It’s Not Charity: It’s Social Enterprise-investing in the future

It's not charity, it's social enterprise

When I give money to charity, I look closely at the aims of the organisation. I listen to the story and look for the downstream impact. And I look at the finances. I am keen to know how much of the money that is donated goes to programs and how much goes to administration.

Over the years my giving has changed. I noticed that I became more focused on this programs/administration split. I would stop supporting organisations as the admin component grew. In frustration, I eventually shifted my entire focus away from larger organisations to Kiva and to Vibewire – a youth arts and media not-for-profit. Through Kiva I have funded almost 100 loans now and continuously roll them over – I see them less as charity and more as social enterprise. In fact, that is what they are.

The same can be said for Vibewire which is entirely focused on providing a launchpad for young change makers.

But through my work with Vibewire, where I also serve as President, I have also learned about the need for administrative – or core – funding. Sure it is important to support programs and to impact individuals, but not-for-profits run on passion, enthusiasm and commitment. The money simply keeps the doors open. In general, NFPs stretch every last cent out of their available funds. On the surface, this is great. But in doing so, they find themselves with very little capacity to innovate.

As a result, the impact of change is more like a ripple than a tidal wave.

And yet, when we give to charity, we want and EXPECT to see that massive, transformational change. As Dan Palotta explains in the video below, charities are rewarded for how little they spend, rather than on the results that they achieve. Surely this should be the other way around.

So next time you are giving to charity, think about your actions and expectations. What happens when you think of your giving not as a GIFT but as an INVESTMENT in the future?

That’s the way I think of Vibewire (which is easier since it works specifically with young people). See what happens when you change the way you think about charity. What impact do you want to see and how can you make it happen – beyond the transaction of donating/giving? Take an additional step. Contribute skills. Expertise. Get involved. After all, it’s your future too.

Should You Work for Free

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Almost everyone I know has been asked to work for free at some stage in their career. The question may have come from:

  • A family member: perhaps your parents need help with their computer. Maybe your brother needs a website or some graphic design help. Perhaps your sister wants to shoot and edit a video for school. We’ve all been there
  • A not-for-profit: they do great work but need help from someone with your expertise
  • A startup: cool entrepreneurs bootstrapping their business need a lot of help. Maybe you know something that could help
  • A business: maybe things are not going so well, but with your help they could get through a recent dry spell. Perhaps there’s an opportunity for paid work down the track

It’s great to help people, but where do you draw the line? Are you in business for your self or are you giving your hard won expertise away for free? This great chart by Jessica Hische provides some handy questions that you should ask yourself before saying “yes” to your next free gig.

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Trend: I’m Fricken Michaelangelo

I'm fricken michaelangelo - college humor and trends

I’m overwhelmed by the sheer number of trend announcements and insights for 2013 that are circulating the web at the moment. It seems that we have an abundance of opinion yet live in the desert of insight.

Almost everyone says the same thing in a different way. Or with a quirky direction. Almost always there is an angle that reflects positively on the writer’s own work or business.

Now, there is nothing wrong with all this. In fact, I am working on my own trends document which I am sure you will gasp and coo about. But it’s not trends that we are talking about really. It’s marketing. We are spruiking our opinions based on an understanding of our markets and our business ecosystems.

It’s not rocket science (unless you are writing about trends in space exploration) but it is hard work. It requires effort, time to think and an ability to articulate a point of view.

And while there are many shifts and changes in our business landscape on their way. There is one that is paramount. I’m fricken Michaelangelo.

We all have opinions and share them for the “5 likes” that they are worth. Just watch this video from College Humor and you will observe all the trends that are taking place in front of our very eyes. Scary but true.


Dude to Dude – Bullying and Harassment is Not OK

The internet can be a messy, chaotic and unpredictable place. You can see some of the best and some of the worst of humanity on display … with the implicit understanding that we are all free to express our opinions.

Over time, many of us create personas through which we air our views and opinions. For example, I tweet using @servantofchaos but also use @gavinheaton – which has a different focus and audience. The ease with which we can setup these accounts often provides people with a false sense of anonymity.

But what happens when you witness bad or bullying behaviour? Do you say something, write, call it out or step back into the shadows of the social web?

I have always believed that to witness and NOT raise your voice in protest gives a silent nod to the behaviour you are witnessing. This sometimes makes for confrontation but often also leads to unimagined change. But whatever the outcome, speaking up at least gives permission for others to take your part or express their own uncertainties or fears – and that can only be a good thing.

Because the thing is … this is NOT just ONLINE. The technology is just another mask – and behind that screen is a real person.

Katie Chatfield shares a great video that provides some leadership. Jay Smooth’s Ill Doctrine blog is a treasure trove of in-your-face commentary on the nature of politics and masculinity. Here he talks about the appalling situation that confronted Anita Sarkeesian while running a Kickstarter project – finding herself the subject of a concerted and vitriolic sexist attack.

What I love about the video is that he addresses men specifically. One of my favourite lines (towards the end) is:

“No matter what scene on the internet is your scene, if you are a dude on the internet and you see other dudes in your scene harassing women or transgender people or anyone else who is outside of our little privileged corner of the gender spectrum, we need to speak up. We need to treat this like it matters. We need to add humanity into our scene to counteract their detachment from their humanity.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Take a few minutes to watch this clip – and then think about your scene – work, home, politics, sport, online and off. Find ONE way to add humanity into your scene and you will make this world a better place.

Feeling Sick and Tired?

I don’t know about you – but 2011 has been a stretch. Exciting, challenging – even a little fun – but still a stretch. A lot has been accomplished, but we’re still a month out from the end of the year.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed at this time of year – to be able to see that the end is in sight, but the finish line is beyond our grasp. And this can add to the year-end desperation – and in some cases, even lead to depression (if you feel this way, you may just need The Perfect Gift for a Man). One way to combat this is to take a quick look in the rear vision mirror and just assess your personal and professional achievements. There will be many things to be proud of – some small and some more significant. These all count and should be given their due.

So what are you most proud of? What worked? When I look back on the last year or so, I can see some significant personal and professional achievements:

  • I spoke on digital and social media strategy at the GE Leadership Workshop – a challenging and intense hour or so with GE’s emerging global leaders
  • The focus on public speaking continued through the year – and I found myself in front of large and small audiences at a range of Australian and international events, including the Macquarie Graduate School of Management’s Open Innovation Series, Australasian Sourcing Summit, Marketing Week, ADMA Forum, and Social Media Plus
  • I contributed a chapter to a book (in German) on the work that I have been doing with SAP’s Premier Customer Network. Social Intranet: Kommunikation fördern – Wissen teilen – Effizient zusammenarbeiten is available on Amazon – and it was nice to write rather edit and publish for a change!
  • My team and I launched, iterated, redesigned and began promoting PCN Connect – the closed community platform that connects SAP’s most strategic global customers. And now we’re continuing to roll it out beyond North America
  • My work, as President of Vibewire – a youth focused non-profit dedicated to ensuring young people participate in the important conversations of our time – continues to yield fruit. This year we made significant progress on the governance and capacity building fronts, held 10 live fastBREAK events featuring over 50 of Australia’s emerging innovators at the Powerhouse Museum, produced a book of creative works for and by the Vibewire community and provided over 20,000 hours of experience for young people starting their professional and creative careers
  • Coffeemornings – the regular Friday get together in Sydney for anyone and everyone keen to discuss ideas, culture, society with a bit of marketing and technology thrown into the mix – has now been going continuously for six years. Quite a milestone!
  • My fitness continued to improve, peaking in October, when I cycled over 330km in the month – burning over 8200 calories. I still have some way to go to “feel fit”, but there have been definite improvements

There have been plenty of other highlights – spending time with friends and family, travelling and learning new things, meeting new people and so on. In many ways I have been amazingly fortunate – and the hard work seems to be paying off. But I am looking forward to a break over Christmas and New Year.

What about you? Still ramping up towards year end? Has it been a break or breakthrough year for you?

Are Australian Businesses Bereft of Imagination?

Over the last couple of weeks I have watched the growth and spread of the #occupy movement – from the financial district of New York City to the streets of Sydney and Melbourne. This dishevelled and ramshackle mob seem to have touched a nerve. There’s a deep insecurity that is triggering a disproportionate response from Australian businesses, business people, politicians of all shapes and sizes and everyday individuals. Clearly we like our round pegs round.

And in almost the same timeframe I have been amazed at the way an Australian icon brand like Qantas has chosen to wilfully trash over 90 years of brand equity, focusing on the square peg problems of its unions, leaving thousands of its customers stranded across the world without a word of warning.

In a way, these problems have the same root cause – a chronic lack of imagination – something that has plagued our business sector for decades. Just look at the product launches of new “innovations” which are pale imitations of things that have been available overseas for years. Look at the way our industry leaders doggedly defend their oligopolies and market share, taking competitors to court and lobbying government for subsidies, tax reductions and bailout guarantees – and then complain when customers fed up with poor service, take their brand loyalty (and their wallets) and shop elsewhere.

When you have a square peg, a round hole and a hammer – well, you know it’s going to be used.

And I think – think – being the operative word – that this is the real promise of the #occupy movement. #Occupy is a challenge that is being thrown down to the big problems of our time – and it seems that we have no capacity to creatively respond to it. It’s disappointing.

By comparison – take a look at what Starbucks is doing in the US with its Create Jobs for USA campaign. They are teaming up with community lending institutions to provide financing to community businesses – and throwing in the first $5 million. Individuals can donate too – and receive a wristband with the poetic inscription indivisible.

And then take a look how this word has spurned a movement – a Twitter hashtag backed up by individual stories, crowdsourced support and community impact. David Armano talks a little about it here. A problem (and it is a shared problem) is identified, a business engages creatively – and as a business ecosystem – and the community steps in and supports it.

Now imagine if someone – anyone – over at Qantas had considered its communities of loyal travellers. Imagine if an idea had been sparked around these big problems – and that some action had been taken – not to amplify the problem, but to generate a solution.

You see, David Armano is right. Whether we like it or not, we are indivisible. We are linked irrevocably to the problems and challenges of others. So rather than ignoring them, it’s about time we #occupied our imagination and got to work on the challenges ahead of us all.

Would You #OccupyBondStreet in Support of #OccupyWallStreet?

With almost every breath we make decisions. About what to write and what to read. What to believe and what to discard. We follow our “hearts” but vote for political parties who work against our beliefs yet satisfy our materialistic aspirations.

The Occupy Wall Street protests continue to focus ever greater attention on inequality, corruption and greed.It’s a leaderless resistance movement that has spread slowly, but consistently from its base in New York across the US.

But I wonder.

It’s clear that We Are the 99% (after all, how many of the 1% read blogs, tweet or engage with the randomness of humanity that is Twitter?). But what does it take to shift from global recognition to local action? What would it take, from each of us, to go from affinity to sit-in? And more specifically, what are your personal boundaries and what happens when they meet your professional (or even moral) foundations?

I wonder would I (and could you):

Spend a night in the company of uncomfortable strangers under the lost stars
   of city streets
Or move beyond the words of a tweet, a post, an anxious tear?
Is there a place I would stand in, sit in, squat in in protest
    at the injustice of a world that validates me

Or does it all just seem too hard to bear?

Could I, would I, link arms with those battered by the inequities of time, place,
   education and happenstance
Or could I, would I, find my grain of truth
   that tastes like yours and smells so sweet?

Would I go so far as to find the words that change the course of time,
   that shake, endanger, explode our futures
Or do I fold my white knuckles in against themselves
Breathing stale air and broken promises?

How do we know the sound of history calling?
   And how is your call different to mine?
We answer only to the beats of our own hearts
   Counting. Changing. Stepping in time.

But in the cold, freshness of spring mornings
   it’s not a question of passion.

It’s knowing that your lone voice will be carried in the echoes
   of others. Dispossessed and connected. Dissatisfied yet free.

Or perhaps it’s none of these pungent vagaries.

Perhaps, at day’s end, it’s about doing what we must but also what we can.

So would you? Could you?

Or could you not?

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Images: Courtesy PaulS

#londonriots and the Shadow of Shame

Like many of you I am saddened, angered, disappointed and exasperated by the riots spreading across London. And while it’s easy to point the finger at the rioters, I’d like to pause for a moment, take a breath and reflect on these events (given that in Australia we have the luxury and space to do so).

Now I in no way condone the violence that is taking place. But it is important to point out that these type of events occur when populations are disenfranchised, when disadvantage is baked into the institutions that make up our society, and when access to opportunity, to a future worth living, is limited by where you were born and where you went to school.

Earlier this year, we saw protests across the Middle East occur almost spontaneously. Obama’s Arab Spring was seen as a cause for celebration – with protesters organising, communicating and rallying support through social media – bringing to the West, a deeper understanding of social and civil issues facing the people of countries from Tunisia and Egypt to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Syria.

But in the #londonriots some of these techniques are being used not to build momentum and to create a movement for change. It’s not a civil problem nor an issue of democracy. It’s a social problem and its emotional resonance strikes us deeply, because at its heart is a great yawning emptiness that we also helped to create.

 

The woman in this video says, “we’re not fighting for a cause” – and she is right. Decades of social, political and cultural neglect reinforced and amplified by the divisiveness of dog whistle politics has led to this point. As Laurie Penny explains:

The people running Britain had absolutely no clue how desperate things had become. They thought that they could take away the last little things that gave people hope, the benefits, the jobs, the possibility of higher education, the support structures, and nothing would happen. They were wrong. And now my city is burning …

It’s a terrible situation.

But we’re also seeing the same thing here in Australia. We’re following the same path. Rather than leadership on big, moral and social issues such as racism, asylum seekers, access to opportunity and education, and yes, even climate change, we see minute focus on what our politicians believe they can get away with. It’s the bare minimum in terms of social policy.

And when you reach for the bare minimum rather than trying to constantly raise the bar, as a society you are on a slippery slope. You end up with outcomes that you deserve rather than outcomes that you would hope for. As Laurie also says:

Now is the time when we make our choices. Now is the time when we decide whether to descend into hate, or to put prejudice aside and work together. Now is the time when we decide what sort of country it is that we want to live in.

The same applies here. The same applies in the US. It’s time for us all to step out of the shadow of shame.

Escape Mediocrity

manifesto-image1 We live in a time where apathy has become a way of life. Where near enough is good enough. And where we only open our mouths to receive another spoon-fed morsel.

We have lionised failure and hardened our hearts. We’ve lost the art of adventure and dampened our curiosity, and cocooned ourselves in the safety of our own beliefs.

It’s a shame.

In fact, it’s a travesty.

Don’t you think it’s time we reignite and live by the daily miracles that make life worth living? Sarah Robinson does – and has produced an Escaping Mediocrity Manifesto. Check it out – and share what you believe.

It’s Time to Stop Killing the Heroine

I’ve never been a fan of film. While my friends studied film and communications, dreaming of becoming directors, journalists and documentary film-makers, my attention passed over the latest blockbuster, the must-see arthouse flick or the searing naval-gazing documentary as if it was already speaking in a dead language to me.

I studied theatre at university – completed a masters degree and even commenced a PhD on the subject of writing and performance. There was more breath – more life – in a dozen stanzas of Heiner Muller’s Hamletmachine or Shakespeare’s Macbeth than in almost any movie I had seen. Not that this always translated to live theatre – which seemed to want to replicate the shallow conventions of the silver screen. In my impatience for something more authentic, I’d often leave performances at interval, disillusioned between the promise and the delivery.

And so I’d return time and again to the text. That’s what fascinated me. But not just reading – I was drawn to writing as well. I wanted to understand what made great writing great. I wanted to follow the journey of writing to its end – or at least as close to its end as I could stand. And it was while starting this journey (that never ends) that I encountered one of my greatest teachers. And it all began with a single letter – H.

Helene Cixous’ Three Steps on the Ladder of Writing has been my constant companion for almost 20 years. She starts the book with the letter H – a ladder, but also her starting point – the first letter of her name. For me, it was the first letter of a surname that I had yet to come to grips with. Descending that ladder would take time and experience.

But something that struck me about Cixous’ thinking and writing was the way that she would expose the secrets of writing to the glare of the sun. To the scrutiny of the ever watchful reader. She points out that one of literature’s constant and recurring themes is the death of the woman. We see it time and time again – but the “death of the woman” that Cixous writes of is not the literal, ultimate disempowerment of death, visually and poetically reduced. It is something more visceral:

To begin (writing, living) we must have death … We must have death, but young, present, ferocious, fresh death, the death of the day, today’s death. The one that comes right up to us so suddenly that we don’t have time to avoid it, I mean to avoid feeling its breath touching us. Ha!

But so many writers avoid coming close to the face of death. They shy away from it’s sweet, pungent breath and they serve up the corpse, the lost girl, the fallen angel. These writers serve up death on a platter and name it “accomplishment” – and never once challenge us in our own complicity.We see it every day in crime drama on TV. It’s presented there – in the news – and in the streets where we live. But just because we see it, live it, breathe it – it does not make it art. By all rights, it should make it outrage.

And that’s exactly what I was left with at the end of a recent night’s viewing. It’s not that the writing wasn’t good. It’s not that the performances weren’t great. And it’s not that the twists and turns, the characterisation or the cinematography didn’t result in quality drama. Indeed, Black Swan, was far more than adequate in all these areas.

When Natalie Portman’s character, Nina, was challenged by director, Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel), to “be” the black swan, we knew that death was on the cards. To find, to share, to become dangerous with her performance, Nina would need to open the door which would lead to the other side – to that ferocious death that Cixous speaks of.

But for a movie that deals intensely with the creative process – and with the life of an artist on the ascendency – I was bitterly disappointed that when the fork in the road was reached, that the lesser road was taken. Not only did the narrative fail to become its own “Black Swan” in the choice of ending, it did so by betraying its audience. We became witnesses to a crime in which we ourselves played a part – the lights come up, we all applaud and go home.

Well, I for one, am sick and tired of seeing heroines killed for our entertainment. These lazy metaphors numb our senses and inure us to the daily atrocities that grace our screens. We need to ask more of our writers. Our artists. Our news readers. Our politicians. We need to ask more of ourselves.

And we should do this not just for ourselves, but also for the beautiful, complex, challenging and fragile women in our lives – friends, mothers, daughters, wives and lovers.

When I studied theatre, I did so because it was the art form that brought us, moment by moment, closest to life. And if you have been privileged to see such a performance – say Nick Cave, dangerously leering over the edge of the stage, or Norman Kaye in Swimming in the Light – then you will know that there are indeed, moments where the divisions between theatre and life disappear. It’s these moments that I love and why I am also drawn to social media in all its chaos and fresh ferocity – for in our own performance, in our own perpetual storytelling, we speak ourselves into existence one blog post, tweet or twitpic at a time.

If you are going to speak. Speak truth.