FirstRoot Rays of Light

Like the sun, our CEO & Founder, Luke Hohmann, shares near daily rays of light that strive to warm your soul and make our world a bit brighter. And while that introduction is admittedly a bit ‘over the top’, you’ll find that Luke’s updates are practical, thoughtful, and just what you need to grow

March 2022

This is the second post that explores the three vectors of growth FirstRoot Inc.

  1. More schools
  2. More students
  3. More money

Let’s explore more students.

Once we have a school, our goal is to ensure that every student is involved with at least one Participatory Budgeting program. This is easy when the school starts with a school-wide program. It can take a bit longer when the school starts with a single classroom, club, or grade level. That’s quite all right: starting with a single classroom, club, or grade level is a great way to build trust in the Participatory Budgeting process and to work out any operational kinks before scaling.

Here are some examples of programs that have added more students – sometimes in the middle of a program!

  • Fremont High School in Sunnyvale, CA started their Participatory Budgeting program last school year with the leadership team. This school year they are expanding their program to include the entire 12th grade class.
  • Quincy Elementary in Topeka, KS originally started their program with just the 5th graders and then quickly expanded their program to include the entire school.
  • Galileo XP is a novel, global, online school that also started with a few students and expanded their program while it was running.

Of course, the goal of engaging every student does not mean that every student will engage in the same way. Our platform celebrates the kinds of contributions that each student can make. Consider:

  • Dreamers and Designers: Some students are comfortable creating proposals in the Dream phase of PB while other students prefer to help shape proposals during the Design phase into concrete proposals.
  • Developing proposals pitches: Students who are skilled at promoting ideas find their place in developing the proposal pitch videos that help explain why proposals are important to the school community.
  • Voting: Every student wants to share their opinion in how their Participatory Budgeting program budget should be allocated.

While our goal is that every student is engaged in the Participatory Budgeting program, we’re happy with every one of these starting conditions. We know that once a school experiences the power and benefits of Participatory Budgeting the program will naturally expand.

Drop me a line and we’ll be happy to help you get started with your PB program!

This is the third post that explores the three vectors of growth that drive our business:

  1. More schools
  2. More students
  3. More money

Let’s explore more MONEY.

The most important aspect of FirstRoot is that we’re putting real money into the hands of students. Unlike stock market trading games or simulations, in which there is little motivation and zero consequence for financial decisions, the real money foundation of FirstRoot creates intrinsic motivation to manage the money well and create a positive impact in the school.

More money? Greater impact.

We’ve found that a good starting budget is $1,000 to $10,000. The objective is to create a budget for the first Participatory Budgeting program that is meaningful for the kids but not so large that adults will take over the program. We have a preference for larger budgets at higher grades because older kids have more life experience with money.

Subsequent Participatory Budgeting programs build on the success of the initial program and provide opportunities to increase the budget. All stakeholders learn through direct experience that students make excellent choices and that they can be entrusted with increasingly large amounts of money.

Here are some examples of budgets given to students:

  • Toki Middle School in Madison, WI gave their students a $30,000 budget. The source of these funds were federal ESSER grants – a great way to leverage federal money to create a powerful learning experience.
  • The initial Participatory Budgeting program budget at Fremont High School in Sunnyvale, CA was $2,000. An effective fundraising campaign spearheaded by FirstRoot raised $5,045 for their second program.
  • In the 2020-2021 school year, sixteen high schools in Chicago were given $10,000 by the Chicago Public School District to implement Participatory Budgeting programs.

While we are advocates of giving students as much money for their Participatory Budgeting programs as possible, we recognize that the entrenched funding inequities of schools can inadvertently create similar inequities in Participatory Budgeting programs.

Put more simply, we do not want Participatory Budgeting programs to be a rich program for rich schools.

To help ensure this does not happen, FirstRoot is committed to the following:

  • Creating mechanisms in which students of more affluent schools can sponsor programs in less affluent schools. We refer to this as ‘Pay It Forward” proposals (although we expect our students to create even cooler names for this capability).
  • Sponsoring schools through grants distributed by the FirstRoot School Fund. You can help by contributing to the fund.
  • Developing fundraising solutions that directly benefit students.

What are your ideas on how we can get more money into the hands of kids? I’d love to hear from you.

FirstRoot Inc’s growth (more schools, more students, more funds in #participatorybudgeting programs) is motivating us to scale our company.

I love this article about keeping customer centricity in mind as you scale. I’ve shared it in the past. I’m happy to share it again.

Timeless advice that I enjoy re-reading from Matt LeMay.

Every school that starts a Participatory Budgeting program is a celebration!

I am very excited to announce that we are supporting the dynamic KJ Larson as she and her class launches the first #participatorybudgeting program at Denver South High School!

Please join us in supporting the school by making a contribution to their funding page.

100% of your contribution (minus Stripe processing fees) will be put into the capable hands of the Denver South High School Students.

Contribute here:

One of the challenges that math teachers face, especially in lower grades, is finding ways to teach math concepts in a way that is relevant to the kids. #participatorybudgeting to the rescue!

For example, let’s say you’re producing a PB program with a $2,000 budget. Let’s explore how a real money budget can motivate your students. You could ask:

1) What is the maximum cost of a proposal if we establish a guideline that we want to vote for an implement at least two proposals? How does that change if we want to implement at least four proposals?

2) Suppose we establish a guideline that says we MUST implement three proposals. What is the maximum cost of a single proposal?

3) Suppose we establish a guideline that the maximum cost of a proposal is 1/4 the budget. How many proposals can be selected? What is the maximum cost of each proposal? Could you still select more than 1 proposal even if that proposal exceeded 1/4 of the total budget?

The answers to the questions above are not necessarily straightforward and open the door to compelling discussions on the importance of real-world #financialliteracy.

What questions would you add?

(And… if you’re feeling clever, what are your answers?)

We’re happy that our friend and partner from Falls Fintech, Nikkee Rhody, has been nominated for an EmBe award for Business Achievement.

Her piercing insights and her ability to explore multiple futures to help create the right strategy for a company have been extremely helpful to the continued success of FirstRoot.

Good luck, Nikkee. We’re rooting for you.

Effective #agile practices replace work-outside-of-work with work-inside-of-work.

I know… that’s a mouthful. Let me elaborate.

In less agile environments we see leaders asking workers to do things but not specifically allocating time for them. This leaves the workers stuck with trying to figure out how to make time for the work on the backlog but has no time allocated.

Suppose, for example, you want your team to watch the excellent SAFe Agile Software Engineering Video Series by Ken Pugh. You tell them it is important… but you don’t put it on the backlog.

That’s a fail. You’re telling your agile team that the backlog contains the valuable work. But you didn’t put watching the video series on the backlog.

So either it isn’t important or you’re asking the team to do work-outside-of-work.

What you should do is put it on the backlog and schedule a meeting whereby the entire team watches the video at the same time. This reinforces the importance of the video AND provides the team with the opportunity to discuss the insights they gained when the video is finished.

You’re putting work-inside-of-work, where it belongs.

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