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I've been soaking up a lot of healthful vibes these days - all while sitting in front of the warm glow of my laptop. Since March, I've had front row seats to a spirited community campaign working to address the issue of obesity in Minnesota.
You may know the campaign as the Minnesota Idea Open. You likely memorized the fact that it’s a venture of Minnesota Community Foundation with major funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. For certain, you bookmarked www.MNIdeaOpen.org, became a Facebook fan and obsessively tracked the Twitter hashtag (#mnidea1).
Speaking of shameless plugs, you also might have been one of our outstanding sponsors or partners helping us to spread the word to your networks.
What I really hope is that you have been one of the hundreds of Minnesotans who participated in the Idea Open by sharing your idea for how we can work together to help one another do what is often so difficult do - eat smart and be active.
We all know we should eat more grains and vegetables and fruits, but we also all know that it’s much more fun and satisfying to eat some bacon instead. Looking at a poster of the food pyramid doesn’t exactly inspire me. All I see is a small mountain to climb to good health. Heck, instead of having a healthy glass of water, I’m downing a 5,000-calorie mocha as I write this because it’s Friday and I think deserve a treat.
It’s that kind of individual behavior and thinking combined with larger cultural influences that make obesity a difficult issue to fight. Posting the calorie count of my dessert drink on the menu board might make me feel guilty, but that message is neither fun nor does it make me any thirstier for water. The same goes for posters with tips for eating healthy - they don’t inspire a craving for a broccoli smoothie.
And that’s why I’m so excited about our inaugural challenge on the Idea Open. Some of the biggest issues facing us in Minnesota cannot be solved by the experts and policy makers alone. Real change requires innovation, and connecting citizens to the decision-making process - enabling them to influence solutions - is what makes the Idea Open so very cool. And it’s fun!
We received more than 400 ideas from all around the state vying for the Challenge I Champion title, but it’s not the numbers that give me goose bumps. It’s the spirit of the collaborative process we’ve created. It’s the individual stories that tell us how a librarian in Mahnomen handing out Idea Open information reached a member of the White Earth Reservation who wants to share her idea for fighting obesity in her community. It’s the fact that we were able to get Minnesotans from all around the state simply talking and thinking about this issue.
Challenge I also has been an opportunity for established organizations around Minnesota to share the work they are doing on this issue - and build upon the foundation of their good work. GiveMN is highlighting some of those unique programs on its home page right now. Similarly, the Idea Open is introducing many Minnesotans to new communities like the Karen population in our state and the challenges they face trying to learn about food and nutrition in their adopted land - as well as the role the Minnesota Council of Churches plays in helping refugees resettle in Minnesota.
The Idea Open also has been a hive of diverse creativity, from a food mobile decorated by local artists that tweets its location to an innovative device that monitors your movements throughout the day, pinging you to move when you’ve been sitting for too long to engaging community volunteers, such as retirees, to be personal grocery shoppers who help people make informed, healthy choices at the grocery store.
Like a virtual town square, the Idea Open is helping to bring citizens and community leaders together to work on an issue - with the ultimate hope that the virtual gathering is a starting point for sustained offline connections.
Last week, we announced 21 semi-finalists that best represent the variety of ideas reflecting the complexity of the issue of obesity. I invite you to explore each one of them, as well as the hundreds of others that deserve recognition. They are fun and interesting, but most of all, I hope they inspire you to think about ways you could do the same in your own community - or at least encourage you to try some turkey bacon.
Meanwhile, our volunteer judges have the difficult task of selecting three finalists from the pool of 21 ideas that made the semi-finalist cut. Those three finalist ideas will be announced on May 4, and public voting will begin. Be sure to cast your vote between May 4 and May 14 for your favorite idea among the three finalists at www.MNIdeaOpen.org!