Ford Drives Gen Y Project in L.A.

The People's Fleet Works With Communities to Give Their Goals a Lift

By Published on .

James Toney
James Toney
These days, companies produce more corporate social responsibility campaigns then Heinz does varieties. Marketers know that consumers, especially in the Gen Y market, are rewarding companies that demonstrate a commitment to doing business responsibly. Our tiny agency, SEW creative (about one year in business, average partner age of 25.25 years, four people on payroll—kind of) is carefully watching as the large companies seek to inspire people our age through large scale, democratically driven giving.

Yet as members of the target market of these initiatives, we have mixed feelings. We feel somewhat pandered to and absolutely question everything largely corporate-driven. At the end of the day, we are thrilled [Ford is] doing it and excited about the amazing community transformation that is taking place as a result.

Participating in these large kinds of initiatives has inspired us; we know the compassionate nature of our generation can drive benevolent corporate behavior. So we are using that experience in our own community project with Ford Motor Co.: the People's Fleet.

Simply put, the People's Fleet is a fleet of five vehicles available to nonprofit organizations in Los Angeles for a specific amount of time to help them accomplish their missions. We then create webisodes to showcase the impact the nonprofits are making locally and to encourage more support for them. No one has to petition friends to vote in order to receive a car—you simply apply and, if one is available, you get it.

Obviously, Ford can and does give on a massive scale, and its impact is too often overlooked. However, the People's Fleet has nothing to do with massive social impact, large-scale grassroots mobilization or social media saturation—at least, not yet. The People's Fleet is focused on discovering precisely how Ford can practically support Gen Y change-makers through its products.

In this endeavor, we have learned a lot about how to engage communities on a grassroots level to both meet brand objectives and propel real change. However, we believe the most important lesson is always put the community first.

The Peoples Fleet has five Ford Fiestas for eight weeks. Four organizations get cars for all eight weeks while the fifth Fiesta is called the Project Car. It's awarded for one week to nonprofits across Los Angeles through an application process. Every Tuesday a webisode is released about each of the four featured organizations. In addition, there is a project element called "Your L.A.," inviting people to submit an idea for improving Los Angeles. The vote with the most ideas will be award $10,000 to make their idea happen.

Over the course of the program, 32 webisodes are being produced for viewers to enjoy on While the Ford Fiesta plays a prominent role in these videos, it is not a leading one. What shines through is the passion and creativity of the participants, their worthiness of community support and their commitment to creating change.

From the outset, we knew success hinged on community integration. We know from experience that community is how young nonprofits make it happen day in and day out; someone passionate about an idea knows someone who does design, who knows someone who makes websites, who knows someone who—you get the idea.

The Gen Y nonprofit community in L.A. is both incredibly dynamic and exciting, and our goal was simply to integrate Ford into the community without disturbing its rhythm. It is as if Ford came to the party and said, "Ian, you take design. Nicole, you take grant writing. Tyler, you take partnerships. We'll take care of outreach and transportation." To which, the community has collectively responded, "Rad."

A perfect example of this community in motion and the integration of Ford is the story of Danny, a 22-year-old refugee from North Korea, among the most isolated societies in the world. LiNK (Liberty in North Korea) is working to integrate Danny into American culture and has provided him with educational resources, a place to live, friendships and job interviews to which he previously had no access. Ford did not need to have a national online vote or request grant proposals to learn about Danny and help him get started by loaning LiNK a car. Ford simply entered into the community, made itself available and asked how it could lend a practical hand.

James Toney is chief strategist at SEWcreative, a full-service marketing and creative agency with a passion for cause initiatives.
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