March 08, 2017
Gratitude & Remembering America's Core Values Will Set Us Free
Given how much travel writing I do these days, I rarely post anymore over here which is where it all began. Two of my former blogs became Down the Avenue when I started publishing to the web, now more than 15 years ago. Truth be told, Down the Avenue is like an old friend. When the blog editor opens and I see it's old familiar interface, it's like going into an old coffee bar you used to frequent in your home town.
The difference is, that instead of opening up an old fashioned notebook in that same coffee bar and putting pen to paper like I did for many years across many continents, I type in a window and all of my personal ramblings come out, word for word. And, instead of those ramblings getting buried under a bed or in an attic somewhere that may someday be seen by a select few, the words get published for the world to see in a matter of hours, and often minutes.
When I'm in a reflective mood or simply need to make sense of something, I turn to my favorite cafe (this longstanding personal blog) and it all comes out. Once it's out there in black and white, it's so much easier to see that our lives and the world is far from black and white.
After the election, I like so many Americans were stunned with the outcome. While my intuition told me that Trump would win months before it became reality, a voice deep inside me wished this nation of immigrants would see through his sad but brilliantly navigated narcissist roadshow.
The truth is that racism and fear of others not quite like us, has always been front and center, especially for the white man. I grew up in that world. While I may not have been surrounded by Conferderate born conservatives, I was surrounded by people who told me to stay away from the other side of the tracks, you know, where poor black people lived because, well....it wasn't safe. My thinking as a child was that if it wasn't safe, why don't we invite them over to our side of the tracks where it was safe. Seems logical doesn't it? At least in a child's mind, who hasn't learned about fear and hate yet, it is.
I started traveling because I craved diversity which my small home town in upstate New York had very little of. I wanted to know how others thought and lived and ate and slept and walked. My grandfather was a conservative and while he had his own prejudices that he often shared about the Poles, Italians, Czechs, Dutch, Germans, Jews and others who lived among us, it was often with humor.
That said, underlying tones would remain, enough for me to want to see their worlds first hand. That same grandfather voted for Reagan and sent my uncle to New York Military Academy, the same school Trump went to and during the very same years. Founded in 1889, this private school,which we visited on more than one occasion years later, is spread across 120 acres in rural Cornwall. I think it was perhaps therapeutic for my grandmother or somehow confirmed their decision that sending him there was the 'right' decision to ensure he was on the 'right' path. I was sent to private catholic school by the very same grandparents for the very same reason.
You see, there was so much fear that we'd end up on the wrong side of the tracks if we didn't have discipline in our lives and military and catholic institutions are designed to bring you just that. For me, discipline is internal, not external as defined by an institution, school or political ideology. When we stray from our own voice, our own knowing, our own intuition, our own understanding, we can get in trouble.
Forgive the musings, but the reason I bring up this story is because it has to do with divide, something which plagues our world right now.
You see he believed in the rags to riches America, that this country was the place that his granddaughter as a woman could most succeed. When I used to talk about living in Europe, he said "if you want to be astronaut one day, you can in America, you can't achieve dreams like that in Europe. Even though there haven't been any women presidents, why couldn't you be the first?" As hard and difficult as he was at times, he used to say things like that to me all the time -- anything was possible. This was rare for the male generation of his time and while he expected me to set the table and help my mother clean the dishes after supper, he never expected me to only consider teaching or motherhood because that's what women did.
I guess my mother knew that too since I never gave birth to a child, I've supported more than one man and have worked my ass off since I was 14, starting with washing dishes for Italian-run restaurateurs who never stopped screaming at each other. When you're raised by a man who runs their own business, you learn to have an entrepreneurial spirit. From as long as I can remember, I've made my own source of income.
To make a living, I've mowed lawns, raked leaves, shoveled snow, wheel barreled sand, sold chocolate, cosmetics, and books door-to-door, worked in rural fields, sold art in Holland, picked greengages, grapes and oranges, patched and sewed in foam and glue factories, washed dishes, milked cows in Israel, managed restaurants, taught English in Kenya, bused tables in Belgium, waited on tables and tended bar on five continents and 8 countries, photographed events, performed plate smashing and dance ceremonies in Greece, sold ice cream in Australia, played piano in England, co-led swing dance classes, created direct marketing and advertising campaigns, written articles, authored photo books, led communications and marketing teams, run departments at a software and hardware company, given presentations and speeches, managed accounts and clients at PR agencies, launched start-ups, run my own communications consultancy, drafted creative briefs and written strategic plans.
Whoah Nellie - are you tired yet? I am and that's the point.
When people are surprised that anyone with a brain voted for Trump, I'm not. I know this other America because I grew up in it and around it. My America was one where you could buy a house and afford to send your child to college. It was doable for the working class family and even easier for a middle class one. It's 68 years since my grandfather paid $4K for our corner house, the one that would become my childhood home. They made sacrifice after sacrifice to make sure I had a better life (after all, that's what most parents do) and yet I still can't afford to buy a home in THIS America.
While I may live in one of the most expensive cities in the country and a former Google employee apparently paid $2 million in cash for a tear down house on my street, I realize that San Francisco and the Bay Area isn't reality. I get that. What is reality is that while house prices may not be $2 million in Phoenix or Seattle or Denver or Dallas, they're still far beyond what the average American can afford today. College is through the roof and our weekly grocery bill is absurd.
My monthly rent would make anyone with an above average salary bowl over, my health insurance payments even with a high deductible are nearly $700 a month (that's nearly $9K a year) and they just went up again and I have no health issues. I'm told that because I'm over 40, they'll go up even more with Trump's proposed healthcare plan, which quite frankly simply isn't doable. I can't work enough hours in a day to sustain these growing costs and so savings get depleted every year.
I think to myself often: it's not as if I haven't proved that I can do whatever it takes to make a living and am humble enough to go there. But...I'm tired. Most people are. And, this my friends, is why American born citizens are angry. It's not just white laborers and manufacturing plant workers who are wondering how to survive but 90% of the country. Will there even be a retirement fund? The Silicon Valley bubble I live in don't understand this 'other world' and that's why they were shocked when Trump won the election and I wasn't.
There's too much pain out there. While we were all immigrants once upon a time making a living on this great land, many of us expected (or at least hoped) we'd be better off 30 years later rather than struggling more than ever to pay bills, college loans and a mortgage. We all have our own stories of how we struggle and why we're tired even with a great education, skills and oodles of rich tried-and-true experience.
This tired group voted for Trump.
While I may feel some of their same pains, I couldn't conceive going there, because I don't believe in divided nations, divided communities, divided families, the result of a fear based approach to governing. After every decision and tweet, there seems to be more racist rallies, marches and incidents. Why? Because these decisions and words violate how we feel as unique individuals who make up the United States of America: Asians, Jews, women, blacks, Muslims, Mexicans, Italians, the list goes on. Conde Naste so elegantly wrote in a piece about the executive order on immigration which has turned into a Muslim ban, many of whom see as a religious war: "Above all of it loomed the spirit of the order itself, a sharp and cynical act from the highest office of this nation that, in spite of its many stumbles, has stood more than any other in modern history for refuge, for openness, for fairness and opportunity."
As a born marketer and brand expert, I saw it coming -- Trump is a brilliant rally chief. Making America great isn't about turning back the hands of time, nor is it to create a mantra that suggests we aren't great as a nation today. Let's face it, we are at a crossroads and the decisions we make during this very pivotal time will determine whether we continue to lead the free world -- or not.
NPR's Robert Siegel interviewed Yale historian Timothy Snyder this week, who is known for his sprawling books about war, genocide and the descent into dictatorship in mid-20th century Europe. His latest book "On Tyranny" addresses the concern about the rise of Donald Trump, and his lessons range from establishing a private life and listening to dangerous words to being weary of paramilitaries.
Says Snyder in his interview:
"The president has never given any indication that he understands or respects the rule of law and the things that the presidents have done so far. And this speaks directly, I think, to the central threat, suggests that he is deliberately spreading a world of unreality. And this is exactly why we have to understand history, because where fascism, to use your word, begins is with the neglect or the repudiation of the real world. Fascism says what you and I experience as facts or what reporters experience as facts are irrelevant. All that matters are impressions and emotions and myths.
And so when the president and his aides set out to create a world of alternative factuality, that is the catalyst which helps us slide from one system to another."
As alarming as that sounds, it's what many people feel is happening to our democracy (we do live in one right?) yet can't quite put the same words to it. They're feeling a loss of control. A loss of fundamental freedoms.
Why these new orders are impacting so many Americans, including third generation white ones, is because it feels like a betrayal of our nation's history, principles, laws, and customs. And, as Conde Naste also writes: "a betrayal of her spirit and aspirations."
Since the beginning, America's attractive power enticed millions of immigrants to leave the comforts and security of their homelands for the promise of hope, opportunity, and a liberty the world had never known. They also unleashed an entrepreneurial spirit that created unparalleled prosperity and spawned the greatest generosity ever exhibited by a country.
Several years ago, I wrote a book review on Rescue America, which devours why we're flailing and how we can return to an America we can be proud of again. They make countless references to American history, the Constitution, the principles behind freedom and what it means to be "free."
They take a deeper look at the Declaration of Independence, why it was created and what our forefathers wanted for Americans as a result. Equality and improving the human condition was a large part of what the "greats" who ran this country wanted; they also wanted a unified America.
"The natural effort of every individual to better his own condition...is so powerful a principle...(it is) capable of carrying on the society to wealth and prosperity...(and) surmounting a hundred impertinent obstructions." - Adam Smith
Thomas Jefferson didn't really propose an ideal on equality, but rather recognized and acknowledged an equality that already existed. What Jefferson meant by the Pursuit of Happiness and a "free" America was the inalienable right of the pursuit of happiness that one is free to become the best self that one is capable of becoming.
I love this as much as I love the benefits that Abraham Lincoln envisioned for Americans: the capacity and the freedom to choose, by the quality of one's decisions and by the inherent value and ownership of the fruit of one's labors.
"The man who labored for another last year, this year labors for himself, and next year, he will hire others to work for him." -- Abraham Lincoln
As a nation, we have achieved astonishing wealth -- if you combined the wealth of the Greek, Roman, Chinese and English empires, the wealth generated in America over the recent century would supersede them. And yet as free and democratic as our virtues are, most of us are struggling in today's America.
It's clear from the recent chain of events, we've lost a lot of important things along the way, the concept of gratitude being a big one and that attitude needs to come from the top so it can trickle down. The way out of this mess of course is action from the bottom -- continuing to exude gratitude regardless of how tough it gets, fighting for our freedoms and personal voices, ensuring that we always have a free press, not a constrained one and a healthier and happier life for all, not just the wealthy white.
Those who voted for a different America didn't think of the consequences of a leadership that uses fear to increase their power rather than service to lead with integrity. Diversity is after all, our biggest strength and guidance from the top matters a lot. Our children ARE watching and that's the point -- this generation is learning about what kind of leadership is acceptable for the most powerful leader in the western world.
"The direction in which education starts a man, will
determine his future in life." -- Plato
The mentors we meet along the way and the guidance we get determines our direction even more than education. It also determines our resilience and our ability to take one more step amidst negative set backs.
This is why voting for someone with a moral compass matters more than the laws they implement. As a nation, this guidance is what makes up our core ethics, values, the way we treat others and the way we look at the world.
What happens when the principles that gave you all you possess eventually lead to distracting and damaging habits and attitudes that take you away from those principles and lead to the wasting away of prosperity?
Do you abandon those principles, or do you recommit to them through honor, discipline and commitment? Isn't it time that as a nation we unite more than ever and work on restoring and recommitting to America's core values before its too late?
"Anyone who trades liberty for security deserves
neither liberty nor security." Benjamin Franklin
Photo credit: New Ten Commandments Website
Entitlement stands at polar odds with personal responsibility and gratitude. When we come from a place of gratitude, it's astonishing what's possible in our lives and how it flows to others around us. Everyone benefits. Gratitude is critical to restoring our spirit and our values, individually and collectively as a nation.
"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them." John F. Kennedy
The best thing we can do is to sit in another man or woman's shoes as often as possible. By demonstration, we show that we embrace all Americans, not just those who look, dress, act and worship like us. These acts will not only squash the hate and fear-based rhetoric that suggest that all Muslims are dangerous, all blacks carry guns, and all Mexicans are drug dealers, but it will set our hearts free as humans. From this place and as united citizens, we will only vote for and hire candidates who will truly serve this nation, not destroy it. Remember it's not just the economy that is flailing, but our spirits too, which is a far cry from what it means to be American. When our spirits crumble and shatter, our nation's spirits will too. And this my friends, is far more dangerous.
May 17, 2013
5 Important Issues From 5 TEDxBerkeley Speakers: Help Us Pave the Way
As a co-curator of a TEDx event, you have a joyful honor of bringing important issues you want to see brought to the table...to the table, or in this case, a TEDx stage. Having been involved in the curation process at TEDxBerkeley for a few years now, there are speakers and writers I've met along the way who have haunted me -- positively and negatively -- the latter often provacative enough that regardless of whether it's a pretty story, you know the story must be told.
Personal issues that keep me awake at night include the ugly embrace of processed food, climate change & the implications for wildlife and the world, the growing divide between the rich and the poor, our sad state of healthcare and education, and women's inequalities. There are countless others, but there's only so much that can absorb my already noisy back channel at any given time.
At TEDxBerkeley this year, we were able to bring some of those conversations to attendees.
I have always wanted Robert Neuwirth to speak at TEDxBerkeley ever since I first heard him speak at PopTech a few years ago. He is best known for his work with squatter communities and poverty. He wrote Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, A New Urban World, a book describing his experiences living in squatter communities in Nairobi, Rio de Janeiro, Istanbul and Mumbai.
He brings us on a journey to West Africa and how locals came up with a creative way to source their own energy when the government couldn't.
Lagos residents use energy conservation. In his time in Lagos, he saw people get their water in large canisters not from fresh water sources or private wells. The Lagos government claims that it provides safe drinking water in sufficient quantities to its people, according to a newspaper he read on his way out of the country and yet, its far from reality. There is no real functioning water system in Lagos and other things are not efficient either. Apparently they waste N1.5 billion by leaving their computers on standby.
Kim Polese was the opening speaker for this year's theme of Catalyzing Change. In alignment with the theme, she addressed the communications gap between education providers and students. Students don't know what courses to take so they can succeed in the 21st century.
Our challenge is to preserve the excellence and transform old curriculum she says. "We face a new crisis, the skills gap, which is a crisis which is affecting everyone so we need a revolution in the teaching model, a few of which are MOOC (massive online open courses) and passive versus active participants in online open courses (small online classes) in SPOCS, Small Private Online Classes.
The revolution is not about cutting costs, it's about this new transformational learning model that is more engaged and also it allows for mass distribution to more people. Only 50% of undergraduates receive a degree in six years. Moreso than that, 55% of students need remediation.
The typical student attends multiple universities, which equates to lost dollars and time because so much of the credits don't transfer over. Often, a student takes "on average" over a year of credits they wouldn't need to take.
One idea: What if we offered and made those transfer of those credits seamless? Think about what Visa did to revolutionize the credit business, by swiping a card and it just works. If we standardize undergraduate classes so the credits can be applied as seamlessly as a Visa card is used today to pay for products and services.
The STEM gap (science, technology, engineering and math) aka rouhgly 33% of students who just felt that they weren't prepared enough is widening......in the U.S., we lag behind most developed countries.
Five out of every new jobs will be in STEM related jobs in the next decade and yet we're lagging behind countries like Singapore, France and other developing countries. If we just focused on increasing the number of STEM graduates by 10% can produce 75,000 more STEM graduates by the end of the decade, which is close to what Obama's goal is for higher education.
Women are turning away from computing, the percentage at its all time high was 34% and now its down to below 15%. The first programmers were women. During World War II, the army recruited a group of women out of the University of Pennsylvania to calculate bolistic trojectories and they called these computers women. She refers to the work of TED Prize winner Sugata Mitra.
Known for his work in education research, Sugata Mitra won $1 million TED Prize to build his School in the Cloud.
Many who keeps tabs on education will know him for his project called “Hole in the Wall”, an experiment he conducted in 1999, where Mitra and his colleagues dug a hole in a wall near an urban slum in New Delhi, installed an Internet-connected PC and walked away.
Over time, while a hidden camera filmed the area, the video showed children from the slum playing around with the computer and in the process, teaching themselves now only how to use it themselves, but sharing that knowledge with their friends.
His goal is lofty – he invited the world to embrace child-driven learning by setting up something he refers to as Self-Organized Learning Environments (SOLEs). He asked for help designing a learning lab in India, where children can “embark on intellectual adventures.”
Second in the session was Eden Full who is the Founder of Roseicollis Technologies Inc. She studied for two years at Princeton University and is currently taking gap years to work on her start-up full time after being selected for the inaugural class of the 20 Under 20 Thiel Fellowship. Named one of the 30 under 30 in Forbes’ Energy category two years in a row and Ashoka’s Youth Social Entrepreneur of the Year, Eden founded Roseicollis Technologies Inc. to take her solar panel tracking invention called the SunSaluter to developing communities and established markets that need them.
The SunSaluter won the Mashable/UN Foundation Startups for Social Good Challenge and was awarded the runner-up prize at the 2011 Postcode Lottery Green Challenge. While at Princeton, Eden initiated and curated TEDxPrincetonU. Proudly Canadian, she was born and raised in Calgary, Alberta. After coxing for the Princeton lightweight women’s team, Eden was selected to be the coxswain for the 2012 Rowing Canada’s senior women’s development team, where they won a gold medal at Holland Beker and the Remenham Challenge Cup at the Henley Royal Regatta, beating the German Olympic boat.
She shared her story about her patent-pending solar invention called SunSaluter which she has been using in East Africa. Provided extra electricity every day for one 60W panel to charge, plus not just the benefit of getting extra water but clean to people every day. She tested it out in a polit in Nyakasimbi Tanzania and thereafter with a partner in Kirindi Uganda. The goal is deploy 200+ units to 15,000+ villagers.
Curt L. Tofteland is the founder of the internationally acclaimed Shakespeare Behind Bars (SBB) program. During his 18 years of work with Shakespeare in corrections, he facilitated the SBB/KY program at the Luther Lucket Correctional Complex, producing and directing 14 Shakespeare Productions.
"It is within the silence that we discover the absence of self," he said to TEDxBerkeley audience, as he opened with lines from Shakespeare. "We arrive in this world, naked and alone and we leave this world, naked and alone; we take with us our memories and we leave behind our deeds," he says reading a story that addressed life issues such as dealing with truth and ego.
May 17, 2013 in America The Free, Client Announcements, Conference Highlights, Events, On Education, On Health, On Innovation, On Politics, On Science, On Technology, On the Future, On Women, TravelingGeeks | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
March 21, 2013
Al Gore on the Environment, Healthcare, Guns & Democracy at #SXSW
I've met Al Gore a few times now over the years and have heard him speak about a dozen times, maybe more, particularly since he became so entrenched with technology while he was in office and after the fact. It should be no surprise that he was in full form at South by Southwest (SXSW) this year on the main stage in Austin in a fireside chat with WSJ's Walt Mossberg.
Those of us who know his agenda and his passion for climate change were waiting for him to dive full force into his 'green' agenda, which he did towards the end of his talk. They started with the digital revolution, appropriate given the "Southby audience." Print media are devastated he said, which is a very old discussion in the world of social media, where SXSW is the Queen Bee conference that takes such discussions to the next level...and this one started eight or so years ago.
That said, mainstream consumers in small towns are still reading newspapers and while they all may have a cell phone, they don't necessarily all use it to get their news. He refers to the 'now' economy as a 'stalker one,' where kids are even wearing 'chips' and being tracked by governments.
"I hope this stalker economy will create a gag reaction," he said. Gore suggests that we're seeing a shift in power that is bigger than what we've seen in 500 years. He also brought up Asia and how China will quickly surpass the U.S. as the largest economic power in the world.....because of that concentration and shift of power, 93% of extra income has gone to the 1% who are in power.
He added, "that's an economic fact," and then went onto say, "while our country is in serious trouble, it doesn't mean I'm not optimistic," but in order to take that power back, he suggested that "we as a country need to TAKE democracy back." Democracy as we know it he asserted, has been hacked. Said Gore, "Our OS (operating system) for the U.S. is our constitution."
He noted that earlier in this career when he was part of the 'system,' they'd spend about 1% of their time raising money versus the 5 or so hours a day today. While modern democracy has never been perfect, the will of the people did drive policy he believes. He said, "Congress is incapable of passing any reform of any significance unless its passed through special interest groups." Mossberg referenced Shapiro's The Last Great Senate at this juncture, reaffirming just how much has changed between the mid 1960s and the 2013 Congress of today. While the world knows about his hunger to educate the world about the negative impact of global warming, it's not as if Gore wasn't convicted and passionate about a number of other topics and issues, including healthcare and the NRA.
On healthcare, he reminded us that the federal government is the biggest purchaser of medicare and medicaid and if that's the case, then "why can't government negotiate like big corporates can to bring the costs down for American citizens?" That received a huge applause from the audience, no surprise given how many of us have been and continue to be screwed by insurance company premiums, wopping high deductibles and taxes. It would be impossible for guns not come up given the random and shocking killings this year in schools, small towns and beyond, and so when it did, Gore was not shy about how he felt. He scratched his head.
"C'mon, the NRA is a complete fraud. A lot of people belong to it, I used to belong. It is financed by the gun manufacturers and the organization has puppet strings. Same thing with the Smoker's Alliance." I wish they spent more time there frankly. On overall growth, Gore suggested that we should no longer use DGP as a guide for economic policy since it doesn't take externalities into account, like a negative one such as pollution or a positive one such as investment into a city in core areas such as mental health, music, culture, education, all of which counts as an 'expense,' not an investment. "They don't take into account future benefits of that investment in a city or region," said Gore. He threw out a few stats demonstrating just how far behind the U.S. is in so many areas including social and economic growth. He said, "We have worse upward social mobility than Tunisia and Egypt. Inequality is growing in the U.S. and so much of it is because our tax code is ridiculous." Hear hear Gore, go go go, not that these kinds of pep talks ever change anything back in Washington. People I know who were Middle Class are now in a struggling Working Class and those who were Working Class are either now working 100 hour weeks destroying their family life and health or on the streets.
And. then there's a wealthy Silicon Valley which seems to be numb and oblivious to how the rest of Americans actually live and think. I know - I live there. Gore asserted that we need to find ways to communicate with other and more effectively in a way that restores democracy.
"We need to TAKE BACK AMERICAN DEMOCRACY," he said firmly to a packed room in the main SXSW auditorium. And, since he couldn't wait to get to climate change, he finally migrated there but softly starting with garbage suggesting that we toss garbage into our 'country' as if its an open sewer, filling up the 'sewer' of gaseous unhealthy waste that is equivalent to 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs.
With 53% of the country in drought, he also suggested that this shift we've been seeing is also related to global warming. Like garbage, like open sewers, like car fumes and everything else we've leaked into this environment without a care for the consequences, he threw out another alarming stat: we've seen $110 billion in climate disasters alone.
On the upside, he claimed that the investment in solar and wind is rising and the more we invest here and use it, the cheaper it will become, making it more inexpensive for us to rely on solar than coal, gas and oil over time. In order to get there however, he said that we need to reverse organizations, not people. Yes, organizations AND government Al.
Photos by Renee Blodgett.
March 07, 2013
Dan Pallotta: Think About a Charity's Dreams, Not Their Overhead
Dan Pallotta's work brought the practice of four-figure philanthropy within the reach of the average citizen who had never raised money for charity before in their lives. 182,000 people of all shapes, sizes, and backgrounds participated in these inspiring, often grueling, long-distance events that raised $582 million in nine years - more money raised more quickly for these causes than any private event operation in history. Three million people donated to the events.
Then, he faced issues because of how things are currently structured for non-profits. Dan spoke on the TED 2013 stage this year and below are a mish mash of my notes from his talk.
He notes that there are many discriminatory issues that the philanthropy industry faces today:
1. Salaries: the median compensation for a Stanford MBA is $400K, but for a medical charity, it is roughly $232K. For a hunger charity, it is about half of that. You can’t get people to do that year after year and take that kind of financial hit when in the for profit world, you can yield so much more.
2. Marketing and Advertising: He says, "we don’t like to see our donations spent on advertising and marketing." It has remained at 2% of GDP in the United States and hasn’t grown. How can it grow if you’re not allowed to market?3. Taking Risk on New Revenue Ideas: If you don’t produce 75% return in the first year, then a non-profit's reputation goes through the mud. You kill innovation because of fear for failure.
4. Time: Amazon didn’t produce profits for years and yet we had patience, yet the rules are different for a non-profit.
5. Profits: You can’t pay profits in the non-profit sector. He says, "you don’t have a stock market to fund any of this like you can in the for profit sector. From 1970 to 2009, we were dealing with social problems which were massive in scale but things still didn't grow to help them over that time and they're still not beyond the 2% mark.
Dan says, "this dogma comes from puritan beliefs. The Puritans were Calvinists so they were taught to hate themselves and self-interest was a path to damnation. Making a lot of money was a way to send them to hell so charities were created to deal with that."
In 400 years, nothing has intervened to say that this approach is counter-productive and unfair.
He remarks, "it makes us think that overhead is not part of the cause, particularly if its being used for cause. This belief that overhead is the enemy means that people are reluctant to contribute. The notion is that the less you spend on growth of the non-profit, more can go to the cause."
Fundraising has been stagnant. He shares his own failure which was the result of this broken, out-dated system, "we made $71 million in 2002, our best year and then we went out of business since we reinvested 40% back into the organization. So in one day, 350 of our employees lost their jobs because they were labeled overhead.”
He asserts that this is what happens when we confuse morality with frugality.
How this all impacts the bigger picture? If we could move charitable giving from 2% of GDP to 3% by investing in that growth, that would be an extra $150 billion extra in contributions. He says, "it’s never going to happen by forcing these organizations by demoralizing organizations to keep the overhead low. We need to change the game."
As for advice, he offers, "Think about the scale of an organization's dreams, not their overhead and how they measure the progress towards their dream. Who cares what the overhead is if these problems are getting solved?"
His mission is to change the way the world thinks about these issues and suggests that this needs to be our endearing legacy....that we in fact took responsibility for the legacy that has been handed down to us and change the way we think about philanthropy, so real problems can be solved, changing the scale dramatically.
Photo credits: sunyocc.edu (hands) and Dan's shot from his site.
November 02, 2011
Ireland Prime Minister Enda Kenny on Technology at #FoundersIreland's Prime Minister Enda Kenny came to the Founders event in Dublin this past week to talk about the importance of technology and Ireland's commitment to its expansion and innovation as a major contribution to a growing economy both at home and abroad.
October 22, 2011
Bryan Doerries' Theatre of War
At PopTech this week, Bryan Doerries, a New York-based writer, translator, director, and educator read poetry to us, his eloquent use of language and intonation resonating with nearly everyone in the audience.
He is the founder of Theater of War, a project that presents readings of ancient Greek plays to service members, veterans, caregivers and families as a catalyst for town hall discussions about the challenges faced by combat veterans today.
Over the past year, Bryan has directed film and stage actors such as Paul Giamatti, Isiah Whitlock Jr., David Strathairn, Lili Taylor, Charles S. Dutton, Gloria Reuben, and Jeffrey Wright in readings of his translations of Sophocles’ Ajax and Philoctetes for military communities.
When people are in pain or have undergone crisis, it's important to be able to speak the unspeakable. He says, "Imagine soildiers in Athens, seated in the order of tribe and according to rank. They have come together to hear plays that only those who have been to war or cared for those who have gone to war could understand. They were there to laugh, weep and bear witness to the truth of going to war."
He goes on: "Now imagine American soldiers in a drill hall or a field house where they are seeing a play about a depressed warrior who has slipped into depression because he has seen his best friend murdered. He then takes his own life."
"Being separated from my troop is like being stripped of my humanity," said a soldier to him. He is doing this project to restore humanity for these individuals who feel like they lost their humanity along the way. And, he wrote these plays to help people heal.
Sophocles wrote these plays to comfort the inflicted and to inflict the comfortable. "This is what happens everytime we perform Theatre of War," he says. "In an environment that combines live theatre and community dialogue, people are comforted by what brings them together across time. They are inflicted by the understanding that empathy is not enough. Theatre is an ancient military technology which we are licensing from Sophocles, to raise awareness, to raise stigmas, and to stir our fellow citizens to action."
His other recent theatrical projects include “Prometheus in Prison,” which presents Aeschylus’ “Prometheus Bound” to corrections professionals to engage them in conversations about custody and reentry, and “End of Life,” which presents Sophocles’ “Women of Trachis” to palliative care and hospice workers to engage them in dialogue with other medical professionals about medical ethics and pain management.
For more on his work, read Bryan Doerries' op-ed in the Washington Post about his experience taking Theater of War performances to military bases.
October 21, 2011
Anne-Marie Slaughter: A New Networked World Means Rethinking Professions
Anne-Marie is a Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University and also served as Director of Policy Planning for the United States Department of State from 2009-2011, the first woman to hold that position.
She discussed where we started from and where we have moved to, aka from a world of states to a world of social actors. The world of states was the first (traditional) way of looking at foreign policy, something she refers to as the billiard ball world. Today, we live in an networked world.
In that world, foreign policy has started to shift, where we are seeing orchestrated coaltions. In a top down colation, the World Bank pulled together 14 of oil producing companies and 4 oil producers to reduce environmental effects.
Where we're going however is bottom up: build local and go global. Examples include:
- From USAID to Kiva
- From NDI Election Monitoring to Ushahidi
- From the Special Envoy for Gaza Disengagement to Palestinian Political Risk Insurance Project
In a billiard ball world, countries go to war. In a networked world, the dynamic changes and the players have much more resilience than in a billiard ball world.
She has been spending a lot of time researching and learning about network theory and horizontal management Everything she is hearing now in and outside of Washington is a combination of public and private initiatives. "We're moving forwards citizen act social foreign policy," she says.
We're at the beginning of a new world. Advice that she gives:
1. Don't just stand there, do something.
2. Connect, but not too much. Do not connect all the time. Be focused about their networked communications and don't overdo it.
3. Small is beautiful. She refers to Clay Shirky's work. If you want to get the energy of collaboration, you want small communities to be more effective.
4. Portals and plug-ins everywhere. Government has always thought in silos. Open government is about breaking down those silos.
5. Self-organization is better? The power of what we see in the Middle East is self-organization. Government needs to facilitate not do.
The whole idea of what foreign policy is going to change profoundly. She says, "iIf we're going to do this, we're going to have to change the way we think about our professions."
In a New World, we have to think about existing professions differently and gives the following 'spot-on' answers.
- Editor (old world) to Finder, Mapper (new world)
- Publisher (old world) to Aggregator (new world)
- Reporter (old world) to Verifier, Curator (new world)
- Public Relations (old world--image) to Convener (the person who brings together lots and lots of actors)
- Diplomat (old world) to Connector (new world)
- Leader (old world) to Catalyst (new world)
In these new roles, she concludes, we can build a networked world, one that is open, working from the bottom up. And, as a result of this, foreign policy will dramatically change. Enter, the new actors on the global open platform political stage.
October 20, 2011
Iceland's President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson Talks About Lessons Learned
Iceland’s President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson took the PopTech stage in Camden Maine on October 20, 2011, where he discussed economic crises and how to handle them in a way that will ensure long term sustainability of a country. He used his own as an obvious example, which has not only faced economic issues but natural disasters over the past year.
President Grimsson spoke about how he made a choice for his country that would either make farmers, local businesses and individuals take responsibility for their own decisions which would impact the financial health of the country OR turn to/blame the force of the market.
He chose to choose the democratic will of the people, which he says, hasn’t brought on the dark results that everyone predicted it would.
In his day, he reminded the audience, demonstrations and protests were the only way to get noticed and bring about change. “Now,” he says, “we are now seeing people power in its purest form, enhanced by social media. The fundamental essence remains to challenge political institutions as never before.”
"The power of the people through social media has dramatically accelerated change, making the traditional political decision making process has almost become a side show," he says.
Below are some lessons he has learned from Iceland:
- Significance of China. "The arrival of China is here now, not ten or twenty years from now," he says. "The leadership of China was the one of the most successful discussions following the collapse of the banking system than any other country we talked to, including Germany, Italy, U.S., France and others."
- The banks have become high tech companies, threatening the growth of the creative sectors of our economies. He says, "What we learned in Iceland, when the banks collapsed, is that the pool of talent from the banks were suddenly all available. "Even if the banks are successful, it’s bad news for a country that wants to be a player in the creative economy," he adds.
- The importance of clean energy. The lesson learned is that if you have built up a clean energy economy, it will help you fight against financial crisis in the future. It provides people with a lot of energy at a low cost.
September 29, 2011
Aneesh Chopra: Blue Buttoning Our Own Data Will Fuel Innovation & Empower Americans
If you haven't heard of the name before, Aneesh Chopra is the United States Chief Technology Officer, where he serves as an Assistant to the President and Associate Director for Technology within the Office of Science & Technology Policy. Whooah Nelly, that's a mouthful of a title.
In other words, he works to advance the President’s technology agenda by fostering new ideas and encouraging government-wide coordination to help the country meet its goals from job creation, to reducing health care costs, to protecting the homeland.
I had a chance to listen to him speak at the Idea Festival recently, where his talk focused on the President's mission and goals, with a central core theme to make it happen: working from the bottom up, not the top down and opening up data so others can create and innovate with it, and we, as a nation, can thrive.
Here's what they're currently focused on within the above framework:
- Putting more people back to work
- Boosting access to capital for high growth companies
- Turning job seekers to job creators
- Unleashing the mobile broadband revolution
- Modernizing 35,000 schools
- Making government services transparent to job creators
- Open Government aka the Start Up America initiative
- Patent reform
- Catalyze breakthroughs
Technology was a big part of his message as he echoes Obama's pitch, "for our families and our businesses, high speed wireless service and mobile is the next train station, it’s the next off-ramp..it’s how we’ll spark innovation, new investment, new jobs." He also referenced Silicon Valley start-ups on more than one occasion, including Instagram and Crowdflower.
Aneesh says that there's an aministration commitment to unleash market opportunities by framing current or proposed policies to inspired entrepreneurs and gaining valuable policy feedback for iteration with an emphasis on healthcare, education and energy.
Where is the puck heading?
"We need breakthroughs," he says. "The only way is to tap into new hubs outside Silicon Valley." Hear hear Aneesh.
He also talked about education dominance, pushing software that adapts to how students learn, inspiration for the proposed ARPA-ED. They want to open up the data to teachers and make it accessible to them and their students, regardless of where they are in the country.
Another challenge they face he throws the audience's way is the clean energy revolution. They're hoping that ARPA-E investments and NIST standards activities will spur creativity.
He cites the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as an example, America's center for weather data. The weather industry is worth about $2 billion he reminds and "they're fueled because of open government data."
Aneesh adds, "we can also encourage market transparency." Healthcare.gov is a comprehensive catalog of insurance options, an effort to create more transparency than ever before. You’ll be able to find pricing data, how often an insurance company charges a premium, and how often were people rejected (denied coverage for whatever reason).
He also mentioned “Blue Button”, a public/private initiative that scales, where veterans can download their personal health information from their My HealtheVet account. My HealtheVet users who receive VA health care services can also refill their prescriptions and view their appointments, allergies, and laboratory results online.
Why not transfer that kind of tool to other areas and industries he says, such as education. "Imagine if every student could get a downloadable document of his/her assessment, a personalized platform that translates from student performance to market reality. We need personalized platforms for each of our children that can translate into something meaningful. This is the kind of thing that can fuel products and services. Find where the data sits and find out a way to liberate that data.”
He adds, "We're liberating government data & if people can become billionaires because of it, God Bless." The audience laughs.
He continued to push the open government throughout his talk including in the Q&A at the end, which was incredibly well received. (note: while the audience had visitors from the west coast, DC, the north, NYC and other places, there was a large number of locals - aka the midwest meets the south...in other words, family values and education are high priorities).
Certainly blue buttoning our own data is going to fuel innovation and empower individuals. Isn't it where we have to go? If we don't, we become victims rather than creators of our own lives and destinies in more ways than one.
September 29, 2011 in America The Free, Conference Highlights, Europe, On Being Green, On Education, On Health, On Innovation, On Mobile & Wireless, On Politics, On Technology, On the Future, Web 2.0 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
September 23, 2011
Parag Khanna on How to Run the World by Turning it on its Head (From the Bottom Up)
In his Idea Festival talk, Parag Khanna addressed the shifts we're seeing around the world. He thinks what is happening in the Arab world is the beginning of what we're going to see elsewhere.
Almost all Arab countries are post colonial countries. He says, "most of the 200 countries in the world look a lot like the Arab countries falling apart in the last six months."
And, asserts Khanna, “we’re in for a decade of this at least and watch this unfold for a very long time. At least 80 or 90 countries are experiencing the same kind of decay that a lot of the Arab countries are today. Expect to see a lot more falling regimes.”
We have to not just focus on economic and political issues in a silo. Things are complex so rather than look at how the UN is defining global progress, look at how private enterprise can assist as well. For example, what happens at the Clinton Global Initiative is very different than what happens in the UN, since it is much more representative and accurate of who has the real power.
It includes CEOs, entrepreneurs as well as politicians. This translates into offers from companies who can help facilitate change at a global level. For example, a mining company pledged to support a workforce in a South American country. We should be looking at ways to improve the ways we can measure real change in people’s lives.
The power has shifted when you have cities and mayors who are key in climate change decisions, the fact that that the Gates Foundation commits as much money as most governments do and that Walmart has more gas emissions coming out of their buildings than the country of Ireland.
Diplomacy is the glue at which we urn the world – it’s the relationships, the alliances, the solutions. It's the most important thing that we do and don't even realize it. Khanna notes that we live in a world today where there’s more diplomacy than ever before and yet it’s less organized.
How do we sort out the moss pit of what exists with political leaders today? He recommends the following principles:
- Diplomacy needs to be inclusive. Anyone who wants to be part of a resolution to a problem should be involved.
- Decentralization – solving problems at the source. People in developing countries with real problems don’t need policy papers or money that is stored in centralized funds somewhere in Paris. It’s much better to give money to people directly if you can through micro-finance through organizations like Kiva.
- Become our own diplomats: each of us needs to think of ourselves as diplomats. Within ten years, everyone on the planet will have a mobile phone or a phone within their immediate family. Everyone will be able to reach everyone else. A lot of these phones will be smart phones and will have telebanking and mobile banking baked in….the latter is growing incredibly fast in Africa.
He ends his talk by saying “the best global governance is local governance," and working from the bottom up, not the top down.