05/18/2010 09:29 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Active Citizenship: How to Cultivate Change in Our Communities

In the business world, a talented, ambitious person can build lucrative new markets through sheer force of will.

There's a direct parallel in the world of advocacy and volunteering: A talented, ambitious person with a big heart and a big idea -- or even a seemingly small one -- can build a support network that improves the daily lives of thousands of citizens.

In my just-published book, Citizen You: Doing Your Part to Change the World, I explain how a growing movement called "active citizenship" is fostering fresh ways of doing good in the world. One of the movement's leading lights is Will Allen, the famed "urban farmer" who has taught thousands of inner-city residents how to grow nutritious, delicious, natural foods in vacant lots.

A pro basketball player in his youth, Allen eventually settled down with his wife and kids on a small plot of land in the suburbs of Milwaukee. Like many other Americans, he became aware of the phenomenon of "food deserts" in America's cities -- neighborhoods where there are fast-food outlets, convenience stores, and liquor stores aplenty, but no places to buy fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods.

Allen didn't just fret about the problem or hope for a solution from city hall. He founded Growing Power, which has built farms in Milwaukee and Chicago and training sites in five other states, each creating neighborhood jobs and producing tasty, good-for-you produce that's available in local markets, schools, and restaurants.

A 2008 recipient of a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant," Allen, who is 62, was also recently named to the Time 100, Time magazine's annual celebration of the world's 100 most influential people. As Van Jones put it in his Time appreciation of Allen:

People come from around the world to marvel -- and to learn. Says Allen: "Everybody, regardless of their economic means, should have access to the same healthy, safe, affordable food that is grown naturally."


The movement's aim is not just healthier people but a healthier planet. Food grown in cities is trucked shorter distances. Translation: more greenhouses in the 'hood equals less greenhouse gas in the air.

And Allen isn't done yet. To read about his ambitious future plans for Growing Power, read this May 10 article in the Kansas City Star.

Do you have an idea that could change your neighborhood, your city, and even the world? As Will Allen has shown, a small seed of compassion can spawn a bountiful forest of life-changing opportunities. Visit for more profiles of the heroes who are inspiring the active citizenship movement. And make sure you spend some time thinking about how you can join them.

Jonathan Tisch is Co-Chairman of the Board for Loews Corporation and Chairman and CEO of Loews Hotels. His new book is called Citizen You: Doing Your Part to Change the World.