By Fasika Delessa, ChangeTheWorld
Nonprofit Partnership Specialist, Sophomore at the Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland
This November I had the incredible opportunity of flying out to the beautiful city of Seattle, Washington to attend the annual Net Impact Conference. There, Ms. Pammi Bhullar and I represented the Center for Social Value Creation (CSVC), while exhibiting for the ChangeTheWorld Nonprofit Consulting Program, one of CSVC’s signature programs.
Net Impact is an organization that brings together the brightest minds in business to empower individuals to change the world.
The diversity in attendance was wide, from tech giants like Amazon and Microsoft, to innovative non-profits like Green Bronx Machine and Rainforest Alliance.
It was an experience I’ll never forget, and one I’m extremely thankful for. I met so many amazing people who have decided to hold themselves personally accountable for the things they don’t like in their communities, businesses, and campuses, and are actively working to fix them.
Take Stephen Ritz, for instance. His non-profit, Green Bronx Machine, was birthed out of his personal conviction: “I am not willing to accept the things I cannot change, I am willing to change the things I cannot accept.” As a teacher and administrator in the South Bronx, “the poorest congressional district in the United States,” Stephen Ritz and his students confront the kind of poverty most of us are lucky enough to not know. Before taking action, a majority of his students could not identify basic fruits or vegetables because of the food desert they are growing up in. Stephen Ritz did not let the seemingly inescapable trap of poverty stop him from working towards change for his community. He began gardening in his classroom, and introduced his students to healthy food. His students then began to garden themselves, and his belief that “when we teach kids about nature, we teach them how to nurture” came to life. Attendance at his school skyrocketed from 44% to 90%. Students were excited to come learn. Up for numerous international distinguished teaching awards, Ritz actively practices his own principle that “beyond teaching kids how to count, we must also teach kids what counts.”
After watching Stephen Ritz on stage, sharing the humble beginnings of his non-profit, expressing the love he has for his students and the hope he has for the future, I began to wonder exactly how much the world could change if everyone leveraged this much determination from their struggles.
What angers you? Keeps you up at night? Do you think it’s too big of a problem? Too messy? Been around too long? People like Stephen Ritz did not let the answers to these questions inhibit his capability as a change leader.
Ask yourself these questions. Challenge the norms. Understand that many problems exist because people created them, and only people can solve them.
Net Impact was a weekend of believing these factors don’t have to stop us from trying. Yes, maybe it was an insulated bubble of optimists, or specifically, a group of people who own the privilege to voice their frustrations in the first place. By no means are the headlines we wake up to easy to read. But, we all do have our own sphere of influence.
Whether it’s the members of a student group you’re involved in, colleagues in the office, or executives who sit on boards of large corporations, use your voice to speak up for those who don’t have a seat at the table – wherever that may be.
While we don’t all have the luxury of going to a conference like Net Impact to declare the world can be saved, I’m not sure we all need a conference like Net Impact to do something about the things we aren’t satisfied with. We can learn from one another. And yes- while the conference focused on business, the themes discussed and lessons learned know no boundaries.
I never thought I’d have the chance to travel to a city on a coast I’d never been, to hear the testimonies of incredible people, and leave so inspired. I heard about a lot of problems, but I heard equally, if not more, about stories of change and of human triumph. Of what could happen when people turn their concerns into actions and problems into solutions.
It all seems to start with one person. One individual taking some sort of action.
Everyone can make an impact, what will be yours?