PK Blends: An Entrepreneurial Approach to Community Health

Rob Scott, Founder and Owner of PK Blends 

Rob Scott, Founder and Owner of PK Blends 

I moved to the Hudson Valley last year, and that’s how I met Rob Scott, the owner of PK blends, a community juice bar in Peekskill, NY.  

Rob used to own a deli.  But when he started having terrible chronic headaches, a friend told him to stop eating meat and to start drinking green juice. When the headaches went away for good, Rob realized he was in the wrong business.  

He opened a juice bar in Peekskill in May of 2017. “Juicing changed my life, it changed my families life,” Rob told me,  “so I figured why not try to change someone else’s life. Our mission is to provide a healthy option for the community.”  

Rob grew up in Peekskill, which makes him a great healthy eating expert for the local community. His aspiration is to help shift the culture towards better self care.  

Rob’s entrepreneurial approach to community health is exciting because it empowers people with choice.  As Rob says, “People come in for the first time and order smoothies, which have bananas and sweet fruit. That’s a good starting place. But then I’ll tease them and encourage them to try a green juice.  And then they’ll move on to the next level, like wheatgrass and moringa shots!”  (Moringa is a new trending superfood, touted to be more potent than kale).  

Rob says, “My dream is that Peekskill be the healthiest city in Westchester. No more diabetes.  No more obesity.  People being more active.  And healthier families”  

I met lots of people hanging out in the store, but one person, Anthony, stuck with me.  He told me that his father died from diabetes, but not before losing his vision, and his legs.  Anthony doesn’t want them to happen to him.  But before PK blends came to the neighborhood, he’d never had green juice.  Now he comes in every day, is losing weight, and is committed to healthier eating.  

I directed this short video to help Rob share PK Blends on social media. We were lucky to capture some first-timers trying moringa shots!  Check it out, and visit Rob on Main Street if you are ever in Peekskill!

PK Blends First-Timers 

Coming Home to Your WHY

Many of us changemakers are adept at communicating WHAT we do.  We do not always communicate WHY we do it.  But your WHY is what engages your audience.  It's what gets your audience connected to your mission and rooting for your people.  The WHY is critical for developing a powerful storytelling campaign that shows your audience the impact you are creating in the world.  

Before beginning a storytelling campaign, I lead a creative, hands-on discovery session to help organizational leaders get clear on the essential themes they want to communicate in our work together.  These themes become the Heart of the Story.  They inform every element of the storytelling campaign.

MLT Ascend staff works to find their Heart of the Story

MLT Ascend staff works to find their Heart of the Story

Your Heart of the Story is your WHY.  It is the core of WHY you do what you do.  The WHY focuses on the impact you are creating in peoples lives, not the mechanics of your program.  

Inevitably, when the team participates in this creative workshop, the one refrain we hear over and over is this: "Wow, we should use these themes in all of our communication strategies."  

Creating the Heart of the Story for your organization before we go into interviewing, storyboarding and filming is invaluable.  Without this tool, it is too easy to let a communication campaign be driven by the WHAT.  Suddenly, your storytelling campaign is diluted with program jargon instead of the lived experiences of the people who have been affected by your work.

For example, MLT Ascend is a program that coaches first-generation colleges students to succeed in college and beyond. When the team worked together on The Heart of the Story, it became clear that the best way to share the impact MLT is creating was to focus on the stories of students who have been succeeding because of MLT.  

To illustrate the themes MLT uncovered, we told the story of Tre Dawson, a student who has overcome the challenges he faced in high school and is now thriving at Howard University with the support of his MLT coach. After receiving MLT's coaching, Tre wants to reach back to his community and offer guidance to young men who need support to reach their dreams.

We rounded out the film with the portraits and stories of many other MLT Ascend students.  These stories all focused on the crossroads students faced, the connections that helped them feel supported, the decisions they made to persevere, the confidence they have developed as a result of having a coach, and the dreams they have for their future.  

You have to tell yourself, “I can do this!”  And now I believe that I can!  My support network, my coach, my family, they all believe in me.  Because of them, I know that I can be somebody someday.  

Adam told me it was all about mindset.  He said, “Tell yourself that you are going to succeed and you will.” And he was right! Now I’m capable of doing things that I used to think were impossible.  

There are a million ways to shape a storytelling campaign.  Coming HOME to your WHY, the Heart of the Story, will always guide you back to the people and the impact you are creating in their lives.  These are the stories that inspire, motivate, and move your audiance to get involved with your mission. 

To work with us to find YOUR Heart of the Story, contact us here.   

The Heart of the Story: Grameen America

I'm excited to be working on a national storytelling campaign for Grameen America.  Grameen America is the leading micro-finance institution in the US.  Today, Grameen has lent over $482 million dollars to over 75,000 women in 11 cities across the United States to start their own businesses.

This week, I joined up with Grameen’s national staff to lead a creative marketing and communications strategy session to inform the storytelling series that we are setting out to capture.

To build a strong storytelling campaign, it’s important to invest time upfront to bring stakeholders together, listen, and develop a holistic understanding of the key themes that matter most.  Once we have this base, it determines how we work in the field to surface the people who truly embody Grameen’s mission.

Here is what we did this week with Grameen America:

1.Bring Stakeholders Together.

It’s critical to bring a diverse group of people to the table, representing a broad set of perspectives and expertise.  We worked with Grameen to gather leaders from their national fundraising, operations and communications teams.

2. Active Listening

 In order to understand who Grameen is and the impact they are creating, we need to listen.  In our session with Grameen, we listened to each participant share what inspires them on a daily basis and keeps them doing what they do.  We listened to every person around the table share amazing stories of women whose lives have been transformed through the Grameen community.  Grameen staff, some who have been with the organization over eight years and and others only 3 months, all talked about the direct impact they witnessed in the lives of women and their families.  As active listeners, everyone around the table took notes.  Everyone listened for key words that got to the heart of the stories and moved us as an audience.  Listening to understand, instead of listening to respond, allowed these key words to surface.

3.Identify Themes

After active listening, the team put the words they had gathered on the wall.  These words represented the essence of the Grameen America story.  They shared who the Grameen women are, the barriers they have overcome, the dreams they have realized, the communities they have fortified and the confidence they have built.  Putting these key words up on the wall clarified for the team which themes were most important to express in the storytelling series.

We led this session with Grameen so we could have clear themes to develop in our storytelling series.  But the benefits go much deeper.


First, this session was great for teambuilding.  Staff members felt more connected to each other, more connected to their own motivation, and charged up to bring what they discovered back into their daily work.

Second, building this storytelling campaign in partnership with a diverse team of national staff creates broad ownership, allowing insights to spread more organically through the organization. 

Finally, this session clarified overall communications strategy.  The team discovered more powerful ways to express Grameen’s mission and impact.

Next Steps

We are now heading into the field to capture the stories of women who have thrived because Grameen gave them a real opportunity to build their own American Dream. 

Get In Touch

I'd be happy to customize similar strategies for your organization. You can contact me here.

Brave Philanthropy: Swimming Against the Tide

Divest-Invest Philanthropy is an international movement of 140+ foundations and family offices that have joined forces to divest from fossil fuels and invest in climate solutions.  

A few weeks ago, I sat down with the Educational Foundation of America, one of the original foundations to join Divest-Invest Philanthropy.  Board president Barbara Hapgood, board member Matthew Hapgood, and executive director Melissa Beck shared why their foundation decided to make the moral and economic choice to divest from fossil fuels and reinvest in clean energy.  

As Barbara Hapgood put it, “Our grandfather told us to focus the foundation’s efforts on the issues of the day.  That issue is climate change.  We want to use ALL of our assets to make a difference, and that means aligning our investments with our mission.  Why would we undercut our own environmental grant-making by keeping fossil fuels and other polluters in our investment portfolio?”  

Matt Hapgood noted that while divesting from fossil fuels is a moral issue, it’s also been good for their bottom line, “We’ve seen the fossil fuel industry losing money while renewables like wind, solar and battery technology have done well.”  

Last month, the 140 foundations of Divest-Invest Philanthropy won the Nelson Mandela-Graça Machel Civic Innovation Award for Brave Philanthropy—an incredible recognition of the work the movement has done to challenge the fossil fuel industry while simultaneously accelerating the clean energy transition.

Support the movement and SIGN THE PLEDGE to join Divest-Invest.

"In social movements, we're better together," says Melissa Beck, executive director of EFA.

The Educational Foundation of America released their message to 20,000 Chronicle of Philanthropy subscribers today.  Check out the full video here.

Behind the Scenes: Divest-Invest and The Educational Foundation of America

I'm on a mission to capture exciting stories from investors around the country who are moving their money out of fossil fuels and into climate solutions.  

The Educational Foundation of America was one of the first foundations to join Divest-Invest Philanthropy.  This week, I'm making a short video featuring EFA's board members and executive director discussing their ethical and financial commitment to support the new energy economy.  

And we had fun, too!  

System-Change: The New Green Economy

People's Climate March, NYC 2014

People's Climate March, NYC 2014

My whole career has been dedicated to systemic change.  I am led by a deep passion and persistent optimism to believe that it is possible to design a healthcare system, or an education system, or a justice system that actually serves communities in a positive way.  

What does it take to change systems?  Usually, it's money. Changing where the money goes in the system.  Different input, different output.

That’s why I’m super excited to be doing some work with Divest-Invest Philanthropy.  Divest-Invest is a movement among philanthropic leaders to divest their holdings from fossil fuels and re-invest in climate solutions.  So far, 500 institutions and 50,000 individuals - managing assets in excess of $3.4 trillion-  have pledged to move their money out of the industries that are directly contributing to global warming and to invest instead in renewable energy, energy efficiency, clean tech, sustainable agriculture, water conservation, energy access and climate justice initiatives.  

This is system change at work--an active re-allocation of funds that can change the economic game and lead the transition to a new sustainable economy that protects our planet and the communities most at risk.  

So what does that LOOK like?  I'm only a few weeks into my project with Divest-Invest and I'm already stoked about all the exciting investments that participating foundations are making.  Here are a few examples:

Expanding the Market for Sustainably Sourced Food

In Portland, Ecotrust is strengthening the regional economy by creating direct relationships between urban and rural food producers.  This allows high quality sustainably grown food to reach wider local distribution and become more affordable.  On top of an online platform that connects food growers to local markets and restaurants, Ecotrust is also building The Redd, a working hub that will give farmers a place to sell to large local buyers, like hospitals and schools.   

Photo: Ecotrust

Photo: Ecotrust

Transforming Fuel-Guzzlers into Hybrids

Lightning Hybrids is company that retrofits the biggest polluters on the road-- buses, delivery trucks, shuttles and other large vehicles-- and turns them into hybrids, making them more fuel efficient and reducing harmful emissions.  


Converting Urban Spaces to Farmland

Boston-based Green City Growers is turning unused space in grocery stores, sports facilities, assisted-living facilities and corporate offices into small food-producing farms.  To date, Green City Growers have grown "over 140,000 lbs of organic produce, valued at over $500,000, donated 4,000 lbs of produce, & worked with more than 6,000 people on urban farms & gardens which cover less than 2 acres of space combined."

Photo: Green City Growers

Photo: Green City Growers

Foundations, pension-funds, universities, insurance companies, cities and faith-groups who divest from fossil fuels and re-invest in solutions like these are leading the way for a powerful green economy.  Together they are showing that when money is moved in alignment with values over pure profit, it is possible to change the system.

Unlocking Gifts and Dreams

This summer, I consulted with New Day Church to develop an organizational and leadership development series called Gift and Dreams.  

I designed unique creative tools to help New Day members identify their individual talents, share their collective dreams for their church, and explore areas for new growth

New Day had a blast with the series.  Check out what they had to say! 

Local Politics: Strengthening the Green Party in Paris

Last week in Paris, I met with Lucas Manetti, Secretary of the Green Party for his district (and where I was staying while in town), the 18th arrondissement.  

The Green Party in Paris has recently won some good seats.  The Minister of Health, The Minister of Transportation, The Minister of Social Innovation and Circular Economy, and The Minister of Environmental Sustainability are all Green Party representatives.  Victory!

Now the fun comes in—leveraging those positions to implement exciting programs and services for local communities.

Lucas is used to mobilizing voters in his district and turning them out for Green Party candidates.  Now the challenge is to engage his voters in the “down season” and get them actively making those Green Party ministers work for them!

Here are some steps Lucas and I discussed to help build a strong campaign:

Local Relationships
The beauty of the down season is that there is TIME.  Instead of running door-to-door to turn out voters, Lucas can invest more in getting to know the constituency.

Lucas and his team can set a goal:  let’s do 100 face-to-face meetings with people in our district to learn about the issues that matter most to them, how they are affected, and what they’d like to see happen.  

This relationship building will give Lucas and his Green Party team some “hot topics” to explore-- areas of traction that are worth pursuing. It will also give them a sense of local leaders to work closely with.

Community Building
After Lucas and his team have completed their goal of 100 face-to-face visits they can bring community members together to discuss the hot topic issues they discovered.

Let’s say a key issue is transportation.  People in the neighborhood report that the local metro line isn’t well maintained and the train runs less frequently.  It’s a big pain for commuters, and as as result lots of people drive to work instead of taking the train.

When community members come together to share their experiences, they see that other people are equally affected.  They also see that other people want solutions, too.  This is empowering.  And it’s the best time to activate people.  Lucas and his team can say, “Do we want to get something done about this issue together?”   YES.

Work Those Green Party Relationships  
Now Lucas and his team can set up a meeting with the Minister of Transportation. Whoop!  That’s what having an elected leader is for! And by having built a strong base of local community members, it’s likely that that their elected representative is going to be interested in hearing what issues matter.  

In the meeting with their elected Minister of Transportation, community members share how their metro line is negatively impacting them.  Then they can learn about options to address the problem by asking the Minister strategic questions. For example, are there any plans to fix this metro line?  Who makes decisions about this?  What kind of money is in the budget to get our metro line better maintained?  What would need to happen to allocate that money?  

The Campaign
Not only has the community begun to build a working relationship with their Minister of Transportation (who will take notice that the members of the 18th arrondissement are serious abut this issue).  They have also learned the specific strategy that will be necessary to make the changes they want to see for their metro line.  For example, the January budget needs x item approved by the majority of city council members.  Now Lucas and the expanded team of local community members have their marching orders and can busy—talking to more people in the community, establishing relationship with other districts, talking to city council members.

This is the down season work that will set Lucas and the Green Party up for success next election season, when they can say, “Look at what our party has done to fix the transportation problem in our district.”  And imagine how many more doors they will be able to knock after building such a strong leadership base!  

Good luck, Lucas!  

The Last Mile: Building a Bridge

Last week in Paris, I met with Gregoire Landel and Laurent Savaete, two founders of an innovative new company, CityTaps. Together with their partner Miranda Phua, the CityTaps team is dedicated to the exciting mission of boosting the health, dignity and economic opportunity of the urban poor by enabling access to running water at home.  

CityTaps has developed a pay-as-you-go water meter that accepts micro-payments through a mobile phone.  This solution solves two problems.  First, many urban families in countries such as Kenya and Niger cannot afford the upfront costs of a water connection in their home.  Instead, they spend time walking to a community standpipe and waiting in line to carry water home.  Or they pay a local carrier to bring them water.  Both of these options cost families excessive time and money.  The second problem is that local water utility companies haven’t laid water infrastructure in poor urban communities because there hasn’t been a good system to ensure payment.

Civic Innovation

CityTaps unique approach is building a “last mile” bridge between local communities and water utilities. By creating the pay-as-you-go water meter, CityTaps is incentivizing water utility companies to expand their infrastructure to new paying customers.  And by utilizing mobile payment technology, CityTaps is creating an opportunity for the urban poor to receive clean water in their home for a fraction of the price they are currently paying.  

For me, what makes this approach especially exciting is its systemic reach.  By working to move utility companies towards better serving vulnerable communities, CityTaps is paving the way for a powerful example of self-sustaining civic innovation.

Opportunities for Design

What will it take to make sure that this “last mile” bridge succeeds?  As an expert in stakeholder engagement with a commitment to human-centered design, I believe CityTaps could be poised for a powerful cross-pollinating design relationship between its two key parties:  water utilities and the urban poor.  

By developing deep learning relationships with local communities and the water utilities, CityTaps will gain valuable insights to strengthen their product and inform the incubation and implementation stage. This process is critical not just for making sure the technology works, but for fostering the momentum and collective will to move the project forward.  Making local communities and water utilities true partners and co-creators in the design process, working directly from their perspectives and needs, CityTaps will have created the collaboration, ownership and upfront investment necessary to build the bridge they dream of: expanded water infrastructure serving the urban poor.

It will be exciting to see where CityTaps goes in future months!  

Interested in discussing social innovation and human-centered design? Contact me!

Why Health IT Benefits from Engaging Diverse Communities

Telemedicine--the ability to conduct remote clinical visits through videoconference--is a rapidly growing industry.  HealthcareITNews reported that, “The global market for telemedicine is expected to be worth more than $34 billion by the end of 2020.”  

One of my clients, the non-profit health insurance fund UniteHere! Health, contracted with a telemedicine provider to help keep their ten thousand New York and New Jersey members away from unnecessary emergency room visits and hospitalizations.  The problem was that very few members were taking advantage of the service.  With low utilization, UniteHere! Health would end up with little return on their investment.  

I got called in to help UniteHere! Health increase utilization of telemedicine among its members because I had worked with them on a project to drive down costs by connecting their membership to primary care doctors and chronic conditions management.

I went straight into the field to test the mobile app, focusing on UniteHere! leaders who I knew would spread the word about telemedicine across the organization--that is, if they liked it.  I sat down 1-1 with each member and watched him or her navigate the service on their phones, from downloading the app all the way to having a videoconference with a doctor.

Here are my two major findings that I think will be valuable to all telemedicine or health IT providers who want to get more people engaged with their technology.

1.    Language
To reach the broadest base of potential clients possible, cater to language.

The majority of UniteHere! Health members that I tested the telemedicine technology with did not speak English as a first language.  To navigate a website or a mobile app that is written entirely in English is a barrier for immigrant communities.  It’s a high hurdle to jump.  Equally important, there have to be doctors available who speak the same language as the patients.  UniteHere! members who speak Chinese or Haitain Creole would have to be comfortable enough in English to navigate to the menu option that allows them to choose a doctor that speaks their language.  And then, radio silence.  There wouldn’t be any doctors available. 

 If telemedicine wants to serve a global population, it can’t be shortsighted about language. Language is essential. In New York City, half of the population does not speak English as home.

2.    Scaling the Digital Divide
Invest resources/staff into underserved communities and reap the rewards.

About 50 percent of the UniteHere! members I tested the telemedicine app with were confident tech users.  These were the type of people to whom you could say, “Download this app and let me know what you think.”  Typically, this is the person that tech developers are designing for.  The other 50 percent of UniteHere! members I tested the technology with had never downloaded an application on their smartphones. They needed step-by-step assistance to help them learn how to use it.  Once they learned however, they were up and running.  

A lot has been written lately about the lack of gender and racial diversity in tech.  As CNN Money writes, “After all, engineers build gadgets and software for men, women and people of every color—and a diverse workforce means a more expansive understanding of what customers want.”  In this instance, increased diversity would contribute to designing better gadgets and software, and work to get that technology into the hands of “unlikely” customers.  

The Opportunity:  How might we bring the benefits of telemedicine to underserved communities?  

Here is the good news:  The UniteHere! members I tested the telemedicine app with uniformly LOVED the service.  They loved that if their child got sick in the middle of the night they could see a doctor from home for the cost of a primary care visit, instead of going to the emergency room and paying a much bigger bill.  They loved that telemedicine gave them the option of getting a doctor’s opinion on that pesky rash, and even receive a needed prescription, without having to miss a day of work.  One UniteHere! member who suffers with chronic conditions said, “I’m a fan of this, and I’m not a fan of ANYTHING.”  Another said, “This is like having a doctor in your pocket.”  

On top of that, the UniteHere! members who struggled with the technology were completely undeterred from trying to learn it, and were still very enthusiastic about what it could do for them. Some members sat with me for over an hour working to set their mobile accounts up.  What should have been a 5-minute registration process took longer.  They didn’t have an email address.  Or they couldn’t remember the password to their email address.  Or they were confused about how to enter their insurance information.  At no point did they say, “This app is not worth it.  I’m out of here.”  They wanted what the technology could provide for them.

The Value of Community Engagement

Telemedicine, health IT, and the tech world in general, would benefit from a strong investment in community engagement. And underserved communities will benefit from technology that they are currently being overlooked for.  

A commitment to community engagement would mean that tech companies equip skilled cultural workers to introduce technology in neighborhoods and regions beyond the middle-class tech-savvy markets. This engagement is an excellent opportunity to get product feedback from a diverse range of potential users and get new people onto platforms that they would never know about otherwise.  Many community leaders simply need the initial training about the technology and then they are up and running and ready to tell their family, their neighbors, their co-workers, the people they go to church with, the people at the YMCA, and the people who hang out at the local bar or coffeeshop.  That is how an intensive community engagement practice becomes scalable.  

Something as valuable as telemedicine should be accessible to everyone.  Catering to a more diverse clientele is a great way for the health IT industry to bring in more valuable business.  It’s a win-win.  And I would love to work to make it happen.  

Contact me if you are interested in learning more.