Written by Zainab
First off, our apologies for not writing in a very long time. Though I will swear that we are certainly up to something here. We've been in the process of moving the blog over to our main site (yes, this is the unofficial announcement) since it's a move that makes sense for us (more on that later).
Between this and my content audit (a process where I'm going through everything
on the site to create an inventory with notes), I've been doing a lot of time-consuming work that feels never ending with no quick wins. And today, I was visibly tired of the task at hand. Though we have shifted a lot of the basics over, I'm now going through and adding the finishing touches to each post. Since it's time-consuming, it feels like I can't see the results of my efforts anytime soon. To combat this, I took physical and/or mental breaks every now and then... but it never quite got rid of the feeling I wasn't getting anywhere.
Then I remembered this article by Sarah Von Bargen where she suggested that the key to happiness at work is to track your efforts, not your results
. It may seem like odd advice but in the midst of this particular task, it's exactly what I needed to remind myself, that there was a value in doing this work and I am indeed the person to do the job (even though I must admit, some of this will get delegated).
Sometimes we all need to take a deep breath and remind ourselves why we're doing what we're doing, whether that reminder is about a task at hand or about our roles and projects. If you're feeling the way I am right now, you're certainly not alone in wondering where this is all going - I assure you you're going somewhere and soon enough, you'll land where you need to be.
And if it's not of value, then determine whether you should still be working on it - and do something to change that.
Written by AJ Tibando
After months of waiting to hear, SoJo is excited to announce that we've been awarded an NSERC research grant! This grant will be dedicated to research and development of backend technology for www.thesojo.net
that will help to customize the learning experience for each person who visits SoJo. SoJo is all about supporting people through their journey of learning and launching their ideas, but we know everyone learns differently and requires different kinds of support and encouragement to get them moving. And so while we can provide a range of diverse content for people, its imperative that the design of the website is such that its delivery is diverse and customized as well.
For this project we've partnered with Dr. Ebrahim Bagheri,
a visionary professor at Ryerson University in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, as well as another industry collaborator, PetaCube
. Dr. Bagheri has been an indispensable supporter throughout this process and will be leading the research project, with SoJo providing support and consultation on technology development along the way to ensure the product developed meets the needs of our users.
This grant is hugely exciting for a few reasons. First, the fact that we even got it! While we here at SoJo are always trying to stay focused on being positive, we definitely entered into this application process with a chip on our shoulder. We knew that to build the product we want to build, we would need some serious R&D behind us and the best place to go to get that was NSERC. However, when we shared our ambitious with others (advisors, colleagues, peers, mentors) everyone told us we were wasting our time applying. Why would NSERC - the 'hard sciences' research arm of the government - support something as fluffy as social enterprise? we were asked. Because its a good idea and a solid proposal, we responded. Still, we faced a lot of doubt and dismissiveness from pretty much everyone. However, we stayed focused and committed to the process anyway, believing that if our proposal was as strong as we thought it was, it would speak for itself. Luckily, the good people at NSERC - the only people who really mattered - agreed with us.
Second, this grant really will give us the technological heft behind our website that we will need to realize our vision of creating a customized and personalized learning environment for every user at SoJo. While it will take us a while to get there - the grant is over two years - it lays the groundwork for a very solid future and puts us on the path to get there.
SoJo has now received funding from two very different sources - the Ontario Trillium Foundation, which is focused almost exclusively on social impact, and NSERC, which is focused on technology and innovation. This diverse funding base is reflective of SoJo's refusal to be defined by one sector or another - and with it, we have essentially formalized our non-conformist approach into our funding structure, ensuring we will continue to straddle multiple sectors for years to come.
Most importantly, this grant has reinforced that the best thing we can do for SoJo is stick to our vision and convictions and ignore the naysayers. Because when we do, awesome stuff happens.
Written by Isabel Ahat
High School Co-op Student from Parkdale Collegiate
What to say, what to say, what to say… Wow, blogging is a lot of hard work!
Why am I even mentioning this? Well, this week I was challenged to free-write within a 5-10 minute span as an exercise into blogging. Blogging, from my understanding, is an opinion piece, thought process and after thought on any topic. The blog captures how you felt and what you thought about that topic/event/moment. It can range from being a piece on a social issue to how your first day of work went. The list is virtually endless.
The idea of blogging seemed so easy peasy, just write what comes off the top of your head, but I was quite confused. How do you blog? I've read a good amount of posts on fashion and lifestyle all over the web. Just thinking about it, I've noticed that the blogging sphere itself has changed a lot. It’s moved from personal diaries to public journals to sections of websites and eventually has taken over a variety of sites like Tumblr, blogspot, and WordPress. It’s given the writing community a new medium to master that happens to be less structured than novels and equally freeing as poetry, but how do I begin? What can I possibly talk about? What should I include?
I spent a good two minutes sitting in my bean bag chair, frustrated; mulling over more questions, grammatical structure, content choices and the greatest question, what I should write! That was my biggest problem in the exercise: finding a topic, writing my opinions on it, getting started. To be quite honest, I couldn't even officially begin my free-write piece without a prompt, (which helped me a great deal because I've secretly sneaked many of those lines into this post). And as soon as I got the ideas flowing, my time was up and all I had written was equivalent to the 322 words you've read thus far (though those words were poorly organized and incredibly illegible).
After re-reading what I had concocted in the exercise, I came up with some simple personal tips for blogging next time:
1. Have an idea.
2. If you don't have a solid idea, just write what comes to mind (e.g. overview of the week)
3. Avoid trying to make the sentences perfectly witty on the first try. Let it all flow first because you can always edit later.
4. Don’t be afraid to speak from the heart, and include it in you piece. Incorporate the thoughts and feelings you have in the process of writing.
5. If all else fails, remember that tangential writing usually spurs better ideas.
Hopefully these tips will help me out in my next blog so I can avoid being stuck in another topic jam.
Written by Wollette BrownHigh School Co-op Student from C.W Jefferys Collegiate Institute
Zainab has talked about having writer’s block before on this blog but surely enough, everyone experiences their own block where they’re stuck and can’t even get started. Starting anything can be a scary process but you need to do something in order to get started.
Freestyle writing is a great way of exercising your brain to get out of that block by letting out all your ideas and emotions. As a singer, I also write my own songs and use freestyling when I’m experiencing writer’s block. In fact, I am doing this right now. There are a couple of ways you can go about this.A) Freestyle Writing
You can try this exercise when you feel that mental block about starting anything. It doesn’t require any heavy thinking and you will find yourself doing a lot more than you normally would. All you need to do is write whatever you want to write on a piece of paper or in a notebook, whichever one you prefer. Just keep on writing until you think you’re done or until your time is up (if you’re using a timer). For this exercise, Zainab and I challenged each other to see who could write the most in 10 minutes - and this blog post is a result of that friendly competition. The point of this exercise is to stimulate your mind and get your brain active. B) Record and Rhyme
If you’re looking to help you brainstorm and write something more creative, my brother and I use call the Record and Rhyme challenge. We use it as an exercise to find rhyming words without taking 15 minutes to come up with a single word. It’s a fun way to to clear your mind from all the stress on starting a sentence, whether you’re writing a song or just need a new approach to thinking about your task.
You will need:
- a voice recorder, just in case you miss out a word (you can even use your cell phone to do this)paper/notebook, to write down every word you come up with
- a partner (optional)
- a beat (it could be any beat you like)
- a timer
I prefer to do this exercise with a partner because it’s easier but if you like a little challenge, then you can do it by yourself. After you have gotten everything you need, set the timer on for 60 seconds and have one person record and write down every word you come up with. Remember, every word has to rhyme! When you’re done, do the same for the other person, then see who got the most words that rhyme.
Now that was just the first part of the challenge. Set the timer again for 60 seconds and you both have to write something using those words. The hard part is that the writing piece has to make sense. Whoever finishes first wins!
These exercises can help you who has writer's block and for anyone who needs to take a little break. It would also help with your writing skills and your grammar. Next time you find yourself stuck, try one of these two ways to get your thoughts and emotions moving somewhere where you can see them.
Written by AJ Tibando
Over the course of the summer, several of our volunteers left to start new adventures in school or traveling or new jobs and as a result the team went from 12 people down to about 5. While it was sad to see many long serving team members leave, we couldn't be more excited for their new adventures and so thankful for the time they did spend with us.
I've spent the past month and a half searching for new volunteer team members to bring on board. When thinking about how to pull new team members together and recruit volunteers, I decided to focus on bringing on people who had established expertise in particular areas. It can be hard to find talent - then even harder to ask them to help out for free - so I started by looking at the friends in my network and asking them for help. Two of our newest team members joined that way. Andrew comes from a background in journalism and has extensive experience in producing and editing websites for magazines. Ken just finished his MBA and is looking for experience in a tech company. We need help with business development and improving the production of our site, so these friends were pretty much the perfect fit. Add to that the inherent trust of bringing on someone you know, and bringing on friends can be a no-brainer when building your team.
Two other new volunteers come to us from Now Creative Group, a start-up creative agency looking active in the non-profit space. It's run by Daniel Francavilla, who was one of the earliest original volunteers at SoJo and helped to come up with our logo
. Daniel, and his colleague Damon Pfaff, will be helping us with our design and user experience as we begin to undergo a revamp to improve engagement.
Finally, Ellen joins us from SocialFinance.ca to help with our content strategy and community engagement. What started as a meeting between us to discuss a content partnership evolved into an offer to volunteer. Finding yet another volunteer with extensive experience at running a website was too good to be true.
We're rounding out our team with our two new awesome high school co-op students, Wollette and Isabel, who are bringing a great energy and fresh perspective to the team.
Everyone met for the first time at our team meeting last Wednesday, and the energy was explosive. What was supposed to be a one hour meeting turned into three, with the ideas flying and me scrambling just to keep up at the whiteboard. It was so so so exciting - for months I've felt like I've been trying to find the right people with not just a deep knowledge base, but perspective and opinions as well, and on Wednesday it all came together beautifully. I left the meeting with a renewed sense of enthusiasm and excitement, and a clear set of tasks for everyone to do. We've decided to up our team meeting schedule from once a month to every two weeks, to keep the cadence high and the energy steady.
Running a team made up of a majority of volunteers will not be sustainable for us for long. Our ambitions are huge and so is our workload, so eventually we will need to convert many of these volunteers into paid staff to ensure consistency and reliability. However, bringing on a new team as volunteers is a great way to test how they fit into the culture, how they work and give a test run to whether they would make a good future employee. Based on the energy and enthusiasm from the new team members last week, I can tell that won't be an issue.
Written by Zainab Habib, for Blog Action Day 2013
Most people I know often equate human rights with issues stemming from discrimination, especially with all the “isms” and “phobias”: sexism, racism (ethnic and religious), shadism, xenophobia, homophobia, etc. However, there’s a broader definition of human rights, as this abbreviated list from the University of Minnesota
We used to previously say “SoJo is for everyone!”, but we know that we want to most help young passionate individuals who want to make a difference but don’t know where to start. However, the first step is knowing that your passion to create even the smallest social change is indeed enough to make that difference. Like the butterfly effect in chaos theory, one small change can lead to bigger changes in a community. I personally believe all social change helps to advance human rights because real social change is about creating access or opportunities for others who previously were not able to enter that space or setting – whether this space is physical, social, or economical.
It often seems like one has to have a moving experience or one significant point in their life that brings about that urge to act immediately, but this is hardly the case for most changemakers. Having a lot of passion for one particular cause can also be overwhelming or daunting but it shouldn't be. One can
have passion but no or unclear direction as to how to channel this passion and that’s fine, since there are so many causes to choose from. How would I know which one is right for me? After all, isn’t expertise also helpful in making a difference?
But the longer you delay taking action, the less time you get to learn or to make a difference. Well, you know you care about human rights in general, but where do you begin to start?
Start now by picking something that interests you enough that you’d like to do something about it and see where it all goes – you may just find that your starting point will lead you to your next point with some new and wonderful perspectives. I know from my journey and from others that moving through social causes or industries can actually work in your favour when you can learn from one social movement or job and bring it to the next big issue or project you work on.
Though social innovation and social justice are not
the same thing, I do not believe that they have to stay mutually exclusive since charity and change can
happen simultaneously and together. So start by learning more about the issues you care about and about what you can do to make a difference of any kind. Then work your way to creating social change that will eventually create the way to advancing human rights further.
Social change is like breaking down a house: even if you don’t have a wrecking ball to start with the whole structure, even loosening a brick at the beginning will help you break it apart. Then watch it all tumble down eventually when you've pulled out enough.
Written by Zainab Habib
I know we often don't write about things to come as often, but I wanted to let you know about Blog Action Day
, a day which brings thousands of bloggers together to write about one important issue on the same day. This year, the theme is human rights, as the video below explains.
I will be writing on the 16th for SoJo and
for the Digital Media Zone - the startup incubator we work in a.k.a. SoJo HQ - as well. I signed up Social Journal a few days ago, as you may have seen from our social media (I mentioned it on Twitter and Facebook) but in the last two days, I have felt even more strongly about this.
A) There's a lot of social issues I care about But why is this particular issue - human rights - so important to me in particular? Because it invades almost every aspect of our lives.
I cannot help but see human rights issues everywhere I go - even when it isn't as obvious.
Though we are very lucky at SoJo that we're located in Canada, a country that tries to celebrate and protect human rights, we too have a deeper, darker history with mistreating many peoples -- particularly the First Nations
*. Also, what's happened in the last few days:
- At work: two female friends of mine have been disrespected in different ways in their mostly male environments at work (different offices and industries). One has been bullied by a male coworker for a few months now, while another finds she is either ignored or cut off at meetings when she is speaking.
- At home: I came across news like this little girl's murder, where children have little to no rights in many countries.
- In culture: Though these are not recent, human rights issues also pervade pop culture with songs titled "Burqa" and "Asian Girlz".
- In society: Almost all societies face human rights issues - check out the Human Rights Watch website and you'll see why I have to visit from time to time.
B) I'm a writer. My pen (or the keyboard) is my sword and it is the voice I feel most comfortable using, not matter how big my audience is. Therefore, it is my weapon of choice for taking action - because I know that it is the way I best do what I love: teaching, learning, sharing, connecting, encouraging, and inspiring.
SoJo is all about getting you to turn your ideas into action for a good cause you're passionate about. So for all the bloggers out there, think about why human rights matter to you, and speak about whatever it is that boils your blood. Use your words to raise awareness, to inspire passion, to evoke emotion, to provide perspective, to encourage action. Use your words to do something
. Why will you be writing? Let us know if you're joining in and what the links are to your blog posts for Blog Action Day.
We'll be listing all those posts on the 17th then for you to check it all out together. *I use these sources because I like how they explain these issues; however, these are not endorsed by SoJo as an organization and I suggest looking to other sources for more information as well.
Written by AJ Tibando
Last Tuesday, I drove down to London to spend the day at the Ivey School of Business at Western University. Last September, Professor Oana Branzei found SoJo through our blog and began chronicling the Kanika's story of how she got the idea for SoJo and the experience of launching a start-up social enterprise. In January, Kanika and I traveled to Ivey for the original case presentation
, which was an amazing experience.
This September, I was contacted by Professor Rob Mitchell who is now teaching the Social Entrepreneurship class at Ivey about attending another case presentation of SoJo. And in light of all the changes and excitement SoJo has seen in the past year, they wanted to write a Part B to the case. The last few weeks have been a whirlwind of calls and updates between myself, Oana and Rob, as I walked them through the past ten months at SoJo.
My day started with a video taped interview with Oana. She wanted to capture my experience of taking over the responsibility of running SoJo and asked me to talk about both the venture and organization, as well as my own personal experience and the emotions I went through. There are so many valuable things that come out of being part of a case study, but one of the most valuable is the fact that it forces you to slow down and really take stock of events. As I've learned in start-up world, things move so fast you often don't have time to process one thing before you have to shift gears to focus on another. Being part of this case study gives us the space to think through and digest the events of the past year, not just from the perspective of the organization, but how I've personally experienced and dealt with things, and doing so helps me to see how far we've come.
After the interview, I had lunch with Rob and a few of the students, then it was class time. I'm always blown away every time I have the opportunity to step into a classroom and work with students. This group was so engaged and bright, and the insight that they brought to their ideas about SoJo was incredibly deep and well thought out. You could tell that they really understood the tension we were trying to balance between social impact and financial sustainability, and the complexity that tension brings to decision making. We spent a while first talking about what they liked about SoJo and what they thought we were doing well, then spent some time examining areas where we could improve or challenges they experienced when they were on our site. It may have been a case study for them, but for me it was an hour and a half of the most insightful focus group testing I could have ever dreamed of. Before the class ended, they did a brainstorm of where SoJo can go next to develop new ideas and products, and of course, make money and become sustainable. The ideas flew out fast and furious, and have already sparked some new discussions amongst the team.
All in all, another amazing day on campus. The great thing about working with Ivey is that I never seem to leave empty handed - a project group has been assigned to work on SoJo as part of their class project, helping with research and development of our for-profit product; and I've also agreed to mentor a student who is interested in social enterprise and has a background interest in politics (just like me). The ongoing support and championing of SoJo is just one component of what has made working with the team at Ivey really special for us, and we can't wait to be back there again soon.
Written by Zainab Habib
I attended a workshop yesterday titled "Targeting Networks" hosted by partner-in-the-making* Basim Mirza, since we had helped him secure DMZ space after his first location fell through. I knew Basim was a good speaker and that he definitely knew a thing or two.
It got me thinking as to how our working relationship came about. I met Basim originally at a Canada Pakistan Professionals Association event, and we soon became Facebook friends after I had asked him to post something on but there was no real engagement after that. A few months passed and he mentioned he had finished writing his book, and I wanted to buy a copy. When we met up so that I could buy the book, Your Naked Brand
, we got talking about what we were currently up to in our work.
What is interesting to note:
a) we had not developed a working relationship right away but
we had kept in touch loosely, until I had said I wanted to buy his book because...
b) at this point in time then, we both had something to offer each other: I was able to offer SoJo to him as a platform to share his voice while he was able to provide me with content we can use - all of which benefits you, our audience.
This is exactly the win-win-win situation or 1+1 = 3 equation Basim was talking about last night - which is one of the best opportunities one can find when networking.
In addition to hosting his content on SoJo, when Basim's space fell through for the workshop, he called us and presented this as an opportunity for us to be at an event we normally wouldn't be at - and with potential users we may have not met otherwise (especially after that kind introduction!). This additionally has ensured that the efforts are reciprocal in nature... all of which has further fuelled the partnership we're building together.
People now have the tools to maintain loose relationships while seizing opportunities quickly when required, like social media. Often times though, people assume that networking involves meeting new people and continuously adding them to a rolodex or social media accounts - the more, the merrier. But great networking is also about using the networks you already have and building relationships from there, and we did just that.
So tell us in the comments below: what are your top two burning questions for social networking?
Tell us and Basim will tailor content specifically to you.* We have yet to get some material together though he's given us free reign to use his book too!
The first ever GenIMPACT Social.
Written by AJ Tibando
On Thursday night in a small community space in the west end, 20 young social innovators came together to talk about their passion, ambition, ideas to change the world and the challenges and questions that keep them up at night. Co-organized by SoJo
, Youth Social Innovation Capital Fund
, our goal was to bring together some of the young social innovators that our organizations serve to meet each other, put faces to the community, share experiences and find ways to help each other achieve our goals.
The result was an amazing event filled with really deep, insightful discussion and honest assessments of the fears and emotions that plague anyone trying to make a difference, particularly job-pinched young millenials
who are trying to find a way to build a career with impact, and not just a pay check. The group was made up of a mix of recent graduates who are looking for direction as they try to build a career path, pre-early stage entrepreneurs who had ideas but hadn't really started acting on them yet, and full on social entrepreneurs who had launched initiatives and were looking for emotional and personal support on their journey. SoJo talks a lot about the importance of peer to peer learning and speaking through actions and learning through experience - the GenIMPACT get together was like the in person embodiment of what we're doing online - learning through peers and lessons through storytelling and lived experience.
I learned more about the needs, fears, ambitions and goals of our SoJo community in that night than I could have at any focus group, and it was great inspiration for all of the organizations involved to redouble our efforts to support our amazing community. People are worried about the future for this generation, and when you look at some of the stats related to employment, things can seem pretty bleak. But I'm not worried. While everyone in the room was different, the one common word I would have used to describe all of them was 'unstoppable' - they know they're up against big challenges, but they all realize that its meeting those challenges head on, not avoiding them, that will lead to achieving the level of impact and social change they so crave. It was an awesome and inspirational night and we organizers all left the event pumped up by our inaugural success and motivated to start planning round 2!
If you're in the Toronto area and are interested in attending our next event, let us know by contacting us at email@example.com with the subject line "GenIMPACT".