Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Crusader for Charity

This is cross-posted in the Huffingtonpost Impact Section.

Through recession, natural disaster, war, and any other challenge to humanity, one thing remains constant: the need for sharing and giving to improve lives in every corner of the globe. Drawing from her extensive background in social work and passion for service, Jessica Sweet started Wishingwell Consulting, a great way to meet that need.

Wishingwell is riding a wave of innovative thinking this year that started with Mobile Giving, which was instrumental in fundraising efforts for Haiti. As we turn the page on what has been a tough few years in the community of charities, there are so many reasons to be excited about what the next decade will bring. Wishingwell, is one of those reasons.

It's visionary founder, Jessica Sweet, is everything you would expect: constructive, focused, accomplished, and engaged. And she does not disappoint. You'll love her perspective and appreciate her commitment.

In a global economy that's struggling, how are you managing to convince people to give to charity?

It isn't my role to convince anyone to give. I talk about the benefits of giving, and encourage people to give, but I'm not going to put the "hard sell" on anyone. My philosophy is that giving should feel good, and give something back to you.

That thinking is already in place in the business world--many businesses see that giving (whether structured as cause marketing or volunteering or corporate philanthropy) is an investment in their business. There is an upfront cost, but the payoff is worth it. Individual donors usually have an intrinsic motivation to give, but they might have trouble figuring out how to give in a way that works for him or her. I help people and businesses focus on what they really value and how they believe change occurs, and help them understand their own goals for change. I concentrate on making giving a rewarding experience--so much so that the incentive to do it (and keep doing it) is built right in.

I think more and more people are beginning to understand that simply throwing money at a problem isn't enough--there has to be a strategy behind your giving. I work to give people peace of mind so that, when they go to bed at night, they know that there is a concrete plan in place that will help them do their part to make an impact on the piece of the world they care about most.

So for me, it's less about convincing people that they can give, and more about giving those with a desire to help and the means to do so a path to make a real difference while giving back to themselves as well.

Dr. Maya Angelou once noted that "the act of giving" tends to liberate the giver. What's your view?

I agree, but I don't think that just any giving accomplishes liberation. I believe Dr. Angelou is alluding to freeing ourselves from a feeling of being disconnected from the world around us--of ennui, the general lack of direction or meaning in life and disconnection from others. In my opinion, in order to reach the liberation that Dr. Angelou speaks of, our giving needs to meet a set of universal standards.

(1) Give if it comes from your heart. When some people think of giving, they think of ending up with less or going without in terms of finances, time, or energy. Sometimes this is real, and sometimes it's about a person's mindset. Whatever the source, until something changes, this person shouldn't give and expect to have great things happen for them. We need to honor ourselves and understand our limitations while growing through them. Giving should feel like a beautiful thing, and should help us feel that we have more, not less. If you give because you want to and not because you think you should, one condition is met.

(2) We should not neglect ourselves or give until it hurts. A world in which one problem is alleviated only by causing suffering for another person doesn't make sense to me. Healing can only occur if the giver isn't harmed.

(3) The cause should resonate deeply with the giver. When you care about something deeply, it feels like a privilege to be able to make a positive impact. The act of giving should help you feel empowered, and that you can do something about what's important to you, rather than feeling held hostage by what is wrong with the world.

(4) The cause should help you connect with others. Many of us struggle with feeling disconnected and that something is missing in life. Life can become mundane unless we have real human connections based on working to accomplish something meaningful. When you give in a way that helps you get in touch with a sense of brotherhood, you free yourself from the fear that you are alone and that life is meaningless.

All together, this turns giving into something that's transformative. It puts us in context as human beings and lets us see the importance--and the meaning--of taking care of others as well as taking care of ourselves. We can understand why when we feel that life is missing something, only by giving something away can we get it back; only then are we free.

Would you say that what you're doing is helping to set the tone for charitable giving for the long term?

I certainly hope so. In fact, I believe this model for charitable giving is the next generation of thinking. My goal isn't simply to help people give a few dollars. It's to help people feel empowered. I want people to understand themselves and what really matters to them; I want people to realize that there is something that can be done to improve the problems they see; and I want people to experience a sense of fulfillment from being engaged in something meaningful. This model for giving does all of that. Done the right way, giving is a powerful thing--it's much more than just writing a check to the next charity that asks. When we uncover what we, as individuals, are intrinsically motivated to accomplish, we begin to leverage a colossal force--and that is when change truly occurs.

To contact Jessica Sweet about Wishingwell and other 'Cause Marketing' projects, fan her on her Facebook Page or follow her on her Twitter feed.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Jermaine's Tribute to Michael Jackson

With a little more than a year after his untimely passing, Michael Jackson may not be physically here, but his brother Jermaine is making sure he will always be with us in spirit. On October 2nd, Jermaine will pay tribute to his brother Michael and the entire Jackson Family at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas.

This is long overdue...and very exciting.

The Jackson Family is like royalty to me. Their music was the soundtrack of my youth. It got me through my shyness as a kid and helped me impress the girls with my dance moves. It gave so much meaning to my life, and, in a way that I've never been able to explain, it showed me what was possible with my own dreams.

Picture of Michael and Jermaine from the 1980s

I choose to embrace the positive aspects of the singers and musicians I grew up with. Michael Jackson is no different. His Off The Wall album is my all-time favorite. It came out in the disco era, but helped usher in a new sound for the early 1980s. His videos made MTV a worldwide phenomenon, and his corporate partnerships laid the foundation for future celebrity endorsement deals.

Yes, I'm sure the tribute will be quite emotional but also well-received. Complemented with an 11 piece band and vocals from younger members of the family, Jermaine will see to it that the genuis and legacy of his brother Michael is honored with respect. He will be remembered the way he should be: devoted father, world citizen, supporter of charities, and most of all, the thriller.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Amazing Video! Whoa!

This is just amazing! But even the word amazing doesn't do it any justice. Videographer Simon Christen has produced some great work over the years. But he has clearly outdone himself this time.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Awesome Sauce: 16 Chefs on Twitter

This is the latest post in our series, TwitterPowerhouses, which focuses on the contributions of people who've helped to expand, influence, and redefine how we view social networking. I co-wrote this post with my friend and fellow Huffingtonpost blogger Jamie Schler. This is cross-posted in the Huffingtonpost Food Section.

Food nourishes both the body and soul; it is an adventure in taste, sound, color, texture, and smell. Food is emotional, carrying us back to our childhood or allowing us to travel far off to a distant, exotic land. It is both sensual and healing, and preparing our favorite dish - from a bit of comfort food to a great holiday feast - is a wonderful way to offer a part of ourselves to those whom we love.

Food has always been our passion. Jamie, an expat in a culturally mixed marriage, loves experimenting with, and learning about, the foods, traditions and customs from all over the world. The Mille-feuille of France. The Bocaditos of Argentina. The Tandoori Dishes of India. And, in Ivory Coast, there's kedjenou. Like music, food is a universal language. Jamie's blog, Life's a Feast, is a beautiful, culinary playground that speaks the language.

This is why we are excited about the chefs that are profiled in this piece. They share this passion. Rather than use twitter as simply a promotional tool for their own recipes, they see it as a meeting place where food bloggers, professional foodies, cookbook authors and specialists are happy to chat, exchange links, and bring the sizzle! So pour on the awesome sauce for these 16 Twitter Powerhouses.

Helene Dujardin /@SweetTartelette
Former pastry chef, now professional food stylist and photographer, Helene
Dujardin is known to bloggers around the world as the Macaron Queen: her
flavor combinations amaze! Check out her work at Mytartelette.

John-Bryan Hopkins /@Foodimentary
A blogger for MyRecipes, Hopkins is a Twitter legend. He was one of first
people to tweet about food. His feed, with info on food culture and
trivia, is a two time Winner of the Shorty Awards, Twitter's Oscars.

Debbie Lee /@SeoultoSoul
A season 5 finalist of "The Next Food Network Star", Lee is
one of the darlings of Hollywood. She has the buzz that will
likely mean big things in 2011 for her unique Korean and Southern dishes.

Rick Bakas /@RickBakas
The author of "Quick Bites", Bakas is a noted wine expert
and social media director for Saint Supery Vineyards
and Winery in Napa Valley. He shares his food
and wine tips at rickbakas.com

Dorie Greenspan /@doriegreenspan
The author of 10 cookbooks, including Baking With Julia (Child, of course)
and the very popular Baking From My Home to Yours, Dorie is very well
known and her recipes are recreated by many across the blogosphere!

Max Berry /@NU_Fit
This natural chef and personal trainer has great recipes ranging from
organic ketchup to wild salmon with blueberry-basil salsa. Max's passion
for heathy eating is legendary.

Shuna Fish Lydon /@shunafish
Professional pastry chef now working in NYC with a popular blog,
Shuna tweets about life behind the scenes in a restaurant,
giving valuable info and tips along the way.

Dan Lepard /@dan_lepard
An award winning baker and cookbook author based in
London, Dan's popular website with recipes and news
also has a great forum for discussion and ideas.

Laura Levy/@LaurasRecipes
Creator of the popular recipe blog LaurasBestRecipes,
this business owner and visionary has a highly anticipated book of
delicious delights on the way in early 2011.

Florentina /@CiaoFlorentina
As host of CiaoFlorentina.com, she provides enlightened, Twitter-licious
commentary on all things "Peace, Love and Food". Her pasta and
risotto dishes are best friends to the taste buds.

Peter Minaki /@kalofagas
Kalofagas means Gourmet in Greek, and nothing describes Peter better!
A Canadian, he's an amazing cook and expert on all things Greek,
especially food! His blog and tweets are great fun!

Food Blog Forum, started by Jaden and Scott Hair (of Steamy Kitchen)
and Todd Porter and Diane Cy (of White on Rice Couple), is a fantastic website.
No, this isn't one person. But they all speak with one voice.
The tweets includes links to posts about food
styling, technology, social media, etc.

Bridget Davis /@Bridget_Cooks
"Flavor profiler and culinary craftsman", Davis' recipes are known
throughout South East Asia and Australia. Her blog,
The Internet Chef, is a certified must read.

Debbie Frangipane /@dolcedebbie
Executive Chef and Culinary Director for Savory Adventures,
Debbie hosts luxury getaways to Italy's most amazing destinations. Her recipes
and tireless work on behalf of charities gets major kudos.

Giuliano Hazan /@Giulianohazan


Lael Hazan /@educatedpalate

Giuliano is a renowned Italian chef and cookbook author, who, with his wife
Lael, runs cooking schools on two continents. They are contributing editors on
Saveur, and their blog is a warm, loving home of
fabulous Italian recipes.

Authors' Note: In case you missed it, here's Part 12 of the series: Aaron Lee on Influence and the Future of Social Media.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The New Twitter: A Screenshot

Courtesy of TheNextWeb

This is a screenshot of the new Twitter.com. It will allow users to view videos and photos shared by others alongside tweets. It will also make it easier to find content. This is is good news. To remain relevant, you have to bring in new features and occasionally a new design. The folks at Twitter, Inc. understand this. More details will be forthcoming. But right now, this is great news.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Candidate Goes Nuts Selling His Ideas (VIDEO)

This has to be the funniest, political freak out ever. Ever! It appeared on the Huffingtonpost Political Section today, and then it went viral. I guarantee you won't stop laughing. Just when you think you've seen the best video, something like this apprears and proves you wrong. Trust me, this is enormously, and unintentionally, entertaining. Get ready to laugh.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Artistic Beauty of Isa Zapata

This is cross-posted in the Huffingtonpost Arts Section.

Years ago, an entertainer explained the meaning of "Art as Life." It is, this person says, when something culturally dynamic introduces you to a new experience and informs your thinking, nurtures your spirit, and expands your horizons. Indeed, this could easily be the description of the work of artist Isa Zapata.

With a spirit as irrepressible as her smile, Zapata has become one of the art world's most respected voices. Since her breakout year in 2005, her art, home décor, and fashion lines have generated major buzz. Indeed, her hand-painted furniture, eco-friendly handbags, and "Limited Edition" t-shirts are just a few of the amazing products wowing consumers.

A few months ago, her illustrations graced the pages of the bestselling children's book Today I am Happy. This seems fitting because Zapata always encourages people to see things through the eyes of a child. That's the only way, Zapata believes, one can appreciate and see the fullness of what life has to offer.

Grateful for her success, Zapata is fully committed to charity. In fact, proceeds from her Limited Edition t-shirts benefit the MY Art Project, a foundation she started that funds art classes for underprivileged students in Miami, Florida, and Fundacion los niños del Campo, a foundation in Columbia run by a friend.

She's one of the smartest women I know, and one of the great women in social media. Here's hoping her example of excellence will continue being a beacon of light, and that our lives will continue to be touched and transformed by her inspirational presence, fantastic work, and positive spirit.

To see more of Isa Zapata's amazing creations, fan her on her Facebook page and follow her on her Twitter feed.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Rolling Stone is Right: Mad Men Rocks!

Though I would not call Mad Men the best show on TV (that honor belongs to Breaking Bad), its sense of style is both intoxicating and undeniable. What makes it a great show is the deeply flawed and charming Don Draper, played brilliantly by Jon Hamm.

I've watched many great dramas over the years that were character driven. The Sopranos and The West Wing come to mind. But no show has the strange appeal of Mad Men. On the one hand, its central character, Don Draper, is an empty suit. A man with very little substance. Yet, you feel yourself rooting for him (at least professionally) at every turn.

The show is also situated against the backdrop of the turbulent 1960s: John F. Kennedy, Women's Rights, Civil Rights, the reinvention of American Enterprise, etc. Its a great show that's completely deserving of its success.