MSNBC’s Growing Hope initiative asked people to share short personal notes about their hopes for change in their communities. The response was substantial: Thousands of participants wrote about issues such as ensuring equal opportunity for women and girls, giving people access to nutritious food, and protecting the voting rights of every American.

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15,000+

Submissions to Growing Hope through the end of 2014

"I hope that those who are seeking nourishment are able to receive the food necessary to sustain a healthy life."

— Growing Hope submission

We collected and displayed these hopes on our Growing Hope website and at several Growing Hope events in cities around the country — the first steps in an ongoing campaign to spark meaningful action in communities nationwide.

"We’ve always believed a huge part of our network is about giving voice to the voiceless," says Sharon Otterman, one of the founders of the initiative and a former MSNBC executive. "With Growing Hope, we're giving people a meaningful way to participate in a larger conversation."

The initiative grew out of MSNBC’s participation in the 2013 Essence Festival in New Orleans, where we asked attendees to write their hopes for the country’s future on small "leaves" attached to a series of Hope "trees." Hundreds of people took this opportunity to communicate their hopes in a positive way.

The Growing Hope team, who had expected most people to write a word or two, were blown away by the thoughtfulness of the submissions. They were funny, heartfelt, passionate, and proud — everything you’d expect from people who care deeply about their communities.

Buoyed by the response, MSNBC launched the multi-market Growing Hope tour in March 2014, accompanied by a website with a digital Growing Hope tree. The tour stopped at local festivals and college campuses across the country, where attendees were invited to not only share their thoughts, but also connect with other members of their community. Each attendee who added a hope was given an Arbor Day Foundation gift tree, which they could use to beautify and better the environment in their neighborhoods.

"I hope people realize that the pollution they make ultimately comes back to them, and their actions do have an impact."

— Growing Hope submission

Attendees at the first few Growing Hope tour stops responded enthusiastically. "Being at the event made me realize how many people feel the same way I do, and gave me hope that we can be a catalyst for change," read one comment from a participant. Another said, "It makes me feel like I can make a difference, and that starts with being heard."

Our long-term objective is to inspire people to turn their hopes into actions. In late 2014, MSNBC partnered with the nonprofit Net Impact on the Growing Hope Challenge, in which students competed to find innovative solutions to three of the country’s most critical challenges: increasing female participation in science, technology, engineering, and math fields; combating hunger; and increasing access to renewable energy. The challenge supports Net Impact’s mission of empowering students and professionals to drive social and environmental change throughout their careers.

The winning entry in each category received a cash grant and free travel and registration to the 2015 Net Impact conference in Seattle (see sidebar). Other action-oriented Growing Hope programs are in the works for 2015 and beyond.

"Growing Hope has given us so many valuable insights into our audience," Sharon says. "Because of our platform, we’re able to give people an outlet for sharing ideas and also amplify those ideas digitally to widen their impact."

Growing Hope 2
MSNBC on-air personalities promote the Growing Hope initiative.

 

Sparking change with the Growing Hope Challenge

For the inaugural Growing Hope Challenge, we asked students to come up with innovative solutions to some of America’s biggest challenges. Here are the winners.

 

Growing Opportunities for Women and Girls in STEM

Team Hy(pi*tia): Nefeli Mourti, Thanasis Stratiotis, and Aracelis Torres — Baruch College in New York

The team came up with Hy(pi*tia), an online game in which girls take on the personas of famous women in STEM careers and help them solve challenges. The game sparks players’ interest in STEM education by showing how science and technology skills can apply to a range of appealing jobs.


Increasing Access to Renewable Energy

Team ChargeRage: Claire Dooley, Heather Hochrein, and Kelsey Johnson — University of California, Santa Barbara

The team’s ChargeRage concept encourages the use of hybrids and electric cars by bundling parking, charging, and access to guaranteed renewable energy in urban areas, helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


Using Technology to Fight Hunger and Malnourishment

Team Freshspire: Mona Amin, Gabrielle Beaudry, Shraddha Rathod, Hannah Sloan, and Jennifer Wu — East Carolina University, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, North Carolina State University, and the University of Pennsylvania

Team FreshSpire proposed a mobile app that alerts consumers when grocers discount produce that is nearing its pull date, giving low-income communities access to nutritious foods at more affordable prices.