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Archive for April, 2011

Joy, gratitude and grief

I wrote this on the plane on Monday but haven’t felt like returning to it and posting it this week. I wasn’t sure if I was going to post it, or if I had written it just to say something to myself, get some thoughts and feelings out. But re-reading it and adding to it slightly I’ve decided I will share it, in part because I want to publicly express the gratitude I describe below, and in part because these sentiments are, I’m sure, pretty universal and I’d love any perspectives from others.

I’m sitting on the flight back to San Francisco to Sydney thinking about everyone I saw and everything I experienced during my too-brief trip home. It’s only early afternoon Sydney time but the cabin is already dim as we head into evening San Francisco time. I like dimmed aircraft cabins – despite the press of an almost-full flight it creates a sense of personal space and solitude, each of us sitting in our own little pool of light, or illuminated by the flickering screen in front of us. It’s a good time for thinking.

As I replay the last nine days in Australia in my mind my overriding emotion is gratitude. I really am so lucky. My family are incredible and so supportive of me, endlessly generous with their love. To my parents and sister: thank you so much. It is because of you that I can embark on the adventure I’m on. Knowing I have a safe harbor making it easier to leave the sight of shore.

I’m so grateful also to my friends who make such efforts to work with the absurd little windows my life provides for catch-ups. Being back with old friends has a special quality to it. It’s an acceptance and appreciation which has nothing to do with my supposed achievements and everything to do with who we are, the experiences we have shared, our shared sense of fun, values and what we find meaningful. You know who you are, thank you for everything.

And I’m grateful to the School for Social Entrepreneurs Australia and The Australian Centre for Social Innovation, who organized my speaking tour and allowed me to spend nights in Melbourne and Adelaide, seeing and meeting great people in each place. It was great to re-connect with the Australian social entrepreneurship scene and meet so many changemakers.

This trip contained a lot of emotion, which has left me tired and sentimental as I fly home. K and I attended two truly beautiful weddings and shared in the joy of great friends taking the next step in their lives together. But we also got some awful, heartbreaking news on Sunday: a close friends of K’s from university, someone I have met and admire, passed away very suddenly after collapsing on Thursday. He was 29 and had advanced, previously undiagnosed leukemia.

This sudden loss is really hard to process. For someone so young, vibrant and positive to just be… gone… so suddenly, makes no sense, cannot truly be comprehended. One day extraordinary happiness. The next shock and grief.

This is life, I suppose. As my Mum is fond of saying “no one ever said it was going to be fair.” But some days and some stories seem more unfair than others. Blair was an extremely talented performer with a blindingly bright future. He was in the midst of making a television cooking show with his Mum, who wrote a beautiful message on his Facebook wall yesterday. I don’t know how she found the strength. Even knowing him as modesty as I did I feel dented by the shock of his passing, doing my best to support K, who was very close to him after working on a number of shows together during university. She is staying another week in Australia and it’s hard to leave her.
Blair’s friends are sharing their reactions through his Facebook wall. The tone of these postings is truly amazing, so positive are they, reflecting the positivity and joy that Blair exuded in his life. A life far, far too short, but one filled with adventure, friends, fun and meaning. We can aspire to little more. The Sydney Morning Herald article on his passing is here.

Thinking about Blair’s passing makes flying back out of Australia all the more poignant. It makes me realize just how unpredictable life is, how you never know how much time you have with anyone, how vital it is to value and treasure the moments you get.

There’s also an odd symmetry to this. When I was struggling with the logistics and costs of coming back to Australia, having so recently started a new job and already being in debt, I was deeply moved when a colleague shared about the recent passing of a friend of hers. “You never know how long you’re going to get with someone” she said. The idea hit home, and I realized how important it was to come back to share these celebrations with our friends, and that you can’t take friendships for granted, assuming that they’ll just be there when you’re ready to pick them up. Those getting married these past two weekends are people we want to know forever. But forever is of uncertain length.

You never know how long you’re going to get with someone, and treasuring each moment is only possible when you turn up to create a shared moment, a new shared memory. I’m so glad that we were able to turn up this time.

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It is two years since Hildy Gottleib’s The Pollyanna Principles came out but I’ve only come to read it  over the past few weeks. I regret not reading it sooner, so clearly does it articulate my frustrations, aspirations and beliefs about the social change sector.

Hildy clearly articulates the potential of what she calls Community Benefit Organizations (like Ashoka she believes that you should not, cannot, define a sector by what it isn’t but rather by what it is). The limitations of our thinking come through in this narrow conception of ourselves – that we are not for profit, first and foremost, rather than being for something – just as it does in the technocratic malaise so many community benefit organizations find themselves in. Too often the leaders and especially the boards of the organizations that serve us are caught up in a problems-focused, and have lost track of the true change they are striving, or could be striving, to bring about.

This is not simply an issue for community benefit organizations of course but for all of us. It is too easy to dismiss the notion of actually solving the problems, overcoming the challenges, which confront us. Instead we settle for incremental goals – “increase service delivery by 5% in the next calendar year” – rather than aiming our sights resolutely on what matters most, our vision for the future we want for our communities.

As the name suggests The Pollyanna Principles is a set of principles to assist community benefit organizations to create the future they seek for their communities. They are seemingly conceptual but as Hildy shows they are actually a deeply practical, powerfully simple and clear-headed approach to creating the real changes we need.

The principals are:

Principle #1:We accomplish what we hold ourselves accountable for.

Principle #2: Each and every one of us is creating the future every day, whether we do so consciously or not.

Principle #3: Everyone and everything is interconnected and interdependent, whether we acknowledge that or not.

Principle #4: “Being the change we want to see” means walking the talk of our values.

Principle #5: Strength builds upon our strengths, not our weaknesses.

Principle #6: Individuals will go where systems lead them.

Reading The Pollyanna Principals has made me pause and reflect on my successes and failures (sorry, learning experiences), on when I felt most inspired and the brick walls run into (crashed through) along the way. There is much wisdom here I wish I had been exposed to ten years ago. For anyone interested in change, and especially those in positions of authority in the organizations we need to perform at their best in service to community, this is an essential book. I know the issues Hildy raises and the approaches she proposes will continue to resonate in my mind for a long time.

In other words this has given me the best gifts a book can give: lots to think about, and hope for the future.

To celebrate the second anniversary you can buy The Pollyanna Principles at a discount right now. You can also read the first four chapters online.

Principle #1:We accomplish what we hold ourselves accountable for. 

Principle #2: Each and every one of us is creating the future every day, whether we do so consciously or not.

Principle #3: Everyone and everything is interconnected and interdependent, whether we acknowledge that or not.

Principle #4: “Being the change we want to see” means walking the talk of our values.

Principle #5: Strength builds upon our strengths, not our weaknesses.

Principle #6: Individuals will go where systems lead them.

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Somehow my trip home for a couple of weddings has turned into a mini national speaking tour thanks to the support of The Australian Centre for Social Innovation. It’s a lot of running around but a fantastic opportunity to spread the word about crowdfunding and StartSomeGood, catch up with old friends and meet many new changemakers. I’m excited and grateful for the interest and enthusiasm.

I hope I might get to see many of you at one of these happenings:

Sydney: Monday, April 11 –  6PM, at the Vibewire Enterprise Hub.  Hosted by The School for Social Entrepreneurs and Vibewire in celebration of Vibewire’s 10th birthday. This one’s really special for me, hard to believe it was over a decade ago that a few friends and I naively incorporated Vibewire and embarked on a great adventure.  RSVP here.

Melbourne: Wednesday, April 13 –  6:30PM at The Hub Melbourne.  Hosted by The School for Social Entrepreneurs and The Australian Centre for Social Innovation: “Crowdfunding for Good: A panel discussion with StartSomeGood, Pozible and the Awesome Foundation.”  RSVP here although the event has sold out. It’s free tickets though and you know how those things go: some people won’t show up. So if you’re keen I would still rock up and try to get in. I’m also meeting friends for drinks and pizza afterwards at a pub nearby, message me if you want the details.

Adelaide: Thursday, April 14 – Adelaide, 5:15PM at.  Hosted by The Australian Centre for Social Innovation: “Adelaide Social Entrepreneurship Meetup with StartSomeGood.”  RSVP here.

All events have a social change/entrepreneurship/crowdfunding focus but the Vibewire birthday event will be the most wide-ranging, a chance for me to reflect on what we did and didn’t accomplish during my time at Vibewire, to share some of what I’ve learned in fifteen years of organizing and outline what I see as the big challenges in need of champions now.

In Melbourne I’m very excited to appear alongside founders of two organizations I greatly admire: Pozible (Australian creative crowdfunding innovator) and the Awesome Foundation Melbourne (a member of the wonderful and growing Awesome Foundation movement). Looking really forward to hearing their stories and perspectives and to together exploring the opportunities and challenges of creating new funding mechanisms for innovators.

My only regret is I didn’t manage to fit Brisbane into the schedule. Next time Brisvegans!

Monday, April 11 – Sydney, 6PM.  Hosted by School for Social Entreprneurs.  ”SSE Fellows and Vibewire 10th Birthday Celebration.”  More details here. 

Wednesday, April 13 – Melbourne, 6:30PM.  Hosted by The Australian Centre for Social Innovation: “Crowdfunding for Good: A panel discussion with StartSomeGood, Pozible and the Awesome Foundation.”  More details here.

Thursday, April 14 – Adelaide, 5:15PM.  Hosted by The Australian Centre for SOcial Innovation: “Adelaide Social Entrepreneurship Meetup with StartSomeGood.”  More details here.

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This is a guest post I wrote for the Case Foundation blog and was published on the day of the StartSomeGood launch (in their offices):

Clay Shirky is fond of saying that when it comes to online communications “more is different.” Similarly, when it comes to philanthropy, less is different.

The last half-decade has given rise to many incredibly exciting advances in the area of online giving and community building. Causes has allowed us to give to organizations right from inside Facebook. Razoo, First Giving, Citizen Effect and the like made it possible to create personal fundraising campaigns for causes we care about. Kiva made microfinance something we could all participate in, and Global Giving connects us to development projects around the world.

These platforms, along with similar trends in political giving most famously leveraged by the Obama for President campaign, have created an explosion of a new type of philanthropy: mircro-philanthropy. But we will never fully realize the transformational potential of both the new technologies and behaviors behind micro-philanthropy if it continues to be locked up in walled gardens with only American 501c3 organizations given access.

My colleagues and I at StartSomeGood.com are changing this dynamic. We believe that the “nonprofit sector” is less important than the “social good sector”, that great world-changing ideas can come from anywhere and that socially-minded for-profits can be as effective at bringing about change as traditional non-profits.

We know that important work is being done by unincorporated groups and social change freeagents. We want to break down the silos that say only a specific type of incorporated institution in one country on earth is given access to sophisticated online fundraising tools. We want to dispel the myth that tax-deductability is an important driver of giving behavior because, truth be told, below a certain threshold it simply isn’t.

What are important drivers of giving behavior? Great stories, inspiring visions for a better world, a personal connection to an issue and relationships with people affected or involved are just some of the elements we know inspire people to contribute to a social good initiative. These elements are powerful, irrespective of tax status. More important, by far, are the ideas, inspiration and credibility of the entrepreneur doing the asking.

There is no shortage of challenges confronting our communities and our world, but within each obstacle lies an opportunity. An opportunity to rise up to meet those challenges head on, fostering new changemakers and more resilient communities in the process. We do not have an ideas shortage. Rather, we face an implementation shortage, caused in part by the walls we have built around the fundraising process – defining too narrowly where these opportunities should originate and why people would choose to support them. These walls have led to less change, less opportunity and less difference.

StartSomeGood.com is breaking down these walls, and I hope you will join us.

Photo by JMC Photos on flickr, made available on a creative commons license.

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My co-founder Alex and I at the StartSomeGood launch

Oh blog, I do neglect you so. Sorry friends and readers! The last month has been an exhilarating, exhausting and slightly manic time. I started my new job at HopeLab then launched StartSomeGood.com one week after that. A week after that I left for 10 days to South by Southwest Interactive in Austin followed by the Nonprofit Technology Conference in DC, both amazing near 24-hour-a-day festivals of ideas, technology and connections. So of course as soon as I was back in San Francisco my body got its revenge for all I had put it through by promptly getting sick, something I’m just recovering from now. And next week I leave for a week in Australia! As I was telling a friend yesterday: when my life isn’t overwhelming I tend to make it so but sometimes in the midst of it I wonder if this is really the best way to live.

But truly I do love having things to keep me busy, new ideas to explore and causes I care about to promote. HopeLab are being a wonderfully supportive home for me (this is what greeted me when I arrived this morning) and I’m really excited for the unique and inspiring work we’ll be doing this year. Keep an eye out for our Joy Campaign (or, better sign up for an alert when it goes live), which is launching soon and will be a lot of fun.

There is a depth and intention to HopeLab’s work which I have rarely felt. A disciplined focus on where we believe we can make the greatest impact but also an enormous generosity in supporting the personal development of our staff and in sharing what we’ve learned with anyone interested. My job is to innovate around this sharing, seeking new ways of telling our stories, disseminating our research findings and foregrounding our culture. My colleagues are, everyone of them, kind, patient and enthusiastic.

Meanwhile StartSomeGood has gotten off to the kind of start I could only have dreamed of. Our launch party in Washington DC during NTC was incredible: an amazing collection of friends, past colleagues from both Ashoka and Small Act, NTC attendees and StartSomeGood partners and ventures. The energy was, truly, magical, filled with a shared vision for change and a sense of infinite possibility. Huge thanks to our sponsors Gotham Wines, Tevolution, nuubiachocolat and our very gracious hosts the Case Foundation. You can see more photos and read a recap on the StartSomeGood blog.

The activity on the site is equally inspiring. Our first two campaigns have ‘tipped’, that is reached their minimum goal to guarantee they get paid-out: HairFlare for Hope and Pick Up America’s The Bagabonds. Several other great campaigns are charging towards their tipping points including Creating the Future, TakeAShine and Partnered for Success. Please check out these great campaigns and the others on the site – I hope you find something you are inspired to support!

I am back in Australia in a week (for a couple of weddings) and will be doing speaking engagements in three states to promote StartSomeGood, as part of our launch of non-US ventures. In Sydney I’ll be attending Vibewire’s 10th birthday celebration, which honestly blows my mind. I’ll be posting the details of all the events shortly, I hope to see many of you at some point during my too-brief visit.

Much as I loved my recent conference-hopping (I have wanted to attend both events ever since getting to the US) and I’m excited for my visit home and the events I’m doing, and I cherish the wonderful people all this movement brings me into contact with, I’m looking forward to getting back to San Francisco and being still for a little while (apart from a long weekend at Yellowstone in May). I’m looking forward to digging in and creating an impact at HopeLab, really taking the reins of our digital communications and strategy. Most of all I’m looking forward to constructing a sustainable life for myself that balances and honours my commitments and relationships in a way that is impossible when you’re constantly coming and going.

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