April, 2011

  • Passion is Overrated: Focus on the 5 Cs for Social Impact instead – Conviction, Capability, Capacity, Commitment and Compassion

    Yesterday I had the opportunity to meet with an incredible group of smart, creative students who are here in Redmond competing at the U.S. finals of the Imagine Cup. I shared with them my view that passion is simply not enough to succeed.

    Every day at least one person tells me about their passion to make a difference.  I have always been confused about why people feel passion is such a critical component for them.  Why do they need to feel passionate about the work they do, or that they must have some passion in their life?  Students are taught to talk and write about their passion.  When we go for a job interview we talk about our passion.  It seems that passion is an overused and overrated word.  Now don't get me wrong, I too exude passion when I talk about the work I do.  But passion alone is just  not enough.

    When people come to see me seeking to join my team, I don't ask them how passionate they are about making a difference, instead I ask them to share with me any difference they may have already made, however small or insignificant it might be.  This is a far more insightful way to discover their strengths and weaknesses.

    I believe that success in any career is dependent on more than passion. 

    If you are serious about making a difference I recommend that you focus on what I call the 5 Cs:  Conviction, Capability, Capacity, Commitment and Compassion.  This may not be as sexy as passion but I guarantee you it will drive a greater and more lasting impact.

    Let me elucidate a bit. 

    To make an impact in anything, whether starting a lemonade stand or deciding to give up all your possessions and move to another country to work in a rural environment, one must first and foremost have conviction - a belief in an idea, a product or a service that you are willing to focus on. 

    Most of us have a new idea every minute but it's conviction that allows us to sieve through these ideas and settle on one that we are willing to pursue; one that is well thought out.  

    Once you have 'the idea' you then need to have the capability and the right skills to take that idea further.  For example:  you may have an idea to develop a system for water purification but unless you have  some knowledge of the issue or the willingness to put in the time to acquire the expertise, the idea will not progress.  Deep knowledge and skills are critical before embarking on implementing 'the idea'.  

    Once you know you have the skills to take your idea further you then need the capacity and the ability to put your ideas and skills to work - this means you have now taken the hard step of figuring out a plan of action and have the capacity to put that plan into practice.  

    The fourth 4 C is, in my opinion, is often the hardest to undertake and sustain - commitment.  You must combine the ability to take the plan and make it work with  the strength and resolve needed to stay the course.  There will always be obstacles and setbacks to overcome.  This is where most give up.  But to succeed you must make a commitment to stay the course, not fear failure, and learn from your mistakes - which are an inevitable part of making a difference.  With commitment you will try new avenues no matter what.  There are no short cuts. 

    Finally, it is about compassion.  You need to develop your ability to think beyond a narrow impact into a realm where you think beyond yourself and immediate context.  Now you are becoming conscious of the community around you and the impact your work will have - both good and bad.  You are focused on developing insight into any potential unintended consequences of your actions. 

    When you combine the 5 Cs you have the opportunity to drive sustainable, real, positive change.  Passion is a personal pursuit, it is important but the combination of Conviction, Capability, Capacity, Commitment and Compassion are the essential elements to getting real results.  

    When you understand and accept these demands you will be in a far better position to succeed in what you do, enjoy what you do and have a fulfilling experience at the same time.  If that is your definition of  passion then so be it. 

  • Reimagining the World – We are at the Center of Information Flow

    Change is inevitable in the world in which we live. Major disruptions are taking place economically, politically, socially, and technologically. While at times disturbing, these disruptions can spur the creative process and create opportunities to reimagine what we can do for the good of society as individuals, as organizations, and as communities. 

    I recently heard Malcolm Gladwell challenging the notion that the recent Middle East uprising are a Twitter and Facebook revolution.  He instead pointed out that the Iron Wall came down during a time when most people in what was then East Germany had no access to information yet over a million people were mobilized many more then showed up in Tharir Square.  Yet on the other hand we also know that how we consume and contribute to information flow has fundamentally changed. 

    What is common among the recent events in the Middle East is that they are leaderless uprisings with no visible leader in the mold of a Gandhi or King. 

    Why is that the case, what has changed?  I would posit that the changes in how we consume and contribute information is at the center of these changes.  We are no longer at the end of the information flow pipe as consumers of information rather we are at the center of information flow.  We are both creators and consumers of information and actively adding to the body of knowledge.  This I believe is a fundamental reimagining of the world and the opportunity it opens up for those of us in the development space is  exciting.

    These disruptions also prompt penetrating questions: For example, who are the experts? Are they the ones we have traditionally thought of as having expertise, or are they the people living in villages who, through the use of mobile technology, can provide data and information needed to diagnose health problems or make payments on microfinance loans in real time?  What is the role of experts and specialists when technology is making critical services more affordable and accessible? 

    What are the new appropriate models of partnerships? As nontraditional approaches are becoming more pervasive, we see increased collaboration among large companies and nonprofits that often leads to unexpected positive outcomes. While many organizations are struggling, the ones that are creating greater value through collaboration-NetHope, for example-are seeing their membership grow.

    Today nonprofits are increasingly thinking of businesses as essential partners in scaling up their impact and in achieving sustainability. Social entrepreneurs are realizing that not all breakthroughs will be exploited effectively by large corporations and that some early stage adoptions and innovations will come from them. Further, governments will have to be mindful about the timing and extent of policies that will be needed to help with these innovations that are taking place outside of the norms.

    These disruptions are blurring the lines between charitable contributions, venture funding, and direct funding. Organizations can now access multiple modes of funding, and funders are increasingly being pushed to rethink their funding purposes and the outcomes they seek.

    Nonprofit organizations are being forced to rethink the financial and social returns on their development investments. They can now share their research and learning more broadly, so they have the opportunity to reassess who is being served by their work. Is it the organization itself? The end recipients? The larger community? Or the entire development ecosystem?

    In the same way, as services are being made more accessible institutions  have to think of themselves not as isolated islands of privileged expertise, but as vital and precious elements in an ecosystem of different organizations that contribute to their evolution as well.

    We must also reimagine the role of volunteers. Volunteerism is increasingly a long-term strategic commitment and investment by an individual or group of individuals and not merely a one-way act. Organizations and their volunteers are increasingly able to form strategic relationships toward specific goals.

    Finally, we must reimagine the role of technology in nonprofit work. Technology is not simply a transactional tool that allows organizations to accomplish discrete tasks more efficiently. It can be-and must be-a transformational tool that organizations view as a powerful strategic ally in the successful pursuit of their mission.

  • Chile Beyond Good Wine

    I am spending three days this week in and around Santiago, Chile, at the foot of the Andes with a packed schedule of meetings and events.  I must say that while the wine and food are fantastic (recommendation: come to Chile on a wine tour as soon as you can), what I am really impressed with is the ongoing partnerships we have with a number of organizations in Chile, the Latin America region and globally. 

    This video gives more detail about what I am doing here this week.

    Yesterday, we held a roundtable with our NGO partners from across Latin America, from Mexico to Argentina.  Last time we had a similar meeting was in Cartagena over two years ago, so it was a great opportunity to catch up with friends and colleagues to hear what is happening in the programs they are implementing in places ranging from the most remote rural regions, to urban slums, to disaster zones. 

    As you might expect, we wanted to hear about how they are using technology to strengthen their organizations and achieve their missions more efficiently and effectively.  I must say that I am deeply impressed and very optimistic that a new era of innovation in the NGO world is upon us.  Social media serves as one example - these NGOs are using social media tools to track program impacts, reach out to new stakeholder groups and plan events.  We learned about a wide range of great examples:

    • Marcelo Bahamonde from the Chilean NGO Hogar de Cristo, who provides food, medical attention and other social services to over 30,000 people across Chile every day, shared how they are using technology to better engage with their beneficiaries. As a very lean organization, you can imagine that a technology project would be daunting. But Marcelo saw the value and communicated it in terms his leadership could understand. Hogar de Cristo uses Dynamics CRM to serve beneficiaries with a focus on a positive customer experience based on the philosophy that every human, regardless of their current situation, deserves to be treated with respect and care.


    • Marianella Santiago from Venezuela sin Limites spoke about how they are using SharePoint to link over 300 nonprofits in their country.
    • Marilyn Silva from Superatec spoke about using social media and Facebook to keep in touch with young participants during and after training to help them find jobs and opportunities.

    There's incredible optimism.

    I am also meeting with several of our local NGOs independently.  Our partnership with Fundacion de Vida Rural is really a great example.  We met with a colleague from Vida Rural, along with other members of the partnership Entel (a local telecomm) and Olidata (a local computer manufacturer) to review the Chile Conect@Chile project.  This effort has actually been in place since 2003, but the value of our long-term partnership became immediately clear on February 27th last year. 

    Within days of the devastating 8.8 magnitude earthquake, Chile Conect@Chile delivered the first mobile Community Technology Center in the disaster zone.  Since then, 16 other centers have been delivered, with three more on the way.  These centers provide a vital link in the impacted communities, helping residents find lost friends and family, stay in communication, access public resources available to them, and perhaps most importantly complete skills training to help them find jobs when their former jobs have disappeared (literally, in some cases).  Tomorrow, we will make a site visit to one of these communities, so stay tuned on that front.

    Finally, I am attending the 3rd Global Telecentre Forum, being held at the impressive Gabriela Mistral Center in Santiago.  Telecentre.org represents a group of people committed to bringing technology to underserved individuals around the world.  There has been much debate about the role of community technology centers (telecenters) in the face of rapidly advancing internet connectivity even in the poorest and most remote areas of the world.  I think this video created by the Telecentre Europe team tells a compelling story, highlighting that as societies we simply cannot afford to exclude people from the digital revolution, from both the social and economic perspective.  The conference theme is employment, productivity and empowerment - all tangible outcomes that go well beyond simply providing access to the internet.  This is another area where innovation is the name of the game - in a multitude of scenarios, these organizations are creating and providing relevant services and content to individuals and communities to facilitate creation of small business, prepare people for the workforce and give people a voice in their country and in the world.  Our colleagues from Egypt are here with us and the positive role of telecenters in recent events there is undeniable. 

    Coming to Santiago has been an eye opener in many fronts - the beauty of the environment is there for all to see but clearly this corner of the world is at the forefront of innovation especially with regards to bringing the benefits of information technology to underserved communities.  From innovation through government agencies, businesses, academia and the nonprofit sector, there is vast movement.  My friend and colleague Claudio Orrego who has been at the forefront of this effort in Chile and is the Vice President of ATACH, the network of telecenters in Chile, said in his opening remarks ''information technology is here to stay and we have to make the best use of for the community at large". 

    Over the last two days it's become apparent that there's more to life than good wine.

  • Corporate Citizenship – You’re Gonna Make it After All

    I'm writing this blog post from a coffee shop in downtown Minneapolis. I'm here this week attending the Boston College Conference on Corporate Citizenship.

    As some of you may recall, Minneapolis is the setting for the Mary Tyler Moore show. When I think of the lyrics to the show's theme song it actually resonates with the topics I've heard from many of the conference attendees.

    While there are people here from a diverse set of industries, from pharmaceuticals to oil, retail, entertainment, technology and financial, we all have similar challenges and opportunities in our work. I even spent some time chatting with a gentleman from the Hugh Hefner Foundation. Ironically, he probably had the easiest to remember charter of anyone I encountered when he said, "their focus is on First Amendment rights."

    Everyone wants to improve their storytelling. The book, "Made to Stick" was mentioned several times as a great inspiration for concise and compelling communications.

    I can't think of anyone who spoke and did not have a success story coupled with a cautionary tale around cause marketing initiatives. The best example I heard in the 'success' column was by TELUS out of Canada. The campaign provided an app to TELUS Blackberry customers allowing them to turn their social media profile pictures pink in support of helping Canadian health organizations purchase mammogram machines. They blew through their monetary commitment to the cause in one day. So, they immediately raised their contribution and then hit that ceiling two days later. Their success was impressive and I appreciated that they were open enough to be honest that they won't engage in one-for-one matching in the future. They plan to use a range from now on. Two of TELUS' theories on why the campaign caught like wildfire were a low barrier to entry and giving the customer something tangible to help achieve a goal (the purchase of medical equipment). Here's an overview of their campaign.

    Since we are in Minneapolis, we heard from Brian J. Dunn, the CEO of Best Buy, as well as several of their sustainability focused employees. I was impressed with the work they are doing across their entire company. Their new e-waste take back program sounds very practical and they want to be a leader on this topic instead of waiting until legislation tells them to do something. The team admitted that they were not sure how their e-waste program would be received, but it soon turned into a no-cost marketing program. Their commitment to their values and allowing their 180k strong workforce to be ambassadors on social media is a bold step and fits with their customer demographic

    Brian talked about his own use of social media and he has a blog with a powerful video of Best Buy's new Shepherdsville Distribution Center and their commitment to people with disabilities. I have never seen a company of this size make such a strong stand to focus on their employee's strengths.

    When it came to large global organizations, I was struck by how similar everyone's corporate socially responsible programs are setup and administered. From my own team at Microsoft, Boeing, and all the way to Abbott, the need to embed your Corporate Citizenship values and practices throughout your business is key to its success and sustainability. Anne Roosevelt (Vice President, Community and Education Relations) of Boeing talked about working across many countries and she said you need to have, "a country strategy and not a product strategy." This message resonated with a lot of people.

    Jan Fields of McDonald's USA talked about their programs and challenges around sourcing in an ethical manner but what really stood out to the crowd was their plan to have a broad "Hiring Day" this month. They are looking to add 50,000 people to their workforce on April 19th. That is a staggering number and Jan shared some passionate videos of employees talking about how their "McJob" has really turned into a career.

    This is my first time attending this conference and I have thoroughly enjoyed the connections and conversations I've had over the past few days. It seems that the people working on socially responsible business practices see the highs and lows of their companies at any point in time. So, just like the theme song, "We are gonna make it after all."

  • Reflections from the Pacific Northwest Global Donors Conference

    Photo credit/copyright: Kenna Klostermann

    I had the opportunity to participate earlier this month in the second annual Pacific Northwest Global Donors Conference, held here in Seattle. The conference brings together grantmakers and philanthropists in the greater Pacific Northwest who are active in or curious to understand more about global philanthropy. Microsoft sponsored the event this year and I had the opportunity to work with other members of the organizing committee in putting the conference agenda together.

    A number of themes emerged from the content, sessions, and discussions at the conference:

    1. Technology is hugely important to small foundations and individual philanthropists, but all too often remains inaccessible or confusing to them. Especially for individuals at small family foundations. There is room for us to improve the reach and efficiency of their work by providing better guidance and more formal opportunities for them to learn about existing tools and technologies and how to use them. Organizations like TechSoup and NPower can play a critical role in helping small organization of all types use technology more effectively to achieve their missions. Volunteers can also be an extremely valuable asset, as volunteers can bring in outside expertise and guidance that may otherwise be out of reach.

    2. Reaching and influencing young people, though sometimes daunting, is critical to effecting long-term change in any area. It is a cliché, but the young women and young men of today are the leaders of communities and organizations tomorrow. Reaching them must be done in a way that is genuine and sincere; as organizations connect effectively with youth, and allow them to explore and contribute, while also informing and providing opportunities for learning and growth, they are building the foundation of long-term societal impact and change. Similarly, if youth are not engaged and allowed to explore opportunities there can be long-term adverse consequences. There was a great session at the conference focused on engaging with young people and it was breathtaking to see some of the projects that youth have overseen and administered to improve their lives and circumstances as well as those for others within their spheres of influence. Digital Democracy, whose mission is to empower marginalized communities to use technology to build their futures, is an example of a group of young people educating other activists and advocates about the power and pitfalls of information technology in spreading and amplifying democratic voices around the world.

    3. Finally, I was reminded of how dramatic an impact even a single individual can have on the world around them. Conference attendees heard from Idaho Philanthropist Greg Carr, whose organization, the Carr Foundation, has partnered with the people and government of Mozambique to restore the Gorongosa National Park, which had been decimated following years of civil war in that country. National Geographic has produced an award-winning documentary about the park, a trailer of which can be viewed here. Mr. Carr was not an expert on ecology or conservation or even Mozambique, but recognized a pressing need and knew that he could make a difference. Seven years later, the park, its surrounding ecosystems, and the people who live in and around it, are seeing some of the early and important fruits of those labors.

    Climate change also occupied some of the focus of the conference, as Kristi Heim wrote about in the Seattle Times.

    It was a unique and interesting conference in addition to Microsoft, participants also heard from the Starbucks Foundation, Trilogy International Partners and the Grameen Foundation Technology Center  about the work they do to further social causes around the world.

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