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Founder of Seedles

Meet SIT alumnus Chris Burley 

MA in Intercultural Service, Leadership, and Management
Founder, Seedles

Chris BurleySIT for me was a beacon of hope. I had been traveling the world for almost a year at that point helping lead the organization CouchSurfing.org. At this organization, I was inspired by what social entrepreneurship could do, but I quickly observed that a lot of passion without direction is like a sailboat with full wind at the sails, but no rudder to steer. I chose SIT because it offered a master’s program in management and classes in social entrepreneurship that I felt would give me the skills to steer organizations successfully.

At SIT, I studied management. Classes included Social Entrepreneurship, Monitoring and Evaluation, Marketing, Financial Management, Economics, Development Management, Leadership and Coalition Building, and Strategic Planning. All of these courses provided a broad and solid foundation for further work in the nonprofit world.

My practicum focused on human-centered organization design. It was a blend of my interest in organizational development with my interest in human-centered design. I focused on understanding the relationship between consent-based participatory decision making (sociocracy) and employee commitment. Results of the investigation revealed there was a strong positive correlation between employees’ experiences of the organizations sociocratic participatory decision making and affective commitment. In short, include people in the organizational decisions and you’ll engender greater commitment and ownership.

In 2012 my wife and I were strolling through our new neighborhood in Oakland, CA. Some neighbors had drought tolerant landscaping, others a few fruit trees, and a good portion had that sad, 2-foot-by-6-foot strip of front-yard urban grass that gives the owner some semblance of nature amidst the cement-filled surroundings. Between the intermittent lush landscapes of a few of our neighbors were plenty of unkempt, unactivated, and unused plots of earth. As an avid gardener, urban farmer, and permaculturist, I couldn’t help but imagine the possibilities for these spots if given just a bit of attention.

SeedlesAnd it wasn’t just Oakland, I’d seen the same growing up in Michigan. Being the geek that I am, I remembered victory gardens produced up to 40 percent of the vegetables consumed during the course of World War II. I kept strolling and imagined what else they could produce. As the gears in my brain started turning, Ei Ei brought up seed balls. After six years of being together we were often on the same wavelength. She said, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if we tossed seed balls in all of these lifeless spots … seed balls with wildflower seeds or vegetable seeds in them?”

A few blocks later it hit me. If we could make seed balls fun and easy people would be more likely to want to plant them. The idea for Seedles was born. Seedles are rainbow colored seed balls containing native and heirloom seeds. They can also be made with wildflowers, vegetables, or even grain seeds. Seedles are made by forming balls a bit bigger than a marble from a mixture of clay, organic compost, native seeds, and water. We then use colors of the rainbow to coat the seed balls in a nontoxic, earth-friendly color. This makes them playful and helpful.

The work we are doing now with Seedles is a direct result of my interest in and studies of social entrepreneurship. We aim to inspire kids to grow one billion wildflowers to bring back the bees and ensure a sustainable food system for their future.

I’ve always believed that businesses are just a collection of individual people. Just as people have the greatest potential to destroy as well as the greatest potential to heal the planet, I believe business is an opportunity to harness and organize that positive potential into doing something amazing for the world. Gone is the age in which business only serves a single bottom line; in this era, your business needs to take into consideration its impact across many arenas, including but not limited to your local region, the social sphere, and the environmental sphere as well as the financial sphere. One of the lessons that has stuck with me for years is, “No money, no mission.”

It’s true that money has a great influence on our ability to do our work in the world, although I would caution people to look at money as just one form of energy. The real quote would be better revised as “No energy, no mission.” I believe energy and support can come in so many forms. You can receive energy in the form of volunteer help, a unique connection to someone who will advise you, a seemingly missed opportunity with a silver lining of allowing you to focus your work in an area that is relevant to your mission, an extra influx of knowledge or insight that saves you hours of time are just a few examples.