Meet Co-OP: Connecting Ordinary People
Over the past several months, Alloy 26, with the HERlead fellowship, has been hosting Co-OP: Connecting Ordinary People. Founded by Teresa Leatherow, Co-OP is a non-profit organization whose goal is to assist the leaders of Pittsburgh today in making factually informed, responsible energy decisions for the community of tomorrow. Co-OP is a project that presents scientific, engineering, policy, and economic expertise to educate and informing decision making in the Pittsburgh Community.
Recently, Teresa had the opportunity to give a TEDx talk at Blue Slide Park where she spoke about Pittsburgh’s energy infrastructure, general attitudes and perceptions of sustainability, how she became engaged with the environment, what other parts of the world do to achieve sustainable societies, and Co-OP: Connecting Ordinary People. Here TEDx talk can be found here.
Now with a fellowship with Alloy 26, Teresa will continue to work on Co-OP: Connecting Ordinary People out of our co-working space.
Check out our interview below with Teresa Leatherow.
Where did the idea for Co-OP: Connecting Ordinary People come from?
The idea for the organization has been informed from so many different experiences in my life. An undergraduate academic research career, conferences and presentations, reading, coursework, and what I refer to humbly as my “humanitarian disposition”, are all roots of the initiative. If I had to identify two direct experiences, I would credit a course (and the professors and students who were part of this course) I took my freshman year called Energy: Science, Society, and Communication, which was jointly offered through Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh Honors College. I also have to credit my amazing, too brief, study abroad experience in Denmark. I studied wind turbine engineering and learned all about the way renewable energy technologies and policies impact the quality of life in this country. I often explain to people that I sort of stumbled into my work with sustainability through an article in the Harvard Business Review on t-shirt production and the supply chain concerning cotton harvesting methods. Here I was, a business student with absolutely no understanding of how environmentally intensive business processes are. I applied to several research fellowships offered through Pitt’s Honors College and took up additional engineering studies to learn more. The support for the idea, and what actually pushed me to make it actualize, was Pittsburgh. I am so fortunate to be living in a city that fosters breaking boundaries, implementing “crazy ideas”.
What was your TEDx talk experience like?
In a word, this experience was transformational. TED is a non-profit organization that I have “fan-girled” over since high school when my gifted support teachers introduced me to these talks and ideas. If TED could become “Teresa’s ideal experience”, speaking in front of audience in Pittsburgh was the cherry on top. This city is not only my home, but also my future. Having the opportunity to speak about something that matters so much to me personally, and to be heard by people who also are affected by the decisions and conditions of Pittsburgh, created a platform and space that has since set me on a trajectory to do the necessary work to achieve measurable change in the city.
Do you have any events coming up?
Short answer: yes. The Co-OP team itself is growing and we are working to establish a diverse, talented and skilled, passionate group of people who will serve the various and necessary roles of the organization. Concurrently, we will be planning a forum series on energy security – a topic that undoubtedly concerns everyone and affects everyone – and calling on Pittsburgh-based experts from all types of backgrounds to serve as expert panelists. The entire point of Co-OP is to connect non-experts with experts [in Pittsburgh!] to gain the knowledge, insights, and quite honestly, confidence, to discuss and defend their views and perspectives through facts supported by science, policy, and quality of life.
Do you have any advice for younger people who want to create a nonprofit?
As cliché as it sounds: just do it. For me, the creation of a nonprofit was a way to not only be taken seriously, but more importantly, to show that I was serious. Creating Co-OP: Connecting Ordinary People has been a long time coming and is very much so an ongoing process. It will never be complete, and that is just the nature of the cause I am dedicated to and the ideas that I have. I certainly did not come knowing everything I should have, and admittedly I still do not. What I am most certain of is that I want to be the person who makes the difference [of how people interact with legal, natural, and business systems in society and make the “right decisions” not only for others, but for themselves]. And that, honestly, is my advice – be certain of who you are, what you are capable of anything and just do it.
Is there anything else that you would like readers to know?
Non-profits are often community-based organizations supporting a worthy cause. Do not forget to include everyone from your community and to ensure that everyone has a seat at the table. Do not be afraid to ask questions to those who do not share your same beliefs, values, or background. Acknowledge you do not have all the answers, and the best information comes from authentic experiences.
Mentors are everything. I would need an entire blog post dedicated to first initials and last names to properly thank and give credit to all of the people who have enabled, supported, and encouraged me. You know who you are, and any success I achieve is also yours.
I live my life by two quotes I once read, “You have to take big risks to make big impacts” and “status quo is Latin for “the mess we’re in” [not sure if this is a direct translation, but I like the message of the statement.]
Teresa is happy to serve as a resource to anybody who wants to reach out and discuss any ideas, causes, or projects/nonprofits that he/she would like to start. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org