Highland Eco: How to start an initiative

In my junior year of high school, I developed a Girl Scout Gold Award project called “Build for Bees” dedicated to building, and helping others build, sustainable bee habitats. Upon earning my Gold Award, I realized that I loved my project too much to let it go. So, I decided to pursue it full-tilt. 

Four years of hard work later, Build for Bees is now a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization, and I’m the CEO. Together, we work to restore and protect our bee populations through accessible education and sustainable bee habitats.

This experience has been quite the adventure. One day, I’m hopping on a Zoom call with an executive from a Fortune 500 corporation; the next, installing mason bee houses in the foothills of the Smokies. I’ve had my share of “oh, crap” moments and sleepless nights, but they’ve all been worth it. I get to fight for what I love, while doing what I love.

The crazy thing is, none of this would’ve happened if 15-year-old me hadn’t felt empowered to start somewhere. I was lucky to have family, friends, and mentors that believed in me before I did. 

In this issue, I figured I’d return the favor. Here are my tips for starting and leading an initiative of your own.

  1. Identify your issue.

It’s handy to know what you’re fighting for before you throw the first punch. Ask yourself these questions to help identify your issue:

What widespread problem grinds my gears and keeps me up at night? 

What work is already being done to address it, and why hasn’t it been enough to resolve it?

  1. Become an expert.

Before considering possible solutions, learn as much as you can about your issue. Watch documentaries and videos. Read books and articles. Listen to podcasts. Sign up for newsletters, and follow accounts on social media. Connect with experts in the field by enrolling in online courses or scheduling coffee dates. 

And whatever you do, don’t stop. Learning should become a part of your everyday routine, even if you only have five minutes to spare. Spreading inaccurate or outdated information can do more harm than good.

  1. Get to know yourself.

Once you have a solid understanding of your issue, put that same energy into learning about yourself. Explore your unique skills and interests, and get to know your leadership style. It’ll come in handy later.

If you don’t know where to start, I highly recommend taking the Myers-Briggs personality test on 16personalities.com. It’ll help you identify your strengths and weaknesses, as well as give you a list of public figures that share your personality type. Learning about some of the people on that list can help you see how like-minded people lead.

  1. Identify your mission.

Now, it’s time to put all the pieces together. Consider how you can leverage your unique skills and interests to tackle the issue you’ve identified. Then, create a mission statement.

A mission statement is just a brief summary of your purpose and approach. They’re most commonly used by nonprofits, but anyone can have one. To get you on the right track, let’s break down my nonprofit’s mission statement:

“Our mission is to restore and protect our bee populations through accessible education and sustainable bee habitats.” 

First, let’s look at the bones. This statement has two key components. It states our purpose, “to restore and protect our bee populations,” as well as our approach, “accessible education and sustainable bee habitats.” 

Second, let’s talk about what it accomplishes. It’s specific and succinct enough for anyone to learn exactly what we’re about in just one sentence. It also leaves room for my organization to grow. We can launch a multitude of initiatives under “accessible education” and “sustainable bee habitats,” without ever drifting away from our purpose.

  1. Start small.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and good things take time. Start small.

If your mission is to end world hunger by providing food to the hungry (Not particularly creative, but see how it has a purpose and an approach?), maybe start out by organizing a small food drive. You can use what you’ve learned and the traction you’ve gained to host bigger, better ones. Once you’ve got those under control, maybe launch another project within your mission, like a food pantry or grocery coupon app.

Whatever you do, keep good records. It’ll help you identify what works and what doesn’t, as well as make it easier for people to follow in your footsteps. 

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Those are all my tips for this issue, but I have many more up my sleeve. If you’d like to learn more, feel free to shoot me an email:

[email protected]

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