By Dean Whittaker

The Bloomberg Philanthropies, to stimulate innovation in government, conducted an Idea Accelerator Workshop for our community, Holland, Michigan, on how to take an idea and turn it into a reality. The workshop was preparation to apply for the Mayor’s Challenge to compete with 300 cities for a cash prize of $1 million for an innovative solution to issues that cities face.

The Workshop taught us to use design-thinking to recognize and define the problem by using quantitative and qualitative information. We also learned how to map stakeholders, pinpoint opportunities, and understand the problem from the stakeholder’s point of view. The big “Aha!” for me was the benefit of conducting face-to-face interviews with individuals and listening to their stories.

Our city is working on the issue of connecting people using our “Pay It Forward” platform that supports random acts of kindness. It consists of someone preforming an act of kindness, such as paying for someone’s coffee behind you in line and leaving a “Pay It Forward” card asking the recipient to do an act of kindness for someone else.

This project began in 2010 when the city received a small grant from a retired New York City social worker after seeing a story about Holland being one of the happiest places in the country. Her random act of kindness lead to Holland’s “Pay it Forward” effort.

Has anyone ever done a random act of kindness for you, or have you done one for someone else? It is amazing to see how a simple act of kindness can change the trajectory of someone’s day, and perhaps, their entire life. Tell us your story, and we will summarize them in next month’s Whittaker Report.