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Now More Than Ever, Ahimsa Activism: In Our Backyards

Karen Schwartz: What does your organization do?

Katie Lorah: In Our Own Backyards is an online crowdfunding platform that helps people with good ideas for their neighborhoods plan, fund and implement positive change. In addition to providing a place for people to raise the funds that they need, IOBY also provide training and support in project planning, budgeting, and fundraising.

As a first step, go on and tell us your idea and what would make your neighborhood better. It can be as simple as making your streets safer for walking and biking, making your neighborhood a little bit greener, or providing kids in your neighborhood with an opportunity to do something fun after school. We work with individuals, nonprofits and coalitions of neighbors -- you don’t have to have an existing organization. Then we’ll get in touch and help you start to make a plan around fundraising, getting volunteers involved, anything you need to get your idea of the ground...and then we’ll help you launch your actual campaign page.

Generally people are fundraising for about six weeks, and within that time we provide a number of other training resources in order to make your project successful.

We have a fee structure that is among the lowest of any crowdfunding platform - the quickest way to find out about it is to go on

We believe that raising a small amount of money to make small positive steps is an important civic act and important way to connect with the place you live in and the neighbors that you live near. It’s an important way to tap into official decision making processes in your city as well.

We don’t actively tell people that their project has to be about nonviolence or promote peace but because of the nature of the communities we work in, and many of the leaders that we work with, it does tend to be a major thread in many of the projects that we see.

KS: Can you give us an example of someone whose life has been made better by this work?

KL: A project that was just recently funded and implemented is a photography program in Cleveland called Shooting Without Bullets. It gives youth access to cameras and trains them in photography to tell the story of the neighborhood from their perspective as insiders. They held a local art opening in the neighborhood. The kids actually took part in this public opening where they could bring their families and their neighbors as a point of pride. It was very deliberately called Shooting Without Bullets because...the feeling that remains there after the shooting of Tamir Rice is very real.

Illustrating how a small amount of money can make a huge difference, one of my favorite projects reformed a vacant lot near an elementary school into a teaching garden. It had an effect outside of the elementary school -- it became a bright point in the neighborhood itself.

There was a gentlemen that lived right next door to the garden named James. He began showing up every day, mowing the lawn, weeding. About a year later, James lost access to the lawn mower so he couldn’t mow the lawn anymore. His neighbors got together and decided they were going to buy James a new one. They raised $500 and bought him a new lawn mower and surprised him with it. It took people who spent time in the garden and who actually knew James to know that they could fix what was a small obstacle and, by doing so, register a vote of confidence in James coming forward as a steward of the space.

KS: Who inspires you and why?

KL: There is an awesome project I totally called Sister Supply. It started out an an IOBY project and it’s become a 501(c)(3) organization. [The founder] is Nikii Richey, she’s my total hero. She was really bothered by the fact that Memphis is a pretty poor city and there are a lot of women and girls that are affected by not having money to buy pads, tampons, and period supplies. For girls going to school without having access to those supplies, that can mean that you just don’t go to school for a week every month, and it really affects your grades and your future. For women that are trying to re-enter the work force, do job interviews or go to work, having to choose between feeding yourself and buying tampons is really a rough decision! Sister Supply gets donated supplies, packages them up and sends them out -- they work specifically with local high schools and they have another initiative that works with homeless shelters. They do this one thing that they’re really passionate about and they do it super well.

KS: How can someone participate or get involved with your organization?

KL: The best step that you can possibly take is to look around in your own community and think about what you would want to see changed. Even if it’s $500, how could you spend that on something and how can you work with your neighbors to achieve something? And when you have that idea go to and tell us what it is and we’ll help you out! If you want to get more involved, going to our web site and signing up for our emails is the best step.

Katie Lorah is Communications and Creative Strategy Director at IOBY

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