Thursday, March 13, 2008

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Missing the Point on Rhetoric

Another conversation with my friend DC challenging me to think more critically about my issues with Obama. At the end of the conversation, I'm even more befuddled, what is my problem with this campaign?

Then I read this editorial in the Financial Times and I thought -- maybe my frustration isn't so much with Obama as it is with the Americans who buy into empty messages. If the last election taught us anything, its that we need to put a critical eye on our candidates and not get caught in their hype.

The rebuttal in the paper this morning was smart and pointed -- making me feel, well, stupid. "Rachman misses the point," writes the contributor.

"Obama is appealing to voters who wish: first, to return to the traditional American land of hope from the present environment of fear; second to see a change from the traditional style of Washington-dominated politics; and third, to hold their heads up high as Americans when they travel abroad."

Huh. OK. I get that. So its not so much about actual tactical change at a policy level. Its about change within ourselves. Being hopeful. Not being afraid. If thats the case, my own hope would be that, if Obama is elected as the next President, that in this new paradigm of hope and change-- that the American people continue to be hopeful, set high standards, and hold their President accountable to these standards. Because even if we buy into a message of hope rather than fear, we still need see changes at the policy level to make that hope stick, to enable us to be proud to be Americans.

But OK... I get the message now.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

And the Deal is...

A friend and colleague was at the house yesterday. Together , we're working on the roll out of the Maine Women's Fund new economic security initiative together and while I'm on maternity leave we meet in the front room of my house, drink tea, and think great thoughts.

She was doting her new copy of "Pink" -- a magazine for professional women; she was so excited about the magazine, she was practically fawning over each page. I knew from the get go that I wasn't going to get a lender, so after she left, I checked it out on line.

As is my fancy I went straight to the blogs, where I read this from editor Cynthia Good:

It's easy to get bogged down by things like negotiating contracts, dealing with high-demand clients, answering two ringing telephones at once, replying to 320 e-mails a day and so on. Your employees' livelihoods (as well as your own house) are on the line. And the deal is – despite all the pressure, you aren't allowed to be a stressed-out b---h!

Wow. I know that feeling. Its not easy when the buck stops with you, and as much as I know I'm up to the challenge, that doesn't make it any easier on those lonely days when you know not to show fear, tension, stress, and anxiety. I suddenly felt overwelmng appreciation for the great leaders I've provoked, yelled at, and criticized all in the name high expectations. And I felt even more appreciation for those friends who have emerged as mentors and coaches. And finally, I was immensely grateful to work with colleagues with high EI and know when to ask: who can I best support you? Sigh... YOu guys rock!

OK. I'm done with my love fest.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Yellow lines and dead armadillos

Let me just say this -- I want change in the White House, and I'll be even more happy to herald change if it comes with the first female or the first African-American president. And I'd be more than ecstatic to welcome them both at the same time.

With that said... let me be Eli for second -- irrational, stubborn, and prone to gross generalizations.

I'm realizing lately that I have a VERY high disdain for unrealized leadership potential. Don't have it in you? That's fine. But if you have it in you and don't live up to it, that's bad. Very very bad. Second to this, I have a very low tolerance for inauthenticity.

Ask me my thoughts on Obama, and what you get is actual anger. Not fair really, since I don't know the guy and his stance on the issues is really no different than any other democratic candidate. At the root of my irritation is gay marriage. Like the other Dems, Obama is in the 'separate but equal camp' of supporting civil unions, but as a black man, I expect more from him. What's the point of diversity in the White House, if the diversity of experience doesn't yield a different platform? More to the point, I am not a justice chic and don't champion diversity because a marginalized group deserves it. I champion diversity because the myriad of experiences therein brings a myriad of new perspectives, which has inherent value for reflecting the many different perspectives in our country.

My friend DC tells me that Obama doesn't think the country is ready for a conversation about gay marriage. I thought about this for a while, and my response is: Well tough. The country really wasn't ready for a conversation about civil rights either -- it was tearing itself apart, burning cities, and destroying neighborhoods. But we had it anyway, and we are richer for it. But that's the thing about real change. Its hard and a lot of people will dislike you before you are done. Nobody, NOBODY, takes to real change without a fight.

One of my favorite mantras of all time comes from James Carville, speaking at my alma mater, responding to a question about why Bill Clinton couldn't be more middle of the road about some issue. Carville responded in his best southern drawl, "Son, there ain't nothing in the middle of the road but yellow lines and dead armadillos."

Obama is running on a platform of change. Leaders championing change need to be brave, they need to be bold, and they need to be OK with not being liked. Which is why I question whether any authentic leader championing change can run for a political office. In today's world, a political candidate needs to be liked by the masses and that means plenty of yellow lines and dead armadillos. It rarely means actual change.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Have Baby, Will Read

I am surprised at the amount of reading that is occurring in the Stefanski household. Between bedtime rituals, play time and nap time, there are number of opportunities to introduce the written word to Miss Willa. It is said that verbal communication (especially reading) will increase IQ as well as advance a child's reading skills and because neither Scott or I are inclined to simply narrate our day, we take as much of an opportunity to read out loud as we can. This month, Willa has read everything from the morning paper to Innovation Nation. Here's a quick run down of my favorites:

First Book of Sushi, a hand me down from one of my board members, and my favorite cardboard book to date. Who would not love:

I"ll take yellowtail hamachi and a red maguro slice.
Big, BIG Futomaki has so many grains of rice.


Ikura, squishy salmon roe like dabby dots of jelly.,
salty on my lips and yummy in my belly!

At bedtime (or what Mom and Dad would hope would be bedtime... without much luck), Scott is continuing the epic adventure of the Mysterious Island. This is a family and Maine tradition. We both were read these Wyath illustrated story books -- inspiring perhaps both a love of reading and a love of Wyath (a family of artists and Maine native). Scott began reading the Mysterious Island while Willa was in utero, leading to the instant recognition of his voice and a very nice calming effect.

Thirteen Moons, by Jonathan Frazier, is his first book since Cold Mountain. Its a great story, but nothing as powerful as Cold Mountain. I think what does set the book apart however is Frazier's love of place -- the Southern Appalachians -- and his ability to narrate its beauty. It actually had me missing the South and longing to pack Willa up for some winter camping. The zero and below temperatures, however, dissuaded me quickly.

The Meaning of Night was a Christmas present from Scott and also a great read. Per the editor's note, it is neither fiction nor non-fiction -- or at least, it can't be proven to be either. It is a confession by way of a manuscript found at Cambridge University, part of a collection bequeathed by a noble family of England in the 19th century. The book starts and ends with murders, and in between details the events leading up to both and explores the incidence of fate and coincidence in our crazy world.

Next on the reading list: Global Books a la Dana, the Paper Bag Princess, more of Mysterious Island, and some Amy Tan.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Any Given Sunday...

Tellingly, it was with those words that Scott and I wrapped up our evening last Saturday. He was, of course, referring to the improbable possibility that the Steelers would beat our undefeated Patriots in Sunday's game, and not to the possibility of an early arrival of our baby girl. But there you have it, our first lesson learned in parenting --any given Sunday life comes at you fast. In our case, it was Sunday December 9th when Ms. Willa Maclaren (Willa Mac) made her way into the world.

The second lesson we learned during childbirth itself, and this is both relevant to a previous post about our hippie dippie childbirthing preparations, and folks' inquiries about the efficacy of hypnobirthing. The lesson is that you do the best with the tools you have, and no one tool set is going to be a magic bullet for anyone. Or maybe other folks' have that experience. Something tells me no.

Despite our rigorous preparations, Scott and I were open to what would be. We wanted to give natural childbirthing a go -- primiarly so that we had a baby born into the world without drugs in her system, but also because working with your body, eliminating fear and tension, and incorporating deep breathing and relaxation, all seemed like sensible strategies. But if I ended up with an epidural or c-section, that was the way of the world.

In the end, we did have our natural childbirth -- and the hypnobirthing helped. Here's how. Contractions started at 3:45 am, and by 7 am, they were 5 minutes apart. I started listening to birthing day affirmations, eliminating any last fears I had. When I spoke to the doctor at 8, she told me I was the only patient she'd talk to who was giggling during contractions. When we got to the hospital, we were already halfway there in terms of dialation and I was feeling pretty good. The photo should speak for itself.

Ashley, the nurse who worked with us through the delivery, was a hypno Mom herself, and worked with Scott to incorporate her actions (i.e. moving me into new positions) into the hypnosis. The hypnosis kept me calm through the transition into full labor, and the next five hours of pushing. At the very end, when the doctor was telling me I should really consider an epidural or csection soon because I was exhausted, but when I wanted to keep going, the hypnosis and deep breathing allowed me to fall asleep between fairly rapid sets of contractions, giving me the strength I needed to push through the final stages.

There were two challenges -- unrelated to hypnobirthing. Willa was, as they say, "sunny-side up." The back of her head (the hard part) was positioned against my back bone. Normally, the soft (malleable) part of a baby's head is positioned against the back bone which allows them to squeeze on by. Its a different level of effort and discomfort to push the back of a head past the backbone. The second challenge is that my contractions stalled and I could push all I wanted, but without my body pushing as well, she really wouldn't go any where fast and she certainly wouldn't move past a back bone. The one disservice of our classes is that there is some fear of God when it comes to Pitocin -- a drug that will increase your contractions, but is also associated with harder, more painful contractions. I said no to Pitocin upon first offer, but when we really needed help, we said OK. Because of the IV, Ashley was able to begin me on low-level Pitocin and increase it as needed. I felt no ill-effects from the Pitocin at all, in fact, I felt nothing other than an increase in the contractions tht enabled me to push through till the end.

My point here is only that the Pitocin helped ME, didn't hinder me, which might not be true for EVERYONE.

We do the best with the tools we have, but no one tool set will serve everyone the same way and I think that any childbirth or childrearing "method" should start considering itself a guiding framework, rather than a method, to keep participants open to what may be.

That said, I think that we are both committed to using hypnobirtihng in any other Stefanski births.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Triple Crown Winners

I'm going to riff off one of Dana's recent posts about Triple Crown Winners, especially in light of my recent participation at Pop!Tech and the announcement that Pop!Tech is launching its own Social Innovation Fellows program.

The social enterprise trend is still a pretty nascent phenomena, and at its ethos is the concept of solving root problems with scaleable or sustainable solutions. Ashoka really began this trend by identifying and investing in social entrepreneurs -- individuals with the vision and skills to implement pattern-changing solutions to sticky problems. Originally, Ashoka invested in these early stage social entrepreneurs while they were in the start-up phase of implementation, a little financial and technical assistance could go a long way. Ashoka's theory of change banked on the impact that modelling and celebrating this amazing work could ripple into the community and enable anyone to see themselves as agents of change.

As the social enterpreneur trend began to take off, other organizations began to emerge to fill out gaps in the lifecycle ecoystem. The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship and the Skoll Foundation began investing in social entrepreneurs in the scaling phase, Acumen Fund began investing in social entrepreneurs who used market-based approaches to scale their social change solutions. I know from my work at Ashoka that all three saw their work as complementary. To some extent, Ashoka became a pipeline for other programs which is why, as Dana points out, we began to see many social entrepreneurs wearing different hats of recognition (and this is a good thing).

As these solutions gained in popularity, however, it is my opinion that social innovation award/fellow programs began to emerge as fundraising strategies rather than integral contributions to the ecosystem, and as part of that trend, organizations began to compete for recognition/branding of the individuals they worked with as "their" Fellows -- it became an "either/or" recognition rather than an "and."

Utlimately, I think this is damaging to the ecosystem exhibited in the early days by Ashoka, Acumen, and Skoll -- if we're not careful, I think it can also be an inefficient use of resources. Simultaneously, I believe that more recognition programs are important because they bring with them resources -- and therein is the ultimate need: we need more social entreprenerus with access to more resources. (Interestingly enough, in the private sector the emergence of "more" would be a good thing because it would inspire more innovation and more co-opetition. In the nonprofit sector, donors see more as a bad thing -- too many organizations basically doing the same thing competing for resources... As if Ashoka alone could/should invest in all the emerging social entrepreneurs around the world).

A key component of the ecoysystem, however, is the efficient flow of information. The Tech Museum needs to be able to access and assess the visible social entrepreneurs out there who are using technology to benefit humanity. Pop!Tech and its Project Masilukele needs to know about and be able to access other social entrepreneurs working in Kwa Zulu Natal who can complement their work by bringing enterprise based health distribution mechanisms, e.g. Riders for Health.

GlobalGiving is the perfect platform for this type of information flow (and it would be even better with a reputation system that aggregates and displays how this organization is growing within the greater ecosystem).

Given the ecosystem that is already in place, organizations like Ashoka or Pop!Tech should never feel its their role to own the market on identifying social innovation. They have their own role to play in advancing it.