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Year: 2014

Crystal Lee
What are you pursuing or working on now?

Right now I’m working on my coaching and changemaking practice, Beyond Maybe, to help people BE different + DO different to make a difference in the world. Never would I have thought that I’d be running a business as a life coach! I studied Biology and Asian Studies in my hometown of Vancouver, Canada. Then I pursued a Masters in Public Health at UCLA and worked briefly in San Francisco.

That’s when I caught the social entrepreneurial bug. Like many other millennials, I tried on various jobs spanning non-profit, research, education, government, and healthcare. One of those jobs introduced me to complex systems work and I became fascinated by how individual actions contribute to societal transformation. When I discovered coaching as a way to work in that sometimes messy (but always exciting!) middle, I set on the path of entrepreneurship. It fills me up with joy to meet everyday people doing awesome things that make this world a better place.

Are there any challenges that you didn’t expect?
I never took a business course in my life! So when it came to setting up a company and running a business, it was a steep learning curve. And boy, has it been an emotional roller coaster ride. Taking on the identity as an entrepreneur has been scary and thrilling at the same time. Being a solo entrepreneur can also be quite isolating and lonely, so I’ve learned to intentionally create community around me.

Who has been the biggest  catalyst of your work?
I named my company after the book Getting to Maybe: How the World is Changed by Frances Westley, Brenda Zimmerman, and Michael Quinn Patton, so it’s safe to say that it was a big catalyst for my work. I have also been influenced by Kate Sutherland and her How to Make Light Work series. More recently, how I interact with the world is guided by the Co-Active Model developed by The Coaches Training Institute.

How are you bringing your awesome to the world?
I help people harness the power of their different into action for positive change. Often I work with passion-driven, innovation-seeking people who are wondering whether to stay or to go at their current jobs, and people who are doing amazing work but are burning out. I help them get clear on who they are and what they want, then move them into action. I also lend my group facilitation and community development skills to different initiatives. Whatever I do, I strive to bring creativity, fun, and meaning.

What is the most important lesson you have learned so far?
Trust your gut! Those butterflies in your stomach. That tingle at the back of your head. That rapid and heavy heartbeat. Those are all ways your body is communicating with you. Notice how your body talks to you and learn to understand the deeper messages. You are your best ally.

If you could name one thing, what would be the most important challenge for your country to tackle?
Responsible, respectful, and sustainable use of energy, land, and natural resources.

Why did you decide to become a Hub Leader?

Connecting people to create community and to inspire transformation – who wouldn’t want to do that?! Being a Hub Leader is an opportunity for me to work in my own messy middle (social change, community development, coaching, group facilitation, health, cultures, etc.). And because I love dinner parties!

Thanks Crystal! Connect with Crystal on Twitter at @beyondmaybe or sign up for her dinner here.


The Feast and GLG have partnered to bring you the stories of today’s brightest social entrepreneurs. Global, technology-driven, and nimble, GLG is the world’s largest membership for professional learning and expertise. GLG Social Impact connects social sector organizations with experts across industries and geographies for perspectives and expertise to accelerate the impact of their work, including through the GLG Social Impact Fellowship. Come back to every Monday for a feature on their Social Innovation Fellows.

Christina Halpern is Founder and President of All Star Code. All Star Code is a non-profit initiative that prepares qualified young men of color for full-time employment in the technology industry by providing mentorship, industry exposure, and intensive training in computer science. All Star Code is dedicated to closing the opportunity gap between young men of color and the tech industry.

What inspired you to start your organization?

I always knew firsthand that access can make a difference, because my father became a pioneer on Wall Street in the 1980s after participating in an innovative prep program. I went to my first tech conference and saw that it was incredibly exciting, lucrative and innovative, yet not extremely not diverse. I had an idea of why – there was no clear pathway or access. Essentially, I think that much of tech today is like Wall Street in the 1960s.

At what point did you realize that your vision and had legs?

When someone volunteered to give me money to make it real.

What has surprised you most about being an entrepreneur and building an organization?

How much writing is involved.

What has been the biggest catalyst for your project and in what way?

An early corporate partnership with an innovative technology company at our very first event distinguished us from the outset and helped us draw tremendous students and mentors, instructors and press coverage from day one.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve encountered? Can you recommend any strategies that helped you overcome it?

My biggest challenge is also my strength: I am not a coder or a tech insider, so I have to work very hard to get traction from that community. But it also makes our program stronger because we come from the population that we serve, and we use data, not our own experiences in tech, to design and optimize our program.

Is there a basic principle or value that guides what you contribute to the world? What is it and why?

At All Star Code we believe that young men of color are one of our nation’s greatest sources of untapped talent.

What is most exciting about the world of social innovation for you? Are there pockets of hidden potential you see?

The possibility is most exciting. Our students will be able to create amazing social impact organizations.

In your area of work or interest, what do you think is most needed? How could other entrepreneurs or initiatives contribute to the answer in collaborative or parallel ways?

I’d like to see more funding so more brains can get to work solving this problem. Other entrepreneurs can help by hiring interns and mentoring. It does not even need to be a coding program, teaching a young person how to think like an engineer is a great skill.

What is your theory of change?

You can’t only teach coding. We believe hard skills plus soft skills are the recipe for success in helping someone pioneer into a new field.

What is the long-term vision for your organization and how it impacts the world?

We want to train 100,000 students in coding and the engineering mindset by 2024.

When do you feel you are personally at your best?

When I am solving a problem.

If you could give one piece of advice to a budding social entrepreneur, what would it be?

Work for another social enterprise first. Experience and workforce corporate credentials are critical in the 21st century.


No, no – not to so much to me or what you’re about to read…try to just stop and listen. What do you hear?

Listening and I go way back. I got my first Fisher Price record player around two years old. By five, I was carrying around a similarly fashioned tape recorder/player, blaring Kokomo and Don’t Worry Be Happy on the streets of Rapid City, South Dakota. I didn’t care so much about what the Beach Boys and McFerrin were saying, but I was absolutely drawn to the sound – it was like magic. My family wasn’t always as hyped, and my dad once threw a tape out the window of a moving car on a trip after it looped probably 30 times (no hard feelings, Pops).

LISTEN DaveRecordPlayer_2yrs_solo

I began playing instruments by ear, starting with the piano, then trombone, guitar, violin, and strings of all sorts. I wondered about the relationship between the physical behavior of sound in the air and how that translated to the consumption of music in my brain, and by college I was studying physics, math, and music looking for answers. I turned into a concert rat and became intimate with a good amount of venues within a five-hour radius of the top right corner of Missouri. A hoity-toity graduate degree later from the Institute of Sound and Vibration Research, and I’d landed my dream-job: designing concert halls and other world-class performance spaces out of New York City.



Over the next six years, I’d spend my time designing buildings and listening to what architecture does to sound. Ever see someone looking up toward the ceiling and clapping in a space?  Intermittently whistling tones? All telltale signs of an acoustician. I’d listen to music in performance spaces, dissecting what sounds were coming from where and when. Does it sound warm, cold, dry, muddy, harsh? Can I hear that sousaphone? What’s the audio system like? How’s the space ventilated, and is it noisy? On and on. (It took a few years to be able to turn this part of my brain off when I wanted so I could simply enjoy the music!). I had been working on big-time projects all over the world, and I’d become quite comfortable.

About a year ago, a few friends and I created Streetscape Symphony for the New Museum’s IDEAS CITY Festival, where we explored the sounds of all five boroughs in the city and reproduced the sounds in a gallery context, exactly as they we experienced them out on the street. I’ll never forget the sounds that popped out once you listened without the context of physically being there – in particular, the birds. Almost every area in each of the boroughs contained bird sounds, even though I had no recollection of birds being around while making the recordings. I’d spent my life listening, and here I was being reminded, in a deep way,  how listening affects our interactions and behavior with the environment and the people around us.

LISTEN StSy_CoverArt

As I write this, I’m sitting outside at corner cafe in Brooklyn. I’m hearing cars pass left to right, in front and in back of me. To my left is an open window into the cafe, where the kitchen staff is digging on Skrillex, and sounds of glasses and plates coming into contact ring out as dishes are sorted. There are higher pitch sounds of kids crossing the street to my right, one dribbling a basketball, and every now and again, a skateboard comes rolling by with its constant, crunchy sounds trailing off behind me. The bikes are surprisingly quiet – I see them, but I don’t hear them over the rest of the sounds. And now that I’ve stopped and focused, attentively listening to where I am, sure enough, I hear bird calls from above and behind me. This no longer surprises me, but what does is that I still don’t register the birds until I stop to listen for them.

It makes me think today like it did a year ago: what else is in the air that I’m not fully listening to?

After IDEAS CITY, I made a conscious effort to pay attention to opportunities all around me that maybe I hadn’t previously registered. I joined a few of the Streetscape Symphony team in taking part in an education-based hackathon, where we built a learning module called Wave Pool for kids to understand science principles through gestures and listening. That led to working on a few sound-responsive light installations, and those projects opened the door to a string of opportunities that have allowed me and my crew to create new, compelling ways for people to experience and interact with and their surroundings through clever use of technology. Satisfied that I was making more positive impact through sound, light, video, motion, and web experiences, I’ve since traded in my acoustician badge. I think I knew deep down all along that this was in the cards, but I never listened intently enough to recognize it until I woke up and, well, heard the birds.

LISTEN Cass_CoverArt

We listen in a lot of different ways: to our environments to orient ourselves, to music for pleasure, to others for advice and new ways of seeing the world, and to ourselves in search of happiness. I try to remind myself regularly that each of these is wildly important, and that I owe a lot in my life to the art of listening.

By Dave Rife. Dave co-founded Studio Indefinit, a design company focusing on the interplay between human activity and sensory perception to create immersive, interactive environments. The team combines their unique backgrounds in acoustics, architecture, sound design, music, user experience, and software development, relying on a common language of sound and space to convert imaginative concepts into tangible experiences.


The Feast’s weekly round-up is a mixture of useful information and extraordinary inspirations. Is there something that should be on the next list? Let us know!


Positive Energy. This office building is the first to produce more energy than it uses.

Disrupting waste from fisheries. SafetyNet uses LED rings to free certain fish from nets, greatly reducing discards. The next challenge is to reduce costs.

What’s the role of the ad agency? With innovation and creative increasingly going in-house at companies across different industries, talent is looking away from ad agencies and to brands for employment.

Tailor-made strategy. Starbucks is adapting to Chinese culture to improve their expansion in China.

Want to be more innovative? Innovation is understanding how and why problems arise and coming up with a new solution; these examples will show you how.

Win-win-win for clean clothes, renewable energy, and exercise. This student has developed a washing machine that uses your own power to clean laundry through a treadmill.

Waste not, want not. This attractive and free font allows you to use 1/3 less ink making a bigger impact than you might think.

A collaboration of science and art. A creation of beauty from living cells by artists and bacteria enthusiast Tal Danino and Vik Muniz.

The psychology of routine. Many factors impact productivity, including interruption, noise, timing, duration, and physical environment.

Plant-cell inspired furniture. 3D printed recyclable furniture reduce waste by disrupting the furniture production process.

Luck or skill? These profiles of extraordinary entrepreneurs give insight into what makes them so good at what they do.

Should you risk it? These considered risks could improve your startup.

Lots of entrepreneurs talk about disruption these days. Disrupting the music industry, disrupting education – for anything there is, there is something to disrupt.

Some things ought to be disrupted, particularly when the foundational principles or processes on which they’re based are faulty and create bad outcomes for people, society and the planet at large. The interesting and challenging thing is that sometimes systems work quite well for some amount of time before they don’t. Sometimes it’s because they outgrow or outlive their original intended purpose, and sometimes they were flawed from the start.

Take, for example, the financial system. Currency as a form of exchange is an incredibly effective, simple, and elegant system. According to Douglas Rushkoff, back in the day when it was run in the form of receipts for grain, shoes, and other services and it was deflationary as those goods and services degraded. At that time, currency was particularly liquid, and it encouraged a system not of hoarding and scarcity, but of use, liquidity and abundance. Today, there are many issues with the fundamental principles of the system that we use to manage this tool: that it is run through a central system that controls its ‘worth’, that there are no ways to define its value and the principles of worth in society. All of this does not encourage its liquid use in the system.

Now look at something like education. Particularly in the US, it was built for a particular purpose at a particular time. Based on what the world thought and knew, it served its purpose and was relatively effective at teaching people what they needed to know. But the progression of the principles that the current educational system is based on – segregation of disciplines, top-down curriculum, even teaching as a noble profession as opposed to one financially valued – are things that have lead to a highly rigid and industrial model of education in a post industrial world. It has not grown with the changing times.

Just like corporate companies that have been designed to do one thing well and incredibly efficiently, so too has the education system become efficient at serving a set curriculum in a more or less uniform way. Just as we’ve come to appreciate design to individualize the products we purchase to meet our unique needs, we are also coming to learn that not everyone does best with the same education model. But the system was not designed to innovate and change. It was designed to weather generations.

Anil Dash said at The Feast last year, The thing about disruption is that it generally is this sort of “let’s change things without necessarily thinking through the implications”. Frankly, in the case of the music industry where mostly the people who were most fundamentally disrupted were music exec and record labels,.. much more troubling is when we disrupt education or other things that are bedrocks of having a functioning society. And the people at risk is not a big wig at a record label, but a kid learning. So this pattern of disruption that tends to happen has a couple of flaws not because they’re intractable or because I want to demonize my fellow technologists… this time the stakes are so high if ed gets disrupted by technology that we can’t afford to screw it up. We can’t let ourselves make the same mistakes over and over.


How do we approach innovation not necessarily as disruption but as a process of progression? How do we build on, adapt, and learn from the processes and practices that came before? How can we, like those who design algorithms, look at fractal and exponential growth – the principles we want to put in place and to scale that will allow more natural, abundant, and appropriate behaviors and systems to flourish? Any complexity theorist will tell you: it is the simplest structures that are the most replicable, and that basic rules and principles, when replicable, can ripple out to define seemingly beautiful, complex and natural forms. How can we learn from and apply this to the way that we think about impact in the world?

Like a vine growing on an old building, how do we use the old as a lattice for the new? How do we carefully design for the natural principles that we want to see flourish? And in some cases, how do we design new systems that overtake the old with this in mind, not by intentionally disrupting, but by creating an alternative system all together?

This is what we will be exploring at this year’s Feast. At learning these principles, looking at where things are headed across culture, cities, wellness and more, and where we might take them through interventions that apply this thoughtful intention. Join us.

At The Feast, leaders across disciplines come together to revolutionize their industries and create social impact.  If you’d like to come, request an invite. Or if you know someone who should be there, nominate them for an invitation.

By Jerri Chou
Jerri believes we created this world and we can create a better one. Named one of FastCompany’s Most Creative People in Business, she develops progressive branding and marketing campaigns, social engagement programs, and product innovation — not to mention the occasional early morning dance party — creating a new standard for “business as usual.” Jerri is Founder of The Feast.


We are a mere five weeks away (eep!) from an incredible day of global feasting with makers, doers and gamechangers for a better world. On 11 October, the final day of The Feast Conference, 40+ passionate organizers across six continents will hold dinner events to move their cities forward as part of The Feast Worldwide. The theme? Progression, asking each city to define for itself what that looks like in their neighborhood. The ask? To bring your skills to the table to support the local initiatives and entrepreneurs making that vision real.

Here are just a few that I’m especially excited about:

The Feast Worldwide, Bali

Star team Solonia Teodoros and Grace Clapham have organized the Singapore hub of The Feast Worldwide since its inception in 2012, and this year they’re taking it to the next level. As co-founders of Change, a Bali-based program of The Change School, their dinner will encourage guests to dive deep into their own purpose and ways to start taking action.

Just a taste of The Feast Worldwide, Singapore 2013

The Feast Worldwide, Vancouver

Watch out Vancouver, we’ve got three dinners coming your way! With Crystal Lee and Daniel Dubois leading the charge, we’ve got three dinners for you in Downtown, East and North Vancouver. It’s going to be a massive takeover of the city to get full on good, and if the success of fellow Canadian hub organizer Sharif Virani is any indicator (They launched Ottawa Food Truck Rally from their 2012 dinner), it’s going to be a night to remember.

The Feast Worldwide, Mexico City 

Julio Salazar and his team at social innovation agency Cirklo are masterminds of gathering the right players in the room to create solutions together. His 2013 dinner brought together key leaders in government, business and the non-profit sector to spark new directions on education in the city. Take a deeper look here:

Can’t wait for the magic to happen, and reach out to be involved! It’s time to get full on good.

Curious about the other 30+ cities? You can find them on all a handy dandy map on The Feast Worldwide. Want in on a dinner? Reserve your spot here.  

I used to be a big blamer. I was expert at dissecting corporate failure and fingering the responsible parties. I even kept a list of people to be fired as soon as I had the power.

It was a fun (and sadly popular) bureaucratic parlor game that masked the anger and frustration I felt in the face of my perceived powerlessness.

Then I discovered a move that changed my life: I quit blaming and took radical responsibility for whatever was happening around me. Here’s how you can master the same move and power yourself and your organization to new success.

Think about how much more energy and time would be available if people in your organization stopped complaining and blaming and instead looked at how they could get the outcomes they want. (I’m betting it’s a lot.)

The first step to moving beyond blame and into responsibility is recognizing there is only one person whose actions you can reliably change: yourself.

Taking radical responsibility is an inside job; whenever you are tempted to point the finger at someone else, turn it around and point it at yourself and then ask the most powerful transformative question on earth: “What is my role in this?”

As soon as I realized my part in creating the things that vexed me, I was able to move from anger and blame to empowering action.

The next step is to take 100% responsibility for the issue, problem, question or possibility. This means not blaming others or looking to them to solve it. It also means not doing the bureaucratic hero move and taking more than your share of responsibility by offering to help others, being the fall guy or doing all the thinking yourself. Everyone involved in the issue has 100% responsibility for their participation –not 50% by giving the other half to someone else, and not 150% by taking up the slack for someone else.

Once you’ve done this, you’re ready to move into the action phase and lay out all the things you are going to do to handle the issue. That may mean talking to the boss about changing the scope of the project, or getting your expense report done early this week so you have time for brainstorming, or refusing to take on another assignment so you don’t burn out. The key is that these action items are all things that you do, instead of looking to someone else to do them.

At this point you’ve stopped wasting time in blame, seen what your role is, and laid out the steps you can take. Now all that stands between you and success is doing what you do best: your job.

If you want to learn about being a transformative power in your life and your organization, here’s a link to an entire book on the topic.

By Tim Peek

Tim Peek creates the ideal future with businesses, NGOs, and their leaders and advises them on ways to make it happen now:


What are you pursuing or working on now? 

The world is an interesting place, and from time to time you get hooked on things that are awesome that you think can change your community, business and a number of people.

I’m a creative partner at Kwirkly, a marketing communications firm for startups and small businesses. I’ve been on the Kwirkly team for about 2 years now and I’ve had the privilege to interact with startup founders in Lagos and work on some fantastic products. So basically, I’m constantly in an atmosphere of startups, technology products, marketing ideas and tackling business challenges.

Apart from Kwirkly, I’m working on exporting interesting local content to the international space. I am crazy about content, and I’ve discovered that local content is one of the most amazing phenomena. I just started this as a personal project, and I’m still in the birthing phase of it. Now I’m thinking of ways to make it catch like fire.

Who has been the biggest supporter or catalyst of your work?

I have amazing parents who seem to understand weird things and love creativity. They’ve been great supporters of what I do. My business partner is also a big catalyst of my work, giving me ideas and steps to achieve set goals. Plus, my friends are awesome! They support and push for positives in my life and work.

How are you bringing your awesome to the world?

I bring my awesome to the world through executing interesting marketing/ business ideas and creating great content. The startup environment in Nigeria is ripe and at the verge of booming. I’m definitely positioning myself in that space to bring fantastic ideas to life.

What is the most important lesson you have learned so far?

I’ve learned that life is about pivoting. You’ve got to be able to adapt to change and allow your mind to be flexible, trainable and sponge-like.

I’ve also learned that you have to ask for what you want. If you want something, ask! The worst you’ll get is a “no,” and even a “no” is not the worst thing that can happen to you. Ask.

If you could name one thing, what would be the most important challenge for your country to tackle?

Education. Not just in terms of institutions or brick and mortar schools, but in how knowledge is acquired, shared and the actual experience of it.

Thanks Gbemi! Connect with Gbemi on Twitter at @Gbemi_Lolade or sign up for her Lagos, Nigeria dinner here.

Manmeet Kaur

The Feast and GLG have partnered to bring you the stories of today’s brightest social entrepreneurs. Global, technology-driven, and nimble, GLG is the world’s largest membership for professional learning and expertise. GLG Social Impact connects social sector organizations with experts across industries and geographies for perspectives and expertise to accelerate the impact of their work, including through the GLG Social Impact Fellowship. Come back to every Monday for a feature on their Social Innovation Fellows.

Manmeet Kaur is Founder and Executive Director of City Health Works, a non-profit, social enterprise that aims to close the gap between hospitals and communities. Founded to support the increasingly expensive and overburdened health care system, City Health Works hires and trains clinician supervised community health workers from the neighborhoods we serve to act as health coaches.

What inspired you to start your organization?

I created City Health Works to serve as the bridge between the doctor’s office and the real challenges people face in their everyday lives. The organization incorporates things I have worked on over the past 10 years in NY, Africa and India.

When my husband and I met 6 years ago, I never thought I’d work in US healthcare. As I watched my husband enter residency three years ago, I was struck with the way in which patients entered and exited the healthcare system. It seemed like his job would end within a brief 10 minute visit after someone came in with a new diagnosis or a concern about their condition. I would ask him, “what about the rest of the year? Why not make a system that takes care of people for 365 days, and not have them just come in and out of the hospital?” In those short 10-minute visits, I wondered if my husband was being a careless physician or if this was a careless system. Chronic diseases need to be managed not treated. However, the US Healthcare system is currently neither designed nor equipped to help patients improve or better manage their health. A Robert Wood Johnson and United Healthcare Foundation study found that our current system only affects 20% of the overall management of an individual’s chronic disease. Thirty percent is behavioral and 40% is socio-economic. Clinicians (while talented in their own right) are not trained to handle issues like weight loss or nutrition that directly impact the management of chronic diseases. Through my prior work in South Africa, I repeatedly saw the powerful effect that peers can have on motivating, educating and supporting people in their own communities to achieve goals related to anything from employment to health to depression. The epiphany moment for me was that peers could close this gap by serving as a critical link between clinicians in overburdened clinics and the patients they serve.

At what point did you realize that your vision and had legs?

This past Spring I realized my vision certainly has legs and the potential to have a major influence on the way the definition and role of health coaches in our healthcare system. Although we only launched operations last winter, we have received nearly nine invitations for funding from hospital systems, foundations, insurers and the local government.

One of those invitations came from the New York City Department of Health. Starting this year, the city will help increase our scale, but more importantly, to help ensure we can continue focusing on activities we do to improve the socio-economic and psycho social factors that influence health. Another invitation came from the second largest insurer in the country with the aim of investing up to $1 million a year for three years to evaluate return on investment, enhance operational effectiveness and technology in order to develop a payment model and expand to a new state in three years. The latter is pending and the former is confirmed. Additionally, we have been receiving requests from major home care agencies to help cross train home care aides to expand their capabilities to include health coaching.

What has surprised you most about being an entrepreneur and building an organization?

A surprise for me is the degree to which I influence the culture of my organization and the perception of my organization. When we scaled from a start-up team of two full-time individuals and two part-time health coaches to a team of 10 full-time employees on September 16, 2013, I recall feeling like I was on stage because I realized that everything I said, the way I communicated, the things I paid attention to (or didn’t) and the ways in which I invested my time would be heavily observed by a group of new employees who are learning about the culture of City Health Works.

What has been the biggest catalyst for your project and in what way?

The biggest catalyst for City Health Works has been our ability to attract incredibly talented, hard-working and creative individuals to help design and grow the organization. Across the organization, each individual has been involved in providing critical input into our approach to health coaching and to how we integrate with various neighborhood and clinical partners. I strongly believe that great organizations are largely the result of collective creativity, wisdom and sweat of many people. I grew up playing the cello, but now I see myself as an orchestra conductor creating and investing in meaningful relationships within our team, with our clients, partners and advisors. That said, I have deep respect for all the strings that are required to play a symphony.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve encountered? Can you recommend any strategies that helped you overcome it?

As an Executive Director, I have to make decisions often and have gotten more confident and decisive in my general abilities. However, the biggest challenge I made was arriving at and executing upon the decision to fire an individual. The decision was right for the organization, but having such a large influence over an individual’s livelihood is a humbling and difficult responsibility. I worked closely with the management team to develop a strategy to determine if this was the right decision and to act upon it. We relied upon expert advising from our HR outsourced firm and our lawyer and then developed an approach that aligned with our value. Decisions like that always keep me up at night for some time until I can come to terms with them.

Is there a basic principle or value that guides what you contribute to the world? What is it and why?

What is unique about City Health Works is that we hire people from the neighborhood to serve as health coaches. People who have a shared experience from that community can build trusting relationships with patients because they have experienced many of the same struggles as the individuals they work with. We hire people who do and have been providing support to loved ones because they have seen so many people in their families and neighborhood struggle with chronic illnesses. For example, when I first met Hilda, who is now a health coach at City Health Works, she told me about how she cared for her grandma until she eventually died of diabetes related complications. When she looked at the health coach job description she, just like all of the coaches we hired, said to herself, “I could get paid to do this? And paid well?!” I knew that if we invested heavily in Hilda’s natural skills and passion to help her community, she could have a powerful influence in her neighborhood. This influence would start at the individual level, and then have a ripple effect on households, housing projects and then the neighborhood at large as our numbers grow because our approach leverages neighborhood network effects.

What is most exciting about the world of social innovation for you? Are there pockets of hidden potential you see?

Across industries, I am amazed at the burst of interest of people working in the for-profit sector who are eager to apply their talents and skills to social causes. I think the social innovation sector is largely driven by the demand of individuals who want to work on complex social problems in direct ways that take advantage of one’s individual expertise and skills. GLG’s Social Impact Fellowship is strong testament to this, and I think the growth will continue be driven by individuals who don’t just choose to work within social enterprises but who also help fuel them.

In your area of work or interest, what do you think is most needed? How could other entrepreneurs or initiatives contribute to the answer in collaborative or parallel ways?

Support in increasing literacy about the healthcare services and health insurance. A core part of our work with our clients is to distill and personalize complex information about the management of chronic illness via lifestyle and medication management. Our coaches are very well trained to help our clients understand their health and get motivated through motivational coaching. Many residents of East Harlem have low or no literacy. We are in the midst of re-designing our core educational materials to help address this with support from DesignNYC and ESI Design. However, there are a multitude of questions our coaches receive related to challenges people face in accessing health services, understanding medications and insurance coverage. Based upon our insights from our interactions with clients and their families, this is an area that could benefit immensely from collaborative initiatives with designers, entrepreneurs and initiatives.

What is your theory of change?

Today, our health coaches are part of the overall care team for patients and help them through education, motivational coaching and navigation of complex healthcare and social services. Based on my experience in working in Africa with community health workers, I saw first-hand how this was an effective approach to providing low cost neighborhood based care, but I knew that we could not simply apply this model to the US market, we needed to tailor it. I knew that if I built a workforce development organization that cared deeply about building the skills and confidence of locally hired individuals to serve as health coaches they could close the gaps in care in the US as well. Through our health coaching service, our current base of over 100 clients are already achieving dramatic improvements in changing the culture of health in East Harlem. Already in the last year, we have achieved stronger impacts on health outcomes than medication can achieve alone. For example, patients receiving our support have had an average weight reduction of six to 10 pounds within three months and an average reduction in .5-1.5 of each individual’s blood sugar levels.

What is the long-term vision for your organization and how it impacts the world?

My long-term vision in my work is that across urban, suburban and rural parts of the country, there will be a new layer to the healthcare system that sits at the intersection of the institutions that deliver healthcare around the neighborhood. We would hire people from the neighborhood to serve as health coaches, who would be able to greet patients at the doctor’s office and then support them at home. These well-trained and well-supervised networks of health coaches would also be able to leverage their deep knowledge of the neighborhood’s social fabric to knock on doors and engage people before they reached the hospital’s door. Ultimately, I know that if we are successful, even most vulnerable neighborhoods will start demanding healthier food options so that healthier food businesses will be willing to fill that market need with affordable healthy options. I also know that individuals will become better-informed consumers of their health. We are seeing this already and I am excited to watch this grow in the coming years.

When do you feel you are personally at your best?

I feel I am personally at my best when I am facilitating creative brainstorming and problem solving with colleagues and partners from diverse areas of experience. In my approach to building my team, partnerships with clinics and coalitions with neighborhood organizations, I know I am working best when I am facilitating the process of solving complex problems or organizing collective action.

If you could give one piece of advice to a budding social entrepreneur, what would it be?

Take a long-term perspective to your venture. In a world obsessed with quick wins, be thorough and persistent with your exploration to help determine whether your business idea is sound and to build a strong foundation for its growth. To get there, you’ll need to surround yourself with good people and invest in them.

This is a guest post by Project Inkblot, a​n ​online magazine for artists and ​social + ​creative entrepreneurs. Through in-depth interviews, Project Inkblot profiles a vibrant international community of ​creatives contributing groundbreaking work. We are especially committed to powerfully shifting the media representation of women and people of color, from that of marginalized communities, to communities with the capacity to be innovators, creators, and change makers.

Bryant Terry

Bryant Terry is an activist, author, mentor, speaker, educator, chef, practicing Buddhist, daddy, hubby and a champion for social justice via the food liberation movement. Inspired by his grandparents’ Memphis kitchen, his work with New York City youth, and the Black Panther’s Free Breakfast movement – among other things – the Oakland, Cali resident is passionate about self-empowerment through healthy eating and dedicated to fighting the good fight; namely, that folks in the lower economic stratosphere, especially people of color, have access to fresh food and are educated on the benefits of growing, cooking and eating healthfully. Bryant is out to have communities mobilize to better take care of one another without having to rely on Wholefoods (or Whole Paycheck as my homegirl calls it) to come in and save the day.

Part recipes, part historical narrative – his latest cookbook, Afro-Vegan, shares Bryant’s love for creating delicious meals drawing from across the African diaspora. I haven’t gotten my copy of the book yet but I imagine I’ll be remixing some of my vegetarian recipes soon. I need to change it up. I be throwing coconut milk and spices on every thang. (What up curry!)

I got to hang out with Bryant in his lovely home in beautiful Oakland and we chatted about how he got his start in the kitchen, found his path, the politics of food, and his evolving definition of activism.

I was mad he hadn’t cooked though.


What made you so interested in food? How did that begin?

The work that I do now as a food activist, chef, and cookbook author – the foundation comes from growing up in Memphis. My family came from rural Mississippi and had farms. For me it was second nature to grow up in community gardens…so when I started doing this work in New York I really thought it was something people were missing. You know, living in the concrete jungle, not having these green spaces, not being really connected to the process of growing food and making food. It was such a treasure for me. I really wanted to ensure that the younger generation were able to connect with our earth and know how to cook food from scratch.

Growing up with my paternal grandfather who cooked a lot as well [was important for me]. My grandmother had a stroke in her 50’s. He cooked the food, cleaned the house because she couldn’t do that on her own. Having a grandfather who really took care of the daily functions of the kitchen and made all the meals and was the nurturer of the home made it really safe for me. Growing up, I loved cooking. I loved baking. I felt very welcome and very safe in the kitchen because my grandfather was such a manly man and he was really buff and also so gentle, loving and caring.

For a lot of folks, cooking from scratch is sorta revolutionary.

And that’s why when I talk about my work I talk about it almost like an act of remembering, revitalizing, and celebrating the traditions of our ancestors. It wasn’t like they were eating local or sustainable. They were just eating the food they grew because that’s what you did.  So part of my mission is to help mobilize. To help push back on this perception that eating this way or cooking this way is ‘white’ or a bourgeois thing.

It sounds like you’re interested in the relationship between culture and food. What are your thoughts on this? I mean, I can buy quinoa in Bedstuy, Brooklyn now. That wouldn’t have been available before.

Well, I think a lot of it is about marketing to a certain demographic. When you think about the food corporations who are producing a lot of healthy or organic products, they’re marketing to people who they can charge a higher price to because that is their goal; to make a profit for their shareholders. I often talk about the way in which we can’t rely on food corporations as the solution for food injustice. We think about communities that have very little access to healthful food and it’s easy to say well, we just need a supermarket there. A Wholefoods or whatever.

If we’re going to address food insecurity or food injustice, the solutions need to be driven by people living in those communities. I think it’s more than just bringing food in. It’s about self-determination. It’s about economic empowerment. I think about this quote Malcolm X said, about having businesses in your community that are owned by people who don’t live there. He said, when that man leaves at the end of the day he takes that bag of money out of the community. When you think of supermarkets, often times the profits are going to some corporate headquarters that are a long ways from that community. When you think about community gardens or urban food stands or farmers markets set up by people in the community who look like people in the community then those have lasting sustainable solutions. If you have the supermarket there and they leave, then people don’t have any food sources anymore. That’s what happens to a lot of urban areas that are now described as food deserts. I think we have to be careful when we talk about creating solutions. We don’t want to create that same process again.

Let’s talk about the past work you’ve done with youth. Tell us about your experience with Be-Healthy.

Well one of the first steps for me and the reason I write cookbooks and do a lot of speaking at community events and colleges is that I truly believe that one of the most important steps is making people aware of the issue and what’s at stake. I always talk about the three levels of making changes: as consumers, as community members, as citizens. We need to make sure our local elected official or state and our federal officials are creating policies that ensure that food is accessible to everyone. I think to go into a community and even get people to think about why they should be invested you have to make them feel invested about wanting to eat fresh food. I think people who are used to eating a lot of fast food, that’s a gargantuan task in and of itself. Like, this is something you should care about, this is something that’s your ancestral heritage, this is something that is your birthright.

Olivari – The Detailers: Bryant Terry from twofifteenmccann on Vimeo.

When I started the organization, Be-Healthy, I was like, why are these young people coming in here talking about ‘I don’t eat vegetables’ or, ‘I don’t drink water.’ So to even get them to a point where they’re like I want to be a food activist, I want to be active in my community, I want to be a peer educator, I want to get people in my community invested in these issues. They need to be invested. They need to feel like this is something they care about.

How long was Be-Healthy around for?

Five years. It was implemented with a group of people I know from cooking school, grad school and the artist and activist community I was working with in New York City. Because of the population of kids we were working for, many of who had very little resources or access to healthful foods, we didn’t just want to have a program where we were talking to them. We wanted to be tactile, practical and engaging. I thought, what’s more engaging then teaching them how to cook as a way to politicize them, as a way to engage them?

I thought what Be-Healthy brought to the movement was the emphasis and importance of cooking as a tool for liberation. We would get the young people and have Thursday and Saturday workshops and go to the community farms or urban gardens and have them learn about these foods. We would get in the kitchen and make a meal. What we found was that young people were so much more invested when they made it! The ones who would be like, ‘I never eat vegetables’ or, ‘I don’t eat that quinoa stuff.’ When they made it, they would be like ‘well, I wanna try what I made.’ The more they opened up there palate, it just broke down their resistance to trying different things or eating fresh foods.

It must have been gratifying to see some of the changes in the students.

We celebrated the small victories. I think, as an educator, you can’t get too caught up in the immediate outcome because you might not see it immediately. The impact may not manifest for years. I think that was a position we had to hold that we were just planting seeds and hopefully it would stick and make an impact. For a young person to come into the program like, ‘I don’t drink water, only soda’ and by the end of the year, come in with a water bottle or with a bag of dried banana chips they bought with their own money instead of cheetos…those were huge victories for us.

But one of the biggest successes was this young woman who was about 16 or 17 who had a 2 year-old at the time and she wasn’t into eating healthfully but she wanted to eat more healthfully for her son. She wanted to share this with other teen moms. So we did a workshop about prenatal health and postnatal eating and it went phenomenally well. The young moms requested more workshops and out of that we raised money and started this project called The Healthy Moms, Healthy Babies project which was about working with young moms. So for that to come about organically from one of the young woman in our project was a big deal.

What keeps you committed to this? What’s your bigger vision?

A large part of the vision is having the communities who are most impacted by food injustice or food insecurity, by the exponential rise in preventable diet related illnesses that we’ve seen over the past several decades, having them be in charge of not only bringing more sources for fresh affordable healthful food into the communities, but take the lead in reversing some of the chronic illnesses that have been rising in the community. It starts with what we’re eating and how we’re thinking and what kind of physical activity we’re engaging in and  really understanding it’s not about popping pills or going to some physician and having them take care of you. It’s having us take care of ourselves.  It’s not about the individual but it’s about communities coming together and communally ensuring we’re improving our public health. One of the things that really moved me to do this work was learning that statistically, this generation of young people were at risk for having a shorter life span than their parents generation.

That’s insane. I didn’t know that.

This whole idea of us advancing and having all of this technology…I grew up understanding that those things meant we’d live longer and have a healthy and robust life. So, the fact that younger people are at risk for having a shorter life span really bothered me. I mean I have Twitter, Instagram and all that and I have a complicated relationship with it but I do feel like they can be important tools for educating and organizing but I would argue that the most important work happens when we’re in person, face to face and connecting in real time. I think those tools are great in actually bringing people together in real life because I don’t think just sitting behind a screen is going to solve our problems. I think we need to exchange and connect and work through it in real life.

For the complete story, head over to the original post.

Interview by Jahan Mantin

Short film credit: Barry Jenkins


Born and raised on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Jahan is an OG of pre-gentrified New York. She is a traveler, book nerd, creative coach, music lover, editor and the Co-Founder of Project Inkblot.