Tuesday, May 8th, 2012
[ One of the traps of smaller cities is thinking that because the talent pool is smaller and very well connected, once you are plugged in, you must know everybody cool in town. But the reality for me in places like Indianapolis is that I am constantly amazed by how many cool and interesting people I’ve never even heard of, much less met.
I’ve long said that cities need to strategically differentiate themselves based on their unique culture, history, and attributes. A while back I wrote a piece called “Globalization and the Soft Power of Cities” that flowed from his, which mentioned a number of global humanitarian and cultural networks in Indianapolis. I suggested mapping these out and wrote that “I am not aware of any smaller city that has taken a strategic look at its soft power connections globally and how they could be marshaled to both drive business connections over the longer term, and to boost the city’s brand image abroad.”
Well, I recently came across a blog post by Kelly Campbell, one of those cool people I’d never heard of, that presented her passionate case for pursuing global humanitarian efforts in Indy, using her grass roots example to show how. Kelly previously worked in the fashion industry in New York, and now runs The Village Experience and writes for the Blue Vine Collective (She was also one of the IBJ’s 40 Under 40 last year, and you can read more about her over at the IBJ). Kelly not only sees humanitarian efforts as a whitespace opportunity to exploit, they are a personal passion of hers. This shows it as an area that not only has good strategic relevance, but also fits with the cultural ethos of the city. Which is exactly what cities should be looking for. She graciously gave me permission to republish her post – Aaron. ]
Indianapolis has long been known as the “Crossroads of America” and one of the “Sports Capitals of the World.” We host large-scale conventions, international races, and very soon…the Super Bowl. Huge corporations including Eli Lilly, Cummins, and Rolls Royce call Indianapolis home. We are a relatively small city, but we’re on the map.
What I envision, though, is being on the map for something more meaningful… something more impactful. I see Indianapolis becoming a model for other cities to follow in regards to our local to global connections and our humanitarian efforts. Why couldn’t Indianapolis become known as the “humanitarian hub” of the country or even the world?
Many conversations in the community have been taking place around this topic. Indianapolis is now hosting monthly networking events through the Indianapolis Intercultural Network to connect young professionals with an interest in the international world – you walk into one of these events and the topics of conversation range from discussing shipping methods in Togo to recent adventures on the pirate infested beaches of the Kenyan Coast to improving the quality of water in Haiti to debating the image of the U.S. around the world. There is no shortage of interesting people or interesting and thoroughly exciting conversations taking place – all while supporting locally owned and operated businesses around town. This has really proven to be a catalyst to connect the right people to each other and jumpstart the move towards Indianapolis becoming a true international player in the humanitarian sector.
For years, several grassroots organizations have been leading the way in connecting Indianapolis to the rest of the world. The Village Experience has been working with artisans in over 30 countries and operating socially responsible trips to multiple countries in the developing world. Building Tomorrow has been constructing schools and making a huge impact on education in Uganda. Timmy Global Health has changed the face of healthcare in the developing world. The International Center has been bringing in foreign delegates and connecting them to local Indianapolis citizens and businesses. Exodus Refugee Center has been helping refugees make Indianapolis a home for many years. Provocate and Provocate Haiti have been centralizing international efforts and bringing awareness to social justice issues around the world and more specifically building community among all of those involved in Haiti. Without much media attention, these groups have been at the forefront of working in the international arena. What a great base from which to start this move forward.
Organizations and individual citizens approached the Village Experience with grandiose ideas of making a difference in this overwhelming disaster on the other side of the world…the only problem, not one of the organizations on its own had the ability to mobilize resources at the level desired. The solution…work together and make a bigger impact. Organizations such as Bluevine Collective, Indianapolis Intercultural Network, w/purpose, Provocate, Indego Global, and IUPUI joined forces, created a committee of members with large social media followings, and got to work planning a citywide event centered on bringing awareness to the East African famine and raising funds to help alleviate it. We used The Village Experience as our planning hub and as the venue for the event. We contacted the food trucks, local beer vendors, and our friends at Five Star Catering to join in and help us. We created facebook pages, blanketed cafes and coffee shops with flyers, sent out personal invitations, and promoted to all of our customers both in the store and through outside events. We reached out to Nuvo… and they responded by making it the featured event of the week. The pieces of the puzzle were coming together. The last piece of the puzzle… to which organization were we going to donate the money?
After weeks of research, we decided to donate any funds raised to the Global Enrichment Foundation. We didn’t want our efforts to be a drop in the bucket and go mostly to administrative costs at large organizations. We wanted our efforts and our funds to really make a difference. Global Enrichment Foundation became the perfect partner. They were a young, grassroots organization based in a small city in Canada. They maintained low administrative costs. Their founder was energetic and believed in sustainable development and helping people regardless of religious beliefs. And most importantly, they had a very personal connection to the people of Somalia and were working where no one else dared to go. They were on the ground in Kenya and Somalia trucking in life-saving food and water to those effected by the famine… and at the same time, they were developing programs to educate and empower women. It was the perfect fit.
We set a date for our fundraiser, and in the meantime, The Bluevine Collective reached out to followers in the weeks preceding the event and were successful in raising a great deal of funding. The day of the event, we had a huge turnout and were extremely excited to see so many new faces that showed up to do their part in ending the famine in East Africa. We raised $10,000! Not bad for our first attempt at hosting a community based event in collaboration with local partners to tackle a social justice issue.
But, we didn’t stop there. We wanted Indianapolis to be different. We wanted to follow our money to East Africa and really connect to the cause. So, The Village Experience took a group to Kenya in November to hand carry over the funds and meet with reps from The Global Enrichment Foundation. The group volunteered throughout the country for two weeks and gained a better understanding of why events like this happen and why the world seems to turn a blind eye. The world, except Indianapolis, that is. We returned energized to strengthen this newfound partnership and were thrilled when Global Enrichment Founder, Amanda Lindhout, sent over photographs from the Convoy of Hope in December, which was funded in part by our efforts. I still get a little emotional when I look at these photographs and see The Village Experience and The Bluevine Collective logos on the trucks and at the food distribution sites in Somalia. Indianapolis was making a name for itself – and on the humanitarian level at that.
If we can do something like this, there is no reason we can’t do more. I challenge Indianapolis to take the next step. In October 2012, The Village Experience will be hosting Somaly Mam – human trafficking advocate from Cambodia and CNN Hero – for a night of networking and raising awareness. With 9 months to plan a citywide event, I am betting that Indianapolis will prove to be the best stop on her international advocacy tour. This is a woman who is changing the lives of young boys and girls by rescuing them from brutal human traffickers and challenging governments to do more to protect their children. Indianapolis has its own human trafficking task force and deals with this issue on a daily basis. Let’s all join forces and put an end to human trafficking… once and for all.
This post originally appeared in the Blue Vine Collective on January 17, 2012.