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Posted: May 01, 2010

State of the state: Social entrepreneurship

Denver's Change Your City campaign promotes innovation 
between business, government and nonprofits

Mike Cote

StateofState_bus_shelter.jpg

Ashara Ekundayo and Kendra Sandoval smile down on Denver from a giant billboard somewhere in the city, though they're not sure which intersection yet.

Ekdundayo and Sandoval, who operate a sustainability consulting company called Blue and Yellow Logic that focuses on urban issues, are among several "change makers" featured in an awareness campaign designed to promote social entrepreneurship.

Organized by Ashoka, a global network of social entrepreneurs, the Change Your City program kicked off in April at the Denver Public Library - and on billboards around town and at www.DenverChangeMakers.Ashoka.org.

"We hope to bring more people to understand what innovation is, and really follow your dreams," Sandoval said. "These things we crave to do to change the systems that we live in - go for it."
The program includes an online competition designed to allow innovators to collaborate on ideas to work on local projects.

"We're really, really pleased to be able to work with cities all over the country to create environments that foster social innovation and social innovators. Denver is the first one to launch in the United States," said Siobhan Canty, the U.S. change leader for Ashoka. "We look forward to a day when there are multiple cities and a movement of change makers across this country who are continually applying the values of entrepreneurship and innovation to the deepest questions that face us in our social challenges."

Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, who was on hand to kick off the campaign, said the challenge is to merge business acumen with social change.

"This country has always been the center of innovation, but we've never been as successful taking that innovative instinct and translating it from capitalism to social change," he said during his remarks to the group. "There have always been exceptions. What this is all about is let's not make that the exception but part of the landscape of people's consciousness."

Bob Allen, senior vice president of CH2M Hill and co-chair of the task force organizing the program, says the initiative should play well in Denver.

"One of our Change Makers is Engineers Without Borders," he said, referring to one of the groups that is being featured in the billboard campaign, "and we've been a major supporter of them for years."

How Change Your City measures success will evolve as momentum about the program builds, organizers say.

"If we can get the business community and the social advocacy groups, the city, the municipalities, to operate in a more collaborative way, if we have vehicles in place that allow people to come together and engage in dialogue and actually approach solving problems in an effective way, that will be the metric," Allen said.

Said Ekundayo of Blue and Yellow Logic: "It doesn't matter if you've been here for 20 years doing it or one year doing it. It doesn't matter. Now, that you have found the light, bask in it."

Other Change Makers featured in the campaign:

Bernard Amadei, founder of Engineers Without Borders - USA (www.ewb-usa.org) and co-founder of Engineers Without Borders-International 
(www.ewb-international.org).

Steve Bigari, founder of America's Family (www.amfol.com) a Colorado Springs charity that helps working families.

Lynn Price, founder of Camp To Belong, (www.camptobelong.org) which reunites siblings separated in the foster care system at summer camp environments around the U.S.

Jennifer Spencer, Paul McBride, Emily Bosland and Ian Carter, students at the University of Colorado (www.ashoka.org) participating in the Ashoka U program, which promotes social change.

Neil Bellefeuille, CEO of The Paradigm Project, (www.theparadigmproject.org) a for-profit company that is connecting business and charitable organizations to address poverty all over the world.

Chef Ann Cooper, the "Renegade Lunch Lady," who founded Food Family Farming Foundation, a nonprofit that focuses on reforming school lunch programs to promote whole foods and healthy cooking (www.chefann.com).

Arc Thrift Ambassadors - representing Arc Thrift Stores. Arc Thrift Stores (www.arcthrift.com) operates 19 locations in metro Denver, Fort Collins, Greeley, Loveland, Colorado Springs and Pueblo. Arc advocates for people with disabilities and has raised more than $25 million through its stores over the last 10 years. Lloyd Lewis is president and CEO.

Susan Kiely, founder of Women With A Cause (www.womenwithacause.com), a nonprofit dedicated to providing economic development programs that focus on education and skills training for women, with the goal of helping them to become self-sufficient.

On ColoradoBiz TV, watch videos about the Change Your City campaign at www.cobizmag.com.

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Mike Cote is the former editor of ColoradoBiz. E-mail him at mcote@cobizmag.com.

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