Giving E-Waste and Ex-Inmates a Second Chance for Good
Do you have a pile of electronic equipment tucked away somewhere in your home or office that you keep meaning to do something with?
I do. I have several old phones, a PC and monitor, keyboards, and a whole mess of cables, and a few black boxy looking things that I am not even sure what they are! My excuse has been that I don’t know how to safely dispose of them and who I can trust to safely remove my personal information. Quite frankly, getting it done overwhelms me. As a result, it all sits in a box quietly gathering dust. Just like a messy drawer or an unorganized closet, it doesn’t impact me too much, but knowing it was handled would definitely free up energy both in my mind and my home.
What if you could you get your box of electronics handled and out of the way and make a good impact both environmentally and socially?
A few weeks ago I sat down for a lunch with the founder of Isadore Electronics Recycling, Kabira Stokes.
She is a passionate advocate for both social justice and environmental change, and she is building a world in which our resources—both human and natural—are valued, not wasted. Her work so impressed me that I asked, and she graciously agreed, to sit down and share her thoughts about leadership and doing good.
What is remarkable about Kabira is that with her social enterprise, she simultaneously targets two enormous social and environmental problems facing this country.
First, most of our e-waste ends up in landfills—both at home and in the developing world—where toxic metals leach into the environment.
Second, listen to the news and you will hear how broken the United States prison system is, with complex reasons that include fiery topics such as gun control, harsh sentencing laws, privatization of the prison system, and racism. What is sadly lacking are reentry programs and job opportunities for the formerly incarcerated.
Kabira’s company mission is to make recycling electronics easy, secure, and accessible, while creating employment opportunities for people who have successfully exited California’s correctional system. Following are some snippets from our lunch conversation.
What drives your passion to build a social enterprise?
It is satisfying to see steps toward some sort of solution for social justice and a better-run world. What I learned in my twenties was to transfer anger into something proactive. Not to be overwhelmed by injustice and problems, but to use the power in the anger to do something about it.
What gave you the courage to tackle such big problems?
I am willing to stand up and say things others are not willing to. To do the real, gritty work. I have always been able to translate the wonky and boring into something that is understandable and attractive to my peers and community. In my twenties, I was part of a movement with other young people called The Young Progressive Majority. Before Obama, there was very little for young people to engage in and feel hopeful about. I was involved with a non-profit that made voter guides for state and local elections. In 2000, everyone was so obsessed with the national election that we needed to pay attention to our local communities and [show others] how they could have power over things that affect their lives. This was not a not sexy topic but I was able to present it in a way that resonated with them and was digestible. I was the front woman in most cases, and I was able to talk about these things in public and make a difference.
What have you discovered about yourself as a leader?
I have learned to speak effectively in public and be more strategic to what I say yes to, only focusing on what is in alignment with the mission and the result I want. At the beginning, in order to build my network and create opportunity, I said yes to a lot of things and I have come to a place where I say no more often.
(This reminded me of a quote I recently read: “If you are everywhere, you are nowhere/” I shares it with Kabira and she smiled and agreed.)
What are you working on to develop your leadership skills?
Asking for help. Entrepreneurship and leadership is a lonely seat and isolating. I didn’t get here by myself … but you are not alone—it is okay to ask for help.
What advice would you give yourself starting this endeavor, knowing what you have learned since the beginning?
Buy all insurances; protect yourself. It is okay to take vacations—in fact, it is mandatory when you are doing a good thing. Remember radical self-care.
(I smiled as we had had a conversation previously about the importance of taking care of her health and wellbeing, and remembering to schedule time to fuel her own super-charged engine.)
What do you want to share that would make a difference if someone wants to take action to jump on board with you and join the cause?
Recycle your electronics with us. We take the e-waste from companies that have environmental and social goals, or just need a legal way to dispose of their old electronics. Educate yourself about the problems Isadore Electronic recycling are tackling.