The Way of the Problem Solver

“We will be known by the problems we solve,” says Jeff Shinabarger, the founder of Plywood Presents.

Plywood Presents was a gathering of nonprofit leaders, social entrepreneurs, and purpose driven creatives in Atlanta that our team had the opportunity to attend. The gathering’s strong focus on solving the problems that face our world instantly resonated with the work we do in trying to address environmental degradation, poverty, and spiritual despair.

The lineup of presenters was especially impressive, and we took good notes on what we learned from a few of them.

Problem solvers disrupt things that aren’t working.

Zim Ugochukwu started a magazine called Travel Noire. She did so after her love for travel led her to realize the glaring lack of representation in travel media and the travel industry.

“Never seeing a person who looked like me on the cover of a magazine in Italy or Iceland was the impetus for Travel Noire,” she retells.

When people can’t find themselves represented in travel publications, it can come across as a message that they aren’t welcome in the travel community. Or that they wouldn’t be free to be themselves. “I started my travel company because I wanted people to be free,” says Zim.

For her, problem solving was all about identifying something that wasn’t working and offering something that addressed that issue directly. It was hard work, but it didn’t need to be more complicated than simply responding to an absence.

Problem solvers get creative.

When Sarah Corbett found her passion for activism and social change to be in conflict with her gentle nature and status as an introvert, she ended up discovering a new way to catch people’s attention for things that matter.

She began to use her knitting skills to reach out to board members of a company that she wanted to call the attention of. After this successful outcome, she realized that a little creativity can spark the imagination in necessary ways.

“We can have all the policy and problem-solving in the world but without art and creativity we remain apathetic.”

Problem solvers focus on other people.

Lecrae has now spent years as one of the most recognizable names in hip-hop. His musical skills simply serve as a platform where he can speak up. Topics cover faith, justice, and issues that are important to him.

Lecrae is often an outsider in circles where he finds himself. But he doesn’t let that deter him. It can be hard work to represent people or beliefs in unfamiliar spaces. He persists because what matters is what we do for others.

“I want my ceiling to be the floor for others,” he eloquently states. Our success isn’t about building up our own appearance, it’s all about the impact it has on other people.

Problem solvers seek constant improvement.

Scott Harrison still enthusiastically shares the story of how he started charity:water. Today it is one of the most recognized nonprofit organizations, bringing clean water to the world.

He eagerly points out how much of charity:water’s growth came from the result of experimentation, learning, and constant improvement. In a fashion more familiar to tech startups than nonprofit organizations, the charity:water team employed thorough data analysis. They applied A/B testing to their website, and advanced fundraising software all while seeking growth and improvement.

The organization’s mantra is “the craziest thing we can do is nothing.” Scott and his team embody the spirit of energetic problem-solving.

Problem solvers ask ‘what if?’

Fab’rik is an Atlanta-based clothing boutique started by Dana Spinola that seeks to change the lives of women who have been devastated by sex trafficking.

The idea to connect her passion for clothing with a wider purpose came with a simple question. “What if we gave these beautiful clothes to women who needed them – and got to meet them, style them, and spend time with them?

The idea grew into something that has lasted for years.

Plant With Purpose has been inspired by these leaders and many others at Plywood. We are thrilled by the way their ideas and innovation remind us of our partners around the world. From Burundi to Mexico, Plant With Purpose partners continue to apply creativity, constant improvement, empathy, and disruption to solving problems in their areas. To support them, consider becoming a Purpose Partner!

Philippe Lazaro

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How is the environment a root cause of human trafficking?