Raphael Sbarge, founder, on the evolution of Green Wish
I started Green Wish, inspired by one thing: the birth of my daughter. As a parent looking out into the world she would inherit, what I saw was a planet beset by environmental challenges. My fatherly instinct was to do whatever I could to make it a better place. But how would I do that? I became overwhelmed almost immediately, simply because—environmentally speaking—there was just so much need. How could one person make any significant difference with so much that needed to be done?
So I set out to create an organization that did maximum good, just by creating a nonprofit that was an “umbrella-of-green;” a non-profit whose sole purpose was to set up chapters in cities around the country, have their local boards identify small, community- and environmentally based nonprofits, and then raise money to support their core mission: making the world greener and more sustainable. The groups they identified were doing important, shovel-ready work, by contributing to earth, air, water and sustainable education. Green Wish, therefore, became a composite of small, important community-based nonprofits in those cities; when you gave to your Green Wish chapter there, you were giving to not just one, but five or more different groups. Mostly, you were giving for one cause: to help the planet, by helping those in the sustainable movement get the job done locally, one shovel at a time.
I founded Green Wish and was its Executive Director for 10 years. Five years ago, we received a generous grant from The California Institute of Contemporary Art to expand our educational program. I decided to use my production company, Wishing Well Entertainment, to make a film about one of our donor groups in Los Angeles, called Friends of the LA River. FOLAR is a remarkable organization that has done astonishing work and had become the most critical voice in restoring the Los Angeles River (which looks like a drainage ditch to so many). This became a 20-minute film that explored the history of the river (called A Concrete River) and gave context to the work FOLAR was doing. It was made to be shown on the organization’s interactive mobile education center, called the River Rover, and our film was at the center of their exhibit, used to help people understand how important the river was, and why it was so urgent to save it, for the sake of our city, and its inhabitants.
KCET, big supporters of the river, discovered the documentary, acquired it, and began airing it during its fund-raising pledge drives. The film was so successful–not only to raise the awareness for Friends of the LA River but also for KCET to raise money for the station–that the station began running it all the time. KCET then acquired the next movie we had made on climate change, Is There Hope for Planet Earth?, shot entirely at Caltech with Dr. Jess Adkins, a renowned climatologist, with the hopes of providing some simple science to the issue of climate change. We attempted to do this by taking climate change out of a red state/blue state conversation and keeping it as a science-based conversation. He’s also a dad to two young children, which personalized his thinking about the future for his kids. Caltech, arguably the most noble scientific institution in the world other than MIT, was so pleased with the film that the university gave us its logo to attach to credits, and SoCal Connected, the multi-Emmy and Peabody award-winning news program on KCET, broadcast it as part of Earth Day coverage in 2018.
With additional grant money, we turned our attention to another small-but-mighty organization called Food Forward, which was recovering more than 1 million pounds a month of fresh fruit and vegetables to feed people who were hungry in the community. We created a four-minute piece to highlight the work the organization does; we have been told that this piece has been pivotal in helping Food Forward receive major grant support from the state, which will double its output by 2020.
With that, I went back to KCET and pitched an idea for a longer film about Food Forward, mainly since KCET, under its new leadership with Juan Devis, KCET’s Chief Content Officer, had made community-based, hyper-local content a part of the station’s core mission. KCET has the largest public broadcasting audience in the U.S, with more than 22 million homes, as well as a relationship with LinkTV, which broadcasts nationally to an additional 60 million homes. This was an excellent platform for these ideas to be seen.
Juan Devis liked this idea, but then suggested that we expand it, open it out, include the history and the food waste conversation, and then broadcast it on a “food track,” not as just an environmentally focused production. He then explained the format that KCET used for shows: multi-level programming in which we would be tasked with creating a six-part digital series, and then a one-hour broadcast movie made from those shows. And so, the documentary LA Foodways was born. I spent months researching this idea, wrote it all up, and we were encouraged to “get it done.” I then set out to tell a story about the issues we are facing today, using LA’s storied agricultural past to create a context for where we are now, and where we are headed. This was a co-production with KCET and my production company, and is a pilot for a series, with a second season waiting in the wings.
With the success of all of these films, and with a growing awareness that we were being most effective with our film and media work, Green Wish’s mission has now changed. It is now focused on creating socially relevant content in an effort to do maximum good, to inspire and engage people to want to effect real change, through creating “content with a conscience.” In alliance with my production company, our hope is that the ideas and ideals of Green Wish will continue to do maximum good.