We are not makers of history. We are made by history.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

In June 2020, SPEC was founded 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. Rhianna reached out about collaborating and the two immediately discovered a shared passion for environmental and social justice.

Rhianna was leading a group of students researching community building during times of social unrest. Due to the pandemic, funding for the research was cut and research assistants were out of a job. Joe offered to cover at least one student's pay to enable them to continue their research, and try to help secure more funding. Rhianna also wanted to be able to contribute to the initiative, so Joe started researching ways to quickly form an entity that would allow them to collect funds and pay students.


Joe wondered if they could use the online platform Open Collective (OC) for the project. OC provides collaborative groups with tools to raise and share their finances in full transparency. On the OC platform, a collective is defined as "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. In order to create a collective on the platform, you give your collective a name and provide a mission statement.

Joe wanted the collective's name to be an easy to remember acronym that captured the goals of the project. While researching different words and phrases to express the project's focus on environmental and social justice, Joe came across the The Advancing Social Progress and Equality report, published by the White House during President Barack Obama's time in office. The 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 merge the concepts of environmental sustainability, social progress, and equality into acronym. He eventually settled on the Sustainable Progress & Equality Collective SPEC; a collective with the mission of creating sustainable progress & equality.

Sustainable progress means that we can continually take collective action to create a more equal and just world, without hurting people or the planet.

Joe and Rhianna worked together to outline SPEC's mission, core values, and operating principles. They submitted an application to be fiscally sponsored by the Open Collective Foundation. In less than a week of meeting, SPEC was formed. To learn more about SPEC's organizational structure check out documentation page below.


Our First Year

SPEC's first research associates (RAs) continued the work they started at The Buffalo Project. Rhianna 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. Working with Rhianna and Joe, SPEC RAs began to investigate ways that technologies could be used to enhance their research and community work.

SPEC adopted solutions commonly used in the technology industry including Google Workspace, Slack, and Trello for communication and project management. RAs were trained to use these technologies, becoming active contributors and helping in many areas including research, social media, organizing events, facilitating break out sessions, sitting on panels, and creating presentations.

SPEC began to receive interest from individuals looking to learn software development, build STEAM skills, and find work in the technology industry. Joe offered mentorship, training, and career guidance to RAs working on SPEC technical projects. Rhianna and Joe called upon their networks to provide additional mentorship for learners and face time with working professionals. During this period of collaboration, SPEC's contributors launched many projects and initiatives. Below are some highlights from our first year.

  • Provided credit-bearing internships or paid work experiences

  • Incubated and supported several community partnerships focused on addressing issues of inequity in the US and abroad

  • Hosted a series of panel discussions and deliberative conversations designed to provide safe and brave spaces to address critical issues

  • Launched the Journal of Engaged Research

  • Sponsored an virtual LGBTQIA+ art gallery

  • Developed the SPEC Learning platform and piloted a free micro-credential course

  • Contributed to open source software and sustainability initiatives

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