June 6, 2022

By: Kayla Jones, GSIC Social Impact Fellow

Bread and Butter Farms aims to utilize what the earth provides holistically to grow vegetables,  fruits, and herbs with zero chemicals. They simply take care of the soil, plant heirloom seeds, and harvest to provide the most nutrient-dense produce possible.

 

GSIC caught up with founders and owners Micole and Musa Hasan to learn more about Bread and Butter Farms and their mission to provide a “true farm-to-table experience” for the community. 

 

 

GSIC: Tell us about Bread and Butter Farms and the challenges you hope to address with your mission. 

 

Micole: Bread and Butter Farms initially started as a way to afford to feed our family the way we wanted to eat, without having to buy foods or produce full of chemicals. We began very small in our apartment. In each space we lived, we started indoor growing. Then we would go to the balcony and backyard, making a natural progression.

We finally got a house and a yard, so we turned the whole backyard into raised beds. That’s when we started selling at a market. We would take pictures and post them on social media, and people started showing interest in what we had. So, we would just sell bundles here and there, and then somebody said, “Well, you guys should come to the Athens Farmer’s Market.”

We were like, “Sure, why not!” So, we tried it, and it was like getting bit by a bug because we did not realize that we could make money doing something that we enjoyed. We were already doing it for our family but saw that we could provide income for ourselves. It was our opportunity to get out there as farmers, scientists, and Black people. The farmer’s market was an area in a food desert, too. We partnered with the Athens Land Trust, which tries to work with Athens’s underserved and underprivileged communities.

So, we felt it was a good space for us and a good fit because we got to talk to all sorts of people. For example, people would come to tell us about their health challenges, like high blood pressure and heart problems. Our experiences, along with our education, helped us talk to people about what they should eat to mitigate the issues that they were having.

We are both very passionate about farming. It keeps us going on some level, especially when it comes to our customers and seeing the needs that we can fill.

 

GSIC: That’s wonderful. How long have you all operated, and how have you grown over time? 

 

Musa: We started in 2012 and have been pushing ever since

 

Micole: Yes, we came up with the name “Bread and Butter Farms” in 2015 because initially, we were farming without a name. We were operating, giving produce to families, selling a little bit here and there. But we became “Bread and Butter Farms” once we were at the Athens Farmer’s Market. The name came because I make bread and cakes and Musa makes butter. We took that to the market with us and the produce, which is how we began.  

 

GSIC: That’s awesome. Did you grow up farming, or did you get more involved as you got older? 

 

Micole: I grew up growing and gardening. My mother and my uncles always had gardens. I come from an agricultural family to the point where agriculture was the only thing that supported the family. My mother grew up on a self-sufficient farm operation. Everything came off the farm – we grew cotton, corn, and mostly cash crops. We also had chickens and hogs. My father grew up in the same kind of farming operation as well.

It was deeply rooted in my upbringing; I was the only one out of four kids interested in it. Every fruit seed I got, I grew. I grew some flowers on my front lawn and my parents, thankfully, let me have that independence to be able to do that. I’d have my gardens, too. When Musa met me in college, I had a balcony garden. So, I’ve always loved growing.

Wherever the two of us moved, I said, “We have to have sun; I have to be able to grow something!” When I met Musa, he shared that he grew up on a farm. He’d still go back to the farm while we were in college, going to visit his grandfather and help him on the family farm in Monroe. Musa has more of an upbringing with agriculture firsthand, and my family was more into gardening. I’d say that I’m first-generation, returning to farming, and Musa is a second-generation farmer.

 

GSIC: How has building connections and relationships helped you all run and expand Bread and Butter Farms? 

 

Micole: We’re so grateful for our network. We try to reach out and take part in whatever we can in terms of growth and development, but we are also pretty selective about opportunities. We don’t deal with any bank loans, and we don’t deal with any interest. It is very important for us to be able to farm and make an impact without it being stressful and without negatively impacting our mental health.

Because farming is very stressful, you put everything in the ground at the beginning of the season. And we lost 85% of our crops, for example, from the frost that we got a couple of weeks back. So, you do these things, and sometimes it feels like you’re on a hamster wheel. But thankfully, we have a network. We do have places like Emory Start:ME, where if we need to share something, they can help us.

We have the opportunity to work with the American Heart Association and receive publicity through that. We work with MARTA stations and various farmers’ markets. We also meet people in different organizations and partner with these micro-food systems throughout Atlanta. We try to collaborate with them and provide them with produce the best way we can because we’re kind of far out – we’re an hour from Atlanta.

So, connecting with those individuals and knowing that our food is getting to the people who need it is a huge thing for us. We’re happy to work with anybody who moves in a direction parallel to our values and what we feel.

Working with the school system is another opportunity for us. Starting with the kids, you need to build from the ground up. Creating that knowledge base and that interest when it comes to agriculture and farming, that’s how we move. When it comes to SNAP benefits and people that are low-income, we try to squeeze into that space as well.

Good food is not a privilege. You shouldn’t have to make a certain amount of money to go to Whole Foods and be able to buy stuff – and who knows how old the food is!

Anybody that needs food should be able to get it

Musa: That’s exactly right

GSIC: Can you all speak to Bread and Butter’s farm share initiative and the benefits of this farming model? 

Musa: So, the farm share is pretty straightforward, and it is a model that started in Tuskegee, Alabama. Basically, the idea is to have individuals interested in zero chemical, organic produce. They buy into the program ahead of schedule – so people start purchasing full and half shares around November and December for the springtime growing season. A family of four might buy a full share, and they would get a weekly distribution of veggies for ten weeks. That allows us to know exactly how much we grow and who we are growing for. Those seeds and plants are already allotted, and as farmers, we don’t want to waste anything. It helps us save tons of food.

And there’s a difference in quality, too. When you’re eating certain types of food, and you go to a farm or a farmers’ market and grab something harvested less than a couple of hours before, or at most a day, the taste is absolutely amazing. Even if you are buying conventional produce, just the fact that you’re getting it earlier than two weeks, the taste is different. And we don’t use any chemicals or pesticides either, so the nutrient density of the plant and produce is astronomical. 

GSIC: Do you all teach people how to farm as well?

Musa: We are working on that, and we recently hired our first staff member. We’re hoping to hire another person, which will free us to host more farm dinners and workshops. 

Many people don’t understand what’s happening in society right now. There’s a decline in produce and meats, and other food products that are typically readily available. Our culture needs to understand growing practices and the benefits of growing.  And just growing, even if they live in an apartment, to grow whatever they can. “Grow where you are” has been one of our mottos since we started.

Micole: Exactly, and the whole agricultural system in the U.S. is not sustainable. The conventional farming system, mass-producing everything and importing, is not sustainable because it destroys the land and the soil. 

If we can get more micro farms and micro gardens going, people don’t have to be so co-dependent on a grocery store. Then, if there’s a fault in the system, people can keep moving without stress and pandemonium. We have been talking about moving more to an educational farm-based operation instead of market and Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) models.

As we age as farmers, that’s something that we think about – how long we can sustain the physical labor and how much longer we can keep doing it. We can’t assume that our kids will automatically want to farm and carry on the business, and a lot of times, that’s not the reality with farmers. We are considering and remain passionate about creating an on-site educational program for people who want to learn how to farm as a business or just learn how to grow.

GSIC: What do you believe is Bread and Butter Farms’ superpower?

Musa: I’ll answer for Micole, and she can answer for me. Micole’s superpower is her organization. With thinking outside the box and her critical thinking skills, she’s a chess master when it comes to outlining details that I wouldn’t typically think of when it comes to business, farming, and things of that nature. Her creativity and great ideas – that’s a huge superpower. 

But other than that, honestly, it’s the balancing she’s consistently doing. This balancing act between a wife, mother, and business owner, engaging in self-empowerment and community development. All of that together, I think, is a superpower. 

Micole: Thank you, babe. I appreciate that! Musa is a networking king. He’s good at greeting people and getting into spaces that will benefit us. He’s great at making connections that end up helping us in the present moment or down the line. 

Another thing is his work ethic. He has a way of tunneling in and getting things done. He helps me execute my ideas, and he’s good with numbers. I think we’re a good business match in that way. He presents information in a format that people can read and understand, which has helped us in our grant writing and securing funding. We’re playing off our strengths.

GSIC: What other programs are you planning to start at Bread and Butter Farms? 

Micole: We’re pushing our farm stand to get more people down to the farm. It’s a precursor to having a school program, so we want more people to learn about growing. Those happen on Sundays. As we move forward, we’re hoping to grow and develop more as a company. We’d also love to provide jobs for more people interested in agriculture. 

Musa: Yeah, we think that’s important. Our whole motto is self-sustainability. Farmers’ markets are good spaces to be in as a farm, but we may not always be able to depend on them. 

Everything is done as a steppingstone to something else. Bill Gates purchasing farmland, for example, is a stepping stone to things that might come down the pipeline. Rules and the policies that get passed will likely protect big corporations or other big farmers from small farmers. Down the line, this might require farmers to get different certifications to keep farming. To avoid those regulations and policies that will come later, we believe that selling from our farm itself and dealing with the people around us will help us as we move forward. 

GSIC: Thank you both so much for your time.

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Get connected and learn more about Bread and Butter Farms!

Bread and Butter Farms Instagram | Facebook

Monroe, GA. 30655 | 470-487-3959 | [email protected]

May 2, 2022

Lavonya Jones is passionate about entrepreneurship as a solution to economic injustice and inequality. As a third-generation HBCU graduate, she also serves as an Entrepreneurship Instructor for Morehouse College, the founder of a social justice media company, Consciously Funded, and the Director of Student Programs for the Morehouse Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center where she works with students at Minority Serving Institutions around the country, creating pathways for them into entrepreneurship, technology, and venture capital.

What makes you excited about this new role with GSIC?
I am passionate about a world where all communities thrive, and I have followed GSIC’s work since its beginnings. As a Georgia native, I’m excited about being in a position to make connections across the ecosystem to raise a more equitable and sustainable Georgia for all of our residents. I’m also eager to build deeper working relationships with many friends that I’ve worked with throughout my career.
What do you admire about GSIC’s work so far, and how do you hope to see Georgia’s broader social impact ecosystem evolve under your leadership?
I truly admire how GSIC has amplified the conversation in Georgia around social impact and impact investing. When I moved back home after college and spoke about social impact work, people looked at me like I had two heads! It’s refreshing to see this conversation being normalized. Georgians are starting to see that you can do good and do well. Under my leadership, I’d like to see deeper roots for social impact and impact investing also grow throughout the state. I’d also like to see a greater understanding and development of B-corporations in Georgia, as well as an expanded priority on equity and inclusion within the social impact and impact investing ecosystems. Lastly, I’d like to see an acceleration in how we are aligning capital with social outcomes in the state of Georgia, particularly as it relates to the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals. My goal is to ensure that we develop an ecosystem that fosters equitable and sustainable outcomes for present and future Georgians.

Connect with Lavonya on LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook!

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/coachlavonyajones/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/CoachLavonya

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/coachlavonyajones/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CoachLavonyaJones

April 28, 2022

 

By: Lavonya Jones, GSIC Director

 

During the 2021-2022 academic year, Morehouse College, Spelman College, and Clark Atlanta University because the first Historically Black College and Universities (HBCUs) to join the Blackstone Launchpad network. Founded in 2008, Blackstone Launchpad is a program of the Blackstone Charitable Foundation to help students navigate the innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem by complementing existing on-campus offerings with experiential learning, skill-building, and connections to mentors.

As a fellow interested in tackling housing in Black communities, Jamir Withers stated that the Blackstone Launchpad program has helped him to “acquire a lot of excellent new contacts, learn how to utilize LinkedIn effectively for networking purposes, and gain a lot of fresh insights and ideas on how to grow my business.” And tech-focused fellow, Quincy Box of QTech Innovations, shared that the fellowship allowed him to be “exposed to ideas and processes that I never knew existed.”

As a part of this program, Morehouse and Spelman fellows were able to attend the Startup Grind and TechCrunch Early Stage conferences hosted in Silicon Valley in April of 2022. A delegation of five students and two staff members from Morehouse attended. During the first day of this event, Blackstone Launchpad directors and students from the U.S. and Ireland participated in sessions that focused on building capacity around our innovation and entrepreneurship programs, balancing being a student and a founder, and opportunities to network between campuses. In these sessions, students met with other student founders “tackling huge problems that plague society today.” Morehouse Fellow Zaire Gary of social enterprise The Black Certification Agency and Company, was able to network, learn, and experience real entrepreneurship and startup culture, including assisting John Hill of Techstars with his presentation. Zaire stated, “One gem John dropped was for us to focus on building quality connections rather than quantity. That is really important to me because often we focus on gaining as many connections as possible, however; quality connections are more important because of the effectiveness of the relationship.”

At Startup Grind, students heard from innovation leaders from Y Combinator, Oracle for Startups, OpenSea, Andreessen Horowitz, Dell Technologies, Dropbox, and InstaCart, among others. Students were also able to meet and have a one-on-one conversation with Arlan Hamilton of Backstage Capital and HireRunner. At TechCrunch Early Stage, students heard from innovation leaders from Sequoia Capital, Microsoft for Startups, Google Ventures, Google for Startups, SoftBank Opportunity Fund, Amazon Web Services, and Samsung Next, among others. Highlighting Obi Akpuda of Microsoft for Startups roundtable on building a minimum viable product (MVP), fellows stated that this session was inspirational and informative, expanding their understanding that “your MVP must answer your customers’ needs or their problem with a solution that solves your customers major pain points.”

Overall students enjoyed seeing “other student entrepreneurs with brilliant ideas and ambition doing business, networking, and then just having fun” at the two conferences. Speaking on his experience as a Blackstone Launchpad Fellow, social entrepreneur Jamir Withers shared that his time as a fellow “was an unforgettable experience that I will always cherish.” Fellow Thomas Bitting of Goldilocks Shower System, whose business idea started as a science project, proclaimed that “having the privilege to be a member of the Blackstone Launchpad program was an amazing experience that has genuinely changed the course of my life….This program has opened my eyes to the many possibilities of what my life could really be!

 

Morehouse Blackstone Launchpad Fellows: Student Testimonials

ZAIRE GARY: Last week I spent 4 days in Silicon Valley networking, learning, and experiencing real entrepreneurship and startup culture. My experience was in one word: amazing. I am going to discuss a couple of gems I learned over the week from practical and applicable advice to personal development and industry secrets. I must mention the impact a Morehouse education and matriculation had on my ability to move into a space so unknown to me as I had never been to California. Morehouse gave me the confidence get out of my seat on the very first day, go on stage in front of all of the Blackstone Launchpad Fellows and assist John Hill from Techstars with his presentation. That eagerness and confidence gave me the opportunity to have a 30 minute private meeting with John on Thursday of this week. John is a self-proclaimed evangelist at Techstars, which means he focuses on utilizing his network in an exponential way to connect whoever to whoever they need to grow and succeed. One gem John dropped was for us was to focus on building quality connections rather than quantity. That is really important to me because often we focus on gaining as many connections as possible; however, quality connections are more important because of the effectiveness of the relationship. 

The next special moment for me was connecting with Obi from Microsoft for Startups. The connection I made with him was special for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, I was able to see a man who looked like me, working out of Microsoft’s office in Atlanta, who led a round table discussion about MVPs or your minimum viable product. Obi was an inspiration and extremely informative. The most important thing I got from his round table at the TechCrunch Early Stage 2022 conference was that your MVP must answer your customers’ needs or their problem with a solution that solves your customers major pain points. From my own experiences and failures in business, I realized that you must validate, validate and then re-validate your problem and your customer’s pain point. This is extremely important because the problem is the foundation of your entire business. If your problem isn’t a serious pain point, then it invalidates the entire company you build on top of it and around it. 

My experience overall was so uplifting an inspiring, especially seeing other student entrepreneurs with brilliant ideas and ambition doing business, networking, and then just having fun! I am extremely thankful for Morehouse, Blackstone Charitable Foundation, Kylan Kester, Professor Lavonya Jones, and all the amazing entrepreneurs I connected with and listened to.

 

JAMIR WITHERS: My time at Blackstone was an unforgettable experience that I will always cherish. As one of the more senior members, I was expected to take on a greater leadership role. This was a new experience for me, but I am glad that I was able to help the younger guys. I felt as though I was able to assist others in becoming more comfortable by encouraging them in whatever manner I could. It meant a lot to me that my presence enabled the guys to represent Morehouse with the intellect, politeness, and professionalism that we did. Everyone there was blown away by us, and I hope we paved the way for more HBCUs to be invited to similar events in the future. Overall, I was pleased with how well we looked after ourselves. 

The environment was filled with so many imaginative and creative people; it was amazing. The genuine definition of entrepreneurship is everyone getting together to network, teach, and learn from one another. I’ve acquired a lot of excellent new contacts, learned how to utilize LinkedIn effectively for networking purposes, and gained a lot of fresh insights and ideas on how to grow my business. 

The most important thing that I learned was how to be at ease while meeting new people and, more significantly, how to be at ease with myself. Everyone is a little awkward, but most people respect those that are prepared to put themselves out there and are nice.  I’ve also discovered that many of the finest public speakers at the conference, both now and in the past, have struggled with public speaking fear. It makes me feel better about addressing my issues with public speaking. Maybe it’s acceptable for me to experience anxiety if these renowned individuals do. 

 

QUINCY BOX: The Blackstone Launchpad Fellowship has been very beneficial for me and my entrepreneurial path. I have been exposed to ideas and processes that I never knew existed. The conference is an example of something that I have not been exposed to before, so I experienced many things for the first time. I am an introverted person, but the conference pushed me to meet and  talk to people from all around the world. When I spoke to them, lots of their business ideas were tackling huge problems that plague society today, such as access to affordable goods. I met so many great people at the conference and am very grateful to Blackstone for putting this together for us and allowing me to meet other entrepreneurs from all walks of life.

 

 

 

 

THOMAS BITTING: Having the privilege to be a member of the Blackstone Launchpad program was an amazing experience that has genuinely changed the course of my life. My business began as just a science experiment, but now it has the potential to become my career. The connections I have made and the things that I have experienced are things that will benefit me no matter what I choose to do during and after college. This program has opened my eyes to the many possibilities of what my life could really be!

April 14, 2022

 

By: Tyler Thompson and Jeffrey Shiau

 

Profile Summary:

  • Entrepreneur Name: Tyler Thompson
  • Venture Name: Atlanta Green Market (a subsidiary of TESS: The Environmental Solutions Store)
  • Impact Focus Area(s): Environmental Sustainability [Our own unique terminology: “Consumer-driven, market-based environmental problem-solving”]
  • Business Stage (Ideation, Startup, Early, Later, Mature): Startup
  • Year Venture Established: Formerly registered in 2021
  • Business Type: LLC (working towards multi-stakeholder co-operative)

 

The Issue

Social entrepreneurship is about solving problems. Tell us about the challenge you are focused on addressing and why it is critical that we make progress.

The consumer challenge we are working to solve is convenience, trust and access. The idea of buying “green” looses steam against these three countervailing winds. It has to be easy to “buy green.” If not, then people won’t do it. People have to trust that their “green” purchase is having a meaningful, positive environmental impact. Otherwise “green” looses it’s legitimacy. And, buying “green” has to be affordable. The Environmental Solutions Store aspires to solve all three of these issues as a trusted marketplace for “green” products and services.  Coordinated, collective consumer action can inspire market forces to change. In fact, consumer spending can advance market-based solutions to environmental problems much more effectively than government can regulate polluting industries. That’s because businesses will fight tooth-and-nail against government regulation, but they will turn on a dime, for a dime. We just have to come together to buy things that move the green-economy forward fast enough and far enough to displace the harmful practices of big business as it is known today.

Your Journey

Entrepreneurship is a journey that requires connections and support from a wide array of stakeholders across the ecosystem to help successfully identify, start, and grow a social enterprise. How has your life’s experiences, educations, and relationships prepared you for your journey as an entrepreneur?

My personal life journey is a winding road. I grew up hearing my father preach from a pulpit to an invisible congregation about the dangers of mankind’s treatment of the natural world. He published a book in 1992 called The Environmental Entrepreneur: Where to find the profit in saving the Earth. The book was successfully kept off the shelves by a business that took offense to my father’s factual reporting and which threatened to sue the publisher if the book was distributed. He has devoted his entire career to researching and writing about the intersection of ecology and economy, developing academic frameworks for eco-labeling along the way. After pursuing a career in international development, including service in the Peace Corps, and a corporate stint at Delta Air Lines; I decided to complete a 7,000 mile self-supported cycling trip from northern Alaska to Key West, Florida. On that trip I committed myself to brining some of my dad’s ideas to life. Since then I’ve been working with him and others to launch the business with a kickoff event that we’re calling the Atlanta Green Market Fair–April 23rd at Ponce City Market. This event will be a test of our marketplace concept, featuring local “green” businesses, a full-day’s schedule of environmental programming and numerous environmental non-profit organizations. Those who haven’t already can RSVP at www.atlgreen.market.

Why Georgia’s Social Impact Ecosystem Matters

Being an entrepreneur is hard and it’s even more challenging when you are a social entrepreneur as your business model and / or structure doesn’t follow the same path as traditional start-ups. Tell us about the framework you have used to overcome issues that threatened to sink your venture.

I believe in the power of what we as consumers can achieve by coming together. To me, that power is sufficiently extinguished by the allure and acceptance of venture capital. Not impossible, but not probable. That’s why I’m personally interested in the co-operative model. The idea is that the business supports it’s stakeholders, rather than it’s shareholders. In our case, stakeholders would include employees, vendors, customers and communities. Our vendor collective will pay a nominal membership fee that will provide them needed services–marketing, branding, accounting, legal. Our employees will earn fair wages and share in profits. Our customers will earn dividends in the same vein as the well-known REI co-op model. And our community will benefit from knowing that they are not alone in their sustainability efforts. Our intention is to be able to show exactly how the community is having an impact through their collective purchasing decisions. Educational events and resources will be provided to support these efforts to connect all of our stakeholders. It’s not a model for rapid return on investment. Rather, it’s a sustainable pathway forward that benefits all parties involved. All that’s left to overcome is impatience, and the unknown. All I know is, we’re better together.

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Interested in learning more, please visit:

April 4, 2022

 

By: Kayla Jones, GSIC Social Impact Fellow

 

Yohana Solomon was born and raised in Ethiopia and came to the US in 1998 due to a civil war. She is the owner of Atlanta Underground Market and chef and owner of Kushina Catering, which specializes in authentic Ethiopian cuisine. Yohana is also co-founder of Chow Club Atlanta. She currently resides in Atlanta, Georgia, with her daughter.

 

Amanda Plumb is co-founder of Chow Club Atlanta and author of Uniq ue Eats & Eateries of Atlanta. She lives in East Atlanta with her dog, Pepper, and three chickens. 

 

GSIC caught up with Chow Club co-founders Yohana Solomon and Amanda Plumb. Check out how they’re building community, spreading knowledge, and celebrating culture through food! 

 

GSIC: Tell me about the challenge you’re focused on addressing and why it’s critical that an organization like Chow Club exists. 

 

Yohana: From an immigrant and refugee perspective, when you’re in a country where you don’t know anybody, you don’t know the ins and outs of the country, and most of the time, you’re escaping some dire situation back home. Most immigrants and refugees are good at feeding people – especially cooking for a large number of people. They have a skill but don’t know what to do with it. And I believe Chow Club gives an opportunity for those individuals. It’s a platform to cook, make some money, and at the same time, tell their stories. That’s one good thing we’ve managed to do – it’s a great way for the foodie community to learn about a different culture. You also get to try amazing food! 

 

Amanda: Yes, I agree! Even for folks who aren’t immigrants, some people enjoy cooking, but they don’t know how to market themselves or get a following on social media. So, we’re helping other small businesses, though primarily immigrants and refugees, build their brand by putting a spotlight on them for a month. Our customers want to learn about other cultures. They’re curious and want to try new foods, but maybe they don’t feel confident walking into an Ethiopian restaurant in Clarkston or don’t know what to order and where to begin. So, we take people through this journey through the food. 

 

We also started the dinners when Trump was in office. People were looking for ways to show solidarity and support people from other countries. You’re not only learning about new cultures, but at the dinners, you’re probably sitting with people you’ve never met before. So, you’re meeting new people, and it’s a great communal experience. Food is intrinsic to all of humanity – people love their food and tend to show their love and express themselves through food.

 

Yohana: Food is a universal language. And, where else can you meet, for example, a person from Liberia? We have a Liberian chef hosting our dinner next month. People may have heard stories about war and other hardships in Liberia, but people often don’t know the rich culture, the food, and the beauty of the country. Where else can you go to meet somebody from Liberia, try their food, and hear their stories? What an amazing opportunity! 

GSIC: That’s amazing. Food is definitely a quick way to the heart! How did Chow Club get started and how has it evolved over time? 

 

Yohana: I used to do the Atlanta Underground Market, where I had the pleasure of meeting and working with chefs from all walks of life. Amanda used to host pop-up dinners at her house. One of Amanda’s friends celebrated his birthday, and he wanted Ethiopian food. She called and asked me where to go for the best Ethiopian food, and I jokingly said, “my house,” since I catered on the side. So, she had me host the dinner at her house. It was great, people enjoyed it. 

 

From that time, we looked at our relationships – the vendors, the chefs, the people on our email lists – and thought why don’t we start hosting these dinners at Amanda’s house, featuring different chefs each month? That’s how we started, and it’s been a blessing since then. 

 

Amanda: Right. The dinners actually started in my home in East Atlanta, very organically. I don’t think we were trying to start a business, but we enjoyed hosting the dinners and kept doing them. Eventually, we decided to turn it into a business. We hosted them at my house for about a year and a half, and we outgrew it. Since the pandemic, we’ve been at Underground Atlanta and are now planning to move to a space called Uptown Atlanta. It’s a new development near the Atrium. For the most part, though, things have been pretty much the same. I think that’s the really nice thing about our model and being so small. We can test things out, try out new ideas, and see what works and what doesn’t.  

 

GSIC: That’s great. So you both already started talking about the power of community building – from your relationships with the chefs and your customers. Can you speak to how you built those relationships with the different stakeholders in Chow Club? 

 

Amanda: I think the only thing we have is our relationships. Yohana knows a lot of different chefs, and I got to meet a lot of chefs, too. And we’re always looking to expand that network. Our chefs support each other; they tend to volunteer at each other’s events, give each other tips, and get to know each other, which is important.

 

We have a group called our ambassadors, which are our customers that have been to five or more dinners. We’ve had some customers with us since day one – it’s something they do every month like clockwork. We always have new people that come to Chow Club, too. We’re actually going back to what we used to do, putting people at communal tables. Starting this month, we’re giving people a choice to either sit by themselves or sit communally. This way, our customers get a chance to meet new people and build connections. We’ve had people make business connections at Chow Club and others who decide to come together every month for dinner. We also use the space to promote other small businesses. We want it to be a place for everyone, where everyone wins or can benefit. 

 

Yohana: Right! We’ve also managed to build Chow as a place that’s more than eating good food. We managed to build a community that enjoys being at the dinners and supports each other. We have clients that would literally follow us wherever we go. 

 

We also source chefs from everywhere. Most of them are connected to the refugee and immigrant centers around the Clarkston area, but many are from all walks of life. For example, Amanda might go to a pop-up market, see some interesting food, and talk to the chef. I might go to Clarkston to buy some injera and meet a chef from Nigeria while there. We’re always looking for somebody that wants to tell their story, someone that wants to start catering or launch a food business. We look everywhere for our chefs. 

 

And once they join us, we really consider them to be a part of our family. So, if we hear of events or other opportunities, we let them know about them. It’s not like, “You’ve done a dinner for us, bye-bye.” Instead, it’s more like, “You’re a part of our group now; how else can we support you and provide you with the resources you need?”

 

Also, during dinners, the chefs will come and talk about their menu and the story of each course. They’re always available throughout the dinner to answer questions so our customers can learn more. It’s very interactive. 

 

Amanda: Absolutely. Another thing we do that helps build the community is our passport book. When people come to Chow Club, if it’s their first time, we give out a little orange passport that says, “Chow Club.” Every time they come, they get a sticker representing a different country they’ve ‘visited’ through our dinners. We want people to know that they’re officially part of Chow Club once they join us for dinner and have some ownership of that. 

 

GSIC: That’s wonderful. What do you think is Chow Club’s superpower, and what is a favorite moment about doing this work? 

 

Yohana: Our superpower is connecting people, for sure. We created this awesome community. One moment that stands out to me is during the travel ban around 2018 or so when the Syrian war took place. We met this beautiful Syrian mother and son, who were both refugees. We formed a friendship with them and could hear their fear about not feeling accepted in the United States. They didn’t know if they would fit in and had a fear that everyone hated them. As a refugee myself, I know that fear and could understand why they felt that way. 

 

So, we decided to host a Chow with them cooking. Many people asked how they could support the Syrian community, and we felt Chow was a great opportunity. We thought people could learn about the culture, and at the same time, the mother and son could connect with the community. I remember them being so nervous because they weren’t sure if people would like their food or like them. But the amount of support and love they received at that dinner brought tears to my eyes! It was such a beautiful moment to see people connect in that way – just as human beings. 

 

Amanda: Yeah, that was such a special moment! Another reason Chow is really cool is that most of the chefs we work with don’t have their own restaurants or food business. Some of them already do catering, or Chow Club might be the first time trying catering. For many of them, this is the biggest event they’ve ever done. Just seeing the pride and sense of confidence that comes with hosting the dinner and having so many people tell you that they love your food is wonderful. Chefs don’t always get that feedback when catering or even at a restaurant – customers don’t always go back and tell the chefs they enjoyed the food.

 

I agree with you, Yohana – that moment with the Syrian family took Chow up another level. All our chefs who make these delicious meals often learned to cook from their grandmothers and mothers. They’re proud of their food; their family knows they’re a great cook, so does their community back home. But having someone they’ve never met before, validating them, and being excited to learn about them is special. At the end of the night, we always try to convince the chefs to go out, move from table to table and talk to people. Though the chefs can feel a little awkward, the customers love it! The customers get to ask questions, and the chefs get feedback, too. As a chef, you’re like a celebrity for a night at Chow Club! 

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Learn more about Chow Club at chowclubatlanta.com and follow them on Instagram @ChowClubAtl

 

The next dinner will be a Liberian dinner with Chef Carmenia Morgan Tyrus on May 6 and 7. Sign up to attend at https://chowclubatlanta.com/ols/products

March 31, 2022

 

By: LaDerrius Williams, GSIC Social Impact Fellow

 

GSIC x START: ME x Read 4 Unity

  • Entrepreneur: Yenny Yang
  • Venture: Read4Unity
  • Impact Focus Area(s): Literacy, Diversity
  • Business Stage (Ideation, Startup, Early, Later, Mature): Ideation/Early
  • Year Venture Established: 2020
  • Business Type: Micro-Nonprofit

Yenny Yang is committed to creating a better tomorrow for our children and the next generations to come. In 2020, the StartMe: Clarkston alum founded Read 4 Unity, a passion project devoted to the power of literacy, diversity, creativity and unity. Read 4 Unity is currently a micro-nonprofit with a mission to diversify America’s bookshelves. Yenny describes Read 4 Unity as being in its discovery stage. Yenny has yet to decide whether Read 4 Unity will transition from a non-profit to a for-profit social enterprise. She credits Emory’s Start: Me program for helping her breakdown her long-term goals into more manageable bites, creating metrics to track her impact, and helping her craft a framework and operational runway to determine whether social entrepreneurship is the proper means to serve her end: providing diverse books to children.

Read 4 Unity has 3 major ways to acquire books: wholesale, partnerships with self-published authors, and donations. Read 4 Unity utilizes wish lists on its website that allow visitors to donate books to the organization directly. Read 4 Unity also defrays the cost of books by selling tiered book bundles on its website.

Read 4 Unity has 3 major avenues to deliver their books into the hands of children: book fairs, partnerships with organizations like The Little Free Library and Georgia Southern University, and donations to teachers that query Read 4 Unity on its website.

Read4Unity’s continuing partnership with Clarkston’s Refuge Coffee has been beneficial to both organizations and has allowed Read 4 Unity to test and refine its book fair concept and its mini-libraries that it has dubbed Read 4 Unity book nooks.

Read 4 Unity has successfully leveraged existing distribution channels to provide diverse children’s books to more communities in Georgia and beyond. It has forged partnerships with The Little Free Library, Kennesaw State University, and Yenny’s alma mater Georgia Southern University to increase Read 4 Unity’s footprint without straining the organization. The Georgia Southern University office of Diversity and Inclusion and the Georgia Southern University Collegiate 100 partnered with Read 4 Unity to create and manage Read 4 Unity book nooks in and around Statesboro and Savannah. The Georgetown Law School student group in Washington D.C. has also sponsored a Read 4 Unity book fair.

The goal of Read 4 Unity is not to stand up as many libraries as possible. It would rather leverage partners like The Little Free Library, which partnered with Read 4 Unity to provide diverse books in the Atlanta market, to manage the sites where the books are distributed. Instead, it would like to focus on discovering new diverse authors and ensuring that their books make it to the hands of the children, parents, and teachers that need them.

Its moonshot goal is to put 1,000,000 diverse books into the hands of children in the next 5 years. Thus far, it has provided 5,000 diverse books to communities around the country. Read4Unity is holding a diverse book fair at Refuge Coffee’s Spring Market on April 30th.

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Interested in learning more, please visit:

March 7, 2022

 

By: LaDerrius Williams, GSIC Social Impact Fellow

 

On Friday, February 18th, 2022, Georgia State University’s (GSU) Social Entrepreneurship Club and the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies Career Center coordinated a “Careers in Impact-Focused Businesses” virtual networking event. Students got an opportunity to learn the skills needed for internships and full-time positions in organizations across Georgia’s social impact ecosystem.

The event opened with remarks by Dr. Garima Sharma, Director of the BIS in Social Entrepreneurship at GSU. She then led a panel that consisted of:

Atticus LeBlanc, CEO and Founder of PadSplit, an online marketplace that uses shared housing as a means of creating financial independence for users. PadSplit is an affordable housing solution that has garnered plaudits from the national media and is regarded as a model for generating affordable workforce housing in markets facing accelerating gentrification.

Nathan Stuck, Director of Culture and Strategic Impact at Ad Victoriam Solutions and Founder and Chair of B Local Georgia. Nathan also has founded a B Corp consultancy, Profitable Purpose Consulting, which has recently submitted its own B Corp certification. Nathan also chairs the B Local Engagement Committee for B Academics and teaches a course in the University of Georgia’s MBA program.

Sydney Hulebak, Impact Investment Manager, GoATL Fund. Sydney has devoted her career to empowering members of Georgia’s social impact ecosystem. In her new role as an Impact Investment Manager with the GoATL Fund, she will continue her work of accelerating lasting positive outcomes in the Atlanta metro area through impact investing by providing cost-effective loan capital to entities serving our region’s most critical needs.

Sydney, Atticus, and Nathan discussed the winding paths that led them into careers in social impact and impressed upon attendees the importance of being flexible. They talked about how social problems require interdisciplinary solutions, and encouraged students to build relationships and focus on their skill capacity: “What you can bring to the ecosystem is important, and we all need you to expand that skillset if possible.”

At the panel’s close, students were allowed to join breakout rooms to network with attendees. In addition to Sydney, Nathan, and Atticus, Avery Ebron, Head of Community Products at The Guild, and Jessica Duveen, CEO of the Lo, were present to chat with students in the breakout rooms. The results were lively conversations that provided students with clarity and contacts that would allow them to chart their paths in the social impact ecosystem.

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If you would like to participate further in the social impact ecosystem in Georgia, feel free to contact GSIC at [email protected].

March 1, 2022

 

By: Kayla Jones, GSIC Social Impact Fellow

 

The Oikos Institute for Social Impact helps congregations strategically respond to the disorienting effects of gentrification, disproportionate unemployment, and changing local demographics by harnessing the power of their assets. Oikos’ goal is for faith communities to maintain their agency in the use of their assets for mission, increase their vitality, and embrace their role as an agent of impact in the community.

GSIC caught up with Rev. Dr. Sidney S. Williams, Jr., Oikos Institute’s Co-Founder and Board Chair, to discuss their new report which highlights the organization’s progress since its 2020 launch.

 

Why did you decide to focus on this specific challenge within congregations, and why do we need to make progress now?

Though I didn’t really think of it in this way when I first began, I now see this work as a racial equity issue. Historically, the Black church has been more than a religious institution. It’s been a social, cultural, political, historical institution that carries the sacred memories of its community. It was a place of community organizing, social mobilization and mobility. It carries so much more than religious value, than perhaps a mainline white Protestant church.

When layering on the reality of gentrification, and the increasing wealth gap in many of our urban communities, the only assets many Black communities own, of any substance, is the church. And so, when that goes away because of gentrification and dispossession, it’s not just the church that disappears, it’s a sacred member of the community that gets erased, too. We need to put the same level of energy – like the energy to preserve the legacy of HBCUs – into preserving other cultural institutions within Black communities, too.

 

Entrepreneurship is a journey that requires connections and support from a wide array of stakeholders across the ecosystem to help successfully identify, start, and grow a social enterprise. How might stakeholders within faith communities and those across the ecosystem best support Oikos as it grows as a social enterprise? 

Oikos is at an interesting point of intersection. We’ve talked to some people raised in these religious communities, those who grew up in church and found themselves frustrated at the lack of impact congregations are making. I think the challenge for this sector is being able to think and reimagine leadership in ways that transcend traditional norms.

On the other hand, the challenge for those who may have no religious background or no particular articulated faith is to see the social impact and value of these congregations, even if they don’t necessarily share those religious values. In order to see the value of their impact, it is important to come into the local communities and see who is doing the work, rather than assuming no one is doing it.

For example, when thinking about missionaries who came to Indigenous cultures, they brought capital, and resources, but they also negated those existing structures. They dismantled existing structures, they displaced people – whole communities. So, impact investors, if not checked, and if not, self-aware, may be employing colonial models in urban communities when bringing in resources, but ignoring the cultural assets already intact.

I think the work of impact investing is to raise funds, and create rubrics for investment, but to also know the culture and community. Then, finding ways to co-invest with the community, rather than dispossess, or displace those who are already investing, and had been investing in the community.

 

Can you speak about being a social entrepreneur in a space that does not follow the same path as traditional start-ups?

I’ve seen a lot of mobilization within the impact investing space amongst both men and women of color. But the financial markets are still heavily asset-based, credit-based and cash-flow based. So, for start-up entrepreneurs trying to make a social impact, it can be a difficult start unless you’re rich or maybe have a trust fund.

So, the question becomes, “What are the anchor institutions that have the assets and the networks already in place?” As I mentioned before, congregations, beyond religious value, have a physical asset in the community. They have built-in social networks. Beyond religious value, there’s inherent social and physical capital that are usually under-deployed or under-utilized.

Often, when impact investors think of investing in other markets, their rubrics for investing tend to exclude religious organizations simply because of the nature of the organization. But to do that is to ignore the greatest asset that many urban communities have, which are churches.

The rubrics often exclude many of the social entrepreneurs in our communities who desire to make a social impact. I discovered through my journey that many congregational leaders are social entrepreneurs, and they don’t know the language of impact investing and social entrepreneurship, but they’re doing the work. So, we need impact investors to open up their lens to see the assets within faith communities. Addressing systemic inequities and ensuring that people are committed to the work of access will enable us to replicate the work and allow more communities to be transformed.

 

In its first full year of operation, the Oikos Institute has made significant progress:

  • Launched a learning cohort in Atlanta of 12 Black congregations in partnership with the Interdenominational Theological Center (ITC) and MIT Co-Lab, funded by a 5- year, $1 million grant from the Lilly Endowment in 2020.
  • Secured a $100K grant from the Trinity Church Wall Street’s Leadership Development program and launched a learning cohort in Washington D.C. metro with 7 African American congregations.
  • Confirmed $1.5 million for pre-development loan capital for Oikos’ learning cohort participants from the Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF), supported by a $500K loan-loss reserve from Trinity Church Wall Street.
  • Raised $100K in operating funds for the Oikos Institute through a matching grant challenge from the Joshua Mailman Foundation and Jennifer Steans.

Some of Oikos Institute’s 2022 goals include launching the 12-congregation interfaith learning cohort in Chicago with Chicago Theological Seminary and raising multi-year operational grants to provide baseline support for their work. See their 2021 Annual Report here.

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Contact [email protected] to partner and donate at www.oikosinstitute.org.

February 7, 2022

 

By: LaDerrius Williams, GSIC Social Impact Fellow

 

Self-described as “Atlanta’s home for good trouble,” the Center for Civic Innovation (CCI) is an integral part of Georgia’s social impact ecosystem and was an early addition to GSIC’s Ecosystem Map. Founded in 2014, CCI serves the ecosystem as an investor, an intermediary, and an enabler. As an investor, its priorities include food, access to finance, health, and employment generation. Its investment vehicles include grants, loans, and debt. It also seeks to link investors and stakeholders. Finally, as an enabler, CCI incubates enterprises. It provides networking opportunities, mentoring, training, and technical assistance.

GSIC was fortunate enough to grab some time with CCI’s Senior Director of Community Innovation Sagdrina Brown Jalal. During our conversation, she recapped the organization’s efforts over the past year, gave advice for future applicants to their CCI fellowship program, and discussed what she’s learned during her time with CCI as both a fellow and in a leadership role.

“2021 was a year of listening and being responsive.”

When we spoke, Jalal reflected on CCI’s mission and priorities during 2021. “We focused on making sure that our organizational values were clearly defined and that we were accountable for those values internally and in the programming we provide for leaders and organizations. We also did an internal audit that changed how we communicated and engaged in the work. 2021 was a year of listening and being responsive,” said Jalal.

CCI has a host of programs. The Civic Innovation Fellowship is one of their signatures. Jalal’s previous experience as a fellow provides her with a unique perspective and the ability to provide sage advice to potential applicants. “Show up as your authentic self,” Jalal recommends.

Social entrepreneurs can experience a myriad of challenges including access to funding and other forms of institutional support. It’s important for these entrepreneurs to remember that who they are is a key part of the value proposition they can make to potential investors, and to be mindful of the systemic inequities in philanthropy and social innovation. This principle is also core to the application process CCI has designed for its fellowship. Jalal notes that the organization is intentional in not repeating these challenges for entrepreneurs.

“In our application process, we have had to ensure that we were not recreating the barriers that we are trying to remove,” said Jalal. She also doesn’t want aspiring fellows to become discouraged if they aren’t accepted after their first time applying. “Sometimes acceptance is all about timing. Keep doing what you are doing and keep applying.” Jalal also shares that there can be an unexpected benefit to not being accepted into a cohort initially, as it gives innovators the opportunity to be “part of the community in other ways, observe the fellows, and their evolutions, and truly assess if the program is right for them.”

Now, Jalal has combined her experiences as a graduate of the CCI Fellowship, and her ongoing roles serving Atlanta’s communities, to inform her vision as CCI’s Senior Director of Community Innovation. In her work she is helping to mold new and existing social innovators and contributing to CCI’s efforts to tell the stories of the community and its innovators using research and data in more exciting ways.

The applications for CCI’s 2022 Fellowship are now closed, but Jalal encourages those interested in the program to begin preparing their applications now for the next cohort. During our conversation, Jalal shares the story of Wande Okunoren-Meadows, Co-Director and Early Childhood Program Administrator of Little Ones Learning Center in Forest Park. The center provides early childhood education with a focus on children’s “emotional, social and educational” needs. “What Wande’s done with Little One’s Learning Center is inspiring. She came in and really owned the space she cultivated as a subject matter expert and was still willing to accept feedback from the CCI. She is clearly a committed part of our community. She represents CCI,” said Jalal.

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For more information on the Center for Civic Innovation please visit https://www.civicatlanta.org/.

GSIC is always looking to highlight the work of the social impact ecosystem of Georgia. To be profiled please contact us at [email protected]

February 7, 2022

 

By: Kayla Jones, GSIC Social Impact Fellow

 

Ashani O’Mard served as the Executive Director for the Atlanta Affordable Housing Fund (AAHF) since January 2020. AAHF is a social impact fund designed to aggregate capital to invest in affordable housing projects, with the goal of driving deeper, longer-term affordability. O’Mard recently transitioned into a Senior Vice President role with the Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership where she will drive their multi-family development work.

 

How did you start working in affordable housing, and what about this work motivates you?

I was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, and spent my childhood there. During high school, I earned a Skillman Foundation scholarship to attend an independent, boarding school, Cranbrook Kingswood. Cranbrook was located approximately 30 minutes north of the city of Detroit in an affluent suburb, Bloomfield Hills. During the 30-minute drive up from church back to Cranbrook on Sundays, I’d notice the change in scenery and streetscape. From broken glass and abandoned buildings to manicured lawns and coffee shops, it really sparked a curiosity in me as a high school student, specifically about how one street could have such stark differences.

I was never ashamed of my community; it was my normal and I didn’t know anything different. But what became disappointing was to know the disparities that existed because of my community, because of my zip code. By attending Cranbrook, I had a glimpse of how people can live when they have a different set of resources.

This experience really became the soundtrack to my deeply rooted passion from the work that I do today. While I initially planned to study engineering during college (perhaps because I’m from Detroit and wanted to work for one of the Big Three), I never shook that curiosity.  All of my electives in college were related to the urban environment. These classes reaffirmed my desire to understand what tools were needed to revitalize urban communities, and to find opportunities to celebrate them.

Throughout my career, I have focused on understanding “the why,” and “how” to impact and drive change which enables people to have an opportunity to thrive. Everyone deserves access to quality education, quality housing, and a chance to raise their family in a way that can build wealth for the next generation.

In my next role, I’m rejoining an organization that I worked for prior to launching AAHF, called the Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership (ANDP). It’s a regional nonprofit that has been around for over 30 years. ANDP works as a nonprofit developer, a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), and is engaged in a lot of advocacy work to drive public policy and systems change. In my new role, I’ll work with the team to ramp up their multi-family development efforts while forging new partnerships with private developers to help scale their production.

AAHF recently worked on a project with Tenth Street Ventures, ARRC Capital Partners, and The American South Real Estate Fund to rehab a property at 1200 Mobile Street in Hunter Hills. Hunter Hills historically was one of the few planned Black communities of its time – what does it mean for AAHF to be apart of this revitalization and restoration of an area that may have been forgotten?

With the Hunter Hills property, an emerging developer was referred to AAHF by Invest Atlanta about two years ago. The property was a vacant, 20-unit building (adjacent to the BeltLine and neighbor to Grove Park) that had sat vacant for many years. The developer proposed to rehab the building and convert it into 40 fully furnished, studio apartments.

The development team has done a great job in partnering with local civic leaders while also engaging partners like City of Refuge and Trees Atlanta.  They are also working with Partners for Home  to leverage funds that help support formerly unhoused individuals. Since the units come pre-furnished, there aren’t as many upfront costs for people to take into account when moving. 100% of the renovated property units will serve persons earning up to 60% of the Area Median Income (AMI). They have been very engaged in what it means to create a sense of community, and what it means to partner with stakeholders in the community as well.

What advice do you have for young Black social impact leaders or entrepreneurs who are working to make an impact in their respective communities?

Don’t be afraid to ask tough questions and really peel back the layers to understand critical issues and root causes. Get engaged. There are several resources, including the Atlanta Regional Housing Forum that I love to refer people to. I encourage people to attend those forums because they provide a great way to understand the dynamics of the affordable housing landscape in Atlanta.

I think it’s unfortunate that we (as a region) haven’t historically prioritized affordable housing. We’ve got a lot of people talking about it, but we really need more hands at the table to get it done, and to help scale the work, too. Ultimately, if we don’t prioritize housing affordability, we put our economic competitiveness in jeopardy.

I would also encourage young people to not be afraid to take those hard classes. I stumbled upon a degree in urban studies because it was something I was passionate about, but I didn’t realize it at the time. Take advantage of fellowships, like PPIA (Public Policy and International Affairs fellowship program) which provide a platform for young people to learn more outside of the traditional classroom environment. We definitely need more ideas and innovation in the public policy space.

I’m happy to have folks reach out to me as well. It’s an important part of the leadership process to usher in a new generation of tech, talent and ideas.

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The Georgia Social Impact Collaborative is committed to connecting social entrepreneurs, CDFIs, investors, and the greater community through storytelling and events. If you or your organization would like to be profiled by or get involved with GSIC please email us at [email protected].

Contact Ashani O’Mard at [email protected]