Climate Pioneer Opens Social Entrepreneurship Symposium

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Billy Parish has shown that building a movement takes focused collaboration . “We never do anything world-changing by ourselves.”

Fresh from a coup in which his crowd-sourced solar energy investment company, Mosaic, Inc., sold out its shares overnight, Billy Parish gave the opening talk at Middlebury’s second annual Social Entrepreneurship Conference on January 24. An all-ages crowd at McCullough Social Space came to hear one of the founders of the youth climate movement speak about “Following Purpose”—lessons he’s learned building social movements and a business that allow changing the world to be your day job.

Parish opened by recalling two influences that changed his own life. One was a segment of Daniel Quinn’s book Ishmael, in which the title character explains to his pupil how our growth-based civilization, blind to biological limits, is as destined to crash as a flying machine built without an eye to aerodynamics. The second was visiting a shrinking Indian glacier and realizing the impact on water supplies for 400 million people downstream. “I realized there was no turning back,” Parish said. “I said to myself, ‘this is my life’s work.’”

Parish has co-authored a book to help others achieve their own such realizations and fulfill them. Thursday night he took the audience through the three biggest lessons he learned in creating change, detailed in Making Good: Finding Meaning, Money and Community in a Changing World (Rodale/Penguin, 2012).

  • Follow Your Purpose. “We so rarely talk with anyone about why we feel we’re here,” Parish noted, and asked listeners to write their own purpose (or what they think it is now) on the index cards provided. Audience members then stood and spoke out loud—and then yelled—their purpose statements.
  • Build on the Best. “We never do anything world-changing by ourselves,” said Parish, and related how he enlisted leaders such as Van Jones to advise his projects and attracted several 2008 presidential campaigns to promote climate concerns.
  • Go to the Root. The crushing defeats of the 2009 Copenhagen climate conference and U.S. federal climate legislation made Parish rethink his approach. Handing off his youth climate activism to successors, he took time (and the support of an Ashoka Fellowship) to examine the real barriers to achieving widespread clean energy adoption. He realized solar companies and potential customers faced capital shortages and ill-fitting financing structures. He co-founded Mosaic, his crowd-sourced solar investment platform, with the purpose of enabling “abundant clean energy for and by the people.”

Admitting that he’d had to learn the energy financing business “on the job,” Parish encouraged listeners to commit the necessary time to master their chosen areas of action. Meanwhile, at Mosaic, he said, the new solar projects the company helps to finance are creating larger numbers of people committed to renewable energy and to policies that promote it.

Click the link below to watch Parish’s talk.

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