Meet Chris Binkowski. In December, Chris came to our sixth grant JustDrinks event and spoke to me about an idea that he was working on. We chatted about it and fine-tuned some ideas. He then submitted an impressive application for the seventh round.
Chris’s idea is to set up a nonprofit that would connect business and building owners with manufacturers of a fairly recent, yet effective product: a small, portable accessibility ramp. Chris would act as an intermediary and marketer for these ramps and employ traditional sales tactics (like sheer determinism) as well as more innovative actions (like including a window sticker in each sale for the business or building owner to put in their front entrance for a win/win). Accessibility for Humanity he calls it: we like the name.
Through Chris’s idea, he resolves to address the issue of accessibility. Specifically, Chris will focus on business and building owners who have one or several steps leading up to their entrances. These steps, although few, present a challenge for those with wheelchairs. This challenge exists all over Ottawa. As an illustration, try to observe how many stores on Bank, Elgin, Sparks, or Wellington, have steps leading up to their entrance, and imagine never ever being able to access these places as a result. Not being able to access these places disables the city of Ottawa itself.
So Chris now has JustChange’s seventh micro-grant, but he will need you to rally for his cause. Come meet him at the next JustDrinks event on February 25th, at Pressed Café. Chat about his idea, visit his Facebook page, identify businesses that would purchase a ramp (and benefit from expanding their customer-base), offer your support in any way, shape or form. It takes a village after all, and Chris has such a powerful and sensible idea that it could certainly ‘ramp up’.
(sorry, had to) .
See you there,
JustChange is a group of people who make decisions by consensus. This is no small feat; some of us knew each other before we began this project, but many of us did not. Decision making by consensus is a great challenge, but when it is achieved, it can lead to better decisions, and in the long-term, more effective group dynamics.
Having spent a good deal of time participating in, and sometimes chairing, volunteer boards, I wanted to share my views on why decision making by consensus is important, how we achieve it, what the challenges and benefits have been, and provide my thoughts for why this model has worked for us. This is a bit of a personal reflection, and I can’t claim to speak for anyone else on the board in this – though I hope they share similar views.
Firstly though, what I mean by decision-making by consensus is that by the end of the meeting, we have come to an agreement that each member of the board can support. It may not be everyone’s first choice walking in (in many cases it isn’t) but it’s a choice that we can all agree on, or at the very least support.
I believe strongly that the decisions that are made around the JustChange board table are better because we are committed to making decisions by consensus. This is because we have to listen to all voices around the table, including marginal voices. As an aside, I’m convinced that this is one of the reasons that democracies fare better over the long-term compared to more authoritarian forms of government – but that’s another topic for another day!
The fact is that because we have to come to an agreement, everyone’s perspective on an issue is brought to the table, and everyone listens to that perspective. We aren’t looking for a simple majority on a decision, we’re looking for everyone to support it, and that means that everyone’s questions, comments, and concerns have to get dealt with.
In the end, having so many people think and listen to everyone else’s views means that decisions are more informed, and fundamentally better than when looking for enough support to form a simple majority, when a single voice – a single voice bringing up a very important point – can sometimes be neglected in favour of expediency.
I have never been part of a board like JustChange. Firstly, our meetings are virtually un-chaired. We may start with someone giving a brief introduction and meeting a proposed agenda and process, but the role of “the chair”, as much as one can call it that, passes from person to person as the meeting progresses.
Yes, sometimes, this results in moments of chaos, where several people end up talking to each other simultaneously, but things settle of their own accord and the meeting proceeds with an order, shocking to anyone who’s been involved in a volunteer board.
Part of what allows us to do this, is the fact that we are each basically equals on the board, no one person, or group of people is really the leader. Some of us lead given initiatives, but nobody gets to drag anyone else anywhere. We are all working toward a common goal, but no one person is taking everyone else along towards their vision. We share a common vision and we are consistently pulling in the same direction.
The other big reason this has all worked is because we’re all very honest with each other. Or perhaps it’s that we’re very honest and very forgiving. Apart from the benefits inherent in honesty, this means that we haven’t suffered from groupthink that groups like these can suffer from. By that I mean the propensity of some groups to want to agree with each other and either put down, or have people not express, dissenting opinions.
You’ll excuse me if this sounds like I’m repeating my earlier statement – but this bears emphasis. Single dissenting voices have to be heard to achieve the best decision, and to ensure long-term engagement by members.
I can’t recall a single meeting where I left thinking all the same things that I went in thinking. I think the rest of the board can agree with this; and that’s a good thing.
Alright – now that I’ve convinced you that this is so great, how are you going to implement it in your group interactions? While this method isn’t for everyone (it can be slower, and gets much more difficult as group sizes grow) I would urge most small groups to consider giving it a try.
If you want more information on this, or have any questions on the topic, or on how you can use it in your groups, feel free to drop me a line (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’d be happy to speak with you, or provide you with my perspectives on how you might use this in you’re your own groups.
“The great source of both the misery and disorders of human life, seems to arise from over-rating the difference between one permanent situation and another”. – Adam Smith, Theory of Moral Sentiments
As you may know, today is #GivingTuesday.
For those who don’t know, today is a day is where charities, companies and individuals join together to share commitments, rally for favourite causes and think about others (www.givingtuesday.ca). Naturally then, there will be lots of discussion and celebration today about giving and volunteering. Stories will be shared, and suggestions will be brought forward about how you can share commitments, rally for causes, and think about others.
But I would like to illustrate why I think that JustChange is unlike any story of giving that you will hear today.
I’ll start with the obvious: Our giving consists of no tax credits, no qualified donees, no grant-making priorities, no invested assets, no operation or administrative or overhead expenses. There’s no reporting requirements, outcomes measurements, or shared value. What we do is take money out of our own pockets, and give it to a person or group of people who have a really great idea that we want to see happen in our community.
We don’t use crowdfunding platforms, other than physically getting together to decide on a winner and put money into a jar. We don’t hold fundraisers or campaigns other than to meet up for drinks (what we have dubbed ‘JustDrinks’) and celebrate that winner with anyone who would like to come and meet them.
The whole structure is remarkably simple, but the reasons behind it’s simplicity is perhaps less obvious. In true blogging form, I will focus on three reasons that I find particularly important.
The first reason is for filling a funding gap for non-profits and social entrepreneurs. A few people have lovingly called it the ‘pat on the back’ gap. Others call it seed-funding or spark-funding. What we do is help get ideas off the ground, give them a vote of confidence and access to community resources, such as the Hub, CISED, media attention (if desired), our own networks and skills (also only if desired). These are ideas that do not receive funding from traditional financing or funding, often because of significant risk (lack of structure, personal guarantees, etc). But for us, the idea is sound and important for the community, whether it is prototyping new business models with a social mission (Cigbins, Bumbrellas, Bibz) or enabling innovation in non-profit organizations (Sisters Achieving Excellence, Sustainability Bike Tour, COMPASS), then we think it’s worth a shot.
This is important: lacking in Canada is an entrepreneurial spirit and disruptive will for innovation. As the ‘Baby Boomer retirement’ crisis hits the country in full force in this decade and continues into the 2030s, the need for entrepreneurship (to take over for retiring business owners) and innovation (to increase the productivity needed to sustain our country’s current income levels) will become increasingly apparent and alarming. Movements, like Startup Canada, have helped bring national attention to this issue, and have recently put a greater spotlight on social entrepreneurship. At the very local community level of JustChange Ottawa, we hope to foster a greater appetite for this kind of drive. We are doing what we can (and what our purses allow us) to help build this kind of positive and entrepreneurial spirit into the social, environmental, cultural, and development work of our community.
The second reason is for building roots and trust in our community. The lack of structure in JustChange provides us, the board members, with such a wonderful freedom to decide on what we want to see in our community, where our money goes, and how it will be used. There is an incredible sense of connection that results from being able to support community initiatives. Through JustChange, we are weaving into the social fabric of the city, and this remarkable effect both fine-tunes our ideas about what to support, and also builds a greater sense of trust between our applicants and us. We don’t use crowdfunding tools or seek out leveraging private or foundation dollars because for us at JustChange, it is less about the size of the Cheque, than it is actually handing it to the applicant.
So my third and final reason is also an announcement: for encouraging replication. Our model is simple, but effective. JustChange is less a structure than it is a way of engaging with a community, planting roots, and building a society through your own choices. Moreover, it is the grassroots connection with the community that makes the model so effective at supporting social entrepreneurial drive. If you know of ten like-minded individuals who would be amenable to something like this, then drop a line to email@example.com. We would be delighted to have a chat.
It’s much more than $1000
There are just so many reasons why we put our own money to support initiatives in Ottawa.
Yes, there is the mission of accelerating great ideas that provide positive environmental, social, and/or economic outcomes which sounds just so great. But there is something else that motivates me. Most of our grantees are dreamers and change makers that take a huge risk on trying to make their idea happen. Many people that we give grants to have expressed gratitude for not the money itself – because a $1000 can only get you so far – but for the acknowledgement and the pat on the back.
There is a saying that I like keep in mind: “It’s not an idea until you make it happen.” Without making it happen, your idea is completely worthless. You can have thousands of great ideas in your head, but it’s all meaningless until you do something about it.
Making an idea happen a.k.a. being an entrepreneur (whether social or not) is hard by itself. It’s time spent thinking whether your idea is good enough, whether it will garner any support, whether you are good enough to make it happen. It’s a life of passion and dedication, but also a life filled with doubt.
What motivates me to be a part of JustChange is that we are able to encourage our grantees to keep on going with the little money that we can offer them and to let them know that they are not wasting their time making it happen. And I only hope that they know that getting a grant means that 12 people that are a part of JustChange believe in what they’re doing, and that they are doing something right.
JustChange looks forward to announcing its sixth $1000 grant winner in the next coming weeks.
Why is it that we think we’re doing something great when we add the word “social” in front of a word?
Social responsibility, social entrepreneurship, social innovation, social change, social economy, social enterprise, social finance, social purchasing…
What does it really mean? Don’t worry; I’m not going to attempt to define these terms. That’s already been done (here. here, and here in case you’re really interested.)
Rather, I thought I’d try and convey what JustChange means when we talk “social,” since it’s a brand we full-heartedly rally behind. My hope is that you’ll understand what inspires and motivates us and perhaps get inspired too.
To us, the label “social” signifies a statement of refusal to accept old ways of doing things: ways that have disembedded communities, nature, people, and relationships from our societal systems and infrastructure. Finance, business, and the economy seem to have forgotten those whom they are to serve in the first place – people!
The label “social” also signifies a statement of intent to create new ways of doing things: ways that reconcile our systems to humanity. The belief behind “social”, is intensely hopeful, creative, and forward-looking and the result is that old methods are being used in new ways to tackle some of society’s worst social conditions: such as income inequality, poverty, and unemployment (like SAE, EcoEquitable, and Bibz), as well as environmental degradation (like Ottawa Sustainability Tour).
At JustChange we’re looking to fund those ideas that truly embody this vision of “social,” ideas that have the potential to address a societal problem or create a societal good in the city of Ottawa.
We’re also looking for ideas that are so daring, risky, untested, or new that they may experience difficulty in attracting funding or support elsewhere. And we’re not looking to sustain an initiative; we’re looking to propel it. We want to help you get to the next level, whatever that may be.