“I see Pando as the first incubator for grassroots initiatives. We will support projects that can be carried out in less than 1 year for under $5,000, providing the project mentorship and online tools that people need to transform their ideas into action.”
How often do you meet someone who wants to make your community project ideas happen?
Two weeks ago, I met Pando Projects founder Milena Arciszewski, who is building an online platform to do just that.
Pando Projects will incubate & launch grassroots initiatives that tackle a problem in NYC. For example, if you’ve been wanting to start a community garden, teach people how to grow kale on their fire escape, or organize a group trash clean up in your neighborhood, now is your opportunity to obtain the tools, support, and money necessary for executing your ideas.
The project launches in 2011 and they are still looking for 10 innovative leaders for the pilot phase.
Arciszewski is an awesome combination of dedication, perseverance, pure sunshine, and goodness. I was immediately impressed by her drive to empower anyone to develop their ideas and strengthen their community, while also creating a database of community projects and best practices. Keep reading to learn more about Pando Projects innovative approach to helping us solve problems in our community.
Danielle Gould: What’s the motivation behind Pando?
Milena Arciszewski: When I was in college, I started a book drive that collected and shipped more than 2,500 textbooks to Kabul University in Afghanistan. It was easily one of the best experiences of my life.
The process of starting a project that I believed in transformed me from a shy, introverted nerd into… well, a leader! It helped me realize that I can play a role in making our world better.
Unfortunately, the book drive was a nightmare to execute. It was a huge challenge for me to raise money, organize events, manage volunteers, promote the project, etc. I didn’t even know where to begin. I had wished that there was an organization to help someone like me – who had an idea for a small, meaningful, new project – but there wasn’t. And that organization still doesn’t exist… so I’m starting it.
I think there are a lot of people out there with brilliant ideas for tackling the problems in their communities… I simply want to unleash their potential to change the world!
I see Pando as the first incubator for grassroots initiatives. We will support projects that can be carried out in less than 1 year for under $5,000, providing the project mentorship and online tools that people need to transform their ideas into action.
DG: Could you talk a bit about the what Pando stands for? (Trees and Databases are two of my favorite topics:))
MA: Pando is the name of the oldest living organism in the world – an 80,000 year old aspen forest in Utah. All aspen trees share the same underground root network, so the trees share water and nutrients to help each other grow. I love that metaphor for what we’re doing with our organization – - basically connecting projects together and giving them the resources they need to grow and thrive.
DG: What makes a project a good fit for Pando?
MA: When people apply to be a Project Leader, they have to have a thoughtful strategy for executing their vision. And they have to have tangible, measurable goals. We won’t support a project that aims to “alleviate poverty in NYC,” but we’ll support a project that aims to feed 150 people over 3 months.
We also only work with individuals, not with existing organizations. That’s what makes us different.
I get this question a lot – - what makes a project a good project? I have no idea. Maybe a project will fail, but the experience will help that Project Leader to have a brilliant idea that later solves the obesity epidemic. So we don’t judge projects as good or bad, we simply judge whether people have fully thought through their strategy.
DG: I understand you are still looking for projects to fill the Pando pilot launch in January. What kinds of projects are you looking for?
MA: We have a lot of applications from people that want to help kids or address low education standards in under-served communities. What we’re really looking for now is environmental projects. For example, someone that wants to start a workshop series to teach people how to grow vegetables in their apartments. Or a project that will mobilize people to clean up trash around the city. That kind of thing.
If you have an idea for a project, you can fill out an application here: http://pandoprojects.org/pilot-project-application.
DG: When we met a couple of weeks ago, you told me that you were going to raise $25,000 by December 31st. How close are you to achieving that?
MA: I have a lot of leads, but no one has written the $25K check yet. Please send all millionaires my way. I will build them an empire!
The MacArthur Foundation just called us “the new face of activism” so hopefully that will help us connect with the right donor. Our nonprofit status is still pending, so a number of potential donors are waiting for that to go through.
DG: Why should someone invest in your vision?
The most crucial part of a democracy is engaging citizens to develop solutions to the problems in their communities. Change can’t just come from the top – it has to come on a local level, too. The fact that there is no current mechanism in the U.S. to help people carry out their own community projects is SHOCKING to me.
Pando is a platform that empowers ordinary citizens to step up as leaders and develop innovative, local solutions to global challenges. The potential impact of what we’re doing is, frankly, world-changing. Who knows what brilliant ideas our Project Leaders will develop and pursue?
DG: What’s your pie-in-the sky, big picture vision?
MA: Every project will be documented on our website. The idea is to create a central hub for new ideas and project strategies. You will go to the Pando website, search for EDUCATION, and then see a list of amazing initiatives that people are starting to address education problems, all across the United States. People can learn from one another, be inspired, adapt an idea within their own community, or develop something new. We want to create a community of change-makers, that share their stories, experiences, and tips for what works and what doesn’t.
Like that book drive I started in college… it was a huge success, but because it wasn’t documented on the internet, it’s been completely forgotten. It’s like it never happened. If I had run the book drive through Pando, people could continue to read about my experience and start similar initiatives on their college campuses. My impact would have grown and grown.
Another big-picture goal is to help people scale up the most successful initiatives. So if someone launches a project with us and kicks butt, raising $5,000 and making a real difference in their community, then they can reapply as a second-tier Project Leader. At that point they will receive fiscal sponsorship and extra tools to take their idea to the next level. My dream is to incubate ideas that eventually become nonprofits or even national initiatives. Every successful program and organization starts with an idea…
For more information, check out www.pandoprojects.org. Pando is accepting applications for its pilot phase through December 10th. If you have questions, contact me at milena[at] pandoprojects[dot]org.