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.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Kobashi Maru

Do I out myself as complete geek by referencing the Kobashi Maru in a blog post? Its been coming to mind quite a bit lately -- the way song lyrics stuck in your head are often a reflection of a current thought or struggle.

Motherhood currently exists in my mind as the great unknown. I'm told its life altering, and as such, its impossible to imagine how I will want to live, how I will prioritize choices, and how my perception and my current daily operations will change. And because its impossible to imagine, I'm forced to envision the modern construct of motherhood -- time strapped, re-balanced priorities, professional retardation, missed opportunities. Its not an attractive vision to me.

I was pondering this the other day while reading an article by Elizabeth Debold, when Kobashi Maru popped into my head. I went onto other things but the reference wouldn't go away. It came back to me many times that day, forcing me to finally reflect on its relevance.

Kobashi Maru is a reference to an old Star Trek episode. As a young cadet, Kirk doesn't like the prospect of losing what is predestined to be an unwinnable war game. So he reprograms the computer such that he can win. He changes the framework. He changes the rules.

Why must I consider motherhood as a series of trade offs? Why is it always about reapportioning the pieces of the pie? Why can't it be about expanding the pie? "Because the pie is time," a colleague told me. "You can't create more time."

I'd like to argue that she's wrong. The pie is not time. The pie is energy and identity, which do grow. Should grow. Can create more space for new additions, passions, and joys.

And then, in the abundance of the universe, I happened to come across this meme. "If our interconnected universe is continually expanding," its creator asks, "shouldn't our identity do the same?" It is a silly and short video, looking at the dynamics that "promote and inhibit our expanding sense of self."

It made me think that maybe I'm not such a crack pot ... Or at least there are other crackpots out there who see the potential synergy between motherhood and the Kobashi Maru.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Despite two of our busier work weeks, Scott and I have managed to enjoy some quality down time with friends from DC and Maine (via DC). It's all part of that master plan to recruit the best of the best to our beautiful state. Plan could backfire as we become the vacation destination for friends and family alike -- but I won't complain. A few highlights include:

Molly, Joe, and their 5 month old son visited last weekend. As is always the case with Molly and Joe, we spent our time cooking and eating. However, we did make the rounds to the Common Ground Fair -- a true celebration of our organic hippie dippie state -- highlighted by my first taste of (organic) apple fritters and the dog trials (we're signing George up next year... how hard could it be?)

Donna arrived on Thursday, spending the day in Augusta with the MWF board, sharing insights on board development, economic security, and women's funds more generally. We spent Friday tooling around Portland -- visiting a few of my favorite destinations (Front Room, the Eastern Prom, Soak, and Walters). We spent the afternoon driving around the country side, trespassing on private private property and agog at the 31 varieties of pumpkins and 21 varieties of gourds that can be found in New Gloucester. We closed the night out at Bar Lola's -- my favorite dinner location where three can over eat local, yummy, seasonal foods for barely a buck (beverages included).

On Sunday, we met up with Megan and Mike and spent the morning apple picking at Ricker Hill Farm in Turner. The orchard is situated on top of a hill overlooking fields of apples, and with a great vantage point to the Western Mountains and the bright foliage that is appearing across the state. The apples were good too -- and have already appeared on the table in the form of homemade apple sauce and apple crisp.