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Posts Tagged ‘collaboration’

Me, presenting at ConspireNY

Presenting at ConspireNY

Life has been ridiculously busy lately and I’ve obviously let this blog go by the wayside for a bit. I hope to properly pick it up again soon, but in the meanwhile this is a post I wrote for the StartSomeGood blog recently and I figured I should also share here.

During February, thanks to the generous support of Renata Cooper and Forming Circles, I had the opportunity to attend two great conferences in Thailand and the US respectively where I was thrilled to meet changemakers and social entrepreneurs from at least 16 countries and learn more about their projects, challenges and insights.

The trip started at the Ci2i Learn/Share Lab for Co-Creative Impact and Innovation outside Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand (I know, I know, it’s hard work this whole social entrepreneur thing sometimes). This was a very different sort of event from the norm: more intimate, focused and generative. It involved 25 of us living together for three days while exploring the practice of co-creative changemaking through a variety of case-studies and conversations.

The participants had come from every continent on earth. Their stories and their commitment to a style of leadership which encourages participation, empowers others and shares successes were inspiring and very often moving. Many were working in incredible challenging environments, against entrenched systems of inequality, supporting refugees, the disabled or those seeking an alternative to business as usual.

What did we mean by “co-creative leadership”? We didn’t let ourselves get too bogged down in definitions (you can see the raw notes from the event here) but for me it came down to a few key elements:

  • a vision for a different future (the why) but an openness to collaborate on the right path to get there (the how);
  • a preparedness to share or forgo credit;
  • a belief that the process to create change is as important as the outcome. A belief in fact that empowering people through the co-creative process is an outcome.

I learned about the incredible work of Edgeryders in catalysing new ways of thinking, working and living in Europe, of The Barefoot Guides out of South Africa, a co-created resource to deepen and develop approaches and initiatives that contribute to a changing world, of the struggle and progress of the Initiatives for Community Transformation in Uganda, as told by Peter and Grace, who had never left that country before (and who we will soon be supporting to run a campaign on StartSomeGood) and of Christina Jordan, our host and Ashoka Fellow, who has worked in Uganda and Belgium and now Thailand (and ran this campaign on StartSomeGood recently to support a refugee community) and is now spearheading the formation of Ci2i, a global community of co-creative changemakers.

Then it was on to the US and, after a week of meetings in San Francisco and Washington DC, the AshokaU Exchange in Providence, Rhode Island.

Speaking at AshokaU Exchange 2014

Presenting at the AshokaU Exchange

The Exchange was in some ways the opposite of the Learn/Share Lab: more expansive, relentless and individual. But no less inspiring and valuable. It brought together 800 people to explore how we embed and support social entrepreneurship on university campuses, split approximately 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 into students, faculty and funders. The students gave it a great energy, the faculty members shared incredible programmatic insights and the funders gave it gravitas and a sense of possibility. Together it was an exciting mix, with several concurrent streams of panels and workshops, short TED-style talks, banquets, small-group dinners and many side meetings.

I was able to share the work we’ve been doing bringing traditional grant funding and crowdfunding together through our Crowdmatch model and present on how student-led projects can raise the funds they need to launch and grow. I’m hopeful we’ll be able to announce a US-based Crowdmatch partnership in the near future.

The trip ended in NY where I presented at the first ConspireNY, a night of conspiratorial Pecha Kucha presentations. This was beyond nerve-wracking for me, as the requirements of the Pecha Kucha format (short talks with automatic slides, in this case 5 minutes with 20 slides which advanced every 15 seconds), brevity and perfect timing, are not at all my public speaking fortes. But given that I only prepared the talk that day (I was busy!) I was very pleased with the result and received great feedback. The video should be online soon.

Thanks again to Renata and Forming Circles for making this trip possible with their sponsorship! I learned a lot, made new friends and contacts and am confident it will lead to some exciting new partnerships and projects for StartSomeGood, so watch this space!

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Цвета музыки (Colours of Muzik)

I have a confession to make. I’m a crowdfunding addict. Or as I think of these emerging platforms: peer-funding. For the first time projects can be funded by those who share the passion and vision of the creator. In other words, not the anonymous crowd, but your global peers getting together and saying “let’s make this happen”. That’s new, powerful and very cool.

Peerfunding (or crowdfunding, if we must) is the facilitation of numerous small contributions to fund specific, time-limited, projects. Crowdfunding is an offshoot of crowdsourcing, the buzz term from a couple of years ago that gave us talent-mobilizing sites such as GeniusRocket for creative and InnoCentive for scientific problem-solving, outsourcing these functions to the crowd. But this new breed of sites are different, and not just because they are asking for money instead of logo designs or film concepts. Crowdsourcing is focused on producing a unique high-quality contribution (be it logo or film or chemical breakthrough), harvested from the crowd, these new funding platforms work cumulatively. Just as Barack Obama proved the power of small dollar fundraising in the political world we are now seeing the power of small dollar philanthropy in new sectors, especially the arts.

This model first caught my attention in the lead-up to this year’s Burning Man, as numerous arts collective raised funds for their projects on Kickstarter. It was really exciting to see some of the amazing things in development and to be able to support in my own modest way a couple of projects I thought were most exciting. And I’ll admit it, I did it for the perks too, including the promise of a ride on a very cool artcar (which I never took them up on sadly).

The focus on perks is another unique feature of this model of these new platforms. Across all the leading sites it is required that projects articulate “perks” for their funders. And I don’t mean the usual “feel good about yourself” perks, I mean “give me something cool” perks. This works perfectly for many creative projects that are object-oriented – if it’s a zine or book you can receive it (signed!), if a film you get a dvd or a credit, if an exhibition or catelogue a print. Digital projects tend towards the thank-you pages and downloads of code (woot). At the higher amounts everyone has to get more creative: dinner with the artist; consulting; an event at your house; an award in your honour.

It’s all fun stuff, and it beautifully fuses the line between philanthropy and straight-up shopping. I have always enjoyed purchasing hand-made zines, now I simply pre-buy them and in so doing give the creator the confidence and funds to make it. I enjoy film, and spend money on a Netflix subscription, so why not actually chip in to see documentaries on issues I think are interesting or important made? Some of the projects on Kickstarter in particular have blown out their fundraising targets by seemingly-absurd amounts, raising 1000%+ of their goal, but this is usually really just an unexpected run on a groovy new product. Being quasi-philanthropy and quasi-shopping simultaneously attracts more supporters than either approach alone would engender.

Over the past few months I have supported the publication of zines both micro-micro and merely niche via Kickstarter, production of a documentary on avant-guarde culture in Jerusalem via IndieGoGo, a series of social change posters via LoudSauce and the relaunch of a much-loved independent media website via the Australian FundBreak. There is also Spot.us, which supporters journalistic projects.

These sites are not all the same. Kickstarter and Fundbreak are exclusive to creative projects while IndieGoGo is broader and LoudSauce and Spot.us even narrower, specifically funding public interest advertising campaigns and journalism respectively. All of these sites except for IndieGoGo operate on an “all-or-nothing” model whereby if the project doesn’t raise its target by the deadline they receive none of it, with all contributions returned. This is a perfect fit for creative projects (and advertising campaigns) that have very specific amounts required to produce the project (whether it’s printing costs or tv time) or else it can’t happen at all. There’s a necessary tipping point. If it project doesn’t raise the necessary funds then the commitments are returned and its no-hard-feelings. It gives a security to contributors that the project will really happen or their money back and for creatives it reassures them that if necessary funds aren’t raised they’re not on the hook to those who have contributed thus far.

Not all types of projects have this tipping point and currently only IndieGoGo caters to them with a keep-what-you-raise system. This can create another, also important, sort of confidence, that those supporters people have been able to mobilize will see their support realized and delivered.

The biggest gap I see in the peerfunding space currently, in addition to having several valuable niches currently unserved, is that they are all based around one-off projects. There’s nowhere where you can create a stable profile for an organization or enterprise and then fundraise for specific projects over time – building a community across these projects and deepening your engagement with these supporters. I’ll have more to say about this soon.

Have you contributed to any projects on a peerfunding platform? What do you think is working and how could it be better?

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