For Priya Shah, exploring the meaning of ‘good’ started by sharing photos of joyful moments and positive experiences while traveling the world. That photo blog went viral and connections were made around the globe to encourage others to acknowledge and share ‘the simple, good’ things in their lives. Not long after, Shah launched The Simple Good (TSG), a nonprofit that works to empower youth to share positivity and foster empathy through social-emotional-learning-based art programming. To date, the organization has worked with more than 6,000 students.
“We want to give students an opportunity to share their simple good with each other through their art with other youth in different parts of the globe. And this helps them understand there are other youth just like them all around the world. This cross-cultural dialogue instills global competency and empathy amongst youth across the globe, which has proven to develop global citizens that establish safe and peaceful communities for all of us,” says Shah.
The Simple Good partners with community-based organizations and schools—predominately on Chicago’s South and West Sides—offering students opportunities to create art that demonstrates their idea of the simple good. Later, they present that art in public showcases. The Simple Good uses guided meditations to start each class session to help facilitate a student’s ability to look within and define the good in themselves.
It’s a mission the University of Chicago’s Community Programs Accelerator is supporting through training, coaching, and technical support from University staff, faculty, students, and consultants.
Over the past several years, Shah says the Accelerator supported the growth of the organization through workshops, technical assistance, and the development of a fundraising strategy. That support continued in early 2023 when the Accelerator connected Shah with a team of Harris School of Public Policy graduate students who are members of Harris Community Action (HCA), a student-run program that supports South Side nonprofits seeking assistance with data management, program evaluation, policy analysis, and other organizational needs. The Accelerator engages small teams of HCA fellows to spend 10 weeks working with nonprofits, translating knowledge and skills from the classroom into solutions to real-world challenges.
The HCA team worked closely with Shah to explore what it would take to expand operations as well as what a partnership model with other nonprofits could look like in other cities. Shah says working with the HCA students is helping TSG fulfill its mission to expand around the world.
“Everybody gets excited about scaling, but not so much on getting into the weeds on what that means. But these students were ready to get in the weeds,” Shah says.
HCA students worked with Shah to build a full assessment of replication costs and benefits for expanding while analyzing what additional staff and funding would be needed in Chicago to continue current programming.
“Having these students do such extensive research was really great. It was something we wouldn’t have had the capacity to do,” she says.
And Shah says the insights HCA students provided have her and the TSG board thinking about the future of the nonprofit in new ways.
“You learn by people’s questions and what they’re observing,” she says. “We can always have a strategy, but the students took the time to dive in with a detailed view and provided valuable feedback.”