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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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In Melbourne and curious about how crowdfunding can help you launch your project? Then this is your lucky week as I’m in town for not one, not two but FOUR crowdfunding workshops over Thursday and Friday. Two are introductory and free and two are masterclasses with (modest) cover charges, one focused on startups and the other specifically for social enterprises and nonprofits.

Whether your dream of launching a social enterprise, a nonprofit, a tech startup or a personal creative project these workshops are designed to help you understand how to give yourself the best chance of crowdfunding success.

The masterclasses will delve into the practical issues which will help you win at this new fundraising form: what rewards to offer, how to identify your audience, what’s the right length for a campaign and more.

Here are all the links:

Introduction to Crowdfunding, hosted by Social Traders and RMIT SEEDS, Thursday 1230-130 pm- only three tickets left!

Crowdfund Your Startup Thousands!, Thursday 6-830pm, with me and record-breaking crowdfunders Fee Plumley, Rob Ward and Kylie Gusset. Only four hours left to get $65 tickets! Well worth the investment to hear from all these experts on how to raise funds for your startup.

Introduction to Crowdfunding, hosted by Social Traders and RMIT SEEDS, Friday 9-10am (sold out)

Crowdfunding for Social Impact, hosted by Social Traders and RMIT SEEDS, follows on from the introductory sessions, Friday 10am-1pm. A deeper dive into how crowdfunding can help you launch your social impact initiative, only $20.

This also seems like a logical spot to mention that I’m looking to recruit a Melbourne Ambassador for StartSomeGood so if you love social enterprise, crowdfunding and helping people and think this could be a good time. Looking for a commitment of 8-10 hours/week. To find out more drop me a line at tom(at)startsomegood(dot)com.

Cheers!

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Modern parenting you guys

Monday marked two months into the Bodhi era and it’s been a joyful and exhausting blur. It feels like a massive journey already and yet it has barely begun. We’re filled with excitement about all that will come next, and delight in the constant tiny changes in Bodhi, the increased presence in his eyes, his new news, the way he now tracks objects and raises his head. Bodhi is beautiful but man he can be a bit of a baby, crying all the time, not contributing around the house, stuff like that. So it’s been a lot of work. We either laugh or cry or fall asleep on the couch at 8pm.

Which is totally okay and to be expected but I have other work to do as well. StartSomeGood is at a very delicate moment in our history, with some good runs on the board and a growing community but a lot to do to get where we need to get to to be sustainable. The next few months will be a make-or-break time for us as we relaunch the site and bring some new people onto our team. I’ve also been getting more involved in Make Believe as we explore the impending transition away from the last involved founder and what the company might look like in the future.

If I only had these two businesses (and my role on the Vibewire board) to work on life would be more than hectic enough, but I’ve also working on two major consulting projects which in a quirk of scheduling were both due last week, almost crushing me.

But I don’t want this to come across as a great big whinge though because I don’t really feel that way. This is just the reality of my life right now. In truth I can’t get over how much good stuff is happening and how fortunate I am to have so many opportunities to make a difference and do good work with great people.

Having so much on stretches my time management abilities to the limit. There’s something pretty exciting about having to pack it all in though, scrambling and hustling and staying up late getting the work that needs doing done, and balancing that with the demands of my family. I haven’t figured this balance out yet, things fluctuate too much from week to week and K carries too much of the burden, but it feels like we’re not too far off. The meaningfulness of it all keeps me energised and my many deadlines keep me (mostly) focused and somehow it is all (mostly) getting done.

This past weekend was inspirational. After getting those reports done we attended the Regrowth Festival, a stunning little festival near Canberra organised by some dear friends of ours. It was incredible to catch up with so many friends and see how far the festival had evolved since the last one I attended in 2007. And most of all it signified that life is on-track – that we haven’t gone to ground but will continue to live the lives we love, filled with music and friends and adventure. And a baby. All pretty amazing really.

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From the Melbourne forum

TACSI, The Australian Centre for Social Innovation, has recently taken over management of ASIX, The Australian Social Innovation Exchange, and are exploring how best to carry on their work of connecting and enabling innovators. I’ve am thrilled to be participating in this process by facilitating the input of social entrepreneurs, innovators and those who support their work to help guide the way forward.

This is happening in three ways:

Firstly with 18 Individual interviews with 18 thought-leaders in our sector, including social entrepreneurs such as Brad Krauskopf from Hub Melbourne, Rebecca Scott from STREAT, Brodie McCullock from Space3 in Perth and Marcus Westbury from Renew Australia. Organisations represented include the Foundation for Young Australians, Social Traders, The Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, the Centre for Social Impact and the National Centre for Indigenous Excellence. It’s a real treat to be able to speak with all these inspiring and committed changemakers and a big responsibility to reflect their insights to the TACSI board.

Secondly we’re hosting public workshops in Melbourne and Sydney.

Thirdly if you’re reading this I’d love you to take ten minutes to fill out this survey.

We all seem to understand instinctively that social innovation emerges best from a supportive community with a diversity of participants and support. The question becomes: how do we achieve that? What is the role than an organisation like TACSI and a program like ASIX can play in helping to foster both a community of innovators and a culture of innovation.

If you care about social innovation in Australia and how social innovators can best be supported this is a chance to help set a direction that makes a real difference for all of us. The survey will only take a few minutes (only six questions!) and your contributions will help guide my report to the board of TACSI and help them map a way forward for ASIX which supports our community and the work that needs doing to create better futures.

This is all happening very fast with my report due next week so the survey will only remain open until Saturday morning. Please check it out.
You can also follow the conversation and share your thoughts on Twitter via the #asixnext hashtag.

Thanks!

If you have any questions about the unification of ASIX and TACSI they should be directed to Martin Stewart-Weeks, a director on the TACSI board and co-founder and Chair of ASIX.

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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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So I published my first post on HopeLab’s StickyNotes blog today, saying hello to the readers over there. I thought I’d re-post it here too:

Hello there! My name’s Tom and I’m very happy to see you. You’re going to see quite a bit of me actually. You see, I’m the new Manager of Communications and Emerging Media here at HopeLab, so I hope we talk often.

Let me tell you a little bit about myself.

First of all, that accent you hear, it’s Australian. Not English, South African or New Zealand, which I do understand all sound pretty similar to the untrained ear. I recently moved to the Bay Area after spending the previous two years in Washington DC and, before that, living in Sydney.

I love working in communications because human culture is based on stories and the right stories can change the world. I love social media because it has given us incredible new tools and opportunities to inform and inspire one-another, to build communities around shared values and aspirations, and to fuel innovation, cultural exchange and new understanding. I am passionate about building a form of democracy which is more participatory and responsive, a world which is more sustainable and just and organizations which are more human and values-based.

Prior to joining HopeLab I was the first Social Media Director at social entrepreneurship innovator Ashoka. Before that I founded Australian nonprofit youth organization Vibewire in 2000 whilst at university and led it up to March 2008. I am also the co-founder of the social innovation crowdfunding platform StartSomeGood. You can follow me on Twitter or check out my several blogs.

Just between you and me, HopeLab had me almost at hello. The first paragraph of the ad for this position read “When you’re a small nonprofit like we are at HopeLab, impact is sometimes measured by what you’re doing to promote the greater good, not just the number of customers you reach through products and programs. The insights we share about our work – lessons learned, risks taken that paid off (and the one’s that didn’t) – are valuable measures of impact as well.” I find this broader view of impact, one focused on the human connections, transparency and the greater good, both exciting and inspiring. Creating this impact, sharing these insights, listening and learning as well as talking, is the kind of work I am driven to do. It’s why I’m here, why I’m talking to you now.

This is going to be an incredible year for HopeLab with the launch of Zamzee, the ongoing work with the Re-Mission game, the fun of the Joy Campaign and much more. There’s really nowhere I’d rather be.

But enough about me, let’s talk about you. What brings you to HopeLab.org and what sort of content would you like to see on this blog and elsewhere? How can we stay in better touch and get you involved in our work?

And most importantly, what brings you joy?

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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!

———

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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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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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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