Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Things I Carry

A neighboring highschool had this tradition -- departing seniors wrote essays, describing the things
they carry with them as they leave school; the things gleaned from that phase in their lives that shape them as human beings. Its an allusion to the great book/essay from Tim O'Brien. I was thinking about that today. I have less than a few hours left in my official capacity at GlobalGiving. What do I carry?

Love and admiration
for the most amazing brilliant crazy stimulating fun people anyone can be blessed to call friends and colleagues.

Confidence in world-changing product that I and those amazing colleauges of mine have been building. There is still much to do, but we should
take stock of what has already been done and the social change we have enabled.

A taste of what it means to unleash people's potential to maximize innovation and deliver results.

It sounds so mundane, but GlobalGiving and its people are very very special.

My wish to all of you is that you continue to be so.

I look forward to my new role in the GlobalGiving Community, that of a project leader.

So no goodbye quite yet. Just a ciao, for now.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Ears of empathy?

A few weeks back, I went on a serious rant about abusing public resources in the name of learning. The sting still burns, and I've been trying to put my finger on why. A few things are coming together together:
Social change is truly inefficient if each participant in the process must "live" the experience before they "get it." That is to say, we are lost if we can not be empathetic enough to participate in the change process until we've experienced the worst of the human condition individually. It is hard for me to believe that in today's global society, burgeoning with digital media tools, that a direct experience is the only way to establish empathy. I realize that the following are not mainstream -- but, if we're truly listening -- shouldn't they do the trick?
Global Voices -- bringing voices the south into mainstream journalism
KarmaTube -- Inspiring the world one video at a time (in beta)
Rhythmic Uprising -- using podcasts to report on social change in Brazil
These are just a few that move me.
I guess these only work if we are listening, so I question if we are. I have often been at mutli-cultural events, where the diversity of the room is heralded, but the dialogue remains polite and restrained. I wonder if the diversity sentiment itself lacks integrity, e.g. we get excited about diversity, but never really open ourselves up to listen to the diverse perspectives that would lend itself to empathy. Helen LaKelley Hunt writes:
"What is it like to be a welfare mom? A lesbian wanting to raise a child? An incarcerated mother? A woman of wealth struggling with guilt? A man doing the best he can to keep his family together, who is accused of being domineering? In our efforts to prescribe solutions for world problems, do we take the time to ask questions like these and then to quietly listen to the answers?"
Yasmina questioned whether I would be equally mifffed if Keely had been an investigative journalist. Had she been EXPOSING a problem, I would certainly be in a different position. However, the problems with the welfare system have been exposed -- google "problems with welfare" and you'll get the immensity of this exposure. Keely had the opportunity to discuss life with a few welfare recipients. Did she not believe their stories? Or was she not listening?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Yasmina Zaidman in the NY Times

Good article in the Times about Acumen Fund and its approach to social change through investments.

My good friend adds some depth to the article as well:

"But often local entrepreneurs do feel tension between business and philanthropy, said Yasmina Zaidman, who manages water projects for Acumen. They are caught because nonprofits tell them to “stop making money off the poor” while business executives say, “If you want to make money, get serious, stop messing around in the rural areas,” Ms. Zaidman added. “They haven’t been supported or acknowledged.”

This is a critical issue in our social entreprise community (and I think the spokesperson is pretty brilliant too).

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Elect the "Un-Woman"

Today in the Washington Post, Benjamin Wallace-Wells asks: Is America to racist for Barack? Too Sexist for Hillary? He lays out a series of provacative questions:

Is one characteristic -- race or gender -- more socially crippling than the other?

Is electing its first female president not pioneering enough for America? Worldwide, there have already been 35 female world leaders... (if only there was a formatting technqiue to underscore sarcasm...)

Because Barak is post-racial, does he have the advantage?


Here, he argues that Barak's "exotic background" makes him a "new kind of human," one that does not carry the political baggage, moral authority, and experience of that defining era in US history known has the civil rights movement. And that this might make Americans more comfortable with a black candidate.

There is also 'post-gender' candidates, but Hillary doesn't fit the bill. Being a woman is indeed part of her identity as a politician -- a decision she has consciously made. Additionally, the public's eye is clouded with images of Hillary the Wounded Wife, Hillary the First Lady, Hillary the Lesbian, Hillary the Bra-Burning Feminist. Oh, and Hillary the Senator who has saved her state's bases, reclaimed jobs, and got immediate compensation for the famililies of 9/11 victims.

If being a post-gender candidate is the way to take the White House, and Hillary is too much woman for us, thats OK (again, where is my sarcasm formatting tool???), because:

"Fredrick Harris, a political scientist at the University of Rochester, sees a post-gender future out there, and its name is Condoleeza Rice. The secretary of state he notes, 'is unmarried, has no children, is completely dedicated to her job, for pleasure she plays the piano and works and that is about it'."

Condoleeza has definitely not made being a woman part of her political identity. She is Bush's right hand man and stands for nothing other than his agenda.

For those of us advocating for a women in the White House, do we care (politics aside) if its the "female president," or the "post-gender" president good enough?

If the latter is good enough, perhaps we're just advocating for the sake of precident. That is, we need a female president in order to get America past that proof of concept phase, i.e. the national realization that a female president won't blow up the country with a bad case of PMS.

The other side of the argument is that a woman in power will inherently bring different good outcomes. Female leadership is critical because it brings with it a female framework to problem solving and resolving differences, human and economic development, and national protection.

Case in point: When Muhammed Yunus created the Grameen Bank making small loans to woman, his goal was not to create more women owned businesses for the sake of equality. He gave the loans to women because revenue generating women are likely to (1) use profits to shelter, feed, and educate their children (ending cycles of poverty), and (2) reinvest in the business. Men would be more likely to (1) default on their loans, and (2) spend profits on hooch. The decision was a strategic one for leveraging the most social benefits from the investments. Thats not to say that microloans aren't available to men, they are indeed. However, the vast majority are still aimed at engaging women.

The women's funding movement shares a similar philosophy -- that providing resources and opportunity to women is a strategic approach for realizing the best outcomes for communities and individual families.

The logic then is that giving a woman the power and voice of the presidency should be also be a strategic approach. My problem then is with the focus on the "post-gender" candidate -- that candidate who, like the "post-racial" candidate holds none of the perspective and sensitivity that might contribute to great leadership.


Thursday, November 09, 2006

My Interconnected World

My world view is one based on the interconnectedness of people and issues. The interconnectedness of issues was understood at a young age when my parents brought Jacob, a young African man from apartheid South Africa to live with us. I knew nothing of apartheid at that time, but I knew I loved Jacob -- he was a talented dancer who would spend the evenings after dinner teaching my sister and I the art of Soweto dance. One night, there was news coverage of an anti-apartheid riot in Soweto and I saw coffins the size of children. I understood immediately that Jacob would return to Soweto and that his fate could be like that of those dead children. My world immediately got smaller and I understood that the personal is political.

The interconnectedness of people I only absorbed later, and surprisingly it came from activism in my church. Surprising now only because Scott and I are not active in any church. We've intended to be once we settled down in a community; years have passed and we haven't felt settled, so we remain outside of the religious communities. But in high school, I served on the Board of Christian Education, I taught Sunday School, I was a member of the Youth Council for the state of Connecticut, and I was an active member of the youth group that pioneered service trips to such 'remote' locations as West Virginia and Kentucky.

It was through my work on the Youth Council that I also grabbed the opportunity to work in an orphanage in Puerto Rico when I was 16. During one Sunday service, about a month before I left for Puerto Rico, our Minister called me to the pulpit and announced to the congregation what I was doing. It was embarrassing, of course, though not because I was 16 and in front of the congregation; it was embarrassing because I didn't want the service work to be 'called out' as anything special. But the congregation was impressed and showed its support through an outpouring of checks to offset the travel costs, travel wisdom for a girl who had not been out of the continental US, and their overall love and support.

I'm not sure I can adequately express how I processed that love and support, other than to say that suddenly faith and religion felt very tangible to me. I could feel the spirit of the congregation around me, supporting me, and I believed in it as something that gave strength and faith. I understood the interconnectedness of people as profound.

I've continued to realize that interconnectedness in my professional life which gives new meaning and rewards everyday. I haven't dwelled on its religious context until recently. I am reading Helen LaKelly Hunt's Faith and Feminism: A Holy Alliance. Helen is trying to mend the rift between secular and non-secular feminism. The book illustrates how feminists throughout history have used their faith to realize their feminist agenda, rather than feeling ostracized from it. (It is a good read for those interested).

In the Letter to the Reader, Helen lays out her core message:

"We are meant to live in unity. We are meant to be interdependent. We are meant to be responsible for each other."

I think reading those words took my breath away. Helen had so acutely captured my own belief system. A little known fact is that I have toyed this year with pursuing an advanced degree in theology. It felt intuitively right, but as a nonchurch goer, it felt hard to justify or explain. What was I searching for in theology? What did I feel I could offer in public service? With no answers, my interest wained on the back burner. Reading Helen's words, I was thrilled and my interest in faith and spiritualism was rekindled.

At a far deeper personal level, those words took on new meaning this week. Scott and I have been nurturing another little secret. While embracing the excitement of new jobs and a move back to New England, we also discovered we were going to have a baby. It was overwhelming at first, but with a little time, we fully embraced the expansion of the Stefanski clan. At two months and with a little trepidation, we began telling family members and close friends.

But as quickly has it had happened, it was over. I had a miscarriage this week. Apparently, one in three pregnancies results in a miscarriage, and logically, we can understand that this is nature's way of saying it wasn't meant to be. We get that, but it didn't make it any less painful for us.

With the diagnosis, we've begun the process of telling our families and friends -- those who we had told we were pregnant and those we hadn't. Many of the women in my life have also experienced a miscarriage and are sharing their experiences. At a time, when I am unsure how it happens, feeling guilty that it was something I did, their stories solace me; others are just regaling us with love; and others are simply making me laugh (a good feeling when your days are filled with spontaneous crying). While their outpouring of support did not make the sadness go away, it is helping us process it.

I feel our interconnectedness and it gives me strength.

I share this because modern wisdom inhibits women from sharing news of their pregnancies until they are safely passed the first trimester. Keeping the workplace issues aside, I do know just how hard it is to make those 'follow-up' calls when things go wrong. It does, however, give people the the information they need to rally around you, to care for you, and to love you when, at least for a while, everything else seems a little bleak.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Bill O'Reilly (Fox media mogul and anti-choice -- I'm not linking to him out of complete disdain) referenced on national television that he has seen and reviewed patient records from 2 clinics (clinics that among other services provide abortions) in Kansas. The clinics claim that the records were recently released to Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline. The clinics are charging Kline with sharing these records with O'Reilly.
One of the clinics in question has already been a victim of violence -- the clinic was bombed in 1985 and the primary doctor was shot in 1992.
The leak of this information makes the patients and doctors vulernable to harm and violates privacy. I will not get into the irony of the (religious) right's platform -- it is full of inconsistencies. I will leave it at this -- it is disgusting and dangerous and I hope American's use their vote tomorrow to do something about it.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Northern Bound

Hats off to Dana, for suspecting a mystery. One month without blog updates, sporadically out of the office, and being uncharacteristically silent about the whole thing. (Hats off to Dana for also probably being the only one in the universe who frequents this blog!)

So the truth is now out:

Scott and I (and of course George) are moving to Maine!

I am joining the Maine Women's Fund as their new Executive Director. I will talk more about the fund later, as well as my thoughts on leaving GlobalGiving.

I'm going to focus here on the move to Maine. It has been said, and those who have said it will remain anonymous, that my interest in moving to Maine is huge shock. Hmmm.... then I guess I must share a few little known facts:

- Moving to Maine was subject of Scott's and my first date
- I knew I had hooked Scott when he told me he had started pricing kayaks
- "Blogs I am reading" section contains two links: BlogHer and From Away
- I have vacationed on Chebeague Island (yes, in Maine) forever
- Scott and I got engaged on Chebeague Island (going back to that first date conversation)
- My best friend Megan lives in Monmouth Maine
- My testimonies about struggling with a sense of place and disdain for Washington life were captured here and here
- I want to live in a place where I can raise chickens and George wants to live in a place where she can herd sheep
- I intend for my next race to be a kayak regalla
- My profile states that one of these days Scott and I intend to live a Dog's life style. OK. not a direct Maine reference, this is a quote from Pam Houston (Cowboys are my weaknesses) who says about owning a dog -- they force you to live the kind of live you actually will enjoy living. for us, that Dog's life style is in Maine.

For anyone else for whom this is a shock, I hope that this will provide a little context.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Olympians raise $120,000. Whew hoo!

Proof in the pudding about making an ask. The GlobalGiving Olympics put out the challenge to all project leaders -- ask your network to participate. Those who get the most participation (measured in absolute dollars donated) will win a prize.

Roughly 15 organizations participated -- raising $120,000 in 3 weeks. Two organizations accounted for over $90,000. This is an impressive nonprofit campaign. We saw very creative mobilization techniques:

Ray Umashankar and the ASSET India team were true Olympians during the competition, employing a variety of fundraising strategies that helped them earn first place. From emailing all ASSET supporters to contacting corporations and major donors and even driving around Tucson to pick up checks personally, Ray promoted his project and the Olympics opportunity nonstop. ASSET India was featured in a variety of newspapers and publications targeting the Indian diaspora community, such as this article on Yahoo India. When asked to share a tip for successful fundraising, Ray emphasized persistence and said, "The real reason for success is in the follow up, not in the e-mail message."
Inderjit Khurana, her son Anoop, and her organization Ruchika have been members of the GlobalGiving community for four years, and they put these years of experience into practice to earn second place in the Olympics. Ruchika had an anonymous donor offer to match all contributions to the Helpline project, and they sent an email to all Ruchika supporters encouraging them to take advantage of the matching opportunity and help Ruchika's project win the Olympics. Inderjit and Anoop also posted progress reports on the Helpline project and their previous project, "Train Platform Schools for Children in India," offering an update on Ruchika and encouraging donors to give again for the Olympics program. You can see their progress report here.

Competitions at GlobalGiving, like the Olympics, are run with more than volume mobilization in mind. We are ultimately testing the potential of social networks. The Olympics and the GlobalGiving Open test the scope and reach of the project leader's networks. The goal is to inform how these networks can be used to (1) identify good organizations for the community; (2) assess the reputation of hundreds of organizations around the world quickly and efficiently; (3) mobilize supply side economics.

What are we learning?

1. There is a power law in participation and mobilization. Two organizations were accountable for 2/3 the volume.
2. There is an optimal use of incentives. The potential of earning $75,000 mobilized $120,000 and got 15 organizations engaged. At the GPF (also an experiment) the potential of 15 organizations splitting $100,000 mobilized 200 organizations. Matching funds for one organization or campaign results in little mobilization on behalf of the organizations, but is a large incentive for donors.
3. The network is not just something to be activated; successful mobilization depends on the network being aware of the opportunity and mobilizing the organization to do something.

How will we intend to utilize this? Not sure yet. But we'll keep you posted.