Be a Changemaker in Your City: Seattle Edition

The Vision: Cities and Changemaking

Ashoka’s vision is to have an Everyone A Changemaker™ world: one that responds quickly and effectively to social challenges, and where each individual has the freedom, confidence and societal support to address any social problem and drive change.

This vision is becoming a reality at a citywide level in Seattle, Ashoka’s first Everyone A Changemaker™ City. Ashoka Seattle believes that cities have the power to set examples and lead the way for an Everyone A Changemaker™ world, thus becoming more influential, at a citizen level, than countries. Seattle makes a prime model for a Changemaker City. It is a hub for innovation, with global companies such as Amazon, Microsoft, and Boeing headquartered there. It also doesn’t hurt to have citizens that are aware and eager to engage in changemaker activities.

Youth Pitch Contest

One of these activities—Ashoka Seattle’s 3rd annual "Be a Changemaker" event—took place recently, with Seattle residents turning out in droves to see some social impact in action. The event was focused around a Youth Venture competition for teams of young people to go head-to-head with their community-focused projects. Ashoka Seattle has focused most of its efforts on the Youth Venture program because it sees young people as being responsible for and capable of shaping the future.

Five of these Youth Venture teams were set up to greet guests as they arrived: Seattle Spirit, Post Cards from Farr Away, Innovation Generation, Swilo, Student RND, and Food Allergy Freedom. Energy and anticipation was high. Unable to wait any longer, guests burst through the doors and filed down the red carpet, getting photos taken along the way. Andrea Wenet, Ashoka Seattle’s executive director, kicked off the program by asking the question “What is a changemaker?” and then instilled in everyone the simple answer: “Anyone who gives himself or herself permission to create positive change!” Andrea highlighted this past year’s achievements (600 youth changemakers—NBD!) and clearly laid the path for the year to come.

Seattle Mayor declares 'Be a Changemaker Day'

Two exciting announcements followed. Victor Bremson, who has been an invaluable ally for Ashoka Seattle, was presented with the 2013 Jim McGinley Changemaker award. After this acknowledgement, a representative from the Seattle Mayor’s office came on stage and announced, “Seattle’s Mayor proudly declares October 11th as ‘Be a Changemaker Day!’ ”

The program’s keynote speaker, David Bornstein (noted social entrepreneur, journalist, and New York Times columnist), suggested that a Changemaker is not the “Hero riding in on a horse, but someone who is just like you and me!” He went on to explain that changemakers raise the ability of those around them and connect people to solutions. One of the key takeaways from David’s speech was his advice for everyone to stop fixating on the social problems and start focusing on the solutions.

Ken Alterman, CEO of Savers/Value Village, emceed arguably the most exciting part of the program—the Youth Venture pitch-off. Three Youth Venture teams were competing for seed funding for their social ventures. First up Swilo, a team of Seattle University students revolutionizing the way we think about giving, $1 dollar at a time. Next up, high school student Neil Jain spoke about his team’s venture ‘Innovation Generation’ and turning "geek to chic." The competition concluded with heavy hitter and longtime Youth Venture champion Ed Jiang, founder and CEO of Student RND. Student RND creates a workshop space complete with supplies, machinery, and experts for students to participate in hands on learning of science and technology.

No one was sure who the winner was, so it was put to an audience vote by cellphone. As the results tabulated live on the screen, Student RND just edged out Swilo to take home the prize. 

Ashoka Seattle’s third annual Be a Changemaker event along with a youth showcase event held a few months ago, is a part of Ashoka Seattle’s larger effort to spread the idea of changemaking. Ashoka Seattle strives to create demand for changemakers and make sure that employers and universities in Seattle value changemakers like the ones in the Youth Venture competition. The education system in Seattle is embracing changemaking and Ashoka Seattle is partnering with a number of schools to ensure that changemaking skills are being taught in their curriculums.