Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Community Development and Social Entrepreneurship in Our Interconnected World

By: Karin Scott, AfG Program Director

During one of my presentations at a secondary school in Lviv I was asked the question, “What differences do you see between Ukrainians and Americans?” This question took me by surprise, but I realized I had been thinking about this unconsciously throughout my trip.

What are Ukrainian social values? How do citizens connect with their communities? What does the civic sector look like in Lviv? What causes are youth passionate about? Are the answers different in the United States? In the Chicago area? Do I even know those answers to begin with?

Karin presenting at a secondary school in Lviv.
As I digested this question, I thought back to my first five days in Lviv. To the conversations I’ve had with youth, teachers, NGO employees, volunteers, and university students.

“I think we actually have more similarities than differences,” I stated. I spoke about how both Americans and Ukrainians are interested in the same goals - creating inclusive, positive, and innovative societies that best benefit their citizens. Perhaps this was an idealistic understanding of my time here and of my thoughts about America, but that is how I feel in the moment.

After this presentation I ate lunch with Olga, one of the program managers at my host organization, Society Initiatives Institute (ICI). She had heard my presentation and had her own thoughts about that question.

“We operate in these social activist circles, you and I. When we travel to other countries we meet with like-minded people, because we want to discuss social issues we are passionate about. But in every country there are people who do not share our values. People who are close-minded and don’t believe what we believe in.”

Her comments shifted my rosy-colored perception of Americans and Ukrainians more towards reality. It is true that each nation has a diverse population, of people who are liberal and conservative, young and old, tolerant and intolerant. However, I think that further supports my statement that we are more similar than different. We are countries full of individuals, who are just that, individuals. I think we forget that sometimes. That the world is full of individual people - not numbers, statistics, facts, or victims. People - with bodies, hearts, minds, and hope.

I had the opportunity to join the ICI team and volunteers for a team building retreat. About 20
The ICI team and volunteers share their personal asset maps.
Ukrainians, ages 16 to 30 gathered for this event. After doing some entertaining icebreaker games (which I will be taking back to the States), I had the chance to lead the group in a workshop about Asset Based Community Development. This included personal asset mapping and discussing the social challenges of Sykhiv, the neighborhood of Lviv where ICI runs many programs. The conversation brought up hard realities, like city councils unwilling to recognize societal faults, school principals unwilling to bring in innovative programs, and businesses unwilling to accommodate individuals who are differently abled.

On my last day in Lviv, I spoke with attendees of the Lviv Model United Nations conference. Nearly 100 university students gathered from Israel, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Slovakia, Poland, Russia, and Ukraine. Our conversation around global social entrepreneurship and corporate social responsibility brought up challenging and important questions.

How are corporations held accountable for the negative impact they might have on the environment? In what ways can private-public partnerships improve transportation options in urban centers? What are some best practices in the corporate social responsibility space?

I cannot claim to be an expert in this field, which I also explained to my audience. However, I can encourage this dialogue amongst passionate, young people and offer my ideas while encouraging them to share theirs.

Lviv Model United Nations conference
The persistence, passion, and energy of ICI members and their community is palpable. I have no doubts that they have and will continue to improve Sykhiv, and moreover, Lviv. But there is no doubt that this will come with frustration, disappointment, and obstacles. Such is the life of social activists trying to make positive changes in their community, whether it be in Evanston or Sykhiv, Chicago or Lviv, the United States or Ukraine.

I am so thankful to Allowance for Good, American Councils, Society Initiatives Institute, and WorldChicago for their support of this program and enhancing both my professional and personal growth. I look forward to continuing this bicontinental partnership in the months to come.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Life, Lessons, and Learning in Lviv, Ukraine

By: Karin Scott, AfG Program Director

Hi there! I’m so honored to be representing Allowance for Good (AfG) in Lviv, Ukraine over the next two weeks. This partnership between the Society Initiatives Institute (SII) and AfG came about through the Professional Fellows Program at the American Council for International Education. Taras, Founder of SII, came to Chicago in May to work with AfG through this program. You can read more about his experience at AfG here. As part of this program, AfG had the opportunity to participate in a mutual exchange trip to Lviv. Our program includes presenting to youth, leading conversation with members of the civic space, and
Lviv Theatre of Opera and Ballet
working alongside the SII team. I’m excited to share my experience with you all!

Upon arrival in Lviv, I was greeted by members of the SII team, Taras and Viktor. As well as a Peace Corps volunteer working at SII, Kendra. They as well as another SII member, Vitaliy, gave me a walking tour of the Lviv city centre. The area includes monuments representing the rich history of Lviv, many grand cathedrals dating back to the 14th century, cafes touting the local coffee-centered culture, ornate government offices, and cobblestone streets that are a trap for uncoordinated tourists (like myself).

My first full day in Lviv began in the Sykhiv district, the home district of Taras and where SII runs many of it’s projects. We began at Oriyana, the school where Taras attended elementary and secondary school. The
Part of the group at Oriyana
halls were filled with children between the ages of 7 and 17 years old. Secondary school students filled the auditorium totaling around eighty. Taras kicked off our presentation by having the students introduce themselves in English. Then I gave a presentation about American culture and Chicago, which included pictures of everything from July 4th fireworks to Chicago hot dogs to American football. I was able to give my presentation in English without translation because Ukrainian students learn English starting when they are seven years old. 

After the presentation at the school, Taras led me in a tour of Sykhiv. Surrounded by Soviet-style apartment buildings, Taras explained that Sykhiv was built as a place for working people to live, similar to suburbs in the United States, where people commute into the city. Today, Sykhiv is often referred to as a “sleeping district” where people just sleep because they work in other districts. Thus, there are not many things to do or places to see in the district. SII wants to create a positive civic identity for Sykhiv, rather than the passive “sleeping district” identity that it is known for currently.

Sykhiv recently revitalized their large public park as way to create a space for Sykhiv residents to enjoy and to bring other residents of Lviv to Sykhiv. The park includes a main path as well as open spaces to host community events. SII recently held a festival, Sykhiv Fest To Go, in this area that was very well attended by Sykhiv residents. More activities and festivals have been planned for this space in the spring when outdoor activities can resume. On the edge of this park is a large cathedral deemed Pope John Paul II because of his visit to the cathedral in 2003, a very important moment for the Sykhiv community.
Top: Art piece at the Crimean bakery
Bottom: Mural  by SII to represent the community and 
police working together

After touring the park, we visited the popular Crimean bakery in the area, which was started and operated by Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from Crimea. Many of the baked goods are traditional Crimean dishes, which of course we had to taste. One was a pastry filled with sheep meat and onions, which was savory and delicious. Another was a traditional cheesecakes made with marshmallow cream and caramel. The smell of freshly baked bread made me want to stay there all day. On the wall there was an artistic figure of the Crimea region that reads “Crimea is Ukraine.” According to the International Displaced Monitor Centre there are approximately 1.4 million IDPs in Ukraine.

Our final stop was Dzerelo, a rehabilitation center for youth with mental and physical disabilities. The facility was opened in 1993 and is committed to consultation, rehabilitation treatment, education, and counseling of both children with disabilities and their families. SII has partnered with Dzerelo to launch an Inclusive Friendly project. This campaign is to spread awareness about the need for inclusive spaces in Ukraine. Most businesses, restaurants, schools, residences, and other buildings are not accessible for individuals who are differently abled.

At Dzerelo, Taras hosted a conversation about his time as a Professional Fellow in Chicago and the project he launched as a result of this program. The program will occur in three stages, with the goal of creating a strong civic society and positive identity in Sykhiv. Other members of civic society were present, including individuals from Better Sykhiv and Group 100. Taras used the examples of Chicago neighborhoods he visited to explain this concept of civic identity. He explained how Andersonville, Edgewater, Chinatown, and Ukrainian Village utilize their unique identities to make their citizens proud and attract visitors. Taras led the group in a brainstorm about possibilities and weaknesses in Sykhiv. In small groups we brainstormed ways to overcome some of these weaknesses and as a result create a positive Sykhiv identity. I will be continuing this conversation with the SII team by leading a workshop about Asset Based Community Development.

On the second day I worked in the SII office with the team and met two more members, Anna and Olya.
Wall at youth center - "Love what you do, do what you love!"
We prepped for the team retreat, which will occur on Thursday. In the afternoon we visited the Lviv Regional Youth Center where I presented about philanthropy and social responsibility. The audience discussed the challenges of achieving social responsibility in Lviv, as this is a new concept for the community. Other topics of discussion included corporate giving, how to educate others about philanthropy, and where to find resources about philanthropy best practices.

As you can see, my days in Lviv will be full of tours, learning, discussion, and connection. I’m looking forward to sharing more in the days to come!

Friday, July 29, 2016

Changing Misconceptions -- Lessons from GPS 2016

By: Rhea
Rhea participated in Allowance for Good's 2016 Global Philanthropy Summit in June. 

The Global Philanthropy Summit Program gave me an entirely new perspective on philanthropy and contribution. When I went into this program, like most teens my age, I didn’t have a clear understanding of philanthropy. I learned that philanthropy is so much more than adults donating money; philanthropy is the contribution of time, ties, talent, and treasure by anyone, regardless of age, gender, race, or background.

At GPS, we were able to meet with many different philanthropic organizations and foundations, and my eyes were opened on so many new levels on philanthropy. For example, we met with V!ng, who empowers teens with giving them the opportunity to help out those in need. By sending videos to V!ng on who you think deserves $1,000 in your life, you have the chance of being selected and actually being able to give $1,000 to someone in need in your life. I worked with V!ng to create a video, and this gave me the chance to realize that regardless of my age, I can make a difference in someone’s life. This was a major lesson I learned from GPS, because like most, I used to think that someone had to be of a certain status to be able to philanthropize and make a difference. GPS, V!ng, and so many other speakers changed this common misconception.

Another big take away that I learned from GPS was that I can make a change in the world now, simply by volunteering my time and talent, using my ties, and giving my treasure to help a cause that I believe in. GPS was really able to expand my horizons and open my eyes to all the different kinds of philanthropic work that I can do. For example, we met with World Bicycle Relief who donate high quality bicycles to those in need in Africa. People like students, merchants, or doctors in Africa all benefit very highly from a single bicycle that helps them increase productivity, and give them a better life overall. After talking to them, I realized that a simple everyday object can make such a huge difference to someone in need. This got me thinking about how I can make simple, yet huge, changes in my community, or maybe even globally.

One piece of advice I would tell to future GPS participants is that they should maintain an open mind in order to better prepare them for the week. GPS took us to many different speakers, who worked in vast ranges of philanthropy. Maintaining an open mind allowed me to consider all options. I believe that future participants should enter GPS with a rough idea about what they want to take away or get from the whole experience, and maintaining an open mind about learning really offers a whole new perspective on philanthropy.

Overall, the Global Philanthropy Summit was able to alter my view on life completely, and I recommend it to any teen who wants to make a change in this world.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Achieving and Creating New Goals -- Lessons from GPS 2016

By: Grace
Grace participated in Allowance for Good's 2016 Global Philanthropy Summit in June. 

My overall experience with the Global Philanthropy Summit (GPS) was amazing! It was the first time that I had done anything with Allowance for Good. It was truly an eye opening experience that I will never forget. The amount of knowledge that I was able to obtain while attending GPS was unimaginable. The main focus was philanthropy. Before this Summit, I had never really thought about the meaning of philanthropy. To put it into my own words, I would define it as having a passion for mankind and giving back to the community. Philanthropy in no way means that you or someone else has to donate money. To be a philanthropist, I believe that you must feel some kind of internal reward and know that you have had a positive impact on a community.

One goal I had going into the Global Philanthropy Summit was to gain more knowledge on nonprofits and how they run/work. I currently volunteer at a museum in my hometown of Alpena, Michigan and even though I spend numerous hours there, I never thought about how they get the money to run multiple events throughout the year. To get an inside look at how they achieve this goal was my first priority when entering this program. I ended up achieving that goal when we met with Spark Ventures on the first day of GPS. Our presenter explained to us how they raised the money for the programs they run in other countries outside of the United States. I was inspired by Spark Ventures because it was a combination of my two passions: giving back and traveling.

One goal I had leaving the Global Philanthropy Summit was to think of new and innovative ways that I could give back to my community. That may be through school or just on my own time. Another goal I had was to keep in touch with presenters or representatives of the organizations or companies that we visited. At Groupon, one of the presenters, Parth, made it very clear that it was essential to stay in touch and make connections with people that you meet so that you can create future opportunities for yourself and your career. To achieve this goal, I made a LinkedIn and e-mailed multiple people that we met with during GPS. Since reaching out, I have gotten responses and feedback from all of them. You really have nothing to lose.

Overall, I couldn’t be more supportive of future students who decide to or have thought about being a part of Allowance for Good and the Global Philanthropy Summit. The vast amount of knowledge and connections you can make while attending GPS are never ending. It opens you up to a whole new world, and possible career field.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Learning Philanthropy -- Lessons from GPS 2016

By: Aarthi
Aarthi particpated in Allowance for Good's 2016 Global Philanthropy Summit in June. 

This was my first time learning and working with an organization like Allowance for Good. The Global Philanthropy Summit (GPS) was a memorable experience. It was just amazing! I met so many new people, learned about different businesses, and about how those businesses incorporate philanthropy in their work. When I first heard of philanthropy, I just thought it was helping people and volunteering. However, philanthropy is so much more involved. Philanthropy is the ways we use our time, ties, treasure, and talent to support and be involved in local and global issues. The one week camp gave me a clearer insight on how much I can do to help a society, group, or individual on a long-term basis. So many people volunteer, but it truly makes a difference if they stick with that one charity for five, ten, or more years. It shows commitment and true love for helping others.

A group of students brainstorm as they work on their final presentations
During the first day at GPS, I was so surprised with the first presenter, Spark Ventures. I was surprised in a good way because I never knew that people like Arnold create businesses solely to help a community. I have heard of FMSC and other organizations, but not one where people can actually interact with the people they are helping. The moment I heard about this, I took note to ask my family if we can go on a trip with Spark Ventures. That is the effect GPS had on me. It made me get up and actually want to do something. It was so convincing and cool to travel to help others. I felt like I actually had the power and resources to help someone on my own that is out of my reach. That feeling was truly unbelievable.

On the last day of camp, we heard from an organization called VING. VING makes $1,000 grants to teens who want to give the money to a person they know is in need of the money. They submit a video of themselves talking about the person in need and why they deserve a VING. This grant would be truly life changing for someone. It would give them a confidence boost and allow them to support themselves (or their family). When I got home, I started working on a VING right away. I thought it was an amazing opportunity that I as a teenager could help someone I know. Most teenagers don’t have the power or resources to do this, but I did with VING. I was so thrilled to submit my video and be able to help someone. I felt like I was really going to make a difference in someone else’s life and that feeling was great.

This is all what philanthropy is about. GPS allowed me to be a philanthropist. I would really like to thank them for this opportunity and giving me so many ideas to help others.

One goal I had going into GPS was to become more knowledgeable on what I can do in the future to help with charity and volunteering. I achieved that goal when I learned about Spark Ventures, business philanthropy, and non profit foundations. There are so many opportunities for me and you to help people locally and internationally. We all just have to take up those opportunities or start new ones.

My big takeaway from GPS is that everyone should think about helping others. Even if someone isn’t in a position to help someone else, they can at least think about ideas to help others in need. Every little action a person does can make a big impact on the world. If every person (who is in the position to volunteer) does just one hour of service, we would have over a million hours of service! Every hour counts and everyone’s time counts. I would recommend GPS to everyone who loves philanthropy, has a business mind, or wants to learn more about charity, philanthropy, and different types of foundations and businesses. Thank you again GPS! I was on cloud 9 with my experience!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Philanthropy in Action: Experiences of an ELP Graduate

By: Will
Will was a participant in Allowance for Good's Spring 2015 Emerging Leaders in Philanthropy class in the McCormick Foundation location. Will is currently a summer fellow with Allowance for Good.  

When a friend and I signed up for Allowance for Good’s Emerging Leaders in Philanthropy program the spring of my junior year in high school, I had no idea the path it would set me upon. I was originally drawn to the opportunity to learn more about a few trendy buzzwords such as philanthropy in an environment full of like-minded students. Yet, I was immediately struck by the unique messages AFG sent about what philanthropy meant.

Today, what stands out the most is a conversation our class had on the differences between charity and philanthropy. I had subconsciously come to believe that these two words were synonyms, but it was made clear to me that philanthropy went a step farther. Whereas charity is passive and monetarily based, philanthropy is active, socially conscious, and available for all audiences to participate in. (It’s what’s often specifically referred to by the staff here as the giving of time, talent, and treasure). Philanthropy, it became clear, was something I wanted to be a part of.

With this grand realization in mind, the aforementioned friend (named Jackson) and I set to work. With the help of some fantastic teachers, we founded the Student Philanthropy Initiative this fall at the Latin School of Chicago. Eight dedicated students joined us in the fall semester, where Jackson and I held biweekly classes to impart the knowledge AFG had given us onto these students. We discussed grant making, read case studies, and met with community leaders from the Uptown neighborhood—a place where Latin has strong ties. Culling resources from the Emerging Leaders in Philanthropy program and other national organizations, we provided the students with a baseline idea of how philanthropy is used as a catalyst for impact.

Our spring semester, though, was where the fun really started. Due to generous donations from alumni and other sources, the Student Philanthropy Initiative had $6200 to give to a deserving nonprofit in Uptown. We reached out to organizations, read grant applications, went on site visits, debated vigorously, and ultimately awarded two grants to two nonprofits doing life-changing work. The second place grant of $1200 was awarded to The Viola Project, an organization that uses Shakespeare to empower young girls from diverse backgrounds and plans on using the grant to help hire a director of diversity and outreach. The grand prize of $5000 was given to Chicago Youth Programs, which—in their own words—strives to improve the health and life opportunities of at-risk youth using a comprehensive approach aimed at developing their capabilities.” Our grant will enable them to fund a variety of programs for all age groups over the summer. These particular organizations stood out to us for their impact in the community, but it was heartening having the opportunity to come into contact with so many extraordinary nonprofits in the Uptown neighborhood alone.

Allowance for Good’s program inspired me to use what I’d learned and help implement an initiative in my community that I hope to thrive long past my graduation. If that isn’t indicative of AFG’s ripple effect, I’m not sure what is.

Now, as I return to AFG as a summer intern, I must reflect as well as look forward. I can’t wait to continue my efforts in philanthropy and community service next year in college through whatever avenues I can. And this summer, I’m ecstatic to work with such dedicated individuals on the staff to make Allowance for Good the best organization it can be.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Soles for Kids: AfG Youth Giving Back

Children living in poverty lack many of life's most basic necessities, including a good pair of shoes. Three Allowance for Good youth chose to tackle this issue and give more children across the world the comfort of a good pair of shoes.

Charlie, Danny, and Tim participated in Allowance for Good's Fall 2015 Emerging Leaders in Philanthropy class in the Elmhurst location.

After their participation in the ELP program, Charlie, Danny, and Tim decided to start their own project - a shoe drive for Soles for Kids. Soles for Kids is an incredible charity that collects used, not abused, shoes and soccer balls to distribute to children worldwide. They have distributed shoes to children in need in Africa, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and the United States.

The three AfG youth organized a shoe donation drive at York High School during a basketball game, where they collected 72 pairs of shoes. They also raised $75 to put towards shipping costs.

All the shoes they collected were given to Soles for Kids and sent to children in Tanzania. These young men acted as agents of change in their community, and their efforts will have significant effects far from their homes. Allowance for Good is proud to see them serving as global citizens and making a difference in the lives of many children.

If interested in running your own shoe drive, you can find more information about donating to Soles for Kids here.