The long weekend began with a Friday night dinner, where about 70 people started making connections with one another, and concluded on Monday with proposals for several innovations to help make the world a better place.
Making the world a better place is, in fact, the mission of Repair the World, the host of Social Justice Innovation Weekend, which ran Feb. 17-20 and saw a diverse sector of the community working together to come up with new ideas in art, technology and faith to support social justice.
RTW, which formed its Pittsburgh chapter about three years ago, aims to create opportunities for Jews and the greater community to volunteer to help those in need. Led by executive director Zack Block, RTW partnered with several other organizations to make the weekend a success: The Kelly Strayhorn Theater, Fygment, AlphaLab Gear, Ascender, Work Hard Pgh, Innovation Works, AlphaLab, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh Community Relations Council and the Muslim Center of Greater Pittsburgh.
It was the Muslim Center which provided the dinner Friday night, getting things rolling, according to Block.
“About 25 people pitched 60-second ideas, and we put them up on giant Post-it notes,” Block said. “Then people voted on the top nine ideas.”
Teams were formed, and over the course of the next two days, participants worked together with mentors to flesh out their ideas and do market research, talking to potential users “to see if the ideas had legs,” explained Block.
The 35 mentors who took designated blocks of time to assist on Saturday and Sunday included Skip Grinberg, who is chair of Pittsburgh RTW’s advisory board.
“It was incredible,” Grinberg said. “People jumped in and worked with people they hadn’t worked with before, and by Monday night, they had these presentations prepared.”
The panel of judges included Mayor Bill Peduto, Majestic Lane, the deputy chief of Neighborhood Empowerment in the Mayor’s office, and Mike Capsambelis of Google. The judges listened to three-minute pitches from the teams Monday night at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater and then had an opportunity for questions and answers.
The project that Grinberg helped shepherd through its idea phase — which was awarded the $1,000 third place prize — was Inner-City International, an educational travel abroad program tailored for underserved youth and adults.
The first-place prize award of $2,000 went to RecoverEQ for a device to help recovering drug addicts avoid relapse by tracking physical signs, such as heart rate, and then alerting counselors if a user is in danger of relapse. The second-place prize of $1,500 was awarded to FarePost, a healthy grocery delivery service for vulnerable populations.
“I thought it was an amazing experience,” Grinberg said. “The whole thing flabbergasted me, when I saw what these people had done in just two days.”
The events of the weekend were live-streamed to more than 2,000 viewers, Block said, and widely trended on social media.
RecoverEQ and FarePost have already been contacted by various foundations interested in furthering their ideas, and the other seven groups that presented have been contacted by various organizations showing interest in those concepts as well, according to Block.
While Social Justice Innovation weekend had several Jewish participants, including students from the University of Pittsburgh, the event “went way beyond the Jewish community,” Block said, noting the diversity of those engaged.
“I think this brought a lot of people together,” said Grinberg.
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.