Pando Projects uses new technology to empower neighborly goodwill.
Last month we put the word out about Pando Projects. At the time the fledgling volunteer organization was still plotting its course as a support system and boot camp for aspiring–and mostly young–community activists. Now, they've announced the first round of earnest do-gooders to get the Pando treatment.
The first 15 projects chosen by Pando are all in New York City and "each project will tackle a global challenge in an innovative, local way" according to the Pando mission. Click through the slideshow above for a sampling of the first pilot projects, showcasing what kinds of impact amateur world-changers can dream up when given the chance.
Let's get this out there right off. This model is not meant to be a cure all, nor does it promise to be the next microfinance or penicillin, and that's why Pando is both refreshing and inspiring. In days of old, church pastors would have been the go-to people to help someone navigate bureaucracy for getting permits, finding funders or meeting volunteers. Now, in an age where a website is just as crucial as a community connector, there's aspiring social innovators like Pando Founder Milena Arciszewski—in addition to church pastors.
Arciszewski started this effort after returning from a stint as a Kiva Fellow in Africa. "When I was abroad I was so infuriated by NGOs and the United Nations, claiming that they were going to "solve" poverty and all these massive problems. You can't "solve" anything. The best you can do is support local people to develop local initiatives that tackle the problems in ways that make sense."
What her project does is harness the natural online instincts and acumen of Millennials in service of community change. The essence of Pando Projects is to provide technological and managerial support to people with an idea but no plan.
Each project gets a customizable website with promotional, fundraising and volunteer management tools. Everything gets an instant social media presence, but Pando also ensures a bit of business sense is in there too. Arciszewski and other organizers vetted all the project leaders and their proposals, injected a structure with specific goals and metrics that make measurement easier, and most importantly, they provide a mentor with actual experience to each project leader.
"The goal of the pilot," Arciszewski says, "is to show that people have innovative, meaningful ideas for creating change—they simply need basic tools and support to make their ideas happen." She thinks inclusion is key to scaling up. "I don't want Pando to be super-competitive like EchoingGreen or the Unreasonable Institute. We want it to be a platform for anyone and everyone that has a thoughtful, executable idea for doing good."
Her model seems to be working—at its current pilot-sized scale anyway—at attracting a demographic that is statistically less likely to volunteer: under-30-year-olds. Most of the 39 applicants in the New York area pilot were between 18 and 30 years old, with a large number of college students putting their hats in for help. Arciszewski adds, "our applications came overwhelmingly from African-Americans."
In the end, the pilot class is filled with earnest activists tackling projects they are personally connected to: a former foster child offering financial tutoring to other former foster children, an English teacher expanding an after school reading program, a Chinese immigrant helping other immigrants assimilate more easily than she did.
The goals and projects selected are achievable. The people doing them all have a personal connection to the problem or the community they're working with. Again: refreshing in its simplicity and humility in the face of massive problems.
The projects are designed for just three month periods. Sean Alday, 22, wants "to help fifteen kids express themselves through art in a fun, open environment." He's going to offer weekly art classes in one hospital. Shawn Chandler runs a mentorship program for 20 teenage boys. He wants to "raise the money he needs to improve the community room" where they meet, and expand the services he's already providing.
These are no small tasks for a single volunteer, in fact several projects seem like they could be full-time jobs: running a health and spirituality seminar series for 20 to 30 African-American women, or training 30 low-income young adults to become computer programmers. But all of them are promising what can be actually delivered, not a long shot at disruptive change.
All the while, Pando Projects is itself still barely more than a pilot now, proving the concept with this first batch of volunteers. They're mostly self-funded and may not make it off the ground as they continue to recruit more project leaders for the next round, while hunting for funding, but Arciszewski is determined, and makes a good pitch. She's already snagged some quality talent for her board of advisors, including occasional GOOD contributor, Scott Belsky. The next test and milestone will be when the project websites will launch in February.
Calling for young people to "tackle a global challenge in an innovative, local way" is no a panacea. But it's nice to see. And you can't help wondering, what might happen if everyone took on a project like the ones in this slideshow and actually had support to pull it off.