IDEAS: Georgia Nonprofit Innovation at Work, Part 3
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A social network for social good
For years, Sustainable Atlanta has been exploring different online concepts to aid their work accelerating sustainability efforts across Atlanta. In 2012, research into geographic regions, consumer trust, behavior change models, and engagement strategies came together to produce Look Up Atlanta, a kind of Facebook for local do-gooders.
“It’s a place where folks can find easy-to-digest inspiration, new partners with shared passions, and see that they are part of a huge community,” said Sustainable Atlanta ED Suzanne Burnes. “It also serves to demystify ‘sustainability,’ showing a broad audience that sustainability is really about things like quality of life, healthy people, vibrant places, and accessible prosperity.”
Sustainable Atlanta sees Look Up Atlanta as a much-needed town square for the cause community, boosting area sustainability by revealing “how interconnected our individual causes are,” said Burnes: “Affordable housing impacts transportation, which impacts air quality, children’s health, education, workforce development, and on and on.” Spending just 10 minutes on the site, Burnes said, will turn up “amazing events, initiatives, and people you never knew were out there.”
Citizen advocates clean up
In 2010, Chattahoochee Riverkeeper (CRK) began receiving word from the Collier Hills community that Tanyard Creek had an odd smell and color. Residents wanted to test the water but didn’t know how to get started or where to turn. Under the direction of CRK’s Technical Programs Director (and current Riverkeeper-Elect) Jason Ulseth, and in partnership with the Collier Hills Civic Association, CRK analyzed water samples and eventually found a pipeline pouring raw sewage straight into the creek. Working with the city department, they got the problem fixed and started seeing improved water quality in Tanyard Creek.
“That early-on success story, working with the local community, the city government, and dedicated individuals, is how Neighborhood Water Watch got started,” said Ulseth. Started in 2010, the program now involves 50 volunteers (along with partner organizations including the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance) collecting more than 1,600 samples a year from Georgia water sources. With this volunteer army, CRK has been able to enforce the environmental laws that state governments and municipalities haven’t had the resources to pursue. Joining the City of Atlanta, an “invaluable partner,” and other local governments, they’ve been able to track down pollution sources and get them shut down.
Getting strategic with Six Thinking Hats
Faced with the challenge of creating a new five-year strategic plan, the board and staff of Lowndes/Valdosta Arts Commission (LVAC) tapped a strategic planning specialist on their board, Dr. Ron Zaccari, to lead them. Zaccari’s idea was to use a decision-making approach based on the Six Thinking Hats model, in which the strategic plan comes together through six specific modes of thought: analysis, intuition, discernment, optimistic response, creativity, and process control. “Five STH work sessions resulted in an abundance of remarkable ideas, which were then compiled, condensed, and voted on in a joint session of board and staff,” said ED Cheryl Oliver.
Shortly after the process began, LVAC was selected to participate in the newest cohort of GCN’s Momentum initiative, a happy coincidence: “We discovered that the two processes significantly complement each other,” said Oliver. Together, they’re guiding LVAC toward a comprehensive and highly practical strategic plan.
Bringing the "Maker Space" to students
Community Guilds, which provides hands-on job skills learning experiences to students, considered a number of options to get elementary and middle school students to a “maker space”—a studio and workshop for designing and carrying out a range of projects—but the hurdles were high: leasing and renovating a facility was expensive, and transporting kids off-campus means navigating yards of red tape. Guilds Founder Jason Martin came up with the idea for their mobile maker space, the STE(A)M Truck, after seeing a similar design studio-on-wheels launched by a friend at the Stanford School of Design. “We took that idea,” said Martin, “and modified it for the most impact on public education.”
Pulling the STE(A)M Truck up to a school every day for four weeks, Martin and company work in hour-long sessions with 10 students at a time. Community Guilds debuted STE(A)M Truck in October 2013 as a temporary prototype, using a borrowed vehicle, but it took just 60 days for the idea to generate enough money for Community Guilds to purchase their own. Within three months, they had enough support from local and national foundations to outfit the vehicle with everything it needed.
Response has been so great since the start of programming in April—they even won “Most Innovative Venture” at the Points of Light Good Frenzy Pitch in June—that Community Guilds is already planning to replicate the program throughout the state. “Our five year goal is to have a STE(A)M Truck for every school district,” said Martin. “We’re almost booked up for all of next year, so we think there’s enough interest, support, and cost-efficiency built in to make it happen.”
Starting and sustaining a Collective Impact campaign
To make the most of a big 2010 federal investment in teen pregnancy prevention—netting Georgia $12.5 million per year for five years—Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Power and Potential (GCAPP) and its partners knew they needed a big idea to align and strengthen every public agency, nonprofit, and philanthropy dealing with the issue. Following two meetings among GCAPP, the Georgia Dept. of Public Health, the Division of Family and Children Services, and other agencies, the Office of Adolescent Health and the Centers for Disease Control provided funding to contract a facilitator skilled in collaborative processes. The result is a “Collective Impact” effort called the Georgia Public Private Partnership to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, or P3, established in May 2011 to develop and sustain organizations implementing quality, evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention programs.
To guide the project, GCAPP was selected to serve as P3’s “backbone organization,” working with all 20 participating organizations to develop vibrant relationships and a unifying goal: reducing statewide teen pregnancy by one-third by 2020. “Taking a Collective Impact approach has given the P3 partners the ability to have a greater impact than we could have had alone,” said Kim Nolte, GCAPP’s vice president of programs and training, who also pointed out that the literature on Collective Impact was published by FSG, and promoted by GCN, just in time for them to take advantage. “By working ‘differently together’ with partners, funders, policymakers, and community members, we’re tackling systemic barriers that interfere with reducing teen pregnancy quickly and efficiently.”
Bringing teens to the table
With a mission to end child sex trafficking, youthSpark knows that one of the big hurdles a nonprofit like theirs faces is the relative invisibility of the issue—especially among the most critical-to-reach population of all, the children and teens at risk. “We realized that, if we want to end child sex trafficking, we had to stop talking about kids and start talking to them,” said Program Coordinator Allison Hood. “With 12 to 14 years being the average age a child is first victimized [by trafficking], it is critical that we educate and empower teenagers around this issue.”
That’s how youthSpark got the idea to start clubs at three Atlanta high schools, establish an annual Teen Ambassador Training event bringing together youth from across Atlanta, and empower teens with opportunities to take the lead—like their high school intern Suraj Sehgal, who had the idea to start a teen e-newsletter for the nonprofit, and became its first editor-in-chief.
Celebrating corporate volunteerism
A great idea now in its 17th year, the Corporate Volunteer Council of Atlanta’s annual IMPACT Awards is a high-profile recognition of Atlanta companies that support the community through employee volunteer programs and other civic engagements. 2013 winners included technology corporation Cisco, law firm Kilpatrick Townsend, AutoTrader, and others; the 2014 ceremony will take place Sept. 17 at the College Football Hall of Fame. “We started the IMPACT Awards to celebrate corporate civic engagement and to inspire more companies to get involved,” said ED Cheryl Kortemeier. “Atlanta’s corporate employees are accomplishing amazing things that often go unnoticed.”
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