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

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