Micro-Actions for Change

DUMP Week When it comes to the crisis of Global Warming (what author and New York Times columnist Tom Friedman says should actually be called "Global Weirding"), things can get pretty overwhelming fast.

Animal extinction, water scarcity, rainforest destruction – these are all pretty heavy topics requiring big picture thinking and action.

And if world governments can't even build consensus to take action, how can we as individuals ever expect to make a difference?

Well, I'm here to say: Don't Get Discouraged.

Sure, many of these issues can only be solved through global coalitions that unite for a common purpose (and boy, does that sound like hard work!).

Nonetheless, it's important to remember that even big problems can be helped through small “micro-actions".

Take, for example, what happened just a few weeks ago at my own business school. The Boston University chapter of Net Impact organized something called “D.U.M.P. Week” (aka: Don’t Use More Plastic).

In essence, D.U.M.P. Week was about rallying the internal community to consider how their everyday choices – in this case, using plastic bottles – impact the world around them.

During each day of the promotion, members of the Net Impact board set up shop in the graduate student lounge to educate and connect with students around the topic of sustainability. Through tidbits and facts written on poster board, an informational video showing the impact that plastic has on the Earth, and fun contests and games, the chapter leaders were able to successfully and effectively get the student body engaged in sustainability in a very personal and on-the-ground way.

In addition to education, the organizers of D.U.M.P. Week asked students to consider signing a sustainability pledge that outlined a set of behaviors each student would agree to uphold. These included:

  1. Power Down Computers
  2. Bring Your Own Mug and Water Bottle
  3. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
  4. Think Before Your Print
  5. Use Compact Fluorescent Bulbs
  6. Turn Off the Lights
  7. Take Shorter Showers
  8. Carry a Reusable Shopping Bag
  9. Walk More, Drive Less
  10. Wash Laundry in Cold Water

In exchange for signing the pledge, each student received his or her very own reusable water bottle (not plastic!) to kick-start these new behaviors.

Water Bottles

So why was D.U.M.P. Week so successful? In many ways, it serves as a real-life example of everything I'm learning in my marketing classes:

You can always grab people's attention with big ideas, questions, even images. But until you tell consumers why it matters to them, you're missing your opportunity to connect, engage and inspire action.

D.U.M.P. Week wasn't just about scary doomsday scenarios or cold environmental terminology; it was about inspiring our community to connect, learn, and take action in easy and understandable ways.

As I waited in line to sign the pledge myself, I couldn’t help but feel excited by this small yet motivated demonstration of commitment by my fellow students (who, by the way, are still using their water bottles weeks later).

On their own, these behavior changes may seem like a drop in the bucket – but taken together they represent a collective, united plan of action that can and will have meaningful impact.

When it comes to sustainability, every bit (or micro-action) counts.

I encourage you to think about what micro-actions you could take to help move us toward a more sustainable planet.

And, if you’re looking for other examples of micro-change, check out Cindy Gallop and IfWeRanTheWorld.com. Cindy and her team (who I first learned about at The Feast) have created a crowd-sourcing platform for people to declare the actions (big and small) that they would take if they ran the world. Even better, the platform lets you share your idea with others and activate your network to get involved. Definitely worth checking out.

Choosing Between Trade-offs

For those of you who read my last post on The Changebase, you know that I recently signed up to go to Brazil in January. The trip, organized by the Boston University Sch2roadsool of Management, focuses on issues of sustainability, CSR, and social enterprise in the developing country. It sounds like an incredible journey and an amazing way to experience Brazilian life and culture firsthand. How does that saying go, something about the best laid plans? I’m sad to say that no sooner had I hit the ‘submit’ button on that blog post, announcing my exciting plans for Brazil, the financial realities of this trip set in.

As a former “nonprofiteer” interested in pursuing change through social innovation and CSR, I have never really been focused on making a lot of money. The mission has been what mattered (at least mostly – I mean, let’s be honest: the paycheck was nice!). But now, as an MBA set to graduate in May with a boatload of debt, my financial situation (and more specifically, my earning potential) is certainly top of mind.

I’ve often asked myself: how do I strike a balance between doing good in the world while also making enough money to live comfortably and provide for my family?

The mission-driven side of me says money shouldn’t matter. But the MBA side says, go for the paycheck.

Finding that balance is tricky, and the Brazil trip is just my own most recent example of the tradeoffs that every committed social entrepreneur and changemaker must make in their quest to do good and do well.

While I’m certainly not complaining – after all, figuring out whether I can afford to go to on this trip is what my family calls a “good problem to have” – it got me thinking about all of the talented and motivated people out there whose innovative ideas never got off the ground because of money. How many people with truly world-changing, yet unproven ideas never saw these ideas go anywhere because they lacked the financial resources to make them a reality?

Coincidentally, this week I had a great conversation with someone I met at The Feast who works at Echoing Green. For those of you who don’t know it, Echoing Green is a 22 year-old organization that provides start-up funding – and a support network – to social entrepreneurs in need of resources and guidance.

In essence, Echoing Green is working to ensure that social entrepreneurs with incredible ideas don’t lose out in the battle of trade-offs.

Here's a little bit of background on the social entrepreneurs that Echoing Green is supporting through their innovative funding and support network:

While I’m certainly not putting myself and my money woes on the same level as someone looking to cure disease, bring clean water to villages or improve our educational system, the essential decision-making process seems similar. If money were no object, I’d be on that plane to Brazil in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, money plays heavily in all of my decisions these days – which means this trip isn’t going to happen for me.

As disappointed as I am, this experience has been an important first lesson in what inevitably will be a long string of choosing between tradeoffs.

Is it possible to make money doing what I love? Can I find a job that allows me to make a positive impact, yet one that also provides the financial security I’m looking for? I know I'm not alone in asking these questions, and I guess only time will tell what the answer is.

In the end, I’m left wondering only one thing: Who’s hiring?!

A Feast to Sink Your Teeth Into

Even Their Logo is Cool This past summer I got wind of an organization called All Day Buffet and an upcoming event they were hosting called The Feast. With names like that, I was immediately intrigued (after all, I do love food!). But when I read more about the event, I started to get really excited.

The Feast Conference gathers the world's greatest innovators from across industries and society to empower, inspire and engage each other in creating world-shaking change. A creative look at the world's toughest problems, The Feast Conference presents the most innovative solutions, insights, and best practices as a catalyst toward action.

Sounds like fun, right? Even more intriguing:

More than a conference, The Feast represents a bottom-up movement, so we're curating an audience as cross-disciplinary and diverse as our talks. But we're doing something a little different -- we ask those who can afford to pay higher prices to micro-sponsor The Feast, which allows us to offer $99 invitations to awe-inspiring vanguards whose brains get them where their wallets can't.

This paragraph really caught my attention. I’m a student, so I can’t really afford to attend lots of conferences. But $99? I could do that. So I sent off my mini-application, including information about my interests and my work with The Changebase, and waited for a response. Amazingly, I only waited about half an hour before I got an email saying, “You’re in!”

At the time, I didn’t realize what a true honor it was to be accepted to attend. Now that I've been, I understand just how lucky I was.

Without hesitation, The Feast was absolutely the best conference I have ever attended.

Of course, a statement like that begs the question, “Why?” Let me explain.

The Speakers: All Day Buffet did an incredible job creating a lineup of diverse experts from a wide spectrum of industries.  In 8 hours, we heard from social entrepreneurs, designers, authors, musicians, executive directors, and even a professional poker player. What’s amazing was that even with such variety in speakers, the day definitely held some common themes. I thought I’d include some nuggets of wisdom passed down throughout the day:

Matthew Bishop, Chief Business Writer at The Economist, talked about the importance of the heart and the head coming together to create social change.

Bob McKinnon, Founder of YellowBrickRoad, told us that empathy is not just about understanding someone else’s suffering; it’s about creating solutions to overcome that suffering.

Uffe Elbaek, Founder of The KaosPilot, challenged us to not just be the best in the world, but the best for the world.

Annie Duke, Professional Poker Player, taught us about how to use “cooperative ultimatums” to win in poker and in life.

Kenna, a Musician, reminded us that we need to be clever, collaborative, and curious in order to find our spark and create change.

Jay Parkinson, Founder of Hello Health, showed us that there is potential for a new model of health care that relies on collaboration and communication between doctors and patients.

Joshua Viertel, President of Slow Food USA, encouraged us to eat food that has a story we’re proud to tell.

Ken Banks, Founder of Kiwanja.net and FrontlineSMS, proved that the possibilities are endless when you create a technology that’s adaptable and open for everyone to use.

Elizabeth Scharpf, Founder of Sustainable Health Enterprises, shared with us the potential to empower women in developing countries through market-based solutions.

Rod Arnold, COO, and Becky Straw, Director of Water Programs at charity:water, demonstrated that when business and nonprofits truly partner together, people on both sides of the money win.

William Drenttel, Partner at Winterhouse, explained that designers aren’t in the design business but the consequence business.

And certainly last but not least, Brian Bordainick, Founder of 9th Ward Field of Dreams, engaged all of us in a discussion of just how far an entrepreneur will go for a mission he believes in.

As you can see, it was an incredible day – one that certainly can’t be recreated in a single blog post. Luckily for you, All Day Buffet was live streaming during the event, so you can check out what each speaker had to say.

The Attendees: While the lineup of speakers was impressive, and their messages were certainly inspiring, what made this day invaluable were the people.

I have never attended an event where people were so singularly focused on connecting, engaging, and helping everyone they could. In one day, I met social entrepreneurs, artists, business owners, marketers, and nonprofit leaders. And after talking for a few moments, inevitably they asked, “What can I do to help you?” That may not seem impressive in a small crowd of dedicated social innovators - but this wasn't a small crowd. This was almost 400 people.

In fact, it turned out that a common theme, throughout all of the speakers and the conversations I had during breaks, was collaboration and community. At the end of the event, All Day Buffet’s Jerri Chou encouraged us to put out the energy of what you’re looking for, and let this amazing community support and help you.

For me, yesterday was a homecoming to a community that I knew existed but hadn’t been introduced to yet. I came home feeling renewed and energized and overwhelmed (in a good way) by the possibilities laid out before me: itching to get started yet sad to leave this incredible gathering of changemakers.

As if she read our minds, Cindy Gallop, Founder of If We Ran The World and our moderator for the day, challenged us to seize this excitement and inspiration and turn it into action. She called us a “crucible bubbling over with good intentions” and she warned us not to let this inspiration go to waste. Turn your good intentions into micro-actions of change, she said.

And, I’d add, don’t lose sight of the fact that you are part of a community that wants you to succeed. Because in our collective goal of long-term social change, when one of us wins, we all do.

To see some photos from the event, check this out.

To learn more and follow The Feast's speakers and their organizations: