A Magazine About Food, Art & Exchange In Midtown Kingston, Published By The Hudson Valley Current.

Enhancing the Heart of Community

Good Work Institute To Focus on the Hudson Valley

By Paul Smart

   There are ways in which the Good Work Institute’s fast growth mirrors all that’s been happening in the Hudson Valley of late. With a mission “to educate and connect a network of engaged local citizens and actively support their collaborative efforts to create a regenerative future for the people and places of their communities” by providing workshops, fellowships, and events that seeks to “develop and steward a network of local leaders, placemakers, and entrepreneurs and support the good work they’re doing,” the widened social entrepreneurship experiment started in Brooklyn and moved upstate within a year.  

   The idea was simple: to aid a paradigmatic “shift to a regenerative and equitable future” by engaging fellowship groups of “enlightened, engaged, and inspired citizens” for six month residencies aimed at instilling not only CSR (corporate social responsibility) concepts, but teaching new, more sustainable ways of doing business beyond ideals involving pure growth or profit. In other words, the idea is to create a community-specific “net positive” that is regenerative instead of degenerative.

    Good Work Institute was started through the efforts of former Etsy VP Matt Stinchcomb, who was there when his roommate Rob Kalin (now of Catskill) first started working to make a wooden computer a dozen years ago, and realized there were fresh ways of making things that could sell to new generations. With a grant from the online giant, Good Work Institute has worked through three “classes” of fellows to date, and is currently seeking candidates for a fourth program to start in October.

    “As an organization, we aim to embody the teachings we offer. To that end, our work is driven by the following seven principles,” GWI’s website reads. “1. Honor nature. We recognize our inter-being with the natural world, and aim to make our places better than they would be without us. 2. Build connection.  We work in ways that form and strengthen relationships. We are collaborative, not competitive. 3. Nourish our full humanity. Our work is not just about earning money;  it shapes who we are and is how we express ourselves in the world. We strive to work in ways that engage our full mental, physical, and spiritual faculties, confer joy, and inspire. 4. Embody integrity. We offer products and services that are worthwhile and of ethical and structural integrity. We have no secrets, as we stand by the quality of our work. 5. Build equity. We acknowledge that certain people have been unfairly victimized and disadvantaged by much bad work. Our work recognizes and aims to right these transgressions. 6. Grow appropriately. We are aware of the impacts of our work, and grow only in ways that create benefit for all the people and places it touches. 7. Leave room for emergence. We recognize that not everything can, nor will ever be known. We strive to stay curious, be unattached, and leave room for what emerges.”

   Country Wisdom News met up with Stinchcomb recently in Kingston, which the GWI director said will serve as one of four “hub” communities (alongside Hudson, Newburgh and Poughkeepsie) for a rethought program starting in 2018. He himself had recently resettled with his young family to the Hudson Valley, the better to achieve his dream of helping shepherd core community towards greater sustainability. He talked about the logistics of dealing with dispersed landscapes while addressing issues tied to place and how GWI has been hiring from within its new hub communities. The programs will now focus on nine fellows for each place, which will then split into d groups of three to focus on three distinct projects for each hub. Furthermore, individual components of fellowships will be shifting to include the creation of personal manifestos regarding each fellow’s “personal calling” or talents; group definitions of their hub’s own “sense of place” for use as a future archive; and the creation of prototype projects.

    Concurrently, Good Work Institute will also be launching a greenhouse/incubator program to get behind the sorts of projects its fellows come up with, or that are already existing in its four hub communities, drawing outside investments through grants and other means.

    “The basic idea is to reward people within communities who are doing really good work,” Stinchcomb said. “We are furthermore building networks that will bring a new voice to the hub communities we are in, and the greater Hudson Valley as a whole.. It’s exciting what you can do with a close knit community organized around strong principals.”

    After Stinchcomb speaks about how Good Work Institute has severed its early ties with Etsy, and become its own public charity, we ask about how he sees the organization’s own sustainability moving forward. We speak about regional organizations GWI has been working with, from the Hudson Valley Current to O Positive in Kingston and Poughkeepsie. Then he moves on to talk about the growing Bread Fund movement arising in Europe in answer to the rising amounts of self-employment and the need to find new means of providing people with such essentials as sick pay, health and disability insurance, and peer support for those times when work fails, or personal expenses rise over income. The idea comes out of Victorian concepts shared, in our nation, with early fraternal and immigrant organizations. It’s most recent incarnation started this century in The Netherlands, in answer to that nation’s shift away from basic liberalized social benefits for all.

    “It all comes down to changing institutions,” Stinchcomb said, noting the need to shift our attitudes towards communities and their role in and use of economies at the same time. “When you leave the circle, take out what you put into it. The idea is that we can all gain when we work as a community.”

    Applications for the next round of Good Work Institute fellowships are due September 6. Info sessions on the program have been scheduled for the morning of August 6 in Kingston at Peace Nation Cafe, the morning of August 9 in Poughkeepsie at a location to be determined, early evening on August 9 at Calabash restaurant in Newburgh, and early afternoon on August 18th at a location to be determined in Hudson.

    Visit www.goodworkinstitute.org for further information.