Archive for March, 2011

A Re-Cap of Madrid

March 14, 2011 - 7:25 pm 1 Comment

I haven’t yet posted about my Madrid adventures at the Ford Focus Global Test Drive over President’s Day Weekend yet – looking back, that entire experience feels so surreal, completely extrapolated from my daily reality. Sometimes I wonder, “Was I actually there?” (And then I see the Ford Focus parked near by apartment and remind myself that indeed, I did go to Madrid)

As a re-cap, I left for Madrid on Thursday evening, arriving mid-day on Friday to meet all the other finalists from around the world. With each finalist representing a charity, I met some truly inspiring individuals championing great causes, many of which we are keen to bring on as a Givology partner. For example, we are now partners with More than Me (Liberia) and the Tea Leaf Trust (Sri Lanka), both incredible causes that we are proud to support. In addition, Ford invited many influential bloggers, youtube celebrities, and press & media to cover the event. In speaking with these people, I learned so much about how much more we can do with social media to generate awareness creatively for Givology and to engage our supporter base. Coming back to the states, I have a renewed sense of momentum of where Givology can be.

I spent Friday getting know the participants – since Catherine and I got to Madrid early in the day, we had a chance to go and explore the city. Having not been in Madrid since 2007, I enjoyed visiting some of my old haunts and favorite walking routes through Plaza de España, Plaza Mayor, Puerta de Sol, El Parque Retiro, Paseo del Arte, and the Plaza de Cibeles. With extra time on our hands, Catherine and I also went to see the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, which I had unfortunately missed during my time in Madrid. What an extraordinary collection of art, spanning from Renaissance masterpieces of Caravaggio to modern pieces by Kandinsky! We had to rush our way through given the time constraint, but we definitely got a great flavor.

Dinner was an elaborate affair at the banquet hall of our hotel, the Hotel Silken Puerta América Madrid. I sat next to Teri and Greg from Philadelphia, who coincidentally work as media consultants to Wharton. I also met Katie and Stephanie from More than Me, who we recently welcomed on as an official Givology partner, Adam and Gavin from More for Hunger, Chris from Dreaming Out Loud, Jason and Eric from Jubilee Project, among other really great people! With good food and good company, we had a great time getting to know each other in a relaxed, convivial atmosphere.

[As a side note, frankly, I’ve never been to an odder hotel. Each floor featured the work of a different modernist designer, who pushed concepts to an extreme. Our floor felt like a space-pod, our rooms completely white and curved, the bath-tub in the middle of the room surrounded by billowing white fabrics. Another floor was comprised of pure black glass, complete with black glass floor and furniture, glass bathroom doors (no privacy!), and even black toilet paper. Truly a cool hotel – not necessarily “comfortable” but stunning to the visual senses!]

The next morning, we awoke bright and early to go to INTA for the test track. At first, having not driven much over the last six years, the thought of driving on a test track petrified me. When we arrived, however, excitement overwhelmed my nervousness. As part of the White Team, we competed with the other teams on four different activities: 1) Speed Test, 2) Car Handling Test, 3) Video Test, and 4) Fuel Economy Test. With my luck, Catherine and I had to compete in the Speed Test first…my first time driving in six years.

With coaching from a professional driver, I managed to get a decent score, partly accelerated by my complete lack of driving experience (and hence, near complete lack of fear or understanding of what driving “ought” to be like). Then, we moved to an obstacle course where we pushed the traction system of the Focus to the limit by driving through a slalom on a slicked surface and then performing an emergency brake before ramming into a giant soccer ball to score a goal for points (I’m not kidding!). After lunch, we had a quieter afternoon where we learned about the features of the Ford Focus and the basics of driving greener. Throughout the day, we had famous racers just circulating and mingling with us, including the stunt driver for the Fast and the Furious series! In addition, bloggers and media folks abounded, inquiring about our cause!

Even for a non-car enthusiast like me, I found the activities very fun!  As both my parents drive cars more than a decade old, I never realized how much technology had progressed.  Not only can the Focus sync with a phone and become a wifi hot-spot, but it also has software/sensors to parallel park itself!

T hat evening, we went back to the hotel for an evening party at the rooftop club. To Catherine and my great surprise, we discovered that along with the guys from the Jubilee Project, we won the “Drive Smarter” competition! For that, we each received a very heavy trophy made of glass. The party was lots of fun – a chance to relax and to meet so many interesting people from around the world.

The next day, we had the chance to either go to Toledo or Madrid. Having been to Toledo twice, I decided to stay in Madrid, intending to take a trip down memory lane. The guide first took us to the Prado Museum, where we rushed through the highlights (not enough time!). I then wandered off on my own, taking the metro to ICADE, the school I studied at, and ambling through my host grandmother’s neighborhood. That evening, we split up into different groups for dinner before our departure the next morning, sampling the local cuisine at some of the most well-regarded restaurants in Madrid.

When I landed in New York City, I had trouble believing that so much has transpired over three days. I recalled the “La vida es sueño” by Pedro Calderon De La Barca:

Yo sueño que estoy aquí
de estas prisiones cargado,
y soñé que en otro estado
más lisonjero me vi.
¿Qué es la vida? Un frenesí.
¿Qué es la vida? Una ilusión,
una sombra, una ficción,
y el mayor bien es pequeño:
que toda la vida es sueño,
y los sueños, sueños son.

Most importantly, I feel a renewed sense of spirit and direction. Having met a lot of creative organizations that have launched youtube videos and social media campaigns that have raised tens of thousands of dollars and created a followership of >1 million in some cases, I have a better sense of what we as Givology can do to tap into these opportunities. What an empowering weekend! Through the power of social media networks, word of mouth, and online communications, we can exponentially double and triple our impact each year.

As part of the requirement for the program, we had to make a video of the event. Here’s the one I made!

Celebrating International Women’s Day

March 8, 2011 - 5:27 pm 1 Comment

The UN has declared today International Women’s Day – to celebrate women around the world and to recognize the importance of women in poverty reduction and investing in families worldwide. To celebrate, I’m going to write about three incredible women from within our partner network. In all honesty, we have so many amazing women as partners, supporters, and volunteers that it would be impossible to write a comprehensive profile of each of them, but in the weeks to come, I expect to share more stories!

I also encourage all of you to submit your own stories as comments!

Joanita, Founder of the Circle of Peace School: When I first learned about the Circle of Peace School, I found the story very emotionally touching. Joanita started off as a public school teacher, but when she became disillusioned with the school administration forcing her to eject students who couldn’t pay fees (she would hide them from the principal), she took matters into her own hands by starting her own school on her front porch. Since its inception in 1994, the school has grown from just a handful of students to over 200 children from kindergarten through seventh grade!  Having visited the Circle of Peace School myself and getting to know Joanita better, I can’t think of anyone with a bigger heart. The Peace School serves students whose families cannot afford to send them to public schools, many of them AIDS orphans.

Nasrine, Founder of Kabultec: Julia, Grace, and I had a chance to meet with Nasrine in person this past Saturday, and her compelling story of her plight for women’s rights and literacy in Afghanistan brought tears to all of our eyes. She has a deep passion for Afghanistan, her native country, and a desire to fight against the injustice brought upon the country by the Taliban. Eight out of 10 people in Afghanistan today are illiterate, with women having virtually no access to education. To combat this serious problem, Nasrine started literacy programs in some of the poorest villages, enrolling couples – man and wife together – in a comprehensive program. Since women require their husband’s permission or presence to do most things, having men learn alongside their wives is an innovative and simple way to ensure family support and mitigate jealousy. Nasrine is truly an amazing women – she spear-headed the collection of over 300,000 signatures globally to enact an equal rights for women provision in the Afghanistan constitution. As a pioneer and voice for Afghanistan, she also ran democracy training seminars for female candidates to Parliament.

Kakenya, Founder of Kakenya Center of Excellence: I first heard about Kakenya through Jiefei, and after speaking with her, I was truly inspired by her courage and dedication to her people. Born in the Maasai village of Enoosaen (Kenya), Kakenya was the first woman to leave the community and go to the United States for college, negotiating with her father and her village elders to let her pursue her dreams. In hopes of sharing her discoveries with the girls in her community, she went back to start a school for girls – to not just provide an education, but to inspire the girls to aspire for more – to fight against the practices of child marriage and female genital mutilation. Even though she’s found success here in the United States, Kakenya strives to give back to her own village – to empower other girls in the village to achieve self-realization and a brighter future through education.

Inspiring Social Businesses

March 3, 2011 - 6:01 pm 1 Comment

One of the most inspiring aspects of working on Givology is that I meet incredible people all the time. As a new initiative for 2011, we’ll feature their stories here on our blog and social media. I just wanted to highlight a few of the incredible innovators of social change that I’ve had the privilege of speaking to and meeting over the past few months. Each week, I’ll be writing more!

Today’s theme: Social Businesses

Alia (Emerge Global, Sri Lanka): Alia started Emerge Global after going to Sri-Lanka on a Tsunami-relief trip in 2005. When she met many girls who were cast out of their households due to sexual abuse and exploitation, she took matters into her own hands by starting Emerge Global. Her goal: to uplift the girls both economically and emotionally. What really inspires me about Emerge Global is that Alia has developed an innovative and sustainable business model for impact. To facilitate economic empowerment of the girls, Emerge Global teaches the girls beading. The beautiful, handcrafted products are then sold globally, with profits returning back to the girls and for investment in a community education program. Alia understands the notion of return on capital well – a $1 investment in materials creates more than $3.80 in savings for their girls! To date, Emerge Global has sold tens of thousands of beaded jewelry, helping hundreds of girls and their family members. I met Alia at Oxford when we connected over a social entrepreneurship meeting – we’re so proud to support their work by raising funding for education programs and helping Emerge Global sell more of their gorgeous pieces!

Dave (Soapbox Soaps, Philadelphia): Admittedly, my academic background in development economics makes me a general skeptic of aid. As such, I’m  particularly inspired by social entrepreneurs with a new business model in mind – to generate impact sustainably through a consumer product that generates much demand in it of itself. Soapbox soaps is still in its incipient phase, but the concept is truly compelling – for every soap purchase, Soapbox will donate an equivalent soap to a school, organization, or household in need. Dave and his team are still in the process of figuring out the scale and full launch of their business, but I know that we’re keen on being involved in helping spread awareness about their product. The consumer has so much power to do good – our demand for products shapes global production systems. Thanks to Genna, our social media coordinator, for putting us in touch with Dave! She met him at a convention in Philadelphia and was amazed at how many ideas he kept on turning out!

Chris (MonikerWear): MonikerWear is an online store that sells custom-made luxury men’s shirts. (Check out their online store – it’s high fashion tailored to an individual’s preferences!) Incredibly, they’ve committed to donating half of their profits to education and health projects around the world, starting with supporting classroom education in Peru through Givology. We’re incredibly proud to have them as our partners and are inspired by their concept. What truly compels me is that in this case, the average guy (no women’s clothes sold yet!) doesn’t have to go out of his way to do good in the world – by simply purchasing luxury shirts at a cheaper price (Moniker doesn’t have fixed costs from physical stores), he can make a really big impact. Especially given my Wall Street day job, I see a huge market for MonikerWear. The first few years are tough for any operation so we’re here to spread the word!

Jason (Jubilee Project, NYC): Jason doesn’t quite run a social business, but he’s a youtube entrepreneur who raises tens of thousands of dollars to meaningful causes simply by creating inspiring videos and getting people to watch them. It’s a model that I never before contemplated, and an area that we’re hoping to move into. If pictures can tell a thousand words, then imagine what videos can accomplish! In my opinion, the most extraordinary aspect of the videos created by the Jubilee Project is the thoughtfulness of the concept. Rather than create a promotional video, they create a story around a related concept to the cause. For example, to raise money for Becky’s Fund for victims of domestic violence, they asked a group of men to answer, “You’re most beautiful when…” We’ve got a lot to learn from this trio of guys – they are able to resonate with their audience well through their videos and leverage creative media to make a difference.