Upcoming Sullivan Events

The Sullivan Foundation exists to support those who work to make their world a better place, and one of the best ways we do that is through our events. From our retreats to our field trips, Sullivan events are places of inspiration, information, and connection for changemakers. And this spring, we have a great lineup of events.

This March, we’ll be holding a field trip for budding changemakers in Chattanooga. In April, we’ll be hosting our spring Ignite Retreat and a Faculty Summit. Read on to learn more about our upcoming Sullivan events and how you can be a part of them.

The Ignite Retreat

The Ignite Retreat is an awesome weekend that happens twice a year in the mountains of North Carolina. Participants spend three days focusing on learning, networking, and igniting change in their worlds. The retreat happens in April and October and rotates between Charlotte and Raleigh, North Carolina.

You can choose from three tracks for the Ignite Retreat: the personal track, the problem track, and the project track. No matter where you are as a changemaker, you can find tools to help you take the next step. Our next retreat will take place April 7-9 in Raleigh, and registration is open through March 30.

The Chattanooga Field Trip

We also have an awesome opportunity coming up for those in the Tennessee area. In February, we will be taking a field trip to Chattanooga to talk with some local business owners. These leaders are working to tackle pressing social and environmental problems in creative entrepreneurial ways.

This year’s field trip in Chattanooga will feature ten social enterprises who are changing the face of their city. These include the Glass House Collective, Lookout Mountain Conservancy, and Mad Priest Coffee Roasters. You can register online through February 13.

The Faculty Summit

If you’re on the faculty side of college operations, don’t worry; the Sullivan Foundation has programming for you, too. This April, the same weekend as our Ignite Retreat, we will offer a chance for faculty to learn more about social entrepreneurship. You will deepen peer relationships and connections and gain a deeper understanding of social innovation and the entrepreneurship community.

During the Summit, you’ll gain fresh new tools that you can apply in your classroom and on your campus. We’ll also provide a forum for you to get actionable feedback and suggestions for you to put into practice back home. Registration is open online through March 20.

Sign Up for Upcoming Sullivan Events

We are very excited about the upcoming Sullivan events we’ll have this spring. We hope you and your campus will get involved. If you’d like more information about any of our events, visit our website!

Changing the Climate by Leaving “Climate Change” Behind

By Robert Russell Sassor & Beth Strachan

Many movements struggle to let go of the revered stories they use time and again to win supporters, but change often requires a new narrative. In 2012, for example, the US marriage equality movement replaced its long-used “basic human rights” messaging with messaging focused on love and family. Doing so allowed the movement to overcome setbacks and dramatically shift norms, behaviors, and expectations through savvy campaign strategies. Since then, public support for marriage equality has been climbing steadily, from 37 percent in 2009 to 62 percent in 2017. And since the 2015 Supreme Court ruling in favor of marriage equality, it is now the law of the land.

Changing hearts and minds, building public will, and thereby influencing political will and judicial engagement on any issue requires that advocates first connect with people through language and stories rooted in values we authentically share. Yet by and large, climate change advocacy has continued to focus on the imperative of a stable climate and trends in rising temperatures (often accompanied by ice cap and polar bear imagery). The movement typically relays that we are in crisis mode, and must act immediately to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. But while all these arguments are true, they have largely failed to inspire individual action or widespread change in the United States.

Some leaders and groups are beginning to evolve climate change’s traditional narratives to, for example, encompass health impacts (“climate change is impacting our health”), but new messaging still often hinges on changing people’s attitudes toward climate change itself. It still seeks to build public will in support of the issue as a precursor to driving policy and action to tackle it—and it isn’t working. Surveys show that even though more and more Americans understand climate change is real, is human caused, and directly affects communities, the issue remains a low priority for taking action. More than a decade of investment in advocacy and marketing to raise the alarm on climate change—during both progressive and conservative ascendance—has not yet galvanized political or public will in the United States. In fact, the issue remains a political third rail even for people who believe we need to act now.

It’s worth asking then: Is there a fatal flaw in the discourse around climate change? Is it time to let go of the climate change “sacred cow” and create a narrative centered on common values? We believe the answer to both questions is yes, and a natural place to start is by focusing on the health benefits of clean air, water, and land.

Change Is in the Air

The health impacts of climate change are clear and evident; poor air and water quality, natural disasters, extreme heat, and wildfire make us more vulnerable to illness, disease, and death. In 2009, The Lancet medical journal declared climate change “the biggest global health threat of the 21st century,” and in November, it released a report on how climate change is “shaping the health of nations for centuries to come.” These findings are underscored in a domestic context by the 2018 US National Climate Assessment, which notes the interconnected impacts climate change presents for the US economy, natural resources, and our health. The American Public Health Association is meanwhile prioritizing the issue on behalf of the nation’s public health field, and recently announced the launch of a new Center for Climate, Health and Equity.

Within the health field, the medical literature and galvanizing work of the World Health Organization and others are contributing to a particular emphasis on clean air. At last year’s Global Climate and Health Forum, for example, “air pollution” was the term on everybody’s lips, including Howard Frumkin’s of the the Wellcome Trust, who said: “Five years ago at a meeting on climate and health, we would have heard much less talk about air pollution … Air pollution has emerged as an incredibly powerful issue to advance our discussion of climate change.” He and others have noted that air pollution is salient for policymakers and people, because it is happening now, the pollution is tangible, and its impacts on human health are direct and recognizable.

Air pollution is also salient for health professionals. Independent medical literature underscores the urgency for action, which may be fueling the field’s newfound focus. A 2013 MIT study (using 2005 data) attributed 200,000 premature deaths in the United States per year to poor air quality. Studies are also uncovering other harmful impacts, such as chronic bronchitis and asthma, cardiovascular diseases, systemic inflammation, impaired cognitive development and memory function, and kidney damage, as well as gastrointestinal, liver, lung, and renal cancers. (See a World Health Organization compendium here.) These conditions may also drive absenteeism in schools and workplaces, exacerbate health care needs and costs, and impinge on our well-being and resilience as individuals, communities, and nations. The impacts are far worse for those who live near sources of air pollution, which are disproportionately near communities already facing disparities. Consequently, the World Health Organization is unifying the field—and its policy and behavior change prowess globally and domestically—to tackle the health inequities air pollution poses.

This focus on air quality is one health-focused example that could serve as a compelling impetus for tackling climate change without necessarily referencing “climate” terms. An air quality narrative could, for example, entail calls to action that help end new fossil fuel projects and shift economies away from coal, oil, and natural gas. Domestically, strategies and messaging designed to prompt policies and action for cleaner air could help: safeguard comprehensive regulations in the Clean Air Act and standards for minimizing particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter; commit the nation to 100 percent clean and renewable energy for all; and create opportunity and political capital to advance a new clean power plan, restore emissions standards, and drive other high-impact policies that seem impossible today but could have public will behind them in two years.

Promising Early Evidence

This approach is already showing promise as a mechanism for motivating action in a clean energy context. While clean energy messaging has historically focused on climate change (“the Earth is warming, we need to do something about it, and clean energy can help”), Sierra Club’s US-based Ready for 100 Campaign instead focused on how air pollution from fossil fuels is putting our health at risk, and how clean and renewable energy will improve our health, leave a better world for our children, and save lives.

The campaign drew on a proprietary national survey conducted in 2015, which indicated that Americans’ values for health and quality of life, particularly for future generations, motivate support for clean energy. Respondents generally ranked protecting air and water quality as higher priorities than fighting climate change, and health-based messages about reducing pollution tested best as reasons to support clean energy goals. The Sierra Club research illuminated an opportunity to engage new clean energy champions (beyond those activated in a “climate change” context) through messages linked directly to their values, particularly through values related to their health.

In just two years, the campaign has already inspired 100 cities, along with 10 counties and two states (Hawaii and California) to pledge to shift to 100 percent clean and renewable energy.

Opportunities to Pursue

Given this, is it time for climate change advocates to develop a shared narrative that better taps people’s values and elevates our health, and in a way that will work across fields? How can we more fully connect health to other values, like economic security, economic development, social justice, environment and sustainability, energy independence, jobs creation, and just transitions for those whose livelihoods rely on the fossil fuel industry?

As we work to answer these questions, let us look to how we can promote more-robust collaboration, reduce duplication of effort, and reinforce central concepts; share resources (through pooling funding, resources, and tools), and mobilize and coordinate across fields and movements; and reimagine community engagement by leading with curiosity, and inviting people to talk about these issues in the context of their experiences and those of their loved ones. Together, we can inspire the policies and actions we seek.

If those of us who work to mitigate climate change unite to make health a national priority—bypassing the climate change third rail—it will be an instructive model for broader shifts in narrative and action, and a potentially formidable force for positive change in our communities.

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Solving Unusual Social Problems

If you’re at all involved in the social entrepreneurship world, there are several major topics you will have heard about. World hunger, clean water, preventable disease treatment, environmental care, social equality, and the like are huge problems that social enterprises are working to tackle. And the work happening in those realms is amazing, but what about the smaller problems?

As a changemaker, you may look around and wonder what problems most people don’t see. Maybe you want to go in a different direction with your efforts. If so, read on to learn about some unusual social problems changemakers are working to tackle.

Fair Trade Electronics

As changemakers, we tend to think more about where our products came from than most people do. Were our clothes made in some sweat shop in Indonesia, or were they made by fair trade artisans? But one industry we tend to forget about when we’re thinking about fair trade is electronics.

Because electronics are so expensive, it can be easy to assume that all the manufacturers are paid fairly for their work. But in 2012, a study actually showed that electronics manufacturers have the worst working conditions, on average.

So what are social entrepreneurs doing about it? Mostly, they’re starting their own electronics manufacturing companies where they can ensure their workers are paid fairly and treated well. You could also start a website that sells fair-trade electronics at near-wholesale prices, then using the profit you do make to raise awareness about this issue.

Supermarket Waste

If you’re like us, every time you clean out the fridge, you find some old bell pepper lurking in a drawer that you meant to use and never did. You have to throw it away, which is a waste of food and money. But it turns out grocery store shoppers aren’t the only people with this problem.

Grocery stores wind up having to throw away a lot of food, too. Like us, they’re estimating what they’re going to need and when it’s going to make it off the shelves. With products like produce that don’t have a long shelf life, they can wind up throwing out a lot of food.

Social entrepreneurs are tackling both the problem of supermarket waste and that of hunger all in one fell swoop. Instead of having to throw the food away, the stores can donate it to “secondhand” grocery stores (meaning they can write it off on their taxes as a donation). The social enterprise can then sell the food at a lower cost so that underprivileged communities can afford more fresh produce, and they can use the profits to feed the hungry.

Bad Tourism

When you went on that vacation to the French countryside a few years back, we’re willing to bet you didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about the social impact of your tourism. After all, it’s supposed to be a vacation, right? But tourism done this way can have a huge impact on communities without benefitting them much at all.

It’s worth doing some additional reading on the topic, but in essence it boils down to this: when we visit a community, it’s easy to accidentally offend the residents. We all love a good museum, but sometimes those museums can turn local artefacts into nothing more than commodities for the tourists. And while tourists do spend money that goes into the economy, oftentimes it doesn’t go through ethical channels that get that money back to the people there.

There are several social enterprises endeavoring to change the way we visit the rest of the world. These groups work closely with the locals in a given area (often having several different destinations that they cover) to make sure travelers know the right ways to behave and spend their money to help the community. This also means the tourists get a more genuine cultural experience from the place they’re visiting.

Micro-Giving

A lot of people think that when you donate to charity, you have to donate hundreds or thousands of dollars at a time in order for it to make a difference. It’s also easy to assume that charitable giving comes only (or at least mainly) from individuals. But micro-giving, especially from businesses can make an enormous impact.

There are a lot of ways that people can donate money to charities by doing things they’re already in the habit of – opening tabs in a browser, for example. You can also ask businesses to make micro-donations from their profits, things that will cost them pennies per sale. For example, ask a baker to donate the monetary equivalent of a handful of flour for every loaf of bread that they sell.

Textbook Availability

If you are or were a college student, you have definitely spent some time in your career cringing at textbook prices. Textbooks are notoriously expensive, and they are one of the products that you can’t get a cheaper alternative for. So what happens if you’re an underprivileged student trying to get your books without going broke?

That’s just the issue that a number of social enterprises are working to solve. As a college student, you may also have found that you wound up with books you didn’t want at the end of the semester. Several changemaking initiatives are working to round up those books and either sell them at discounted prices to underprivileged students or donate them to students in developing countries.

Solve the Unusual Social Problems

As changemakers, our job is to look around at the world, see the problems others don’t, and find ways to address them. While there is no doubt that those working on tackling climate change are doing amazing work, there’s also great change happening in more unknown areas. We hope you’ve gotten some ideas and inspiration from this list.

If you’re looking for ways to solve the unusual social problems, or any social problem, check out the rest of our site at the Sullivan Foundation. We work to provide training and resources for budding changemakers. Learn about how you can join one of our Ignite Retreats for a weekend of igniting change.

Funding Innovations That Break the Mold

By Lateefah Simon & Timothy Silard

Patrisse Cullors is creating a network of rapid responders, as an alternative to police, to support victims and survivors of state violence and mass criminalization. Raj Jayadev is helping individuals who face incarceration, their families, and their communities play an active role in their defense. Nicole Pittman is taking on the practice of placing children on sex offender registries.

These leaders are finding new ways to break down barriers to opportunity and justice at a time when people of color, immigrants, and other communities face a resurgent wave of hostility and violence, both in the United States and elsewhere. In this moment, we need more leaders who are not satisfied with anything less than obliterating the systems of oppression that harm communities of color and working people, and who are deeply embedded in the communities they serve. But to make headway against these challenges, these leaders need those of us in philanthropy to step up and completely rethink our approach to investing in social change.

What does it take for philanthropy to effectively support emerging leaders and their risky ideas? Our experience with the Leading Edge Fund—a three-year fellowship launched by the Rosenberg Foundation and the Hellman Foundation in 2016 to support cutting-edge, social change ideas—has underlined the importance of four funding practices. While these practices aren’t particularly new, we believe our experiences over the past three years can offer some fresh examples of and new perspectives on how to apply them.

Give Leaders Space and Opportunity to Think—and Act—Big

Nonprofit and movement leaders are chronically overworked. The constant stress related to fundraising, and managing and growing organizations—all while advancing movements and organizing communities to push back against injustice—leaves little time or space for deep thinking about how to fundamentally change the odds for and with disenfranchised people.

The Leading Edge Fund is a state-based fellowship that provides unrestricted support to organizers and activists to help nurture their long-term vision for change. The fund supports fellows to think (and act) big by providing general support funds to use as they wish in their efforts to change our communities. Our hope is that the availability of flexible, unrestricted support will allow fellows the space to reflect and focus their energy and creativity on pursuing their boldest ideas. As one example, building on her strong history of advocacy and activism, including as a founder of #BlackLivesMatter, Cullors has used fellowship funds to support the development of community-based, rapid-response “justice teams” to combat police violence and to write her New York Times best-selling memoir, When They Call You a Terrorist.

Give Leaders Time to Try and Fail

In any endeavor, it can take years to turn promising ideas into reality, and that’s especially true for social movements. Take, for example, the movement to make marriage equality a reality in the land, and the ongoing fight for civil rights. Bold and transformative change is possible only through sustained, long-term, patient, and coordinated advances; there may not be a straight path to change, and the work may occur in fits and starts. But scarce resources often force nonprofits and activists to focus on the short term. The impulse can be to play it safe and stick to tried-and-true approaches that will appeal to philanthropic supporters, even if those approaches are not delivering the systemic change that will unlock real progress.

To get rid of restrictions and requirements that often stifle long-term thinking and groundbreaking ideas, we let go of the need to have measured outcomes. Instead, we decided to invest in the leaders and support their development for the long haul. We also connect fellows with experts and partners that can help them identify areas of growth as well as the type of supports they need. For example, Raja Jorjani, who is working to ensure that immigrants impacted by the criminal justice system have legal representation, was able to meet with Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, and learn even more about the transformative power of litigation for social change.

We also let go of funding practices intended to “manage” grantees’ work. For example, the fund does not require detailed proposals or budgets with annual deliverables, quantified outcomes, and frequent reporting. Our expectation is not that fellows will accomplish their goals in one year or three years—or even 10 years. Rather than giving us ongoing grantee reports, fellows share their failures and successes with their cohort and with us during regular retreats, and submit annual updates about their efforts. Since we are focused on the leaders, rather than the success of their idea, accepting the risk that some of their ideas may fall short even as others take hold and flourish is baked into the design.

Support the Leader, Not Just the Organization

Leadership awards are typically tied to the work people are doing within a specific organization, and grants are awarded for project-based goals or for organizational support. Even in leadership development, the trend is to support not only leaders, but also their senior team, the board, or organizational systems.

By contrast, our fund is agnostic when it comes to affiliation. Fellows can be leaders or founders of staffed nonprofit organizations, solo operators with nonprofit status, employees of public systems or legal aid organizations, or individual activists. Instead, we focus on the strength of their potential and their ideas.

For example, Jayadev founded Silicon Valley De-Bug to mobilize communities in Silicon Valley around social justice issues, including workers’ rights and criminal justice reform. Today, the platform is a vehicle for community organizing to impact the outcome of cases and transform the court system. However, Meredith Desautels’ fellowship—and effort to end the incarceration of children—isn’t tied to her work with any one organization, and Jorjani is working within a government institution as a public defender.

Remember That Movements Thrive on Connections

Social justice work can be isolating. Its fierce urgency and the daily grind can be all-encompassing. And fundraising pressures can make organizations feel more like competitors than allies, which puts the success of our collective movements at stake.

Part of our work, therefore, is to help foster a network of activists who can support each other to advance equity and social justice. Toward this end, we convene retreats where fellows share ideas, get hands-on training to build their capacity, and grow and strengthen their personal relationships. Training has included how to make a case of support for funders and wellness for social justice leaders.

Fellows also have had the opportunity to collaborate on issues and projects during retreats. Raha Jorjani and Raj Jayadev, for example, collaborated on a symposium that focused on prosecutor accountability. Patrisse Cullors and Morning Star Gali organized a convening for leaders from Movement for Black Lives and Native organizers. We also make the retreats family friendly; fellows can bring their children to mealtime and retreat activities.

In other efforts to spur cross-fertilization and relationship building, we encourage fellows to use their grant funds to support networking with other fellows, whether through site visits to their communities or shared learning opportunities. As one example, Nicole Pittman visited Silicon Valley DeBug to learn how to integrate participatory defense in her work. From the beginning of this work, participants told us they wanted a “relational vs. transactional” experience—and we’ve tried to deliver.

All too often, nonprofit and community leaders feel bound and beholden to philanthropy, responding to our often-difficult requirements, and tailoring their ideas and proposals to what they think we want to fund. Working with these inspiring fellows has reminded us that the best role philanthropy can play in advancing social justice is to flip the power equation and work in service to those who are making a difference on the frontlines.

Listen to these grassroots leaders, invest in their great ideas, help them grow their networks—and then get out of the way. That’s what we’re trying to do, and we hope it is a promising formula for building and growing stronger social movements. Now more than ever, we need to give movement leaders the resources, flexibility, and connections they need to bring their vision for justice to life.

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Interview with a Changemaker: On the Move Art Studio

This week, we caught up with Josh Nadzam, a Sullivan Award winner in 2012 and the co-founder of the On the Move Art Studio. He told us about what the studio is doing to spread positivity and confidence to neighborhoods across Kentucky.

Can you tell me about the On the Move Art Studio?

I’m the cofounder, and we are a nonprofit. Our main mission is to go to low-income neighborhoods and have free art classes for the kids.

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How to Be a Changemaker During Winter Break

Finals are almost over, and winter break is in sight! With the end of the fall semester approaching fast, you’re probably headed home for the holidays and a lot of well-earned rest. But after you’ve slept for a solid week and spent some quality veg time, what are you planning to do with the rest of your holiday break?

The winter break is a great time to focus on making a positive change in the world; whether it be by volunteering during your free time or taking steps towards establishing your social enterprise, the break offers some great opportunities for changemaking. Read on to find some ideas on how to be a changemaker during winter break.

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Awesome Ideas for Winter Charity Work

As winter starts to settle in (maybe a little early for some of our tastes), we start thinking about things like hot chocolate and warm fires and nights spent inside with the people we love. It’s an exciting time of year, but it’s also a good time to think about those who may not be as happy this winter.

There are a lot of unique issues that winter brings for those in the changemaking community. From working to get everyone a warm coat to reaching out to those suffering from SAD (it’s a thing, we promise), there are a lot of issues to be addressed during winter. Read on to learn about some ideas for winter charity work.

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Now What? Daily Political Action After Elections

Yesterday, the U.S. experienced one of the biggest midterm elections in decades. Voter turnout soared from a little under 37 percent in the 2014 elections to somewhere north of 49 percent. Young voter turnout increased by a whopping 188 percent.

But now, the elections are over, and some of us may be feeling a sense of letdown. Leading up to the elections, we knew what our duty was: get out and vote. But now that the ballots are in, you may not be as sure how to create change in your community.

Changemaking doesn’t only happen on election days; rather, it’s a day to day push. Below are a few ideas about how you can take daily political action and keep the wave going.

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Penn State Ignite Retreat

This year, the Sullivan Foundation held our first-ever college-sponsored Ignite Retreat. Penn State University’s Schreyer Honors College partnered with us to host an Ignite Retreat this September on the Penn State campus. The event was free to all PSU students, and we had forty attend.

The weekend was an amazing time of connection, inspiration, and discussions about changemaking. Students formed amazing bonds, and the weekend kick-started a new wave of change in Pennsylvania. Read on to learn a little more about the Penn State Ignite Retreat.

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Ignite Retreat 2018

This weekend, ninety-four students and a couple of dozen faculty came together in Black Mountain, North Carolina for a weekend of inspiration, learning, and discussion about social change. We had six facilitators, three tracks for students to choose from, and about forty-eight hours dedicated to exploring how to save the world.

These numbers are a good way to get a handle on what happened this weekend, but they don’t begin to show how powerful the weekend was. The 2018 Ignite Retreat was an event to be remembered.

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