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Jet Waller and Megan Monday sound like a pair of superheroes fighting the forces of evil. In real life, they are a formidable duo of creative entrepreneurs using their human superpowers in technology and storytelling to spur social change in Wisconsin.
Their venture is called Love Wisconsin, launched in September 2015 as a collaborative online storytelling project using videos, photography and writing to celebrate and connect people from all walks of life. From kids sharing their unique talents and perspectives on “Wish for Wisconsin” to adults in rural and urban communities reflecting on what matters most to them in “Wisconsin Generations,” the stories of Love Wisconsin offer windows into the worlds of people from every age, stage, ethnicity and place in every corner of the state. Love Wisconsin offers a fascinating collection of life as it unfolds in contemporary middle America that is worthy of your time at lovewi.com.
New this year is the launch of a Facebook group called Love Wisconsin Conversations in partnership with the Wisconsin Humanities Council. It’s no surprise Waller and Monday have teamed up with fellow Madison entrepreneur Annette Miller, founder of the business consulting firm EQT by Design, to moderate the forum for in-depth discussions and, they hope, real-life connections. Miller poses questions to stimulate conversations and invites individuals to share their stories in a serial-style format to encourage more comments and meaningful exchanges over time.
“When an issue or idea comes out of the story,” says Waller, “they can go offline and make it happen.”
It’s great timing, given Facebook’s recent commitment to more authentic engagement on the platform, which has come under fire for perpetuating the dark side of social media. Love Wisconsin could also serve as a welcome antidote to the divide-and-conquer politics Wisconsinites have endured over the last few years.
“We want to overcome algorithms of social [media] that put us in a bubble,” says Waller. Monday says the Facebook group furthers its mission to use the first-person narrative, to “walk for a little while in other people’s shoes and create empathy as you are in someone else’s story.”
If Love Wisconsin continues to grow in numbers and impact, perhaps Waller and Monday will become real-life superheroes after all.
What drew you to your role at Love Wisconsin?
Jet, Megan and I were introduced through a mutual friend who saw connections in the work each of us engage in professionally. After we all met and sat down, I realized that the work that Love Wisconsin is embarking on resonates greatly with my own. I believe people can be better and create inclusion individually and collectively when they can understand other people’s life stories and perspectives. When you can empathize and see the realness of another person’s life and journey, it gives you the power to stop thinking about what makes you different, and the opportunity and permission to learn more about what else you have in common.
How does it complement your entrepreneurial endeavor?
We are each practicing engagement strategies. I like how we are learning together what connections between and among each other are making an impact or could make an impact in an online group across Wisconsin. It allows all of us to learn from each other as co-creators, and from the online community about the impact of social media. It is the power of storytelling about people in other communities that you wouldn’t, couldn’t or can’t visit, and yet you are encouraged and actively modeling engagement and dialogue that is positive and connects rather than divides.
What have you learned so far?
I love the curiosity offered to anyone who joins to actively practice how to view, think, understand and use language differently to create connections and relationships that they might not otherwise have if it [were not] for Love Wisconsin. People are very willing to share their own stories and backgrounds about who they are or are not. They are expressing their curiosity to see what this group is and what they might learn. Wisconsin is diverse and there are many blended realities that I didn’t realize existed. I am humbled to be the one to interact with them as their online moderator.
Brennan Nardi is communications director at Madison Community Foundation and a former editor of Madison Magazine. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.