Cultivating Change with Youth

One of my goals for The Changebase is to use the blog as a platform for sharing the stories of companies, organizations and people working to create change in their communities. After all, there are lots of examples of great progress being made in CSR, social enterprise, and philanthropy and they should be celebrated! This time around, I'm pleased to share the story of Christine Guardia and her work with KooDooZ.

I hope, after reading Christine's post, you'll be inspired to find your own "life balance of Heart, Mind, Body and Spirit"!

By Christine GuardiaChristine Guardia

We live in a world defined by change – change grabs the headlines and demands our attention.  Our access to information has been heightened with globalization and, as a result, it has further mobilized our communities for change. 

The concept of leveraging social media for social good resonates with me, because that’s what I do for a living.  I am the “cause cultivator” for KooDooZ, a “cause-based” social networking site for youth.  In this role, I cultivate non-profit and for-profit partnerships for the purpose of co-creating and co-marketing real-world events and social impact campaigns.KooDooZThe site’s purpose is to provide KDZ (our users, typically ages 9 through 15) with a safe place online to channel their passions into actions and strategies for social change and personal growth.  For the benefit of our non-profit and for-profit partners, KooDooZ provides event and social impact expertise, delivering collaborative real-world events (such as the Tour De Fitness) and online challenges (such as coat drives) to nurture new youth and family engagement.

Despite the fact this generation (Gen Z) is altruistic and cause-centric, their access to opportunities to “create change” has traditionally been limited.  So far, there have been unequal opportunities for civic engagement before the age of twenty.  By challenging themselves with service learning, volunteerism and personal growth opportunities, KooDooZ KDZ learn outside the boundaries of formal education.  Our technology allows them to access information and craft their own identities in unprecedented ways.

Because kids need a higher diversity of ways to engage as social entrepreneurs, KooDooZ challenges KDZ to find their life balance of Heart, Mind, Body and Spirit.  I decided to do the same; since wEcoUsable Water Bottleorking for KooDooZ, I have been inspired by ChicoBag to stop using plastic shopping bags and switch to reusable bags.  The “Bag Monster,” a person covered in 500 bags (the average number of plastic bags an American uses each year), made me realize I needed to make a change.  Now reusable bags are strategically placed in my car, at my office and near the front door. 

I also carry EcoUsable’s BPA-free stainless steel filtered water bottle, which further reduces my dependency on plastics.  EcoUsable provided stainless steel bottles to the Tour de Fitness (TDF  ’09) participants and also sponsored a challenge within KooDooZ asking KDZ to come up with their own images of sustainability.  The winning bottle design will be produced by EcoUsable and sold via KooDooZ.  In addition, for every bottle sold, the winner will receive $1 and KidShape, a non-profit organization that builds healthy families, will also receive $1. 

The KooDooZ website is currently in Alpha release and this spring we will be launching a pilot program for groups of kids (siblings, classmates, teammates, etc.) and the adults in their lives (parents/guardians, teachers, coaches, etc.) to be some of the first KooDooZ users and provide feedback to help shape the system.  Our goal is to partner with schools, nonprofits and/or companies that would like to help children create change. 

If you would like to utilize KooDooZ to challenge KDZ to achieve in 2010, please contact us at   Christine Guardia is a graduate of the Public & Nonprofit Management Program at Boston University School of Management. In her free time, Christine enjoys spending time with her eight nieces and nephews, walking (she is currently training for an 18-mile fundraising walk this summer) and reading.

Getting Our Hands Dirty

Getting Our Hands DirtyWhen I was a freshman in college, I rallied a group of new friends from my dorm to go volunteer one afternoon. It was early in the school year, and I wanted to prove to my hall-mates that community service was a fun, easy, low-impact sort of way to give back and feel good. Minimal commitment, quick pay-off, done-in-a-day – a perfect fit for college students!

The community service day was actually organized by my school, so once each of us signed up we were sent to work on different projects throughout the area. In hindsight, I don’t remember what project I worked on that day. But I do remember what one of my friends did. Assigned to clean up a children’s playground in a rough section of town, my friend was picking up trash when he felt something sharp prick his hand. It was a used hypodermic needle.

When I heard this news, I remember feeling as though my heart had stopped. Suddenly, this was no longer just a day of helping out “someone else’s” community.

It was a day of living in someone else’s reality.

Not to worry: everything worked out ok with my friend. But it’s a story worth telling for a few big reasons.

Often for me (and maybe for you, too?), wanting to help others means doing things that can sometimes feel uncomfortable, messy, scary, or overwhelming. After all, in order to really understand a problem (let alone figure out how to solve it), we have to get our hands dirty. And that can mean pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zones and into new, uncharted, and complicated territory.

Think about volunteering at a soup kitchen. I’ve gone to Glide Church in San Francisco a number of times to help out – and it’s an incredibly heart-warming and satisfying experience. Yet, I’d be lying if I said that working alongside with and for the homeless people eating at the kitchen didn’t also fill me with profound feelings of sadness, empathy, and maybe even a little discomfort. In just a few hours, the sobering reality of their situation had set in – and it’s a feeling I haven’t ever forgotten.

This is what I call being “checked in,” and I’d hazard a guess that truly effective changemakers must be really good at this. Why? In order to do our jobs – to make sure that our nonprofits, social enterprises, schools, hospitals and other community organizations are the best at what they do – we must understand what life looks like on the ground. We must pick up the rock in the dirt and look underneath.

But we can’t just stop there.

If we really want to get at the root of the problems we’re trying to solve, we have to understand the entire ecosystem that lives under that rock. And that can be a pretty messy job.

Another example: I’ve been given the opportunity to travel abroad for two weeks this winter with one of my MBA classes. The trip is focused on sustainability and corporate social responsibility initiatives and challenges currently being tackled in Brazil. On paper, it sounds like a perfect opportunity – a chance to pick up that rock and see with my own eyes just what’s going on underneath.

But it’s a little scary too. I’ve never been to Brazil, I don’t know what to expect. And this isn’t a tourist trip; this is a chance to be on the ground, to travel to the favelas, and learn about what life in Brazil looks like through the eyes of the Brazilian people. On the one hand, I’m thrilled by the opportunity. On the other hand, I’m definitely pushing the outer limits of my comfort zone, beyond any point I’ve been to before. 

A Favela, or Slum, in Sao Paolo, Brazil
A Favela, or Slum, in Sao Paolo, Brazil (Photo courtesy of Ciaran O'Neill,

When I start to get overwhelmed, I try to think about my friend back in college. Yes, that was a frightening moment, one that I am sorry he had to go through. But it was also an experience that neither he nor I will probably ever forget. Why? Because it was real. It solidified the purpose of our day in the park, and it gave us a tangible reference point for going forward.

Each of us, in our quests to bring change to our communities, reaches the point at which it’s time to dig deep. Yes, this can mean getting our hands dirty, facing uncomfortable realities, and maybe even doing something that scares us.

But isn’t that what makes our work worth it?