The first PVD Sustainability Festival is happening this Saturday between 8am and 6pm, at Burnside Park. Head downtown for “an amazing musical line-up and terrific resources, sustainability workshops, vendors, and kids area. The Festival will provide you with opportunities to learn about sustainable living, the Green Economy and to showcase your products or services.”
Fundraising. It’s a reality that all non-profit – and some for-profit – organizations must face. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised to have spent such a large chunk of this summer looking for funding. Searching for foundations, typing up solicitation letters, cultivating donors…the routine began to get old, especially when my thoughts turned to the slim chances of snagging a hefty sum.
Social enterprises, socially-minded businesses, or whatever we call these waves of innovation that the Starr Fellowship fosters – they might theoretically be able to turn a profit and self-sustain. It’s easy to think, or hope, that the burden of fundraising is left to unquestionably charitable organizations like UNICEF and the American Cancer Society.
The Capital Good Fund, for example, is different from these: it’s a microfinance institution. It’s the trendy new poverty alleviation tool that will eliminate the global need for charity. Right?
But when it comes down to it, CGF is still a non-profit organization. “Turning a profit” is not exactly a part of its mission statement. The fact that I’d end up fundraising this summer seems, in retrospect, quite obvious.
As I practiced my elevator pitch and drafted LOIs until CGF’s catch phrases became ingrained in my memory, I did some soul-searching. Why was I not spending my days out of the office, meeting CGFs borrowers, getting my proverbial hands dirty and feeling truly productive? I’m still figuring out the answer. One thing I’ve realized is that productivity rarely happens without money. People like the Starr fellows might be motivated by less monetary incentives, but we need others to get substantial things done. Or maybe we don’t, but working alone, progress would come only through intense, full-time labor – with no income, how would we survive? I’m realizing that every non-profit organization, even microfinance institutions, needs to actively seek donors. Though it seems disconnected from social missions, fundraising really does enable all the impact that we might have.
Is fundraising the root of all social work? To get to it, will I drop everything and aspire to become a professional grant-writer? I can’t quite see myself heading in that direction, but after this summer I certainly have a newfound admiration for those who do.
Julie Siwicki, Capital Good Fund
One golden evening in West Tisbury on Martha’s Vineyard, I turn into a narrow driveway off a dirt road. The driveway is narrow and flanked by untrimmed bushes and piles of firewood. There’s a green old pick-up close to the house, a wonderful house: all natural wood with a wrap-around porch that touches up to the trees surrounding. There are conch shells—big ones—on wire hanging whimsically from the overhanging roof around the door, and they shimmer a little in the breeze. Inside it’s dark, cozy and spacious, very airy, with high ceilings. There’s a stove and fridge and great cabinets under a skylight’s slant; the 7 p.m. summer sun comes in. The place is decorated with tenderness and purpose. I’m handed two fat, fresh steaks of striped bass, and advised to cook them simply for best flavor, with some garlic. On the ferry ride home I realize how magical and strange it is that I was ever there, on Martha’s Vineyard, that I was bought ice cream by the old fisherman. We ate our cones together, chocolate dripping on the Menemsha fishing docks, before he wiped his hands on his knees and bailed rainwater out of his boat with a plastic bucket.
My summer was scattered with similar moments of wonder: how did I get here? There was the Gloucester Farmer’s Market Seafood Throwndown, my Vineyard community radio debut, the cup of tea in Stonington, Maine. These were profound encounters throughout my organizing for the New England Fish Forum’s first Conversation, which at last took place on August 18 in Rhode Island, right after the Women & Fisheries Project meeting that the Fish Forum co-sponsored.
When I proposed the Fish Forum for the Starr Fellowship, I did knew that networking and trustbuilding would be necessary to convene such a meeting, where fishermen, scientists and policymakers would come together not because it was required or official, but because they wanted to talk with each other. Still, as the summer unfolded, it became obvious that my principle work would not be holding the meetings, not even organizing for those meetings, but building interest and engagement in the New England Fish Forum’s goals, and above all, getting to know people and their concerns so that the New England Fish Forum could serve real needs. I did this by phone, email, and by meeting people. Some were discouraging or cautious, others very encouraging. Enough were encouraging that I continued to feel that my sometimes frustration and confusion were worth it, and that the New England Fish Forum was needed. A New England quality of life, the success of the region’s fisheries management, and a balance of environmental and social sustainability could only be achieved with better communication among fishermen, scientists and managers outside of the Council. I was bolstered by support and interest from people I met, and their enthusiasm was inspirational, even as the caution and skepticism I heard from others guided the design of the August 18 meeting.
I did not foresee how the networking and trustbuilding and organizing I would do would involve me directly with the lives of people up and down the region’s coast. I did not expect to see people’s houses, for instance, or to be called just to check in, and I am honored to have earned the respect and trust that I did. I wrote my thesis on New England fisheries management but I have learned more in this summer than I did in my last year of research, simply by talking with people, seeing their homes, seeing where they work. And for that reason, as August 18 approached, I became not only excited but terrified by what was at stake.
August 18: the Coastal Institute at the University of Rhode Island’s East Bay Campus. The evening was designed as a duo of meetings. The first, a discussion meeting of women involved in fisheries management, was organized by the Women & Fisheries Project for research purposes, by professors at Brown University and URI. Members of industry, state representatives, fishermen’s wives and NGO employees were present. There had been serious discussion about how to schedule the Fish Forum conversation and the Women & Fisheries Project meeting, since both were similar, and I had been involved with the Women & Fisheries Project the summer before, but wanted to make clear that the New England Fish Forum was not for research but was a community-supported platform for productive interaction. In the end, I agreed with the Women & Fish PIs that the New England Fish Forum would co-sponsor but not organize their meeting, since one of their goals, to unite women in fisheries from various backgrounds around important social and environmental topics, was shared by the New England Fish Forum. It also served as a way to advertise the Fish Forum conversation meeting to women who might be difficult to reach. The decision about scheduling the two meetings back-to-back ended up being a valuable experience in itself, about how to cooperate and collaborate with other projects that have similar but different purposes but that can nonetheless help each other. Because of the complex social and geographical fabric of New England fisheries populations, the New England Fish Forum relies on these kinds of semi-alliances and support networks, not only for advice but to publicize its mission (Saving Seafood and the FishFolk mailing list, for example, were valuable ways to invite a wider audience than I, working alone, could have reached). In the future, the Fish Forum may develop some of these semi-alliances into official partnerships, as other fisheries organizations have done.
The August 18 conversation (the first in a fall series) focused on the social impacts of Amendment 16 to the New England groundfish plan, a contentious and particularly critical development in fisheries management that came to a boil over the summer. The Fish Forum chose this focus after considering input from scientists, managers and industry members (the people I had spent the summer meeting, emailing and calling); it seemed that the scientific/environmental objectives of the amendment were quite clear, while the social objectives were not, despite the inevitable connection between social and environmental sustainability. Participants at the meeting were asked to envision what they thought groundfish management should accomplish socially in an ideal world, and what it would accomplish after Amendment 16 (how will communities, families, individuals be affected?). To make this and future conversations worthwhile to participants, and to foster discussion towards a tangible product, the meeting was framed around creating a list of recommendations to submit to the federal fisheries agency, which will soon design social impact monitoring of Amendment 16. The guiding question: What types of information should be tracked to monitor the social effects of Amendment 16 and future amendments to the New England fisheries management plan? The meeting, being in many ways a trial run for future meetings, was also a time for generating critical feedback from the people who attended, and I will write about the meeting specifically another time. In general, I was pleased that the twelve people who came were from a mixture of industry, science and social fisheries research, and that a couple of people made the trek down from Maine. I need to think more about how to prevent a few people from dominating the conversation.
The New England Fish Forum conversations are designed to accomplish two tiers of goals. The first tier is immediate and politically productive: to address important issues in fisheries management amongst fishermen, scientists and managers, and to empower people of different backgrounds and viewpoints to share their ideas on such issues (on August 18, this meant discussing the social aspects of Amendment 16 and groundfish management in general, and drafting a list to submit to a federal agency). The second tier goal is vaguer but perhaps more profound, and is the “true” goal of the Fish Forum: to build social capital in fisheries management, to alter the culture of communication by promoting non-Council, relatively informal interaction among people who might not normally meet or agree, so that successful natural resource management (which essentially manages people) can occur.
As I reflect back on the first New England Fish Forum conversation of August 18, and on the rest of my summer, its golden evenings in West Tisbury and all, I feel a sense of cautious accomplishment, but I do not think I have reached my goals, and it is largely because I have worked solo. Either the New England Fish Forum needs more full-time bodies working specifically for it (right now it’s only me, supported by several community leaders and advisers who have other responsibilities), or it needs to rethink the way it operates (a more directed snowball tactic than the one in place, a spiderweb of community organizers with the New England Fish Forum at the center), or the scale on which it can be sustainably effective (pick a place, pick a political season). The most important work of the summer—generating feedback and networking, often in person—is also the most difficult for a single body to accomplish. While the New England Fish Forum has generated a small buzz, thanks to community leaders, listservs, blogs, and word of mouth (I’ve gotten, “Oh, you’re that girl” or “Howdy told me about you”), this small buzz will have a difficult time sustaining itself and continuing to build momentum without a stronger, more continuous push. Fisheries is an area constantly bombarded by political effort and scholarly interest, and it is also an area whose people are constantly multitasking, their time and attention divided by many efforts, and they are wary of wasting energy. I operate as a realist-idealist, thinking a bit idealistically but working realistically, and this summer has also been a lesson in fisheries politics and fishing community-organizing. I could continue this fall as I did this summer, networking and publicizing for the next meetings more easily after three months in the field, and I plan to. But I hesitate to hurtle immediately back into planning for the next meeting (in October) when I have recognized that I am not enough. I have some ideas but this post is too long. For now, please advise if you have thoughts, and I’ll write soon about my plan for the Fish Forum’s sustainable future. I want to do this right. It’s not just about the fresh fish I’ve picked up. It’s about people.
How does a rural lending association grow its capital base when involved in low-interest lending?
by Colette DeJong
“So who’s supposed to do that?
I said that a lot this summer.
Like my mom, I’m methodical to a T in my work. The same part of me prompted the ten thousand questions I asked our guide in Dogon country. “Yes, you said the Dogon women grew beans here. But I guess what I’m wondering is…what SPECIES of bean?”
The sauce is in the details, the details in the method. My method means spending seven hours to read one chapter of theory in the Sci Li. I never let things go — and the result is an excruciating, inescapable, and perversely glorious non-productivity sandwich.
Working in a small NGO socked the method.
The previous leaders of my project had left by the time we arrived, and my own judgment got a startling promotion. We set dates and raced to meet them; we flew by the seat of our pants. And how did we do? The yardstick to measure our work was hiding out in the same cave as the manual. We invented our evaluative tools alongside their subject.
It’s a fearless, fast-paced language – and MHOP’s Caitlin Cohen speaks it with a striking fluency. It means racing down a road that runs out of bricks, because either the bricklayer’ll get there first or you’ll jump the gap. It’s those SAT prep books’ response to my snail-like reading style: catch the first word and the last phrase, and trust your judgment for what comes in between.
How did we stay sane? Like stressed-out office shepherds, we’d each be fretting over our hillside of tasks. But then. Remarkably, Caitlin would set aside her own mountain range of sheep to call us home.
“Who’s in the mood for Mexican?”
Then, mining a pantry of Malian bouillon cubes, cocoa powder and cajun spice seasoning, she’d fashion the best Mole sauce of my life. Needless to say, without a recipe.