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Big Solutions Start Small: How Ioby uses local crowdfunding to transform the global environment

   /   Apr 21st, 2011Environment, New York City, News
photo courtesy of iobyEach Earth Day, green advocates try to galvanize public awareness about environmental concerns.
But sometimes, widespread problems–like climate change–can  seem so massive that individuals and grassroots groups may find it difficult to conceptualize how they can really make a difference–or even where to start.

NYC-based Ioby (In Our Back Yards) aims to change that by using a crowd-funding platform to support local, community-based environmental projects. The big idea: emphasize the concrete ways people can tackle global environmental problems at home.

Dowser: What is unique about ioby’s mission as an environmental organization?
Erin Barnes, co-founder and executive director: It’s part of the values that we have as an organization to work locally and be invested in the community. Ioby, the name, comes from the opposite of “nimby” (Not In My Backyard).

We started the organization because we felt like the environmental movement had long been concentrated on places where people don’t live. We felt that the interaction between people or communities and the environment was meaningful.

Every project we support through our site has to meet our environmental criteria. They have to be doing something that benefits the community too.

Why use a crowdfunding model,  rather than the standard non-profit model of grants and donations?
A lot of people feel compelled to do something for the environment but they have limited options: replace this lightbulb, buy this bamboo cutting board, and so on. Pretty empty transactions. We wanted to harness this energy and redirect it toward projects that are creating impact and need support.

So we met with the CEO and Founder of Donors Choose, Charles Best, and told him our ideas, and he was encouraging. Then we met with other leaders in the environmental movement and asked whether using an online funding platform to fund grassroots work would be helpful, and they said it would.

Next we reached out to grassroots groups and asked if they thought our platform could be useful to help them raise funds. And then, to our surprise, they asked if they could also use it to find volunteers online, so we’re incorporating that major change to our platform in our site re-launch this week. We’re making it easier for volunteers and project leaders to find each other.

As to running ioby itself, we’re a little over 90 percent funded by foundations and hopefully we’ll become self-sustaining over time. We’re in our second year of operation now.

What’s something that you’ve been challenged or surprised by in the last month?
It’s been a reminder of how lucky we are to work in the environmental community in NYC that other environmental organizations have been incredibly generous in helping us get off the ground. In the last month we’ve had the opportunity to host an event called the Wild & Scenic Film Festival along with other local environmental organizations. We feel that so much of our success is due to working with these amazing organizations.

What are some future directions for ioby?
Right now we’re expanding on a public art project in which New Yorkers are re-imagining our city by putting up signs that suggest ways the urban landscape can be improved.

The global environmental movement need to be about every single person taking part in solving global issues like climate change, and we want to make sure that nobody is held back from that.  So the re-imagination series is about everybody taking ownership for their neighborhoods and considering ways it can be made better for the ecosystem, and stating that through a public art display.

We’ll be putting up a downloadable PDF of the sign on the website just before Earth Day weekend so that anyone can join the re-imagination campaign.

What are some small ways that people everywhere can take action to improve the environment?
Talk to your neighbors about how your area can be more green – literally more green – a more enjoyable place to be, and what you can do to make it better: keep an eye on the sidewalks, make sure there is not garbage in the treebeds. remember to recycle, and compost to reduce trash that needs to be picked up.

Take care of the space around you. You can do a lot on your block.

What if we don’t know our neighbors?
If you don’t know your neighbors, you could attend block parties and public events, or simply spend time outside of your apartment meeting people and getting to know them. Just something as small as saying hi. And go seek out your local community garden or park, since those people are already making a difference.

Interview has been edited and condensed.

8 Responses

  1. [...] has been edited and condensed. Original link:… GA_googleAddAttr("AdOpt", "1"); GA_googleAddAttr("Origin", "other"); [...]

  2. Liked how you ended “what if we don’t know our neighbors.” In a nutshell, for the average non-professional organizer, community organizing is a matter of going about your life while we be conscious of opportunities to persuade undecided but open people as well as identify others with similar values and get them plugged in.

  3. [...] ioby, the first and only online micro-funding platform dedicated to promoting civic urban environmental projects, recently announced partnership with Deutsche Bank, who will match donations made to ioby for all projects led by Community Development Corporations (CDCs) in New York City. # CDCs, non-profit organizations commissioned to provide services or programs in a certain geographic location, are a particularly good way for ioby to deepen its focus on local solutions to environmental problems in communities. “Any New Yorker can post their project on ioby, but we have a special interest in supporting the ideas and initiatives of New Yorkers in neighborhoods that have a greater burden of environmental problems and fewer resources to address them,” says Erin Barnes, executive director and co-founder of ioby, in a press release about the partnership with Deutsche Bank. # “This partnership came about through conversations with Deutsch Bank about how our mass campaigns were working for us. Deutsch Bank has long been dedicated to working with CDCs. When I was saying to Sam Marks, the program officer we work with at Deutsch Bank, how match campaigns work with ioby, he immediately drew the conclusion that [we could work with] CDCs, since their target focus is the neighborhood level, and that would be a perfect opportunity for ioby to improve its reach,” Barnes, told Dowser. # “CDCs bring a comprehensive point of view to neighborhood development, and in many neighborhoods, they are playing a leading role engaging their constituents in local environmental issues,” said Marks, the Vice President, Deutsche Bank Americas Foundation, in ioby’s press release.  “We were compelled by the notion that ioby could provide a platform to allow CDCs to take advantage of grassroots crowd-resourcing for block-level sustainability projects aligned with their broader community visions.” # Two innovative projects will lead off the match campaign. The Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation (CHLDC) is working on raising $5,940 for an urban farm in the low-income East New York/Cypress Hills neighborhood of Brooklyn. The project, Pollos Del Pueblo, will transform an unused, city-owned vacant lot into a resource for the community, by installating a chicken coop, a chicken run, a storage shed, and a community compost station. # Pollos del Pueblo will provide healthy food in a food desert. “East New York/Cypress Hills is a food desert. Fresh, nutritious food is hard, if not impossible to come by out here. The result is a devastating health crisis where a third of adults are obese and 19% have diabetes. Additionally, more than half of residents live below the poverty line, unemployment is a high 19% and more than 80% of students qualify for free lunch,” said Betsy MacLean, Director of Community Development, Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation. # “This project and grassroots fundraising campaign offer the opportunity to take a real blight on the community – one of many vacant, overgrown lots – and transform it into a site for exciting, important community building and expanded access to fresh food – including organic eggs.” added MacLean. # The second pilot project will be a partnership between Living City Block Gowanus and the Gowanus Community Development Corporation. The Gowanus neighborhood is the site of the Gowanus Canal, which was declared a polluted and hazardous Superfund site in 2010. These groups will together host a series of design charettes and contests, with the goal of creating the best wayfinding signs for visitors and residents of the Gowanus neighborhood. “The signs will lead pedestrians, cyclists and car traffic to various green infrastructure sites in the area, such as bike racks, solar panels, bioswales and micro-wind turbines,” according to ioby’s press release. # The polluted Gowanus Canal (Brooklyn, NY), a superfund site. “Gowanus has a special culture of its own, and the community should play a role in creating and designating the interest spots of the neighborhood,” said Llewelyn Wells, president and founder, Living City Block. “Since the entire process of the project is about citizen engagement, the fundraising for it will be, too.” # ioby’s crowdfunding efforts so far fully funding nearly 100 projects in all five boroughs of New York City through small, individual donations. The average donation is $35 and the average project budget is $1,200. # “The Obama campaign in 2008 helped people see how they could fund the things they believed in by pooling large numbers of small donations. Typically the wealthy gave charity–now people can support change in the very neighborhoods they live in. It shifts the ideology from hand-outs to community engagement,” said Barnes. Most ioby micro-donors live within two miles of the project they are supporting, which helps foster a local sense of community and responsibility. # “After finding matching campaigns to be a very effective way for us to support the work of ioby’s project leaders, we couldn’t be happier about this initiative,” said Brandon Whitney, COO and co-founder of ioby, in the press release. “Matches embolden project leaders and micro-donors alike.” # Categories:  News and Ideas [...]

  4. [...] we’ve certainly seen that social entrepreneurs often embody a grassroots ethos, preferring to use crowdfunding instead of applying for competitive grants, and working outside the boundaries of institutions. # [...]

  5. [...] the aforementioned Sage, the Lower East Side Ecology Center, the environmental crowdfunding site ioby, and more. # “This is about succeeding through collaboration,” Hittner said. “We need to get [...]

  6. [...] the aforementioned Sage, the Lower East Side Ecology Center, the environmental crowdfunding site ioby, and [...]

  7. [...] често работят с обикновените хора, предпочитат да използват групово финансиране, вместо да кандидатстват по проекти и действат извън [...]