Friday, September 24, 2010

Grand Aspirations

I spoke with Timothy, a leader of Grand Aspirations and Summer of Solutions, when I was in Minneapolis this past week. Grand Aspirations and Summer of Solutions seeks to capitalize on the energy of youth in order to develop and create green solutions for our uncertain future. I was interested in several things regarding this organization and the programs it runs/supports:

Big Ideas:
1. National versus local programming. Though my heart always shifts toward more localized solutions, I can see why there are national organizations. I was curious to see Timothy's opinion on this and the decision behind turning Grand Aspirations into a national org versus a Minneapolis-based organization. Timothy agreed that localization is always important, but that each local program need not create an entirely new curriculum or orientation/training for its leadership. Rather than each location around the country spending countless hours re-creating the wheel, the programs can focus more on their localized version of curriculum and local issues. It makes sense to have a larger org overseeing in this case, especially since different local chapters can network...though I still think a lot of attention has to be paid toward ensuring that the local chapter is in fact addressing local issues...

2. Educated, well-off participants versus at-risk, disadvantaged youth. This is something I personally struggle with. Being the former of the two I find myself torn. Sometimes creating programs for people who are well off are well intentioned...the idea that creative, educated minds can be a catalyst for change within a system rings loudly, but oftentimes exclusively. With programs only working with the first group it can become a very top-down approach which assumes that the disadvantaged have nothing to contribute to the conversation. On the other hand, working with only with the latter category may close off opportunities for new ideas to enter the space. By incorporating both I think there is more of a chance of diversity in knowledge, experience, etc. which could be more effective in producing realistic (rather than solely idealistic) solutions...

3. Training for job opportunities that don't exist (in the green jobs movement). This org focuses more on youth creating solutions rather than training them in any specific green job skills, which I think is an important aspect of this org. First we need to rethink how we approach problems and empower people to seek solutions. There needs to be a go-getter attitude, an entrepreneurial spirit which eventually, fingers crossed, creates the jobs through initiatives that are begun through programs like these...

Other things:
1. They have a cooperative model for investing in energy efficient upgrades. Called Cooperative Energy Futures, it started out of the Summer of Solutions, but it is essentially a revolving fund...all the returns from energy efficient upgrades goes to financing more upgrades within a community, making it affordable for a neighborhood to install otherwise expensive upgrades

2. Youth power! This can go two ways, actually. Yes, I think that supporting youth and giving them power in creating solutions is AMAZING. But are youth the only ones with the answers? Seems to me that other generations have answers as well. I'm not saying this organization should be intergenerational, because some orgs can simply support one age group, but I think this idea of intergenerational interactions is something that is very important to me in thinking about healing/creating/strengthening communities...and empowering members to be able to propose and realize solutions to issues that neighborhoods face...(be it crime, blight, climate change, whatever)

There is probably much more to say about this organization, but I need to continue on and type up other posts before I forget many of the conversations I had while in Detroit this past weekend (my stop after Minneapolis).

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