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Did you know that one in three girls in sub Saharan Africa drop out of school due to poor sanitation facilities? Or what a “viral echo” is and how it can create a community of change? These were among the things I learned about on July 24, 2013, when the social impact organization Be Social Change launched it’s inaugural “New York Social Good” series. The event was hosted by The Centre for Social Innovation (CSI), an exciting new coworking space and “incubator for social innovators” located in the beautiful Starrett-Lehigh building on the west side of Manhattan. Be Social Change is working to educate, connect, and empower a new generation of change makers to “create a world where every entrepreneur is a social entrepreneur.” This event offered an opportunity for both early stage and already established social ventures to share their experiences navigating this process.
Eli Malinsky, Executive Director of CSI’s New York Operations, emphasized the importance reaching out to build “connective tissue” between different factions of New York’s “thriving” social innovation sector. Though the evening’s speakers came from many different corners of the social innovation space ranging from product design to sanitation access, this focus on community building remained a primary theme throughout the night.
Mahatma Gandhi once said that “Sanitation is more important than independence.” Before hearing from Toilet Hackers, an organization dedicated to improving toilet and sanitation access worldwide, I had no idea this was such a huge issue. Lack of access to proper sanitation effects 2.5 billion people, but is a problem that is often forgotten. John Kluge, Co-Founder and Chief Disruption Officer of Toilet Hackers, says that the first step to creating change is to “get people talking.” Kluge shared a story about how this simple principle helped Toilet Hackers harness a surprising community of supporters. A friend of Kluge’s learned about Toilet Hackers and shared their mission with her father, who happened to be a plumber. He spread the word to his colleagues, and Toilet Hackers soon had a new community of sanitation experts to help their cause. Once you get people talking, you can begin to “build your own justice league: find heroes and champions in unlikely places.”
Miriam Altman and Alexandra Meis, co-founders of the EdTech startup Kinvolved, discussed the ways in which encouraging consumer involvement in the creative process can help expand a community of support. While working in education, Altman and Meis discovered that familial involvement in education played a huge role in reducing truancy rates. This inspired them to create Kinvolved, an app that “allows teachers to inform parents and guardians of student absenteeism in real time…to identify and reverse patterns of tardiness and absenteeism.” Altman and Meis knew that their success would ultimately come down to how their consumers felt about their product, so they reached out to the education community and tailored the app to their feedback. This process not only helped Kinvolve improve it’s product, but also served to engage community members in a dialogue about technology in the classroom.
While building a support system is an integral part of social innovation, it is equally important to inspire community members to continue in new directions to create change. Change.org is a petition platform that gives people all over the world the tools they need to “create the change they want to see.” Patrick Schmitt, Director of Campaign Innovation, discussed the idea of the “viral echo,” in which one social movement “plants the seed” to inspire others. Schmitt used the example of the way a Change.org movement can echo throughout an entire country. Within 4 days, controversies in Brazil sparked 4,000 campaigns on Change.org; half as many as the country had in the entire previous year. When the people of Brazil saw their communities banding together, they began to “unlearn” the collective helplessness seemingly inherent in their economic and political systems.
All this talk of community brought to mind the amazing community we have atFindSpark. How can we take advantage of our dynamic community to continue driving our mission? How have you built your own “Justice Leagues”? We’d love to hear your ideas and strategies in the comments section below.