more than a thousand copies of the book produced and distributed through their branches in coastal towns and more remote, indigenous areas. From beginning to end, the process took about six months.

Advice

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Claire’s redesigned cover.

1. Know your expectations.
“I don’t know if it bothers me that I wasn’t around to see the books in use, or that I’ll never really know the impact they’re having—though of course I hope it’s good,” says Claire. “Mostly, I was just happy to attempt the project. But if the outcome of your work is a bigger concern to you, you need to consider how you’ll be able to track the results: is the org you’re working with organized enough to really give your project legs, for example? Will you be able to track the results of your efforts over time?”

2. Seek professional help.
“If I did it over again,” she says, “I’d try to get advice from a publisher, or someone else who’d done this same thing. If you don’t have all the skills or knowledge you need for your project, find someone who does, rather than trying to learn everything on your own. If you do that, you’ll only wind up with ten percent of what you need to know.”

3. See what technology can do for you.
“Now there are all sorts of great online print-on-demand options for books, and ways to track how many you publish and distribute,” says Claire. “If I were doing it again, I’d look into using tools like that.”

4. Keep calm and carry on.
“I got so caught up in being excited to do it that I didn’t spend much time dwelling on the negatives,” says Claire. “If you know it’s going to be a long, slow road, just reconcile yourself to that fact and try not to get upset about it.”

Have you been involved with a project like Claire and Tessa’s? Have insights for others? Share your experience with our readers below. Or feel free to reach out to Claire through Idealist if you’d like to ask her advice.

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When the gate swings open: An Idealist’s reflection on love, hip-hop, and Brazil

 

As a child I played with National Geographic magazines. I cut the photos carefully from their binding and positioned them on my bedroom floor. I stood in the center of each photo and communed with the imagined essence of another world. For as long as I can remember, the power and mystery of place captivated my spirit and shook my bones with a voracious sense of wonder.

In 2005, when I was 22-years-old, I landed in Rio de Janeiro with a large university grant. I carried addresses and phone numbers for various nonprofits where I’d been contracted to teach hip-hop and English to Brazilian youth. In my mind, I had plans to study dance all around the country. As a taxi drove me at a furious pace through Rio’s tangled maze of steep hillside cobblestone, one clear thought rang out.

“I’m too sensitive for a city like this.“

I was right, but I’d soon learn I didn’t care. I cared about discovering how my sensitivity interacted with this new world. I wanted to see where the path of contradiction would lead me.

It first led me to a brown-eyed man who stalled my heart when his smile carved two dimples beside the corner of his mouth. The enchantment I felt on the nights I walked arm and arm beside him wasn’t simply the magic of being young and falling in love in a foreign country. It was the sensation of being in the presence of a gatekeeper. The one who stands on the threshold of where you’ve been and where you are going. The one who beckons you in such an alluring way you have no choice but to cross over, regardless of whether or not they follow behind you.

At 22-years-old, travel shattered my compass and my direction became suddenly, terrifyingly fluid. That transformative year, finding love and discovering my calling happened in tandem.

On one typically sweltering Rio afternoon, my Brazilian boyfriend invited me to meet him at a beach side park where his dance company rehearsed every day. The company consisted of a dedicated crew of teenagers with a shocking well of talent and a profound enthusiasm for hip-hop dance.

For the first month I sat mesmerized and watched them rehearse. They trained and created movement, yelled out to keep going when they were exhausted, and celebrated each other’s growth. For the second month I stood in the back row of their concrete stage, dancing alongside them. The third month my Brazilian boyfriend broke my heart. I debated ever returning to that park where I had spent the last 60 days humming with a familiar sense of wonder shaking in my bones.

“I’m too sensitive to handle this,” I thought.

Yet I found myself back at their concrete stage, terrified and uncertain. The community of dancers I’d been spending everyday with didn’t care where I’d been or who I’d dated. They only cared that when we danced we sought entry into the same unspeakable passion. Echoing every day around the park was the soundtrack of their excitement and it created a new compass within me. My brown-eyed ex ignored me, but one day it finally stopped mattering.

On the other side of the threshold the view was different. The narrative had changed. It was no longer about falling in love with a man. It was about falling in love with the story of a group of people. I began coming to practice with a camcorder in my hand. The first time I pressed record my breath stalled and my heartbeat quickened. The earth pressed into my feet. I felt certain I was exactly where I needed to be.

Since that initial discovery I’ve been growing into the craft of filmmaking, following this community of dancers around Brazil and other parts of the world as their story widens. I’ve made a hundred amateur mistakes and another hundred skillful, intuitive choices. I’ve kept myself in the center of my sensitivity even when the pressure mounted because that sensitivity is ultimately what makes me an alert storyteller. I have cherished every moment with the community I’ve filmed. I’ve fallen in love over and over and over again.

My editor and I recently put the finishing touches on Believe The Beat, the feature length documentary that began eight years ago, when a sweet boy asked me my name after a dance class on a clear night in a loud city. There is sometimes a voice inside me that yearns to omit this piece of the story.

“I went to Brazil to make a film,” I hear myself think. “I researched and I planned my strategy. I was intentional and grounded and focused from the start.”

Then the rest of me rushes in. I am reminded of the little girl who stood on photos of foreign lands with the unknown looming. Who closed her eyes and said yes to a million possible truths.

This is what the world asks us to do. Follow the winding, complicated path toward voracious wonder. Say yes to the moments that enchant and challenge and surprise us. Walk across the threshold when the gate swings open and keep moving forward as it shuts.

DSCF0706Jocelyn Edelstein is a Portland filmmaker, writer, choreographer, and founder of the Urban Body Project, a multimedia collective that explores the relationship between dance, culture, and community. Her writing has been previously published in Best Women’s Travel Writing 2011, Volume 8, and will be upcoming in Volume 9. When she is not making films or writing stories she is performing and teaching dance at Polaris Contemporary Dance Center.

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