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Rachel’s Network is committed to advancing women with solutions to our biggest environmental challenges. That’s why we teamed up with Ashoka in 2013 to develop a fellowship program for forward-thinking women social entrepreneurs.

In 2014, we were thrilled to fund our first fellow, Janelle Orsi. Janelle is one of the leading experts on the sharing economy, a growing movement that applies collaboration to utilize a community’s resources for the common good.

Through her nonprofit, the Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC), Janelle’s developing legal infrastructure that supports this new economy. Systems-thinkers like Janelle are the just the leaders we need to create a ripple-effect of positive change for people and the planet.

“More and more people are seeing that happiness comes not through owning things, but through having access to the things that foster rich experiences with their friends, family, and community,” says Rachel’s Network Liaison Annie Leonard. “[Janelle]’s got… an inspiring vision of sharing as a vehicle for social change.”

People’s thirst for alternatives to our current economic system has propelled Janelle and the SELC into the spotlight. In the last year, Janelle’s work to promote cooperatives, local currencies, and lawyer apprenticeships garnered press in major news outlets across the country.

Janelle was also interviewed for a forthcoming documentary film on the sharing economy and was one of a select few chosen to participate in the White House Roundtable on Labor, advising the administration on employment opportunities in the sharing economy.

SELC’s Resilient Communities Legal Café was awarded Meritorious Recognition by the American Bar Association for “its outstanding dedication to the advancement of innovations in the delivery of legal services.” Through workshops, legal advice, and other resources, the Café supports organizations working to make their communities a better place.

Photo: Sustainable Economies Law Center

Photo: Sustainable Economies Law Center

SELC’s model of self-empowerment ensures that people anywhere can implement these great ideas. Their training workshops on everything from urban land use to worker cooperatives reached over 1500 people in 19 different cities in 2014. SELC even has its own fellowship program which is training 11 attorneys to cultivate resilient economies in communities across the nation.

Three pieces of legislation drafted by SELC were passed by the California Legislature in 2014: the Neighborhood Food Act, the Alternative Currencies Act and the Cooperative Housing Bill. These new laws enable small scale, sustainable agriculture to flourish; invigorate local economies; and make housing more affordable.

Recognizing the importance of resilient food systems, Janelle and SELC are now undertaking two major initiatives: a commons-based farmland stewardship program with Agrarian Trust that will provide the legal guidance these farms need, and a seed library initiative that’s fighting the move to classify our agricultural heritage as “intellectual property.”

In addition to these great programs, Rachel’s Network is pleased that our fellowship is helping grow SELC’s operations. In 2014, they hired three new staff members and partnered with over 50 other organizations. For such a small organization, SELC is doing incredibly big things.

Rachel’s Network is proud to support Janelle’s work. If you know a woman like Janelle who’s rolling out solutions to our biggest environmental challenges, nominate her for an Ashoka Fellowship! And be sure to check out this interview with Janelle by Rachel’s Network Liaison Annie Leonard.

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