Mind mapping for social entrepreneurship

By Merrill Schmidt
Location: Little Rock, Arkansas

We just finished the second week of Little Rock Summer of Solutions, and there’s a lot going on! We’ve been gardening, attending trainings, planning our summer projects, cooking community meals, and connecting with different organizations. Even though launch week is over, we’re still learning lots of new information—how to weatherize a house, how to lead a cooking class, how to start a business. In order to prepare for the rest of summer, we formed committees for planning specific programs, such as garden management and community dinners.

So far, I’ve particularly enjoyed our entrepreneurship workshops with Matt Hampton of Elevate Entrepreneurship Systems. Through weekly workshops, Matt is helping us develop social enterprises. Last week we learned about business modeling. Matt explained that there are four fundamentals of business: human resources, marketing, operations, and finances. First we practiced business modeling using Starbucks as an example. We mapped out how Starbucks carefully manages its operations, human resources, and marketing to create a cool coffeehouse environment. With its trendy vibe, Starbucks is able to sell $5 cups of coffee and bring in revenue.Image

Continue reading

Environmental justice is a right, not a choice!


Written by Katherine Dennis, a Nashville native and the Little Rock SoS Garden Manager!

This past week has been our orientation & training week for the Little Rock Summer of Solutions team. We have gone through a myriad of trainings including community organizing, conflict resolution, and social entrepreneurship.

One of the most meaningful trainings in which we participated was focused around environmental justice. I have studied this topic academically, and I understand what it generally means: how the environmental and people interact, and is it just. That is a really naive definition, and so I googled it to find out a little more about what it means. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, Environmental justice is “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, sex, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” Okay, this is another academic definition, and I’m going to try and break it down a bit. Are people being treated fairly, regardless of their income, race, etc., in terms of the development and policies that are affecting them? I can think of national examples: The Exxon oil spill in Mayflower, AR on March 29, 2013 that killed flora and fauna. Another example are the oil operations in Niger that have spilled oil slowly over the past twenty years, thus, destroying their precious ecosystems. I understand environmental justice on the global scale, but how does it affect singular neighborhoods in the US?

Continue reading

Barter to Cash with MN350

This is the fourth post in a series of introductions by Sustainable Community Organizers working in the Midwest. This post is by Patricia Lamas from the Twin Cities Summer of Solutions program.

ImageHello! My name is Patricia Lamas, and I began working with MN350 this September on a project called the “Barter to Cash Network.” We’re developing a new system for creative resource generation and community engagement, and we aim to spread it as a model for nonprofits and to our partners in climate movement. How will it work? Instead of sustaining our organization on direct monetary donations, we are inviting people to offer their diverse skills and resources – truly anything on hand. Maybe Susan has a surplus of cinder blocks, or a knack for home repair. Jim might take his dog to the park every morning, and wouldn’t mind picking up another playmate on the way. Whether or not MN350 can use these contributions, someone else in the community can! The idea is a system similar to craigslist.com, only the proceeds go to funding the work of the organization. This way, donations can be infinitely creative, and just as fun – all while creating new connections among members of the local community. Continue reading

Thoughts following Midwest Powershift

I spent the weekend at Midwest Powershift in Cleveland. Among the rallies, trainings, and speeches, I was able to catch some downtime with fellow Summer of Solutions program leaders and participants from around the Midwest. Especially valuable was a conversation I had with members of other Midwestern programs on Saturday night.

500 young people applaud Joshua Kahn Russell's keynote poem at Midwest Powershift in Cleveland. Photo credit Ben Hejkal.

This conversation helped me articulate two things: one, the “good environmentalists vs. the evil polluters” framing I saw a lot of other places during the conference makes me deeply uncomfortable, and two, if the green economy is going to work it needs to be the whole economy, not a side industry.

Continue reading

Creation is Our Essence

Our economy is crumbling. One in seven Americans live in poverty. The only thing our partisan politic-deadlock government can agree on is a free trade agreement with South Korea that isn’t likely to produce anything different from every other free trade agreement we’ve created.

More for the rich, less for the poor.

So why the squirrel?

It brings me back. Back to the single greatest period of growth and leadership development I’ve experienced in my life: Summer of Solutions – Twin Cities. It was the summer of 2010, and it was when my potential to lead, to challenge, to create, was unlocked.

I learned how to organize, how to facilitate, how to create a proposal for successful implementation of energy efficiency measures in homes and then how to present it to the administration of an electric utility, the imam of a local mosque, the head of a children’s summer program. I learned about oppression and privilege. I learned how to use Google Docs.

Together, we door-knocked, created an urban farm in a day, fixed and rode bikes, hosted community listening sessions, developed plans to convert an old car factory into a green manufacturing and living zone, planted and harvested food across Minneapolis, wrote business plans, toured renewable energy facilities, organized fundraising events, and ate a lot of delicious vegan food.

That summer changed me, because it empowered me. It gave me the tools I needed to help create the vision I and others have for our world. A world where communities overcome divisions and rise up together to take head on the economic, social and environmental challenges we face.

There’s a reason the dandelion is the focal point of the Summer of Solutions logo. A versatile, highly nutritious plant that can take root almost anywhere, grow, and disperse for miles around the parent plant, the dandelion defines the methodology of the program to gather in low-income communities, build up local infrastructure while training the next generation of green social entrepreneurs, and spread.

I was fortunate enough to go through this great experience, and now it’s time for me to return the favor. So I’m creating.

In 2012, application pending, there will be a Summer of Solutions program in Los Angeles. Building largely off the great work of a local organization, La Causa, we will be working with various different organizations and leaders, and our focuses are likely to include food access, green business, urban agriculture, complete streets and bike advocacy, green manufacturing, renewable energy projects, and community organizing.

I can’t wait to see what creations emerge.

The application to build your own Summer of Solutions program is open until next Saturday, October 29th. I encourage others who are ready to take this step: to join an incredibly talented and growing network of young leaders who aren’t waiting for help from above–they are working now to create the change they wish to see in the world.

Money, Money, Money

Growing up, my family and I were very involved in our community theatre, which was probably my first close encounter with the term “non-profit.” As a kid, I wondered why selling tickets was so important if they weren’t looking for a profit. Of course, I soon learned that non-profit is far from meaning non-revenue-generating. Even if the prerogative of your organization isn’t to make a profit, you need money to operate and to further your vision. This fall, I’ve been thinking about this a lot as I’ve been working on the national resources team for Grand Aspirations. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about the sources from which we get (or seek to get) funding.

Throughout November, we’re involved in an online voting competition to get a $50K grant from the Pepsi Refresh Project. While the organization has determined this is funding that is well worth seeking and I agree, it provides an opportunity to think about how non-profits are funded, and how wealth is created. In an environmental geography class this semester, there was a discussion on sustainable development and the notion (partly propagated by the environmental Kuznetz curve ) that wealth is necessary for environmental preservation. I found this problematic as it’s so frequently discussed in terms of wealth created through (the very unsustainable variety of) industrialization and consumption. So we’ll pollute and deplete and then we’ll have the cash to plant some trees?

Obviously, that’s a pretty brief and incomplete version of an extensive and complex issue, but that’s basically the conundrum I’ve been contemplating. Pepsi is an obvious example, since that funding is pretty directly branded. However, I’m sure that many foundations that would give grants to organizations like GA are at least partially funded by corporations with maybe less than desirable labor or environmental practices. I mean, I admittedly haven’t don’t research on this, but I think it’s a distinct possibility.

In the national teams there has been concern raised about getting stuck in grant cycles, and besides the fundamental problem of dependence, I would consider the factors discussed above another concern. It doesn’t bring me down though, it makes me really excited about opportunities we have for social entrepreneurship methods of revenue generating. Social entrepreneurship changes the story about how wealth is created, and can provide a good funding source for non-profits as well. If we’re trying to encourage such changes in our economy and society, shouldn’t we be getting the money to operate from activities that constitute acting out this vision?

That said, I really hope we do win the grant from Pepsi Refresh, so we can jump start a lot of this, and I encourage you to start voting daily if you haven’t already.

[Note:I did totally jack the title from this:] 

Bioneers Inspires

By Jennice Rodriguez
Reno, NV
Posted by Casey Wojtalewicz

A few weeks back I was given the chance to attend environmental/peace conference, Bioneers, for the second time in Marin County California.  The event, if you haven’t experienced it already, is something beyond the power of words could describe.  A festival organized for enriching the mind and activating the activist deep inside the soul each attendee.  It’s a place where some of the most powerful people are united in the same place to talk about their work, the work of others, and the work that we as a society need to start engaging in.

It’s a place where lifelong learners come to be taught and experience all the different ways our mother is trying to get us to listen.  It’s a place where the hungry come to be fed the fruit of exposed dirty treason of the powerful forces in our country, but with as much information that is being shared, it is more enlightening than depressing, more electric than any festival I have ever experienced (besides Burning Man…which could totally be compared to this event, in another blog maybe).

Though it may sound quite terrifying–and it is!–Bioneers is a place where possibilities meet the golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.  Bioneers has been the root of so many ideas I have to make this world, to save this world, our world, a place I want to live in.

I walked away this year with so many contacts, I don’t even know what to do with them all. I made friends that I already know better than people I’ve known for years. One idea that hasn’t stopped flickering in the glass window of my memory shop: I was told to find something I am passionate about, and start from there.

But what am I passionate about?  I love my fruits and veggies, and I want everyone to be able to access only the purest food, sure.  I think green energy is something that our government needs to get in check with and make it happen already, sure.  I think marijuana should be legalized and the production of hemp products will save the land that has become ever so exhausted, sure.  But what am I really passionate about?

I have been overwhelmed with the numbers in which one person can dedicate their power to, and I want to do it all, but I can’t do it alone.  Until I find out what it is that I’m passionate about, I need your help, and she needs ours.