StartSomeGood Impact Story: four teachers create a social networking platform for teachers to help revolutionize education
By Josh Wyrtzen
The FourTeachers Project (composed of Cody Pruitt, Daniel Nettles, Randy Mathisen, and myself, Josh Wyrtzen) began as a conversation around the idea of what education might look like if there were a social networking platform where teachers from across the country could connect and share their ideas, best practices, and great lessons. The conversation continued and evolved into a series of ramshackle wireframes, flowcharts, and a ton of spreadsheets that outlined a task management system called The Desk. The Desk, we believed, was the key that would unlock the education revolution and simultaneously open the profession of teaching to a universe of creative exploration and a new level of accountability.
There was one problem. We were teachers, not developers and we needed money.
On December 21, 2011, we kicked off our StartSomeGood fundraising campaign in true Texas fashion with a backyard barbecue where we treated all of our co-teachers, friends, and family to four tasty smoked briskets and unveiled our vision for The Desk. We wanted our fundraising to be directly parallel to our fundamental belief that true positive change in our world begins organically when an energized, inspired, and unified community come together around a common purpose. We designed The Desk to be a forum where teachers can come together to improve the quality of our students’ learning experience and solve the problems facing education so we decided to gather our initial funding from our immediate, surrounding community instead of from outside investors.
We managed to raise $5,358 from our StartSomeGood campaign and immediately we set out to find a developer.
During the 2012 SXSW Interactive Festival, we presented a powerpoint concept map of The Desk at the PitchSomeGood event hosted by Center 61, a co-working space in Austin for social entrepreneurs, and StartSomeGood. From this event, we forged friendships and partnerships with a dynamic community of non-profit start-ups and social entrepreneurs eager and willing to help us network and find the resources we needed to make our vision a reality.
Over the course of the next year, we presented The Desk at Random Hacks of Kindness, sponsored by BizarreVoice, Rackspace, and Cospace, in Austin and an education hack-a-thon sponsored by AT&T in Dallas. These hack-a-thons gave us a first hand glimpse at the development side of our project and gave us a prototype to build from. More importantly, however, we witnessed just how eager developers and programmers are to offer their services to help improve the education system. In Dallas, Sean Linsley joined our team to do our back-end development and continues to work with us today. Along with the UI design of Josh Ziman, Sean has programmed the first phase of The Desk, which we presented at iPadpalooza, a festival celebrating the impact of technology in education, hosted by Eanes ISD on June 18th and 19th of this year.
iPadpalooza gave us our first chance to demo the first phase of The Desk for a live audience of teachers. The response was overwhelming! Their excitement, input, and endorsement of The Desk transcended all of our expectations. Even more, the support we’ve since received from those teachers has reaffirmed our belief in the ability of the teaching community to most effectively address our students’ needs.
We are currently working on making the suggested adjustments to the first phase of The Desk and moving forward toward finding a UI designer to help Sean finish the rest of the project. Our goal is to have The Desk fully operational early in the Fall of 2013. In the meantime, we continue to fundraise with the community we’re part of here in Austin. We still smoke the best brisket in Texas, Dan, Cody, and I play benefit shows as The Dead Right, and occasionally we host a trivia night at a local pub.
The revolution will not be standardized!!! The future of education is in the hands of the community that surrounds it. The Desk is our effort to bring that community together!!!
Ready to be the next StartSomeGood success story? Visit StartSomeGood today to learn about how to start your own campaign.
Editor’s Note: below is a review of the Social Enterprise Book Club book for October, We First: How brands & consumers use social media to build a better world by Simon Mainwaring. We’re excited to by hosting Mr. Mainwaring for an open conference call on November 8 to discuss his book. Stay tuned for more information and your opportunity to RSVP.
By Aaron Lesser
Which side of the Occupy Wall Street Protests are you on? Are you for the movement? Against it? Are you part of the 99%? The 1%? How about the 53%? Do you support the inertia behind the movement but not its expression? Do you think those people should just get a job?
Simon Mainwaring’s book, We First: How Brands & Consumers Use Social Media To Build a Better World, offers a way forward in the debate about our future. It’s not about separating people into opposing groups or blaming sections of society—it’s an examination of where our society is and how we can steer it towards where we want it to be.
The book opens with a simple question: Is this the world you want? Regardless of where we are in relation to the past, chronic food shortages, disease, poverty, and inequality are still powerful negative forces in modern society. We First outlines what Mainwaring calls The New Capitalist Manifesto. It is not a revolution against our system, but an evolution into an economic system that takes its impacts on society into account.
The movement, We First, is in opposition to the thought process historically associated with capitalism, Me First. Although capitalism is motivated by self-interest, Mainwaring argues that its true strength is not its ability to serve the individual, but in its ability to make individual self-interest benefit society. By changing the standards by which corporations judge success, from purely bottom line profit and loss to social impact, we can use the engine of capitalism to create the world we want.
But why, after hundreds of years of Me First capitalism, would the whole system change? The answer, for Mainwaring, lies in social media. Social media allows corporations and consumers to interact in a new way. Consumers can give instant feedback on products or marketing campaigns and corporations can interact with consumers at all times. Consumers can let corporations know what they want, what causes they are interested in, or in what direction they want the company to go. This allows corporations to engage in social good endeavors without affecting their bottom line. They can find causes their consumers are interested in and build a loyal base of followers by pursuing actions that benefit that cause. This interaction is the innovation in this book: with the rise of social networks, the social capital a company can generate by being environmentally friendly or starting social ventures is just as valuable in the long term as traditional capital.
A few forward thinking companies are already implementing Mainwaring’s vision. The Pepsi Refresh project is the best example of the budding We First movement. Pepsi selects 1,000 social good ventures, initiated by individuals or organizations, to compete for funding from Pepsi. These ventures are posted on Pepsi Refresh’s website and anybody can vote for them. The top vote getters receive funding. PepsiCo not only gets goodwill and brand loyalty, but according to Mainwaring the Pepsi Refresh website now gets more visitors than many of the sites Pepsi advertises on. In other words, the cost of giving money to the social ventures is offset by the social capital PepsiCo is earning.
We First is the kind of philosophy we need in a time of division, in a time where the only thing most people can agree upon is that this is not the world we want. We First is about eliminating the barriers between us and using our human qualities in capitalism to create the world we want.