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.

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.)

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