Archive for September, 2009

I was laid up with a bad back all of last week and while I was it was very cool to see all the videos produced by the Ashoka Team at the Clinton Global Initiative.  The increasing use of video at Ashoka, and at citizen sector organizations overall, is wonderful to see. A year ago Ashoka’s approach to video was very traditional – footage would be shot and, time-permitting, edited into something usable. Now the focus is on fast, one-take, minimally edited videos that can be shared live or very rapidly with our online audience. It’s our immersion into social media that inspires this new approach – being involved in a real-time conversation with our supporters and peers creates an emphasis on timeliness and humanness. To this end people from different parts of the Ashoka family where profiled at CGI: Fellows, staff and supporters.

It was the first-time we’ve emphasized video as a reporting tool from a live event like this. We have learnt a lot from this pilot and will be using this learning to better cover future events, including our Tech 4 Society conference in Hyderabad India in February next year, one of the biggest gatherings we have hosted.

These learnings include improved coordination between the production of videos and the conversation at and about the event. For instance, if we see an Ashoka Fellow or staff member saying something interesting or profound over their twitter feed we should try and grab them as soon as possible and get them to expand on those thoughts on video. This would more powerfully embed our videos into the conversation, rather than just using the twitter conversation as just an outreach platform.

The ongoing development of Ashoka’s online communities and the clear interest and enthusiasm for stories from the Ashoka network has inspired this greater focus on developing timely content that can be shared with these communities. The understanding of the importance and benefits of this approach is becoming widespread across the organization, such that it barely requires me to suggest let alone implement these efforts. And that, to me, is the most exciting thing of all, evidence of the real culture-change taking place at Ashoka as we become more social, more participatory and more focused on storytelling.

Here are a couple of my favourite of our videos from CGI:

Ashoka Fellow Harmish Hande:

And a super-cute video with my boss, head of Global Marketing Beverly Schwartz:

You can see all the Ashoka CGI videos here.

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American money = broken

New American $5 Bill

New American $5 Bill

Having just returned to America having visited Australia I’m struck once again by how poorly designed American money is. By this I don’t just mean the design of the money itself, although that is pretty woeful, but more importantly the monetary spacing between coins and notes. In both cases they’re pitched way too low given the value of today’s money. You routinely end up with a pocket full of worthless metal and a wallet full of near-worthless paper. I recently had the feeling of considerable wealth as my wallet was full of cash but upon counting it it turned out to be 14 $1 bills. The notes themselves are dull and easy to destory.

Compare this to Australia. Australian bank notes are plastic which is untearable and can withstand going through the wash. They are actually quite beautiful, each with distinctive colours and design. But, more to the point, Aussie money is spaced out to be more convenient to consumers.

Useless 1c and 2c coins have been eliminated and it was recently announced that 5c coins would no longer be minted either. There are $1 and $2 coins, meaning that when you have a bunch of coins in your pocket you almost always have enough for a cup of coffee or even lunch. This leaves the lowest value note as $5, so if you have several notes in your wallet you know you have real money to get you through the day.

The American penny is being redesigned in 2010 but a more much logical course of action would be to eliminate it all-together. Apart from its general inconvenience it actually costs more than 1c to mint each penny, so the government is losing money on them, and since 1982 they have been 97.5% zinc, a highly toxic metal. This means pennies can cause damage to the stomach if swallowed and can actually kill dogs.

To break it down:

Australian coins: 5c (being eliminated); 10c; 20c; 50c; $1; $2.

American coins: 1c; 5c; 10c; 25c.

Australian notes: $5; $10; $20; $50; $100.

American notes: $1; $5; $10; $20; $100.

While I have no hope this is ever going to happen: get it together America. It’s the 21st Century with both 21st century printing technology but also 21st century prices. You can’t go down to the shop for 1c candy anymore, and it actually costs more to make pennies than they are then worth, so why have them at all?

Australian notes

Australian notes

Images from Sean Hackbarth and Joshua Aaron via flickr, both on attribution no-derivates Creative Commons license.

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Sydney Harbour, view from near my parents house

Sydney Harbour, view from near my parents house

Kate and I have just got back from a week spent back in Sydney visiting family and friends. It was our first visit home since we left in April last year and was every bit as wonderful and as rushed as you would imagine. One week to see so many people we care so much about was nowhere near enough, and there’s people I badly regret missing. But, in general, those we saw where those we most needed to see, our closest friends we used to see on the most regular basis and, of course, our families.

Flying back into Sydney was stunning. I’ve been to quite a few cities but I’ve never seen one as blindingly physically beautiful as Sydney is. It was heart-stirring to see the sunlight glinting off a harbour dotted with small sail boats and ferries, eucalyptus trees greening the suburbs on its banks. Given Sydney had only just emerged from winter the weather was brilliant – sunny and warm but not too hot. Few cities can compare to this.

But even more heart-stirring was seeing our friends again. As wonderful as the people we’ve met in Washington DC are there’s nothing like being back with old friends, a coherent crew of people who know and love us, and who uplift and fulfill us. Such friends make life fantastic, and we miss them all enormously. We truly felt we were home.

Flying back into DC was an amazing feeling too though, as I realized that DC is also home for now, that we have people we miss here and who miss us, and that I was looking very forward to getting back to our house, our neighbourhood, our friends and my work. I think it’s only in leaving then returning to a place that you realize what it means to you. It’s good to be home.

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Radiohead are one of the great music innovators of our time and one of my favourite bands. Banksy is an iconic artist from our generation, the most famous street artist in the world whose work I love. So it’s brilliant to see Radiohead’s latest video featuring Banksy’s work:

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I’m alive!

Just a note to confirm that I made it through Burning Man alive (so alive) and am now back in Australia being run off my feet trying to catch up with as many family and friends as possible in the one week we’re here. I spent a glorious 2.5 weeks completely unplugged: no internet, no phone. Highly recommended. We’re back in DC this weekend so I’ll return to regular posting after that but will try and get an update up before I depart.

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