Saturday, December 30, 2006

Five Things I Would Like to Know About You

A week or so ago Jory Des Jardins of Pause tagged me for the meme that is going around, Five Things You Don't Know About Me. I'll list my five and continue the chain by tagging five more bloggers: Beth Kanter, Green LA Girl, Urban Sprouts School Gardens (Abby Jaramillo), HappyKatie, and Vale of Evening Fog, but since Time magazine named the person of the year, you, I would like to know about you, Have Fun * Do Good readers.

Below are five things I would like to know about you. You can answer them in the comments, or if you have a blog, post the answers on your blog, and add a link to your blog from the comments here

1. Where do you live?
2. What do you do to have fun?
3. What do you do to do good?
4. Do you ever combine the two?
5. Do you have a blog, podcast or web site? If so, what is it?

Ok, here is my list of Five Things You Don't Know About Me:

1. My favorite books growing up were Harriet the Spy, From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, and My Side of the Mountain. I used to carry around a little notebook, like Harriet, when I was in 5th and 6th grade. When my husband gave me an original copy of Harriet the Spy, I knew I'd found my guy.

2. I love to bake and eat cupcakes, have a collection of cupcake cookbooks, and own many containers and trays to store, transport, give away, and display cupcakes. Some of my favorite places to eat cupcakes are the Teacake Bakeshop in Emeryville, CA, Sprinkles Cupcakes in Los Angeles, CA and the Magnolia Bakery, in New York City. My favorite kind of cupcake is a white or yellow cupcake with chocolate chips and chocolate frosting.

3. I used to want to be an actress. My junior year of high school I was the lead in the play, I Never Saw Another Butterfly, based on the book of the same title, about the children at the Terezin concentration camp. We took it to a state competition, and I won an award for my performance. I took theater classes my first year at Vassar College, but once I became a Sociology major, I stopped. The last storytelling I did was as a teacher with Streetside Stories.

4. I love to watch the Golden Globes and the Oscars.

5. My maiden name is Aageson, which is Norwegian. Since I took my husband's name I am often asked, "Is that your real name?", and now even my closest friends say, "Britt Bravo!" when I answer the phone.

Enough about me. Tell me about you.

Image from the Reading Nook.

Friday, December 29, 2006

UN World Food Programme Featured in Blood Diamond

It's not often that the UN World Food Programme gets a role in a movie, but it does in Blood Diamond with Leonardo DiCaprio, which was released early this month. The WFP provided food aid from 1991-2002 during the civil war in Sierra Leone.

On the WFP site you can:
* Read about "Blood, Diamonds and Hunger" and the WFP's work in Sierra Leone.
* Read an interview with Paul Arès, the former WFP regional manager for West Africa, about his experience in Sierra Leone in the 1990s.
* Watch a PSA for WFP by Blood Diamond stars Djimon Hounsou and Jennifer Connelly.

The film has gotten mixed reviews. 97 "fresh" and 62 "rotton" tomatoes on Rotton Tomatoes. I thought it was powerful. Yes, there are Hollywood moments in the script where you cringe, but there are many real moments when you suffer with Djimon Hounsou's character, Solomon Vandy, as he tries to reunite his family. (I thought he should have been nominated for a Golden Globe, too).

Sometimes when we are working for social change, whether through our jobs, donations, advocacy, volunteering, or purchases, we get burned out. We think our work isn't making a difference, or our check isn't needed, or we don't need to email friends about a campaign, or we won't be missed if we don't volunteer this week, or buying one bag of coffee that is Fair Trade is an insignificant act. We all do it. It's normal. It's human. But movies like Blood Diamond remind us that behind every cause, movement, campaign and nonprofit there are real people, and when we allow our empathy for them to renew us, we're ready to take action again.

Yahoo! for Good

When you try to explain how the Web can be used for social change to a colleague, family member or friend, do they get a glazed and confused look in their eye? Yahoo! for Good has some interesting examples up right now of how their tools can be used for good. Because Yahoo! has been around for a while, and may not sound as mysterious as, RSS or Second Life to your listener, try using some of their examples to start.

Yahoo! Answers, "Raise awareness for your cause."
Example: Al Gore asked, "What do you think it wil take to reverse the effects of climate change?"

Flickr, "Show how rewarding it is to volunteer, to highlight issues that need extra attention, or to show pride in your cause."
Examples: Users' Earthday photos and the LGBT photo pool

YahooGroups, "Start a new group or join an existing group. Discuss issues and events. Organize donations, get-togethers and rallies. Brainstorm innovative ways to benefit your cause."
Examples: Climate Concern's Group and the ONE Campaign's Groups.

Yahoo Messenger Avatars, "Your Yahoo! Messenger Avatar has a huge wardrobe of clothes to choose from. So why not choose one that raises awareness for your favorite cause?"
Examples: For World AIDS Day, avatars wore shirts with red ribbons and for Breast Cancer Awareness month they wore shirts with pink ribbons. That's "me" above in a ONE campaign shirt.

My Yahoo! for volunteer opportunities, "Add the Community Service module to My Yahoo! now, and VolunteerMatch will hook you up with constantly updated opportunities in your own zip code."

Charity Badges, "Got a cause that's close to your heart? Let your friends and family know about it, and help raise necessary funds at the same time."
Example: Right now Yahoo! is offering a matching grant of up to $50,000 to the nonprofit that gets the most individual donors by December 31st through their Charity Badge. You can see and contribute to the top ten nonprofits in the running here.

This post was originally written for NetSquared.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Women's Global Green Action Network: An Interview with Melinda Kramer

From her Berkeley-based office, Melinda Kramer facilitates an international network of women leaders. She is the co-founder and co-director of Women's Global Green Action Network, a nonprofit that cultivates global partnerships of grassroots women environmental leaders by providing access to communication tools, support services and networking capabilities. Below is a transcript of an interview with her from the Big Vision Podcast.

Melinda Kramer:
Women's Global Green Action Network is an international organization that is linking and empowering women working in environmental sustainability around the world. Our essential intention is to cultivate partnerships of grassroots women who are working at the community level on issues of environmental sustainability and social justice, so that they can really find opportunities to collaborate and to exchange best practices, exchange resources, and really build a collective agenda. So many of these women are local leaders, and Women's Global Green Action Network is attempting to provide a space for women to step into roles of being global advocates, and to really have a more prevalent platform for the messages and the work that they are doing.

We do it in a number of ways. The most important way for people to collaborate is face to face, so we have a number of ways that we convene women who are doing this work on various different levels.

The first is our International Strategy Meetings, where we convene our founding women from 26 different countries, who come together and really examine what the local issues are, what are the global trends, what is the work that they can do in partnership, and they really map out their plan and their goals and their work for the coming year. We also take part in trainings that are relevant to most of their work. It could be training in information and communication technology, or it could be a training on a local water filter that would be helpful for people to bring to their communities.

Another one of our opportunities to convene women face to face is through our regional trainings. The idea behind the regional trainings is that many women doing this work have a sense of what the most pressing issues are in their regions, and the regional trainings give them an opportunity to really take that issue to the forefront and host the training, bring women in their community together, but really call upon the global network to inform that regional training.

So, for example, we just did a really powerful training in the Philippines, where our regional leaders there hosted a training on a water filter. It's called the Biosand Water Filter. It's a slow sand water filter that is made up of all local materials, so it is very easy to make once you learn how to do it, and it is very easy to train others. So our women there knew that this was an issue, that it was really hard to get water to the household and the schools; and women in the Philippines, and in many parts of the world, are responsible for making sure that the water is available and it's clean.

So acknowledging that this was a big issue, Gemma Bulos, who is the woman who really led this project, identified the project and called upon the Global Network to help her find the right trainer to help her find the resources and set up the training in a way that would really be powerful. At the end of the training, which was an enormous success, she then had created a best practice that could be shared with other women in the network. For example, some of our women in Africa and India are interested in taking the ideas and the best practices that came out of this training into their regions.

The third kind of face to face opportunity we provide is in partnership with an organization called Global Exchange. Global Exchange is a wonderful organization, also in the Bay Area, that does human rights work around the world. One of their programs is the Reality Tours, where they bring groups of individuals to regions to look at the social justice issues and other pressing issues, that really color the experience and the culture of a place. We work in partnership with them because we really believe it is a very powerful opportunity to understand a community, and environmental challenges, and social justice challenges, by looking through the lens of women, women's experiences.

So our first exchange that we did with Global Exchange was called "Transformative Advocacy in Bolivia." We brought a group of ten environmental justice lawyers from throughout North America to work in partnership with grassroots women leaders in Bolivia, with the focus on sustainable agriculture and food security issues. We spent ten days traveling through the lowlands up to the Altiplano, meeting with groups and forging partnerships and developing long term work with these groups. There is a powerful opportunity, again, to cultivate partnerships that, a lot of these women have so many issues, and so many solutions that are similar, but haven't yet had an opportunity to extend beyond their local regions and be able to share, and therefore amp up their effectiveness.

In the work in Bolivia, we really saw, sitting around that table, women really talking to each other and seeing reflections of themselves; and watching the connection that then became available was worth all of it. It was really tremendous. And then what we see is that people really get to work, and really forge partnerships that are ongoing, and that keep feeding themselves and their work and their communities. So I am humbled by watching, just by providing a space, how much people will do with that space, and what can emerge from connection.

Are all of the women you work with all outside of the United States, or are there women within the United States as well?

Well, it might be helpful to explain the origin of Women's Global Green Action Network, because it helps to describe how we are structured. When the idea of Women's Global Green Action Network formed, it was myself, my colleague and partner Mary Rose Kaczorowski, and a small group of women from different parts of the world who really saw that there was so much leadership coming from women working locally in their communities around environmental challenges, it was tremendous. From rural areas to urban areas, toxic issues, water issues, forestry, you name it, women were really at the forefront of the challenge and the forefront of the solutions, and we wanted to do something about that. So we saw a need, and we really spent time looking at that need, looking at what else was out there, and what the niche was. What was really missing and what we could fill through a structured place and space, and that would be Women's Global Green Action Network.

So we designed the framework of the organization; but then we knew that the organization would find its strength from pulling together the very women who were on the front lines of these issues, and really out there making it happen, and therefore seeing what was missing and seeing what was needed. So we put out a call for nominations far and wide. We worked with many organizations and networks to get a message out to communities where people were working on environmental issues, to say, "Who are the leading women in your community? Who are the women who are really at the center of a lot of these campaigns, and of these projects? Who are women who really understand the landscape of the issues, and the challenges, and who have really taken action to protect their environment, to sustain their communities?"

And we got an incredible flood of nominations, and these were joint applications, where someone would recommend a woman, and she would also speak to her leadership. We had a very hard decision to make, but we had a team of people who looked at the applications and chose based on geographic diversity, age diversity, and issue diversity. So we convened 30 women from 26 countries who would be the founding leaders of the organization. They would help to identify, what were the needs, what were the communication and information needs that women doing this work have, what are the kinds of solutions and support that would help them do their work more effectively on the local level, and help them really and meaningfully influence policy?

So we convened our group in Mexico City in March of 2006, and it was an incredible three days. First of all, standing around that room and seeing women who for much of their work felt alone, standing in sisterhood and really feeling the connection and feeling the shared commitment to this work, was something that I don't think I will ever forget. And then what occurred over the three days was a lot of great work. I mean, these women did not get on those planes, and leave their families, and leave their work, to just sit around. They really got things done, and they designed a very strong network and a very strong set of values and principles and goals for the coming years. And we have been operating on those goals.

So the way that we are structured now is that we have our founding coordinators in different parts of the country, in all the U.N. regions and sub-regions. We have a woman who is designing educational programs for young women in Brooklyn. We have a woman in the Philippines who is helping to train women on local water filters. We have a woman in Africa who is helping to convene women for the World Social Forum. So everywhere we have women who are already doing these projects, who have been doing them for years, but who are now part of a global support network, and can really call upon each other to strengthen their work.

If there is a woman who is listening who is involved in green or environmental work, how could she get involved?

First of all, I would recommend to check out our web site, which is WGGAN is our acronym, and the African women love to say, "We can, Wee-gan!" So definitely check out our web site, and there are a lot of projects that we are working on which we really encourage a lot of participation and collaboration.

This fall we are actually developing our communication and information platform, which will be the place where anyone who is interested in getting involved in this work can plug in. They can fill out a profile, they can describe their work, they can describe the kind of work they are looking to support, or the kind of support they need, and really step into a network of information, resources, contacts, and opportunities for collaboration. We are doing that in partnership with an organization called the Natural Capital Institute out of Sausalito. They have really put the time and the effort, into this technology, and are partnering with organizations like ours to really make sure that it is meaningful and it is useful, and that it is effective for organizations that are global, that do have a diversity of experience with technology, to really have a tool that is useful for communication.

So for people who are interested in being a part of these kinds of conversations and these dialogues, I would definitely recommend to check out our web site, and especially in the next month, to become a part of our network, which is a free tool that is all open-source technology, and a really exciting way to talk to each other when we can't be face to face, but when we have a lot to share and we don't want to go it alone, but we see that the problems are huge and the solutions are out there.

Britt: What brought you to this work?

I think about that a lot, because sometimes I stop what I am doing and I say, "How did I get here? How did this trajectory look?" I think it started--I know it started--when I was very young, although I probably wasn't aware what was going on at the time. But I had wonderful opportunities to be in nature, and to just be out in my own environment from a very young age. My parents used to take me to Maine, and we'd camp for weeks in the summers. I think my first trip I was a few months old and I just chewed on some rubber keys and just sat there looking at the sun speckling through the trees and smelling the pine, hearing the loons and hearing the water hit the shore. And I think that was when my senses were forming, that connection was really given to me, and it has become a part of my life. I have always been very connected to my environment and to the earth. So that has always been kind of the underpinning of my choices and my work and my commitments. But only recently has it really, in the last five or ten years, been the guiding force for the work that I do.

I have been doing environmental work for a number of years now. I was working for an organization called Pacific Environment for several years, which is a wonderful organization, also out of the Bay Area, that works to support grassroots environmental movements throughout the North Pacific Rim. I spent a number of years traveling and working in communities throughout China and Russia and Alaska, working with communities where the problems were right in their face. And therefore, they were the ones that had to design the solutions, and the solutions were incredible. And yet they needed more support from each other throughout their regions, outside resources and specific environment help to build capacity and to help them build alliances with each other and leverage outside resources to improve and enhance their campaigns.

In that work, I met dozens and dozens of people, sat at tables with people over lunch and dinner and heard the work that they were doing, the stories and the fights and the victories. Many of those meetings were with women. I found that trend to just be more and more. I started talking to other people about this interesting connection between women's leadership and the environment and environmental challenges. And I dug into that a little bit more to find that indeed there is a very powerful connection with the ways that women are disproportionately affected by environmental challenges, and therefore have really taken it upon themselves to launch campaigns, to start organizations, and to organize their communities to really shift things.

What I also heard from a lot of the women that I met with, and developed working relationships with, and friendships with was the issue of access. A lot of the women that I met with expressed an isolation from other women doing this work, from the information that they knew was out there, but couldn't get their hands on, for whatever reason, for a lot of the resources that would really enhance the work that they were doing. I really started to envision a solid central space where women could come together, could feel the solidarity that existed, could see the movement that they were working within.

What drives you to do this work rather than other work?

One of the interesting things about working within women's empowerment as it relates to environmental sustainability is I've really learned the ways that we talk about environmentalism is as this siloed issue. There are environmentalists, and there are people working in human rights, there are people working in health, and there are people working in education. One of the things that I've found in working with women and hearing how women articulate environmental and social justice challenges is the holistic aspect of the conversation, that these issues are related and that there is no separation. We know this. But to hear a woman talk about herself as not an environmentalist, but as a mother, or as a health worker, as a community leader, as a teacher, as someone who is the thread of her community who cares about the well being of her children and children's children. It helps me to back up and see, wow, yes we are talking about the systems, we are talking about the ecosystems and the trees and the water and the fish, but we are talking about it in a much bigger system, a system where our lives, and our children's lives are a part of that system.

To look at it from that view, really changes and shifts it for me, because I realize that I'm not making a choice, and working within one siloed issue. I'm strategically talking about one piece of a much larger system. And so I feel as though the more we can support efforts to broaden that conversation and really expand that conversation, the more powerful our work will be.

What is the biggest challenge of your work?

I think the biggest challenge in my work is talking about Women's Global Green Action Network and trying to explain that it's not just about women, or for women. It's not just an environmental organization. That it's one effort to build healthy, equitable communities and that the work that we're doing is to serve our communities and everyone who is a part of those communities. So sometimes, and I myself have been guilty of it, I hear "women's organization", and I think, that's for women. I hear "rainforest organization", and think, that's about rainforests. But I'm learning and I'm challenging myself to really look deeper into what this work that we're all doing is serving. Often times its expansive, it is inclusive and its collaborative. So I think it's a good challenge because it helps me to try to describe this work in a way that does speak to the person that I'm talking to. Because I really believe that this project, and many of the projects that are out there, are incredibly collaborative in nature and design and that if we can see where it all weaves together, I think we're all better off.

How do you keep inspired?

There is so much inspiration in this work. I feel like every day that I get on my computer, or that I have a meeting with someone, something bursts, something goes deeper into the work that I am doing. So I would say that the inspiration comes from the connection that is available through opening up a space like this. I have heard so many people tell me stories that I would never have heard, about their work, about their commitments, about their decisions, that inspire me to keep going, and to build something even more solid and even more supportive. I just, throughout the day, draw upon the different stories and the work that the people who are a part of this network are doing, and that is just incredibly inspirational to me.

I also feel like the design of Women's Global Green Action Network is such that it is constantly providing opportunities for someone to step into their power, to step into this work and to bring something that they love, that they are inspired by, that they are committed to, that strengthens the whole. Like I explained earlier, the design of Women's Global Green Action Network was collaborative, and the way that it draws its strength is through collaboration, is through the participation of those who are committed to this work, interested in this work. So I get to feel that feeding into the network throughout my work, and it is very inspiring to me. I often just step back and watch how many people are playing a part in this beautiful emergence of an organization and an initiative that, I really think its time has come.

Can you tell us one collaboration success story?

I spoke earlier about the Biosand Water Filter in the Philippines, and that is, to me, one of the best examples of how WGGAN is really at work. When we convened in Mexico City, two of our women had a shared interest in these water issues, and they deepened that connection and designed this first project in the Philippines, while they were still there in Mexico. You could just feel the energy. They were in their corner, figuring it out, scribbling things on paper; and a few months later, before we knew it, there they were with 30 something women from five provinces throughout the Philippines, carrying out trainings with a trainer from Center for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology, out of Canada, who they had found through the Global Network, who had sent her staff to help with the training.

So we had an international trainer in this region in the Philippines, with our two women who had met in Mexico for Women's Global Green Action Network's first strategy session; and we had 30 women who had never met each other, but who had been committed to water, security and health for a long time, sitting around and learning how to bring something into their community that would be incredibly effective, and would essentially save lives.

When they were finished, there was a sense of solidarity and community among the women, who are now still in contact. Each of them have brought these projects into their regions, and are training others, and have started small businesses to train to build these Biosand Water Filters, and out of the project has been a best practice that these women created, that said: "This was what worked. This was what didn't. These were our challenges. These were our victories." And that is now being shared with women in Africa, women in India, who will then try to implement something similar in their communities.

So just the web, and the connections that form because the space is available, says to me that this is working.

Are there any books, movies or websites that inspire you, or that you can recommend?

There is a new magazine that is coming out, that I recommend people stay attuned to, which is called World Pulse. It is a magazine that is collecting the stories of grassroots women around the world, on all issues, and I think that is one of the most powerful things, is telling the stories, is really highlighting the work that is being done on the local level, the challenges, the victories that we don't see in everyday news, and in the media that we are exposed to. So I am really excited about this effort, and I definitely recommend that people pay attention to that coming out, World Pulse Magazine.

Is there anything else you want people to know about Women's Global Green Action Network?

I would like to mention Dr. Wangari Maathai, who won the Nobel Peace Prize last year. That happened when our organization really was in formation, and it was such an affirmation for us, because when she won the prize for the environmental work that she had done with one of the largest tree-planting campaigns in the world, which started in Kenya, which is her home country, it was really telling because it was making the connection between peace, and environmental sustainability. And I think that needs to be more and more visible for the world as we go forward in designing our policies and carrying out our work, that these issues really are about peace and justice, and creating the kinds of communities that we would want to live in and that we would want our children to live in.

When Dr. Wangari Maathai won that award, it was challenging for some people, and she got some criticism: "Environmentalism isn't peace! We're getting the issues confused" But what we had done as a global community was make a very powerful connection, and sometimes when we do shift into new ideologies and ways of thinking, it is challenging, but I think it was a hugely important shift for us to make, and I don't think we're going back. So the more that we can draw upon those connections, and break down those silos, and see the opportunities for collaboration, the better off we'll be.

For more information about Women's Global Green Action Network, go to

Transcription by CastingWords

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Monique and the Mango Rains: Two Years with a Midwife in Mali

"There have been many accounts of studying people from other cultures, but few of actually being friends with them. Anyone who is curious about what such a friendship feels like from the inside should read this respectful but intimate account."
-Anne Fadiman, author of The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down about Monique and the Mango Rains.
By the third page of Monique and the Mango Rains, you know that Monique, a midwife in Mali, will die in childbirth. Still, when you read about her death at the book's end, you are surprised. You can't belive that such a vibrant soul could die so young. In Monique and the Mango Rains, Kris Holloway, a 21-year old Peace Corps volunteer, recounts her two years assisting 24-year old midwife, Monique, in the village of Nampossela from 1989-1991.

Their story unfolds in a hot, dusty world where the coming, or lack of rain means the difference between life and death. According to the author's web site,, the region where Monique and Kris worked has the fewest physicians and nursing persons per capita, and 1 in 12 women are at risk of dying in childbirth or pregnancy.

Despite these depressing figures, it is not a depressing book. It is a story of a friendship between two women, and how they make a difference not only in each other's live, but in the lives of other women through their work.

After Monique's death, Maxime Dembele, a village health worker and Monique’s cousin, founded the Cabinet de Soins Monique, or “Clinique Monique” in Kouri. A percentage of the book's sales will go to expand the capabilities of the clinic, as well as to provide school tuition and health care for Monique’s children.

According to, the clinic needs:
  • Land and a building (the clinic is operating out of a rented apartment).
  • Medical equipment for operations, such as operating tables, lights, lances, autoclaves, scissors, scalpels, and other instruments.
  • Medical equipment for prenatal consultations, births, and weighing babies, such as scales, obstetrical instruments, chairs, and beds for postpartum recovery.
  • Solar panels to help generate electricity to sterilize instruments
For information about how to donate directly to the clinic, click here.

To read an interview with the author, check out Jen Lemen's blog.

If you live on the East Coast, Kris is teaching a weekend workshop, "Writing That Changes Lives" at Grub Street in Boston, MA January 13th and 14th.

Photo of book cover and of Monique teaching downloaded from

Friday, December 22, 2006

Podcasts "Helping Humanity" featured in the iTunes Music Store

Need something good to listen to during your holiday travels? Check out the podcasts and videocasts "Helping Humanity" that are featured right now in the podcast section of the iTunes Music Store. (The links below will take you straight to each podcast's page in the iTunes Music Store):
and . . . my podcast, The Big Vision Podcast! You can subscribe to the Big Vision Podcast via iTunes by clicking here, or listen online on the Big Vision Podcast home page.

Thanks, iTunes!

If you are interested in the podcasts above, but don't use iTunes, just do a Google search for the podcast's title to find its home page. Most likely the podcast is available online as well.

via Treehugger

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Join Stop Genocide Now's 14 Day Challenge

While thousands of people board planes to visit family and friends during the holidays, Gabriel Stauring and Stacey Martino from Stop Genocide Now will be traveling to the Darfur/Chad border. Starting today, December 21st, they will share stories through daily blog entries and videos.

You can see a video of stories they collected from refugees on the Darfur/Chad border during their last trip here.

As part of this awareness-raising campaign, they have issued a 14-Day Challenge. Every time you click on a day's video on the day it was posted, in the Action description, to the right of the video, there will be one word in bold. That word will remain bold for 24 hours. A new word will be bolded the next day. Viewers are asked to collect all 14 words from the 14 actions and send them to If you get them all correct, you will receive an i-ACTivist e-Certificate. The first 100 participants to send the words (even if they have fewer than 14) will win a free "Humanity Before Politics" T-shirt.

You can watch the video from Day 1 here, which includes an interview with Ann Maymann, Senior Officer of the UN High Commission for Refugees. Today's action is to talk to at least five friends about the situation in Darfur and invite them to spread the word and participate.

You can also post this badge on your blog or web site:

The code is available here.

via Beth's blog.
Written for the NetSquared blog
Image credit: Camp Kids I by Mark Knobil.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Knitting for Peace: Make the World a Better Place One Stitch at a Time

When I was growing up, every Christmas I would get a bumpy package with a card that said, For: Britt, From: Barbara Gould in criss-crossy handwriting. Barbara worked for my Dad at the Mystic Seaport Museum, and every year she would knit gifts for my parents and I. One year she made each of us a sweater with a story. My Dad's was a white sweater with a traditional Norwegian pattern to honor his Norwegian roots. Mine was an orangey-pink sweater based on the pattern of a vest worn by some king--who was beheaded--not sure why she picked that one for me. Even now, as I write this in our freezing cold house (t's not supposed to be this cold in California!) I have a soft, rosy blanket on my lap that she made for me when I went away to college. Almost 20 years later it is still keeping me warm.

Betty Christiansen's book, Knitting for Peace: Make the World a Better Place One Stitch at a Time, captures 28 stories of people and organizations who are using knitting to comfort, empower and heal. She profiles organizations like Afghans for Afghans that collects knitted goods for orphanages, clinics and children's hospitals in Afghanistan; Rwanda Knits that provides knitting machines and training to help Rwandan women increase their incomes; Peace Fleece that sells knitting yarn made from blends of Israeli and Palestinian wools; ChemoCaps that distributes handmade hats to chemotherapy patients; the Mother Bear Project that sends hand-knit and crocheted bears to children with HIV/AIDS; and Warm Up America that asks knitters to contribute 7"x9" squares which will be stitched into afghans for battered women's shelters, homeless shelters, natural disaster survivors and others in need.

In addition to stories about how each project was created, Christiansen includes knitting patterns related to the organizations' work like the ChemoCaps Eyelet Hat, Peace for Fleece Classic Wool Socks and Afghan for Afghans Child's Vest. Last week I wrote about my Favorite Do-Good Books of 2006. This one definitely tops my list, and I don't even knit. I was so inspired by how you can warm up someone's life with knitting, in more way than one, that I've signed up to be notified the next time my local knitting store offers a beginner's knitting workshop.

Book Cover from Harry N. Abrams site.

Monday, December 18, 2006

People of the Year: US

"But look at 2006 through a different lens and you'll see another story, one that isn't about conflict or great men. It's a story about community and collaboration on a scale never seen before. . . . It's about the many wresting power from the few and helping one another for nothing and how that will not only change the world, but also change the way the world changes."--Lev Grossman, from, "Person of the Year: YOU", TIME.

By now you've probably seen the announcement that TIME has named "you" the person of the year. The you that writes blogs, creates podcasts, shares open source applications, creates entries on Wikipedia, posts videos on YouTube, meets friends on MySpace and chats with avatars on Second Life. But rather than the person of the year being the you in user, isn't it the us in users? Isn't the goal of the social web to create an us, a sense of connection, a community?

The social web works because of community and trust among us, the people of the world, who have realized that it is a small world after all and the butterfly effect is real. We can ignore that connection and think that our individual lives don't affect one another, or we can recognize our part in the global community and make a difference.

For social change organizations and activists, social web tools can be an affordable way to give more people the information, tools and opportunities they need to create change. But, we also need to remember that many people do not have access to this web 2.0 world whether through disability, illiteracy, or poverty. We need to make sure that the "us" actually includes all of us.

We are the ones we have been waiting for, we have the tools to work together, let's do it.

This post was written for the NetSquared blog.

Photo credit: Globe uploaded by Karol M.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Favorite Do-Good Books of 2006

If there's a book you really want to read but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it. ~Toni Morrison

Here's my list of Favorite Books of 2006, in the order I read them. You can check out my 2005 list here.

A Beginner's Guide to Changing the World by Isabel Losada.
A Beginner's Guide to Changing the World describes Losada's journey from navel gazer to activist. What starts as an Ask Jeeves query, "What can I do about Tibet?" lead her to demonstrate outside the Chinese embassy in London, travel to Tibet, jump out of a plane to raise money, organize a 50-foot banner of the Dalai Lama to be unfurled from Nelson's column, and meet the Dalai Lama. You learn more about Isabel on her web site.

Dreams of My Father by Barack Obama.
Everything about Barack Obama gives me hope and makes me smile. I had planned to include his newest book, The Audacity of Hope, in this year's list, but now that I work from home and commute less, I have less time to read on the bus and BART. Both books are crazily well-written. Dreams is his personal story, while Audacity is more of a reflection on American politics and culture. If you need a little of drop of hope each week, his podcast is always inspiring (and you don't need an iPod to listen to it).

End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs.
Ok. I'll admit it. I am an Angelina Jolie fan, so after watching The Diary of Angelina Jolie and Dr. Jeffrey Sachs in Africa on MTV, I wanted to read his book. I know that his ideas are not the only solution to ending poverty, but when you learn about what a difference a $10 bednet can make, it sure sounds reasonable. You can learn more about Jeffrey Sachs' work with the UN Millenium Project here.

Paradigm Found by Anne Firth Murray.
Whether you are starting your own nonprofit, or simply interested in how a person can take a seed of an idea for positive change and make it into reality, you'll find some nuggets of wisdom in this book from the founder of the Global Fund for Women who wrote, "Believing that social change is possible is the beginning. Realizing that you yourself can effect such change will lead you to clarify your vision and identify the skills you need to prepare the ground and plant the seeds of change."

Grub by Anna Lappe and Bryant Terry.
This year I had the pleasure of meeting both Anna Lappe and Bryant Terry. I met Bryant, who created all the recipes for the book, just last week at a fundraiser for the Oakland-based food justice nonprofit, People's Grocery. My friend, Ilyse Hogue, introduced me to Anna this summer, and I had the privilege of interviewing her for my podcast. I've posted this quote by her before, but I think of it often, "“People often say they feel like just a ‘drop in the bucket', with the sense of futileness that the idea conveys. But it’s probably more accurate to say people feel they’re a drop in the desert—their drop dissipates before even touching ground. If you think about the idea of a bucket as a container that holds all of our drops, you’d sense how fast a bucket can fill and that--you never know--you could even be the one drop that pushes the water over the edge.” You can read Anna and Bryant's blog here.

Hope's Edge by Frances Moore Lappe and Anna Lappe.
After reading Grub, I went straight to Hope's Edge, which Anna wrote with her mother in 2002. The book documents mother and daughter's trip around the world to meet worldchanging activists. They created the Small Planet Fund to support the people and organizations that they met on their trip. Since the book's publication, and the Fund's creation, two of their grantees have won the Nobel Peace Prize--Muhammad Yunus and Wangari Maathai. You can learn more about Frances and Anna's work on the Small Planet Institute web site. *This was my favorite book of the year.*

With All Our Strength by Anne Brodsky.
Good things come from hiding in the kitchen during a party. About a year ago I was at a party at a friend's house, I wasn't feeling very social, so I went into the kitchen to see if I could help with anything. A woman was in there putting the final touches on dinner. It was Anne Brodsky. We got to talking, and she told me about a book she wrote about the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, an underground organization working for women's rights in Afghanistan. Brodsky was one of the few writers given access to RAWA's inner world. With All Our Strength is an amazing story of social change organizing against incredible obstacles.

Unbowed by Wangari Maathai.
In early October, Marsha Wallace, the founder of Dining for Women, contacted me after reading some of the posts I had written about Dining for Women, and invited me to be her guest at an African Millennium Foundation fundraiser. When she told me that Wangari Maathai would be speaking, I rushed to read her new memoir before the event. Unbowed is the kind of book that you put down every 50 pages and say to whomever is listening, "You're not going to believe what happened next." I've already given this book as a gift to several people because her persistence, and her focus on solutions are skills we can all cultivate to create positive change.

I hope to finish The Audacity of Hope by the early 2007, and to read The Omnivore's Dilemma next. Let me know what do-good books you recommend, and remember, when you buy your do-good books, support your local, independent bookstores when you can.

All book cover images are from Powells Books, except the cover of With All Our Strength which came from the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan.

social change

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Bay Localize & Green Roofs: An Interview with Ingrid Severson

Ingrid Severson is the lead project organizer of the Rooftop Resources project, a project of the Oakland non-profit Bay Localize. You can listen to my interview with Ingrid on the Big Vision Podcast, or read a transcript here.

Ingrid: Bay Localize is a non-profit project that started back in December of 2005. What we do is work to build a more socially equitable and sustainable Bay Area. This is in response to global warming and peak oil. I don't know if people know what peak oil is, but it is basically just the phenomenon that refers to petroleum depletion. It has massive impacts on the economy and the stability of our resources, etc. It affects the whole world. We're working on a local level which is why we're called Bay Localize because we are striving to bring production of our goods and services more on a local level within the Bay Area. So that requires a massive shift, and we're working towards building a more local economy in the Bay Area on a policy level by working to galvanize municipal response and developing models of localization that can be replicated by other regions. And also by raising awareness about the concept of re-localizing to bring other people into the movement as well. We work in the nine county region of the Bay Area.

Britt: What are some of Bay Localize's projects?

Ingrid: Right now we have three projects. Maybe people will begin hearing soon about the Localization Strategy Initiative, which is a multi-organizational initiative that Redefining Progress, Bay Localize and plenty of other groups in the Bay Area are working on. It is basically a piece of policy that argues and researches how to bring the Bay Area into localization. This is a policy paper that was just released a few months ago. Now the strategy is to bring city officials and county officials into the process. That's something that a few people in our organization are working towards.

The second one is the Localization Mapping Project that shows on a GIS map all the different localization projects happening in the nine county region of the Bay Area as a tool that other people can plug into. Also, it connects the dots with similar projects happening, so people can see where they are on the map. It shows all the assets that we have to work with to broaden and strengthen the whole movement.

So that's going to come out on our website, and also in a published form. That's something that Brian Holland is working on, he's part of Bay Localize. He's heading up that project. We also have the Rooftop Resources Project which is my project that I'm working on.

Britt: For people who aren't familiar with green rooftops, what is a green roof?

Ingrid: Well it's funny, in this era of the burgeoning green movement, where a lot of people are seeking to "green" everything they do: green your house, green your car, green your job, green everything, green roofs are in that sense called green because they do have that ecological sustainability aspect to them. But literally they're green because it's a garden on a roof. What we're looking at with the Rooftop Resources Project are all the different garden types that could work out on a rooftop. It's basically high tech gardening, high-tech roof gardening. With a rooftop garden there is an integrated roof garden, and there is also the raised bed rooftop gardens. The difference is that with the integrated roof, you plop down a membrane to seal it up, to make the roof waterproof. Then you just lay the soil down and start planting on the roof. With what they call an extensive roof, that's basically where you have a separation of the raised beds, modules to lay down, which are the waterproofing of the garden.

Britt: What are some of the benefits of a green roof?

Ingrid: It actually benefits the building itself. It acts like an insulator. It's like putting a jacket on the roof. It protects the roof from the UV rays of the sun and it will keep the building cooler in the summer, believe it or not, and warmer in the winter. It makes the building so it is like a living, breathing entity. It's a protective layer. It helps with energy efficiency, but also it benefits the city by making the air cleaner, and increasing habitat. You'll find a lot more birds and bugs and good things living on the roof.

Also for the types of roof gardens that are accessible, it increases the livable space for the city because a roof that otherwise would be bare all of a sudden has the capacity to be more like a park on a roof. It increases real estate value. Also, as it's a growing industry, if we can catalyze it here in the Bay Area it will generate more jobs.

I mean, who's not to like a garden on a roof?


The Rooftop Resources Project is, I've been calling it a research and development project. It's a three-step project, and the whole idea of the project is to show the feasibility and the benefits of edible rooftop gardening, rainwater catchment, and renewable energy. That's basically showing those three different designs and their applicability to the Bay Area and what kind of social and economic benefits that they have for the region. In other words, what kind of jobs could be generated from the mainstreaming of these applications. The Rooftop Resources Project goes in three steps.

The first step is to produce a conceptual design that shows prototypes of rainwater catchment, solar energy, and edible rooftop gardening as they apply to a study area. It's basically a neighborhood assessment. We're choosing a one half-square mile region of Oakland. We're going to choose a region of Oakland that has all the criteria of the buildings we're looking to show. To show the applications of all three designs, we're going to go for a neighborhood that has a good selection of private, public, and commercial buildings, and that way those buildings will have applicability to general urban building types.

Within that first step we'll produce a conceptual design that will be produced by an urban planning firm and an engineering firm. That way it's a professional piece of work that we'll be providing to the field. Within that conceptual design we'll show how much electricity could be produced, how many pounds of food could be produced, and how much water could be saved from rainwater catchment. That way it shows a good projection of data that will be a convincing piece of material that we will then use in a report. We'll publish a report, then we're also going to publish the Rooftop Resources Principles Guidebook that's going to show all the data from the study, as well as many different case studies that we've found that show how well these systems work and a cost benefit analysis.

That's going to be designed for homeowners, developers, tenants, for people who want to develop these systems on their own. They want to see what are the costs involved, what kind of plants will work for what kind of roofs, things like that. It should have a really good comprehensive piece of material for people to look into considering. We're going to be using that to catalyze these systems into mainstream use by starting a public awareness campaign, and then a municipal support type of campaign.

In a long sense that's the second step. And that should be happening, as in those pieces of literature and reports published, probably around July of 2007. That's basically the tools that we're going to be using for our campaigns.

One of the things we're planning on doing on a city level is catalyzing a demonstration project on a municipal building. One of the things that has inspired us is the city of Chicago and the city of New York. These are two really big urban cities that obviously have problems with pollution and really intense heat. What they've done is these cities have started a really broad program of green roofs. Both of those cities actually have green roofs on their city buildings.

We want to follow in their example, only we're thinking what we can do is influence. We're targeting the city of Oakland because it's a great city. It's got a lot of space to close the gap of violence and inequity and what not. Also the green movement is really big in Oakland. We're hoping to do an edible rooftop garden on one of the city buildings. That's pretty much the last phase of the project, working on a policy level to create incentives, financial incentives, tax credits, things like, that would help people to implement these rooftop systems.

Britt: What brought you to this work?

Ingrid: I come from a diverse background of, how would I describe myself? The most consistent thing that I've done in my life is massage therapy. I've been a massage therapist for about seven years, that has pretty much been the staple that has allowed me to do many other things. I've always been an advocate for environmental sustainability and a more eco-conscious lifestyle. In that way, I've always been a steward of the earth. Also, I've lived in the Bay Area since '97, I'm really passionate about making the Bay Area more livable, and broadening the environmental movement.

I would say what brought me to Bay Localize was understanding the implications of peak oil. About two years ago I found out about peak oil after meeting with a pretty avid, what would I call him, kind of PR type of guy. His name is Dave Room. He introduced me to the concept of peak oil and introduced me to the movement in the Bay Area around peak oil. I started going to monthly meetings. It was kind of like a support group of people talking about the implications and the solutions, and what needs to be done, etc.

Of course I went through all of the stages that people in this movement go through. First you go through shock, of understanding how everything that we do is made available by cheap easy oil. And that once oil goes into more of a decline, our whole lifestyle is going to be turned upside down. So after going through shock, I began questioning everything that I did, and I do with my life. And I still do, I think it's really good to have a consciousness of how we're able to have such a luxurious lifestyle, what makes things possible, and of course, what's your ecological footprint. All these things I started examining on a deeper level.

So Bay Localize, I had worked with a few of the people in this organization on a different level. We were more of a grassroots organization. I was already in touch with Bay Localize, but I had the opportunity to become more involved with them this past summer. They were going through a transition and it became more of a ground level type effort to build the structure of the organization.

I happened to have free time this summer after doing some travelling, and I had wanted to do a rooftop assessment, like a green roof asssessment, to determine what the capacity of Bay Area rooftops is to carry gardens. It just so happend that Bay Localize was a good vehicle to propose this project, and so that's how it happened.

Britt: What resources can you recommend for people who want to get involved in re-localizing their city, or with the green roof movement?

Ingrid: For folks who have access to the Internet, I would recommend of course, our website. We've got some good info. We're a hub, we're at Then, this is an organization that does research and organizational type of work around peak oil. They are defininitely one of the leaders. is a good one.

Books, oh there are so many books. PowerDown by Richard Heinburg is a good one. He goes over peak oil.

A really good tool is movie nights. I've found these to be really, really powerful. One of the landmark movies is called End of Suburbia. I don't know if you've heard of it. I definitely recommend that to anybody who wants to look at the problem with American suburban infrastructure and how much of a dead-end type of infrastructure it is in that it sets people apart from a good stable access to sharing resources.

If you watch the movie, all of a sudden you'll just understand the problem. The movie is kind of scary, it definitely goes over the problem more than the solution. It's like an icebreaker, a catalyst, to bring people together to really begin dialoging. That's what I would suggest to anybody who wants to bring their community into the movement, is do a movie night. Only be prepared to be a little shell-shocked, and to be able to start asking, and begin looking for answers.

In terms of how people can broaden the localization movement. One of the things I always tell people that you can do is get to know your neighbors. It's so important just to know who you are living with on your block. Get together, have community potlucks, begin sharing the resources that we have so we're not so much an individualistic type of society.

I think it comes down to the simple basic things, like the things that we use. For example, if more people carpooled, it strengthens and bonds the community. If people had more resource sharing like, tool share libraries and bicycle libraries. Things like that where people can come together and have a base of things that go around the community, and are shared more. Those are a few of the things that I would suggest.

Localization is something that I think everybody yearns for, it's that missing link of bonding our community, to make community so we're not so isolated. So the answer really is out your front door.

For more information about Bay Localize and the Rooftop Resources project go to

Monday, December 11, 2006

Food Bloggers Unite for Good: Menu for Hope Starts Today

$17,000. That's how much food blogger, Pim Techamuanvivit of Chez Pim, raised for UNICEF in 2005. This year she is hoping to raise $25,000 for the UN World Food Programme.

For the past three years, Pim has held a Menu for Hope campaign on her blog. In 2004, right after the Tsunami hit, she asked a few food blogging friends to help her raise funds to support the Tsunami survivors in Southeast Asia, the region where Pim is from. They raised $2,000 for the Red Cross.

In 2005, 80 food bloggers were involved in the campaign, and together they raised $17,000 for UNICEF. Food bloggers were asked to contribute prizes to the campaign, and readers were asked to buy virtual raffle tickets. This year, over 150 food bloggers are contributing to the campaign, which starts today, and runs until December 22nd.

Here's how it works: "The more you give, the better your chance to win."

1. Choose a prize or prizes of your choice from the Menu for Hope

Have a meal of your life..
Delicious experiences..

Feasts for the eyes: books and more..

Tasty treats..

Cooks' tools..

Drink yourself silly..

2. Go to the donation site and make a donation. Each $10 you donate will give you one raffle ticket toward a prize of your choice.

3. Check back on Chez Pim on January 15 for the results of the raffle.

For more details go to Menu for Hope. It's a great chance to have fun and do good this holiday season.

*Bay Area readers: You can hear Pim and the co-founder of Kiva, Matt Flannery, talk about Fundraising for Nonprofits with the Social Web tomorrow, December 12th, at NetSquared's Net Tuesday. The event will be at Citizen Agency's Citizen Space (425 Second St. #300 in San Francisco). RSVP here.

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Struggles and Strategies of Online Organizing: An Interview with Leda Dederich

A couple weeks ago, I did an interview for the NetSquared Podcast with Leda Dederich, the creator of the dotOrganize project, and co-author of the report "Online Technology For Social Change: From Struggle to Strategy."

Below is a transcript of the interview. To start, I asked Leda what inspired her to start dotOrganize.
Leda Dederich: The entire project was actually launched after working for several years with organizations on an individual basis, and finding that they were struggling with the same problems over and over again. So I got frustrated with coming into organizations, seeing that they had these similar frustrations, and that there was really no infrastructure-wide capacity to support them. Also, I didn't even really have tools at my disposal to help support them and what their needs were.

The dotOrganize project generated out of that; and the main goal of the project was really to try to understand what it is that grassroots organizations, specifically, are struggling with in relation to technology, and how that can support their organizing, and then what we need to do, again, from kind of a sector-wide, capacity-building perspective to support them more effectively.

The problems that they are dealing with are really huge, so I wanted to start, in sort of a massive due diligence effort, by trying to understand, really, how that problem was playing out. Many capacity-builders, we all had similar instincts, right? Like data management and databases, that seems to be kind of killing everybody, that's sort of the heart of the challenge for a lot of people. There is a tremendous amount of frustration. People are kind of stuck. I mean, we all knew that, but we didn't really understand the specifics of how that was playing out.

So that was one of the main goals of this report, was, "What's really going on? Let's really find the lay of the land." It hadn't been done before, really, with this particular sector. Oftentimes when non-profits are focused on from a research perspective, it is the much larger organizations, so the little folks, the ones with budgets of under $100,000 a year, or $500,000 a year, or even volunteer-run organizations, often tend to get left out of the mix. So then the programs that are funded don't really cater to their needs, often.

So that was really the primary goal, was like, "What's going on with these folks, and how can we help them?" And I wanted to understand from their perspective what their needs were, rather than kind of theoretically stepping over to the side and looking at it and being like, "Well, I think they need this." I really feel that--this comes from my experience as an online strategist who has worked with lots of different organizations--you've kind of got to start with the user first.
Britt: What were some of the core findings?
Leda: The findings were interesting. A lot of it was actually validating what we already knew, that there is a big problem out there. I would say that the core findings would fall into four main categories.

The first, which was actually very exciting for us and somewhat surprising, was that organizations are really excited about technology. Now this was not the case, I would say, even five years ago. When I used to do trainings with organizations on how to leverage online technology for their missions, for example, I would have to spend 20 to 30 minutes in the beginning of my presentation just making the case, like, "This is why this might be good for you. Check it out." That's really not happening anymore. The buzz has been caught, people are really excited, and there have been some examples in the past five years of online technology really supporting organizations. They are super-excited and kind of ready, like, the carrot is sort of out there for them.

The second main finding, I would say, is that they are equally as frustrated. So they are kind of in this limbo-land a little bit, where they know that this can work for them, and the gap between knowing that it can work for them and there is something out there that is really beneficial, and also being able to find those new tools, implement them in a way that is effective and that also relates to their campaign objectives and their campaign goals--bridging that gap at this point is pretty challenging for folks. They don't know what tools are out there. Even if they get the list of the 100 tools that are out there that might be useful to them, they have no way of determining which one is most suited to their needs, how to implement it, and how to get ongoing support. So a tremendous amount of frustration.

And from a tools perspective, because we did try to get a bit granular with this research, in terms of tools that actually support them in their organizing, there is not one thing that is working for everybody. I mean, there are like 50 different kinds of tools that we named, and said, "Tell us what you think about these," plus lots and lots of other things that came in the open-ended comments from our survey information. So, lots of different options out there; none of them are really doing the full trick for folks.

And I think some of that is actually because the field of what one might call "online organizing" is such a new medium that the tools haven't quite caught up. So there is a lot of having to pull together different things and trying to cobble them together. If you are an organization that has technology people on staff, you are likely to be much more satisfied. That was actually a finding from the survey: if you have the folks in there that can do the bridging, that can cobble the stuff together, you are going to do great; but for the majority of the organizations that we talked to? Pretty frustrated.

The other thing that I have to say, even though sometimes this gets a little bit abstract for folks, is, from a very specific infrastructure perspective, the data management issue is really the heart of the problem. One of the reasons I feel like it's important to emphasize this, even though it is a bit technical and kind of wonky for some folks, is that you talk to any organization and they will tell you that, but because it is a little bit like, seems sort of back office, or something that is too focused on folks' operations, it tends to get overlooked, and it's actually the key to people being able to manage their relationships and engage their constituents, is sort of knowing who they are, knowing information about them, and then also being able to leverage that information in some way, whether that means sending an email to people, soliciting online donations, any of that kind of thing. Right now, when we asked folks, for example, "How long would it take you to generate a list of clean contacts?" the average response was five to 25 hours.

So it is really hard. It is really hard for folks. And then the open-ended comments, again, on that, I mean people just railed, they railed. And there are lots of things that are OK. There are lots of things that, if you spent $50,000 customizing it, it will mostly meet your needs. There are lots of organizations that have just done their own custom solution. There are some new emerging leaders in the field that seem to have some promise. But right now, if somebody came to me and said, "OK, I need to have a contact management solution for my organization that can also connect to some kind of organizing platform," I would not have an answer for them. So that's really challenging.

The final main finding that I would say, out of all of this, is--this had less to do with the information that we got from organizations and more research in the field in general--is that this is actually the moment to be addressing these problems. From a technology perspective, there is a climate of innovation right now that is totally suited to this.

We talk a lot about Web 2.0, which I think can be a really confusing term to some people, because Web 2.0 in some ways refers to tools, and in other ways refers to development practices, I think; but needless to say, that whole Web 2.0 environment is definitely creating a climate for innovation and collaboration that we haven't seen. So I think that in terms of being able to address some of these problems without spending $10 million, I think there is a moment to do that right now, this is kind of the time, so that's exciting.
Britt Bravo: There are some amazing statistics in this report. Fifty-five percent of the organizations surveyed didn't have an email list, forty-seven percent do not accept online donations, and thirty-nine percent do not use an email newsletter. What do you think that this means for the adoption of emerging technology by non-profits?
Leda: It is the question, right? So that was shocking to us, the amount of organizations who were struggling with very, very basic needs. Emerging technologies are great, I am all for emerging technologies; but I believe very, very strongly that it is like Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs: if people can't eat, then they can't go out to the fair. So all of these other technologies are very exciting, and I think for organizations that are in a position to try to leverage them in their campaigns, that's great; but we have to start focusing on the basics. If people do not have the capacity to solicit donations online, if they do not have an email newsletter, they really cannot worry about blogging and podcasting.

So I am very interested in, as we move forward, trying to create some broad-based infrastructure solutions so that it is easier for people to address some of these basic needs. And I think that there can be a split. The hype machine tends to focus on all of the new, fancy stuff, which for a lot of more grassroots organizations can be frustrating and even borderline offensive, I have to say, because you start to see all of these resources, all of this funding, all of this excitement, going towards these new and emerging technologies, and they're kind of like, "Whoa! We're over here; we have no idea what you're talking about. We have no idea how it relates to us. I'm tracking all my contacts on a piece of paper." So we really have to start there.
Britt: What are the next steps for dotOrganize?
Leda: The first step was really trying to understand what was happening, and to put this research out into the public space, and to solicit feedback. So right now there are two things going on.

One is, this problem is really too big for any organization individually to take on, so for me it is actually about building a community of practice and really connecting with other capacity builders in the sector to figure out a process for how to move forward to address this. So that is a big piece of what is going on right now, lots of different conversations about partnership opportunities with other organizations that are already in the field so that we can start moving forward on those.

There is a series of recommendations in the report that dotOrganize, as an organization, is not prepared to take on all of them. It was important for me to put this research out there and also have some thinking about how to address the problems. It was all published as a point of departure for broader conversation. The authors of the report, myself included, don't think we have the answers, but we felt like it was important to provide a baseline for conversation, even if someone wants to completely disagree, and therefore come up with a better way of solving the problem. To me that is success. So again, the first piece was really trying to generate some conversation around this and put some of these ideas into the primary discourse of the technology capacity-building community.

The projects that dotOrganize is specifically interested in taking on, because we have identified them as some of the really key challenges, that if we can address will have maximum collective impact, are two.

The first one is looking at information resources. I have an editorial background and I love information, and I think that self-education is possible, and especially if you are in a very small-budget organization and you can't hire a consultant, and you can't go to big, expensive trainings, that if there is an option, at least, for you to invest your own time and resources, then that can be very helpful. There are lots of information resources out there; from my perspective none of them are really cutting the mustard fully for what these groups need. So my intention, in collaboration with a lot of the other organizations that do have great resources out there--NetSquared and TechSoup being some of the primary--is to provide a centralized information resource that would allow an organization to come, and if they needed to know what kind of email solution, starting with the basics, would work for them.

They could get information on what tools were available, how they might implement them, and also some strategic guidance in terms of how to actually integrate that with their campaign and strategic goals. Which is something that, when we talk about technology in relation to non-profits, we often forget that very key piece, that there is a strategy and that really should be the heart of it, that the tool simply follows the strategy.

So I could go into a lot more information about what that information resource could look like. Again, we are going to start with the users and make sure that we are really finding out what they need; but it could be we'll have tools databases, we will have information, we will have strategic implementation guidelines. We could have, like, "Ask The Doctor" to get your questions answered. There are a lot of different possibilities there, and that will emerge, but that is the first project that we are focusing on.

The second one is a broader, more complex one that we are actually still in the process of kind of honing in and identifying the specific components for it, but that has to do with this whole piece around the capacity for organizations to manage their constituents, and also engage them fully. So what we are probably looking at more there is a program that can provide somewhat of an end-to-end solution, starting with the tools, and then talking about the implementation, and then also how those tools could be leveraged effectively from a strategic perspective.

So that is actually, in some ways, some of it has to do with software development, and some of it has to do with a culture shift around how organizations think about the people that are related to them. Are those people there to serve you, or are you there to serve them? When we look at constituents, and fundraising and this whole list-building thing, I think of list-building now mainly as a form of coercion, like, "Let me try to get somebody's name by any means necessary," which in the end is not actually that sustainable and doesn't built a broad-based movement.

So we have a whole technology challenge around folks being able to just go in and search for people in their neighborhood, or generate a walk list for them to go talk to them, those kinds of things; but we also really have a strategic challenge in terms of how people are perceiving this. I do believe in creating a broad-based movement for social change in this country. That is why I'm doing this work. And to me, that is about looking at what it means to build a movement, who actually makes those movements; it is bringing it back to individual people, and their needs a little bit more, and I think there is a great opportunity for organizations to rethink a little bit what engagement actually means. If we can start actually meeting the needs of those people that we are trying to engage, and relating to them in a way that is not just about soliciting a donation twice a year, I think we are going to have a much stronger movement, ultimately.
Britt Bravo: How can listeners to this interview get involved with dotOrganize and the work you are doing?
Leda: If you go to, you can sign up on the email list, we have a blog that is going to be starting soon. Also, the report has been published online, so if you go to you can actually see the online version of all the research. The reason that I did that, primarily, was because I wanted people to be able to comment and give feedback. So it is set up to do that, and we would most appreciate your thoughts and perspectives and ideas on what we have presented.
Britt: Is there anything else you want people to know about dotOrganize, or the report?
Leda: There are two key messages I would want to hit home, that I would want anybody who is listening to this to take away. One would be that to really understand that there is an infrastructure challenge here that is huge, that is affecting organizations all across the country, and it is mostly affecting organizations that have very small budgets, who basically have no way of getting their needs met. That infrastructure challenge, which as I said, the heart of that is really data management and how folks can manage their constituents and also how they can engage them, that challenge needs to be addressed on an infrastructure-wide level. We cannot do it organization-to-organization. If we do that, it is going to take 20 years to solve the problem. If we start addressing it more on an infrastructure-wide level, in five years the whole country is going to be in a much better place.

So that is the one piece. That is the kind of more technical piece.

The other thing that I would say that is really important is that oftentimes, when we think about social change and technology, and "non-profit" technology, we forget what we are really trying to do. Again, this is about social change, this is about a world that is pretty much in crisis right now. There is also a lot of hope. I mean, I am pretty excited about this election that just happened. I am feeling slightly less on the defensive.

I mean, obviously it is just a beginning and it could still be terrible, but there is opportunity, and that is actually why we are all here; and when we are looking at technology and non-profits, that is the end result that we are searching for, really, is social change, empowering organizers, making it possible for organizations to really focus on their missions and not be struggling with issues like how to manage their email lists. Such a waste of time; they have better things to do. So that would be the second thing I would want people to take away from this.

Transcription by CastingWords