Crowdfunding Platform Brings Together Social Entrepreneurs and “Regular Folks” as Investors

A new crowdfunding platform aims to help social entrepreneurs—especially women and people of color—raise funds and give investors the chance to “put their money where their heart is.”

Crowdfund Mainstreet, co-founded by attorneys Michelle Thimesch and Jenny Kassan, is a Regulation Crowdfunding (or Reg CF) platform made possible under Title III of the JOBS (Jumpstart Our Business Startups) Act passed in 2012. The law made it easier for anyone to invest in small businesses through crowdfunding. The law allows entrepreneurs to raise up to $1,070,000 a year in crowdfunding capital.

Thimesch and Kassan have a history of providing legal services to social entrepreneurs. Kassan specializes in helping issuers craft their offerings for maximum results. “We believe that customizing and crafting offerings based on your company, rather than picking something off the shelf, is one of the things that will distinguish the issuers on our platforms,” Thimesch said in an interview with Devin Thorpe, host of the Your Mark on the World podcast.

She said entrepreneurs should go into the crowdfunding process with a comprehensive understanding of their business models. “The more you understand about that, the better equipped you will be to actually craft an offering that makes sense,” she said. “Many entrepreneurs do not understand they have that option because they’re used to the VC world where the investors hand you the term sheet. You are actually in a position to craft your own offering.”

In a video on the Crowdfund Mainstreet website, Kassan said crowdfunding can be a boon to traditionally marginalized entrepreneurs. “Our financial system is really not designed to serve probably 99.9 percent of businesses,” she said. “If you are a woman or a person of color, your chances of getting financing from a bank or a professional investor are even less.”

Women and people of color have traditionally had a harder time raising money for new businesses. Crowdfunding could change that.

Through crowdfunding, this new and more diverse generation of entrepreneurs can create businesses that will make a real difference. “When Title III of the JOBS Act passed, I knew it was a game-changing law,” Thimesch said. “I knew that, in its highest, most exalted state, this piece of legislation could actually serve to revitalize communities and shift money from Wall Street to Main Street, which is what needs to happen to make big economic change in our country.”

Thimesch said Crowfund Mainstreet is designed for “America’s unsung entrepreneurial heroes and the people who want to invest their savings in the kinds of companies that are doing things they want to see in the world.”

Crowdfunding for social entrepreneurship also means you don’t have to be rich to invest in a startup, Kassan said. In fact, many people are already investors and don’t realize it. “When most people think about … an investor … they will often picture, maybe, the people on ‘Shark Tank.’ But the truth is, 99.7 percent of investors in our country are just regular folks. They don’t even think about themselves as investors. They would never call themselves investors. But they are investors. They have mutual funds. They have retirement accounts. These are the investors we want to see on Crowdfund Mainstreet. These are the investors who are able to really put their money where their heart is.”

And the Crowdfund Mainstreet entrepreneurs want to do the same, Themish said. “They’ve gone into business not just for the opportunity to achieve financial security for themselves and their employees but [because] they want something more. They want to leave something behind, a legacy—anything from fixing what’s wrong in a particular industry or revitalizing a local community or propping up those that do not have access to the resources they need for upward mobility. Regulation crowdfunding has the ability to be a revitalization tool.”

Unlocked, a Nashville Jewelry Company, Opens Doors for Homeless Women

A social enterprise called Unlocked is opening new doors of opportunity for homeless people: designing and making beautiful jewelry for sale online and in local boutiques.

Vanderbilt graduate Corbin Hooker co-founded Unlocked to help the homeless escape the cycle of poverty and develop marketable skills. He initially ran the social enterprise out of his bedroom until a space came open at Community Care Fellowship (CCF), a Nashville nonprofit that serves the homeless.

“I wanted to employ some of the people that I’d been meeting and talking to,” Hooker told Nashville’s NewsChannel 5 reporter Kristen Skovira. “Everybody sees this issue. Everybody in Nashville is aware of this. So we’re trying to give other people an opportunity to help.”

Employees at Unlocked make beautiful necklaces that can be purchased in Nashville boutique shops and online at the Unlocked website.

The Unlocked website spotlights five formerly homeless women who design and handmake the jewelry, including necklaces, bracelets and earrings. The women sign their names on each product, which comes with a card that features the maker’s photograph and bio. One of the artisans, Gwen, is a single mom who served as a foster parent to various children before adopting and raising three girls on her own. Once the girls were grown and moved out, Gwen had to flee an abusive boyfriend and ended up living on the streets for more than eight years before joining the Unlocked team.

Learn about the Sullivan Foundation’s upcoming spring events for social entrepreneurs and changemakers.

Working in Unlocked’s Transformational Program, Gwen and other women earn wages and live in transitional housing provided by CCF, where they pay rent and utilities in proportion to their wages. The longer they work for Unlocked, the more they earn until they can secure permanent housing.

The Athena is one of many handcrafted artisan necklaces on sale at the Unlocked website.

Employees can also take Dave Ramsey’s 9-week Financial Peace University course to learn how to manage and save money and meet regularly with a CCF career counselor to identify their job skills and career aspirations, build a resume and develop job interview skills.

CCF Executive Director Ryan Lasuer said Unlocked is a perfect fit for his organization’s mission. “Each one of our homeless guests—or formerly homeless guests—get an opportunity to have that pride about making something—and making something beautiful,” he told Newschannel 5.

Related: High-fashion social enterprise brand creates jobs for female prisoners.

Campbell University: Cooking Up Social Change

Campbell University, a growing campus that has anchored Buies Creek, North Carolina, since its 1887 founding as Buies Creek Academy, didn’t have to become a Sullivan School to lead its students into lives of service. The institution’s mission is “to graduate students with exemplary academic and professional skills who are prepared for purposeful lives and meaningful service.”

But Campbell’s focus on civic responsibility converges perfectly with the Sullivan Foundation’s support of changemakers intent on improving lives and outlooks.

Campbell’s more than 6,200 students prepare to be servant leaders in disciplines from business to medicine, sports management to engineering, divinity to homeland security, to name just a few. The student body logs an average of 80,000 service hours yearly in projects such as an annual spring Inasmuch Day of Service and a Mustard Seed Community Garden that donates produce to a local food pantry.

Ready to ignite

Campbell’s longtime focus on service today aims directly at the needs of underserved communities–globally, nationally, and especially in rural areas. Intent on building on Campbell’s history with the Algernon Sydney Sullivan Foundation, the office of its president, Dr. J. Bradley Creed, issued a University-wide memo calling on all undergraduate deans to nominate their most promising changemakers to attend the October 2017 Ignite Retreat in Black Mountain, North Carolina.

Not surprisingly, Kelly Fuqua and Daphanie Doane, the president and vice-president of Campbell’s Social Entrepreneurship Club, respectively, were among the 11 Campbell Camels who attended the retreat. Both were attending Ignite for the second time. They went to Ignite the first time to define social entrepreneurship for themselves.

“Last year I attended the Ignite retreat to truly get a better understanding of what social entrepreneurship is and what it means to be a social entrepreneur,” says Doane. “It really opened my eyes into the world of social change and what I could do to better my local community.”

This time around, Fuqua and Doane went to Ignite to hone their skills at organizing, networking, fundraising, and promoting social change programs on campus. Involved in myriad projects and carrying hefty course loads, both name Campbell SOUP as their “pet project” and want to boost student participation for the next event.

Hungry for innovation

Based on a Detroit SOUP community peer-to-peer funding model launched in 2010, Doane describes Campbell SOUP as “a micro-granting dinner that provides the opportunity for local start-ups, non-profits, or anyone with an idea to win funds to support their project.” Attendees pay $5 at the door for a meal of bread, salad, soup, a drink, and a voting ballot. They listen to presenters’ five-minute pitches, then vote to fund the most deserving, winner-take-all project.

SOUP at Campbell was started in 2016 by the Social Entrepreneurship club’s then-president Diane Ford, who also attended two Ignite retreats, including one with Doane and Fuqua. After hosting successful events in November 2016 and April 2017, Ford graduated in May and handed over the reins of the club, and the SOUP, to her friends.

Attendees of the most recent SOUP came to Campbell’s Lynch Auditorium and voted Buddy Backpack of Angier the winner, providing the organization with the proceeds of the evening, matched by the Campbell Office of Spiritual Life. Buddy Backpack provides low-income elementary schoolers with nutritious food over school-year weekends and holidays, and the Campbell event is funding this for one student for more than a year.


Finding inspiration in service

2019 BBA/MBA candidate Fuqua is driven by a desire to see renewed hope and faith carried out in action. She volunteered with New Hanover County Teen Court all through high school, an experience that influenced her chosen career path.

“I want to pursue juvenile justice, among other things,” she says. “To change the way younger generations view legal systems, authorities, and general respect.”

Doane’s changemaking resolve was strengthened last summer working as a mentor for the Campbell Youth Theological Institute, which focused on social change. She worked with the Five N Two food pantry in Harnett County as well as the Metanoia Community in Charleston, South Carolina.

“It was amazing to see the projects they had set in place and had accomplished to better their community,” says Doane.

Before the spring Ignite retreat in Raleigh, North Carolina, Doane and Fuqua will accompany Professor Scott Kelly, Instructor of Business & Entrepreneurship, to the 19th Annual Social Enterprise Conference presented by students at the Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Business School. And then there’s program planning–including a beefed-up Campbell SOUP–for the University’s 12th annual Business Week event April 2-6, 2018. Fuqua and Doane were instrumental in shaping the Social Entrepreneurship theme of the weeklong event.

How Malawi’s Pizza Is Leading the Social Enterprise Movement in the Pizzeria Segment

As part of its mission to combat food insecurity in Malawi, Africa, Malawi’s Pizza donates meals made with locally grown grains to feed hungry children.

At Malawi’s Pizza, headquartered in Provo, Utah, every pizza sold means a free nutritious meal for a hungry child in Africa.

With four locations in Utah, Texas and Virginia, Malawi’s Pizza is one of a number of social enterprises in the pizza restaurant segment. The company’s slogan, “Pizza With a Purpose,” reflects its mission to combat food insecurity, while its name refers to the geographic focus of that mission: Malawi, a small nation in southern Africa that’s considered one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world.

Chef Kent Anderson co-founded Malawi’s Pizza as a social enterprise to address food insecurity in Malawi.

Co-founded in 2010 by Blake Roney and Chef Kent Anderson, Malawi’s Pizza works with the international aid organization, Feed the Children. Every month, Malawi’s management team tallies up the number of meals sold to its customers, then donates funds to produce the same number of meals for Malawi children facing food insecurity. The meals use locally grown grains—such as maize, soybean and millet—which are milled and blended with essential vitamins and nutrients before packaging and distribution to children in need. The nutritive supplement is specifically designed for growing children’s bodies.

As of late 2017, the company had donated more than 1 million meals. Each Malawi’s franchisee also partners with a local hunger-fighting charity.

“The donations are a one-for-one exchange—for every guest we serve, we feed a child who otherwise would not eat that day,” Anderson told Fast Casual.

Kids in the tiny, impoverished African nation of Malawi deal with food insecurity every day.

Concepts like Malawi’s touch a chord with younger Americans, who also happen to love pizza. “Consumers are interested in more meaning from their dining experience,” said Dr. Ben Litalien, founder and principal of Franchise Well, which developed the model for Malawi’s. “They want transparency in the menu, cooking methods, and even in the ownership, with an emphasis on local. Malawi’s franchise is timely and naturally appeals to experience-minded consumers, with an open format and a commitment to making a difference through the meal donation program.”

5000 Pies offers culinary training to help prepare young adults for careers in the foodservice industry.

Although the concept of social entrepreneurship has deep roots in the UK and in many under-developed countries, it has only recently begun to flourish in the U.S. But a number of pizza restaurants have joined the movement, including 5000 Pies, which offers culinary training and life-skills coaching to young adults in West Long Beach, California, and Cornerstone Pizza, founded by a St. Ignatius, Montana pastor, which funnels all of its profits into the local public schools and other nonprofits.

Litalien noted that American consumers, especially millennials, are looking for “deeper meaning in all aspects of life experiences and not just a transaction. Millennials consider anything they do or buy via their smartphone a transaction, so fixed-location concepts must focus on deeper experiential environments to draw them in. Chef-inspired Malawi’s is crossing the demographic divide with meaning for millennials and gourmet meals for boomers. Franchise concepts of the future would do well to pay attention.”

This article was reprinted by permission of PMQ Pizza Magazine.

High-Fashion Brand Creates Jobs for Female Prisoners

In under-developed countries like Thailand and Peru, extreme poverty can lead women—especially young mothers—to acts of desperation, and that can lead to prison. But Danish social entrepreneur Veronica D’Souza has hit upon a way to help female inmates make a living wage behind bars—through the power of high fashion.

D’Souza and her partner, Louise van Hauen, founded Carcel, an online fashion brand featuring clothing made by female prisoners, in 2016, according to Carcel’s employees are mostly young mothers from impoverished circumstances who committed crimes to feed or buy medicine for their children.

Female prisoners in under-developed countries are helping create designer clothing in the minimalist style popular in Denmark.

Carcel employees work between four and five hours a day, five days a week, and earn a salary in accordance with the national living wage set by the International Labour Organization. They make everything from sweaters and jogging pants to skirts and dresses, using fabrics made from baby alpaca wool and silk. And their designs have landed Carcel on the Zoe Report’s list of “7 Danish Fashion Brands Every It Girl Keeps Tabs On.”

D’Souza also operates the mission-driven business, Ruby Cup, which educates poor women and girls about menstrual hygiene. When her travels brought her to a women’s prison, she began to hatch her idea for Carcel.

“I was curious about why these women were incarcerated—I had no images of what the prisons would be like,” D’Souza told Forbes. “The first thing that struck me when I entered was the fact that it felt like a village. These were ordinary women who had to provide for their families and ended up committing crimes such as drug trafficking or theft.”

These female inmates – mostly non-violent women from impoverished backgrounds – are making a living wage behind bars working for Carcel.

The women whiled away the long hours with craftwork, D’Souza noted. “Prisoners are encouraged to engage in activities, but these women didn’t have anywhere to sell their products, and when they got out, they were further impoverished, which felt wasteful. The idea of turning forgotten resources into dignified jobs was born.”

Carcel’s website openly describes the company’s use of prison labor to manufacture its goods. A new line of silk clothing, the home page states, was “made by incredible women in a maximum security prison in Chiang Mai,” a region of Thailand.

The site page describing the silk line continues: “More than 2,000 women are doing time (in the prison), 80% of them for drug-related crimes. Ten sewing machines on the second floor are operated by our wonderful team of women. They’re making flawless twill dresses, heavy denim-looking jackets, hand-embroidered bucket bags and checkered blazers.”

Carcel’s apparel for women are made with high-quality silks and baby alpaca wool.

Carcel’s apparel are designed in a simple, minimalist style popular in Denmark. Every garment created by the prisoners bears a simple inside label with the name of the woman who made it.

Working for Carcel helps the female inmates take care of the loved ones they left behind, D’Souza told Forbes. “Working with a maximum-security prison means that the women have long sentences, so it’s important to focus on skills training and how this job can enable them to support their families financially from the inside.”

“When social entrepreneurship meets fashion, there’s room for pioneers,” D’Souza added. “It’s a dream for us to create a model that’s impactful socially and can be an example. Hopefully, big corporations will see that there’s a market for fashion that solves social problems.”

Ex-Offender Creates App to Keep Prisoners Connected With Their Families

When a judge sentenced Marcus Bullock to eight years in prison for carjacking, the teenager had every reason to believe his life was pretty much over. He was 15 years old, thrown into a pitiless and brutal penal system and largely cut off from the outside world. But he had one lifeline: frequent letters from his mother.

Bullock survived incarceration, thanks to those letters, and never forgot what they meant to him. Now 37, he has co-created Flikshop, an app designed to facilitate communications between the nation’s 2.1 million inmates—who are not allowed to keep smartphones, tablets or computers in prison—and the loved ones (or kindhearted strangers) who want to stay in touch with them.

Since few people write letters anymore, the vast majority of prisoners languish in their cells without hearing much from their loved ones back home. No access to mobile devices means no Facebook, no Instagram, no texts or Facetime. But Flikshop offers an ingenious solution. Subscribers can send messages and pictures to inmates for 99 cents apiece. The photos and text are printed out in the form of picture postcards and delivered to inmates via snail-mail around the U.S.

“When you are in prison, getting mail is like hitting the lottery,” Bullock told “It is your connection to the outside world.”

Marcus Bullock as a high-school hoops player.

Bullock has become an outspoken advocate for sentencing reform since his own release. He travels the country and speaks to audiences about his experiences in prison and his journey from ex-con to entrepreneur. The Flikshop app, meanwhile, has attracted some big-name investors, including John Legend and former NBA star Baron Davis. It also scored a $120,000 investment from Techstars, a worldwide network that provides funding and consulting support for startups ventures.

The Campaign for Youth Justice, an organization dedicated to halting the prosecution and incarceration of juvenile offenders as adults, uses Flikshop to send messages to hundreds of inmates who were sent to adult prisons as children. Marcy Mistrett, the organization’s CEO, called Flikshop “a critical, critical way for people who are incarcerated to stay connected. Connection to family and positive social networks is the single most important indicator of successful re-entry into society when people are released from prison.”

Google, SAP to Sponsor Global Contest for Social Entrepreneurs

Google and SAP will sponsor an international contest to find social entrepreneurs with original ideas that can impact global economic sustainability.

The companies announced the Circular Economy 2030 contest at the World Economic Forum in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, this week. Entrepreneurs are invited to submit viable, revenue-generating business plans that use data analytics and machine learning to promote sustainable consumption and production through recycling, reuse, refurbishing and repair.

According to, a circular economy refers to “a holistic system that designs out waste and pollution, keeps products in use and regenerates natural resources. That could mean anything from eco-friendly packaging solutions to sustainable agriculture.”

SAP estimates that a circular economy could generate $4.5 trillion in new economic output by 2030.

“SAP is proud to partner with Google Cloud to further our commitment to sustainability and the Sustainable Development Goals while we strive for a circular economy,” said Alicia Tillman, SAP’s chief marketing officer, in a statement. “At SAP, we embrace the challenge of environmental responsibility and believe it is our duty to put our technology to use to help the world run better and improve people’s lives. Teaming up with Google Cloud and environmental entrepreneurs, the sky is the limit.”

The deadline for applications is March 17. Five finalists will be selected and introduced at the Google Cloud Next Conference, scheduled for April 9-11. Finalists will then participate in an “in-person hackathon” on April 12 in San Francisco. Here, they vie for the first-place award of more than $100,000 in prize money and benefits as well as participation in Google Cloud for Startups’ Bootcamp and one-on-one membership. The other finalists receive $25,000 in cash.

This Victoria’s Secret Supermodel Has Another Secret: She’s Also a Social Entrepreneur

A supermodel’s work is never done, especially when she’s also a social entrepreneur like Leomie Anderson.

Anderson first earned fame for her smoldering beauty and the way she looks in lingerie, but she has parlayed that fame into a side career that blends high fashion with activism on women’s issues, according to

The 25-year-old British-born model booked her first catwalk show with Marc Jacobs when she was 17. Jobs for Tom Ford, Chloe, Yeezy and Fenty Puma followed, leading to one of the hottest gigs in the fashion world—modeling for the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. Anderson is also one of the faces for Fenty Beauty, Rihanna’s makeup brand.

But with great fame comes great responsibility, Anderson believes. After building a following with her Youtube channel, “Cracked China Cup,” she became an in-demand public speaker, visiting schools and talking to young girls about the issues they face in their everyday lives.

“After attending a few speaking engagements,” writes Tommy Williams in Forbes, “it dawned on her that many of the women she encountered were asking questions for which answers ought to be readily available.”

To provide those answers, Anderson launched her blogging platform, LAPP (Leomie Anderson the Project the Purpose), on which women and girls share their stories, exchange perspectives, and keep up on the latest topics, ranging from race relations and body image issues to pregnancy, patriarchal dominance and sex.

To fund the platform and continue generating high-quality content without charging for subscriptions or soliciting advertisements, Anderson created LAPP the Brand for which she developed a full line of fashionable and functional sports luxe wear. The company’s slogan, “Championing Women’s Issues Through Fashion,” reflect Anderson’s commitment to providing women and girls with a voice while encouraging healthy, active lifestyles.

Leomie Anderson uses her fashion brand to support her activism in support of women’s issues.

And her clothing line also reflects Anderson’s take-no-prisoners approach to defending women’s rights. When Rihanna wore the LAPP Brand’s “This P***y Grabs Back” sweatshirt at the Women’s March in New York last year, the world took notice. Vogue magazine singled the pop superstar out for sporting “the coolest protest look” at the event.

“This moment means a lot to me and the brand for so many reasons,” Anderson told Yahoo Style after the march. “The fact [Rihanna] chose to wear it to the iconic #womensmarch in NYC over anything else she had in her wardrobe is crazy. She is one of my biggest inspirations; she works hard, owns her sexuality and is genuinely so talented—everything that LAPP represents—and I hope that her supporting the brand will draw more women into the blog aspect as well as the clothes and [that they will] be interested in submitting a piece for LAPP.”

Once her modeling days are behind her, Anderson plans to stick with her LAPP mission. She told Forbes that she envisions a future for LAPP in which the brand will “have changed the lives of many women and given them access to much more information.”

Jon Bon Jovi Gives Social Entrepreneurship a Good Name

Jon Bon Jovi is giving love for his home state—and social entrepreneurship in general—a good name with the JBJ Soul Kitchen, his nonprofit restaurant in Toms River, New Jersey.

Described as a community restaurant, JBJ Soul Kitchen serves delicious three-course farm-to-table meals to both paying customers and those who can’t afford to pay. Customers can also pay for their meals by volunteering to work in the eatery—serving food, bussing tables, washing dishes and other typical restaurant tasks. (See video below.)

Bon Jovi’s restaurant made the news this week when it offered free lunch meals to furloughed government workers on Monday—a day when it’s normally closed. “Since founding the Soul Kitchen, we wanted to ensure that anyone struggling with food insecurity had a place to go,” Bon Jovi and his wife/business partner, Dorothea, said in a statement. “This Monday (Jan. 21), we will be open for lunch as a way to create a place of support and resources for furloughed federal workers, many of whom are our friends and neighbors.”

The program is a partnership with the Murphy Family Foundation, founded by New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and First Lady Tammy Murphy.

Bon Jovi’s statement added that the availability of additional free meals for federal employees “will be determined by turnout, feedback and demand and will be announced at a later date.”

Some members of the JBJ Soul Kitchen in Toms River, New Jersey

To generate revenue for the social-enterprise restaurant, paying customers at JBJ Soul Kitchen make a donation of $20 per meal. They can also donate an additional $20 to the Pay It Forward program to help fund a meal for someone who can’t afford to pay. The restaurant emphasizes healthy, organic and locally grown ingredients and offers an alternative to cheap but unhealthy fast food.

Soul Kitchen grows some ingredients in its own organic gardens and gets other foods from the Whole Foods Market Middletown. Whatever their financial means, customers are served by waitstaff in what Bon Jovi has described as “the coolest brasserie in your hometown” and “the hottest-looking restaurant, a place with the atmosphere of dignity for the guests.”


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.

from SSIR Blog