Turning Waste into Opportunity | Beth's Blog

Turning Waste into Opportunity

Networked Nonprofit

Guest post from Sande Smith

During the first day of the Growing Social Impact in a Networked World conference, I had plenty of opportunities to have my mind blown. I wasn’t the only one. I heard my colleagues asking questions about the changes that would have to happen in their organizations for them to be able to truly embrace a new way of being  – a way that embraced network philosophy.


As my own mind began to reconstruct meaning, I found myself thinking about two presentations in tandem. Lisa Gansky’s presentation on The Mesh: Why the Future of Business is Sharing (learn more at http://lisagansky.com/) and the joint presentation from Bill Traynor and Audrey Jordan about Lawrence CommunityWorks, a project in Lawrence, Massachusetts that is rebuilding a profoundly shredded civic infrastructure.


The common denominator? How networks allow us to reclaim waste.


Lisa described how those of us who own cars use our cars just 8 percent of the time. The rest of the time, our cars are sitting. There’s a company called relayrides (https://relayrides.com/) that has figured out how to get folks revenue for the cars they own by renting the cars to other folks who don’t own cars. This is an example of how a network model of doing business reclaims that which was wasted.

Do you know what else is often wasted? The talent, passion and desires of people. In the case of Lawrence, Massachusetts, the wasted potential was the power of the impoverished. Bill Traynor explained that the civic infrastructure in Lawrence was decimated. Rooms and spaces for leadership were dysfunctional, and often  hostile to Latinos who make up 80 percent of the population. The landscape was dominated by gatekeeper organizations that are artifacts of another time.

When Bill Traynor assumed leadership of Lawrence CommunityWorks (LCW), a community development corporation, he recognized these challenges and met them with a series of amazing questions. How do you create trusted spaces and trusted information in an environment that is working very hard to amplify fear and distrust? What if those of us trying to solve the problem of the poor didn’t distance ourselves from them? What if we asked ourselves what fed us, motivated us, and built us up then required the same qualifications of programs that we create for the poor?

One of the key strategies for created these trusted spaces and trusted information is being conscious of physical space and the experience that prospective members have when they enter the building where LCW is based.

Audrey Jordan, a loaned exec of Annie E. Casey Foundation, works as director of partnerships, innovation and evaluation at LCW. She described how they create these welcoming spaces.

For example, when people come into the building, they’re treated like prospective members, not clients. Someone from the LCW sits down with them and talks about the variety of programs that are available. The prospective member hears about volunteer opportunities, the leadership program. In addition, they’ve changed the physical structure of LCW so that there are fewer desks for the staff to stand or sit behind. For more on how Bill Traynor thinks about the importance of creating welcoming spaces that upend positional power, see his blog:

Other key values?

Sense of reciprocity: Strive to allow and facilitate give/get relationships. This breaks down the client/provider relationship.

Open architecture: LCW creates situations where they don’t name a structure for something. First they decide what needs to be done then allow the form to follow the function. That might mean that rooms are set up so that chairs and tables can be moved around to suit the goals.

Being demand driven: To the extent possible, when members have ideas about things to be different, they’re encouraged to share their ideas and take on leadership roles and come together to make it happen.

Provisionality: There are no sacred cows. If the demand goes away, so does the program.

As a result of these values, LCW is contributing to Lawrence becoming a more vibrant and healthy place to live, sustained by the talent, passion and commitment of the Lawrence residents.

(LCW now has 5,000 members and generated over $25 million in new neighborhood investment, including 60 units of affordable housing on 15 abandoned and vacant parcels, a new community center, two new playgrounds and a range of family asset building and youth development efforts, impacting over thousands of families in Lawrence.)

Sande Smith is Director of Communications of the Women’s Foundation of California

2 Responses

  1. […] Turning Waste into Opportunity Guest post from Sande Smith During the first day of the Growing Social Impact in a Networked World conference, I had plenty of opportunities to have my mind… Source: http://www.bethkanter.org […]

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