There’s a community here in Atlanta completely devoted to addressing social needs while starting thriving business ventures. Motivated by creativity, inspired by ingenuity and determined to gather the resources that construct solutions, these are Plywood People, and they’re creating their own cultural revolution. Founded by Jeff Shinabarger, a former manager for the Catalyst conference series and founder of GiftCardGiver.com, Plywood People strives to do more than just bring ideas to the table. So, they’ve framed a space where ideas meet up with education and implementation, echoing their axiom, “We will be known by the problems we solve.”

The directive for Plywood People. Subtle and powerful. (Image: The Sketch Effect)

The directive for Plywood People. Subtle and powerful. (Image: The Sketch Effect)

The name orginates from the building material itself. Consider plywood for a moment — it’s not the finished product, but an integral layer; it’s also a temporary fix until a permanent repair can be achieved. Plywood People work actively toward measurable change. They’ve taken the adage “better to give a hand-up than a handout”and joined those hands together to form a network. Part of that network includes the annual Plywood Presents conference, similar to a TED talk, which provides a platform for learning and action. Shinabarger has spread his vision to see the world differently and wants us to realize the abundance in our lives so that we can use our gifts.

The annual Plywood Presents conference brings together social entrepreneurs. (Image: Plywood People)

The annual Plywood Presents conference brings together social entrepreneurs. (Image: Plywood People)

2014 Conference Theme

This year’s conference, entitled See Unseen and held at The Fox Theatre, opened with Plywood founder Jeff Shinabarger’s overarching question, “What do you do when you don’t know what to do?” Shinabarger issued a challenge to the audience to examine our moments of tension and transition and notice our default response. His latest book, Yes or No, outlines a variety of different decision-making styles and how they function together to find solutions. From this opening presentation, other speakers from all across the country also shared their own process for figuring out solutions — some ingenious, some hilarious, some poignant and all inspiring.

Plywood People founder, Jeff Shinaberger, opened the Plywood Presents conference with a discussion of decision-making techniques. (Image: Plywood People)

Plywood People founder, Jeff Shinabarger, opened the Plywood Presents conference with a discussion of decision-making techniques. (Image: Plywood People)

Local Heroes

Of course, local Atlantans were also among the keynoters. Sid Mashburn spoke about building his brand based on his love of serving the needs of his customers; not just inviting them into the store, but truly hosting them and showing his appreciation for that relationship. He gave big props to wife, Ann Mashburn, explaining how their problem-solving approaches differ and quipped, “Pillow talk is powerful!” Jeff Henderson of Gwinnett Church offered tips for powerful presentations with encouragement that we have to let other people see what we see, so they can help do what needs to be done. Athens cut-paper artist, former magazine editor, and small-business publicity advisor Amy Flurry outlined simple PR strategies and brought a copy of her book Recipe for Press to each participant. The brave, loving tribute Jen Hidinger shared as she read from late husband Ryan’s journal and championed their project, The Giving Kitchen, mesmerized a group eager to learn from her strength. She professed that one of the many things she’s gathered along her journey is that “anything long lasting and worthwhile takes time and complete surrender.”

Such a cool visual-- The Sketch Effect team drew cartoons highlighting the major points of each presentation.

Such a cool visual– The Sketch Effect team drew cartoons highlighting the major points of each presentation.

Idea Competition

Each year, as part of the conference, a pool of determined applicants vie for entry into the Plywood Idea Competition. The five finalists chosen present their plan and story to the entire conference audience and a panel of judges, all of whom submit their vote for a top contender. The winner receives sponsorship money to put their plan in motion, as well as additional resources from Plywood to help kickstart the venture. Last year, Sarah Buchanan and Kula Project earned a boost from the competition. This year’s winner, Dri-Butts Diapers, has designed a reusable diaper for use in developing countries.

Other finalists were:

  • Brother Moto — a community garage allowing motorbike owners to work on their bikes together.
  • Spark Market — finance initiative connecting individual investors with local talent.
  • STE(A)M Truck — mobile education truck bringing a Science Technology Engineering Arts Math lab around to area schools.
  • Prissy Tomboy — creating a lifestyle apparel brand and empowerment program to support young athletic girls.

Conference Marketplace

Between sessions, conference participants could get snacks while strolling through a marketplace of vendors all representing the vision of Plywood People. From bracelets and handbags, dolls and wooden kitchenware, T-shirts to coffee beans, the variety of products and services exhibited gave an instant representation of the far-reaching possibilites of the Plywood support. West Elm furniture set up cozy living room vignettes, providing chic seating areas to network with new connections or work on a laptop.

Plywood People are taking the adage "better to give a hand-up than and handout" quite seriously.

Plywood People are taking the adage “better to give a hand-up than and handout” quite seriously.

The buzzing marketplace featured West Elm seating areas to relax and hangout between sessions.

The buzzing marketplace featured West Elm seating areas to relax and hangout between sessions.

Connecting with the Plywood community not only offers resources for those interested in starting a business or program of some kind, but also a provides an opportunity for leaders to connect with those needing mentorship. Find out more about Plywood People online at www.plywoodpeople.com and follow on social media for information on upcoming events.

Kind snacks, an event sponsor, sent us off for our lunch break with a sunflower and the directive to pass it along to perk up a stranger.

Kind snacks, an event sponsor, sent us off for our lunch break with a sunflower and the directive to pass it along to perk up a stranger.

It was a powerful, energizing experience — make sure their next conference date is on your radar. “Being known by the problems we solve” … that’s a song I can sing, and sing LOUD!

For more information, visit: plywoodpeople.com.