February 28, 2011

The networked activist: How ‘The Story of Stuff’ went viral

The Story of Stuff from JD Lasica on Vimeo.


Filmmaker Annie Leonard offers advice on becoming a network-centric organization

JD LasicaAt the TechSoup Global Contributors Summit in San Jose on March 15, Annie Leonard, an independent filmmaker in Berkeley, Calif., gave one of the standout talks, discussing how The Story of Stuff — the film and the project — came to be.

Annie recounted that she had once worked for a traditional environmental organization that was typical of many mission-driven nonprofits: hierarchical, top down, holding its expertise close to the chest, wanting to “own” its cause. A remarkable thing happened that transformed the way she now creates and distributes projects: “The Story of Stuff,” which has received more than 12 million views in all its incarnations on YouTube.

Because her message resonated so deeply with me and the packed audience, I took her aside a few minutes later and recorded this 7-minute video interview that provides the backstory of how “The Story of Stuff” went viral and lessons that nonprofits, businesses and other organizations can take away.

Watch, embed or download the video on Vimeo

The networked approach to getting stuff done

Over time, Annie says, she became “obsessed with all the environmental, social and health costs” of the way in which consumer goods are produced, and so she developed an hourlong presentation that she gave at schools, churches and community groups for four years. She took her passion and decided to turn her slide show into a film (an approach that reminded me of Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”). With the help of Free Range Studios, a creative services firm, and backing from the Tides Foundation, they created a 21-minute documentary short that put it online for free in December 2007.

“(The film) has just exploded the conversation on how we make, use and throw away stuff and, most importantly, how we could do it a lot better.”
— Annie Leonard

“Our goal was to have 50,000 people see this film,” she says. “And to our total amazement we got that in one day. It’s now been over three years and we have over 12 million views in over 200 countries and territories around the world. It’s just exploded the conversation on how we make, use and throw away stuff and, most importantly, how we could do it a lot better.”

The film shows the damaging consequences of consumerism on the environment, developing nation, personal well-being and happiness. The Story of Stuff Project was created to extend the film’s impact by creating a network of people who are discussing the issue in the hope of creating a more sustainable world. The film has inspired ballets, puppet shows, entries in parades, high school and religious curricula and sustainability programs. It has been shown on several national television programs and translated into dozens of languages. One tactic they used that paid off handsomely: a Creative Commons NonCommercial No Derivatives license that allowed almost anyone to reuse it. “We wanted this to be a community-held resource,” she says.

“If you really want to make long-lasting change in the world, you’ve got to utilize the network-centric model because the problems are too big for any one person or organization to address.”

After years of going it alone, Annie came to a realization: “I need to turn the volume up on this work. I need to inspire and engage millions of people so that the issues I care about are not just my personal pet project. So I turned to a more network-centered model and it has been so valuable. A network-centered model has been very different from an organization-centric model. Networks focus on collaborations and connections, on being inviting and engaging so that we’ll take anyone who wants to help on any terms they want.

“With the previous environmental organization I worked with, really the only way people could help was to write a check, and that’s really not [effective]. With a network-centered model, people have a lot more skills and talents and energies to contribute. Network-centered models are more about building those connections than building a big infrastructure. They’re more resilient, they’re more flexible, powerful and long-lasting.”

It’s a lesson many organizations and activists would do well to internalize. Adds Annie: “The real lesson is that if you want to get something done, you really have to work in networks rather than trying to go it alone.” Continue reading

February 24, 2011

Heading to Haiti for a first-hand look at life there now

Heart of Haiti.


‘Be open to the possibility that something amazing can happen around any corner’

Sloane BerrentIhave exciting news … and a bit of a story to tell you.

First, I’m headed to Haiti! I’m leaving early this Friday for four days. I’m really excited to be part of a small blogger team going to the capital of Port-au-Prince to meet with local artisans who are a part of Fair Winds Trading and capture Haiti in a post-earthquake environment.

How did this come to be? Last year, while living in New Orleans, I was asked by the amazing folks at Everywhere to help organize an event for the Pathway to Peace event. This was some time in December 2009. Pathway to Peace is an initiative by Macy’s to support women artisans in Rwanda. I clearly remember Tamara from Everywhere telling me, “We can’t pay you to help with this event, but it’s such an amazing campaign, and I know you’ll love it. We’ll find another way to make this work and work with you in the future.”

Lesson 1: Sometimes you do things for money. Sometimes you do things because you believe in them. Sometimes you ask for something in return. Sometimes you do something simply for gratitude. Know the difference between these scenarios, but make sure at some point in your life you do one of each. Continue reading

February 23, 2011

Support a new project: Help A Woman Out

help-a-woman-outSloane BerrentI’m really excited to announce the launch of Help A Woman Out. It’s a new web project from me and The Causemopolitan Labs and something that has really taken off in the two weeks since it launched.

Help A Woman Out is your guide to finding organizations, events and nonprofits that support women and girls. Attend. Donate. Learn. Join. Jobs. Curated by your biggest cheerleader, me!

I released this site within three days of coming up with the idea. I found a domain name. Found a Tumblr theme I liked and customized it. Started seeding content and then pushed publish to the world. Sometimes we need to create just to create. The power to press publish is powerful and freeing. I am of the school that (in regard to personal projects) you can fix just about anything after it launches. Start small, start anywhere, see what happens … and then iterate to match the feedback. It’s the entrepreneurial spirit in me that wanted to put this site out there to share, and then get feedback and figure out what needs to change or be upgraded.

I learned a lot about customizing Tumblr themes for this site and also how to put the Facebook “Like” and Twitter buttons into the HTML. I’m working on learning more of the development parts of websites this year and this was a great introduction toward that goal. Continue reading

February 22, 2011

How we’ll fund innovation & sustainability

Snapshot of sustainabilitiy in the 50 largest U.S. cities (photo by whiterice).

Guest post by Joe Brewer
Cognitive Policy Works

It’s time to solve a fundamental problem that plagues progressives everywhere – the lack of seed money to get innovative projects off the ground and the absence of workable funding models to scale up the ongoing efforts to create systemic cultural, economic and political change.

Every major economic paradigm shift throughout modern history has been propelled forward by the influx of financial capital to build institutions that support the new framework. In the 1850s and ’60s it was investment in cheap steel to lay down railways. A century later there were massive capital projects to build the interstate highway system and the explosion of suburban landscapes that accompanied it.

Now we face a deeper challenge. Not only must we cultivate technological breakthroughs that drive us toward sustainability – a huge challenge in its own right – but we must also create a different paradigm for finance that liberates us from the consumer culture threatening the ecosystems of the world.

In other words, we need new models for funding social change that lead us toward a more livable world. This is the central crisis of the progressive movement. We cannot enact our vision of widespread prosperity and human security until we change the equations that dictate how wealth is measured and how it is used.

We are standing at a crossroad where our next steps will have tremendous consequences. And the wave of unrest has begun to ripple across the globe through the populist uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and this week in Wisconsin. Progressives have been crafting solutions for decades in anticipation of a major change. Now is the time to lay the institutional foundations that we’ll build upon after we cross the tipping point. We can’t wait any longer.

Out with the old, in with the new

The funding models of the last century are no longer serving us. Our non-profits struggle to stay afloat. Our governments have been stripped of the wealth created through investments in societal infrastructure (like roads, schools and courts), and now face major budget shortfalls. Wealth has been aggregated into the hands of a small “super elite” reminiscent of the Gilded Age of a previous era. Continue reading

February 21, 2011

Enter your nonprofit video for a DoGooder award

Sloane BerrentCalling all nonprofits that have made kick-ass videos this past year. See3, in partnership with YouTube, has announced that entries are now being accepted for the fifth annual DoGooder Nonprofit Video Awards.

This year winners will again have the chance to win one of four $2,500 grants provided by the Case Foundation, video cameras from Flip Video, a free registration to next year’s Nonprofit Technology Conference provided by NTEN and more. The winning videos will be announced at next month’s Nonprofit Technology Conference and featured on YouTube’s home page in March.

For many nonprofit clients I worked with over the years, we’ve talked about the power of video. Video is a great way to share your mission, messages and goals. The medium educates, makes others aware of issues, progress that’s being made, and the work that still needs to be done. Awards like these recognize nonprofits that see the importance in video and inspire others to try telling their own stories.

Last year there were 750 entries, 17,000 votes by the public and 150,000 views. Wow, right? Now it’s your turn. Here are some details to get you started:

  • Submissions for Best Small, Medium and Large nonprofit organization videos must be a video that was made in 2010. Entries for the Best Thrifty Video category can be for videos made any time before the end of the submission period. Each nonprofit can submit as many videos as they would like. No specific categories or missions are needed. Continue reading