Nine finalists will present their ideas for new ventures at the We Media NYC conference on April 6, 2011. A panel of judges will select two winners – and each will receive $25,000 and access to a network of mentors to help them launch. Pando Projects is one of the finalists. To register for the conference, click here.


Location of operations

New York, New York

Name of founding organization

Pando Projects, Inc., a not for profit 501(c)3 organization incorporated in the State of Delaware.

Key contact(s)

Milena Arciszewski, Founder and Executive Director

milena@pandoprojects.org / 917-689-8097

URL(s)

  • www.pandoprojects.org is our promotional site.
  • http://pilot.pandoprojects.org is a prototype of our digital platform. We are currently testing out this website with 15 pilot Project Leaders in New York.
  • http://pandoprojects.org/category/projects is an overview of our 15 pilot projects. This will give you a sense of the type of people and projects that Pando Projects will support. At this stage, we are supporting 15 projects; however our model is designed to support thousands.

List the names, current work status/affiliation, photos and brief biographical notes of all founders

Milena Arciszewski – Founder and Executive Director

After graduating from the University of Virginia in 2006, Milena worked for several years as an investment banker at JPMorgan Chase in NYC. Craving adventure, she quit her job and become a Kiva Fellow, through which she volunteered at microfinance institutions in Bosnia, Kenya, and the Philippines. While overseas, she developed the idea for Pando Projects, based on her experience as a grassroots organizer in college. She now lives in NYC and is working on Pando Projects full-time. She is a StartingBloc Fellow and was recently named “The Greatest Woman of the Day” by the Huffington Post.

The idea – what is it? In a sentence or two, explain what it is and what it will do.

Pando Projects is a digital platform that helps Americans launch projects to tackle the issues in their communities. We simplify the process of civic activism, equipping emerging leaders with the mentorship and online tools they need to pursue creative ideas that make a meaningful impact.

What problem is it solving?

“At this point we have a pretty good list of the problems that exist in the world, and a decent-but-growing list of the causes. What we’re lacking is a list of solutions. Some would say the pressure is on the scientists, politicians, and business leaders of the world to develop those solutions… But why not you?” (Good Magazine, 2010)

Countless Americans have creative ideas for tackling the issues facing our planet, but never take action to make their ideas happen. Why? Because pursuing a new idea is hard. Many are immediately overwhelmed by the scope of their vision. Others try to pursue their ideas, but become overwhelmed by logistical challenges like raising money, organizing events, managing volunteers, etc. There is a need for a platform that simplifies the process of grassroots activism, so that people can pursue their ideas for making a difference.

The problem: Few Americans pursue their ideas for tackling national and global challenges because there is no easy way to do so.

The solution: A digital platform that helps people take the first step and execute their idea within their own community, in the form of a project that is completed within one year for less than $5,000.

How is your idea a useful solution to the problem?

Pando accepts applications from people with project ideas. When selected, emerging leaders receive:

1. Tools – A customizable website with tools to help execute the project, including tools to: (i) raise money, (ii) manage volunteers, (iii) organize events, (iv) share their experience and results.

2. Guidance – A mentor to help them set goals, execute their plans and meet challenges along the way.

3. Promotion – Communication and promotion through the Pando website, allowing the project idea to spread to other communities.

Pando provides the infrastructural tools and support that individuals need to effectively execute their project ideas. When people are frustrated with politicians or the state of our country, they can start a project with Pando to create the change they want to see within their own community. To see one of the pilot project pages, please see: http://pilot.pandoprojects.org/ashleywilliams.

Ashley used her Pando project website to raise over $600, manage 8 volunteers, and organize an afterschool reading program in West Harlem.

Sample Project

Jermel Royal is a 32-year old social worker who works with victims of domestic violence. He hears again and again from his clients that often they want to leave their abusive relationships, but they lack the basic resources to do so. Often this comes down to something as simple as furniture. How can you move into a new home if you don’t have money to buy a bed? For his project, Jermel will find furniture donations on Craigslist, pick up the items with a team of volunteers, and deliver the furniture to his clients who are ready to transition out of abusive environments. His goal is to deliver furniture to 12 women over 3 months. Jermel has been thinking about this idea for years. Pando provides him with the tools and resources he needs to finally make that idea happen.

Having worked at domestic violence shelters for 10 years, Jermel knows that this is an innovative approach to addressing domestic violence. He hopes that his idea will grow into an organization someday, but first he wants to test the idea out within his own community.

What’s the big innovation?

More than 60 million Americans volunteer every year. However the volunteer sector has not adapted to meet cultural and technological changes. There are several key criticisms of traditional volunteer programs:

  • “Traditional approaches to community development have relied heavily on the intervention and guidance of individuals with relevant expertise, usually recruited from outside the community… To achieve local well- being communities need to engage local citizens to create their own solutions to the challenges that face them today.” (Bill Woodrum, Volunteerism and Holistic Community Development, 2007)
  • “People are tired of plugging into existing pre-determined programs, initiatives or campaigns… We need to create opportunities for ordinary citizens to come together, deliberate, and take action collectively to address public problems or issues in ways that citizens themselves decide are appropriate.” (Cynthia Gibson, Citizens at the Center, 2005)
  • “A significant problem with volunteerism is that we think of volunteer opportunities as existing only within organizations rather than outside them.” (Kenn Allen, From Motivation to Action, 2006)
  • “Technology has the potential to bridge social capital and create new opportunities in volunteerism, like networking, communication, participation and social connectedness. While the role of technology has largely been dismissed in the field of volunteerism, it ultimately holds the promise of turning the entire power structure on its head, empowering grassroots citizens who previously felt voiceless.” (Mary Merril, Global Trends and Challenges for Philanthropy, 2006)

Pando Projects is the service platform that my generation has been waiting for. Pando empowers people to use technology and social media to pursue innovative, local solutions to the problems in their communities. There are thousands of nonprofits that are designed to “solve” issues related to education, immigration, global warming, unemployment, etc. Pando takes a different approach. We don’t offer solutions; we simply empower Americans to develop their own.

How did you come up with the idea?

I had the idea for Pando Projects when I was a junior at the University of Virginia. At that time, I became bored of traditional volunteer programs and decided to start my own. Over 3 months, I organized a book drive that collected several thousand used textbooks and shipped them to a university in Afghanistan. It was the best, most transformative experience I had in all of college. But the book drive was almost impossible to execute. I struggled to raise money, to manage volunteers, to spread the word about what I was doing… At the time I wished that there were an organization that could provide support for someone like me, who had a good idea but no infrastructure for executing it. Five years later, that organization still does not exist. So I’m creating it. I have never forgotten how that book drive changed my life and empowered me to be a stronger woman. I simply want to bring that experience to other people.

My idea for Pando Projects evolved while I was volunteering in Kenya in 2009. While overseas, I realized that I could only make a limited impact outside the U.S. where I did not understand the culture or complex issues. I realized that the most sustainable, effective solutions cannot come from outsiders, but rather from people within communities that see an issue and want to fix it. For this reason, Pando only supports Project Leaders that have ideas for tackling the issues within their own communities, inside the United States.

Can you pull this off? What background, skills, network are you bringing to the project?

Following college, I worked as an investment banker at JPMorgan Chase. My experience at JPMorgan helped me develop a strong background in finance, a killer work ethic, and a determination to run Pando as a results-oriented, financially sustainable business.

I have logged over 5,000 volunteer hours in diverse capacities, from volunteering as an aid worker in Bosnia to volunteering as a camp counselor with Children’s Hospital. My commitment to service is even being recognized at the Points of Light Institute Tribute in Washington DC, an event about volunteerism and service that will be attended by 3 former presidents. My extensive experience with the volunteer sector makes me the perfect person to help it evolve and meet the needs of my generation. I am not only qualified to run this organization; it is my fate.

What’s the current status?

Prototype – The Pando pilot has launched in NYC. We are helping 15 New Yorkers carry out grassroots projects between February-May 2011, using a website prototype that can be viewed at http://pilot.pandoprojects.org. This is a Proof of Concept website, which was developed pro-bono by Pando volunteers. In May, we will use the experience and feedback of the pilot Project Leaders to design an official website that will support thousands of emerging leaders across the United States.

The Pando pilot Project Leaders and their Mentors

Press – The MacArthur Foundation has called Pando, “the new face of activism” and FastCompany wrote, “Pando makes meaningful ideas more executable and brainpower more accessible… and Millennials are demonstrating an inspiring willingness to assume responsibility for the change they want to see in the world.” Good Magazine recently wrote, “Pando is an inspiring and refreshing support system and boot camp that gives big-hearted Millennials the tools they need to create change.” We have been approached by the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, O Magazine, Time Magazine, and The New York Times, all of whom are interested in running stories on Pando Projects later in May.

Partnerships – We are in the process of developing several major partnerships. One partnership is with the Points of Light Institute, the largest national volunteer organization in the U.S, which mobilizes over 10 million Americans to volunteer on an annual basis. David Ray, the Chief of Strategy and Public Policy at Points of Light, is a Pando Advisory Board member and has indicated that Pando can be advertised at over 250 volunteer action centers across the United States.

Tech Team - We have a stellar tech team that is ready to build the official Pando site, including a front-end developer, back-end developer, user experience architect, and designer. Pando’s CTO will be Braxton Robbason, who graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University and served as CTO of BuzzMetrics, which was acquired by Nielsen/McKinsey for $25 million in 2007.

Funding – We have raised $10,000 in donations and I have been working on Pando without a salary for over a year. We are now starting to approach individuals for donations, with a goal of raising $200,000 in seed funding by the end of July. This seed funding is needed to build the website, cover operational costs, and hire two employees. The $25,000 award from WE Media would be a huge help!

Advisory Board - The Pando Advisory Board includes Ron Gonen (Co-Founder of RecycleBank), Daniel Siegel (Founder of StudentAdvantage), Scott Belsky (the Founder of Behance) and Peter Levine (the Research Director of the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service.)

By the end of summer, we hope to build a platform to support projects across the United States, inspiring citizens to action, empowering the next generation of socially conscious leaders, and nurturing innovative solutions to the problems facing our planet.

How will it earn money/be sustained?

Pando has a strong revenue-generating model.

  • Project Leaders will pay $25 to be a part of the program.
  • Universities will pay for Pando to be integrated into their leadership development programs.
  • When people fund projects through the website, they will be asked to donate an additional 10% to support Pando operations.
  • Companies will pay for partnerships, in which Pando will help employees to launch projects and show the company’s commitment to local community.

Unlike a traditional nonprofit, Pando does not simply funnel grants and donations into causes where the money is immediately spent. With Pando, grants and donations are used to enhance a fundraising platform and support network that empowers citizens to raise millions of dollars and re-invest that money into their own communities. Unlike traditional charities, the social and financial impact of each donation grows exponentially. And because of our strong revenue-generating model, we project that Pando will be financially sustainable (without requiring any donations or grants) by Year 6.

In the meantime, we are reaching out to venture philanthropists and organizations like The Blue Ridge Foundation to help us secure the seed funding we need to grow.

Market overview

Pando will accept applications from any American over the age of 18. However the target demographic is Millennials – young people born between 1980 and 1994. Extensive research indicates that Millennials have big ambitions to make a positive impact on the world, but are bored by traditional volunteer programs. Pando is the first service platform that meets their unique needs and interests, incorporating technology, localism, innovation, social networking, and the ability to scale successful ideas. The potential market base for Pando is significant, considering that over 60 million Americans volunteered in 2010 and over 19 million Americans worked with a neighbor to solve a community problem.

If you win the challenge, how will you use the $25,000 to help you go further?

Pando has a strong team, a website prototype, a pilot group testing out the products, glowing reviews from the press, and beautiful momentum. We have gotten this far without any major contributions of seed funding, outside the contributions of the Founder. We are now at a point that we need $200,000 to build a website, hire employees, and cover operational costs so that Pando can scale. The $25,000 from WE Media will be our first major contribution and will go towards an official website that can support thousands of grassroots initiatives across the United States.

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We Media is an innovation agency and network that informs, inspires, invests and incubates new ventures to improve the human experience in the digital world. Contact us here.

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