Each year on Earth Day, there are programs and events encouraging awareness of global environmental concerns. But some widespread problems, like climate change, can seem so massive that it’s difficult to know how individuals and grassroots groups can really make a difference, or where to start.
Ioby (In Our Back Yards) is a New York City-based organization that uses an online crowdfunding platform to support local, community-based environmental projects. By working at the neighborhood level, ioby hopes to emphasize the concrete ways that people can tackle global environmental problems at home.
Dowser: What is unique about ioby’s mission as an environmental organization?
Erin Barnes, co-founder and executive director: It’s part of the values that we have as an organization to work locally and be invested in the community. Ioby, the name, comes from the opposite of “nimby” (Not In My Backyard).
We started the organization because we felt like the environmental movement had long been concentrated on places where people don’t live. We felt that the interaction between people or communities and the environment was meaningful.
Every project we support through our site has to meet our environmental criteria. They have to be doing something that benefits the community too.
Why use a crowdfunding model, rather than the standard nonprofit model of grants and donations?
A lot of people feel compelled to do something for the environment but they have limited options: replace this lightbulb, buy this bamboo cutting board, and so on. Pretty empty transactions. We wanted to harness this energy and redirect it toward projects that are creating impact and need support.
So we met with the CEO and Founder of Donors Choose, Charles Best, and told him our ideas, and he was encouraging. Then we met with other leaders in the environmental movement and asked whether using an online funding platform to fund grass-roots work would be helpful, and they said it would.
Next we reached out to grass-roots groups and asked if they thought our platform could be useful to help them raise funds. And then, to our surprise, they asked if they could also use it to find volunteers online, so we’re incorporating that major change to our platform in our site re-launch this week. We’re making it easier for volunteers and project leaders to find each other.
As to running ioby itself, we’re a little over 90 percent funded by foundations and hopefully we’ll become self-sustaining over time. We’re in our second year of operation now.
What’s something that you’ve been challenged or surprised by in the last month?
It’s been a reminder of how lucky we are to work in the environmental community in NYC that other environmental organizations have been incredibly generous in helping us get off the ground. In the last month we’ve had the opportunity to host an event called the Wild & Scenic Film Festival along with other local environmental organizations. We feel that so much of our success is due to working with these amazing organizations.
What are some future directions for ioby?
Right now we’re expanding on a public art project in which New Yorkers are re-imagining our city by putting up signs that suggest ways the urban landscape can be improved.
The global environmental movement need to be about every single person taking part in solving global issues like climate change, and we want to make sure that nobody is held back from that. So the re-imagination series is about everybody taking ownership for their neighborhoods and considering ways it can be made better for the ecosystem, and stating that through a public art display.
We’ll be putting up a downloadable PDF of the sign on the website just before Earth Day weekend so that anyone can join the re-imagination campaign.
What are some small ways that people everywhere can take action to improve the environment?
Talk to your neighbors about how your area can be more green - literally more green - a more enjoyable place to be, and what you can do to make it better: keep an eye on the sidewalks, make sure there is not garbage in the treebeds. Remember to recycle, and compost to reduce trash that needs to be picked up.
Take care of the space around you. You can do a lot on your block.
What if we don’t know our neighbors?
If you don’t know your neighbors, you could attend block parties and public events, or simply spend time outside of your apartment meeting people and getting to know them. Just something as small as saying "hi." And go seek out your local community garden or park, since those people are already making a difference.
Interview has been edited and condensed.
This interview first appeared on Dowser.org.