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The optiMize Way


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The optiMize Way


And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.
— Howard Zinn
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Our Story


Our Story


We believe students can change the world. optiMize unleashes that potential by creating inspiring environments for students to take action.

Jeff Sorensen and Tim Pituch co-founded optiMize in 2012 while they were students at Michigan. Since then, optiMize has become a supportive community where students from all backgrounds come together to work collaboratively toward a just and sustainable future. The community is led by a full-time team, a student-led core team, and volunteer FOOs (we’ll explain… keep reading).

Our main program is the optiMize Social Innovation Challenge—a co-curricular program that provides workshops, mentorship, and funding to grow an idea into real impact. So far, our community has helped 1200 students launch 300 social impact projects. Students choose their own projects, and we welcome everything from urban farming to financial coaching to virtual reality gaming.

Early on, we started inviting non-students to be mentors and helpers!  They give us feedback on our work, share resources, and use their wide range of experiences and backgrounds to make our community more inclusive. We've also gotten awesome support from partners like The Honest Company, Menlo Innovations, The United Way and Zingerman's.

Pretty soon, impact-minded donors started supporting student projects with grants to work full-time for the summer. As of now we support 18 projects with a total of $200,000 every summer to become optiMize Fellows. Some optiMize Fellows have gone on to raise up to 100x in follow on funding.

After two years, the University of Michigan asked us to create a new full-time division that collaborates with the student-led optiMize community. Our founders lead that department now. In addition to our co-curricular work, we’ve been developing innovative courses for Michigan’s curriculum.

We hope you'll join us and start optimizing!

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Our Culture


Our Culture


Mission Statement

We cultivate the optiMize community

Bringing people together for inspiring learning experiences

Supporting each other's growth through action

In passionate pursuit of a better future

Practicing love and care in all we do

To help each other use our lives to change the world

 

Guiding Principles

Our Principles talk about how we relate to each other, how we work together, and what we strive for. They are at the core of everything we do, from how we make organizational decisions to treat each other on a daily basis. We believe that practicing them helps us thrive as an organization and grow as individuals. We hope that you'll join us and help us build on, refine, and strengthen our Guiding Principles! We successfully cultivate the optiMize community by consistently committing to build, foster, or provide:

  1. Pragmatic Optimism
  2. Growth Through Action
  3. Supportive Community
  4. Inspiring Learning Experiences
  5. Inclusive Collaboration
  6. Responsible Autonomy
  7. Caring Mentorship
  8. Wholehearted Positive Energy
  9. A Valued Part Of Our Local Community

 

1. Pragmatic Optimism

“Optimism is a strategy for making a better future.” -Noam Chomsky

We believe in the human spirit.

We believe a better future is possible.

We believe we can use our lives to change the world.

We value people and planet.

We believe in the urgency of the human situation.

We believe change begins from within ourselves.

We help everyone ask "why not me?"

We take practical steps to make progress.

We support social impact of all shapes and sizes.

We create positive alternatives to the status quo.

We build for sustainability.

We live the future we want today.

 

2. Growth Through Action

“Whatever you think you can do or believe you can do, begin it. Boldness has magic, grace, and power in it.” -Goethe

We know our principles.

We create visions of greatness.

We take action.

We reflect.

We get perspective.

We reframe failure.

We appreciate positive growth.

We let go of shame.

We adapt.

We develop intentionality.

We recognize that growth usually isn't linear.

We keep innovating.

 

3. Supportive Community

We belong to a lifelong community of social innovators.

We step up to serve our community however we can.

We inspire each other.

We keep each other going.

We ask each other for help.

We practice vulnerability together.

We take care of each other.

We share for everyone’s benefit.

We laugh together!

We compliment and complement each other.

 

4. Inspiring Learning Experiences

We believe students can change the world.

We illuminate possibility.

We awaken curiosity.

We liberate human creativity.

We pay attention to purpose.

We respect different learning styles.

We help each other take ownership of our learning.

We are all teachers and learners.

We are a student-driven organization.

 

5. Inclusive Collaboration

We believe complex challenges require multiple perspectives.

We learn from different perspectives.

We always seek to understand.

We acknowledge that we might not fully understand.

We own our strengths and our limitations.

We appreciate each other’s strengths.

We foster a collaborative spirit.

We share information and ideas openly.

We make decisions for the common good.

We practice participatory governance.

We build relationships with organizations who share similar values.

 

6. Responsible Autonomy

We believe everyone has something great to offer.

We own our own lives.

We form our own beliefs.

We all make freely chosen decisions.

We consider how our actions impact others.

We do what we say we’re going to do.

We own our actions and their consequences.

We define our own success.

We collaborate freely.

We communicate to resolve conflicts.

We are careful with the word “should.”

We take responsibility for our own growth.

We reject all forms of coercion.

 

7. Caring Mentorship

“The words that enlighten the soul are more precious than jewels.” -Hazrat Inayat Khan

We mentor first and foremost for the benefit of the mentee.

We find the good first.

We help each other clarify ideas.

We share our experiences and expertise.

We never tell someone what to do.

We try to be useful, not right.

We help people utilize strengths.

We get on the same side of a problem.

We ask the hard questions from a place of care.

We help each other find a way forward.

We help each other develop accountability.

We never tell someone what to do (it’s worth saying twice!).

We cultivate relationships for mutual growth and learning.

 

8. Wholehearted Positive Energy

We bring positive vibes whenever we can.

We find the good.

We choose compassion.

We take care of our own energy.

We treat ourselves kindly.

We practice mindfulness.

We practice gratitude.

We practice vulnerability.

We operate on trust.

We listen actively.

We appreciate.

We have “more fun than a barrel of monkeys!”

 

9. A Valued Part Of Our Local Community

We help people in our town ask “why not me?”

We participate in improving life in our local community.

We value local challenges as much as global challenges.

We help each other grow as citizens.

We’re here to stay.



Thanks to Zingerman’s for providing a great example of Mission and Guiding Principles!

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Projects We Fund


Projects We Fund


Supporting social impact of all shapes and sizes.

optiMize funds student teams through our Social Innovation Challenge and many go on to make a big impact. 

Check out some of the teams below. Click on their names to learn more!