Archive for : Ask Big Questions

Big, Burning Interview: Annie Lorenzana of Mobilize.org

This July, Repair the World is teaming up with an awesome organization called Ask Big Questions (an initiative of Hillel) to ask the big, burning question: Who is in your community? Today’s answer comes from Annie Lorenzana of Mobilize.org, an organization that empowers and invests in Millenials (people born between 1976 and 1996) to make their communities and the world stronger.

What was the inspiration behind Mobilize?
We were founded just over a decade ago by a man named David Smith. It started because he was a student at UC Berkeley when tuition rates really began to hike at the school. Meanwhile, housing was getting more crowded and it was negatively impacting students. Some of his friends were beginning to drop out because they couldn’t afford to get their degrees. He had an idea that if they all got together and talked to their congressmen about it, they could create some change. So they set up a bunch of meetings at Capitol Hill and how up at Capitol Hill and ended up meeting with a congressman who used to be a student at UC Berkeley. They made a real personal call to him, telling him about the steep tuition and how the same dorms that used to hold 2 people now held 6. And they ended up getting a piece of legislation passed that froze tuition for 6 years. They were so successful and had such a profound impact, that they began to imagine what they could do with a whole network of people doing the same thing.

Over the past 10 years, we have grown to empower and invest in young people so they know they can take part in community change. Millenials often feel disenchanted with how the government works, so we want them to know they can have a positive impact on issues.

Tell me a bit more about your programs.
We are best known for our summits, which are 3 day programs held in different cities. People who attend can submit proposals on a specific theme, and then collectively the group picks the winning ventures. The top 5 ventures get a share of $25,000 and a lot of other support and leadership training. What’s cool about our process is that we empower the people closest to the problem to be the experts. We just convened in Detroit and focused on how young people can play a role in revitalizing the city, and we are next meeting in Philadelphia. What we have learned is that this generation is so fearless and really ready to take things on.

How do you pick communities to hold the summits?
We look for cities that have a lot of young people, that have potential partnering organizations, and places that can really use this type of engagement. We learned that Miami, for example, had the lowest civic engagement rate of the whole country and that young people are particularly disengaged there. So last year we convened more than 100 people enrolled in community colleges in Southern Florida to talk about the challenges they face, and how to address them.

How do you encourage and support their work, aside from the financial support?
We have developed a fellowship program called the Mobilizer Academy that comes after the summits. It’s a 12 month leadership development program that equips Millennials with the skills and resources they need to create successful organizations. We also have a Millennial meetup series that meets quarterly for one-day, skill based sessions. Some of those attendees come from a summit, and some are just community members interested in a particular topic.

Can you tell me a story that demonstrates Mobilize’s impact on participants?
We received an email a couple months ago from someone who attended a summit. She was a community college student, and when we met her she was questioning her role there. She had some personal challenges and was trying to get her life together. She said that when she came to the summit she felt for the first time that someone cared about what she had to offer and contribute. For the first time she felt truly empowered. When we got the email from her, she had just graduated summa cum laude! She said, “thank you for valuing my thoughts.” It was touching to see the story of one participant come full circle, and now she is planning to pay it forward.

Find out more about Mobilize.org at their website.