Scott Tillitt: Out of the Trance & Into Action

Progressive activist Scott Tillit at TEDx

Scott Tillitt prepares for his TEDx presentation.

I met Scott Tillitt online in the pre-social media era via a list serv called Progressive PR NYC. He is a social entrepreneur and community catalyst, bringing advocates together to pool talents and resources to make a greater impact than we could do separately. I have always admired his willingness to share credit and remain optimistic.

How would you describe your life’s work?

 There are a couple quotes that inspire everything I do.

- “Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” (Arundhati Roy)
- “The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” (social psychologist Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi)

My mission: Help awaken a social and spiritual consciousness and transform failed systems. Help counter the material, disheartening and destructive messages too rampant in our culture. Raise ethics and inspire creativity for a more open and sustainable society. Ignite the mind, tickle the emotions, and stir the soul.

Why does it matter?

Because there are seemingly insurmountable challenges facing us. Soul-numbing consumerism. Corporate malfeasance. Environmental destruction. Economic disparities. Propaganda machines. Fear and ignorance. Apathy and cynicism. Trite thought. The problem is that most people are in a trance, unable to see beyond their daily survival. Even if they do have some perspective, they’re unable to act on it. People need to be inspired. People want to be inspired.

How did you come to do this work?

Fate? Actually, I was in that consumerist trance, working in the corporate world, but thankfully went through an evolution in consciousness. Yoga and meditation helped. So did 9/11. Once I broke that trance, I started applying my corporate-honed skills to social impact.

What would you say is your most significant achievement in the past two years?

Nothing I’ve done has been as personally fulfilling as producing TEDxLongDock in Beacon, NY, last summer (2013), a day-long event with 20-plus hand-picked speakers and performers. It was the culmination of many months of planning and hard, selfless work with a small, dedicated team. We brought together a diverse group of doers, thinkers, facilitators and catalysts interested in making the Hudson Valley a better place to live. The energy in the filled-to-capacity room was electric. The love was palpable.

What’s next for you?

My main focus right now is producing Social Venture Institute / Hudson Valley in Rhinebeck, NY, May 9-11. We’re calling it a weekend of profound problem solving, visioning and connecting, all in the inspired setting of one of the world’s premier educational retreat centers, Omega Institute. We’re convening social entrepreneurs and innovative business-builders and nonprofit leaders, the dreamers and doers, the thinkers, the visionary world-changers, creators and catalysts. The people and organizations behind it are some of the original thinkers and doers of the social enterprise movement.

Beyond that, I’m continuing to build my consulting practice, Antidote Collective, a social enterprise, BEAHIVE (collaborative spaces for work and community), and a nonprofit I co-founded and lead as board chair, Re>Think Local (a collaborative of locally owned independent businesses, artists, farmers, and nonprofits). I try to leave room to breathe and for new adventures to arise.

How do you want to be remembered?

Here’s an epitaph I drafted during a visioning workshop: Scott was known for his generosity — of spirit and money. He brought people together, lit their creative fires, inspired them to serve their fellow humans. He was a calming presence to those around him. He had a lasting impact on integrating work with the personal and social.

Changing the World with a Fork: David Benzaquen

David Benzaquen, CEO, PlantBased Solutions

David Benzaquen

David Benzaquen is a progressive activist and a fellow alum of the Milano School for International Affairs, Management and Urban Policy, a graduate division of The New School. A vegan environmentalist, David is the founder and CEO of PlantBased Solutions, a branding firm located in New York City.

How would you describe your life’s work?

Increasing access to delicious, affordable, and healthful plant-based foods.

Why does it matter?

Eating a more plant-based diet is one of the most significant and empowering actions people can take to address a myriad of environmental, public health, and animal welfare concerns.

How did you come to do this work?

Over a decade ago, I asked a series of social change advocates what single action I could take to make the greatest impact in the world. The best response I received was that I could single handedly change the world with my fork, by choosing to consume plant-based foods and consequently improve my health, protect the environment, and spare animals from cruelty.

What would you say is your most significant achievement in the past two years?

In 2012, I launched my mission-driven business, PlantBased Solutions, a marketing and brand management agency dedicated to supporting plant-based food businesses. To this day, we have helped over 20 companies who are committed to improving the world.

What’s next for you?

At PlantBased Solutions we are continually looking for new ways we can build the future of healthful, sustainable, and ethical products. We are constantly innovating to identify new areas (beyond marketing) in which we can make an impact to increase awareness and support of these products.

How do you want to be remembered?

Ideally, a loving family man, who devoted his life to supporting innovative methods to address some of the world’s greatest ills.

Re-imagining the World: A Profile of Alice Wu

Alice Wu, human rights activist for women and girls

Alice Wu

Alice Wu is a human rights activist and a fellow alum of the Milano School of International Affairs, Management and Urban Policy, part of The New School, a progressive university in New York City. I was privileged to spend the summer of 2012 with her, working on human rights issues in Hong Kong, SAR, China.

How would you describe your life’s work?

Since I haven’t been working for very long I would rather describe it as my future life’s work. And I want to see my future life’s work as an ongoing and relentless commitment to social justice, women and girls.

Why does it matter?

Empowerment of women and girls and their ability and potential to live a life without violence is critically important. In thinking about power in this case, I would rather define it as the power that we have within ourselves to change ourselves and in turn, re-imagine the world. I think that if we as women and girls can find that within ourselves, we would be able to create a radically different world where we (women) can demand and implement justice.

How did you come to do this work?

When I was high school, I was privileged to travel to rural parts of China as a volunteer, where I worked with adolescent girls. Seeing the transformation of their behavior over time, in a safe environment where they felt encouragement and trust, was very powerful. I think if anybody were to witness their growth in confidence during that short time, they would see how much it matters in terms of outward performance, both social and academic. Since then, I have been more conscious of the professional path I want to walk.

What would you say is your most significant achievement in the past two years?

My ability to engage with regional human rights movements from a professional level through Amnesty International and UNICEF. They have given me very rewarding experiences and opportunities to interact with communities of activism in different ways.

What’s next for you?

I’m excited to say that I just accepted a position as communications and executive assistant to the president of Breakthrough, a global human rights organization that aims to prevent violence against women and girls by transforming the norms and cultures that enable it. We carry out this mission by building a critical mass of change agents worldwide — the Breakthrough Generation — whose bold collective action will deliver irreversible impact on the issue of our time

How do you want to be remembered?

I want to be remembered as someone who was committed to expanding opportunities for women and girls.