Six months ago, the Center for Civic Innovation launched the Westside Innovation Lab. The neighborhoods on the westside of Atlanta are home to some of the richest history, talent, and community collaboration in the city--in the country, if you ask us. We know the best solutions come from the residents and communities themselves. That’s why we launched the Westside Innovation Lab, a process to identify and support community-driven and community-built ideas and interventions within neighborhoods on the westside of Atlanta.
Community involvement and trust was critically important for the Westside Innovation Lab. We spent significant time on the ground, hearing directly from people most impacted by community challenges on what support systems are most needed.
We received over 100 applications from individuals who had been living and/or working on the Westside and had amazing ideas on how to better their communities. We whittled down our initial group of applicants to 44 semi-finalists who presented at three community forums. Close to 300 Westside residents helped us select the final eight social entrepreneurs who made it into the program. Westside residents at these forums were asked to rate finalists based on questions like, whose idea was most needed in the community, the character of the person and who seemed most likely to make an impact.
The following social enterprises became our Westside Innovation Fellows:
Taranji Alvarado, Tendalush: a landscaping/beautification program that provides training and employment to residents in the 30314/30318 neighborhoods to help beautify the neighborhood and fight blight
Keitra Bates, Marddy’s: Local market/storefront that provides business development training and a shared kitchen space for home cooks that represent the culture and traditions of the neighborhood to sell to a broader audience
Abiodun Henderson, The Come Up Project: running the Gangstas 2 Growers program that trains formerly incarcerated young men to grow food, create a value added product and bring it to market through direct business and restaurant sales, while paying participants a living wage
Naida Hill and Breanna Rice, CodeBlack Inc.: bridging the STEM education gap in Washington Cluster schools through coding and computer science education, exposure and mentorship geared towards young women
Richard Hinds, Good Kupa Koffie: a neighborhood coffee shop and roastery focused on bridging the economic gap between coffee farmers abroad and consumers in the US, while providing training and sales jobs to people on the Westside.
Tiffany Jones, Charles Greenlea, and Cashawn Myers, HABESHA Inc.: running Golden Seeds program which focuses on bridging the intergenerational gap via agriculture by connecting elders with students (K-12) to strengthen community and connection to the land by collectively growing organic food
LaTeef Pyles, University Barbershop: using an existing barbershop as a male resource, education, and apprenticeship center to support fathers, youth and elders alike
Shawn Walton, WeCycle: a bicycle co-operative and youth engagement center in West Atlanta that trains youth on bike mechanics, repair, and sales.
Over the six months of the Westside Innovation Lab, Program Manager Raina Turner held classes with the eight fellows every Monday and Thursday evenings, with some classes at the Center for Civic Innovation and others at English Avenue Yards. Class highlights included:
An open roundtable with funders from the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, ACE Loans, and Invest Atlanta,
A design and branding collaboration with students from Georgia State University,
Data and evaluation course with consultants from Booz Allen Hamilton,
Legal training and advising from Jeff Woodward of Taylor English Duma,
Digital marketing from Antwon Davis of Spendefy
Proposal and grant writing from Elizabeth Whitmore of Whitmore Works
And a storytelling workshop with CCI Founder Rohit Malhotra.
Thanks to generous support from our funders, the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, the Chik-fil-A Foundation, Equifax, and United Way of Greater Atlanta, each Westside Innovation Lab fellow received approximately $10,000 to help pilot test their ideas and take their project to the next level.
News of the Westside Innovation Lab was featured in the press
Over the past six months, CCI’s staff has gotten the chance to learn from Westside subject matter experts while our fellows had the opportunity to develop their ideas in a safe environment. Who better knows how to improve the challenges a community faces than the residents that experience it day in and day out? Our learnings throughout this program did solidify what we set out to prove: you can build sustainable businesses through several hands working together to see different views of what the challenges are locally. Through the lens of diverse, caring eyes, you can find solutions to these challenges in the approaches our fellows are piloting in their communities. And most importantly, true success requires collaboration from each person interested in improving their communities. We are all working collectively to bring each fellow’s vision to life for sustainable impact.