Journal: Last Day

The last class session of my morning class just finished!  Sad!

We had a fun time playing review games and Bingo.  The students brought in food for a nice, light party, and we listened to music on Pandora and watched videos on YouTube while we ate.

Highlights include our one Korean student dancing to the music videos the Latina students were showing on YouTube, the lightning-fast responses in our Catchphrase-esque review game, and the enthusiasm of our 70+-year-old Latina grandmother for Bingo.

I emphasized to everyone that they could access my website on any computer with an Internet connection; this turned out to be new information for a couple of the students.  At the request of one of the students I’ll be putting “homework” assignments on it once a week or so over the break.

Wishing everybody safe travels and happy holidays was bittersweet.  The class really formed a nice community for the past couple of months, and it’s sad to see it scatter.  Even though it’s temporary, who knows who will actually be able to come back to class in January, and who knows which level I’ll be teaching come January?  Still, the fact that all of the very different people in the room were connected enough to hug farewell today was something I’m honored to be a part of.

Till January, morning class!

Creating Change (By Our Powers Combined)

Thanks to Ben at for getting me to read Dan Pallotta at Harvard Business.

Memory Fragments by lovefibre on Flickr
Memory Fragments by lovefibre on Flickr

Pallotta argues here that since our problems (i.e. hunger) are massive and systemic, the only way for nonprofits to stand a chance of winning against them is to consolidate efforts into one unified effort to eradicate the problem within a stated time frame.  He advocates setting an audacious, specific goal and restructuring our sector around it so that it’s not about the little nonprofit’s mission, but about all of us reaching the goal.  Only this larger vision will shift us away from the “fragmentation and redundancy” we’re currently facing.

I see what he means.

However, I’m coming from a bias against his argument because I don’t like or trust large organizations.  I wrote about it here about a year ago.  To me, they turn humans into numbers and the momentum they build up for the sake of efficiency is actually slow to change with the times.  That being said, when a billion people are starving in a world with plenty of food, maybe it’s ok to focus on efficiency at the expense of personability and adaptability.

Ok, so let’s say Pallotta convinced me that bigger is better and that the process of consolidating wouldn’t completely derail our work for decades.  I still have a couple major questions about how this would play out, and I’m actually quite interested in the answers.

1) How would the consolidated nonprofit system relate to current systems?

Would we be creating a giant system for the sake of efficiency to clean up after the other system? That does not seem efficient to me.

Or will this second giant system fundamentally change the first one?  How will that not turn into a political mire?  And what if it does succeed?  How could something that big phase itself out or radically change itself to pursue a different goal?  Are there any precedents for that actually happening?

2) How is this different?

How would this plan produce an organization whose impact is different from the United Nations and the World Health Organization – benevolent organizations that provide some leadership to their fragmented membership?

What about the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund – organizations that arguably crippled many countries’ development when they tried to make large-scale change for the better?

And from a national standpoint, how would it differ from the USA’s failed War on Drugs?

I’m not convinced from this one article that Pallotta has hit upon The Answer, but it was a great read that’s provided a ton of food for thought.

Harnessing Habits

The other day I happened to read two pieces that both touched upon habits.

The first was an article called Warning – Habits May Be Good For You from the NY Times.

  • a branch of successful marketing creates consumer habits, i.e. using Febreze.
  • some people think this is wrong, creepy, etc.
  • a nonprofit partnered with one such marketing company to promote the habitual use of soap in parts of West Africa, which saves a lot of little kids from dying.

Then I read a post called The Meaning of Life from the Positivity Blog.

  • we don’t have to go through life playing out the same old tired, automatic habits.
  • we can choose how to react, and therein lies our freedom.
  • it suggests working toward synergy and also doing what you love.

It was fascinating to read them on the same day because they’re so close to contradicting each other.  I think, though, that they both point to the idea that habits are powerful and can to some extent be controlled.

My takeaway is a whole bunch of questions to ask myself that I’ll also share with you:

  • Are you aware of your habits?  Habits of mind, relation to your environment, treatment of others, technology usage, verbal tendencies, etc.?
  • Is your organization aware of its habits, its automatic actions?
  • How are said habits serving you?  Your organization?  What would you change if you could?
  • How can we make positive change in personal or organizational habits?
  • How can we move beyond writing more policies and procedures to actually change our everyday experience?  Is this a logical place for Social Media to step in?


My own privilege is significantly more abundant than that of so many others, and I felt a barrier between me and engaging in online Web 2.0 communities. 

One of my bigger conundrums swirls around the following thought: as nonprofits, we are looking to engage people across the privilege spectrum. 

  • How can we use the Web to do this? 
  • How can we change the Web to do this better? 
  • How can we make sure that people poor in internet privilege (not just skills) don’t get poorer? 
  • How can people lacking technology resources partake?  
  • Are the “oh, just go to the library” strategies feasible?  Can they fully partake? 
  • What specifically does fully partaking entail, and how does it impact people if they cannot? 

I guess my hope is that with this blog, I can at very least work up some strategies and solutions from my own experiences, and at most work up some conversation, collaboration, and change.