Vail man sparking sustainable change in Africa, helps launch nonprofit InSpark Lab
April 12, 2018
I left the comfort of Vail on a sunny afternoon more than a year ago, March 17, 2017. I spent several months exploring the tropical waters of Central America, warming my bones after a lifetime spent in the snow. After several months of taking photos at surf resorts, I wanted something bigger.
I was reflecting on how sports such as surfing and skiing bring us so much personal fulfillment, yet they contribute so little to the world as a whole. Phrases from Bob Bandoni's Vail Mountain School ethics class such as "global citizen" and "greater good" echoed in my head, as I brainstormed ways to make a difference in the world from my hammock in Nicaragua.
My Brazilian friend, Yuri, whom I met on the road, had similar thoughts, and we joined together in Morocco in November. Our original goal was to create and share videos about people who are working toward the United Nations 2030 agenda to reach the 17 Sustainable Development Global Goals. After traveling through Morocco and Egypt, going through a process of trial and error, we developed a more concrete methodology and created InSpark Lab.
InSpark Lab is a nonprofit start-up designed to facilitate disruptive social progress development worldwide. To do that, it provides underprivileged communities around the world with a tool that enables them to combine emerging technologies and strategies with the potential for extraordinary social impact to shape their own future. This tool is called the InSpark Journey.
Starting in Nairobi
Our first mission was in a poor community outside of Nairobi, Kenya. We helped the local people make some simple connections that ultimately blossomed into a farming cooperative. There was a high level of unemployment among the local youth and many plots of land that were not being utilized. We assisted in organizing an executive board of motivated citizens who would lead this "share farming" initiative. Our friends in Kenya are now a registered community-based organization and are beginning to farm on their own. Perhaps even more remarkable, it took them only a month to achieve this.
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We have just finished our second mission, which took us to Northern Uganda. Camping in the hot and dusty plains of the surrounding area for five weeks was a challenge for me. However, the generosity and hope for a better future shown by the local population encouraged me to push onward. The difficult history of dictatorship, corruption and rebel civil war (LRA) has not stopped the Achloi people (the local tribe) from looking forward, which inspired us to take them through the InSpark Journey.
The process consists of four parts: The Spark, The Dive, The Change and The Resolution.
First, we immerse ourselves in the community where we hope to spark a new wave of inspiration and then dive into the local culture and validate the hypothesis created. Next, we spend time assisting the locals in creating something from the people, for the people — change. And, finally, resolution is the stage where we continue to consult the community from a distance via phone or Skype. We are also building a volunteer program to have an outsider help keep the project sustainable.
As a result of our work together with the Achloi people:
They have built community center.
They have created a registered community-based organization.
They have developed a series of business models to cultivate new sources of income from existing resources.
Through exporting mangoes, operating a bakery, raising rabbits for profit and selling chia seeds, they will come together as a community to work toward a positive future.
Now our team of five global citizens plans to travel to the mountains of Northern India. Every day is a dynamic new adventure, and I have been learning a great amount about myself and about the world as a whole. We are finishing the process of officially registering the non-governmental organization and are therefore still paying for our own travel expenses. We have received a few private donations that have enabled us to invest some money in the communities we have worked with to help give them the initial push to better their futures.
Even though I still dream of the beauty of my hometown, the uncertainty of our quickly changing world and the inspiration I find in the people I've met continues to pull me forward.
Tucker Cocchiarella, Vail Mountain School Class of 2013, is co-founder of InSpark Lab.