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What Ice Cream Can Teach You About Building a Movement

By the Public team

Yep, you read that right! We spoke to the co-founders of Ice Cream for Change about their upcoming fundraiser and what they’ve learned along the way about building a movement.

Ice Cream for Change is a community of ice cream makers advocating for social change and civic action. This weekend, on National Ice Cream Day, they’re launching their first major initiative: a global fundraiser led by local scoop shops and home ice cream makers. 

The organization is the brainchild of Dr. Maya Warren and Mona Lipson who met in the most quintessentially 2020 way possible: through Instagram. Mona, one of Public’s Client Strategy Directors, was putting together a collective of amateur ice cream makers and thought Maya would bring a unique angle to the community given that she has a Ph.D. in Food Science with a specialty in frozen aerated desserts (i.e. she’s an ice cream scientist!).

When police in Minneapolis killed George Floyd, the racial justice movement in the United States picked up newfound steam. New activists were born. Protests erupted across the world, many in new and inventive ways. Bakers Against Racism, a global bake sale, raised over $1.8 million for organizations fighting for racial justice. Maya was inspired to mobilize the ice cream community, but she didn’t know how exactly to make it happen. “I just knew it could be done,  should be done and needed to be done,” she says. She reached out to Mona, a home ice cream maker from across the country and Ice Cream for Change was created.

It’s only been a few weeks, but Maya and Mona had plenty to share about their experience building a movement. Here are five lessons we took away from their experience:

Harness the cultural current.

We are living in an extremely unique cultural moment; activism is everywhere and folks are hungry for ways to participate. Maya and Mona realized if they were looking for their place in the racial justice movement, others probably were too. By building on the existing cultural momentum, they’re meeting a need for members of their community looking to act and motivating participants by making them feel like they’re part of something bigger.

You might need to build the plane as you’re flying it. 

Ice Cream for Change started as the inkling of an idea. No plan on how to make it happen and bring it to life – just a desire to blend their passion for ice cream with their commitment to social justice. But Mona and Maya reached out to their network of friends, family, current and past colleagues, and the idea came to life. From marketing and PR agencies supporting the implementation strategy to designers creating an array of unique assets, to a web-developer creating a site, to a host of community members reaching out to their local ice cream shops. When they say it takes a village, they really mean it. The funny thing is: people want to help. They want to be of service and contribute to making the world a better place for all of us to live. But many simply don’t know how they could possibly be of value. By creating this initiative, Mona and Maya allowed people to use their skills and expertise to contribute to a larger cause. 

Find a common thread amongst your community

As this power-duo said themselves,  “You can use ice cream for something more than simply putting a smile on someone’s face, it can actually change someone’s life”. This belief in the power of unity is what brought the ice cream community together to act on something bigger than themselves. While little pockets of makers exist across the globe, they hadn’t been brought together to use their collective power to drive greater impact. Maya and Mona had this vision and saw the opportunity to do something that, in addition to doing good for local businesses and good for social justice organizations, would also help build community in the ice cream world.  In this way, the mom and pop shops found a way to connect with the larger brands under one platform and together invited their local customers to join the movement. 

Design for the long term. 

Founding the organization and mobilizing the National Ice Cream Day fundraiser happened at warp speed over the course of just a few weeks. But Maya and Mona were very intentional in setting up Ice Cream for Change to stay relevant beyond July 19th. For example, they considered “Ice Cream for Justice” but ultimately chose “for Change” as it’s evergreen and will allow them to expand into issues like climate change or women in STEM. 

They have big ambitions for Ice Cream for Change. In the future, they’ll continue to mobilize the ice cream community around other social issues. And they hope to be a resource for ice cream makers and scoop shops who want to be good community members and social enterprises. 

Model the behavior you hope to inspire 

When we asked Mona and Maya what their big goals were for this upcoming Sunday, we didn’t hear much about dollars raised or impressions made. What they expressed the most interest in is allowing people to see that they too can have a voice, in a world that often makes us feel voiceless. They want to inspire people to believe in change. To remind them to continue #sayingtheirnames. There’s too much police brutality, injustice, inequality and hate around the world. 

Perhaps if kids can see Maya, one of the few (or only) African American female ice-cream scientists, then maybe they, too, can realize that there are opportunities beyond their doorstep.

It’s time to make a change.