Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A "Door of Hope" for a Brighter Future

This is my new post on the nonprofit "Door of Hope". With this piece, I have now profiled nonprofits on six continents! Thanks for supporting my work everyone. This is also cross-posted in the Huffingtonpost Impact Section and the SeeYourImpact blog.

Being a child should be one of the most enjoyable times. Having fun with friends and living healthy lives. For many children in Sierra Leone, extreme malnutrition, disease and high drop out rates threaten to take that away. This is why Door of Hope is on the front lines, deeply engaged with these issues, and making a huge difference. They provide children like Haja Mama, Ramtu, Faud, Alusine and Alimamy with educational access, as well as vitamins and mosquito nets so they're healthy enough to learn.

Like many sub-Saharan countries, Sierra Leone has been locked in a tremendous struggle to build a sustainable future for its citizens. Years of strife between ethnic groups has taken its toll, and left many aspects of the country paralyzed, fighting to move forward. But even among the chaos and confusion, there is an opportunity to empower its people, and inspire lasting change. Door of Hope is working to help make this a reality in Sierra Leone.

4-year old Ibrahim lives in a small house
made of zinc sheets. These donated vitamins help him
overcome a vitamin deficiency and grow up tall and strong.

Fatmata is the mother of these bright-eyed children.
They live in a single room, with no running water or electricity.
Thanks to a $40 donation by David, they now have food on the table.

Their partnership with SeeYourImpact makes it possible. With 100% of donations going to improve lives and ensuring a bright future for many, we asked Joshua from Door of Hope about the success stories across a diverse group of people, and the challenges moving forward:

Sierra Leone has a rich, unique history, and a diverse population. With four primary spoken languages across 16 ethnic groups, how do you manage to assist so many so effectively?

Independent of background, we have found out that the beneficiary needs, and that of all humanity, are essentially the same. People everywhere desire to live healthy and quality lives. This is true across the ethnic groups in Sierra Leone and the communities where we work. People are looking for better opportunities.

Given this understanding, our efforts target both short-term needs and long-term situations (the root cause) with a holistic approach. The meeting of short-term needs, on one hand, is often necessary in terms of ensuring survival. Long-term needs, on the other hand, must be addressed to ensure empowerment. Both are essential and vitally needed.

Keeping both sides of the coin in mind, we focus on helping beneficiaries transition from poverty and powerlessness to self-sufficiency and empowerment. We see the assistance that we provide as stepping stones that will revolutionize their lives. Our efforts are warmly welcomed and received because the beneficiaries appreciate the targeted assistance. Their lives are equipped and transformed.

What issues (that Door of Hope deals with) do you believe are not getting the push they need, and what can be done to shift attention in that direction?

One of the essential issues that deserves more attention is the provision of pathways to empowerment. Sierra Leone has an estimated unemployment rate of 65%. A significant percentage of this number are youths and young adults. For Sierra Leone to break the cycle of poverty, idle human resources need to be developed and employed.

There is a dire need for the provision of appropriate training / education and opportunities for beneficiaries to start their own business or obtain jobs. With the community, we receive on-going requests for the establishment of vocational training centers and either microfinance business start-up support or the establishment of industries that provide employment. Unless we can provide effective pathways for people to become empowered, people and nations will never achieve their destinies. Until we effectively address this all-important issue, the sad and pathetic struggle for survival will continue.

In terms of shifting attention to this issue, an increased awareness of opportunities for effecting change would be a great start. Organizations and the press would do well to highlight opportunities like this that address the root cause of poverty. This also needs to be placed firmly on the agenda of non profit organizations, all government agencies and decision makers that allocate resources world-wide. Individuals and families need to be provided with simple ways that they can help make a difference and impact lives in this regard.

A personal end note: This is the beauty of the SeeYourImpact model. Shari Goetsch has called it "a game-changer" in the world of nonprofits and charities. It is hard to disagree with this statement. Indeed, the model empowers the the small donor. For $20 dollars you can change a change a life, and positively affect a community, a village, or a region. This is what's happening all over Sierra Leone. When the power of small donations connects with the needs and concerns of under-served populations, the results are often extraordinary.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Best "How to Use Twitter Video"...EVER!

Not only was Odd Todd's Perfect Tweet: A Twitter Crash one of the best, must-see videos of the week, but it is also one of my favorite videos of the year. In fact, its become an online, runaway hit. And for good reason. It combines humor (yes, its quite funny) and terms to better navigate and understand the world of Twitter. I remember it took me four months to create my own style and blend it with some of the more popular ways people were tweeting. Yes, it took me a minute, but I got it.

I have family members and friends who still don't get it, but were more confident after viewing this video. Trust me, it's great.


Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Few Thoughts on Jeff Pulvers' 140 Conference

This past week, I had the pleasure of attending the huge 140 Conference in New York City - one of every year's must-see events. There are tweetups associated with the 140 conference in cities and regions around the world. This is a testament to the vision of conference founder Jeff Pulver, who has created a platform upon which every aspect of social media is discussed and dissected. Needless to say, I had a wonderful time.

I spoke a panel on about real time news. It was moderated by media mogul Jessica Northey. Also on the panel were web producer Brian White and videographer extraordinaire Sarah Austin. It was fantastic. And so were Cory Booker, Ann Curry, and a long list of speakers and presenters. This is an event I highly recommend for anyone seeking to better understand the mechanics of social media.

I'm pictured with conference founder Jeff Pulver (left) and
digital marketer Amy Larrimore.

Pictured from right to left: Debra Cincioni, Gina Stark,

I'm pictured with recruiter Susan Kang Nam (left) and
Huffingtonpost blogger Kristen Durkin.

I learned a lot during those two days. There are many things I took away from the conference. Here are three of them:

(1) Meeting Positive Folks from Twitter is Priceless - I've been on Twitter for roughly two and a half years, and it was awesome to meet so many great folks I have communicated with online, and on the phone. I connect with people based on content and substance, not the amount of followers they have or lists they're on. So my real life meetings with them were amazing.

(2) Jessica Northey is a Person to Know - Yes, the moderator of my panel turned out to be much more extraordinary than I ever imagined. Before the start of the conference, during every intermission and during every post-conference-tweetup, person after person talked about a positive interaction or conversation with her. No kidding here. Her name was gold to a tremendous number of people. This is a woman who is not only well-connected, but who knows how to make those connections work for her. Not simply an influential woman, but someone using her influence to make an impact. When I grow up, I want that kind of sterling reputation :)

(3) Social Media Has Some Amazing People - I can't tell you the feeling I had being 30 feet away from Ted Rubin and Liz Strauss as they spoke to the crowd. Sitting in the audience, I thought: "I'm friends with some amazing people who can also rock this event." Folks like adventurers Chris Burget, Paul Steele and J.D. Andrews; health and fitness advocates Joyce Cherrier, Andy Baldwin, Eleni Kehagiaras and Amie Hoff; artists Lori McNee and Michelle Thayer; and digital strategists like Kristen Durkin, Daniel Hudson, Chris Luzader, Ken Banks, Deb Weinsten, and Laura Duran.

But the list of great folks goes on and on. Anyone can recommend speakers. So if you know of someone who is rockin' a particular subject or field and can "rock the crowd" too, let Jeff Pulver and his associates know. I'm going back next year, and it would be awesome to see some of my friends - people literally moving the social media conversation forward - on stage before a world wide audience.

Can't wait until next year!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Green Impact of Apple's Massive New Headquarters

Steve Jobs - Steve Jobs, Apple's <span class=
Steve Jobs, CEO and co-founder of Apple.
Picture Courtesy of Getty Images

These are truly exciting times in the world of technology. And once again, Apple is at the center of the innovation. I could go on and on about products or its visionary founder, but one thing is certain: Apple's planned headquarters promises to be one of the best stories of the early 21st century. It will house approximately 13,000 people. It reportedly will be bigger than the Pentagon, which houses roughly 26,000 people. The popular CultofMac blog has a great picture here comparing the sizes of both structures.

TreeHuggers's Michael Graham Richards, one of my favorite writers, has also weighed in on Apple's plans, and looked at how eco-friendly the blueprint is. He has been one of the loudest voices about the need for tech companies to reduce their carbon footprint. So I was happy to read his thoughts on the green aspect of Apple's new headquarters. This is worth quoting in its entirety:
I find it really elegant and beautiful from an architectural point of view, showing
that simplicity is often best. But it is also interesting from a green point of view:
It'll reduce the amount of asphalt on the property by 90%, increase the number of trees by 60% and the amount of landscape by 350%, and all of this while reducing the actual building footprint by 30%. It's also going to be off-grid, generating it's own power and using the grid as a backup, but that electricity will be produced with natural gas,...
This is great news. And it's the kind of move that could spark a revolution in sustainable design. Other tech companies will certainly take notice, and will want to one up Apple, trying to make their headquarters greener. This ensures that we will be talking about Apple for decades to come. Let there be no doubt: Steve Jobs is a genius.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Interactive Children's Apps of Nosy Crow

This is my new piece on visionary publisher Nosy Crow. It was co-authored by blogger Amy Neumann, and it is cross-posted in the Huffingtonpost Book Section.

Two decades ago, Disney re-energized its brand with animated films so visually stunning that they strengthened character development and elevated familiar stories to new and commanding heights. Simply put, they were instant classics. And it is difficult not coming to a similar conclusion when viewing the amazing animated apps of red hot publisher Nosy Crow.

In a relatively short period, Nosy Crow has become a major player in the "interactive apps for children market." It took the familiar tale Three Little Pigs and enhanced the storytelling by making it a visual feast. The combination is awe-inspiring, and makes it nothing short of a masterpiece. Believe this: children and children at heart will see this not simply as an app, but an experience.

This type of innovation was part of the buzz at this year's South By Southwest festival. With ebooks now outselling traditional print, Nosy Crow is poised to make a big splash. We got an exclusive interview with Kate Wilson, Nosy Crow's visionary managing director. A veteran of the publishing industry, she illustrates exactly why her company is ahead of the curve.

Managing Director Kate Wilson.
Courtesy of Nosy Crow

As a veteran of the publishing industry, what was is like starting a new children's publisher?

It's an obvious thing to say, but it's really exciting. Of course, there's dull stuff: standing in line at the post office isn't great, and I do a lot of economy class flying! I've learned a lot that's directly relevant to what I am doing now from my ten years as Managing Director of Macmillan Children's Books and from my five years as Group Managing Director of Scholastic UK, but I am enjoying the freedom of being my own boss and the ability that gives you to act really quickly and decisively. I love being closer than I have been for years to the creative process, from writing texts for a board book, to deciding what's the right level of interactivity on an app. And I'm enjoying forging new relationships, such as the one we've made with Candlewick Press, who'll be publishing many of our books in the US and Canada under a Nosy Crow imprint starting in August.

How does social media figure into the larger promotion of your firm?

One of the privileges of starting something up is that you can decide on the voice of your company. For us, social media is an important part of that voice: I like not having to think about ventriloquising a corporate voice! Social media and blogging opens up a way for publishers to talk to the people who choose and read their books and apps. Parents are our main audience in our case, as we're doing books and apps for children under the age of 12. We've found that we've really enjoyed writing what we hope are fresh and honest blog posts several times a week. We're on Facebook and we tweet as nosycrow. For apps, we tweet as nosycrowapps. I write about everything from great apps for kids, to taking my older child to Buckingham Palace for the royal wedding. Social media is much more than a promotional tool. It's a conversation, and I think that organizations ignore that at their peril: social media isn't a megaphone. I enjoy the two-way (at least two way) nature of it. For example, we've recently used twitter to build a blog post about people's favorite books for spring and Easter. And when people give us and ideas and recommendations to improve our next apps we act on that. People respond to books and apps in a very individual, personal and passionate way, so it's great to be able to amplify our own enthusiasm through other people.

How do you choose your books and apps?

Many of us at Nosy Crow are parents, and we all have a lot of experience of publishing. So we bring personal as well as professional experience to our choices. The big question we always ask is, "Who's it for?" I think that, if we can't define who the core readership of a book or an app is, we don't have the right book synopsis or app concept in front of us. Of course, many books and apps have a readership outside their core audience and that's good (I can spend frightening amounts of time speeding the two little pigs in our The Three Little Pigs App along their 3D road, and that's an app with a core audience of 4- to 6- year-olds). But, for something to feel right as a Nosy Crow book or app, we have to be able to see clearly in our heads the child who will read it.

Sometimes you just know and we all agree quickly. In that case, because we're small and independent, we can make an offer on the spot. That's what happened with our Mega Mash-up books. With their unique combination of doodle book and chapter book, they just struck us as perfect for reluctant readers, particularly boys ages 7 to 9. Nikalas Catlow and Tim Wesson came in to show us what they were working on. We liked this idea (of course, it's changed a bit since the original pitch, but that's the shaping process of publishing for you), and I looked at my colleague, Camilla, and she looked at me, and we said that we were going into the corridor for a moment (we have a completely open-plan office still, and, at that point, we had a tiny one). She and I decided what we want to offer for -- how many books and how much -- and we went back in and told Nikalas and Tim. They said they'd have to think about it... so I suggested that they go out to the corridor for a moment themselves. We cut the deal in five minutes.

Sometimes, though, a project will require more thought, and we have pretty lively discussions about texts and illustrations and the direction in which an app might go! You can do all the costings and projections that you like, but every new author or illustrator or concept (and we have a lot of those) is a risk. Every book or app needs a champion, and if someone on the team feels really strongly, and keeps coming back with a particular project after they've done some more work on it, sometimes it'll get through second time around.

Logo courtesy of Nosy Crow

Talk about the pressure of developing apps for classic tales like Three Little Pigs and Cinderella.

The key thing is thinking about how the features of a tablet device or smartphone (we publish our apps for iPad, iPhone and iPod touch) can add to the reading experience. I am interested in telling stories. I think that telling stories is a pretty atavistic, round-the-camp-fire-in-the-cave sort of thing. Listening to, understanding and retelling stories is one of the key ways that children make sense of their lives and their world. Printed books lend themselves really well to linear storytelling. Once you know that you read from left to right (in English, at least) and front to back, the line of the story is there. Touch screen devices encourage non-linear exploration. So when we're making an app, we think about how we cut the story down into blocks with a linear sequence, and add in interactivity and non-linear stuff (like extra comments from each of the pigs that form a conversation, but can be read in any order). But we're always careful that the storyline isn't broken.

I've heard today's kids referred to as "The Angry Birds Generation." These kids are are spending more time on screens, and enjoying multimedia and interactive experiences younger. I want to create reading experiences that are compelling to The Angry Birds Generation. We want to give them opportunities to learn to read for both literacy and pleasure, on the devices we know they are using from their earlier years.

What's the general state of children's publishing today?

Well, in the UK at least, print publishing isn't exactly flourishing. Sales last year were down by volume and value compared to 2009, and volume sales have been dropping for a few years. The Twilight Series and Harry Potter have, over the last decade and more, brought children's books into the spotlight. But the audience for both of these phenomenal series is skewed towards adult readers. In the UK, one in every five children's books last year was bought online. But online, prominent books become more prominent, and it's hard to find the new and less well-known books. Meanwhile, the app market is in its infancy, and it's hard to find apps amongst the ever increasing number available on the stores. So it's a tough environment! On the other hand, there are creative people coming up with really great new ideas every day, many of whom want to use new technologies to create them and talk about them. Children's publishing is a business, but I find that many of us who are part of it are motivated by things other than money. The excitement of reading a funny or a moving manuscript doesn't go away. The thrill of finding a new illustrator keeps you looking through portfolios. The "wow" of realizing what you could do to tell a story better on an iPad screen is terrific. And, for many of us, the creation of truly engaging experiences, whether on print or on screen, is part of a mission to get children reading.

For more information on Nosy Crow's books and apps, click on their website and connect with them on their Twitter feed.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Sparked: A Revolution in Vitual Micro-Volunteering

This is my new post, which was co-written by the nonprofit crusader Amy Neumann. It is cross-posted in the Huffingtonpost Impact Section.

There are many benefits to volunteering. You feel more connected to the world, and in many ways, empowered to make a difference. Building a house for the needy. Planting trees, tutoring students, and helping military families. It's endless. In a soaring, beautiful post about making a difference, Gretchen Rubin correctly points out:
Volunteering is the right thing to do -- we all know that. And studies show that it boosts happiness; those who work to further causes they value tend to be happier and healthier, experience fewer aches and pains, and even live longer. And it's not just that helpful people also tend to be healthier and happier; studies show that helping others itself causes happiness.
In fact, the rapid rise of microvolunteering has become buzz-worthy for the great conversation its generating. The architects of this concept, Jacob Colker and Ben Rigby, the founders of Sparked, took a look at a few things they figured would make volunteering faster, easier and more fun. Built to work with a love of technology and fast-paced schedules, it’s way to help give back while adding a dose of passion to your day.

Sparked came about from feedback of over 300,000 volunteers on their initial Extraordinaries platform, as well as from the nonprofits those volunteers helped. Jacob and his team shared why Sparked has become a big hit.

"With budget cuts the struggle is to do more with less. If nonprofits need services like graphic design or document translation, or marketing expertise they’d normally pay outside sources to do, they can now get it for free. It also brings new supporters into the mix with the social sharing side. Nonprofits can both save a lot of money and also build impact by using Sparked. Sometimes the best way to do fundraising is to cut costs," Colker explained.

Volunteers wanted ways to be more directly tied to core mission. Months of research revealed the most clear need - skills-based volunteering with deep expertise. Now that Sparked already had more than 3000 nonprofits using its service, there are hundreds of fresh, skilled volunteer opportunities every week.

Team Sparked: Ben Rigby (left), Joseph Pigato (center), Shauna Carey (center), Boris Korsunsky (bottom), Jordan Snodgrass (via Skype on laptop), Jacob Colker (right).
Photo Courtesy of Sparked

Sparked was named one of the Top 12 Nonprofit Platforms by Mashable earlier this year. And its easy to see why. Volunteer “challenges” can be done in 2 minutes to 2 hours, or in other words – fast! You pick the type of cause or the organization, and the specific type of skilled work to do. You can see other people’s responses, which fosters your own learning and creativity. A few popular types of volunteering are graphic and logo design, social media consulting, marketing and PR guidance, website and mobile design and tools, language translation, and reviewing materials to give feedback.

For nonprofits, Sparked creates an instant talent pool without requiring scheduling, screening, training, or other pieces of volunteer coordination that take a lot of time. A nonprofit can simply post a challenge, get responses, choose what they like, then send a "Thank you" Award of Excellence. If you're a nonprofit, you can have your first challenge live in minutes! And Sparked's feature of thanking every participant immediately after a challenge gives positive feedback that encourages more volunteering.

For companies, it helps with some traditionally tough volunteering challenges. Since it can be done from anywhere, there's no time out of the office. Virtual skills-based volunteering also allows employees to use or enhance key skills, and even skills they may enjoy using but don't use regularly on the job (think second languages, creative writing, fun things in tech). Everything can be tracked and shared, so a company and its employees can see the impact they're having... and so can everyone they know.

Sparked is a win-win for all parties involved. Its simplicity and laser targeted skills-to-challenge model is fantastic. And the fact that you can easily share your accomplishments with friends and contacts makes it even more significant as a way for new people to discover great nonprofits.

Supporters of the social good are consistently coming up with ways to help volunteering thrive and grow. This model is certainly doing its part, and sparking a great thirst for greater innovation and better efficiency, one cause at a time.

To find out more about Sparked and how you can make a difference, check out their website and follow them on their Twitter feed.