About Us


"We are not makers of history. We are made by history." - Martin Luther King, Jr.

SPEC was founded in June 2020 in response to the challenges of the COVID19 pandemic and social unrest facing communities across the United States. SPEC's co-founders, Dr. Rhianna Rogers and Joe Torreggiani connected online when Joe posted an offer to provide mentoring, technical training, and micro-loans to individuals from underrepresented backgrounds, and Dr. Rogers reached out about collaborating. They immediately discovered a shared mission of wanting to make a world that works for everyone and deep concern about environmental and social justice.

Dr. Rogers was leading a group of students researching community building during times of social unrest. Due to the pandemic, the research project lost its funding. Joe offered to cover at least one RA's pay for the summer internship and try to help secure more funding. Dr. Rogers also wanted to be able to contribute to the initiative. Joe started researching ways to quickly form an entity that would allow them to collect and distribute funding transparently.


Joe wondered if he could use the online funding platform Open Collective **(OC), which is commonly used by open source software developers and mutual aid initiatives, for the purposes of the project. OC provides collaborative groups with tools to raise and share their finances in full transparency. On the platform a collective is collaborative group that has a shared mission, which raises and spends funds transparently to achieve. A collective can submit an application for fiscal sponsorship, which enables it to raise funds and pay for expenses without having to legally incorporate.

The name Sustainable Progress and Equality Collective _**_and the acronym SPEC were coined while Joe was creating an account on OC. He wanted to make an easy to remember acronym that captured the goals of the project. While researching different phrasings, Joe came across a report produced by the White House, during President Barack Obama's term. The Advancing Social Progress and Equality report outlined the administration's record of fighting for the rights and protections of LGBT Americans, making the immigration system fairer and safer, tackling poverty, and investing in communities.

Inspired by the report, Joe worked to combine "Sustainability" and "Advancing Social Progress and Equality" into a phrase / acronym. Eventually he settled on Sustainable Progress & Equality Collective; a collective with the mission of creating sustainable progress & equality.

Sustainable progress means that we can continually make positive change, without hurting other people or the planet, to create a more equitable and equal world. - Joe Torreggiani

Dr. Rogers and Joe worked together to outline the SPEC's mission, core values, and operating principles. They submitted an application for SPEC to be fiscally sponsored by the Open Collective Foundation. In less than a week of meeting, SPEC was formed.

Our First Year

Dr. Rogers and Joe started jointly funding the project. SPEC's first RAs continued their research they started at The Buffalo Project. Dr. Rogers founded The Buffalo Project as a longitudinal participatory action research project focused on creating action-based diversity initiatives that focus on utilizing participant observations of culture to inform solution-making efforts in college and community environments. SPEC RAs began to investigate ways that technologies could be used to contribute in their communities.

SPEC adopted solutions commonly used in the tech industry including Google Workspace, Slack, and Trello for communication and project management. RAs were trained to use these technologies and become active contributors in the collective. RAs supported research and community building initiatives created by Dr. Rogers. They helped create social media content, organize events, facilitate break out sessions, sit on panels, and create presentations.

Other learners reached out about learning software development, building STEAM skills, and finding work in the tech industry. Joe offered mentorship, training in software engineering, and career guidance to RAs working on SPEC technical projects. Dr. Rogers and Joe called upon their networks to help provide mentorship to learners. Giving RAs facetime with experts and working professionals.

What we've accomplished

SPEC is a little more than a year old and has already done a lot! Here is a breakdown of our first year.

  • Paid out $27,964 to contributors
  • Helped over a dozen people find work
  • Provided credit bearing work experience to students
  • Incubated a handful of community initiatives
  • Facilitated many events and deliberative conversations
  • Launched the Journal of Engaged Research
  • Developed the SPEC Learning Platform
  • Piloted and delivered a free microcredential course
  • Sponsored an LGBTQI+ art gallery
  • Contributed to open source software and sustainability

Our Collective

SPEC is organized as an open collective, a collaborative group that has a shared mission, which raises and spends funds transparently to achieve goals. SPEC is hosted on Open Collective, an online funding platform that provides groups with the tools for raising and sharing their finances in full transparency. The platform makes all contributions and expenses visible to the public. SPEC's budget and expenses can be found on its Open Collective page. For more information about SPEC's budget read the docs here.

Our Fiscal Sponsor

SPEC is fiscally sponsored by the Open Collective Foundation 501(c)(3) (OCF), which allows it to operate without legally incorporating, and accept tax deductible donations, and pay contributors. OCF's mission is to empower impact-focused groups working on increasing access to educational resources and training, creating a positive social impact, and fostering civic participation within cities and communities.

OCF is creating a legal, financial, and technical commons for a solidarity economy, economic activities that prioritize social profitability instead of purely financial profits. A distinguishing characteristic of solidarity economy entities is the participatory and democratic nature of their governance in decision-making processes. Active participation of all people involved in decision-making contributes to community empowerment. To learn more about OCF and the solidarity economy check out the article below.