The beginning of spring

A blog about my work, where international development meets tech, and my life, where food, books, design, dogs, and friends (and the occasional pig) make appearances.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Update from the Olympic Village

So we have a little more than 24 hours left in the GlobalGiving Olympics, which has been going on now for close to 3 weeks. We were fortunate enough to have an anonymous funder put up prize money of up to $75,000 for this event, where $50,000 will be given to the project leader on our site who raises the most money, and $25,000 will be awarded to the country "team" that raises the highest amounts of money in the aggregate. As you can see, India is leading, followed by Pakistan, Sudan, Indonesia, and the West Bank/Gaza.

We wondered when the Olympics opened whether this type of competition might favor the largest countries, but also noted that the largest countries have the largest splits (e.g., India will have to split their country prize 55 ways, whereas if Pakistan wins, their split is 18 ways).

And as we near the finish line, we've seen that the projects that have most actively competed for the prize have come from all over the world:

And there are more. Now that we're nearing the finish line, if you have favorite projects on GlobalGiving, check them out before 11:59pm October 31st to see whether you can put them over the line.

Monday, October 09, 2006


This is a post that I'm very sad to be writing, since as people may know, the whole thrust of my blog hearkens back to the unbearable sense of optimism I had working in Russia after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Something in the air in Russia in those days just fit me like a glove, and I've called my blog The Beginning of Spring in honor both of one of my favorite writers, Penelope Fitzgerald, and that feeling in the air.

This post is about the curtain coming down again. And I don't mean the geopolitical iron curtain that Chuchill was talking about, although that, too, may come. I'm talking about the curtain on Russian souls.

Anna Politkovskaya was one of the bravest journalists working in Russia until this past week, when she was gunned down by someone who by all accounts carried out his job like a professional. There's a good article about the political context for her murder by Anne Applebaum in Slate, as does the New York Times.

But beyond the fact of the murder, which I'm heartbroken about because there's one less person in Russia ready to oppose the slow slide back to national self-censorship, I'm sick over the fact that only 1000 mourners showed up for her funeral, and that almost all there were middle aged or older, and that Putin and others in the government are now going around claiming that this was a provocation by ill-wishers to make the Russian government look bad. The LA Times captures it here. Most people don't even know what a loaded word "provocation" is--it probably just sounds like delusional thinking, I suspect, but it rings sadly oh so familiar to us ex-Sovietologists. This is just the kind of thing that the Soviet press told their citizens about any happening, any statement, any fact that was inconvenient and didn't fit the pre-masticated view of the world they presented to their citizens.

The sad thing is, when I was, in fact, a Sovietologist in the 80s and 90s, I thought that the Russian people just didn't have a chance to know any better, and that if they had access to real information, the Government's lies would be seen for what they are. The fact of Soviet oppression of its people was depressing then, but the even more depressing conclusion I'm coming to is that perhaps I was wrong about the people. There are a couple of sobering posts on this in Global Voices; it's not even that people are disputing who was responsible (the Chechens, the Government, various ill-wishers of Russia) but that so few people seem to be stepping back to realize that whether they agreed with Anna or not, events like this, and official reactions like this, bode well for the continued existence of an independent civil society in Russia. That the only posters who seem to realize this are expatriates is even more sobering still.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Supply side economics?

Well, the title of this post is, I admit, a bit misleading. I'm not about to start pontificating about how trickle-down theory works in a global marketplace for philanthropy.

But it's a question I have as we embark on a new initiative called the GlobalGiving Olympics for project leaders at GlobalGiving. There's a bounty prize for the project leader that raises the most money during the next 3 weeks of $50,000. There's also a $25,000 prize for the country "team" that raises the most money (to be distributed across the team), and we've already seen project leaders mobilizing their networks to have a shot at the prize. In GlobalGiving internal jargon, that's "supply" mobilizing "demand" because we believe that every project leader and organization on the site has their own networks, and the marketplace is greater than the sum of the networks. We're trying to mobilize two potentially disparate forces: the competition that every project leader is in with every other project leader on the site for every dollar given; and the fact that networks can and do add up to more than the sum of its parts.

In one model of the world, businesses agglomerate because as Willie Sutton said, "That's where the money is." Translated into the GlobalGiving context, project leaders come together on GlobalGiving because we create a place for donors to come to, and thereby create opportunities for project leaders. But in this world, it's every bank robber and project leader for herself.

In another model of the world, businesses agglomerate because they are in businesses that require specialized inputs (whether materials or labor) and either of those factors are concentrated there. Obvious examples are oil industries in the Middle East, or the financial industry in cities like London or New York (aspiring investment bankers know that's where they should go after graduation ...). We're working on creating some of those dynamics here at GlobalGiving, by bringing services and knowledge here, but I doubt we're there yet.

In yet one more model, businesses agglomerate because when they come together they are greater than the sum of their parts. This happens, for instance, when Persian rug stores locate in a certain area of town. On the one hand they are competing fiercely with each other for customers, but by locating together, they can catch customers who might not have found what they wanted in one store, and are happy to walk out and walk into the next store becuase they really want to find that one carpet that fits their living room decor. That's when one store's "pull" and their network of customers can benefit the other.

Of course, none of these models exist to the exclusion of all others. All of these factors apply at one time or another. But the results of the GlobalGiving Olympics might give us a clue as to whether the last model has any meaning in a global philanthopic marketplace.

Stay tuned.

Rock Drills and Attention Deficit Trait

I read business management articles when I can--and I came across two really good ones today. I started doing this after being shipped off to HBS for executive education against my will by my old employer, the World Bank, and I discovered that what I had held in contempt in my callow undergraduate days was actually a lot more useful and engaging than my stints at more academic graduate institutions.

Anyway, here are my two finds. The first is about rock drills, cited in a Slate article about Bob Woodward's new book, State of Denial. John Dickerson cites Jay Garner going through "rock drills" ex post when trying to figure out all the things they had not foreseen when they originally invaded Iraq. And as the Stars and Stripes article explains, a rock drill is essentially a dress rehearsal carried out on a game board. And this concept was really appealing to me because I have long felt that when I have led initiatives or events or projects, the most effective ones have been the ones where I have somehow been able to structure drawing out all the different pieces coming together, and getting the team to come along on talking/walking through each of the steps, and relying on everyone in the team being able to spot the gaps or the missing assumptions. I now have a name for my favorite managerial tool (although my staff will tell you I'm actually obsessed with matrices instead.)

The second management article I came across today was on Marcia Conner's website--I was migrating my remaining blog subscriptions from Bloglines to Google Reader and I had to look up Marcia's blog address. Well, I got distracted along the way and saw her recommending an HBR article about Attention Deficit Trait--the syndrome where really high-performing people suddenly start manifesting distractibility, inner frenzy, and impatience, because they are multi-tasking too much. Feels very much on point, and the article suggests concrete ways of dealing with it.

Jay Garner