Photo: Community leader digs big projects that tackle big problems

By Aryne Sheppard

David Suzuki tells us that humans are the storytelling species. As you know, the Foundation has a pretty incredible team of supporters and we wanted to hear their stories. We set up a narrative contest called "Here's your chance to inspire David Suzuki".

We asked our community leaders to tell us why they got involved in the environmental movement. After all, there is a turning point in everyone's life, a moment when there is no choice but to act. This is the human side of sustainability.

The following submission came from Gracen Johnson in Guelph, Ontario. Here's how she inspired David:

Yes Women

Two projects have been particularly consumptive of my time and energy these past months:

  1. Vote mobs and the federal election; and
  2. The Next 36 — more specifically, my team's creation, tradyo.

Chronologically, I should introduce the Next 36 first. Essentially, this is entrepreneurial boot camp based out of the University of Toronto. The brand new program carefully selects 36 undergrads from across the country and puts them in teams of four with money and mentorship, then says, "Go do something awesome." No pressure.

You may or may not know me, but I really dig BIG projects that tackle big problems. That said, our team is developing tradyo (as part of the larger collaborative consumption movement) with a goal to 'reduce, reuse, revalue' all the miscellaneous 'stuff' in our lives that is currently gathering dust. Furthermore, tradyo builds community offline too on the premise of locally driven sharing and trade networks. All of this amounts to happiness for you, for your lonely forgotten stuff, and for society in general (which will see fewer perfectly good items thrown out and fewer unnecessary items purchased).

Preparing for our launch has been a powerful experience for me. I do not come from a business background but I've found my experience in environmental mobilization and the creativity and resourcefulness demanded of non-profit work to be a huge asset in my role on the team. Likewise, the social and environmental health of my community is the most powerful motivator I can summon to help me flourish as a community leader in a new kind of setting.

Months after I began working on tradyo, the federal election was called. My close friend and partner in mischief, Yvonne Su, and I had an idea. Together, we organized the original 'Vote Mob' at the University of Guelph in response to Rick Mercer's rant on low youth voter turnout. We understood that if youth voted in higher numbers, politicians would actually feel pressure to listen to them. Jazzed by the impact of our first vote mob, the second was like candy to plan. Our 'Surprise Harper' party brought over 500 students to Stephen Harper's campaign stop in Guelph to let him and his media bus know that, "Surprise, students ARE voting." The Vote Mob movement spread nationally, becoming a common news piece and an exciting addition to nearly every major university campus across the country. Students made voting social this year to dispel the idea of youth apathy. I'm incredibly touched and proud of the solidarity and dedication spawned from this movement and I'm thrilled to see what this new network of community leaders is capable of in the future.

July 14, 2011

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