18 February 2011

Joycott fosters community support for local businesses

Have you ever heard of a joycott? Yes, that's right. A JOYcott. Think of the polar opposite of a boycott. That's a joycott. Instead of not supporting a business or purchasing a product because the business is doing something you don't like, you support them because they are in line with your values. A little positive reinforcement is a good thing!

In Portland, ME, a fun buzzword and the intention to bring a community together were the grounds to sow a great event last weekend. Portland Green Drinks organized the Joycott held at the Public Market House on Congress Street. The event yielded double the usual amount of sales for the involved businesses after they pledged to reinvest 51% of the day's profits into energy efficiency improvements in the space.

Local bluegrass band entertains Joycott participants
Photo credit Jason Sandifer/ emilie inc. photography

I asked lead organizer, Sean Sullivan, whether this event brought a significant number of new customers into the venue. "The morning was regulars," he said, "lunchtime was everyone’s excuse to come out, and lots of new folks came through." With fun events like wine tasting and jazz and then beer tasting and bluegrass, there was something for all involved. The Market was festively decorated with balloons and there were tables of activities for children. Community members of all ages came out. Sullivan observed a lot of young couples with children, empty-nester couples and a good showing of 20-somethings. He commented that he felt the event bridged generation gaps and that "a lot of people saw the value in it."

Photo booths are always fun to have at events!
Photo Credit Maine Snapshot Studio

Decorate you own sugar cookie table
Photo credit Jason Sandifer/ emilie inc. photography

After coming up with the idea for the joycott, Portland Green Drinks solicited several markets in town. The Green Drinks crew wanted to focus the joycott on a business where people would already purchase products on a week-to-week basis, so they reached out to markets that sold food along with drinks. Nearly a dozen markets were approached and asked what percent of profits they would reinvest if they hosted the joycott. The rules were simple: whoever offered to reinvest the greatest percentage of profits would win the bid and be the first joycott target.

The Public Market House did just that with their 51% pledge. They were a great partner for the Joycott, especially since their mission aligns well with Portland Green Drinks. Their goal is to provide a "community gathering place that celebrates Maine people, food and agricultural traditions while joining the ongoing efforts to revitalize Portland’s downtown, incubating small businesses and involving the international community." They offer a community commercial kitchen in the basement during the summer and commit to buy local.

Post-Joycott, the businesses in the Public Market House have $1,888 to spend on energy efficiency upgrades. Portland Green Drinks is footing the cost for the businesses to get an energy audit to determine how the money will be best spent. Sullivan says the businesses are looking forward to it. "It’s an opportunity for them to create a long term conversation with their customers, while also saving some money on energy bills."

When asked about the impact on the community, Sullivan replied, "the success of the event illustrates that people want to support a business that aligns with their own personal values. When there's an opportunity to contribute to a greater goal, people seize that opportunity. My hope is that it helped people realize that the business and the environment don’t need to be opposing forces. If you have a goal there’s always a way."

A Laughter Party ensues
Photo credit Jason Sandifer/ emilie inc. photography

Sullivan says that he is most excited about "continuing to come up with creative ways to leverage the community we’ve built around a common interest in environmental issues. We’ve got this community and the networking day to day, but if we can find a way to direct energy and enthusiasm towards something specific, that’s valuable."

With so many fun ways to generate community support, it will be great to see what the Portland Green Drinks Team comes up with next. Find out about upcoming events on Portland Green Drinks' Facebook page.

Personally, I think this model has great potential for growth and supporting local communities. Congratulations to the Portland Green Drinks and the Public Market House for their success!

11 February 2011

Unified, passionate and persistent Egyptian youth overthrow Mubarak

Photograph: Tara Todras-Whitehill/AP

The slate is wiped clean! I truly feel that this victory for the Egyptian people is a victory for us all. What a beautiful moment, that of freedom, choice and an opening to bring about a vision held by so many.

When I sit and close my eyes, I can taste a little of what the Egyptians may be feeling right now. I imagine having a government that I don't agree with and feel the weight of constraint. Then I feel what it must be like to gather with my brothers and sisters, family and country relations and come together with a vision for a new tomorrow and a different way of life. Followed by days of speaking truth as one, gathering and collaborating, holding that vision to be true and attainable. And then that moment, the one where Mubarak says goodbye. Feeling the upwelling of excitement and the recently seeded possibilities of a future I helped create through collective protest and voice. It's like my heart is broken open and everything is rushing through it.

I spent time reading some articles about the role of social media in organizing this revolution. Thanks to those people in my network that are posting their findings to Facebook and have e-mailed me articles they found. It's amazing to see what a group of dedicated individuals can catalyze. In New York Times' "Wired and Shrewd, Young Egyptians Guide Revolt", writer David Kirkpatrick summarizes the way Egyptian youth organized:
...[t]hey brought a sophistication and professionalism to their cause — exploiting the anonymity of the Internet to elude the secret police, planting false rumors to fool police spies, staging “field tests” in Cairo slums before laying out their battle plans, then planning a weekly protest schedule to save their firepower — that helps explain the surprising resilience of the uprising they began.
Protesters organized by Facebook pages and events and through Twitter. Youth staged events to test their tactics in marching through the streets and gathering people to protest in neighborhoods. Google Executive, Wael Ghonim, who was detained for 12 days due to organizing against the Mubarak regime, was quoted as saying, "If you want to liberate a government, give them the internet.”

Ultimately, this was an effort of people coming together to stand up for something they believe in strongly. As Jerome Socolovsky reports from Cairo for VOA News in the story "Egyptian Youth Vow to Transform Their Society":
Fadi Awad has been here since uprising started on January 25. The 32-year-old said, "Now when you look in the eyes of people you see happiness, you see intelligence, and you see acceptance of the other - all the others, inside or outside,” said Awad. “I guess Egypt is going to be a great country after all, I hope."
David Porter, of CommonDreams.org, eloquently discusses the organic evolution of the movement and "Leaderless Revolution". "The slowly-accumulating momentum of hundreds of thousands of confrontations with local officials and elites ... slowly develop the courage, confidence and essential horizontal networks bubbling below the surface of seemingly fixed political landscapes."

Now that Mubarak has left the country, what now?

Commenter "Hamad" left an observation on the VOA News story, "Those youth protesters who are helping each other and have been seen sweeping the street, picking up garbage, while sharing food, water and medications do you think they will leave their country to fall in Chaos, if Mubarak and his regime step down now. I do not think so."

My colleague, Susan, commented that "youth need to move to a new level of organization and purpose…. They need to protect this potential to have a free government." I agree with this statement. Through the events that transpired since January 25, they show the opportunity and passion for a new way of being and governing in Egypt. I send all my encouragement for the youth to continue to fight for the Egypt they envision.

31 January 2011

Egyptian and Tunisian Protests - A movement grown by youth for change

It's impossible not to discuss the protests in Egypt that aim to oust President Hosni Mubarak and the link to Tunisia's protests that overthrew the government of President Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali. When there is a delicate balance of unrest and order in a country, all it takes is a single act of defiance in the face of injustice to tip the scales towards revolution.

In Tunisia, it was the actions of Mohamed Bouazizi, a 26 year-old produce merchant. His defiance in the face of repeated humiliation ignited the seeds of change for an uprising after being mistreated by local police officials for over a decade. An action, like Mohamed Bouazizi's, that was visible and poignant becomes a foundation on which others can bind together and take a stand. The Tunisian's were successful in expressing their dissatisfaction, wish for freedom and shift in the government. They have won back the press; newspapers are now printing without Ben Ali's photo for the first time in over twenty years.

Egyptian youth are pushing hard for a shift to occur. Youth activist, Ahmed Maher, discusses how the youth are organizing without a leader through the internet and cell phones states that, "young activists are fired up, and they have no allegiances to anything but change." Corruption, unemployment and a weak middle class are all contributing to the anger that the people feel towards the government. The protests give many Egyptians around the world hope that they will see an Egypt that they dream of. Waseem Wagdi, an Egyptian protester outside of the Egyptian Embassy in London, says that these protests give all human beings "hope for a more humane society."

I stand in support of the Egyptian protests to usher in a new era that supports the vision that the youth hold for a more free and just society. Actions in both Tunisia and Egypt demonstrate that when you have the will and the vision to move forward and the tools to enable action, the collective voice of citizens carries a great power.

Will the actions in these two countries inspire uprisings elsewhere? Is there a way to move towards a greater collective vision for equality, freedom and peace without the violence?

20 January 2011

Youth Engagement in Pakistan - How does this inform U.S. youth engagement?

Being in the process of a learning curve, I am in the process of looking for examples of youth engagement in projects that positively impact communities. I found an interesting article called "Social development: Tapping youth creativity for effective solutions." Taking place this week in Islamabad, Pakistan is the Regional Youth Symposium: Youth in Action for Global Change intending to "understand key questions on youth participation."

I'm interested in the follow up to this event. How are the youth being engaged? Are youth part of the group deciding upon a youth engagement strategy? To what extent does the country want the youth engaged? I wonder how this plays out in political engagement.

Seeing the efforts in Pakistan makes me curious to learn whether there are opportunities like this in the U.S. So often elected officials call out the youth and claim their support of younger generations, but with low youth voter turnout I wonder how many young people feel engaged? From my own conversations, it sounds like a percentage of the youth do not vote because poll operating time conflict with work schedules and commutes. I think for many, they do not feel adequately represented so they do not show up.

I remember being in my earlier teens and wishing I could vote. I was engaged in the content and wanted my voice to be counted. One of the first exercises I remember from first grade was a workbook about the 1992 election between George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. Even then I had an opinion.

Do you have any pros and cons to share about having a younger voting age? I think it would get youth engaged at an earlier age in the decision making process about those who govern.

18 January 2011

Putting more power in the hands of youth

Many joyous greetings from us to you for 2011! With the new year comes a flurry of new ideas. The one I'm focusing on right now is an initiative called New England Youth Connect (NEYC). NEYC intends to pull together a diverse group of youth from all over New England to positively contribute to local and regional problem solving. It is an online place where the youth voice can be expressed and shared in a unified manner to strengthen local communities. I intend this to be a model that can be used in other regions of the country and eventually other regions of the globe. Does this sound like a project you're interested in? Any suggestions or learning from your own experience that can help inform this work?

Through my life experience (I'm 24 currently), I have found that youth (people between the ages of 14 - 34) have great passion and ideas for improving the world we live in. Due to having less experience in the constraints and barriers that exist, their ideas are unencumbered, collaborative and creative. I keep hearing in the news and from adults that we need to run things differently. Yet, the people who run this country seem to use the same ideas over and over again (Einstein's definition of insanity) and expect our broken systems to work. Too often it seems like massive funds are being used in a band-aid approach - fixing the symptom, not the root cause. I think it's time for us to employ our creative brain power and ability to create new solutions to make some headway in creating the society we envision.

How do we youth wish to impact our society and country? How can we connect to foster creative dialogue that will help solve local, regional and nationwide problems? How can groups of youth from a diverse variety of backgrounds be supported to share their ideas in a forum that results in these ideas taking root? How can we share our collective voice to move our society to one that creates an environment where all youth (and everyone else!) get their basic needs met (healthy food, a good education, health care, supportive community) and finds their place in the world where their skills and passions intersect? 

I aim to first try this in New England and find groups of youth and youth-supportive adults and elders who are interested in these questions and passionate about getting involved. I'm curious to know in which areas youth feel passionate to collaborate.

Do you know a youth or youth group who would be interested in exploring this idea? Know an adult or elder who has youth connections or a passion in supporting the youth?

How do we as the youth of envision our communities? How do we see ourselves acting as a global citizen?

I see this project growing organically and being created out of the engaged communities in New England. All input is welcome. More to come!

26 October 2010

How can we connect for change?

I start this blog holding the question, "how can we learn more about our society and the current state of affairs as influenced by our past in order to better understand how to connect for impact and paradigm shift?" There are wonderful thought leaders who are creating change in their lives and surrounding communities. How can we, as a whole, do much more of this and connect these actions for greater change? How can these actions receive greater visibility so that people who are not directly connected to this movement (a movement of movements) see that positive change is happening and learn that their involvement is crucial. All voices are important.

Last week I spent two days at the Connecting for Change Conference sponsored by the Marion Institute. It is a regional Bioneers conference with the goal to "gather to embrace, share, brainstorm, network, heal, learn, teach, celebrate, recharge and connect for change. We will roll up our sleeves and harvest tangible, practical solutions to the specific challenges we face here in the Northeast and the world at-large."

The keynotes inspired energy to act and connect. How can the wisdom and knowledge of these speakers inform our ability to move forward? 

Alan Khazei kicked off Friday morning's keynotes with his thoughts on "Big Citizenship: How Pragmatic Idealism Can Bring Out the Best in America." This is also the title of his recently released book. He co-founded City Year in 1988 and launched a new venture called Be the Change in 2007.  His vision is to build a strong citizens movement. "No one changes the world by themselves." Even in our hyper-individualistic American society, it's good to remember that the Constitution does not begin with I. What is it again? "We the people..." When President Harry Truman left the office of the Presidency, a reporter asked him what it was like to be leaving the highest office in the United States. Truman replied, “I am not leaving the highest office. I am assuming the highest office, that of citizen.” Alan spoke of our need to reclaim our sense of common purpose as a nation. He envisions a different role for government in the 21st century that is more catalytic, more transparent and helps to scale up what works and shut down what doesn't. He called for more private-public partnerships and said that we, "can't afford to leave people on the sidelines." 

Alan Khazei speaks at Connecting for Change in New Bedford, MA.
Next up was Adeola Oredola, Executive Director of Youth In Action (YIA). YIA is a Providence, RI based nonprofit that empowers young leaders to create social change. She told her own story about growing up in an under-served community where she worked hard to get into Brown University, but upon her arrival realized that she has a lot of catching up to do. She is a proponent of integrated youth leadership and equal access to resources for success and change. YIA is run by the youth, decisions are made by the youth and they have created a Youth Bill of Rights to advocate for greater power to be placed in youths' hands as local decision makers. From a follow up session on YIA that I attended, it's clear that this passionate group of youths are making a positive impact in Providence. 

Adeola Oredola speaks at Connecting for Change in New Bedford, MA
Diane Wilson and self proclaimed "unreasonable woman" took the stage by storm. She is a firecracker! You may be familiar with her name; she poured an oil-like concoction all over herself in a hearing in Congress to protest BP's liability in the Deepwater Horizon disaster. She is a fourth generation shrimper and says, "we are tired of being dumped on." The gist of (and title of) her keynote is "being unreasonable will get us where we want to go and if it doesn't then we're not being unreasonable enough!" She quoted Edwin Louis Cole's famous thought about unreasonable men and changed it to read unreasonable women. I think we need to be inclusive, so the quote reads as follows, "Reasonable people adapt to the world around them; unreasonable people make the world adapt to them. The world is changed by unreasonable people." She said that to make a change it's important to get into the faces of the ones holding the power. "Ideas that scare you come from the heart" and it's important to follow those callings. Ghandi referred to it as soul power and the ingredient is commitment. "Sometimes being ignorant is a good thing - you don't know what you can't do." Diane was greeted by a standing ovation. It's hard not to stand up when someone is calling for each and every person in the room to awaken and respond to their highest calling.

Diane Wilson discusses sinking her shrimp boat for zero emissions and going on her first hunger strike
 Last but not least was Van Jones. Founder of Green for All, Green Jobs Advisor in the White House for 6 months and currently a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, Van brought humor and a pragmatic approach to getting things done in the U.S. It's no joke that we have to get moving. Some statistics that Van shared during his keynote:
  • The Pentagon has scenario planning for stuff that's scarier than anything in Al Gore's film.
  • A third of Pakistan was under water this summer. A third of an entire nation!
  • An eighth of Russia was on fire this summer.
  • Even Putin wants to do something about climate change.
We are becoming more culturally diverse, but less economically stable; "that's not a recipe for a common-ground, that's a recipe for a battleground, so we have to put America back to work to pull America back together." He spoke about change being harder than hope and backed it with a humorous analogy about donuts and losing 15 pounds. When you want to lose 15 pounds, you can make that decision, but enacting it takes time and commitment. And how easy is it to go and buy a donut even when you know it's not the best decision? Some days you fall off the bus, but then you get back on and keep persevering. That's the way change goes. Hope is seeing yourself in your mind's eye sans 15 pounds. Change is losing that 15 pounds. With change, there are good days and bad days. In politics, you have good years and bad years. Our energy workers are America's heroes. They risk their lives and lungs to provide America's energy. But America's future is not down those holes. If you want to see America's future, look up!

There are three ways to tackle change in America:
  1. Top down - government
  2.  Bottom up - citizens
  3. Inside out - us
He talked about climate policy in the United States and said, "you don't want to do cap-and-trade, fine, but you're not off the hook." He equated carbon pollution with general littering laws. If someone throws a wrapper on the ground, they will be charged a fine. You don't see shop owners throwing their trash into the streets. If a store owner is directed to pay for trash removal they don't say, "you are messing with my profit model." And when asked to pay for trash removal they don't scoff and say, "ha! ha! you must be a crazy socialist." The Supreme Court ruled that the EPA has the authority to regulate carbon pollution and they aren't a bunch of crazy hippies are they? 
"The movement for hope and change wasn't built in the Iowa Primaries. Don't forget you inspired him (President Obama) first. And it was never 'yes he can,' it was 'yes we can.'" 

Van Jones encourages participants to own the movement: "It was never 'yes he can' it was 'yes we can.'"
On Saturday, the closing keynote was by Seth Goldman, Co-Founder and TeaEO of Honest Tea. He spoke about Honest Tea's 40% purchase by Coca-Cola and their impact as the first organic beverage to market in 1998. He shared a case study where Honest Tea set up tea purchasing kiosks around major U.S. cities over the summer. These kiosks were unmanned and they asked people to contribute a dollar into a box if they decided to take a beverage. Boston topped out as 93% honest

So what happens when we take citizen power for a common purpose, integrated youth leadership, a commitment to soul purpose and change coming top down, bottom up and inside out and stir in good old American honesty as it comes from the public? We have a concoction for positive change coming from every town, every municipality, every rural area and every community all with the purpose of making this a better place for citizens. Hopefully this means work, life purpose, education, health care and community support are all in alignment. 

And how is this all inspired? Interspersed through this conference was music, poetry, hip hop and spoken words. These mediums connect to people's hearts and inspire action and responsibility.
A couple artists worth mentioning:
Do you have any inspirational artists you would like to share? Any ideas on how our social movements can gain traction to hasten change? Inspirational quotes or websites? Post them on the comments page.