#207 - How to Build an Online Community to Fight Climate Change, with Nivi Achanta from Soapbox Project

January 18, 2022

#207 - How to Build an Online Community to Fight Climate Change, with Nivi Achanta from Soapbox Project
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Nivi Achanta is the founder and CEO of Soapbox Project, making social impact easy for busy people, starting with bite-sized climate action plans! She believes in positive messaging around social change and shares experiences that have motivated her to make a change.


Today we are joined by Nivi Achanta, founder and CEO of Soapbox Project, making social impact easy for busy people, starting with bite-sized climate action plans! 

During this conversation, Nivi tells us the story of what led her to start Soapbox and what she’s aiming to achieve with it. We touch on some of the reasons that people don’t take action and she shares which factors she believes have led to her success, as well as why you should just do things and see if they lead to your success. 

We ask Nivi about her challenges and wins, why she felt that bringing Soapbox into the community space was the next step rather than just a newsletter, and what has been so exciting and productive about that process. She advocates for trusting your users and emphasizes the fact that community is about collaboration rather than control. 

Nivi believes in positive messaging around social change and shares experiences that have motivated her to make a change. She shares some powerful advice, as well as all the details of her journey that will empower listeners to make a change.

Sponsored by Georgetown University: MS, Environment and Sustainability Management.

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🗣 TOPICS DISCUSSED:

  • Nivi Achanta tells us about the reason she started Soapbox: feeling too busy to make a social impact and wanting to make it possible for others to do so
  • The aim to create a social justice funnel that people can use to fight for global causes
  • How we have access to a lot of information today but no action plan to respond
  • What Nivi learned through the process of starting Soapbox: you have to try a lot of things!
  • Which factors brought her to actually take action: being easily bored!
  • The two main reasons that people don’t take action: feeling like they don’t have time, and waiting until the project is perfect
  • What she attributes her success to: her ability to launch things and stick with what works
  • Starting with a bias towards action and finding a public medium as drivers for consistency
  • Why Nivi believes everyone should have an example of something that they did that was unexpected and made them feel proud
  • The power of constantly telling people what you are working on to build your audience
  • How getting people to share about the newsletter has been Nivi's biggest challenge
  • Why she will reply and ask if they want to chat whenever someone emails her
  • The value she derives from supporting other businesses and voices in the space
  • How luck is cultivated
  • Why Nivi felt that launching a community was the next step
  • How bringing people out of the newsletter into a more engaged space has been effective
  • The role of events in turning the subscribers into a community after people asked for them 
  • A main driver for building community: understanding who people are and what they look for
  • Why Nivi believes you need to trust your users
  • What she is excited about for the future of Soapbox: member hosted events
  • Why community is about collaboration rather than control
  • What motivates people to create change: knowing their lives would be better if the world wasn’t burning, accepting the realities, and seeing the positives
  • Positive change for Nivi means buying second hand, learning about food waste, and showing people how this can help them make change
  • Why she believes that we message social justice wrong
  • Leveraging peer pressure as a tool to grow the community 
  • Nivi’s book recommendation: Mutualism by Sara Horowitz
  • Her advice: if you have an idea, get started on it, and get as much feedback as you can!

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Transcript

Cory Ames  0:00  
Before diving in a quick word from our sponsor, when it comes to protecting the planet Science in Business go further together. prepare for a career focused on building a more sustainable future by earning Georgetown's interdisciplinary Master of Science, and Environment and Sustainability management, with a powerful combination of scientific knowledge, and business principles, this 11 month program will help you create a more sustainable world. Get started at esm.georgetown.edu.

Nivi Achanta  0:42  
Even if it's a tiny example, like it can be big or small, but anchor yourself on a time when you did something that made a difference because I think that's like a huge, huge way to motivate yourself and know that you have a lot more power than you realize.

Cory Ames  1:03  
Hey, y'all, it's Cory here with the social entrepreneurship and innovation podcast as always, so grateful to have you here. Today we are talking about how to build an online community around doing good. And to do so I'm joined by Nivi Achanta, the founder and CEO of soapbox project. So box projects makes social impact easy for busy people. They have what Nivi calls that lightweight social justice funnel that starts with bite sized climate action plans through their newsletter, scales up through monthly action hours, and then engages people even further through a membership community. Originally connected with Nivi by signing up for her newsletter, the change letter, which is a easy to digest newsletter that allows you to fight climate change in just three minutes every week. Make sure to check out our links to the change letter to soapbox projects in the episode description as well as our show posts that grow ensemble.com. But before we dive into this chat with Navy to talk about building online community around doing good, I want to invite you to sign up for the better world weekly newsletter, which is the weekly newsletter that I write scary and publish myself every single Monday go to grow ensemble.com backslash newsletter, we now have 3300 or so folks getting this email in their inbox every single Monday from all sectors all over the globe. Go to grow ensemble.com backslash newsletter to join in on our discussion of all that it takes to leave the world a better place than we found it. Alright, well, without further ado, here is Nivi Achanta from soapbox project.

Nivi Achanta  3:10  
Cory thanks for having me on. For those of you don't know me, my name is Nivi Achanta. I'm the founder and CEO of a startup called soapbox project. And basically, we make social impact easy for busy people. So I can tell you all about how that looks. But I'm sure that everyone listening to this has gone through a moment where you want to do something good. But you know, you maybe you have kids or an 80 hour work week job or whatever else is the reason that is inhibiting you from making a difference. I understand how frustrating that is because I was in that position. So I wanted to start soapbox to actually do something to help other people

Cory Ames  3:48  
I love it. And I would love to start right there with what you hinted at is that you were in that position yourself. I'd love if you could share a little bit more as to what what was the impetus for you personally for starting soapbox? 

Nivi Achanta  4:02  
Yeah, so I think the most important thing for people to know about me is that I don't have a very special background or a very exquisite job or anything like that. So I worked in consulting for the first three years of my corporate career, you know, just like every other college student that majors in business or whatever, I was working at Accenture, doing tech consulting, and it was fine, you know, is just like your run of the mill corporate job. But I realized that the work that I was doing, you know, nine to five or nine to whatever hours a day, it just didn't matter. It wasn't terrible, like I wasn't working for an oil company, but it also wasn't doing anything positive. And so what I was realizing is that every time I would run into my work, friends, we would all have the same conversations over and over and over and over again about how you know we should do something about the homelessness in San Francisco or we should donate or we should volunteer together or we should fight climate change or in like 50 things going on in our city. And like six months of this had passed, and it slowly dawned upon me that we were just like talking and talking and talking about this. But none of us was making the time to actually turn our intentions into action. And so I decided, like, Look, somebody has to break the cycle. So let me try. And it was surprisingly hard. Like, one of the things that I'm really passionate about is education. I love working with kids, something as simple as figuring out how to read in a classroom, like volunteer my afternoons, that was like impossible to figure out what programs were still going, you know, which schools you could go to what time how to sign up. So I feel like every thing I was trying to do, first of all, there was even a very few things that I even knew that I wanted to do, reading the kids like the one thing that popped into my head, but I just feel like I was on a wild goose chase of social impact. And I just felt really, really guilty. Because here I was, like working this cushy job and earning a salary, but not understanding how to use that to create meaningful change in my community. So eventually, months later, all of that frustration has culminated into soapbox project.

Cory Ames  6:18  
Talk to me about that combination a little bit. I mean, where were we from? That frustrating effort to find something as simple as volunteer opportunities and local schools to then perhaps how I discovered you, which was a recommendation for your your change letter, your weekly newsletter, which is such a polished, and really actionable, engaging piece of writing that I get in my inbox every single week, definitely recommend people check it out. But how do we go from just individual experiencing that frustration, perhaps sharing that with their peers to what's now become soapbox, which is which is really something of a legitimate operation? Touching a lot of people every single week?

Nivi Achanta  7:00  
Yeah. So first of all, thank you, Cory, for recommending our little change letter. I'm very proud of it. So before I answer that question, just to give everyone listening, an overview of what soapbox is now, because I'm sure this podcast will be about my, like, messy journey to get here. But what it is now is, you know, there's marketing funnels, and sales funnels, and all of these different things in the business world that make it easier to move from point A to point B. Well, the way that I've been thinking about soapbox, starting, like the beginning of 2021, is a social justice funnel. So the goal is so that anyone in the world can take action in a way that's meaningful for them and their community. So obviously, that's like a huge ambitious vision type thing. And I'll go into how we kind of break that down further. But like, in short, we start with the free newsletter, the one that Corey mentioned, if you want to keep getting more engaged and have more accountability, you can come to our events. And if you want, even more accountability, and friends, and local action, and all this amazing stuff, we have a membership community that like really connects you in your geography and topics that you care about and off that. So really, just the goal is to build those bridges. If you're a person that was like me, that was like help I have some money, I have a little bit of diamond, I want to do something positive. And so box actually helps you get there. So like rewinding, to actually answer your question, it took, like a year or two of exploration, because I don't have a Social Justice background. So you, you know, my family cared about service. And you know, they pulled the whole, like, don't waste your food. There's people in the world that are starving type thing. And every now and then we would, you know, volunteer at the Salvation Army. But I wasn't raised in like, a community that was about mutual aid and justice and like talking about climate change, and all of those things. So once I got into the workplace, it's not like I had this squad that was like protesting and volunteering and donating and all those things. So it took me like, probably at least a year to go from my confusion to creating what is now soapbox. And so the way this started is, I was sitting down with one of my mentors and telling her this exact problem of hey, Michelle, like, I don't really like my job. I just started it like two months ago, I already don't like it, because it just feels like there's so much wrong in the world. And I'm not contributing. And she actually said, why don't you start a podcast about the things that you care about? And so I actually ended up doing that, like, from 2017 to maybe like 2018 ish. I ran a podcast about American education, because that's like, what I really wanted to dive into. And the more I was doing that, the more I realized, first of all, I want to urge podcasting is but second of all, how there's a lot of knowledge already out in the world. And the problem is kind of like, yeah, sure, knowledge is a very important piece of that equation. But for the group of people that are like me, Chances are we have enough knowledge. But we don't have the next step like what do you do with that knowledge? What do you do when you read a really upsetting news article about, I don't know, like immigration detention camps or, or whatever, you know, all the horrible things that have been in the news since at least 2016. And so, as I kind of figured out that maybe podcasting, wasn't it, email newsletters were like the next buzzy thing. So I was just like, let me try this, you know, let me just try creating action plans on issues I care about. And initially, it was gonna be on like a whole range of social issues. And we might go more towards that again. But the the big thing on everyone's mind has been climate change. And climate is also a really difficult thing to figure out what your places. So yeah, I just started with that. And I was like, I'm gonna write this for myself, figure out what I can do on topics like fast fashion and food waste and stuff. And, you know, the more I was doing it, and the more I was talking about it, it just like started gaining a lot of traction. So the journey is obviously a lot longer than that. But the moral of the story for me is like, you really just have to try a lot of things and see what works and doesn't work. And like the most important thing for me was talking to as many people as I could to figure out what, like if they had shared the same challenges as me, or just really, really understand what the problem is that I'm trying to solve?

Cory Ames  11:22  
That's really interesting. I think something that always draws me in or that appeals to me is what brought you from concept and idea into actually taking action, because you have this conversation with the mentor that you mentioned, and it is very common. For many of us, I'm sure some folks listening this show to feel some curiosity, some desire to perhaps use their their skills in the capacities to create something like you have. And what do you think was particular about you at that point in time, or environmentally, whatever was was happening, perhaps for you and around you. That then took you from concept to actually taking the action, like you mentioned to starting a podcast, it's okay, that you're not running one. I'm doing it for you. And you got a good microphone out of it.

Nivi Achanta  12:09  
I can tell. Yes.

Cory Ames  12:11  
But what was some of the contributing factors to what brought you actually to take action, it's almost representative of the time that you're doing with soapboxes, reducing that friction to make real action in impact more accessible for people. So what was that for you? In your environment for experience?

Nivi Achanta  12:30  
Yeah, so earlier, when I was talking about hive, and like your average person, I think the main thing that has always set me apart is I just have a bias towards action. And I think for being totally honest, I think that's because I get bored easily. Like I just beat down sometimes just the most restless person ever. And so there's a lot of people that have amazing ideas and just sit on them and sit on them and sit on them, and then don't do anything about it. And I think that's, you know, for a number of reasons, from other entrepreneurs that I've talked to, I think two of the main reasons is like, number one, feeling like you don't have enough time, and sometimes you don't. And the second reason is, I think people want to make their projects perfect. And they, you know, have all these huge dreams. And for me, I never dreamed of becoming an entrepreneur, I didn't even call myself a podcaster until like a few episodes into my podcast, because for me, I don't know, I just didn't, I saw it a little differently. I was just frustrated. And I wanted to solve a specific problem for myself and for the people that I was talking to. And so at that time, there wasn't a lot of ego surrounding it. I think that any entrepreneur, like we always have to grapple with our egos and all that. But at the time, I just like, knew that I wanted to do something to spread awareness, whether it was education, or climate, or whatever. So I think one big thing that I've learned is, again, like, I don't have any super amazing technical skills, or this, like, background of going to Harvard, you know, I just went to like states, like UC Davis in California. And honestly, like, the main reason why I, in my own opinion, I'm successful, you know, we can define success in a number of ways. But I do think I'm successful, because I'm good at launching things and sticking with the things that I know that work. So I think that's just like something that anyone can do is just seriously, if you're like thinking about an idea, just launch the most basic version of it. Because if you don't do that, you're not going to have momentum. And I think that's like one of the most important lessons that I've learned is, I'm not like a super self motivated person. But when I have momentum, and I know that people are watching and listening, like I think the two forms that we've been talking about, like the podcasts and the newsletter that has an audience, you know, whether that's like five people listening to it, and one of them's my mom, I know that There's gonna be five people that expect me to put something out. So I think that like, starting with a bias towards action and finding, like a kind of public medium was really important to me to keep it consistent. So that was one thing. The second thing is something that I'm realizing more recently, is I think every single person should have an example of when they did something powerful that they didn't expect. So for me, that was in 2018, when I was working at Accenture, you probably remember, I don't know, actually, there's been so many fires since then. But in 2018, in Northern California, the campfire broke out. And at the time, that was the most destructive wildfire in California history. And it was only three hours north from the San Francisco office. And long story medium, my partner's house had burned down his whole family's like five different family members houses had burned down, it was like a whole horrible, horrible situation. And I remember going back to work at Accenture in the Salesforce tower, which is like the highest, fanciest building in San Francisco. And no one was doing anything about this, even though the fire was like, relatively close, like it was just business as usual. So what I did, and keeping in mind, I was only like 12 months into my professional career, you know, I graduated a year before this. And I just like made this proposal on, please give me money in a team and we want to go up there and do some research and volunteer and help out. And I sent it to all of the John's in the office, literally all the powerful execs, they're all of their name was John Solaris, but I sent it to them, and they approved it. And so after that project, I just realized, like, any person, like you really just have to do something. And you know, the worst thing that people can say is no, I know that's a cliche, but it's really true. But if it works, like that kind of thing sticks with you forever, because I'll always look back and say, you know, this isn't something that was expected of me, this isn't something that I thought was gonna work. But I realized that me as like a baby in my career, I was still able to do a month long disaster relief project. Just because I acted on my idea. Like it was literally nothing else, I just had the idea. But instead of keeping it to myself, I asked for help. And I asked for support and a work. So I think that like one takeaway from that experiences. What I've been trying to tell people recently is, even if it's a tiny example, like it can be big or small, but anchor yourself on a time when you did something that made a difference, because I think that's like a huge, huge way to motivate yourself and know that you have a lot more power than you realize.

Cory Ames  17:43  
That's small bit of courage in that that moment, small, or however it felt, you know, it's probably all relative to the moment for you and how you feel about yourself and the circumstance, it becomes a muscle that you can train again, and again, you know what, exactly as you mentioned, that you anchor in that, I love that description, to then, you know, help use that momentum for the next thing. And likewise, with some of those constraints, it's like, set up those systems set up those constraints, the moat, essentially around protecting your effort to make it harder and harder for you to quit. Yeah, make sure you're enjoying yourself along the way. But I think that likewise, with you a share that I'm wonderful at starting things, I'm really good at starting a lot of projects, the trouble I have can be sustaining something. But the newsletter example was was a big one for me or the podcast here, that getting on that schedule, it almost felt as if I had no other choice to be able to write Yeah, and send a newsletter on Mondays, or publish a podcast every Tuesday, you know, and that writing momentum time after time more a little bit less about every single individual newsletter as to you know, if it's perfect or not,
 
it's like, alright, is it, you know, as good as I can get it, but it's done and it's published. You're focusing on that to where and, you know, all of a sudden, not all of a sudden, but sort of you're like, I can't stop this machine. You want to create that. So it's, so it feels like it will continue no matter what. And so, here we are now, I think the last time we checked in on it, there's some 6000, maybe 7000 readers of the change letter, you can correct me on the details.

Nivi Achanta  19:27  
It fluctuates depending on the number of boxes that we get off a daily basis. I think right now we're somewhere around 5000. I think all I was like looking at the past ads, and I think the highest was like 10,000 but like a good number of them were spam bots. You're in there.

Cory Ames  19:46  
But either way, there's a significant number of folks who are reading and engaging with this newsletter every single week. What do you think has led to the traction on it and the increase in readership with time

Nivi Achanta  20:00  
Yeah, so one of the first things early on is, when we were living in an in person world, I would not stop talking about this newsletter. And I think it was important for me to see people's faces, like, the reason that I knew that this would keep going is I would tell people about it, instead of being like, oh, cool, that sounds awesome, they would pull out their phone and sign up. So that was like, early on, you know, that's not the, that's not the attraction method any longer. But that was like a big thing is just like constantly telling people what you're working on and giving them the chance to sign up if they want to, but not being like, Hey, I run this newsletter, you'll have to sign up, like I was other doctor's appointment a couple weeks ago. And I was mentioning because the doctor is making small talk. And she's like, oh, so what do you do, and I told her, she was like, please take my email and add me to this list. That's like, really, my favorite method of getting it to grow, to other distinct turning points was launching on product on, I think, early in 2020. Ish. I mean, at the time, we had like, some hundreds of subscribers and prototype cars, it should novel. And it was also a good way of getting feedback and getting people that I had never met, like these were not friends of friends, you know, they're like random people on the internet. So that was one thing. And then the other main, traction, like Boost, which, unfortunately, I can't give you any advice on because it was kind of just luck, is we got this amazing feature in the New York Times last year in December, I was just like chatting with this journalist in one of my many online communities. And she was like, Hey, is anyone writing about capitalism? And I was like, Yeah, kind of. And so I thought she was just gonna quote me on this piece. But we had like a, we were like a third of the article that she put out. So that was amazing. But beyond those two, kind of one off things, I think the most challenging thing has been getting people to share about it. Like, you know, I always have those buttons that's like, share. But that hasn't been like one of the less tree Sibley successful things. But I think the the stuff that has been working is putting on events. You know, what I said earlier, just talking about it all the time, whether it's Twitter, whether it's online communities. And then the last thing like about talking about the newsletter is, people don't just want to hear about what you're saying. So one of the biggest things that I do is, anytime someone replies to one of my emails, I will always reply back. And more often than not, I'll ask if they want to chat. And so I guess that, like, doesn't really answer your attraction question. But that's one of the biggest ways that I build connection with people in the audience and like, get them to see me as a person and not just like a random, you know, words in their inbox. So just like really engaging in the communities that I'm in and yes, taking the time to like, talk to people about what soapboxes and hopefully getting them excited, but also supporting other people on their projects and contributing knowledge. That's not just like, hey, here's a link to my newsletter. So all of those things have been definitely factors in increasing our readership, and also just increasing our engagement.

Cory Ames  23:12  
I mean, I'm with you, there's so much that is luck to a lot of the growth in these scenarios. But part of it as I like to think about it is something of creating luck, a little bit, you know, as to, it sounds like you're pretty active in a lot of different online communities. And that's probably what what created that opportunity for folks listening in to kind of take the potential strategy or tactic out of that is like, you never really know exactly where an opportunity like that will come, or when it will come or how it will come. But it's starting to learn kind of, as he said earlier of paying attention to like, what things are working for you and doing more of those. It's likewise, like, just putting yourself in situations where there's opportunity for serendipity a little bit, you know,

Nivi Achanta  23:56  
totally, I love I love, love, love the way that you put that on, like creating luck, because that's like a spiel I'll sometimes give to anyone else who wants to listen is like, maybe everyone has like similar luck probabilities, right? But the only way you're going to increase your actual luck is like engaging more in different things. You know, if you if you're lucky, like 10% of the time, you are going to win more if you basically play more because there's no downside. So again, with me being like a wrestling person, that definitely helps because I don't know if this is a New Year's resolution or what but I just realized one day in college that like, if I'm ever having a bad day, I just need to get out. I need to leave the house. Because all sorts of things happen to you when you leave the house like you'll discover a new store or like I don't know, you'll see like a cute baby or whatever the thing is, or like maybe you'll even see like a backyard concert or something. You know, that happens in college towns, but that's something that I have to tried to apply to various areas of my life is just like really, physically leave your house and then leave your comfort zone and like try to expand your comfort zone. So you can do exactly what you're saying, carry on. Like, you know, luck isn't just like a static thing. It's something that you can cultivate.

Cory Ames  25:15  
But the nice thing that I've said a few different times on this podcast is that there's something really nice about being in the space of social impact or sustainability, in that people in this space are very generous and open. And you would think, given that the goals are to, you know, address the climate crisis, as an example, or, you know, work on important social justice issues, it's like, we're on the same side. So it's a different landscape of business, you know, it's a different landscape of professional career to where others success, no, really continues to advance us all towards what is the shared goal. And so it would be contradictory that, you know, if you're genuinely authentically reaching out and connecting with people and connecting with their work, that it's not reciprocated in some way or received well, because we're kind of, you know, all, in theory working towards the same objectives.

Nivi Achanta  26:11  
Right. I do think that that's like, generally true. But I think regardless of the work that people are doing, we do exist in a system that promotes competition, ensure the scarcity mindset. So I try to only work with people that I know that like, not every single thing is a transaction. And they are in this because they care and not just because, you know, they want to be recognized. But it is hard, like even for me to check myself on when my egos driving something, then like an actual motivation. So, but overall, I really love the, you know, social entrepreneurs that I'm connected with, I will say that I think one book that has been really helpful in kind of framing this mindset is winners take all in kind of identifying, I think it's called, like the elite charade of changing the world or something like that. But it kind of like, hits on this perspective of when are we doing good, because we want credit versus actually trying to improve stuff. So I would put that on your reading list if you haven't already read it.

Cory Ames  27:17  
So a wonderful one, I have it on my bookshelf right next to me here. I'm with you on that as why I sometimes feel like I have to kind of battle. What is this feeling of scarcity on occasion, especially in the context of engaging with other people, you can feel a sense of scarcity of like, you know that there is a zero sum or that someone's success is at the detriment of yourself. And it almost has to be something of a deliberate practice, because I do think that it genuinely feels better to where you do prioritize, like collaboration as opposed to competition. Yes, absolutely. Because I do think that that sort of feeling of scarcity is is a bit irrational. However, I would love to talk a little bit as to what's more recent with soapbox, and from what I understand, maybe you've you've launched a community attached to soapbox a membership online this last year, what was the reason for doing that? Why why did you feel like that was the next evolution of your work with soapbox. 

Nivi Achanta  28:15  
I, again, did not want to launch a community because I know how much work that is. But as I mentioned earlier, I engage a lot with people who reply to the emails or like, ask me any questions and you know, just really try to get feedback, like, what do you love about the newsletters? What is missing? What would you like to see, even if it's totally unrelated, and two of the main things that would stick out is like, number one, I want some accountability, like, great, I'm glad that you send these action plans. But I would like to know what other people are doing. The second thing that would stand out is like, very related to this concept of accountability. A lot of people would come back saying, like, I feel really good that I did this thing. But it also feels like my actions don't matter. And it's in part because I don't know what other people are doing. Like climate change is still getting worse, like all of these things. And I just think that people would feel really alone, like a word that I would hear a lot is isolated. Because some people you know, people like me, I have convinced all my friends on all these topics. And they're my friends are also like, individually amazing and making change in their own ways. But not everyone has the same kind of dynamic in their friend group. And so a lot of people would say like, I have no one to talk to about this. And I feel like I'm the only one doing like X, Y and Z change. And so and then the third thing like very explicitly, some people would say, like, I need a community. So after about a year, getting this feedback, I knew I wanted to launch a community at some point. But the first thing that we did is launch events, which again, it's again, like a thing that I didn't think that we would do, but yeah So we started launching these events that were action hours where you can show up, it will be made very easy for you, you don't need to, like bring anything or buy anything. For example, we've done some lettering events where we mail you the stamps and the envelopes if you sign up. And so all you have to do is show up and take action. So once we started doing those events, it was very clear how effective it was to bring people out of the newsletter and into actual physical space. Like by physical Yes, I mean, virtual but, you know, you get to see people's faces, and you're actually doing something tangible and having conversations. And so like, on our first letter writing event where we were writing to incarcerated people, I think we wrote like, over 100 letters, were maybe even 200, I don't remember the exact number. But after that, I was like, Okay, we should continue testing these events, seeing if people like it and like kind of just getting a better sense. And the more people that I would talk to, they were like, I would straight up pay a membership, if I could come to these events for like not having to pay for them each time. So that was kind of the point when I knew like, okay, now I have enough input where I can and should launch a community because people are asking for it. I'm not just like here being like, please come to my community, people like want to be connected. People also have specific things that they really enjoy, for example, if the events. And so once I had kind of that validation, and like knowledge of why I'm doing it, and again, like the specific problem that I'm solving, it made the decision a lot easier to join the community, I still dragged my feet on it for like three months. But finally in March 2021, we ended up launching it,

Cory Ames  31:43  
what have you learned thus far as to what's most effective in getting people more engaged in active in an online community, because it's one thing to just host the space. But I have been a part of a lot of online communities that can feel like ghost towns, yeah, what keeps activity high? In your experience?

Nivi Achanta  32:05  
Honestly, the community has surpassed my expectations in terms of quality. And I think that, so let's rewinding for a second just to align on definitions. My gripe is that the word community is thrown around a lot. I used to refer to our newsletter as our community and has like, we have 4000 people in our community, not true. It's not a community, like anything that's unidirectional is not a community. And you would never say that in real life. If you in real life were like, at a convention center, and you gave a speech or like, if you gave a TED talk, right? You would never say like, I have a community of like 10,000 people or whatever. And so for whatever reason, people, including myself a few months ago, tend to just like use community for things that aren't a community. So I think a good gut check is like what I call this a community in real life. And so when soapbox turned from a platform into a community, was when we started our events, because that's when we were actually gathering people. It wasn't just me talking, everyone was kind of contributing and sharing their ideas. And so anyway, that's just something that I feel has to be said. And then in terms of not making it a ghost town, I think the two most common problems that I see is number one, yeah, the ghost town thing. And number two, some communities just feel like message boards. Just because you have an online place to hang out doesn't mean it's a community because again, like, you know, if you showed up to the mall, and there was like five other people somewhere around you, you would not call that your community. And so I did a couple things. Like the stuff that you'll see all the time is like having community rituals, like posting wins every week and posting reflection questions. And we still do that. One of the most important things is people have asked for events like that is that one of the main things that people have asked for. So for our members, we went from just doing monthly action hours, to also having one event a month where it's just a community Hangout. And then like two fireside chats a month. So basically, we have events every week. And that helps people show up. And they're like different formats. So there's some more you can participate. I mean, all of them, you can participate. But some, like encourage participation. Some of them you can just sit if you're like in the middle of a workday. And so I think that like tailoring different types of events for different scenarios that embed pretty easily into your life has been really important, like our fireside chats. A lot of the times they're like in the mornings or during noon, you know, whatever time zone that you're in, we change it up. But that's like the type of thing where if you're sitting at work and you have a lunch break, you can just like eat your lunch and dial in. So just like I think a main driver of engagement is understanding who is in the community. What are they looking for what gets them excited? And I'm an extrovert as maybe you can tell I'm like obnoxious, the extroverted. So one of the first things that I, what I did is like reach out to as many of our community members that I knew were introverts. And I was like, Hey, how can we make this like a welcoming place for you? What are you looking for? So I think once people feel like they are kind of at home, the engagement kind of takes care of itself. So that's like one thing. And the second thing is trusting your members. So in the very beginning, like March, April, I was freaking out. I was like, trying to post stuff every day as Why is nobody talking in here? Like, No, everyone hates my community, like I suck all those things. And I went to this talk, I think, by Carrie Melissa Jones, and she's a community builder. And I think she was just like, if you're freaking out about your community, just don't post in it for like a week, you don't have to be posting all the time. So I realized, the more I stepped back, I mean, not like, always, this isn't always true. But in the beginning, the more I stepped back and just held space, the more people would step up and fill that space. And so I was on vacation for like, almost a month and people were moderating our fireside chats, people were posting stuff, people were asking questions, because like, step one is to create a space where they feel like it's for them. And step two is so that they understand that I am not the only one posting like it is up to everyone to keep our community feeling like it's a real community. So, yeah, those are just a couple of things. 

Cory Ames  36:31  
what has you most excited or looking forward as it relates to the development of the soapbox in the community specifically,

Nivi Achanta  36:40  
what has me most excited is our member hosted events, like, I think that's the big so we have maybe, like 100 ish members in our community, it's a paid community, it's like five bucks a month. So we started, I don't even want to say started, because it wasn't like this thing that I intentionally started. But basically, in August, I would say, August of 2021, a few months after we launched, people started suggesting events that they wanted, and I kind of was like, Oh, you can host this, like, I'm not gonna host it, but you can. And so the most exciting thing for me and like, for me, the biggest metric of success, that I didn't even know was going to be a metric of success was member hosted events, because that really shows that someone knows that the spaces for them, they can step up, they feel confident enough. Like we had someone that wasn't, she was like, I don't know how to post an event, I've never missed an event. And she did one and it was great. And so just like seeing people as whole humans, that you know, have their fears and have their little like quirks on what they want to do and don't want to do. And just using all of those things, and like showing that this is your space to come as you are, and host your member hosted events, like do what you want. And we're here to support you. And we're here to provide a framework. And we're not here to just like, control, like communities shouldn't be about control, they should be about collaboration. And so that has been the most excited about what we've been doing. What has me more excited about the future is really getting better about local action, because I think that like the best communities can transcend. They can be kind of hybrid. So they're not necessarily all online, or not necessarily all, you know, offline, like some of my best friends, you know, I see them in person, unless they've moved across the country. But we still have like a group chat that goes on. And so it's like, how do you kind of emulate the same type of feeling for like an online business community or whatever. And so one thing that we started doing because I live in Seattle now. And so we've started making partnerships with local nonprofits, and envisioning and like really doing this firsthand of what does it look like to make significant change in your city, whether that's policy, whether that's volunteering, whether it's donating. And so now that I kind of have a good ish grasp on Seattle, I want to see how to share my learnings with everyone else in the soapbox community, because every location is different, like Boston is going to be slightly different from Seattle, up, like sitting in India is going to be super different from a place like Seattle, but they're all gonna have people that care, and organizations that care, and it's like, now how can we use soapbox as like the hub of people that are really excited to make that change? And like, I don't know, it's a really, really hard problem to solve is scaling local action, but I'm really excited about it. Because this weekend, we just did like the most awesome in person volunteering event where we painted like an office for formerly incarcerated people anyway. So I'm just like really hyped about figuring out the frameworks to create change locally, but share those approaches globally. So I think it's gonna take a while but I'm really really excited about it.

Cory Ames  39:57  
Mm, that should create some sort of overlapping strategies or approaches that will apply city to city, of course, context changes, but change, creating significant changes a substantial but worthwhile goal. But at a minimum, what really seems to be great about that is that at a minimum, you're creating that localized community for members of soapbox, or likewise giving them the playbook themselves to connect with people over these important interests and values. That can be, you know, easier said than done to as an example, I just recently moved to Boston, but to understand what's going on here in the community of sustainability, social enterprise, all that, you know, I would absolutely love if you could get started on this. If I could get a playbook essentially what you know, what sort of organizations and folks I should speak to? Yeah, kind of things that have been replicated in a city like Seattle that might apply, say, helping me establish a community around those important priorities and values really goals? Well, maybe with all this work in mind, I'm wondering, this has been layered throughout the entirety of our conversation, but what do you feel like you've learned about what inspires people to make changes meaningfully? Be it small or big actions?

Nivi Achanta  41:15  
Convenience is one huge one. Like, that's like probably a less inspirational and but people want stuff that makes their life better, right. And like, there's so many different layers to that, for example, your life would be better if the world wasn't burning, like that's an obvious one. And I think that's what gets people maybe started on their journey, either fighting climate change, or working in different intersections of social justice, like you see these problems so clearly in the world, and you know, that the world would be better and therefore your life would be better if you did something about it. So I think that's like the outermost layer of like, what gets people thinking about this. And then beyond that, I think what gets people really hyped is like, like to accept the negative and to accept the realities, but also to look for what's positive in it. And like, I'm not a toxic positivity type of person, I, I'm very aware of the situation where it's not amazing. But like looking into my own life, there have been so many positive aspects of creating social change. And so like, three of them that I'll just like, name is number one buying secondhand, right? Like I used to be like a, I have to go find it thrift store, what even is thrifting like are the clothes gonna be dirty all that stuff. Once I finally joined my local Buy Nothing group and that's like, buy nothing project, Oregon, you can get stuff for free. And it's great. It's my favorite thing ever. I set up my whole apartment, like basically everything that you can see behind me, all those shells and everything. All of that was free. It looks amazing. It made my life better. I would like go on walks during COVID And like, kind of play a little scavenger hunt, because I would have to go find where like the furniture was. And so that was like one of the clearest examples of how I think we messaged social impact wrong. Like I think we message it as like a big obligation and a burden. I do absolutely think that we are obligated, like we should do something about problems that we see in the world. But it's more than that. And so that's like one example of how it's brought me joy and framing it like that. Like if you know what the newsletter is like. I don't avoid hard topics. But I also kind of tried to write about them kind of silly with like, puns in the subject line. And I just think that makes people want to read it, right. Like, I think people are more likely to open my emails that I was sent with, like at some point about, like, you know, Elon Musk, or poop emojis or whatever the then like, okay, the world is burning, please open this email. Another example is like learning about food waste, it was very scary and horrible to learn about it at first. But I've been way more creative in the kitchen. And so that's like, another thing that I also see that people get really hyped on is we did like a food waste meal planning event. And when people can see like, how to upgrade their lives, like you learn like 30 new recipes based on what's just in your fridge already. And who wouldn't want that, right. And so, that's another example. And then the last, like, biggest thing for me has been showing people how this can help them, make friends and like really, honestly, create a community and stuff is just like the most, I think that's gonna be the biggest thing that gets you to stick with something like this. Because we're all human, we're not going to do stuff if we're alone, like unless you have super willpower, which I don't like peer pressure is such a thing. And so if we can leverage that to be positive, I think that is what creates a lot of inspiration because you're seeing the people around you doing awesome things and living their lives in a way that you want to live, whether that's sustainability or racial justice, or, you know, even like pursuing their desires through art, like you just look around you and you want to emulate the positive behaviors of the people that you see. And so I think like, that's one of the other biggest things that, like, I've learned has gotten people to take meaningful action is just like, show people that it's not just about doing good. It's about feeling good and having fun. And like, yeah, the world is like can be a serious place. We don't actually have to take yourself seriously all the time. And you don't have to like, I don't know, you don't have to be scared by this label of like being an activist or whatever it seriously what works for you. But all that matters is like you have to do something. And you have to keep trying to do something better every day. That's, that's what I believe.

Cory Ames  45:39  
I love that. Brilliant with that near me. I want to be respectful your time here. Do you mind if I ask you a couple rapid fire questions before we 

Nivi Achanta  45:48  
Yeah, let's do it.

Cory Ames  45:49  
Alright, first one, what's one book, movie or resource that you might recommend to our listeners here, something that impacted you recently, or maybe a book that you always come back to

Nivi Achanta  46:00  
Mutualism by Sarah Horowitz. I read it like maybe a week or two ago. And in addition to inner circle, I think that is a illustrate for any social entrepreneur. It's about like collectivism and kind of provides a framework for like, how can you make the world better? And like, I don't know. It just shows the examples of how you can use collective action to make change. But also like, really just upgrade your life.

Cory Ames  46:28  
Great recommendation. Next one for you. What's one daily habit or morning routine that you absolutely have to stick to? If anything,

Nivi Achanta  46:37  
drinking coffee, I don't even think that I'm addicted to coffee. I just like to drink it. Beyond that,

Cory Ames  46:42  
That's what a coffee addict would say

Nivi Achanta  46:45  
Heh heh, you're right actually, you're right. And the one time we met in person was over coffee. So maybe I have some reflection to one thing that I've been trying to get into as far as morning routines is I read this book called breath. And it's all about like breathing, and it's really, really cool book. Anyway, I am trying to set aside like five minutes of my morning to do some breathing exercises.

Cory Ames  47:08  
How are you been doing that?

Nivi Achanta  47:10  
I've been doing it on and off since like, May, I didn't do it at all when I was traveling, but I'm getting back into it now.

Cory Ames  47:17  
Here we go. Very cool. And one last one for you. What's one piece of advice that you might leave our listeners with? These folks are social entrepreneurs and changemakers. All sectors all over the world.

Nivi Achanta  47:30  
If you have an idea, get started on it, and get as much feedback as you can. Because that is what's gonna set you apart. So if you're, if you've been thinking about something for a year, this is your sign that you should, you know, like make that website, create that landing page and get feedback and get out of your own head and actually do something. And also take a walk like we if you're listening to this, maybe you're indoors, go outside take a walk, think about your idea and actually do something

Cory Ames  48:03  
Mm, bias towards action. At least even just get some sunlight on your skin can really change your day. Well, excellent advice for us to end on. nivi last last thing, where should folks go to keep up with you and soapbox where the best places for them to fall?

Nivi Achanta  48:20  
Keep up with me literally anywhere on the internet. As an obnoxious extrovert. I'm also obnoxiously online, but I think the best place is Twitter. But anyway, I'm @niviachanta. It's just my first and last name everywhere. So you can find me very easily. soapbox. I mean, we're also on social media everywhere through soapbox, or Instagram is really fantastic. But the best way to actually stay in touch is signing up for our newsletter at soapboxproject.org. So those are, in my opinion, really fun and easy to read and easy to act on. So if you've been struggling with, you know what to do about climate change, or any of the other zillion issues out there, the newsletter is an excellent place to start. Obviously, if you'd like it, we have a ton of other things waiting for you like events and our membership and all that stuff. But the easiest and free best place to start is in your inbox. So that's soapboxproject.org

Cory Ames  49:13  
Awesome. And we'll have all things soapbox linked up at our show post at Grow Ensemble Nivi, thank you so much once more for taking the time.

Nivi Achanta  49:21  
Thank you Cory. This was so much fun.

Cory Ames  49:26  
Alright, y'all, that's a wrap on another episode of the social entrepreneurship and innovation podcast as always so grateful to have you listening in. If you love the show, please leave us a review on Apple podcasts or hit subscribe wherever it is that you get yours. And as well. I want to invite you to sign up for our Better World weekly newsletter. This is our weekly discussion with our community of social entrepreneurs and changemakers on all things building a better world is the news. I write and publish send out myself every single Monday go to grow ensemble.com backslash newsletter to join in on that discussion all things building a better world. Go to grow ensemble.com backslash newsletter to get the next one in your inbox. And finally, if you know of a company work within a company or run a company that might be interested in sponsoring the social entrepreneurship and innovation podcast, we always love starting conversations with potential partners who share our vision of building a better world together. Go to social entrepreneurship.fm backslash contact. There, you can fill out a quick form, start that conversation with us. And these sorts of partnerships fuel our mission to build a better world together. Alright, y'all, until next time

Nivi Achanta Profile Photo

Nivi Achanta

Founder, CEO

Nivi is the founder and CEO of Soapbox Project, making social impact easy for busy people. Their lightweight social justice funnel starts with bite-sized climate action plans, scales up through monthly action hours, and engages people further through a membership community focused on local action.

She has a passion for sustainability, social justice, and all things tech. Think those three things don't go together? Think again. She's here to inform us about the intersection of the tech economy and how we can use new resources to help save the world.

She was once told that in order to stand out and leave a large impact on the world, you must run towards the fire. She took that advice to heart. She is working to make it easy for busy people like you to tackle issues they care about - whether that's wildfires and climate change, racial justice, or more.