Kristin Nash, MPH
Oct 11, 2023
We caught up with Stanford University students Tule and Eric, founders of Understory Collective, to learn more about how the William G. Nash Social Impact Grant helped jumpstart their organization.
Part of our 2022 grant cohort, Tule Horton and Eric Bear of Understory Collective looked to partner with land stewards, initially the Karuk Tribe, to support them with conservation, restoration and land-back efforts.
Understory Collective's Mission
The idea behind Understory Collective is pioneering novel fundraising approaches for environmental stewardship. The initial idea was creating digital parcels of land as traceable NFTs. After the NFT market collasped mid-project, the student-entrepreneurs quickly pivoted to generating native-designed art using more traditional media, with proceeds going to the Karuk Tribe's prescribed fire program.
To the Karuk Tribe, fire is culture, and cultural burning is a way to uphold important traditions and cultivate a healthy, wildfire-resilient ecosystem within the mid-Klamath River region. The Karuk tribe has become one of the national leaders of the prescribed fire field by utilizing intergenerational practices tracing back since time immemorial.
Launching Understory Collective
Through their work, while the mission remained as planned, the product itself evolved. In Tule’s own words;
“While we applied to WGNF to build a land-based NFT that would reflect forest health in real time as a way to visualize and fundraise for native land stewardship, the viability of this model consistently declined over the last 12 months. In the first half of this grant participation, conversations with [experts in the sector], plus online research and conversations with peers made clear that NFTs had lost significant viability and market power since we applied in winter 2022, and that to build our initial vision would cost far more than that product would be worth."
"...Eric was at a land-back event that successfully sold beautiful posters. While the art wasn't specifically connected to the fundraising cause, we saw this example as a simple, effective option for expanding our product offerings. Without abandoning the initial NFT idea (which we had already scaled down due to market conditions), we redirected focus and funds to turning Vikki’s [Karuk Tribe Member Vikki Preston] artwork into posters."
"We hired design student Cierra Okere to convert the art into colored posters and stickers and sold these alongside the NFTs. Both mediums conveyed artwork that was place-based and intimately connected with the cause itself, and at our launch event we displayed them alongside descriptions that Vikki wrote explaining her inspiration for the piece, what each symbol/color/pattern meant, and the folklore and stories behind the piece."
Learn more about Vikki Preston's art at: https://theimpactcollective.com/
"In addition to switching our product offering, we switched our focus towards education and community partnership over just sales. It became clear, that seeding support for prescribed fire and support between the Stanford and Karuk communities was exciting and helpful to our partners at the Karuk tribe, and synergistic with our art/poster sales. In this way, our launch event became a product/goal in its own way, and aside from the sales made at that event, we were proud to put on an event that facilitated such deep learning, community engagement, and solidarity."
We caught up with Tule, who shared with us their learnings from this activity and their vision moving forward;
"Our main takeaway from working with the Karuk Tribe is that progress moves at the speed of trust. Navigating a business relationship with members of the Karuk tribe amidst a surpisingly complicated social-political dynamic between Stanford and California tribes reminded us that trust, listening, and continual-reassessment of what respect and helpfulness look like are critical practices when working in a space like this."
"As such, our organization goals changed from delivering the vision Eric and I created to serving the vision of the Karuk Eco-Cultural Revitilization Fund through our unique skillsets."
"We met our project goals of fundraising for the Karuk Tribe’s critical and model fire stewardship and leveraging art as a bridge between climate-focused, bay area communites and indigenous leaders on the ground. While we didn’t meet our goal of creating a new financial mechanism that uses non-fungibility and data oracles to capture value in a way that better and more inclusively supports stewardship efforts, we are nonetheless proud of our exploration of this space."
WGNF Grant Impact
"The opportunity to think boldly, creatively, and always with our mission and impact in mind, was a powerful experience for Eric and I, uniquely afforded to us by the generosity of the William G Nash Foundation."
"Over the course of a year, we spoked with numerous Karuk fire practitioners and artists, digital designers, NFT gallery owners, and folks in the conservation finance space. We learned about and practiced effective community engagement and listening, and came out the other side of our project better listeners, communicators, community partners, and design thinkers."
About the William G. Nash Social Impact Grant Program
The William G. Nash Social Impact Grant program seeks to support college student run businesses with grants of between $2,500 - $7,500, support and mentorship to help them expand and grow.
Your business can be at any stage from idea, through to up and running and we particularly look to support those whose businesses have the potential to impact society in a positive way.
The main criteria for funding include: 1) you and/or others on your team is/are a student or recent graduate and 2) your business makes some type of social impact. Applications for the 2024 grant cycle will begin soon. Please feel free to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions about the application process.
We are proud to honor Will’s legacy by supporting young changemakers and their visions for impact. And we look forward to receiving your application!