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Igniting the Flame: How Shyan Selah is Using Music to Bring Communities Together

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Igniting the Flame: How Shyan Selah is Using Music to Bring Communities Together

by Kate Vandeveld

One of the most important things for us all to understand is that social impact is not relegated to one particular sector or job. If you’re interested in bettering the world, you can absolutely find a way to do it.

Seattle-based musician Shyan Selah is an inspiring example. Rather than use his passion for music to pursue fame, he chose a different path: Through his Café Noir project, he is leveraging music to bring communities together and offer hope and healing to those who are struggling.

Café Noir is a series of live performances held at different Starbucks locations, in which members of the local community come together to enjoy Shyan’s music, and talk about the issues they’re facing, and how they can work together to solve them.

We recently had a chance to connect with Shyan to learn more about him, his music, and his community empowerment work – here’s what he had to say:

You started Cafe Noir as a live street performance in Seattle, with the intention of connecting with people by reaching them right where they stand. Where did the idea come from?

How Shyan Selah is Using Music to Bring Communities Together - WhyWhisper Collective

It’s actually rather complex. My musical journey put me in a lot of different places. I’ve worked in every genre – from hip hop to soul to rock and roll to blues. All of them have their own identity as far as where people gather and how they connect.

Because I’m into outreach and activism, there’s nothing more impactful than real interaction with people. I wanted to do a music project that highlighted the importance of the human interaction, that stepped away from being overproduced or really sensational, and was all about humanity and connecting. It was born from a simple notion of connecting with people.

It’s called Café Noir, meaning “black coffee”, because I grew up around my Grandmother and other adults in my life having important conversations while drinking black coffee. It was born from that spirit.

 

The purpose of the Cafe Noir tour is to shed light on issues that affect our world and the communities we live in, offering hope and healing through music. Can you tell us how this is making an impact in the communities you connect with?

I had been doing outreach, and using music as a platform within schools and community centers, and Starbucks was kind of a next step because of their presence in so many neighborhoods – it offered us an opportunity to extend the message beyond kids.

While it’s so crucial to work with kids, the biggest problem is they still have to go home with the information we’ve shared, and we have to hope they reinforce it at the home level, which doesn’t always happen. We wanted a place where we could reach adults at the same time.

We’ve been able to impact the entire community through Starbucks, and it’s really all about empowerment. It’s about inspiration, education and igniting purpose in the people we’re connecting with. How often do we really run across people that ignite that flame, and help you find what you really care about?

 

Have you been able to measure or quantify this impact in any way? 

How Shyan Selah is Using Music to Bring Communities Together - WhyWhisper Collective

From the baristas to the attendees, we’ve seen such a positive response to the message we’re putting out there. We also us a simple sign-up sheet to ask people to leave their emails, their comments about what we’re doing, and a note about what they’d like to see change in their communities. There are different things going on in every city, every community.

One of the things that’s really cool about Starbucks is they have a community affinity – there’s a community bulletin board at each location. In partnering with them, we’ve been able to really get into that and give everyone involved a shared voice. And we’ve seen the dialogue change in front of us, from people just talking about everyday life, to asking questions and talking about their futures. It’s really cool to see.

 

Tell us more about the youth education outreach component of your work. What does that look like, and why are you passionate about it?

This is really the core of everything I do in outreach. We’re trying to be the antithesis of standard education right now. To do that, we partner with different schools, usually starting with some type of a lecture and performance. From there, we work with the school to determine their specific needs. We’re working to customize the relationship, because we want it to be long-term. The need never stops – there are new eighth graders who need support every year.

The goal of these partnerships is to find a way to merge curriculum with passion and purpose. What’s been effective for me is going into a school, looking at the full spectrum of students, and helping them find out what they’re passionate about. Everyone has a purpose or a passion, something they’re excited about – whether it’s sports, Oreo cookies, or the next Eminem record. So what we try to do is put them in the driver’s seat of their passion.

For the kid who’s excited about Eminem, for example, we try to take them away from the celebrity concept and take a look behind the scenes. Who helped make the album, and why does it matter? There are so many people involved, and we want that kid to know about those jobs, of all of the opportunities available.

There’s a machine behind occupation that kids celebrate, and we really encourage the youth to look behind the curtain and recognize that we wouldn’t have these things without a small or large army of people making it happen. We really highlight that teamwork aspect.

This success model isn’t anything new, but we’re in a world where we only see the stars, even though there are a lot of little dust particles that make that happen. And you see the lights come on in these kids when they realize that they don’t have to be the star, but their role will still be so important.   

 

Why did you decide to connect with Starbucks for your Cafe Noir Tour? What about their company made you want to work with them in particular?

I always thought there was something unique about Starbucks, well before I ever had any opportunity to work with them. I had taken countless meetings there, and always noticed the diversity, the music, the relaxed yet focused vibe. And it was on every corner – available to so many people. I really believe that you can have a big impact by focusing locally, and I thought that partnering with Starbucks would be a great way to do that.

 

For those who are interested in connecting with a company like Starbucks to support a social impact project, we would love to learn more about how you made that happen. How did you connect with Starbucks, and what did the process for developing this partnership look like?

First, we presented our idea to a local Starbucks, told them what we wanted to do, and sat down and met with the management. They decided to let me come in and start performing. So before anything else, we developed a local relationship and established trust there. They loved the community empowerment aspect of what we were doing, because Starbucks is really focused on that, which not everyone knows about. And after the first 10 or 12 shows, we knew we really had something.

How Shyan Selah is Using Music to Bring Communities Together - WhyWhisper Collective

I also have to say that in this case, in particular, I was lucky to have been connected with someone who really made a big difference in getting this idea off the ground – Paula Boggs, the Executive Vice President and Lead Council at Starbucks. I mention her by name because she is just a phenomenal, game-changing, progressive African American woman who’s off the hook – a sister of mine at this point. I just so happened to meet her about this project a couple of weeks before she was going to retire.

The night I met with one of the heads of marketing, I was told to go meet with Paula, who was actually performing down the street. I introduced myself to her, and we connected immediately. We ended up talking for a few hours, and she wanted to come see it. So she came down to see a show in the central district of Seattle, and she fell in love with it. She sat through the whole show, and basically endorsed it that following day to the corporate body.

I have to say that they let us know pretty quickly that they have no interest in becoming a record label or a touring company, but that they believed in the spirit of what we’re doing and wanted to support it. That was almost four years ago.

 

During the course of the Cafe Noir tour, was there a moment that was particularly meaningful or moving?

There have been so many! But one that really sticks out was a conversation with this young man who was at one of the Café Noir shows. He was a teenager, and was living in a nearby shelter that was just a few buildings down from this particular Starbucks.

He was feeling frustrated because he was interested in performing, but couldn’t figure out how to get started. I chatted with him, and he ended up showing me the alley where he and his friends sleep when the shelters are too full. He told me that he and his friends contemplate crime, they contemplate suicide, because life is so hard. I gave him some resources and phone numbers of people to call about his music. I heard him out, provided some support. Though I don’t know exactly what happened, it’s crazy to think that I may have stopped him from doing something bad to himself or to someone around him, at least in that moment. 

 

We love what Shyan is all about, and look forward to continuing to see his work grow and evolve. If you want to stay updated, which we highly suggest you do, check out his website. His Cafe Noir album is out and available on iTunes here. He also loves to connect on social media – you can find him on Twitter, Facebook, or most recently on Instagram.

Do you know someone who is working on impact in a unique way? We’d love to share their story – tell us about them! Here’s how:

 

 

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How You Can End the Year with Impact

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How You Can End the Year with Impact

by Kate Vandeveld

Now that Thanksgiving has passed, it’s time for many of us to break out the holiday music and start prepping for the next round of celebrations. While the holiday season is one of mass consumerism and indulgence – we’re guilty of it too! – it’s also a time when we tend to feel a stronger sense of responsibility to support people and causes we care about. 

The key is channeling these positive feelings into action – and because many of us are also pretty busy around the holidays, this might be easier said than done. But if we each take a few small steps to support others, we can make a huge difference… ending the year positively and starting 2016 off on a strong foot.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

Shop responsibly 

We talk about this a lot, and for good reason: making small changes to your purchasing habits can have a hugely positive impact. Being a conscientious consumer is important all year, but especially when we’re spending an average of $805 per person during the holiday season.

Our first suggestion is to shop small business whenever possible. The ripple effect of shopping at small businesses, rather than opting for large corporations, is substantial. It makes an impact on  your local economy, and reaches as far as global supply chains. If you can’t shop small business, there are other steps you can take to ensure that the products you’re buying are ethically and/or sustainably sourced. If you know of any brands, stores, or websites that you’d like to share with the WhyWhisper community, let us know! We want to help spread the word about companies that provide socially and environmentally responsible options.

Support causes you care about 

Never underestimate how much nonprofit organizations need your support. For many, internal capacity is stretched thin, and budgets are notoriously small.  

As you may know, today is Giving Tuesday – perhaps more commonly known as #GivingTuesday. It’s a great opportunity to balance out all of the spending that you’ve done or plan to do this holiday season. Just check out the Giving Tuesday website or #GivingTuesday on Twitter to find out which organizations participated, and what they’re aiming to fund with this year’s campaigns. Even if you only have a couple dollars to spare, this is a time when even the smallest donation can make a huge difference, collectively. The end-of-year funds that these organizations collect will play a big role in determining their scope of work for 2016.

Also, any company or organization that focuses on social impact can greatly benefit from your support via word of mouth. Follow them on their social media platforms, subscribe to their newsletter, and share information about their work and any campaigns or events they promote. Simply acting as an informal ambassador can be an incredible form of support. If you have expertise in a particular area that you think might be helpful to these organizations, or want to use your time to help them further their missions, consider inquiring about volunteering. If you do it, be intentional about it: Make sure you provide concrete ideas for how you can provide support, and only commit to what you’re sure you can contribute, so they are able to properly plan for the year ahead.

Focus on your own community

If you don’t know where to start making a difference this holiday season, look at your own community. Do you live in a place where it gets pretty cold in the winter? Maybe you could organize a cold weather drive at your office, co-working space, or even your neighborhood coffee shop. This way, you can make a large-scale difference for those in need, while providing an opportunity for others to contribute. Even if you can’t organize your own drive, keep your eyes open for those who are collecting various items – from jackets and blankets, to toys, to canned goods – in your community. These types of drives have become ubiquitous in many areas, and for good reason – they’re relatively easy to put together, and their impact is tangible. 

Plan ahead for 2016

Maybe you don’t have a lot of time or resources to contribute at the moment, or you’re not particularly into the holidays, or you’re already taking action? No matter waht, the end of the year is a great time to plan for how you can make a greater impact in the coming year.

How will you be active in contributing to positive change? Will you volunteer? Plan to reduce your environmental footprint? Mentor others who need support?

Think about the resources at your disposal, your personal bandwidth, and how you can realistically use them to support the causes you care about. Then, make concrete and actionable plans. If you want to support a cause, but aren’t sure which organizations are doing the most substantive and sustainable work, do the research now. Once you’ve landed on one (or several!), take the steps that we outlined above to start learning more about them, like following them on social media and subscribing to their newsletter. If you have the bandwidth to lend your time or expertise, reach out to them with a proposal on how you can support them as a volunteer or consultant.

  

What are you doing to end 2015 in an impactful way? If you have a specific way that our community can help out, let us know – we want to do all that we can. Shoot us an email, connect on social – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn, or comment below.

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Join the Kindness Movement

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Join the Kindness Movement

by Kate Vandeveld

“Unexpected kindness is the most powerful, least costly, and most underrated agent of human change.” - Bob Kerrey

When thinking about impact, large-scale initiatives and world changing projects often come to mind. We think about reducing poverty, creating jobs, and lobbying for policy change. But when it comes down to it, our day-to-day impact on the people with whom we interact and care for is just as crucial in creating a better world.

We’re not trying to simplify the very complex and intricate processes that lead to social change, but just being consciously kinder to those around us can be hugely impactful.  

That’s why we’re excited about World Kindness Day, taking place tomorrow, November 13th. World Kindness Day is a 24-hour celebration dedicated to focusing on the good. A number of campaigns have cropped up around the idea that kindness matters.

If you want to spread the word about and join the official kindness movement yourself, here are some of our favorite campaigns and initiatives:

Spread Kindness

As we mentioned, World Kindness Day is going down tomorrow, November 13th. Started by the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, this 24-hour period is focused solely on spreading kindness. On this day, they encourage you to join the movement by sharing a kindness quote (you can even use the designs they’ve created for you!) and doing things from a list of “kindness activities” that they have compiled. They offer a variety of ideas and quotes, for those who are looking for inspiration.

 

Celebrate Kind Acts 

The best way to spread the kindness movement is simply by recognizing kind acts when you see or experience them. Taking a minute to say thank you to a person who you see being kind calls out and reinforces those acts. KIND Snacks is taking it a step further, celebrating those acts of kindness with their #kindawesome campaign. Here’s how it works: When you see someone being kind, give them a #kindawesome card, either in person or digitally, and the company will send them a free KIND snack. Encourage them to pass it on to someone else they see being kind, to keep the kindness going. The campaign provides a tangible way to recognize kindness, which we think is pretty cool.

If you want to learn about and discuss different ways to celebrate World Kindness Day, KIND Snacks is also hosting a Twitter chat with Upworthy this Friday. Join the conversation with #UpChat and #kindawesome from 1-2pm EST tomorrow, November 13th. 

 

Share Your Skills

Do you have a skillset you’d like to apply to a good cause in your spare time, but you don’t know where to get started? Check out Skillshare.  Skillshare connects individuals with organizations that need help. The assistance is voluntary, and projects are short-term, so you can make a big impact, without the long-term commitment. 

 

Become a Mentor

Remember when you were at the very beginning of your career? If you’re like us, you probably experienced moments when you felt a bit lost – unsure what you wanted to do, or how to advance once you had found your path. If you feel like you have some wisdom to pass on, consider joining a mentoring program. Do a little research around mentorship programs in your city, and they’ll pair you up with someone who could use your advice and encouragement.

 

Pay it Forward

The concept of paying it forward is extremely powerful: when you’re the recipient of kindness, do another kind act for someone else in return. We saw a beautiful pay it forward campaign, inspired by 18-year-old Alyssa Josephine O’Neill, who died of epilepsy in 2013. As a tribute to their daughter, her parents bought a round of coffees for strangers and asked that her initials, #AJO, be written on their orders. This sparked what would turn into a national movement of small gestures to pay it forward that continues to this day. Whether you participate in the #AJO movement, or simply go out of your way to do something kind for a stranger, a small act of kindness can go a long way.

 

Give Back to Your Community

Each community has unique needs. Have you noticed a need in your area that you feel like you could address in some capacity? Maybe you live in a city where it gets particularly cold in the winter, and you could organize a cold weather drive to provide blankets and winter gear to those who need it. Or maybe you could become a tutor at a school. Do some research on your local community needs, and see what you might be able to do to help. 

Do you know of another kindness initiative that you’d like us to share with the rest of the WhyWhisper community? Send us an email, tweet to us at @WhyWhisperCo, or comment below – we’d love to spread the word.

"A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved." - Kurt Vonnegut

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Why Compassion & Fairness Are Critical in Business

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Why Compassion & Fairness Are Critical in Business

by Kate Vandeveld

When people discuss “success” in business, the focus is most often on the bottom line. Numbers are tangible measurements of success that make sense to everyone. At WhyWhisper, however, we also spend a great deal of time defining success in terms of impact: How much are companies doing to make the world a better place, what effect is it having, and what does it look like in practice?

A subject that comes up often is that of employee happiness. Unfortunately, even outwardly impactful businesses and organizations will often overlook its importance. Meanwhile, studies have shown that when businesses treat their employees fairly and make decisions with compassion, it can positively affect their impact and their bottom line.

Why Compassion & Fairness Are Critical in Business

Last week, the White House hosted an event called Working Families: Champions of Change, which included discussions and panels with some of the country’s most inspiring advocates for employee fairness. At the event, Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario spoke about the company’s efforts to treat their employees fairly, and why it’s been so crucial to their success. Her main takeaway? By offering fair benefits and showing their employees that they care about them, they make their employees happy, and instill a sense of loyalty that encourages them to work hard and stick around. All of this, she said, affects their employee retention and overall revenue.

Here are some things to consider when evaluating a company’s compassion and fairness:

  • Equal Pay: Paying people of all genders the same salary for equal work shouldn’t be a question – but unfortunately, it is. Today, women are still paid only 78 percent of what men are paid for equal work, on average. According to a report by the American Association of University Women, this problem exists in every state and occupation, is even more extreme for women of color, and gets worse with age. Companies that treat their employees fairly don’t operate like this; they pay men and women equal wages for equal work.

  • Paid Maternity / Paternity Leave: At the Champions for Change event, President Obama noted that in some employment situations, women aren’t even given a paid day off for the day that they give birth. It is crucial that mothers and fathers of new babies are given the opportunity to take time off for the birth of their child without sacrificing pay when it is most needed. Companies that value employee satisfaction prioritize post-birth parental leave.
  • Fair Benefits: Companies that prioritize employee wellness also offer them comprehensive health packages, if they are able. Some small businesses and start-ups aren’t able to cover healthcare costs, but as soon as a company has the capital to offer benefits, they should do so. Lack of healthcare coverage is a huge financial burden for individuals and families in the United States.
  • Paid Sick Leave: When paid sick leave isn’t an option, employees will continue to work while they’re ill, negatively affecting everyone around them. When sick people come into work, productivity decreases, illnesses spread unnecessarily, and morale can quickly plummet.
  • Career Advancement Opportunities: Factors that contribute to employee happiness are definitely not all financial. When employees have clear opportunities for career advancement, they are more likely to work hard to achieve goals and go above and beyond for their employers.
  • Work-Life Balance: Another non-financial indicator of whether or not a company is fair is the extent that it values work-life balance. Companies that expect their employees to work long hours and be available at the drop of a hat foster cultures of resentment and burnout. Instead of encouraging greater productivity, these companies push employees to work less efficiently for longer periods of time, which is detrimental to everyone in the long run.
  • Focus on Culture & Community: Companies that work to foster cultures of collaboration, kindness, and understanding in the workplace are much more likely to have happier, healthier employees. Stressful work environments can lead to a multitude of adverse health effects in employees that create a cycle of negative outcomes – both for individuals and for the company. At the end of the day, successful businesses simply care about their employees, and want to ensure that they are working under conditions that will allow them to thrive.
Why Compassion & Fairness Are Critical in Business via WhyWhisper Collective

When companies take these elements into consideration, here are some of the benefits that they see:

Higher employee retention:

When employees are happy at work, they tend to stick around longer. This is a very good thing, because high employee turnover has significant negative impact on a company. First of all, employee turnover can bring down company morale. When someone on a team leaves, others are often required to pick up the slack without a salary increase. Additionally, when employees see someone leave, it can cause a ripple effect leading to more employee departures.

Employee turnover also has a clear effect on a company’s bottom line. The process of seeking out, interviewing, hiring, and onboarding a new employee can be extremely high. Reported costs vary, depending on the study, but all indicate that it’s an expensive process, especially for higher level positions.

Increased productivity:

To put it simply, when employees know they will be rewarded for their work, they are much more likely to do it well. Incentivizing good work – whether it be with verbal praise, recognition to their peers, financial compensation, or career advancement -- makes a big difference in terms of employee productivity. Plus, most employees simply want to do better work for companies and coworkers with whom they have good relationships. By being fair to your employees, you will foster a sense of community, lessening any focus on office politics, and increasing the focus on output and impact.

Higher revenue and greater impact:

Both of these elements – employee retention and increased productivity – factor into a company’s bottom line as well as the level of impact they are able to have. In fact, according to a 2013 study by Aon Hewitt, for every one percent increase in employee engagement, companies can expect to see 0.6% in revenue growth. Because employee engagement increases with employee satisfaction, companies that treat their employees well will increase their bottom line.

What companies do you know that focus on employee satisfaction? We want to talk about them! Here’s how you can share with us:

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