• ,

ChangeWorks: A new series on social innovators

ideatreeWhenever I hear that New Orleans has made a Top 10 list, I tend to flinch. New Orleans – like Louisiana – always seems to draw superior marks for inferior behavior.

Blight? We’re No. 3 (behind Detroit and Flint, Michigan). Teen pregnancy? Louisiana is No. 3 -- and has a poverty rate twice the national average.

Over the years, I’ve been conditioned to expect the worst.

But lately – particularly post-Katrina – New Orleans has started making top 10 lists that count. Travel and Leisure named the city the No. 1 travel destination in America. Forbes crowned us the country’s No. 1 Brain Magnet and awarded us third place for IT growth.

The first type of rankings has to do with the social problems of the city. The second set of accolades demonstrates our potential for solving them.

The juncture where those two areas meet gives us social entrepreneurship.

This week, NolaVie and Propeller join forces to explore that concept. ChangeWorks will focus on local people who are making efforts to effect social change. They are visionaries and entrepreneurs, and they come in all sorts of packages. Young and old, newcomers and natives, urbanites and suburbanites, anyone who addresses a social problem with a dream or an idea and tries to make it a reality.

For us, the city’s venture capital resides in such people. They are the ones who make a community viable and energetic. And they’re not new to New Orleans. Street peddlers (call it the slow food movement of yesteryear) and mom-and-pop stores (an 18th-century answer to blight) have been cornerstones of the city’s economic foundations since its beginnings.

New Orleans is a grassroots sort of place. Here, when someone sees a need – whether for financial or social gain – he or she tends to just jump in and do it. Start a new Carnival parade? Why not? Find a better way to make a widget? Let’s brainstorm.

Propeller serves as an incubator for these social innovators. NolaVie chronicles their stories.

Together, we plan to follow some of the people who are tackling local social and environmental problems with creative endeavors. This week, ee’re focusing on four major areas of local need identified by Propeller: education, health, water management and food access. In coming months, we will offer stories about all sorts of people who are trying to change their -- and our -- world.

So tune in to ChangeWorks over the next few days. You might be surprised by what local entrepreneurs are doing. About what they look like. About who they are.

If you’re a typical New Orleanian, you might one day be one of them.

Check back Tuesday for a look at a new digital way to take leftover food to hungry people. On Wednesday we'll be hearing from a new group of doulas in town. On Thursday we talk to a textile artist who is teaching abused women money-earning skills. And on Friday we interview a guy who is making rain work for us.

We’d like to hear your ideas for people or organizations to cover in this series, and get your ideas for innovative solutions to social problems. Email us at [email protected]

ChangeWorks is a series that focuses on New Orleans entrepreneurs devoted to social innovation. Its content is produced through a partnership between NolaVie and Propeller: A Force for Social Innovation. Send feedback to [email protected] or [email protected]

Renee Peck is editor of NolaVie. Email her at [email protected]