Thursday, July 31, 2008

Social Entrepreneurship to Be Highlighted at the National Urban League Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida

[30 July 2008 - National Urban League] On Thursday, July 31, 2008, the Economic Opportunity Institute (EOI) will host the finals of the Social Venture Plan Competition at the 2008 National Urban League Annual Conference in Orlando, Florida. The competition, sponsored by The Prudential Foundation and FedEx Corporation, identifies and showcases
successful and replicable social ventures operated by Urban League affiliates, and serves as a model for innovative and sustainable public/private collaboration.

Teams from Cincinnati, Hartford, Jacksonville, Lorain County, New York, Philadelphia and Tucson will compete in the finals for over $100,000 in start up cash and consulting services to launch their social entrepreneurial and non-profit initiatives. The winners will be announced at the Whitney M. Young Gala on August 2, 2008.

The competition is sponsored by Prudential Foundation and FedEx and all of the finalists will receive feedback on their social venture plans from accomplished judges, Alfred Edmond (Editor-in-Chief, Black, Julius Walls Jr. (CEO, Greyston Bakery), and Linda
Roach (Partner, Oakcrest Capital Partners).

In the face of declining support for endowments and the highly competitive nature of grant funding, nonprofits are increasingly integrating entrepreneurial strategies as a way to tackle social problems. They seek to earn capital in order to sustain their missions and, for many, build their capacity to consistently deliver services to the underserved. President and C.E.O. of the National Urban League, Marc H. Morial explains, "I envision an entrepreneurial Urban League movement that enjoys economic sustainability while empowering communities and changing lives. Social entrepreneurship is the new community service grant. FedEx and the Prudential Foundation are supporting the creativity and drive of our affiliates to provide the services that our communities demand."

The EOI Social Venture Plan Competition is simultaneously a practicum in competing for investment funds and also a vehicle to provide funding and in-kind services to those that demonstrate the greatest potential for success. This last round of the competition is open to the public and is a great opportunity for residents of the Orlando area to learn about opportunities in social entrepreneurship, and network with social entrepreneurs/Nonprofit leaders.

Established in 2003, the National Urban League's Economic Opportunity Institute (EOI) empowers communities and changes lives by promoting social entrepreneurship as a strategy to achieve sustainable social change.

National Communiversity Conference Draws 14 Communities From Connecticut to California

[29 July 2008 - Applied Imagination - By Steven Dahlberg - Windham, Connecticut, USA] Four Windham-area residents participated this past weekend in the first "COMV08: Communiversity Conference" in New Gloucester, Maine. Miriam and Mike Kurland, Abigail Ricklin and Steven Dahlberg joined 35 other people from 14 communities -- from California to Maine -- to explore how communiversities can invent a new community context in which people anticipate and transform challenges into opportunities for creative action.

The Windham delegation told the participants about Willimantic's efforts to build creative community. Their examples ranged from the Third Thursday Street Fest, the Boom Box Parade and Willimantic's historic Main Street to the Victorian Home Tour, the new Imagine Willimantic Communiversity group, and the new Creative Community Building Program being launched this fall at the University of Connecticut with community-based partners in Willimantic.

"This was an extraordinary gathering of people who spent three days focusing on positive aspects of what's working best in their communities," said Dahlberg, who heads the International Centre for Creativity and Imagination in Willimantic. "There was no whining or negativity -- just a group of people who want to share their communities' stories, figure out how to engage people in their communities, and help their communities learn and grow together."

The Imagine Willimantic Communiversity grew out of a visit to Willimantic in April from the Communiversity Conference organizer August Jaccaci. While in town, Jaccaci met with First Selectwoman Jean de Smet, people from community organizations, and citizens. He also led a public Creativity Networking event at the WindhamARTS Collaborative, at which he shared with the audience his concept of "Communiversity" and invited Willimantic to join a network of other cities and towns who are working to build a movement of communiversities.

Communiversities, according to Jaccaci, are about discovering new and world-changing ways to meet real needs in real places in real time -- with hope. Communiversities weave together ideas about community learning, creative communities and change.

"Communiversities are the sequel to the modern university," said Jaccaci. "We need to profoundly reinvent all aspects of society or we are history. This includes reinventing human learning so that it's continuous and includes all members of the family of life."

To deal with the accelerating nature of community change and transformation, Jaccaci told participants, "you have to go ahead of history, create it, and pull it toward you," rather than merely reacting to what happens.

Lawyer-turned-poet Anthony Burnini, who opened the second day with poetry, invited the participants to work in their communities to "unbury the talents that have been put in the ground" so that people might discover that they have something to contribute to their communities.

Participants spent the first day and a half sharing their communities' stories, which offer several possibilities for Willimantic:

  • Gainesville, Ga. -- Gus Whalen shared how the Featherbone Communiversity emerged out of a reinvention of the Warren Featherbone Company. They transformed the company's old manufacturing space into a community learning center that includes a school of nursing, a children's museum, a business incubator, and a creativity center.
  • Deer Isle, Maine -- Dom Parisi shared a vision for helping people take back control of energy costs. He has a 12-step plan for involving whole communities in making better energy choices everyday. He has particularly focused on what his community’s schools are doing about energy use and conservation, and wants to use communiversities to make that project replicable in other communities.
  • Hope, Maine -- As towns consider how to brand and position themselves to the outside world, members of Hope have adopted "Hope is Hip" as theirs. As part of their Communiversity, they invited citizens to a meeting to talk about business or community issues. Forty-five people showed up. "This showed that people want to be connected and talk to each other," said Larrain Slaymaker. This group continues to meet each month at a different business where that organization can showcase itself and its products to the community.
  • New London, Conn. -- Art Costa talked about how the Re-New London Council is seeking to focus on strengths and assets to build communities from the inside out and to improve their quality of life. They are exploring how to use land-value tax (versus land-use tax) as a tool for building sustainable economies in new ways in cities. Through their Farm-to-City initiative, they are seeking to feed their community with more local food. They also have a buy-local-first campaign for supporting locally owned and operated businesses.
  • Portland, Maine -- Christina Bechstein, an artist and professor at the Maine College of Art, shared examples of how she uses the college's service learning program and arts-based projects to engage students and faculty with a community partner in a community project. She described this as "co-learning with the outside community" and talked about ways to make community challenges, such as hunger, visual and visible.
  • Berkeley, Calif. -- Rand Christiansen is focusing both his doctoral studies and his Communiversity work on the concept of a "cosmology of love" in which he explores how love can help us address those things that keep us separate and how to create opportunities for people to excel in their potential. "Love is the wisdom of well-being," he said.

In the closing session, Jaccaci suggested that communiversities can help create the planet's next renaissance and wondered aloud: "What are the design specifications for this?" He recalled Margaret Mead’s encouragement to him of working to answer the question: How do you create models that are organic and natural as opposed to arbitrary and manmade?

The answer, Jaccaci said, is in intention -- whether one organizes around resonance and reverence or manipulation and control of others. Nature, he said, offers the best models to help people organize and design communities that function as creatively and efficiently as nature does.

Christiansen said that focusing on nature emphasizes a model of something that lives and breathes life, which is what people desire of their community. He suggested the sequoia tree as a model, with its broad reach and its roots that spread out and intertwine and support the grove.

“Nature is fundamentally symbiotic, full of mutually benefiting relationships,” Jaccaci said. “How might communiversities be this?”

The Imagine Willimantic Communiversity will meet to share more about the COMV08 experience on Tuesday, August 5, at 5:30 p.m. at Wrench in the Works, 861 Main Street, Willimantic. Anyone interested in finding out more or getting involved with this project is welcome to attend. In addition, Imagine Willimantic Communiversity Member Phoebe Godfrey will talk about this project at the Windham Board of Selectman meeting at 7:00 p.m. on August 5.

Creating Communiversities:
Partners in Whole Community Learning
By August Jaccaci

A Communiversity
Is a learning conversation
Within a whole family of life
In a place they hold in common
Dear to them all.
This conversation
Is a sharing of mutual needs
In a place of mutual dwelling
In a process of mutual learning
In a vessel of mutual hope.
This continuous conversation
Is the voice of the soul of life
Expressing the sanctity of all life
For the future of all life
In the home of all life.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Shaw on Imagination

"Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire,
you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will." --
George Bernard Shaw

Monday, July 07, 2008

From he that hath not: If you are at the bottom of the heap, mental processes may keep you there

[22 May 2008 - The Economist] New drugs may help to enhance people's mental powers. But a study carried out by Pamela Smith, of Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands, and her colleagues suggests a less pharmacological approach can be taken, too. Their work, just published in Psychological Science, argues that simply putting someone into a weak social position impairs his cognitive function. Conversely, "empowering" him, in the dread jargon of sociology, sharpens up his mind. Dr Smith focused on those cognitive processes that help people maintain and pursue their goals in difficult and distracting situations. She suspected that a lack of social power may reduce someone's ability to keep track of information and make plans to achieve his goals. More