Friday, December 14, 2007

I Miss the Soviets

Couple of days ago:

Friend from Russia days: So, did you see Putin appointed Medvedev to be his successor? He's a moderate--good sign, don't you think?

Me: Hmm. I'm not sure that I have the ability to interpret any moves in Russia any more--I think I know enough to know that I don't really understand what's really going on any more.

Friend: Yeah, you're probably right, I guess I was looking for something to feel good about.

This morning over breakfast:

Husband: So did you hear that Medvedev said yesterday he was going to appoint Putin Prime Minister? Given the day you were having, I figured you didn't need to hear that last night.

Me: Yup, you were right. I'm going to go and find my "I Miss the Soviets" T-shirt *right* now. It's that kind of day. [Thank you, Donna]

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Japanese marriage: structural reform for happiness

My friend April sent me this link to the Washington Post article on Japanese husbands signing up for classes on how to be nice to their wives, with a verdict: "depressing." The article goes on to explain that because of new legislation mandating that divorced spoused were entitled to 50% of any expected pension of the wage-earning spouse, Japanese wives were suddenly thinking that perhaps they didn't need to put up with husbands who had been so absent from their family lives that they were dependent strangers upon retirement.

I suppose it's depressing in a way that legislation like this should have triggered a 6.1 increase in divorce since going into effect in April of this year, since it speaks to an underlying unhappiness in the home. Even before the legislation, wives had taken to calling their husbands "bulk trash" because they hung around the house with nothing to do after retirement and got in their wives' way.

But from my point of view, since I've been keenly aware of the unhappiness rife in so many Japanese marriages, the spike in divorces, and the corresponding rush of husbands to classes to teach them how to be nice to their wives to avoid divorce, is evidence of structural reform triggered by the right legislation. And unlike most of the structural reform efforts I observed and participated in developing at the World Bank, this one may actually increase happiness--which I'm beginning to think should be the objective and measure of all development. Easy enough to toss out in an irresponsible blog post, perhaps--but worth thinking about ...

BTW I highly recommend watching the video of the National Chauvinistic Assn at the WaPo.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A trifecta

As most of my friends and colleagues know, one of my favorite columns of my favorite online publication is The Dismal Science column on Slate. And I muse often--and out loud--about how women do (or do not) behave differently at work than men, or whether they have greater chances at happiness today than before, because I've come to a feminist consciousness late in life and I feel like I need to make up for lost time. And I love the science of economics, despite not having chosen it in college or in graduate school--again, making up for lost time.

So this latest article from Slate started talking about how when legislative mandates forced more women into leadership positions in village councils, the delivery of public goods increased (and the quality of such goods stayed as high as when men were in leadership positions) but residents of villages headed by women were actually less satisfied with the public goods, I thought I'd hit the trifecta.

My trivial little delight at finding an article that was as relevant as any Google ad served up to me in my Gmail account using entirely analog searching techniques aside, this finding really makes me pause. Because the implications are startling. Either we have really not understood the nature of public goods (and they aren't really good for people), or we have hardwired biases against being able to perceive objective reality (which means those biases are extremely difficult to overcome, or ...

It's something I actually often wonder about international development. There's a small group of people in the world (and I hang out with them all the time, so my own perspective is warped) who have the privilege of knowing about, and participating in, the adventure that development can be. How we can communicate the drama and the incredible high that comes from hard-won success to people who don't know about it--and perhaps even have a bias against learning more about it?

But I'm a liberal at heart--I do believe human nature can change. After all, if I can gain feminist consciousness and an appreciation of the dismal science late in life, why not?

Friday, October 19, 2007

Anita Borg Social Impact Award: Imagining Ourselves, and Burmese Monks

This is my third year serving on the jury of the Anita Borg Social Impact award. And sometimes I've wondered if I was the right person to be on the jury--as a jury we have in the past gone "safe," awarding winners who were in effect being given the award for lifetime achievement, something I have never felt was right for an award named after Anita Borg.

This year's deliberations were also hard for me--because I was so torn between the top two contenders. But the good news about being so torn is that both of them exemplified the spirit of rewarding someone for taking a risk, and rewarding them early enough in the process to give them a real boost in whatever it is they are doing that has social impact (something that is moot for a lifetime achievement award). So here are my personal congratulations--to Paula Goldman, the winner of this year's Anita Borg Social Impact Award. I feel she deserved it when I was on the jury reviewing the documents, and I feel even more strongly about it now that I have had a chance to hear her personal story and meet her in person. She is every bit as spunky and committed as I imagined her. She has given voice to over a million women and persevered against great odds.

And now my personal congratulations to Elisa Camahort and the team at BlogHer. We on the jury talked about giving runner-ups (especially those so close to the top winner) some sort of visibility, and I have to confess that it seems to have dropped off our radar screens. (Tends to happen when you have a volunteer jury that is brought together for the purpose of making the the difficult choice and disbands with some relief without having to actually think anymore about how difficult the choice was). Readers of this blog may know I was upset about their not winning last year, and although they didn't win on this round, I feel that the Institute has grown and evolved in the last 3 years. So as a fiduciary matter, I feel good about it. Maybe next year is when I get my act together to petition the Institute to publicize runners-up.

And a final rant about lifetime achievement awards, of which of course the Nobel is the pre-eminent example. Much as I thought Al Gore deserved recognition, I wished the Nobel committee was nimble enough to be able to award the Burmese monks so that perhaps they could have made a tangible difference right now ...

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Shared at the Grace Hopper conference on women in computing

There are many amazing things about being here at the Grace Hopper conference on women in computing with 1400 conference attendees where major tech companies and universities are scrambling over each other to attract women: eBay, Amazon, Microsoft, Intuit, State Farm Insurance,, Cisco, Intel, HP, Google, Harvard, Princeton, Carnegie-Mellon ... and I know I've missed many others.

But the nice part is being able to share commentary and observations with fellow participants old and young.
  • That even as recently as 15 years ago women in graduate programs and on the job didn't dare paint our nails because that would give people an excuse to not take you seriously ( this is greeted with puzzlement from the younger women at the conference of whom there are very very many--yay!).
  • That the majority of women at the conference are dressed stylishly and for the most part in a feminine way--neither dressed in chinos and square polo shirts (the tech look) or dark pantsuit (mimic a guy in a tie and suit) or jeans and T-shirt (the grad student look). If they are dressed casually the T-shirts and polo shirts are fitted, the jeans are flared, and no one walks around with that tell-tale female grad student crouch. A presenter agrees: she posts a nice little (coed!) primer on how not to dress in the tech world.
  • That none of the presenters--most of whom are women--show that disturbing tendency we used to see some time ago of treating younger women either as potential hazing targets ("I had to put up with !@#$ so you do too,") or potential sting bait ("Ha, caught you favoring women over men, I knew you would not be able to resist showing undue preference for your 'tribe'.")
  • That a young computer programmer from Sudan working full time and working on her masters degree in CS (remotely at a UK university) should find the conference online, make plans to come here, almost cancel her ticket etc. because she realizes she can't *really* afford this--but is told firmly by her mother that she *will* go, and that her mother will pay for the ticket ... and when I express amazement, the young woman doesn't even bat an eyelash.
Sometimes choices are good.

Seen at the Grace Hopper conference of women in computing

Handmade signs taped to the men's room: "Men Only Please."

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Walking the Talk: Tech Leaders for Social Innovators

So as many of my friends know, I've never really been tempted to join Second Life. I think I get it--for people who like virtual reality, and for people who enjoy the idea of putting on different identities, well, all sorts of reasons, really. But I don't even like board games, so the idea of donning a second identity didn't feel at all like me.

But here I am at the one-day conference on Tech Leaders for Social Innovators associated with the Grace Hopper conference on women in computing--and I just interviewed Anuradha Vittachi, co-founder and CEO of OneWorld on OneClimate Island in Second Life. Sceptical colleagues back home--who shall remain nameless to protect the guilty--thought I was crazy to be trying this in front of 80 people. The technology would no doubt fail, people would get weirded out by looking at avatars that shift their feet, etc. But by some miracle (including a miracle named Caroline Simard, one of the conference organizers), we pulled it off. And it was an amazing opportunity to introduce Anuradha, whom I admire immensely, to a group of women who otherwise would probably not ever have run into her, even in Second Life.

And why wasn't Anuradha, a keynote speaker, at the conference anyway? Well because of her personal and organizational commitment to do something about climate change, she wanted to see if we could find an almost carbon free way for her to participate in the conference here in Florida from her office in London.

So we pulled it off, and it was, I think, a vindication for what was really the whole theme of the conference--how do your leverage technology for social change? And it created a nice bookend to presentations by some amazing global leaders in doing just that--Jensine Larson of World Pulse Media, Paula Goldman of Imagining Ourselves, and Bernadine Dias of Carnegie Mellon University and TechBridge World.

And what did I get out of it (besides the pleasure of simply pulling something off)? Well, probably the same thing everyone else got. I got incredible affirmation about what I'm doing because unlike almost every other conference I attend, we were all pretty honest about the times we felt like giving up, and how we each got over those moments. That it's not as easy as many people--including ourselves--like to make it look, and the recognition that we're human and fallible but still manage to do great things really encouraged me. To paraphrase Robbins: Even TechLeaders Get the Blues. But we still keep going.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Having an adventure, or donor engagement

So here's a topic that's been obsessing me lately, and although it has been hitting me on two very different fronts, it's actually the same issue. One is what one of my board directors called "having an adventure." In his mind, there are 3 questions he asks himself when he does public benefit stuff, one of which is, "Am I having an adventure on this?" I thought it was a great question, and in fact a question I implicitly answer yes to every morning when I come into work.

Now how does this connect to donor engagement on GlobalGiving?

Well, the thing I have been struggling with lately is how to get donors, many of whom have never given before internationally, to get a feel for what a high-wire act international development, let alone social entrepreneurship is in the developing world. In some ways it's a miracle it happens at all. And it's a miracle not only because some countries are in such dire straits that wars, natural disasters, political unrest make everything iffy. It's a miracle because the exact concatenation of factors that makes a CFW clinic viable in a particular location depends at times on the personal situation of one key person--and talent is sometimes so scarce in the developing world that things like turnover that most organizations in the developed world more or less can cope with can turn out to be showstoppers. And while I don't want things to stay that way, the fact that almost every project leader on GlobalGiving deals 10 such crises before breakfast makes very success and victory very precious. And I want donors to understand that, and don't know how to convey it.

It even extends to understanding the very mundane--forget the high-wire act. I've always said that it's a really expensive proposition being poor in the developing world. That's because even if you're poor in the developed world, odds are you can get access to reasonably clean water pretty easily. In the developing world being poor means you spend 1/2 your day getting clean enough water (and sometimes not clean enough) for your family. And sometime we have a hard time conveying this too ... here's an exchange that started with a user asking about what was behind a donation option to the Dazzling Stone School project. And here's their response ...

thank you very much for your kind enquiry.the soap,toothpaste,bath items are very useful and important need for the children,these are daily using materials actually we need more money for the say below 100$ is good then only we give 90$ for that. I give the expanses step by step.
we have 100 children and 10 staff. We need the follow items for soap, toothpaste, and bath items for one month.
1- washing soap (125gms ) - IRS 8.50
2 - Body soap (100 gms) - IRS 15.00
3- Washing powder(1kilo) -IRS-20.00
4- Sampoo 1packet - IRS 2.00
5 - VVDcoconut oil ( 200 ml)- IRS-34.00
6-Bleeching powder 1packet - IRS 10.00
7 -Phenoil ( for sterlizing) - IRS 30.00
8 - Acid (bath floor washing)-IRS30.00
9 - Tooth paste(100gms) - IRS 27.00
10 - Tooth brush - IRS 10.00
11 - Face powder - 50grams = IRS 16.00
12 - Baby powder - 300gms = IRS 90.00
we need 1 washing soap for 10 children,1 soap for 5staff /DAY - Total(10x1 +2X1) x30DAYS = 360 numbers - IRS-3060(78$)
1 body soap for 25 children &1soap for 10 staff /day - 5x30daysxIRS 15 = IRS 2250(58$)
need 1 kilo/day - 1x30daysxIRS 20 = IRS 600(15$)
need 400 packets sampoo(weekly twodays) - 400xIRS2 = IRS 800(21$)-
need 400 ml coconut oil /day for all - IRS 34 x 2x30 = IRS 2040(52$)
need 2 packets Bleeching powder/day - IRS 10x2x30 = IRS600(15$)
need 1bottle /day - IRS30x1x30 = IRS900(23$)
need acid 1/2 bottle/day - IRS30x1/2x30 = IRS450(12$)
need 300 gmsTooth paste/day - IRS27x3x30 = IRS2430(62)
need tooth brush 110 numbers/month - IRS110x10 = IRS1100(28$)
need 50 grams Face powder /day - IRS 16x30 = IRS480(12$)
need 600grams baby powder/month - IRS90x2 = IRS180(5$)
Total for all needs = 381$
Washing brushes,Eye pro,creams,body spraies,bath towels,napkins and etc also needed.
The electricity charges changing every time.Now we are using electricity little purpose only ,mainly for lights and fans only.we are send the the children to free schools ,so some fees only they collected ,so the education charge is low.

with love,
I'm racked with how we can convey this quickly and easily to donors so they can get a real "feel" for the world that's contained in GlobalGiving ...

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Jane Austen's heroines *were* happier

So this article in the NYtimes perfectly captures the debate my friend April and I have been having for over a decade now. We love the choices we have as women in the 21st century, but we read and re-read our Austen novels, and can so easily imagine ourselves as Elizabeth or Emma, and wonder, "Could we have been happy as Austen characters, with the very limited choices they had?"

And there's a quote in this article that pretty much sums it up:
Ms. Stevenson was recently having drinks with a business school graduate who came up with a nice way of summarizing the problem. Her mother’s goals in life, the student said, were to have a beautiful garden, a well-kept house and well-adjusted children who did well in school. “I sort of want all those things, too,” the student said, as Ms. Stevenson recalled, “but I also want to have a great career and have an impact on the broader world.”
Opportunities are great, but it turns out you have to actually make choices (and eschew buyer's remorse), not actually count on or hope for doing it all to actually be happy. And as I may have blogged about before, one of my favorite books, The Paradox of Choice, makes clear, in a lot of cases--especially as regards not so important choices, less is definitely better. What's not so clear yet for me is whether in practice it's also true for more important choices too ...

Saturday, September 22, 2007

People you would like to meet in your lifetime

So my husband and I have a game we like to play every now and then, usually when some wonderful author or other public personality dies. It's a very simple game--it's just a list of people (in our case, mostly authors) we would like to meet. And it can't include people like Jane Austen, who died long before we were ever born, much as many of us fantasize about meeting her. And of course, Madeleine L'Engle just died, which prompted another round of the game. Here's our latest list of people we really regret not having made an effort to meet them while they were alive:
  • Madeleine L'Engle
  • Penelope Fitzgerald
  • Douglas Adams
  • Richard Feynman
  • Walker Percy
  • Shelby Foote

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Broken Buildings Busted Budgets

So I've been debating with myself whether I ought to blog about the travails of building a house. But the fact is that trying to build a house while you have a full-time job 70 miles away from the construction site actually means you have very little free time for anything, including blogging. And to be honest, the further I got into the construction process, the more, well, contingent the whole process felt, so that although my general contractor and subcontractors were extremely unlikely to be surfing the web and reading about my muttered complaints about their ways, I really didn't want to do anything to jeopardize the process. Plus it wasn't clear if I was compounding the problem by not being vigilant enough ...

But now it's built, it has passed occupancy inspection, and my favorite blogger Tyler Cowen has just posted a review of a book about the construction industry that pretty much sums up my extremely limited (but heartfelt) insight into the process. Here's the part of Tyler's summary that really sang to me:

The key problem is that building or new construction owners become completely dependent on information provided by their contractors. The contractors experience cost overruns and the commissioning owners have to suffer delays, cost increases, and the general feeling of having been screwed over.

The interesting part, though is that what he says next is not, I think, actually true in my specific case:

Opportunism and recontracting are rampant. According to the author, no institution successfully helps commissioning owners distinguish between good and bad contractors.

I actually don't think my contractor was particularly opportunistic, and I'd be hard put to say he was "bad." But his m.o., and the ways of his subcontractors were totally unsuited to allow me to exercise control over the process effectively (e.g., no itemized estimates, lots of "typed up" proposals that I could see were extremely difficult to change on the fly and keep track of changes and tradeoffs) so that even absent the opportunism and recontracting, it was impossible for me not to feel screwed over at times. Now that it's all over, and it's so nice when it stops hurting, I think I will actually examine the microprocesses that made the thing so unwieldy.

Hey, what's the use of mistakes if I can't learn from them, and now, anyone else reading my blog can?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Ridiculous, but addictive web marketing

I come by this cite legitimately... As many of you know I follow Christine Herron's blog, and maybe it was the effect of two diehard Simpsons fan (aka nephews) staying at our house this summer, but when I read her post about Simpsonizeme, I couldn't resist.

For sheer stickiness, it's genius. If I had more friends who think the Simpsons are as funny as I do, it would be amazingly viral as well. And I guess I'll find out if any of my blog readers are Simpsons fans--let me know if you try it ...

Friday, July 06, 2007

Eating your own dog food

There's an expression we bandy about the office about eating your own dog food. It's a distasteful expression; it makes me feel like I'm being hazed, but the concept is pretty clear. If you make dog food, you need to be sure that dogs will eat it, and as humans, we have a hard time fathoming that. So go out and survey some dogs, you say.

True. And we try to do that. And here's where I have to stop using the expression because fairly or unfairly, comparing GlobalGiving users to dogs sounds pejorative. And so inspired by the Stanford Design School students who did 5 different projects about us (you can read about them here on Dennis's blog), we sent out our summer interns with clipboards to the Mall (the National Mall) and busy metro stations to ask them to take 30 seconds to look at possible web pages and layouts and asked them what they felt inclined to click on. The results ... well you'll have to wait about 10 days for that when we will be launching our re-designed website. But suffice it to say that the interns and clipboards brought back great insights and we couldn't have done it without them.

The second thing about eating your own dog food is this latest progress report from Rob Small, which I discovered because we got RSS feeds for all our progress reports just about a month ago, and this lets me see in one glance as I read the blogs I subscribe to the newest progress reports from all the project leaders on GlobalGiving. And I read the report, and thought, "Wow, this is great. This is exactly what I had in mind when I thought project leaders would post progress reports on their projects that would make people feel like they are right there in the field." So although I usually don't write about specific projects on GlobalGiving, feeling a little awkward about singling out one from over 450, I had to make and exception for this report. And in the spirit of this post, "Why thank you, I will have some dog food ... I have to give to this project so I can feel like I am participating in what Rob is reporting."

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Yeltsin and Rostropovich: two giants

I fell behind in my blogging to record my frustration that so many of the first canned obituaries for Boris Yeltsin that were trotted out subtly underplayed his contributions to a free press and a free political process in Russia ... and found myself overtaken by Mstislav Rostropovich's death.

The Washington Post had a great vignette from Slava's life in the USSR after he had stepped over that bright line to protest Solzhenitsyn's exile. As a persona non grata, he was no longer allowed to play at the best venues, forbidden to travel, etc. Yet when he did play, as he did to a Moscow audience once in the 1970s, he inadvertently gave them an opportunity to engage in political protest--for when they stood to give him a 10 minute ovation, who was to say they were not honoring the magic of his music rather than the magic of his courage in standing up for his dissident friend?

Stories like this make me both incredibly sad for and proud of the Russian people, and chagrined. Chagrined that perhaps we overestimated the passion of the Russian people for a day when they could openly celebrate someone as courageous as Slava and rely on the institutions of civil society to keep people like him in the public eye--perhaps a roomful of music lovers in a Moscow concert hall are just not enough to stand up to the ineluctable forces that seem to be gathering around Putin today.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Mind the gap

As I move from the e-stas conference in Sevilla to the Skoll Forum at Oxford, gaps have been on my mind. Cultural gaps, and gaps created by differential speeds, and bridges across these gaps.

Usually I pride myself on being aware of gaps. I grew up all over the place, and feel that I know what it means to be foreign, to be out of the mainstream. In fact, I was just reminded that about 20 years ago, I was a sophomore at Harvard University, convinced that if I made my way back to Magdalen College here, I would feel just a little less desperately foreign. In the event, I turned the opportunity down because, I suppose, I started to cope again, and I began to feel a lot less foreign in the US.

But when I was at e-stas, I ran headfirst into a gap I didn't expect to be there--at the podium where I was to give a plenary speech. I had an hour, and a 20 minute presentation. But it became clear thate most of the Spanish people I talked to were very skeptical about the idea of opening the floor up to questions from the audience. They also clearly didn't expect me to seize the wireless mike so I could walk among the audience (the wireless mikes didn't go through to the simultaneous interpreters.) In the event, of course, there were questions from the audience. But it brought home to me how many people assumed that a broadcast format--or as Allen Gunn (aka Gunner) put it, a pulpit format--was the most efficient way to get information across. But they didn't expect me, an expert, to have questions about whether the information I chose to impart in this particular slide set, was relevant or interesting to them.

Which brings me back to the gaps that I am very much aware of, on a day-to-day basis. The obvious one is the hardware/software technology gap between GlobalGiving project leaders in the developing world and everyone else operating from the developed world. A more subtle one has to do with the cultural expectations that everyone brings to the table--we see expectations in the developed world for the web-savvy set being set by MySpace, SecondLife, Facebook--where you are expected to speak up, to approach people you may not yet know, to "put yourself out there" to see what might happen. For those who do not spend their lives online, more often than not this kind of behavior not only strikes them as inappropriate, it would not even cross their minds to consider this sort of behavior.

Either this will lead to a bigger digital divide and/or charges of cultural imperialism, or we need to find a way to meld cultures--at least online. Let's make sure that we don't exacerbate the technological gap with a cultural one.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Report out from e-stas: shameless piggybacking

Yesterday I noted I was at the e-stas conference in Seville, Spain. They are doing real-time webcasting of the conference, as well as chat (open to anybody, but the chats and the presentations have been predominantly in Spanish).

But for those of you who are looking for a succinct summary of the proceedings, you need look no further than Ismail Pena's blog ICTlogy. Here is his latest post about yesterday's proceedings.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

From Sevilla with love

Here I am in Seville, at the e-stas conference which has been a powerful reminder of being in a foreign place.

Being foreign was for long a very normal feeling for me as I grew up Japanese in Italy, Germany, and the US, and as I worked intensively in client countries at the World Bank. For the last 6 years, I've pretty insulated from this feeling except for annual forays to the developing world that is stil part of my job at GlobalGiving.

And why has it been so long since I had this little frisson of foreignness? Well, almost every conference or meeting I have attended lately has either been based in the US or UK, and/or the organizers have had an American sensibility. It's a powerful reminder for me how in some ways I've been quite cocooned lately.

As I told Pilar Rodriguez, Secretary General for Telecommunications and Information, what excites me about being here is the "strength of weak ties"--I have weak ties to the vast majority of people here at the conference. On the one hand, being introverted, it terrifies me slightly to be here with people I don't know. On the other hand, as Mark Granovetter has posited, weak ties are where you can possibly find the most undiscovered value.

So what reminds me of being in a foreign place?
  • Well, not speaking the language, and trying to follow along either through translators or scurrying after cognates.
  • Wanting to have my presentation at the conference to be an interactive session--and being told quite firmly and kindly that the Spanish tradition is to listen to a lecture, not to question the prof. (This, however did turn out to be honored more in the breach, for which I am very grateful--including, in the interesting real-time chat enabled by the conference organizers.)
  • How even quotidian things are different ... like lunchtime/break. Our lunch break today is between 14:15 and 16:00, and dinner will be again at 21:30 until ... who knows when.
And much more, but it's all underscored by the fact that in spite of, or perhaps because of all these little differences, it's possible to connect to people, get an insight into what makes them click, and feel that commonality. So thank you CiberVoluntarios for reminding me what a pleasure it is to step out of my own little bubble.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Hands On Network: The power of integrating all the forces for change

I’m in New Orleans courtesy of the Hands On Network, to participate in their leadership conference to speak to their international affiliates about the opportunities that GlobalGiving can offer.

At first glance, this network is orthogonal to the work we do at GlobalGiving, which is all about giving. It is all about volunteering, for the most part doing that labor that is outside of the comfort zone of many of us who volunteer. At an abstract level it’s all about helping out locally—although it’s much less the case here in New Orleans since so many volunteers have come from all over the US to help. But the immediacy of the impact, pride, and the joy that both givers and receivers get in the process of direct service is palpable here at this conference And I’m in awe of that.

This was very much in evidence when we took a “rebuilding” tour of New Orleans yesterday. We stopped by the Lower 9th Ward, which was, to my great surprise, a big stretch of land bordering the Industrial canal that today is green as far as the eye can see. Trees and half-shattered houses dotted the landscape, but the predominant feature of the Lower 9th Ward was green weeds. And there was a small team of tyvek suited volunteers mowing the greenery in an attempt to preserve the tenuous property rights of the former residents (reportedly some local authority had proclaimed that lots that did not have evidence of occupation, including mowing weeds, were going to be considered abandoned). And to a person, my fellow passengers, all of whom are volunteers, some professionally--were moved by these young people and their sweaty brows.

We HAVE to find a way to integrate that emotional flame that real volunteering, real witnessing can spark into the work we do at GlobalGiving.

I'm increasingly convinced that we need to tap into the urge people have to be all that they can be. I used to think I would never understand Second Life, but increasingly I see it as an incredible outlet for people to be what they are limited from being in physical space. I see here at this conference that volunteering and service is another way for people to be the most they can be outside of their traditional roles as professionals, family members, as friends. If we can bring this all together online--by allowing people somehow to express their whole self, including their concern for communities and issues seemingly far away AND their acts of service locally AND their wildcap antics at school reflected in Facebook and in MySpace and Second Life, that's when we will have tapped into the fundamental shift that's taking place in philanthropy.

Coordination is the enemy of innovation in the early catalytic phases

Friday, March 09, 2007

Amazing site

Taco van Ieperen, who is our very first GlobalGiving Ambassador, pointed me to We Feel Fine. There's an applet involved, but it loads quickly, and the only thing I can really compare it to is the way I felt when I first came across PostSecret.

Check out Taco's other posts on TED, which I've never attended, but everyone tells me is an amazing conference ...

Friday, February 23, 2007

Understanding mistakes

I love JetBlue. I like their look and feel, I like the customer service I have gotten from them--both in person on the phones and over the phone when I've had to fix tickets. So it was with some shock that I read about their multiple snafus in the snow/icestorm that shut down many east coast airports last week.

And when I read the apology from Dave Neeleman, their CEO, in my email inbox earlier this week, I thought that their acceptance of responsibility would go a long way towards their rehabilitation. But when I brought it up with my colleagues didn't see it that way, and rightly so. They pointed out that they didn't explain what went wrong and they didn't explain how they were going to do things differently in the future to prevent things from going wrong. Which brings me to a great post by Jeanne Bliss (issued before JetBlue had had a chance to implement any solutions). Right there, in point 2, she says:

2. Be humble. Jet Blue has the advantage that because of their service record and history, they are in good emotional stead with their customers. Admit that they made a mistake. And explain as much as possible, what happened.

So far in all the communications I've seen from JetBlue, the being humble, the admitting they made a mistake have been totally covered. But as my colleagues pointed out, they didn't explain what happened.

Which makes me think that perhaps it's easier sometimes to apologize for a mistake than to understand why exactly, it happened. I know it's certainly true at GlobalGiving--when a donor or project leader tells us that something went wrong, or we see something melting down before our eyes, we're focused on making sure that people understand we are really sorry for the inconvenience, we totally understand that they might be upset. But then comes the forensic part--how DID that happen, and how do we need to change to make sure it doesn't happen again ...? And it's usually a lot harder. But my colleagues' reaction proves you need both. After all, apologies do sound thin if you make them too often.

Time to learn from take 2 of JetBlue's mistake.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Mandating Philanthropy

The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports that "A British cabinet minister suggested that financial companies in London should donate more of their profits to charity rather than give big bonuses to employees," reporting in turn from the BBC. GlobalGiving is obviously in the business of philanthropy, and we in fact help many corporate customers in their philanthropy, so in theory I should be happy when cabinet ministers start talking about mandating philanthropy--even informally!

But I'm not. I firmly believe that choice and will are key to the value that both donors and recipients get from the act of giving and receiving, and that in somewhat clinical terms there is a real exchange of value when choice and will are part of the picture. Recipients on GlobalGiving know that when a donor chooses to give to them, they have somehow connected with the donor who on some days can have as many as 400 other options to give--and donors in turn can participate vicariously in the amazing work carried out by project leaders in their communities through pictures and reports from the field. And when donors make a choice--no less than what project on GlobalGiving, but to choose to grant the money to a community leader, they are also choosing to forgo something else they could have spent their money on. It implies they value that gift more than the nice meal, the clothes, the new gadget. That's a key part of the philanthropic experience.

Don't get me wrong--governments absolutely deliver public goods and taxes paid by individuals and corporations are necessary to pay for those public goods. But I do believe that it would be far better if the individuals receiving bonuses would choose to give a part of that to charity--and get that philanthropic experience. I also know that for a combination of reasons, individuals in the US participate in philanthropy at a higher rate than individuals in the UK. Part of this may be tax laws, and if that's the case, I can imagine that there's value to seeing what government can do to encourage individual philanthropy. But mandating philanthropy at the corporate level seems neither fish nor fowl ...

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

So this isn't about cowgirls, even though it is about Sandra Day O'Connor, and she was once a cowgirl. And it isn't about Tom Robbins's novel, although I remember this book fondly as one of Gene Magill's favorites (more about him in a future post). It's about getting the blues about how complicated it is to have a gender neutral working experience in this day and age.

The Slate article that triggered this is by Dahlia Lithwick, who is almost always a hilarious writer. (She explains why here.) But Justice Girls caught my attention because she wasn't even remotely funny in this one. And there really isn't anything remotely funny about the women who reached the pinnacle of the legal profession by being appointed to the Supreme Court of the United States feeling that that the all-eyes-upon-you pressure of being the only woman on the high court is isolating. Or feeling that they were pressured into retiring early to save their boss's ego.

And yet my rant is not that we should get equal representation in institutions of power and influence so that people like Sandra Day O'Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg wouldn't have cause to express these sentiments. I suppose there are options, including mandates of some sort, but I don't think it would work here, and frankly I doubt most American women would feel comfortable with it--I wouldn't, and I'm not even American.

My rant really is really about how intractable it all seems, these asymmetries and the resulting isolation and grief they cause. From a continent away and perhaps worlds away, here's another story about gender asymmetries and isolation and grief. A couple of weeks ago, I was horrified to learn about tsunami survivors who are now reduced to selling their kidneys, and now Meredith, my colleague just back from Chennai reports that when she met with a women’s “self-help” group of isherman’s wives, she asked them why it was just women who sold their kidneys. The answer? Because only women’s kidneys were any good. Alcohol has destroyed the men's kidneys. It's horrifying enough that women are going under the knife to have 50% of a vital organ sold off to keep their families alive, with all the risks that it entails, and under suboptimal medical conditions (let alone after care). It's equally horrifying to think that the men of these households have been so disempowered by the disaster and what has followed to be poisoning themselves with alcohol.

Maybe Tora-san had it right--the hero of long-running Japanese movie series: 男はつらいよ. (Life's hard for a guy.)

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Community Foundations and GlobalGiving

A colleague of mine just alerted me to a great write up on "Open Philanthropy Resources" on the Community Foundations of America website--where we're listed as a resource. Two things are particularly gratifying about this link.

First, that we are in a category called Open Philanthropy Resources--I have never heard the term used, but it makes total sense, and I'm honored to be contributing to open philanthropy resources. It's nice to get that little thrill of self-recognition on a webpage, "Well yes, that's what we are."

Second, that community foundations are thinking about global giving at all. And Community Foundations of America are not alone in this--we have had other thought leaders linking us to community philanthropy. Because traditionally, communities have been limited in space--usually residing in a discrete, and not-so-large area--they have more often be associated with local philanthropy rather than global philanthropy. But to see other making the link to us and community foundations more than once, that must mean that communities in the community foundation context are being seen the way communities have increasingly come to be seen on the web--virtual, global, sprawling, messy things, with few if any physical boundaries.

Now that's an amazing thing. And it only ups the ante for us at GlobalGiving to create that sprawling, multi-facted, far-reaching community online.