The RIC (RiseBoro Impact Competition)
In the fall we filmed the semi-final event that narrowed the competition to three finalists – three women of color - who were then invited to present their initiatives at a glamorous gala fundraising event at the Brooklyn Museum. These women worked throughout the winter, and in May of 2019, they pitched their projects before a panel of judges at the Chase Bank Auditorium in downtown Brooklyn. The judges used the RebelBase platform to evaluate these new solutions and ask tough questions about feasibility, scalability, and impact. RiseBoro CEO Scott Short awarded the grand prize of a $30,000 seed grant from the community partnership.
Inexperienced, but passionate and driven, the RIC participants show that the power to re-make one’s own reality is not as far out of reach as they may have originally thought. The hope for a wide distribution of this film is that it will encourage individuals from all types of communities to innovate for sustainability by developing entrepreneurial ventures of their own. Although there was just one winner, each competitor experienced a major transformation over the course of the year, and many described it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Though the competition is over, our crew now needs to film follow ups with the winner and others. And we need to commence editing the hundred + hours of footage we've gathered. We are in the process of raising completion funding from foundation grants and individual donors. You can contribute to our crowdsourced fundraiser here.
Once the film is completed, we'll enter it in film festivals and show it widely at universities, conferences and libraries around the country. After that, it will be offered for distribution on a streaming service such as Youtube, Netflix, Hulu or Amazon.
WHY MAKE THE RIC DOCUMENTARY?
Not only will this film portray the excitement of watching innovators overcome the ceaseless challenges of starting a business, it also will pose an enticing question: is it true that the power to be an entrepreneur lies in anyone’s hands? The issues the Bushwick neighborhood faces loom large throughout the documentary. The backstories of the contestants are both personal and political; their family stories frame the real stakes of the competition. Gentrification, racism, poverty, housing discrimination, disability, teen parenthood, language barriers and lack of access to early childhood education and healthcare are some of the many topics that impact the contestants as well as the community that Riseboro serves.
The RIC documentary is also a prototype for Business Unusual, a TV/web competition series based on the premise that we can activate powerful entrepreneurs everywhere by creating opportunities like the one offered at RiseBoro. Hosted by Alejandro Crawford, presenter of the RIC competition, the series is our own entrepreneurial venture. It will focus on conscious capitalism, with a different social / environmental theme each season. The series is currently in development. If you're interested in becoming a contestant,
check out RebelBase.co to start a profile.
Though Business Unusual will be a dramatic and entertaining series, its themes of entrepreneurship and environmental and social impact are also vitally important to the future of the American economy. The United States needs to revitalize entrepreneurship because start-ups drive job creation, and entrepreneurship rates have nearly halved since the ‘70s. Entrepreneurship took a steep plunge during the Great Recession, and start-up rates has been lackluster ever since. This is a problem because while every year firms of all types throughout the economy create and eliminate jobs, it is new firms that generate nearly all net new jobs. Entrepreneurship fills a special role in our economy, and we cannot afford to let it slip.
Furthermore, the United States needs to continue to build an economy that prizes environmental and social impact. The trend towards triple-bottom line accounting and the growing concern that corporations are showing for the impact they create beyond financial return is encouraging, but not nearly ubiquitous. Social and environmental impact are not yet dominant market values, although they are imperative to ensure not only our economic but our existential future.
Culturally, these themes have captured the imaginations and hearts of millions of Americans. Entrepreneurship is seen by many as one of the most prestigious occupations one can pursue. In fact, the myth of the rags-to-riches entrepreneur is fundamental to the American Dream. Meanwhile, responsible sourcing, ethical labor practices and cradle-to-cradle resource management are increasingly important to professionals and consumers. Arguably, the demand for jobs and goods that create positive social impact is driving the change in values among corporations.
The challenge with both of these areas is that they are often seen as unattainable. Without the backing of generational wealth, trying and failing at starting a business is not an option for many. Entrepreneurship can appear as a distant dream, one that’s reserved for the privileged few. And businesses that produce positive social impact may seem elitist or impossible to create. Stuck between traditional paradigms for nonprofit and for-profit organizations, creative alternatives may never even enter one’s mind as viable endeavors. This prevailing misconception can be damaging because it dissuades people from trying their hand at ambitious new pursuits.
Our new media projects will demystify and popularize an approach to entrepreneurship that links business with impact. Just as televised cooking competitions have elevated the culinary arts, we aim to unleash a new generation of environmental and social impact entrepreneurs.
In the Spring of 2018, we began filming a newly-launched social venture competition developed for employees of RiseBoro, the largest social services agency in the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood of Bushwick, Brooklyn. The call went out to 600 employees at a town hall-style meeting, asking what could work better in the community.
Fifty competitors responded, and they began attending workshops and mentoring sessions based on the RebelBase step-by-step innovation platform - covering everything from prototype to financials, all with the aim of maximizing social impact. We spent the year filming with participants as they developed initiatives aimed at transforming the food, the homes, the healthcare, the education, and, ultimately, the quality of life for Bushwick’s neediest residents.
The ambition and determination we witnessed among the contestants was fierce, and their personal stories were humbling. Among others in the film you will meet Micii, a woman who gave birth without missing a single work session; Anaís, a full-time RiseBoro employee also attending grad school full-time in addition to participating in the competition; and Ivan, recovering from losing his home and his job in the aftermath of hurricane Sandy and grateful to have found his place in the Bushwick community. We came to see these competitors as superheroes discovering their powers through this rare opportunity to create solutions to the problems that they were seeing daily in their lives as counselors, social workers and administrators.
Ivan O. Thomas
10,000 years of civilization is crashing in the next three decades. We really need people who are awake to this moment and are building out the solutions.