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Archive for September, 2010

Update: I’ve secured a contract which will keep me here until at least January, by which time I hope to have found an ongoing position which suits my skills and passions. I’m still open to any suggestions!

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As I mentioned last week Small Act have decided to pull the plug on the San Francisco office after I’d only been here five weeks, so my future in San Francisco and America is a bit uncertain. And by “a bit” I mean I probably have five weeks to figure something out which will allow me to stay here. And by “something” I mean work.

As you might imagine I’m disappointed by this turn of events. I was extremely excited to join Small Act and to come to San Francisco. The opportunity to work with, support and learn from a variety of social change organizations and be part of a small and evolving start-up appealed to me and felt like a perfect fit for my skills, experience and what I wanted to learn next.

As for San Francisco, it’s a city I’ve loved since I first visited as a 15 year-old. My life changed here when I attended the State of the World Forum as a 16 year-old. It was here that I realized my power as a changemaker. It’s the perfect place to be working at the intersection of technology and social change and for K it’s the perfect place from which to grow her family’s wine business in North America. Not to mention that it’s the home of burning man culture and one of the very few places in America with a decent psytrance scene. So: we were excited to move here.

And we hope to stay! I’m grateful that Small Act have given me time to try and figure this out as I wind things down with them over two months. At the end of this time I will need to have a new job in order to stay in the country. So, I’m looking for new opportunities to make a difference.

I’m passionate about the intersection of technology, community-building and social change. I believe technology can reshape our media and politics but that this is not an automatic outcome, that we must work for it. I am passionate about doing this work and have spent the past 15 years creating on- and offline platforms and opportunities for people to share stories that matter, come together to learn from each other, share and synthesize ideas and imagine a new future. I believe in the power of art and stories to engage, inform and inspire people to action.

My skill-set and background is entrepreneurial. I have founded a number of organizations and initiatives, most notably Vibewire Youth Inc which I established while at university and ran for eight years, until 2008. During this time Vibewire grew from an all-volunteer student collective to an internationally-recognized organization with five permanent staff, numerous project contractors and hundreds of volunteers and contributors. We launched several websites, ran online and offline conferences, toured a film festival around the country, sent youth reporters onto the campaign trail to report back on the Federal election and opened a youth enterprise incubator in Sydney.

More recently I spent two years in Washington DC as the first Social Media Director at Ashoka. In this role I established numerous new social media channels, grew the Ashoka twitter account to 315,000 followers, launched a blog, email newsletter and ebook series and significantly increased the use of video across the organization.

I have organized everything from art exhibitions to conferences, music events to film festivals, political outreach campaigns to social media strategies, training programs to Burning Man theme camps.

Which means I’m very open to possibility! I want to stay here and I want to do meaningful work. This could take the form of a new full-time position in a cause-focused organization or a series of smaller projects. As Small Act have agreed to continue to hold my sponsorship so long as I have confirmed work lined up (who then contract me from them) a new employer does not have to go through the visa process with me, a significant silver lining to this whole situation. This creates, despite the brutal deadline, an exciting amount of flexibility and possibility.

I know I can help an organization do something incredible, and I know that there’s many organizations here that are doing incredible things. I am confident that things will work out despite this set-back.

Five weeks to figure it out. Wish me luck!

Of course, if you know of anything that you think would suit me or people I should be talking to please give me a holla.

Here’s my resume, feel free to share:

And my full-length CV if you’re not into the whole brevity thing:

Image by Donnie Ray on flickr.

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Most organizations think about social media when they have a need: a fundraising campaign, an online voting competition, a new product, etc. There is something they have to share with the world, and which they want the world to pay attention to now.

But the world often doesn’t work like that. People are busy, they’re distracted, they’re already engaged elsewhere. Why would they drop everything to pay attention to you? How will they even know you have something important to say? Most times, they won’t.

Which is why a longer-term approach to social media is so important. Social media is not about quick wins, it’s about building relationships. Relationships take time to build but, once built, give a huge amount of value in return. Just as is true in your life. The way to make new friends is not to ask them to do something for you right off the bat. Better to listen, share and find common interests first.

So when you have something important to say, or, as is likely, a call to action, for example around a fundraising goal, those  you have built a relationship with already are most likely to respond.

It’s not that you can’t convert new people, hopefully you will. But your success rate will be higher with those you already know. If you need money for a bus fare you will probably eventually get it by asking strangers on the street, but you might need to ask 50 of them to find someone who believes you. Or you could ask a friend who will help you right away.

What’s more, it’s your existing community who will often push your call to action out to new people through their social networks. Which is why campaigns, with time-limited call to actions are also an important part of a social media strategy: when done right they can drive people to your accounts and expand your community.

Which gives you more people you can start building a relationship with. Which can lead to more response to your next campaign and so on in a virtuous cycle.

Which looks roughly like this:
Campaign or Participation

This is perhaps my favourite slide in the Social Media for Social Change presentation I developed at Ashoka, because it says in a single image what just took me a few hundred words to say.

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The Road Ahead

In July of this year, as part of our move to San Francisco, K and I, along with our friend J, drove from Washington DC to the West Coast. Driving across America is one of the best travel experiences I’ve had. America is a huge country, as wide as Australia but with geological diversity beyond that contained by our island.

North America is a young continent and it feels this way, both culturally and, especially as you head West, geographically. The land bucks and meanders, evidence of the slow but epic collision between the East and West coasts, the glacial grinding of the last ice age, volcanic activity and tectonic ruptures.

And as is true in many human fields America has numerous biggest, oldest, and oddest, from 4,000 year-old trees to canyons too large to comprehend. The country has an epic vibe to it, which perfectly suits the objection of driving from one side of a continent to the other, spurred on by dreams of success and adventure.

And across this great land sprawls the America nation, ugly and garish as it often looks from the perspective of the Interstate this human culture teems with a diversity and uniqueness to mirror the continent it was forged on.

"Breakfast Included"

What “breakfast included” looked like at our motel in Clinton, OK

Driving South-West from Washington you’re struck by how lush and bountiful the land is. It’s an agrarian idyll of tobacco and wheat fields when it’s not what my father calls “house farms”, farmland which now sprouts only identikit McMansions, already a relic of the housing boom which produced them, ill-suited for the coming century.

Once we slipped into the Shenandoah Mountains we were treated to a different perspective, of how this all must have looked five hundred years ago; dense shady woodlands where the awnings meet in a swaying contact dance, the shrouded forest flour a soft layer of decomposing plant matter. We camped at Peaks of Otter campground which a friend had recommended. It was genuinely lovely and, on this Sunday night, only about 10% full. It was my first experience of camping in an American National Park and I was very impressed.

The camp grounds were spaced out so that even when full campers wouldn’t be on-top of each other. Each plot had flat ground for one or two tents, fire pit, table, bench and a spot for a car. Everything you need. It’s not the same as camping in genuinely isolated locations with no-one around of course, but for car camping on the move it’s perfect.

From Virginia we moved into Tennessee where we saw the obligatory country band in Nashville before moving on to Memphis where our priorities were: 1) Gracelands (at whose camp grounds we would be staying); 2) The National Civil Rights Museum and; 3) BBQ. Given that we were camped at Gracelands we decided to strike out for the Museum first, optimistically hoping that there might be enough time to see it and get back for a tour of the Mansion. The National Civil Rights Museum is contained in the Lorraine Motel, where on April 4, 1968 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated as he stood upon the balcony.

Balcony
The balcony where Dr. MLK Jr was killed.

I May Not Get There With You...
“I may not get there with you…” – from MLK’s speech the night before his assassination.

It’s a pretty reverent place, and somewhat overwhelming to dwell on the fact that here one of the great leaders of last century was struck down, and what might have been possible had he not been. It was also, unfortunately, closed, as, it turns out, it always is on Monday’s. We had a wander around the neighbourhood, stopped for a smoothie, then headed back to Gracelands, just in time to miss the final bus over the mansion by, I swear, one minute. And despite the mansion just being across the road and us already having bought tickets to the tour there was no way for us to catch up.

Resigned, we took our refund and comforted ourselves with thoughts of the delicious meal we were going to spend it on. A friend who previously lived there had recommenced Rendezvous as the “best ribs in Memphis” (I bet this is a good way to start an argument in Tennessee) and we were keen to check it out.  I had begun to feel the worst for wear, even after a nap, but we were determined to make something of our visit to Memphis and so made our way downtown. No good, I tried to eat but only felt worst and had to get the ribs in a carry-out box and rush back to camp. What a disaster. Tourist fail.

Bar-B-Que
Tennessee loves them some BBQ. Just ask George.

There was no chance to try any of this again the next day as we were picking J up from Little Rock Airport that morning. With a third driver we had a more ambitious schedule planned but this didn’t stop us detouring off the forsaken interstate and through the fantastically kitsch-but-run-down town of Hot Springs. We spent one night in the best value roadside motel in Clinton, OK, then across the Texas Panhandle in a single push and onwards to Taos, New Mexico.

Numerous people in DC had warned me about driving across the Texas Panhandle. “It’s so big and boring” they would say. First of all, it’s not big. From Oklahoma to New Mexico was about a five hour drive. Half of Australia is roughly as featureless as Texas, four times longer, and I’ve driven across that four times. But more to the point, I didn’t think it was boring. Or, rather, I didn’t mind that it was boring. I used to really enjoy those drives from Sydney to Perth and back with my family, and the  monotonous terrain was part of what I enjoyed. I’ve always really liked deserts from this reason. I find them really relaxing, it feels like you can unpack your brain into all that space, allow your thoughts to meander with less visual distraction.

Don't Bomb Iran
Unusual road sign, New Mexico

America is almost unbelievably fertile and dense. Town after town, city after city rolls by the Interstate, wheat, corn, tobacco or some other crop usually stretching to the horizon in-between. Everywhere people. Driving across Australia you can literally drive all day while seeing only four gas stations and 16 letterboxes, standing next to driveways that stretch off further than you can see. There’s nothing that approaches this desolation in America, not even in the deserts of the West Coast, and in the Eastern half of the country you’re only rarely out of site of buildings unless you’re in a National Park or reserve.

After Texas we headed north through New Mexico, magically arriving above our destination, Taos, just at sunset, as the last rays of the day streaked the clouds orange and made the walls of the mountains around us glow red. It was lovely.

Sunset
Sunset at Taos, New Mexico

As our eyes became accustomed to the gloom we realized that the plateau below us, upon which Taos sits, was not solid. A darker area slowly revealed itself to be a massive gash in the landscape. The Taos Gorge impressed us very much at the time, a single shark defile into an otherwise flat mesa spanned by a stark metal bridge. It seemed huge to us, although soon it would be dwarfed by much grander canyon. The desolate plain, the sudden rent in the earth, the simple old bridge, it all had a post-apocalyptic air about it and, indeed, I soon found out from a local that it featured in a scene in Terminator Salvation:

Taos itself is a lovely bohemian town filled with art galleries. The center of town featured large squares, parks and narrow streets with side walks. It was very social and walkable, people sitting in outdoor cafes, walking their dogs or chatting in shop doorways. It was the opposite of 90% of the towns we had seen, where all the action was in the strip malls on the outskirts of town, the shops pushed back from the road by the huge car parks, designed to be accessed only by driving, each mall indistinguishable from the others except for the exact composition of fast food joints and chain stores. The downtown, when we saw them, were often boarded up and near-deserted.

We took our first day off of the trip and wandered around town. It was really nice to not be in a rush and to have nowhere in particular to be. We had great margharita’s and watched Lyrics Born perform a free concert in the park.

The next morning we had a look at the Taos Pueblo, a World Heritage site which had been continuously occupied for over 1,000 years and is a gorgeous maze of semi tumbled-down but still lived-in adobe dwellings. Then we were away on a beautiful and epic drive (our longest of the trip) to the Grand Canyon, through Northern New Mexico and Northeast Arizona. The scenery was incredible. At last we were seeing more and more open space, with only the occasional small town to interrupt our view. The first six hours were through steep mountain ranges covered in pines, past lakes and boulders. The second half it was red soil and tabletop Mesa’s, the landscape of the classic Wild West films.

Bird

The Grand Canyon is really big. I mean, really big. Huge. You could drop a whole bunch of other big things in there and have plenty of space left. I mean, it’s really epic. I don’t think it would be possible to be disappointed by the Grand Canyon. The scale sends your mind reeling; it’s impossible to comprehend. The gradients of colour and terraced cliff faces are stunningly beautiful and absolutely mesmerizing.

We arrived at around midnight during a full moon and first saw the canyon basked in its dim glow. Even lacking the depth and contrast of daylight it was extraordinary. There was no-one around, just us and the wind on the edge of a silent void. We camped for all of three hours, getting up at 4am to get in position for sunrise. It was an incredible experience to watch the sun peek over the cliffs at exactly 5.14am and colour slowly return to the canyon walls. There were only about a half dozen others there and we all sat in silence and watched it in awe. Truly a highlight of the journey.

Dawn
5.24am, South Rim of the Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is surprisingly well-managed. Unlike the Niagara Falls (on the Canadian side mind you) which is a scrum of casinos and hotels right next to the main attraction, jostling for water views, and massive tour bus after massive tour bus disgorging tourists right on the spot, many of the best lookouts are only accessible by the free shuttle service run by the park, putting a cap on numbers even at the busiest periods (although creating lines at some bus stops). As with elsewhere the National Park camp grounds were well laid-out and maintained. Impressive.

From the Grand Canyon we drove to Las Vegas for a forgettable night in a casino then on for what would be the best day’s drive of the trip: Reno to the Sierra Nevada’s via Death Valley.

This is a drive that really sums up the incredible extremes and experiences of America, taking us past the lowest place in North America (282 ft/86 meters below sea level in Death Valley) and then, two hours later, the highest place in the lower 48 states (Mt Whitney in the Sierra Nevada range, 14,494 ft/4,418 meters). We would go within a handful of miles to the oldest organism on the planet, the 4,700 year-old Ancient Bristlecone Pine and the world’s largest tree’s, the 300 ft-tall giant sequoia’s.

Entering Death Valley
Death Valley

Death Valley is also where the hottest temperature was ever recorded in America, 134F/56C, in 1913. It was a mere 118F/48.5C the day we were there. It was like stepping into an oven, my mouth dried instantly and sweat disappeared almost as quickly as it could form. It was a dry, relentless heat, which sat like a blanket over the stark white desert. We experienced the heat in full by following the instructions of a sign which suggested turning the air conditioning off so as not to risk overheating the engine. I half expected a “just kidding, welcome to Death Valley” sign 10 miles down the road but it never came. The terrain alternated from folded rock hills to salt flats to sand dunes, with an oasis or two adding patches of green to the bleached landscape. It was very beautiful, and I felt thrilled to have had the genuinely new experience of experiencing such intense heat.

Coming out of Death Valley you go from below sea level, up and over a 7,000 ft pass, back to near sea level as you cross a flat valley then over another, even higher pass, through a pass in the well-named and seemingly-lifeless White Mountains only to see the Sierra Nevada’s, a line of mountains all over 10,000 ft marching North-South before us, blocking all progress to the West. It’s a wild and exhilarating drive, full of hairpin turns, sheer drop-offs and epic views.

Sierra Nevada Mountains
The Sierra Nevada Ranges

We turn North, shadowing the eastern flanks of the mountains. The nearest pass to the West was 150 miles to the North, through Yosemite National Park. We spent two nights at the Big Pine Creek campground, not far from Bishop, nestled in the folds of the Sierra Nevada’s. The Western slopes of the range is lusher and more famous with Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks alongside it. The Eastern side is in the rain shadow so the slopes are largely bare, the vegetation more hardy and modest. But looking up from our campsite to the snow caps of the mountains directly above us, an ice melt-fed stream absolutely smashing its way down the valley fold alongside us, it was more than beautiful-enough.

We had our second day off here, going for a hike, taking refreshing dips in the freezing-cold stream, playing with circus toys, reading and napping. It was very relaxing knowing we were within an easy drive of our destination and the weather was perfect, warm with a breeze by day, cool enough to enjoy the fire by night.

Camp site
Our Camp

Finally our journey was coming to an end. J had a 2pm flight leaving from SFO and we were flying to Australia to get our new visas that very night. Even this final drive was filled with delights. Seeing more of the Sierra Nevada’s on our way North, going West across Yosemite (where I saw beavers!) and crossing the agricultural middle of California, seeing grape, orange and wheat fields. Then onto a 10-lane freeway and into San Francisco we swept. We had crossed 9 states and the District of Columbia, driving over 3,500 miles in 11 days. I’m so glad I was able to do the great American road trip while I was here and see some of the parts of the country I’ve only ever flown over. I’d absolutely recommend the drive to anyone who has the time to enjoy it. I only wish we’d had twice as long!

You can see a larger collection of photos here.

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A slight change of plans

A huge catch-up is in order. Since my last post I’ve been to Burning Man and back, where the camp I have been coordinating since January, More Carrot (hosts of the Black Rock City Farmers Market) made its triumphant debut. I owe a proper post about that, impossible as it always is to put Burning Man into words. And there’s more I want to say, and photos I want to share, about our drive from DC to San Francisco in July. And music to get excited about, and case studies to share and things to say about social media. The usual hodgepodge of topics, but all of them in need of catching up.

But all of that must wait a moment as I’ve got news which it would feel weird to hold onto and share only chronologically with the above. My still-new employer Small Act have decided to shut down the San Francisco office (in which I have been working only six weeks) so my job is disappearing. As my job evaporates so to does my visa, and with my visa goes K’s, despite her current success in her job. So that’s a real downer.

I got the news about this last Tuesday, three days after I got back from Burning Man (and our fantastic post-Burning Man decompression in Yosemite). Talk about a brutal return to everyday life from an intensely immediate and extraordinary two weeks.

After the constant movement and flux of the last three months there’s nothing I crave more than being settled. But that is not to be for now. I had intended to spend this month kicking arse for Small Act and setting up my house, which is only half unpacked-into. Now I must spend it networking like crazy and looking for new opportunities which will allow us to stay in San Francisco, once again not knowing what country I will be in in three months.

I am given hope by Small Act’s willingness to do what it can to help me stay. Firstly it is extending my month’s notice half-time over two months, giving me longer to find something new. Secondly it has agreed to continue to be my agent, so any new employer would contract me from them. This has the enormous advantage of allowing me to stay on my current visa (and is really just an extension of my current business model as a consultant). Thanks to this I don’t need to convince a potential employer to spend thousands of dollars and months of efforts organizing my sponsorship and nor would I need to leave the country to re-apply. Bonus!

But the question remains: what am I to do next?

The last two years I have been specializing in social media but I’m really an all-purpose organizer. I’ve established organizations and programs, worked for arts organizations, political parties and NGOs, consulted to governments, corporations and non-profits and organized film festivals, political outreach, art exhibitions, dance parties, conferences, workshops, Burning Man theme camps and more.

I’m in the right place. San Francisco is a hot bed of both nonprofit and for-profit innovation. The nonprofit tech scene here is the most vibrant on earth. Every second person I meet seems to be the founder of a company, organization or project. I love the energy, the atmosphere of people doing important things, things that could (will!) change the world. So: I hope to stay. I hope to find a really exciting project or organization or two and really sink in and help make something amazing happen.

If you know of anything which would suit me please drop me a line.

Photo by TW Collins, flickr.

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