At People’s Liberty, we’re honored to have lots of energetic individuals with bright minds and bold ideas visit our space.
Most recently, Erin Barnes stopped by. Erin is a cofounder of ioby (short for “in our backyard”.)
It’s an organization founded in 2008 with a mission “to make it easier for local leaders to gain the funding, knowledge, and resources needed to make positive change.” Think civic engagement, community organizing and crowdfunding all combined. She’s also an Obama Fellow - which wow - amongst many other accomplishments. You can read her full bio here.
In between meetings to share ioby with local grantmakers and foundation leaders to explore bringing the platform to the region, we sat down with Erin to talk people-powered solutions, presidential advice, new philanthropy and more.
From our convo:
Q: If you could sum it up, what lasting impact do you hope ioby has?
A: The thing we really want to change is people’s relationship to civic life.
As for something measurable, well, the National Conference on Citizenship surveys the strength of citizenry in America. It’s survey estimates that about 8% identify as citizen leaders. We would like for that to be doubled. The more that people get involved in a neighborhood scale, the more inspired people are to give back and create change in more and bigger ways.
Q: What makes a good civic leader?
A: We are actually studying this. If I had to do a qualitative study, it’s think its someone who cares so much about something that they just can’t shake it. [It’s a person] with this idea that something has to change. A bit of naiveté.
It’s people who are really good at communicating their vision for the world and that are good at recruiting a team. Making civic change is about negotiating a lot of different worlds. It’s convincing your family why what you’re doing is important enough to be home late for dinner…again. It’s convincing your neighborhoods why it’s important enough to give up their money and time. It’s convincing philanthropists why it’s important enough to fund you.
With so many different stakeholders, you really have to be a person that’s comfortable with navigating between several different words. That’s why one of the first things we do [at ioby] is work with project leaders on confidence-building.
Q: At People’s Liberty, we talk about hoping to inspire a greater embrace of “yes”. What’s your message for people unsure or thinking about pursuing a civic design idea. Why say yes?
A: Badgering (laughs). We are often asking, Who is going to do it? If not you, then who? [We tell people] don’t be too worried about it. Others have done it before. For example, if someone says I don’t have the time. We say let’s find a way. We can meet you during your children’s soccer practice. We can make it work.
(People’s Liberty added note: you can find lots of great resources on civic leadership, how to launch your project, vision setting, asset mapping and more on ioby’s site: https://www.ioby.org/resources/learnfromaleader)
Q: What trend or trends in new philanthropy excites you?
A: The field of crowdfunding is exploding. Billions of dollars a year are now in it. Crowdfunding helps spread out the risk and people are able to take more risk based on their social network. Givers can often see their direct impact.
And it’s important for people to directly see the impact. The more local gifts that are made the better. Also, fundraising from individuals helps build a muscle that’s really important in civic engagement. Learning to ask and educate people on how they can get more involved in your project or vision is key. There’s a couple of points of power: One is Money. Two is People. When you have both a lot can happen really fast.
Nonprofit crowdfunding allows us to better understand the impact of fundraising and trends. Most research however is currently still focused on the donor. I’m interested in and excited about understanding more about the fundraisers themselves. Getting people better trained in fundraising helps them better understand the donor mentality and how to use it. It makes for better leaders and stronger fundraising.
Q: Ok so, on a separate note, I know you’ve only been here for a brief couple of hours, but what’s your impression of Cincinnati?
A: It’s beautiful! Incredibly beautiful skyline. The Uber driver even warned me to look as we were coming over the hill from the airport. I’m excited to check out the built environment – seems very walkable with the historical architecture and the small shops. Everything is so colorful.
I’m obsessed when small cities are filled with people who have a lot of civic pride. There’s seems to be an immense amount pride of Cincinnati and I’m excited to explore where that’s coming from.
Q: And we are so excited to have an Obama Fellow visiting. What would you say is the biggest lesson from this experience so far?
A: There’s a lot. I feel so lucky to have gotten to learn directly from President Obama and Michelle Obama. It’s life-changing (points to goosebumps forming on her arm.) One of the things that I learned directly from the former President is this idea that the work of social change is really, really hard. If it were easy, it’d already be done by now. We’re working to create hundreds of years of change. The work that I’m doing today, I’ll likely never see the fruits of it.
We’re part of long, intergenerational chain of changemakers. It’s humbling to recognize what our elders did and this idea of being prepared to pass on what we did to the next generation. It’s too big. We’re too small.
In a sense, it’s a big relief. I don’t have the whole weight of changing the world. I’m one part. But also, I have the responsibility to not break the chain.
Thank you, Erin, for inspiring more civic leaders and people-powered solutions in the world!
Ioby is currently considering establishing a presence in the Cincinnati region. Learn more about the organization and share your thoughts: Is there a need for ioby in the region? Would you give to local projects? Do you have civic projects that you’d use the ioby platform to launch and find support? Send us a note - firstname.lastname@example.org