Janelle Orsi 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. Founder of the Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC) and an Ashoka Fellow supported by Rachel’s Network, Janelle shared with us the following updates on how her work is evolving as a result of the Fellowship.

Janelle has been focused on expanding SELC’s reach and scale impact in two ways:

Developing an incubator to support regional and issue-specific programs

As a fiscal sponsor, SELC aims to help emerging organizations get off the ground by matching funds raised dollar-for-dollar, mentoring staff, and more. Janelle plans to raise $400,000 this year to launch the incubator and support local programs. Two community law centers in Chicago and New Jersey are already in development, and SELC is in conversation about supporting emerging law centers in South Carolina, Michigan, and Washington as well.

Creating a 501(c)(4) to increase lobbying and advocacy efforts

Acting as a sister nonprofit called Policy Advocates Rebuilding the Commons (PARC), this new entity would empower more people to change laws in their own cities and states, so that they can create more resilient communities by (legally) developing their own sources of food, water, jobs, energy, etc.

SELC has recently introduced legislation to legalize seed libraries (the California Seed Exchange Democracy Act), open doors to local investment in farmland and renewable energy (the California Local Economies Securities Act), and incentivize the creation of worker-owned cooperatives in Oakland and Berkeley. PARC will work to spread these policies to other cities and states.


In addition to this strategic growth, Janelle continues to work on environmental initiatives, including:

Enabling more diverse compost enterprises

Janelle authored a bill in California that would remove registration and permitting barriers for small compost businesses and to allow residents and businesses to divert organic material from landfills, despite “exclusive” city contracts with waste management companies. The legislation has the potential to help California achieve its goal of removing 75 percent of organic matter from the waste stream and create more than 14,000 new jobs. Although the legislation ultimately did not get introduced in 2016, SELC is planning to do a write-up on the findings and suggested pathways forward for the community compost movement.

New, creative ways of conserving land

Every year, people in the US spend more than $20 billion on funeral expenses. Janelle sees an opportunity – still very much in the concept phase – to divert some of those funds into land conservation by allowing citizens to pre-purchase a right to a modest green burial in a network of conserved forest, open space, and grazing lands across the country.


Janelle says that the key to growth and systemic change is in replicating good ideas and enabling others to do this work. Longer term grants, like Rachel’s Network’s three-year commitment to Janelle’s work, help give the sharing economy staying power.

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!

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