For 5 years, Clayton Ferrara came home from his full-time job only to work without pay into the wee hours of the morning. In 2011, Ferrara began working as a volunteer for IDEAS for Us, an inventive organization that he, along with the founders and the rest of their team, strived to incorporate as a nonprofit and grow into a movement.

IDEAS originated in 2008 as a club at the University of Central Florida. It was the brainchild of student Chris Castro, who wanted to see action taken on campus environmental issues, instead of endless discussion about them. Today, IDEAS for Us, with Ferrara as Executive Director, is a worldwide presence. Active in 20 different countries, and even working with the UN, the organization fosters innovative responses to a range of challenges like global warming, water pollution, destruction of biodiversity, food access, recycling and much more.

IDEAS for Us Executive Director Clayton FerraraIDEAS for Us and the action projects we implement have a teaching behind them. This teaching represents our approach to sustainability, which we view as five overlapping areas: energy, water, food, waste or ecology. All of our programs center on these areas, which we call the 5 pillars of sustainability.

Clayton Ferrara | Executive Director, IDEAS for Us

Through local meet-ups and the IDEAS website, members brainstorm projects to address a particular environmental issue affecting their community. Once they’ve decided on a plan of attack, IDEAS for Us provides them with funds to put their plans in motion.

The Hive: Where Good IDEAS Come From

IDEAS for Us' Hive Meeting

Image source: Ideasforus.org

The “Hive” is the foundation of the IDEAS for Us model: a monthly community “think and do tank” where anyone can propose a solution to the problem being discussed that month. The Orlando Hive runs on a three month cycle, devoting three months to planning and implementing solutions for one problem, then choosing a new issue to focus on. With roughly 100 people attending each session, the Orlando Hive has never missed a month since its first think tank in 2013.

IDEAS for Us Executive Director Clayton FerraraThe idea is that there’s a bunch of people out in the community: people in business, people who work for other organizations, people who are elected officials, people who are organizers, and they’re all out doing whatever their thing is. Wouldn’t it be great if you could bring them all together one day a month and brainstorm solutions?

Clayton Ferrara | Executive Director, IDEAS for Us

Hives are now cropping up in other cities, not just in the U.S., but around the world. Ferrara recently returned from a trip to Nepal, where he was producing media on local issues and helping to establish a local Hive chapter. According to Ferrara, empowering locals to tackle their own communities’ issues is essential. After all, no one better understands those issues than the people actually living in the community and dealing with them.

“We merely teach the concept of looking at sustainability under the 5 pillars,” Ferrara explains. “We help develop projects, we fund those projects, then we measure the results and scale them across our network. It’s not a bunch of Americans telling people what to do in Uganda and Nepal and Liberia and Togo.”

Fleet Farming: An IDEAS for Us Success Story

Fleet Farming Produce Stand

Image source: Ideasforus.org

“Fleet Farming” is a solution that addresses several different problems: the huge amount of fossil fuels used to grow and transport food, the pollution (pesticides and chemical fertilizers) and wastefulness (water and the gas used for mowing) associated with the average lawn and communities’ lack of access to healthy food.

Suggested at a Hive Orlando meeting by urban farmer John Rife, the program works by mobilizing community members to donate their yards as garden plots and/or share the produce from fruit trees on their property. IDEAS volunteers install the garden, plant and care for the crops (without harmful pesticides) and harvest them when the time is right. Volunteers then transport the produce by bicycle to local markets and restaurants.

Fleet Farming is one of IDEAS’ most successful programs. Over 4,000 pounds of produce have been harvested so far, keeping over 8,000 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. And it’s not just Orlando: Fleet Farming now has a major presence in Oakland, California, and IDEAS is busy translating their Fleet Farming documents in order to bring the program to Uganda. By returning to decentralized, local agriculture, communities can put a major dent in climate change while enjoying easier, more affordable access to healthy food.

IDEAS Can Change the World

Communities all over the world face a range of problems, but none of those problems are unsolvable. IDEAS for Us has proven that an idea truly is a powerful thing— and can be made even more powerful when people are empowered to pool their expertise to turn that idea into a concrete solution.

Budget Dumpster is your community-focused source for a dumpster rental in OrlandoThis is part of a series of articles shining a spotlight on organizations making a difference in the communities we service. If you know of another great organization, let us know in the comments!

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