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Archive for May, 2010

As a result of two major Ashoka events this year I’ve been thinking a lot about how social media can enhance, leverage, expand and capture the content of events. Tech4Society and the Ashoka Future Forum were the most social media-enabled events Ashoka has yet run and many leassons were learned as a result. I co-hosted a recent #4Change Twitter chat on the subject and wrote a case-study for Netsquared.

On Friday I tried to draw this all together in a webinar I delivered for Small Act (organized before I accepted an offer to work for them next). The goal was to give an accessible introduction to different ways of creating social content at events and some things to consider for small organizations as they move in that direction.

Check it out and let me know what you think:

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A man died on a DC train on his way to work on Monday. His body remained undiscovered for 5 hours, as the train completed two end-to-end runs of the red line. Since then the coverage has focused on why he wasn’t found for so long, with the train operators being suspended and then allowed to return to work as it’s not actually Metro policy to check trains for dead bodies. That policy is now being changed.

As I read this sad story Metro policy wasn’t what I was thinking about. I couldn’t help but remember seeing Deepak Chopra speak at the State of the World Forum in 1995, when I was an impressionable and awed 16 year-old, and him asking us if we could guess the day of the week most people die of heart attacks. Can you guess what it is? That’s right: Monday. And what time would you imagine most people drop dead? Yep, 9am. On their way to work. It seems some people dread their job so much they are literally dying to avoid it. And that’s a very sad thing. We spend too high a proportion of our time at work to loath it as so many seem to do. Since then I have instinctively, devotedly, pursued work that inspires me, that I feel makes a difference.

In thinking about this I discovered more corroborating evidence: more people die in the first week of the year than any other (statistics from the Centers for Disease Control). In other words, immediately after Christmas and New Years, which are usually spent with family and friends and on a break from work, only to be hit with the reality of going back to their 9-5.

I met someone today interviewing for my job at Ashoka. She currently works for the World Bank, where salaries are generous (and untaxed). She knows that in coming to Ashoka she would be taking a very significant pay cut. And she’s okay with that, because she’s not happy in her current role and needs something different; the chance to be more entrepreneurial and adventurous, less micro-managed and confined. I completely agree with her, your personal growth and happyness are worth so much more than money. Life is too short, too precious, too amazing to spend 40+ hours a week doing something you hate.

Finding and following your passions often involves risk,  failures and set-backs. But the greater risk is that you will never take a chance on finding and following your passion, never find work that fulfills and inspires you, that you will instead end up trapped in a job you hate, waking up on Monday morning wishing you could be anywhere other than on your way to work, and one day being taken to another place entirely.

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A couple of weeks ago I announced that I was departing Ashoka to move to San Francisco and that as such I was looking for the next opportunity to challenge myself and create positive social change.

Today I am very pleased to announced that I will be taking up the position of Senior Social Media Consultant at Small Act, a DC-based start-up which helps cause-focused organizations to use social media strategically. As part of my role I will be establishing the West coast office for the company.

I couldn’t be happier or more excited to take on this new role. Over the past six months I have got to know the founder of Small Act, Casey Golden, and Chief Love Officer (that really is her title) Kate Hays and I respect, admire and like them greatly. I’m looking forward to working with them to grow this enterprise. I know they are passionate, as I am, about helping social change organizations to tell their story, empower their stakeholders and rally people to their cause. It feels good to join an organization whose vision, product and people I believe in. In fact, it’s essential.

I truly believe that digital and social media has the capacity to help organizations large and small to empower their communities and bring about positive social change. We can do better together when we are better connected, better informed and better able to work in new ways to find new solutions to issues which confront our world.

I have gained an enormous amount from my almost two years with Ashoka and am sad to be leaving. Nothing negative is pushing me to leave, but life is pulling me to San Francisco and new challenges. I’ll be forever grateful for the opportunity Ashoka gave me and remain deeply committed to doing my part to bring about the Everyone a Changemaker world we need. They say that once you’re at Ashoka you’re an Ashokan for life and I hope that’s true. I’ve met so many amazing people whose support, collaboration and companionship have meant so much to me and who I hope to stay in touch with for life.

I am now excited to take all my learnings, ideas and energy and support a diverse range of organizations to use new technologies in ways which make a difference. I’m excited to explore San Francisco and connect to the vibrant non-profit technology and start-up scene there.

I finish up at Ashoka the first week of June and will start work in San Francisco in early July, after a two week drive across southern America. If you have any advice on neighbourhoods, restaurants, events or organizations for me to check out in San Francisco (or on the way over) I’d love to hear them!

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Carol Roth (@caroljsroth), Scott Stratten (@unmarketing), Mana Ionescu (@manamica) and I at Wrigley Field

I spent this past weekend at SOBcon in Chicago. SOBcon stands for Successful and Outstanding Blog Conference and is an annual gathering of bloggers founded by Liz Strauss of successful-blog.com and Terry Starbucker of Ramblings of a Glass Half Full. I was lucky enough to be invited to represent Ashoka as one of the citizen sector organizations featured on the final morning of SOBcon, the “give back” session, coordinated by Geoff Livingston of Zoetica Media.

Conferences are more than just an exchange of information, they create temporary and in some cases permanent communities. The good ones convene a group of practitioners to share ideas and co-create the experience, bringing together expertise, passion and commitment in an inspiring mix. At the very best conferences a feeling of togetherness is created almost instantly, leading to a level of openness that is rare, where people care for and want to help each other, where no-one need be a stranger to another. SOBcon was this type of conference.

What was it about SOBcon that created this atmosphere, energy, connection?

Intimacy. SOBcon took place at a human scale, with only 150 attendees. The organizers could no-doubt sell several times more tickets than this, but they know that something would be lost in the process. They are not simply looking to run a profitable event, they want to host something meaningful. As a result real relationships are made, new partnerships forged. (The flip side of this intimacy is the cost of course, with the event costing almost $1,000 full price).

Interactivity. SOBcon had more than just the usual speakers and panels, it concluded each session with time for each table to brainstorm how the ideas presented relate to their organization, business or idea. This interactivity created a strong sense of creativity in the room, and a deeper connection between otherwise-random tablemates. The Give Back session harnessed this creative energy on behalf of the featured organizations.

Openness. Thanks to the above a sense of openness was created. People shared their struggles and successes, aspirations and accomplishments with the same open good humour. No-one seemed trying to impress anyone particularly and a genuine curiosity permeated most conversations. The speakers seemed to pick up on this vibe, mostly giving thoughtful and reflective speakers devoid of the rah rah you often get from the stage.

A commitment to something bigger than itself. The reason I was at SOBcon was for the session devoted to cause-based organization on Sunday morning. Along with Ashoka Vitamin Angels, InvisiblePeople and Anixter presented about their use of social media and what they are trying to achieve. The room then worked in groups for 45 minutes to generate suggestions and ideas for us based on the questions we each posed. The passion with which everyone focused on this task, the palpable desire to help and the insight of the suggestions was inspiring to behold.

Love. There really was a lot of love in the room at SOBcon. Love for our fellow participants. Love for social media and the medium of blogging, for what it had brought into so many lives and what it allows so many to achieve. And a love for those less fortunate, a desire to give back and contribute to creating a better future for all of us.

This love came through in the stewardship of Liz and Terry, in the passion of the participants, in the honesty of the presenters. And there were some fantastic presenters: Steve Farber reminded us that “oh shit!” moments are often the indicator that we’re doing something significant, and not to be feared. Ted Murphy shared his journey with us, and what he overcame on the way (he also put up a $1000 Izea voucher for best idea for an online exchange platform, which my conference buddy Carol Roth and I won for an idea about intergenerational connections). Chris Brogan gave us some real talk about sustainability and becoming an overnight success after 11 years of hard work. Jay Jay French of Twisted Sister shared hilarious story after hilarious story.

A huge thank you to Liz and Terry for organizing such a great event and to Geoff for inviting me to present on behalf of Ashoka. It was a real honour and a pleasure.

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