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Milena Arciszewski, Founder Of Pando Projects, Helps Grassroots Leaders Reach Success

Pando Projects

First Posted: 03/08/11 03:29 PM ET Updated: 05/25/11 07:35 PM ET

This post is part of our month-long series featuring Greatest Women of the Day, in recognition of Women's History Month.

To nominate a Greatest Woman of the Day, e-mail Impact@huffingtonpost.com.

While many people have big ideas, not everyone has the means to get those ideas off the ground.

No one knows that better than Milena Arciszewski, the founder of Pando Projects, a nonprofit that serves as a support organization for people looking to get their big ideas turned into real-life change.

"I had the idea when I was a junior at the University of Virginia," she said. "I was bored with traditional volunteer programs and I wanted to do something that was different and exciting and new, so at the time I started my own grassroots volunteer project -- a book drive to collect used books for this school in Afghanistan."

That experience opened Milena's eyes to the power of self-driven social action. "I learned more in those three months than I did in all of college," she said. "It really helped me grow as a person -- more young people, particularly in college should be starting initiatives like that -- I knew how transformative it could be."

But Milena also recognized that especially for young people who had never before spearheaded such an effort, getting organized could be "a logistical nightmare."

"I had the idea for an organization that could provide basic logistical support for someone who had an idea for a grass roots project," she said. After a few years in investment banking, Milena went abroad for a while.

"When I was abroad I went back to the idea," she said. "I saw how local aid programs in Kenya didn't let local people create their own local solutions -- I wanted to give people a way to develop their own solutions to the problems facing the planet."

From that idea grew Pando Projects, an organization dedicated to giving those people interested in developing their own grassroots ideas the help they need to function. Pando provides mentorship, a customized project website, and the kind of promotion necessary to turn a small idea into real change.

"A lot of our projects come from that really raw place, from people who have identified an issue in their community and have an idea for tackling it in a way that hasn't been done," she said.

One of the projects Milena is excited about now is from a girl named Tanea Lunsford, who grew up in a rough area outside of San Francisco that she refers to as a "forgotten neighborhood." Tanea used writing -- poetry and screenplays -- to help her get through her upbringing. Now, she's starting a writing workshop for teenagers in low-income neighborhoods in New York.

"She wants to pass on this hobby that worked so beautifully for her and encourage teenagers to know that their voice matters," said Milena. "I love that idea -- she's not starting an organization, she's not claiming she's going to change the world -- she's giving back to other teenagers in a way that she thinks will help, because it helped her."

Part of Pando's role is its landing page, which lets other prospective Pando leaders learn from the experiences of those who came before them.

"With Pando, Tanea's page would be on our website for forever and other people could learn what she's done, read her blog to find out about her experience, it gives that idea an opportunity to grow," Milena said.

Pando accepts all projects that can be executed within one year for up to 5,000 dollars. "The projects can really tackle any issue area," Milena said. "The only requirement is that the projects have very clear goals that can produce tangible results."

Milena has experienced the power of running a grassroots operation for herself, and is eager to let others in on the feeling.

"When I started that book drive it was the first time I came out of my shell and found a way for myself to be happy," she said. "I realized I could play a larger role in the world and I just know how much it changed me on a personal level and I'd like to bring that experience to other people. I think there's something amazing about starting a grassroots project to tackle an issue that you're passionate about and if I can bring that to other people on a large scale, I feel like I can change the world."

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