Over the last six weeks, nearly 50 grassroots volunteer leaders gathered each Tuesday and Thursday morning over Zoom. They were part of our very first cohort of “Greenhouse,” The Pollination Project’s new community and capacity-building effort. Representing 17 countries, each participant in Greenhouse was the leader of a project funded by our TPP community; their projects included community gardening, education for women and girls, social justice, animal rights, youth sports, and environmental regeneration, just to name a few.
These visionary servant leaders joined us for a unique approach to a core question; what does it mean to grow in service?
When our team designed Greenhouse, we reflected on our experiences tracking the growth of thousands of grassroots projects we have seen over the last nine years. Too often, we heard from changemakers that the continual struggle to expand their work left them feeling depleted. Even those who began from a deep place of authenticity expressed that the arduous search for new funding sources left them exhausted, feeling the isolation of competition, or otherwise emotionally taxed. Our hope was to build a model that would promote connection, community, resilience, and collaboration.
When we think of development in a non-profit context, often we think only of ways to invite more financial capital into our organizations. Inspired by ideas originally found in the world of permaculture, we wanted to build a framework that recognized that multiple forms of wealth exist in the world; and that these forms of wealth can catalyze non-profit work in ways that not only strengthen our missions, but also our individual capacity to see those missions through.
Reflecting our belief that social change requires inner transformation, we decided to map the nonprofit ecosystem in ways that explored social capital, material capital, cultural capital, experiential capital, spiritual capital, as well as financial capital. Each week, a compelling guest would share their experiences relevant to the topic at hand; later in the week, the cohort would reconvene and talk more about what came up for them during the guest’s sharing.
The result was transformative.
The level of vulnerability, warmth, and openness that characterized the cohort’s dynamic was inspirational and renewing for all. One woman wrote and shared that she has a deep heart for service but has felt held back by a speech impediment. She said that she rarely talks about her work at public forums or meetings, but then always feels regret that the issues she cares about are not well represented. The community she felt from Greenhouse was powerful; she shared that she now knows that “No one is looking down on me. It is me who is killing my glory. I will overcome this and face the world head on.”
Even in the session on financial capital, the conversation and questions were so different from what you might hear in a traditional capacity-building workshop. Rather than talk primarily about best practices (although we touched on those ideas too!), the group made space for bigger questions about how our own relationship with money, fear of rejection, and programmed ideas about scarcity are far bigger impediments to fundraising progress than we may realize.
It is difficult to put in words what a powerful experience Greenhouse was, so I will let the participant’s own words speak for themselves:
“The facilitators and my fellow changemakers have made this experience motivating, inspiring, and most of all, comfortable. The dialogue is refreshing and at a pace that is conversational, cross-cultural, and meaningful.”
“The ability to share this learning journey with professionals from diverse backgrounds and from different regions and ethnicities of the world is so beautiful it is surreal.”
“I’m still thinking about the social capital session, and wanting to really notice and appreciate the different facets of authentic service to our community; to me, this looks like building trust, showing commitment, and making work about collective action instead of imposing ideas on the community.”
“This has ignited my self-belief to another level. The whole idea of Greenhouse is to really equip leaders with the mind of seeing more than just money, make the most out of our communities, resources, people and gifts. It is for people with big dreams, and I am one of them. I am so grateful to be among these amazing leaders.”
“This is the most unique experience ever. I have learnt so much, uncountable skills and knowledge as a change maker to apply them to my work within my organization and of course to share with my colleagues. From the Social, Financial, Experiential and Spiritual capitals, I went deeper into a true leader’s life to shape my ability to connect, to act and to express my inner power for the best impact within my community.”
“In the spiritual capital session, I loved the meditation and the connection between all of us. What Ari gave us was life-changing. I will remember his words when I am working with communities where people are very different than me. It is indeed important to always allow for a space between stimulus and response.”
While we are so proud of what emerged through Greenhouse, the truth is that the success is all due to the alignment and openness of the individuals who participated; our boundless gratitude to each of them for their time, wisdom, and commitment. We are already making plans for how we can offer future iterations of the Greenhouse experience and can’t wait to share more information as this takes shape.
We would like to sincerely thank George Reginald Freeman-Browne, Amelia Lorrey, Natasha Reilly-Moynihan, Tessa Graham, Deva Holub, Matt Shanor and Milena Fraccari for their dedication and behind-the-scenes work to make Greenhouse a reality. Thank you to our funding partners, particularly Tarsadia, for believing in this idea. Last but not least, our deepest appreciation to session guest speakers Shiva Roofeh, James S. Fofanah, Gayle Nosal, Abhinav Khanal, and Ariel Nessel.