Posts filed under ‘Charlie Harding’
This is a great post on what it takes to engage communities, in which the author exclaims, “in my experience of working with rural communities during the last 20 years, unless a community accepts you, no meaningful engagement will take place.” I am curious how this summers Starr fellows have earned their acceptance. What have they given in return?
I have been told that in the U.S. one’s “twenties” are about finding yourself and finding your place. This summer I have explored new places with a new team. Assetmap has taken me from Providence to Chicago and across the path of the gold rush to San Francisco. I have slept on sofas, in closets, and along riverbeds on the way to this foggy city. But even with long days in the car, and prolonged hours in coffee shops I cannot say that I have found myself. On the contrary, I have found myself lost more often than found (lots of one way streets and mountainous streets in the Bay). When I landed in the Mission district of San Francisco, the dynamic and diverse community overwhelmed me. I quickly retreated into my work and into my new home, trying to find myself in this new place. Yet after weeks of sitting behind my computer working in cafes, I was no closer to knowing my new neighborhood or myself. The self-awareness I had sought was not forthcoming.
Last week, with work in a whirlwind, the team at Assetmap decided to take a few days off from the café hopping to begin our search for a more permanent home. This brought us to spaces I never expected to find: law office, co-working spaces, and tech incubators. Through the process of office hunting, seeing new communities, I realized why I was lost in reclusion. I was only going to “find myself” when I “found my place” situated in a larger community.
The right community could provide a sense of belonging and meaning, new opportunities, and a safety net in hard times. The three options that we explored revealed unique ways of creating a sense of place. At the small office space we could build something totally unique from the ground up. In a co-working space we had the opportunity to embed ourselves in a young community with upward trajectory. Lastly, at the tech incubator we saw the chance to enter a robust and deep network.
I never expected to land a corner office in a lawfirm. Our first visit was in an old attorney’s office with all the amenities I had seen on the set of… “The Office.” The next-door professionals were dressed in drab business casual, a rare site outside of the financial district. The neighborhood was nice, and it would give us the opportunity to create a name for ourselves, but it was not our space. This was apparent, as we would have taken the spot for another start-up doing design for social businesses, who had clearly worn tired of making a name in a place they did not fit.
Alternatively, co-working spaces were a new and enlightening phenomenon. There were open offices with round tables for small business owners, designers, programmers, and entrepreneurs to share in a collaborative work environment. Our favorites, Citizen Space and Parisoma, are coffee shop-esque spaces with printers and conference rooms. Both host community events multiple times a week, and members are expected to contribute to other members work a few hours a week. Joining this community would be an opportunity to build a name for ourselves and support our co-workers.
Lastly, we drove through the San Francisco fog monster into pristine Sunnyvale CA to be wowed by Plug & Play, a tech accelerator and incubator. This bustling international office had over 200 companies as well as satellite workspace from every major university (a Brown space was conspicuously missing, despite alums throughout the building). Although a new community, Plug & Play already attracted the smartest minds from technology, business, and investment to accelerate the growth trajectory of nascent tech companies. To say the least we felt like a small fish in a big sea. This intensely competitive environment, with dozens of companies in “stealth mode,” clearly drives innovation if you have what it takes.
In the end we settled on a hybrid route. Our new space is in the heart of the mission in the skeleton of a failed dot-com: evidence from the gold rush of the new millennium. But our new home is no traditional office space, we are working in a room that includes base camp of The Hub (a co-working space for social entrepreneurs about to open in Berkley), the organizers of Social Capital Markets (the premier U.S. conference for social entrepreneurs), B-Lab (a design firm building a ‘good’ focused product line) and Good Capital (a premiere investment fund for social enterprise), organizations we are passionate to be working around. This quasi co-working space is a dynamic work environment with big ideas constantly bouncing off the walls. More importantly we have found a community to build real meaning and new opportunities, and if we get off track our new friends will act as a compass to set us straight (it also doesn’t hurt to have a view of the entire city).
We have emerged from the coffee shops where writers and programmers type ferociously on their computers, rarely taking time to even notice each other. Seraching for a working space and a new community has set me and Assetmap on the right course. This reaffirms my belief that I can only know myself when I am a part of a dynamic and supportive community. Not only do I have more to gain, but I now have more to give. Surely this is only just the beginning. More to come on the inner workings of Assetmap and our projects in conferences and Uganda.
Today commences the first of my 100 day fellowship extravaganza working on Asset Map. I awoke early to venture from my humble home in southern Maine, west to the windy city. I will be here in Chicago working on Asset Map before driving cross-country with the whole outfit to San Francisco. I am thrilled to spend this summer in new cities, with an incredibly tight-knit team.
We spent the afternoon strategizing the next steps for Uganda Hub and Asset Map with the team in Chicago. We are confident in our directory tools, which will map discrete community assets to better enable collaboration and partnership. Our pilot project will take place in a community in Gulu Uganda. We’ve set up initial meetings with the Uganda ground team to strategize our next steps. The first step will certainly require extensive background research mapping out key thought leaders and high profile development agencies. We will coordinate with these leaders to aggregate content around a central online “Uganda Hub.”
The idea of a community hub is quite simple. We want to provide critical and up to date content that is relevant to discrete local communities. Countless NGOs produce publications and reports which are decentralized and difficult to locate and to learn from. University publications and research depend so much upon presestablished relationships in country to map flows of influence. Organizations replicate programs without any awareness of their close proximity. Individuals are unable to reach the services they need because of information gaps, both globally and locally. As the internet becomes more widely available in urban developing areas, these hubs will bridge the digital and local community divide. We hope to show that with Uganda Hub we can facilitate increased communication, partnership, and service provision.
I anticipate a number of difficulties interfacing with teams around the globe. Communication across time zones is hard enough, not accounting for power outages and language barriers. It will take constant effort to stay on the same page, up to date, and to stick a strategy which will best serve Ugandan NGOs and CBOs.
Brown Entrepreneurship Program in partnership with the Swearer Center’s Social Innovation Initiative awarded first prize to Runa LLC / Fundacion Runa at its business plan competition on April 26. The company was founded by Tyler Gage, Dan MacCombie, Charlie Harding, Aden Van Noppen, and Laura Thompson based on a business plan written in Entrepreneurship and New Ventures taught by Professor Danny Warshay in the fall of 2008. Runa will receive a cash prize of $5,000 from EP and $5,000 from the Social Innovation Initiative plus over $15,000 in inkind services to help them launch their company.
Runa seeks to diversify incomes strategies for indigenous Amazonian communities and create economic incentives for sustainable management of natural resources, Fundación Runa and Runa LLC (jointly referred to as “Runa”) are building a vertically integrated supply chain to commercialize a culturally, ecologically, and nationally important plan called guayusa. To accomplish this mission, Runa helps build the productivity and profitability of agroforestry systems for small farmers, implementing an innovative model we call “Market Driven Restoration.” This model generates income for the conservation of threatened Amazonian ecosystems and the sustainable development of local indigenous communities through the sale of non-traditional rainforest products. Our blended model is comprised of a Rhode Island-based LLC company in the United States and a not-for-profit Foundation in Ecuador, currently being registered through the Ministry of Agriculture. Runa LLC and Fundación Runa work collaboratively as a unified whole to accomplish the same core mission, connecting producers and consumers as directly as possible.
Assetmap Foundation and Assetmap Inc. together are a joint partnership for-profit / non-profit collaboration. Built upon the Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) theory of grassroots mobilization developed at Northwestern, which asserts that all individuals, communities and institutions have core assets that can be leveraged for effective collaboration, both the for-profit and non-profit organizations seek to uncover assets to facilitate partnership, value, and meaning.
The key elements of an Assetmap Uganda hub are an interface for aggregating content about civil society in Uganda and directory and networking software to better help individuals and groups discover others with common interests and complimentary needs. Due to an information gap in community development work programs are often replicated, resources depleted, and services unmet. This model should drive traffic to Assetmap Uganda, facilitating collaboration, helping development organizations to better leverage resources to stop replication, pool resources, and serve their clients.
This summer I propose to work as a product design researcher for Assetmap Foundation. With Assetmap Foundation I will utilize my previous experience as a volunteer coordinator with Longitude to establish what assets are valuable to post on the web portal. To do this I will work state side doing outreach to domestic and international Ugandan development agencies, and interface with the field team to solidify 25-50 content sources. I will also be reaching out to about 500 past volunteers from these development agencies to add their information and assets to the web portal.
Our team will be based in San Francisco, New York, and Uganda and will comprise myself as lead U.S. researcher, Nathaniel Whittemore as project manager (Director of the Center for Global Engagement at Northwestern), Danny Moldovan as technology manager (vice president of Change.org), and Jonathan Marino as lead Ugandan researcher (Fulbright Scholar to Uganda). We intend to have launched the web portal by early fall and will demonstrate results via user hits, collaboration connections, and surveys of community buy in.