Thursday, December 18, 2008

"Any other result is possible"

Last night, my friend Clive lent me some music by John Martyn, an outstanding but little known Scottish singer.  Martyn's obscurity led us to talk about the influence of chance, serendipity, and randomness on success.  Much of what happens in life is influenced by unforeseen (and often unnoticed) events and factors that we do not control.

A nice study by Matthew Salganik and others shows the degree to which musicians' success is hard to predict. The key take away is: "Success was also only partly determined by quality: The best songs rarely did poorly, and the worst rarely did well, but any other result was possible."

Hit songs, books, and movies are many times more successful than average, suggesting that "the best" alternatives are qualitatively different from "the rest"; yet experts routinely fail to predict which products will succeed. We investigated this paradox experimentally, by creating an artificial "music market" in which 14,341 participants downloaded previously unknown songs either with or without knowledge of previous participants' choices. Increasing the strength of social influence increased both inequality and unpredictability of success. Success was also only partly determined by quality: The best songs rarely did poorly, and the worst rarely did well, but any other result was possible.

The full study is here. (Free registration required.) And thanks to Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein's book Nudge for the tip.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Leadership is about creating a new reality.

What could they have done? For starters, just one of them could have shown up at one of those closely watched investor conferences and stolen the show by giving a strong speech declaring that things were getting out of hand...
That is from Steve Pearlstein's piece in the Washington Post today about the leadership failures in the current financial crisis.  He notes that most of the CEOs involved have either claimed they made no mistakes or that they had no alternative to the path they took.

In my experience, real leadership is about saying "I don't accept that the world has to be like A.   I declare that it can be like B, and I am going to take action to create this new reality."  It is the opposite of following the herd and making excuses.

Fred Smith, founder of FedEx, is a good example of such a leader.  During a period when mail service around the US was highly variable and unpredictable, he declared that it was possible to absolutely, positively deliver something overnight from anywhere to anywhere in the US.  People thought he was crazy.  And indeed he had to go to extraordinary lengths to make good on his promise in the early days (for example, he authorized low-level managers to charter airplanes if they needed one to get a package to a remote area on time.)

Guess what?  Now we take it for granted that we can get a package to or from someone overnight.  Our expectations have shifted.  That's what leadership is all about.

So I was very happy to see that Pearlstein has also launched a new Leadership Section of with an interview with Fred Smith (see video below). Talk about leadership!   

Monday, December 01, 2008

In praise of competition

Who is your competition?
People ask me that a lot. Usually the tone is "Who is out to eat your lunch?" And to be honest, that is the way that I often respond to new entrants into the market, or (especially) to new features introduced by existing organizations.

But the reality is that competition is good. It is good for the development of the online philanthropy market. And it is good for our own progress at GlobalGiving. At this stage, high quality new entrants in the field raise overall awareness - and they increase the size of the pie. The stream of new features that we are seeing forces us to provide better and better service to both donors and recipients.

Two of my favorite GlobalGiving "competitors" are DonorsChoose and Kiva. The three of us constantly vie to have the most compelling websites, the most efficient check-out, the best feedback loops, and the highest impact. Whenever one of us develops a successful new feature, the rest often imitate it. This is a form of collective experimentation and learning that improves our services much faster than if none of us faced competition.

Although we are competitive by nature, we also help each other out, often swapping best practices about back office systems, gift card campaigns, and PR. At GlobalGiving, we once encountered a potential major donor who was interested primarily in US education. Without hesitation, we referred him to Charles Best, the head of DonorsChoose, and he became a major donor there. The donor was happy, DonorsChoose was happy, and the vigor of the overall online philanthropy marketplace was increased.

And DonorsChoose has done the same for us more than once (someone recently told me they were going to donate to GlobalGiving on the recommendation of Charles Best, and said she found it "amazing" he referred her to a competitor ). A month or two ago, I was on the phone talking to Premal Shah at Kiva conferring about some common issues we face. Overall, we find that friendly competition helps us all.

Last year, I was at a conference at Oxford University discussing new ideas for the official aid sector (including the World Bank, UN, and bilateral agencies such as USAID and DFID.) There was much discussion of the need for "partnership" and "elimination of duplication." One speaker passionately called for the aid agencies to "divide up" Africa. USAID would take a few countries or sectors, the Swedes would adopt a couple of countries, the Brits would take some, the Canadians others.

This sounds good until you realize that each recipient country would be stuck with no choice. If the quality of programs offered by one donor were poor, the recipient would have no ability to choose a better alternative. And you can be sure that, without competition, the quality of the services offered by the donors was going to be far below what it should be.

So competition is good. It drives innovation, efficiency and better service to all users. My only complaint about DonorsChoose and Kiva is that they are run by guys who are younger and much better looking than I am. And there is nothing I can do to compete with them there :)

Friday, November 21, 2008

Small changes can make all the difference.

Some apps wander around the wilderness for a while until they can find the perfect home. For Evernote, that home is the iPhone. The note-taking, picture-capturing, voice-recording, handwriting-recognizing universal memory service has been under development for years and launched last February in private beta on the PC. But it wasn’t until May 29 that it debuted on the iTunes store as an iPhone app. That’s when it started to take off.
That is from Tech Crunch, and it reminds us how context-dependent successful innovation can be. Just a modest change in the context can make all the difference between failure (or muddling along) and rapid adoption. The full post is worth reading.

Monday, November 17, 2008

We hold these truths to be self evident...or do we?

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Those words from the Declaration of Independence were written in 1776 by a team led by Thomas Jefferson. They marked a revolution in political history: the American colonies declared "That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." The American revolution was not just the overthrowing of a despotic king's power, but also the founding of a new form of government.

Though all men were declared equal in 1776, a terrible political compromise meant people of certain racial heritages were not considered full men. Thus they were denied the unalienable rights of liberty and the pursuit of happiness (and often of life, too).

Nearly ninety years later, that terrible compromise fell apart. And standing on a bloody battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Abraham Lincoln declared:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.

Lincoln led the country through that awful test, and proved that not only could such a nation endure, but that it could endure even as it defined African Americans as full men. Slavery was abolished.

Yet still African Americans were unable to enjoy their full rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It was another ninety years before the Supreme Court (in Brown v. Board of Education) declared segregation of public schools to be unconstitutional in a case argued by Thurgood Marshall.

And still discrimination and even segregation continued for years.

This month's election of Barack Obama to the Presidency of the US marks, I hope, the beginning of the end of our heritage of racism in the US. Even most Americans with opposing political views are happy that this nation has voted to affirm at last that African Americans are created equal. This is cause for some pride and celebration, even though it took us over 230 years.

Which raises for me the following: Now that we have fully affirmed that our fellow black countrymen have full rights, what is the next frontier? Who among our neighbors are still suffering from discrimination? Who among us are unable to exercise their full rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? 

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Four Score and Seven Years Ago...

It was a wonderful night in my neighborhood after the election results came in last Tuesday.  I live in the U Street neighborhood of Washington, DC -- the old center of African American culture and business.  Duke Ellington was born just a couple of blocks away.  Now the neighborhood is highly mixed racially, culturally, and socio-economically.

At 11 pm, when the polls in California closed, the networks all called the race for Obama.  Almost instantly a huge roar went up from all quarters:  people opened their windows and cheered, other poured out of the restaurants and bars and sang, total strangers hugged on the streets, and cars honked their horns.  I finally went to sleep at 2 am, but the celebrations continued until 4 am or later.

Because I had to travel to California the next day, I never got a chance to put my feelings to paper.  And since then, many people (from all parts of the political spectrum) have commented more eloquently than I could about the meaning of the elections.   But of everything I have read and seen, perhaps nothing sums it up better than the cover of the New Yorker that arrived today:

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

How elections will change

It's been a much more positive election season this year than four years ago. Even Alex Tabarrok voted (for the first time). Change is in the air. But the election process itself is still stuck in the middle ages.

I had to stand in line today for more than an hour and a half before voting. And while I like the idea of going to a common place to vote and meeting my neighbors, thirty minutes would be plenty.

I have been struck by the huge gulf between: (a) the technology used to recruit voters and raise money; and (b) the technology used to record votes. The voter recruitment and fundraising efforts leverage Facebook, Skype, LinkedIn, email, text messaging, and Twitter. Voting still involves for the most part standing in line. Even the voting machines are nothing really new - we had mechanical versions of those in rural Kentucky in the 1960s.

A lot of people turned out today (and more voted early) because they felt so strongly about the state of the country and the candidates. But we can't take for granted next time. If we want to keep voter turnout high, we need to find a much better way to let people vote, probably via the internet. 

Thursday, October 30, 2008

What Humans Crave

JoAnna Schull from SYPartners sent me a link to some work by Jane McGonigal.

She pointed out (and I agree) that the following was particularly compelling:
What humans crave:

1. Satisfying work to do
2. The experience of being good at something
3. Time spent with people we like
4. The chance to be a part of something bigger.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Six Drivers of Goodness

The acclaimed new book Forces For Good by Leslie Crutchfield and Heather McLeod Grant reviews twelve high impact non-profits and distills several common characteristics. These organizations:
  1. Work with government and advocate for policy change
  2. Harness market forces and see business as a powerful partner
  3. Convert individual supporters into evangelists for the cause
  4. Build and nurture nonprofit networks, treating other groups as allies
  5. Adapt to the changing environment
  6. Share leadership, empowering others to be forces for good
I like to think we do a pretty fair job at #2, 4, 5, and 6. Not perfect, but good.

With respect to #3, this year, we saw five "evangelists" each mobilize over 1,500 from their extended networks to support specific projects. Based on that, we are now designing some powerful - and hopefully fun - evangelist tools for the coming year.

We deliberately downplayed #1 until we had a track record to give us credibility. The GlobalGiving platform has now mobilized over $14 million of funding to 1,000 projects run by nearly 500 organizations in 90 countries. The funding came from a web of tens of thousands of individual donors as well as ten Fortune 100 companies. The bottom-up, open-access marketplace approach works. So now, eight years after my "retirement" from the public policy sphere where I spent the first fifteen years of my career (mostly at the World Bank), we are starting to engage again on policy matters. In fact, three of the largest aid agencies have recently called asking for us to provide advice to them on how they can adopt our approach themselves.

Stay tuned.

Sell or Buy?

For two strikingly different takes on the current economic situation, see the following:

1) A presentation by Sequoia , a VC firm, to the CEOs of its portfolio companies at a mandatory meeting last week.  The basic message:  Sell.  Be afraid; be very afraid. This is the worst crisis since the Great Depression.  Get rid of staff, shed expenses, reduce your horizons, and try to get to cash flow positive at all costs.  Optimism Index Quote: "It's always darkest before it's pitch black."

2) An article by Warren Buffet in the New York Times. Basic message:  Buy.  This is one of the greatest possible times to invest.  Opportunities like this do not come often.  There are lots of solid companies that are sound and that are significantly undervalued.  Find them and buy them. Optimism Index Quote: "Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful."


Monday, October 27, 2008

Each project is the beginning of a story...

You might think of us as a marketplace for giving, but we are also a set of tools for building a giving community, both on your street and around the world. Each project is the beginning of a story - an opening line of some great unwritten tale. We have our heroes (social entrepreneurs), our villians (disease, unjustice, poverty, you-name-it), and every reader is also a novelist. We buy the next volume each time we donate, but we also write the next chapter when we comment on projects, updates from the field, and tell others about a project by email, on Facebook, CouchSurfing, LinkedIn, or whatever your flavor of friend-manager happens to be.
That is from a very nice post over at our GlobalGoodness blog by Marc Maxson.  (I urge you read the whole thing.)

GlobalGiving is often called the world's leading marketplace for online giving.  But in reality, the extraordinary giving culture in the US is based on community rather than merely one-off transactions.  People to give to causes and initiatives in their local community, and people often give to things their friends recommend. 

GlobalGiving is leveraging the web to enable people across the world to connect around shared passions and concerns. Keep an eye out for new community features to in the months ahead.  And if there is anything specific you would like to see, send it to us.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

I was wrong

"I was wrong."

Those words are rarely heard, especially in Washington. But earlier this year, I attended a breakfast meeting with Larry Summers, former Secretary of the Treasury and President of Harvard University. The title of his talk was something along the lines of "Three Significant Areas Where I Was Wrong." Larry is not a modest guy. But his talk made a big impression on me. It showed that he cared about the facts and about the truth, and that he was willing to change his mind based on evidence.

Today, Alan Greenspan joined Larry:

“I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such as that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms,” Mr. Greenspan said.

A willingness to change one's mind based on the evidence, and not on ideology or preconceptions, is something we need a lot more of in this world.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Cutting to the chase

Poverty is bad. How’s that for over-simplification of a complex issue?
That is from a very nice blog post by Laura P. Thomas. She goes on to say:

When women and girls earn income, they reinvest 90 percent of it into their families, as compared to only 30 to 40 percent for a man.

Sometimes complexity obscures and simplification illuminates. If you want to get a simple primer on why we should invest more in women and girls, read this post.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Focusing on the long view...

This graph comes from a blog post by Michael Clemens over at CGD.  Michael points out that short term shocks, while potentially severe, do not interrupt long term growth in well functioning economies.  The real  question, he writes, is how to ensure that economies are well functioning.

Monday, September 29, 2008

How to skin the Eco Cat

There are a thousand ways to skin the eco cat; and many of them are full of contradictions. We have to try to be comfortable with this complexity and realise that it is a moving feast. 
That is from a commencement speech by Galahad Clark at the London College of Fashion.  Galahad is the founder of Terra Plana -- an "ethical" shoe company in the UK.  In his speech, he talks about how using materials that seem to be eco-friendly may sometimes actually consume more energy or create more waste than traditional products.  

I have to say that I really like my Terra Plana "Vivo Barefoot Dharmas," and I am depending on Galahad to keep my feet eco-friendly.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

How to find the best ideas

Ten years ago, Mari Kuraishi and I launched the first-ever Innovation Marketplace at the World Bank.  The idea was that any team of staff, without regard to rank or title, could submit an idea for doing good, and that we would award $3 milion to the most promising ideas.  There were few rules and little bureaucracy: in fact, proposals were limited to a couple of pages.

In May 1998, 121 teams set up booths in the atrium of the World Bank, and they each got fifteen minutes to pitch their ideas to a roving jury panel, which announced its decision within a couple of days.  The quality of the ideas was exceptional, and about half of the ideas funded (including the development of an aids vaccine and an initiative to help countries better prepare for natural disasters) became major strategic initiative for the Bank over the next 18 months.  This method of sourcing ideas helped the real innovators leap-frog the usual bureacracy.

But what struck me most was an encounter I had at the end of the Innovation Marketplace.  I saw a fairly senior and respected Bank economist crying.  I asked him what was wrong and he told me that his idea was something he had been tossing around for years - but he could never get anyone to listen to it until that day.  He had not won any funding, but at least he had been heard, and in fact he had met someone else with a similar idea, and they were going to go work on it together.

So Mari and I thought:  "Imagine:  If it was so hard for a World Bank economist to have his ideas heard, what does that say about people outside the Bank, including in the developing world?"  So we decided to run the event again, but this time to open it up to everyone in the world.  We changed the name to the Development Marketplace.  The results were again outstanding, with 300 teams participating from around the world.  We awarded over forty grants totalling $5 million.

After the event, one of my Bank colleagues remarked, "Wow, these ideas are extraordinary.  Did you see the creativity?  The innovation?  The energy?  The commitment?  We should operate like this all the time."  And one of the participants, a woman from South Africa, came up and asked when the real "market"was going to start.  When I asked her what she meant, she said, "Well just because the World Bank didn't fund my idea doesn't mean there aren't others out there who would fund it."

Those experiences, described by Gary Hamel and Robert Wood in the Harvard Business Review, were what led Mari and me to leave the World Bank and start GlobalGiving.  I am pleased that the market is working well, with over $12 million of funding mobilized for good ideas from thousands of individual donors and leading companies.  In a year where philanthropy is likely to be flat, we are growing by 300%.

During an interview today, I was asked if the general idea was catching on more broadly.  I said yes, and gave a couple of examples, including a request by one of the largest aid agencies for us to help them adopt a more open-access, bottom-up approach.  The World Bank has also done more than sixty additional marketplaces around the world, including another in Washington this week.  (See this great report by Marc Maxson on some amazing things he saw there.)  

If I had seen this announcement by Google that they are going to do their own $10 million development marketplace ala the World Bank, I would have included them as one of my examples. 

Thursday, September 18, 2008

GlobalGiving Launches in the UK

Last Monday, GlobalGiving UK launched its brand new web site in London at a big gathering of NGO, private sector, and government leaders.  This is particularly exciting since UK donors are among the most generous and progressive in the world when it comes to supporting causes overseas.

The creation of GlobalGiving UK has been supported financially by the Charities Aid Foundation's Venturesome Fund and the Travel Foundation, with key advice and operational support from Google, Expedia UK, Paypal, and Isango.  Booz and Company hosted the launch on Monday and provided office space in the start up phase.  The GlobalGiving US team worked overtime to provide back-end services and adapt the front-end website to the UK context.

Minister Shahid Malik of DFID (the UK's aid agency) gave the keynote speech and made the first donation through the site, which speaks volumes.  DFID is at the very top of official aid agencies in terms of innovation and leadership in key areas.

The GG UK team is outstanding.

It is headed up by Sharath Jeevan, who has the kind of eclectic background that makes him specially suited for the job.  Most recently, he ran eBay's charity division in the UK.  Previously,  he has worked at the international NGO ActionAid, been a project leader at Booz Allen, and has even done a high-tech startup in Asia.  Having grown up near London, Sharath has an economics degree from Cambridge, an MBA from INSEAD in France, and graduate degree in creative writing from Oxford.

UK team members include Rachel Smith, who heads up relationships with NGOs and campaigns, Svetlana Gitman, Tanya Serov, Ann Dugan and Becky Hill - all of whom have played key roles in the launch.   

We at GlobalGiving US are proud of our new cousins in London.  But we are a little nervous, too.  They have already introduced a couple of key innovations that we don't have on our own site :)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Fighting Violence with Generosity – and Opportunity

Each year as we mark the anniversary of the worst terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, people wonder what they, as individuals, can do to mitigate the consequences of terrorism.

Conventional thinking encourages us to rely on our government to respond to terrorism and extremist acts - though foreign policy, military action, bilateral talks. But when it comes to private citizens, the only guidance we have been given is "go shop".

I prefer Gene Steuerle's approach. Gene lost his wife when her plane was crashed into the Pentagon. He was humbled and moved by what he saw as an outpouring of goodwill toward families who had lost loved ones.

Based on that experience, Gene decided that he and other 9/11 families should send a message to the world: peaceful collaboration and opportunity are among our best antidotes to terrorism over the long term.

Whether it's fast tracking education for Afghan women and girls, financing microlending in rural Afghanistan, or establishing health clinics in Pakistan, Americans who want to play a role in combating terrorism over the long term can make a donation and give people opportunity and hope.

Visionary philanthropy like Gene's can help create the conditions that make it much harder for extremist networks to take root. And the good news is that it costs a lot less than guns and bombs.

So far, the US government has allocated more than $500 billion for the military "war on terror." This is around $10,000 for each citizen of Iraq and Afghanistan.

By contrast, using Gene's "Safer and More Campassionate World" approach, a mere $100 can provide 56 Afghan women with basic healthcare and health education. And that amount is within reach of nearly all of us.

Friday, September 05, 2008

World Bank "Menu" of Green Opportunities?

Yesterday the Center for Global Development (CGD) invited me to make some remarks on the World Bank's forthcoming Climate Change Strategy.

The previous World Bank president nearly forbade the mention of the term "global warming." But Bob Zoellick is now encouraging the Bank to play a leadership role.

The meeting was well attended, which was encouraging. In addition to senior World Bank and CGD staff, there were experts from the International Finance Corporation, Millennium Challenge Corporation, US EPA, US Treasury, US Department of the Interior, World Resources Institute, NRDC, National Wildlife Foundation, NOAA, World Watch, Johns Hopkins, Deutsche Bank and others.

I made the following points:

1. This is a global emergency.

2. It will take everyone in the room to solve it - not just the World Bank.

3. We cannot deal with it solely or even primarily by top-down mandates.

4. The issue is complex, but nothing will happen unless we cut through the complexity with some simple, clear, and catalytic approaches.

5. I used a World Bank example in Indonesia (the posting of signs in the town square saying what Bank funds were being used for), and the example of our voluntary scoring system on GlobalGiving Green as examples of simple things that can catalyze big changes in behavior.

6. I suggested that the Bank find something analogous. One option would be using a range of carbon shadow prices for their projects - and publishing the results. This would show, for example, that even though coal-fired plants may be cheaper financially, solar installations would be more profitable if the cost of carbon emissions were taken into account. The difference in the financial costs of the two approaches (for example, coal and solar) would be highlighted, and other aid donors could have a look and fund that difference if they wanted to. This approach would give other donors a "menu" of projects that they could subsidize to help fight climate change, and would not force all subsidized decisions to go through a centralized World Bank mechanism.

7. This approach could help mute the resistance the Bank is facing to mandatory use of carbon shadow prices in making actual project decisions. Instead, the Bank would highlight the cost of the cleaner alternatives and allow other donors to fund the gap on a voluntary basis. Different donors would fund different things according to their interests and resources. Rapidly growing private donors could join the fray to supplement the resources of official agencies. This approach may actually result in faster action, more funding, and more innovation than a mandatory, centralized approach that may never even get off the ground.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

If only global warming were Lex Luthor...

David Wheeler from CGD sent me a link to this video of a short talk by Daniel Gilbert at PopTech! on why we are so slow to respond to global warming. I highly recommend it. 

(And if you have not read Gilbert's Stumbling on Happiness, you should - it is a fast, fun and provocative read.)

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

CB Radios and Facebook

The sudden upsurge in the use of Facebook has reminded me of this post that I wrote in June 2006.  I compared blogs to CB radios in this post, but now I am thinking that Facebook is the more apt comparison.    
Ten years from now, will we look back at Facebook and be as embarrassed as we were by the CB radio craze?  Will everyone wonder "What mass hysteria caused so many of us to provide so much information to so many people?"  
Or will we look back on the founding of Facebook as the beginning of a whole new networked consciousness where friends (and other permitted contacts) can practically read each others' thoughts?
The jury is still out on this question.  I bet the persistence of Facebook will depend on whether they can work out a business model that intermediates transactions of some sort.  I don't think the transactions will be the buying and selling of goods (the Facebook Marketplace has not taken off) or advertising (ditto).  I wonder if the transactions will be knowledge or information-based.  


We probably all have friends who tell us more about their personal lives than we really care to know. And at some point most of us have revealed something personal that we later wish we hadn't.CB Radio

When I was a kid in the late '60s and early '70s, CB radio became a huge fad in rural Kentucky where I lived. Everyone had a CB radio in their car, and some had one in their homes. It was a great novelty to be able to talk - actually broadcast - on the CB radio. While some important information about traffic conditions, speed traps, and accidents was broadcast, much of the content was trivial or even embarrassing.

This was exacerbated by the fact that people often considered their transmissions anonymous, even though they had so-called "handles" and were often identifiable. Others did not think about what they were saying at all in the rush to simply have their voices heard on the air.

So when blogging began to catch on, I wondered whether it was just CB radio all over again - except this time in print and available to everyone in the world with a computer connection - not just everyone with a CB radio in a 5-mile radius. CB radios also provided some deniability - if you said something stupid or embarrassing, you could always deny it later, since no one recorded these transmissions.

By contrast, blogs are forever.

The blogging trend coincided with - is there any causation in either direction? - a new wave of confessionals in other media. One of the most notable is the Modern Love column in the NY Times. This column provides a forum for people to write candidly about the ups and downs of their lives, especially their relationships. What is striking about the column is the quality of the writing and the relatively prominent authors who are willing to put themselves out there.

I knew that this genre had hit the mainstream when Debora Spar, a professor at thDebora Spare Harvard Business School, wrote a column about childbearing and adoption. Very well written - and very personal and revealing. Although I don't know her personally, I have taken some classes from her, and she did not strike me as one of those people who are constantly providing "TMI" (too much information). But the column was quite moving, and she was doing a service by writing it.

Hmmm... It will still take me a while to loosen up.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Knowledge and the $64,000 question

The traditional philanthropic model revolves around money...Money is important, but it's not everything... When I talk to friends and colleagues in the nonprofit sector, what I hear again and again is a desire for knowledge.

There are a lot of reasons why nonprofit executives are hungry for knowledge. They work on particularly stubborn problems...This knowledge transfer is already happening, but not effectively. Face-to-face conferences are expensive and often logistically all personal networks, they don't scale efficiently...

That is from a nice post by Michael Idinopulos over at SocialText. I really like how he highlights the importance of knowledge as an equal partner of money in the equation. He goes on to say:
The absence of a strong market mechanism and regulating institutions allow bad management practices to endure.
The interesting thing about markets is that they involve transactions - someone provides something to someone else for something in return. It doesn't have to be money - it can be status, a favor, or just a good feeling. But without this "something in return," markets don't function well.

Michael goes on to say:

It's not hard to imagine a better way. I'm envisioning an online knowledge networking tool for nonprofits...

How can we make such an online knowledge tool into a well-functioning market so that it gets widely used? That is the $64,000 question.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Slow Coffee

The Slow Food Movement is gaining momentum, and I have greatly enjoyed the revival of farmers markets around the Washington, DC area.

I ran into a guy a while back who represents the best of what you might call the "Slow Drink" movement. He has started a small business roasting his own coffee in Charles Town, WV. Largely self-taught, he is producing what I have found to be some of the best coffee in the world.

Check him out at The Black Dog Coffee Company.

Pandora on IPhone

I am testing the Kool-Aid by trying a new iPhone. The jury is out on some of the features and functionality, but there is one application that is fabulous: Pandora.

If you have not tried Pandora, which allows you to create your own custom radio stations on the web, you should. You can download the iPhone app here.

Pandora is a great company, run by great folks. And best of all, Pandora and GlobalGiving have teamed up to connect Pandora's huge audience of music lovers with GlobalGiving projects that use music to improve the lives of people around the world.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Innovators Dilemma

In 1995 Clayton Christensen coined the terms “disruptive technology” and “disruptive innovations” to describe technological innovations, products or services that use a “disruptive” strategy rather than “revolutionary” or “sustaining” strategies to overturn dominant or status quo products in a market.

“Disruptive innovations” can occasionally come to dominate an existing market, either by filling a role that the older technologies couldn’t — as cheaper, smaller sized flash memory is doing in the personal data storage area. Or by successfully moving up-market through performance improvements until finally displacing the market leaders and incumbents — as digital photography replaced film photography as the front-runner.

At the heart of the Innovator’s Dilemma for the larger, older, most historically successful nonprofits is the bind of general or unrestricted funds philosophy and the need to find ways to ‘earmark’ and connect donors and recipients in a better way. It’s less about one OR the other, and more about borrowing ideas from each, and mutually benefiting from the unique selling points of the third party fundraisers and embedding them in the all-too-staid conventional groups.
That is from a very good post by Roger Craver, over at The Agitator.

Thursday, July 31, 2008


Check out Snag Films, a new site from Ted Leonsis.  Snag Film's own blurb describes it well:

At, you can watch full-length documentary films for free, but we also make it easy for you to take our films with you and put them anywhere on the web. When you embed a widget on your web site, you open a virtual movie theater and become a “Filmanthropist.” Donate your pixels and support independent film! And click on “info” on any widget to learn more about that film and a related charity you can also support.

Donations to the related charities are processed by us at GlobalGiving.  Walt Mossberg did a nice piece about Snag Films in the Wall Street Journal.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Reinventing Aid

I am happy to announce that Reinventing Aid has been published by MIT Press.  Edited by Bill Easterly, it is a collection of essays (including one by Mari and me) that point the way toward a new approach to foreign aid.  

The introduction by Bill is by itself worth the price of the book.  I will use it the next time I teach a class on international development.  

Many of the individual chapters are also outstanding and are highly recommended for more advanced readers.  (Send me an email for recommendations.)

Friday, July 25, 2008

A New Shade of Cool

Today we launched GlobalGiving Green - a new part of the site that highlights projects that BOTH fight global warming AND improve local economic, social, or environmental conditions.

Stephanie Strom did a very nice piece about it in today's New York Times.

It's only a first step, but an exciting one that could potentially have far reaching effects, as you can read in the Times article. Mari is in the process of writing a longer piece about why it is critical to help get developing countries on a sustainble carbon path.

Two big shout outs on this one - first to the Packard Foundation, which encouraged and helped fund this. And second to Joan Ochi, Stephanie Fischer, Georg Apitz, and other colleagues here at GlobalGiving who worked so hard to create this.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Sweet Sixteen

My grandmother ("Mood") turned 99 this past week, and Mari and I went to visit her at the nursing home in Manchester, NH.  For several years, Mood has suffered from dementia, and she doesn't recognize her family members.  

We've gotten used to it, though at the beginning it was wrenching.  As with many elderly people, she has stronger recall from the distant past, and until last year she was able to remember stories and songs from her youth in the 1910s and 1920s.  She would also respond to questions in Finnish, her parents' native tongue. But for the most part, she had a distant look in her eyes when we visited her.

Early this year, Mood took a sharp turn for the worse, and stopped eating or responding to any verbal interactions.  She lost a lot of weight and became extremely gaunt.  On our previous visit a couple of months ago, I was shocked to see her wasting away in bed. The nursing home staff told my mom that the end was near, and we decided to commence hospice care.  

Over the next couple of months, the caring hospice people came several times a week to spend time with Mood - talking to her and stroking her arm - notwithstanding her lack of apparent response.  My mom called to say that Mood was improving, and even sitting up in a chair.

Mari and I sat opposite Mood on our visit last week, and I searched in vain for a connection with her.  Nothing worked.  I could remember only one word of Finnish.  So finally I just decided to ask her:  "Mood, do you know how old you are?"  No response.  My mom told me that I would have to shout, since her hearing was bad.  

"MOOD, DO YOU KNOW HOW OLD YOU ARE?" I practically yelled.

Mood cocked her head suddenly, and her eyes cleared.  

"Sixteen," she responded impishly, with a slight smile.

Then she was gone again.  So we sat there some more, and I rubbed her arm, and my sister called from Seattle and sang some songs to her, and Mood's head nodded slightly with the beat as she stared into the distance.


In honor of Mood's birthday, my mother and uncle made a donation through GlobalGiving to Help Feed 200 Neglected Elderly in Guatemala.  I was happy to see that they joined 58 other donors who together have provided enough money to feed over fifty women for a year.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Mari does CNN...

Monday, June 30, 2008

If Homer can give...

If Homer can give, we all can give.

That is from a post over at What Gives by Katie Taylor, one of our fabulous summer interns.

Not what I used to want to be, I hope.

Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go.
That is William Feather, quoted in The Week. It reflects my own experience. But James Richardson, also quoted in The Week, adds the following:
The man who sticks to his plan will become what he used to want to be.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

All together now...

Next week a group of us are going to spend an afternoon volunteering at the N Street Village here in Washington, DC. I never fail to marvel how much I enjoy doing these things, though I started later in life.

Here is a nice post from Alison Schrager on her own recent experience volunteering:
The economist in me always saw beauty in the discerning market.... But successful community-building thrives on inclusion rather than exclusivity.... Economies and communities thrive together, which means even an economist can (and in this case will) achieve a sense of community.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A thousand small leaps

[T]here’s an enigma to the Toyota Production System: although the system has been widely copied, Toyota has kept its edge over its competitors. Toyota opens its facilities to tours, and even embarked on a joint venture with G.M. designed, in part, to help G.M. improve its own production system. ... So how has Toyota stayed ahead of the pack?

The answer has a lot to do with another distinctive element of Toyota’s approach: defining innovation as an incremental process, in which the goal is not to make huge, sudden leaps but, rather, to make things better on a daily basis.
That is James Suroweicki writing in the New Yorker about how Toyota has overtaken GM to become the world's largest car maker. It is a good complement to Mari's post about the Japanese concept of continuous reform (kaizen) over at the GlobalGoodness blog.

Is Google Making Us Stupid?

That is the title of a good article by Nicholas Carr in the Atlantic. He notes that in the new age of the web, his own attention span has gotten much shorter. He now finds it much harder to read long articles or books that present sustained arguments and stimulate deep thinking.

(Thanks to my friend April for the tip.)

Friday, June 13, 2008

Keep on brooming

Outside the entrance which we would shortly transit was a little man in overalls and a cap, and he was brooming. And it wasn't a nice broom with uniform nylon bristles, more like the broomstick stolen by Dorothy from the Wicked Witch of the West. And this guy was pumping it like an Olympic brooming champ, as if his was the single most important task between civilization and the barbarians. And maybe it was ...

This is from a very nice post by Tim Kane titled The Key to Human Capital? Edison Knew.

It is a nice reminder that the vast majority of breakthroughs and successes arise through lots of brooming over many years, and not a single eureka insight.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

I wish I were as smart as Steve Jobs

I wish I were as smart as Steve Jobs. His innovations at Apple are extraordinary in terms of both the products and the marketing. If you want to see a master at work, watch Jobs' most recent talk announcing the new iPhone.

I am probably going to break down and get an iPhone; even the luddite Steve Pearlstein says he is going to do the same.

Alas, I am not as smart as Steve Jobs.

But you know what? It does not matter, because I am surrounded by a lot of people who know a lot more than I do about a lot of different things. And those people are responsible for the fact that GlobalGiving grew by over 500% in the first five months of 2008. (This amidst reports that philanthropy overall will be flat or even down this year.)

Who are these people that more than make up for my mediocrity?

First and foremost are the amazing people and groups who run the projects listed on GlobalGiving. If you want to learn something about innovation, these are the among the most creative people in the world. They achieve extraordinary results with extremely limited resources.

Then come the donors and partners on GlobalGiving who generate more ideas than I could ever even dream of. If you want to know how we stay ahead of the curve, you should read the results of our surveys.

And last but not least are the exceptional people we have here at GlobalGiving. The challenges of creating a whole new way to connect people around the world are huge. Not only do we have to keep the operation running smoothly and efficiently every day, we also constantly have to invent new things - or more often respond to the ideas proposed by our users. This requires great skill, imagination, and coordination among our supply, marketing, BD, finance, and tech teams, who are truly awesome.

These are the heroes of GlobalGiving. And, fortunately, they free me from the burden of worrying about being as smart as Steve Jobs.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Supergrads vs. Underdogs

There was an obnoxious piece in the Washington Post Magazine this past weekend called The Amazing Adventures Of Supergrad, which has the following blurb:
The most sophisticated, accomplished, entitled graduates ever produced by American colleges are heading into the workplace. And employers are falling all over themselves to vie for their talents.
It features a number of "supergrads" whose resumes read like Nobel Prize winners at age 18. Why do I have a sinking feeling that many are going to crash and burn from all the early kudos and pressure?

Contrast this with one of the great recent underdogs, JK Rowling, who was down and out shortly after her own graduation. Here are some excerpts from her speech at last week's Harvard Commencement:
I think it fair to say that by any conventional measure, a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.

So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had already been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all - in which case, you fail by default.

Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above rubies.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Eat Less, Not Local?

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It's hot here in the DC region this weekend - pretty early in the season, if you ask me. So how can we contribute in the fight against Global Warming? Changing our eating habits (and discarding some earlier preconceptions) may be a bigger part of our battle kit than we thought:

It's how food is produced, not how far it is transported, that matters most for global warming.... In fact, eating less red meat and dairy can be a more effective way to lower an average U.S. household's food-related climate footprint than buying local food.
That is from a new study by Christopher Weber and Scott Matthews at Carnegie Mellon.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

When the Shoe Fits...

Since starting GlobalGiving several years back, I have noticed a major sea change in the nature of so-called Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). When we started, many companies felt that, to avoid criticism, they needed to make a show of doing something socially responsible. They often engaged PR firms to make them look good or created a small foundation to tout in their annual report.

This is changing quickly as many companies, large and small, are baking social impact into their company culture and products. The main reason for this, in my experience, is the rise of a younger generation of managers who really care about the future of the world and their neighbors in developing countries.

The good news is that many of these companies make stellar products as well, and I am going to start highlighting some products that I have used and like.

The blog posts below about the Girl Effect relate to a new program being launched by Nike. And my current favorite running shoe is the Nike Free (top photo). These things are so comfortable that I sometimes wear them around the house as slippers.

And I just returned from a trip to Tokyo, where I wore my new Terra Plana Vivo Barefoot Dharmas, which were fabulously comfortable, functional, and stylish (very important in Tokyo!) They are now my new favorite casual shoes.

Terra Plana is a new company founded by Galahad Clark whose mission is to make sustainable shoes. Both the Nike Frees and the Vivo Barefoot shoes are based on a philosophy that having heels on shoes makes us walk wrong and wrecks our feet.

PS: If you have similar products to recommend, please send me your suggestions.

Why we should invest in girls

If you want to know why investing in girls has such a huge impact on the world, check out this great new campaign by Nike. And then click below to see how your $25 can make a loan to a girl in Uganda to raise chickens.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Girl Effect

I like this:

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Helping Myanmar for Mother's Day

A friend writes from Myanmar:

This is the worst disaster I have ever been in. The situation in Yangon is growing more desperate everyday as there is no electricity or water and food is getting very scarce. Just today, a women on our street came to us with here three young children. Her mother had been killed in the cyclone and the children had not eaten in two days.

We have made it to the only location in Yangon with an email connection tonight (tuesday).We are save and fine... but the situation here is very, very grim. Tremendous devastation.

We have staff in practically all of the affected areas and are desperately trying to find out the condition of about 40 that are still unaccounted for.

Relief isn't what we do, but we are being pressed into it given the circumstances.If Global Giving could join an appeal that would be very much appreciated.

Will write as soon again as soon as we can. Thanks again for your concern.

I and many others are going to help Burma for Mothers Day. Nothing would make our own mothers happier. If you want to join us, please click here and do what you can.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Brainstorm = Marketplace of Ideas

Many things will be needed to avert a climate change disaster - including lots of new investment and changes in policies and behaviors. But none of that will work without massive innovation. And innovation requires a combination of new ideas, dedicated people, money, and a mechanism to implement and scale up those ideas.

That is why the Fortune Brainstorm Green Conference last week was so compelling. It was more than a brainstorm - it was a marketplace of ideas. The list of attendees was impressive - leaders from corporate American (ranging from Wal-Mart to Coca Cola to Monsanto), the non-profit sector (Environmental Defense, NRDC, Conservation International), the financial sector (Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, and Goldman Sachs), academics, and several government officials.

In my experience, what distinguishes Fortune Brainstorm conferences from many others is that they are really conversations rather than a series of speeches, and this one was no exception. It was really exceptional to see leaders from fields that are often at odds with each other actually talking to each other and collaborating on a solution rather than fighting over who is at fault. Even Greenpeace and McDonald's shared a panel and talked about their collaborative work to reduce deforestation in Brazil.

Hats off to Marc Gunther of Fortune Magazine for creating this conference. You can read a lot more about electric cars, "farming carbon," turning Coke green, and rabble rousing over at his excellent blog.

[And kudos to David Kirkpatrick for creating the Brainstorm Conference series itself.]

Thursday, April 24, 2008

I am an idiot

I am an idiot, according to my colleagues here at GlobalGiving. That is because I am clueless about a lot of popular celebrities who are in the news these days.

But my cluelessness reached a new low (high?) this past week at the excellent Fortune Magazine "Brainstorm Green" conference, which was all about global warming. During a break between panels, I turned to introduce myself to the guy sitting next to me. He had been listening closely to the speakers and had been taking a lot of notes. Obviously a scientist type or policy wonk.

Me: Hi, I am Dennis Whittle. Nice to meet you.

Him: Hi, I am Chuck Leavell. Nice to meet you.

Me: What do you do?

Him: Oh, I grow trees in Georgia. I also play the piano a little bit. What about you?

Me: I work at GlobalGiving, which is sort of a marketplace for goodness. What kind of trees do you grow?

Him: I have been trying to create an approach to sustainable tree farming using native American species.

Me: Oh, very cool. And what kind of music do you play?

Him: Oh, all kinds, really.

Me: Do you ever play in public?

Him: Sometimes.

Me: What's the name of your band?

Him: Well, I've been in different bands, but since 1982 it has been the Rolling Stones.

Me: Oh, yes, I have heard of that band.

* * *
(Chuck's bio is here for any of you other clueless readers out there.)

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Scaling up microfinance

Microfinance is not a magic bullet, but it is part of a broad array of things that can improve lives in developing countries. (Others include better education, healthcare, basic services, rule of law, small business promotion, and infrastructure.)

A big question is how to scale up microfinance so it can be available to a lot more people.

If this is an issue you are interested in, I recommend Rob Katz's recent post over on NextBillion. He reports on a recent conference in New York hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations, where the speakers included Roshaneh Zafar, founder of Kashf Foundation in Pakistan, which lists projects on GlobalGiving.

The panelists discussed a range of issues, including interest rates (don't cap them, they agree) and commercialization. The need for increased competition in providing microfinance in many countries is clear.

Rob concludes as follows:
I was especially struck at how easily Iskendarian and Zafar can move from discussing the business aspects of microfinance to the social aspects. Their organizations seem to have been able to merge these two goals – financial sustainability and poverty alleviation – without compromising either.

Monday, April 21, 2008

How to get a Prius cheap

Trimming the amount of meat Americans eat would not only help the planet — a mere 20 percent reduction is the equivalent of switching from a Camry to a Prius.
That is from The High Price of Beef in Sunday's NY Times Magazine. By this measure, I have had a couple of Priuses in my garage since the late 1980s, when I reduced my beef consumption in half. I initially did this because the quality of beef was poor in Jakarta, where I lived for five years.

Around that time, a lot of research came out about the health effects of eating too much red meat, so when I returned to the US, I kept my red meat consumption low. I didn't eliminate meat altogether (I like it too much), but I swapped quantity for quality - eating good cuts of meat fewer times per week.

More recently, I have begun eating mostly organic beef, again primarily for health reasons. I pay more for it, but eat even less of it. So my wallet wins, my health wins, and the global climate wins.

And I can tell my friends that I have not only one, but two Priuses... :)

Electric cars are coming

I am at the Fortune Brainstorm Green Conference in Pasadena. Today's first session was a pleasant surprise: it looks like we will have real, workable electric cars on the road in the next two years.

Shai Agassi is taking the approach of selling electric cars in Israel and Denmark like cell phones - he believes that he will be able to give the cars away in return for a three or four year contract to service the cars (including electricity and batteries).

Jan-Olaf Willums is already producing the Think Car (pictured here) in Europe and will soon bring it to the US with backing from Kleiner Perkins and others.

Both cars will go about 100 miles between charges. Some say that is too little. But guess what? 95% of car trips are less than 100 miles.

[Kudos to Marc Gunther of Fortune for putting this conference together.]

And David Roberts is blogging this conference over at GristMill (scroll down after clicking link).

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Uli and Petra and GlobalGiving

Two months ago, a dynamic couple of filmmakers came through our offices in Washington.

Petra Dilthey and Uli Schwarz have decided to devote the next phase of their lives to documenting extraordinary social innovations around the world, and they have been focusing on projects listed on GlobalGiving. They spent a week here to get to know us better and make a small film about GlobalGiving, which includes footage from inspiring projects they have visited in India.

I was impressed by how fast they worked. Often films take months to shoot and edit. But Uli and Petra would edit the same day they would shoot scenes, and they were able to produce a really good short documentary about GlobalGiving in just a few days.

Their text of their new website is in German, but many of the videos (including the one about GlobalGiving itself) is also available in English. Check it out.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Where we come from and go to...

My post about Dana's departure last week made me think about the exceptional people we have had here at GlobalGiving since we started. An organization is ever evolving, including its team.

We have been lucky to attract a mix of highly experienced professionals along with smart and committed recent college grads. I am especially proud that many of our younger staff have gone on to grad school and then to great careers.

So where have we come from and where have we gone? Here is a sample:
We came from....
  • Fannie Mae
  • Washington Area Women's Foundation
  • HP
  • Carfax
  • Hillcrest Labs
  • Accenture
  • Ashoka
  • Advisory Board
  • Safe Kids Worldwide
  • Burson-Marsteller
  • Akin Gump
  • Soros Fund Management
  • World Resources Institute
  • LEAD
  • Peace Corps
  • Kinkos
  • NuRide
  • Business for Social Responsibility
  • Stone Yamashita
  • Netflix
  • RTI
  • World Bank
And our alumni have gone to:
  • Maine Women's Fund
  • McKinsey and Co.
  • International Youth Foundation
  • Gates Foundation
  • Wing-Luke Museum (Seattle)
  • Business for Social Responsibility
  • Google
  • Princeton Woodrow Wilson School
  • Harvard Business School
  • Duke Business School (Fuqua)
  • MIT Business School (Sloan)
  • UNC Medical School
  • University of Capetown
  • SunRocket
  • Booz Allen
  • Bearing Point
  • OboPay

Donna, Beth, and BlogHer...!

From Beth Kanter's blog:

This week, as BlogHer , launched a special campaign with GlobalGiving to raise money for lifesaving programs for women around the world, here is an interview with Donna Callejon who is the Chief Operating Officer of GlobalGiving.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Bye, Dana!

Tonight we are having a going away party for Dana Messick Ledyard, who has been part of the DNA of GlobalGiving over the past three years. She initially worked with us as a summer intern four years ago, and then joined our staff just before the Tsunami about three years ago.

Dana was the perfect team member to have at a young and growing organization: she was totally committed to the mission, and willing to do whatever it took to accelerate the development of our marketplace of goodness. One minute she would be deep in the spreadsheets ensuring that project disbursements got out on time, and the next she would be on the phone helping a project leader get through some crisis.

I could go on, but the following video of Dana talking about Stella, one our our star project leaders, says it much better than I could. And if this moves you as much as it does me, then please consider donating to Stella's project here:

Monday, April 07, 2008

Check out the BlogHers Act Campaign

Lisa Stone writes:

How many women's lives can we save with donations from the BlogHer community, between now and Mother's Day, May 11, 2008? If you will download this widget todayand encourage your readers to donate, we can find out. Won't you join us?

Here's what we're up to: As part of our BlogHers Act commitment to make a difference on the issue of maternal health, BlogHer has joined forces with Global Giving to help save women's lives and we need your help.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Free the World Bankers

My colleague Donna wrote a great April Fool's blog post over at GlobalGoodness announcing that Mari and I had decided to go back to the World Bank.  She quoted me as saying:

“Innovation is highly overrated....Mari and I are looking forward to being back in an environment where the rules are clear and the work is predictable."

This was firmly tongue in cheek, and even those who initially fell for it realized the obvious joke.  We all had a good laugh.

However, recent conversations with former World Bank colleagues reminded me that for them this joke cuts pretty close to the bone.  Despite its problems, the Bank is full of extraordinarily talented people who want to do good in the world.  But the Bank's organizational structure, governance, and incentives suck the energy and creativity out of its staff.  As a result, the Bank's positive impact is far, far less than it should be.  

People who come to the World Bank with energy and new ideas gradually learn that they must spend their time dealing with bureaucratic processes and compliance issues.  At the end of the day, they are exhausted and lower their sights.  If somehow they summon the energy and courage to try something innovative, there is rarely any positive feedback or support from the management or board.  They may even be sidelined.

The culture of the Bank is heavily influenced by its president.  After the troubles of recent years, the appointment of Robert Zoellick was greeted with high hopes, since he is known to be a highly competent international diplomat and negotiator.  

Regrettably, those hopes have not been fulfilled.  Though things have calmed down since the departure of Paul Wolfowitz, there has been little innovation in the Zoellick era.  He is proceeding very cautiously and conservatively.  

Word on the street is that Zoellick is hoping to use the Bank presidency as a springboard to become Secretary of State under John McCain.  In the meantime, he does not want to take any chances by rocking the boat.  

I hope this is not true.  Because no boat needs rocked more than the World Bank.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Does this mean drink more or drink less?

I saw this sign in an airport bar in Manchester, NH.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Mac users are more generous

This just in from my colleague Kevin Conroy: Mac users give 2-3x as much per visit to GlobalGiving as do Windows users.

The full post is here.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

My how the world has changed...

I am writing this from the United Kingdom, which once ruled the seas and much of the world.

Word comes today that Tata Motors, from India is buying two of the UK's former flagship brands - Jaguar and Land Rover.  (Most recently, Jaguar and Land Rover were owned by Ford Motor. ) 

This means that Tata will soon be producing the world's least expensive car, the $2,500 Nano, as well as two of the most expensive ones.

This follows earlier news that Carlos Slim, a Mexican, is now the world's richest person, edging out Bill Gates and Warren Buffet.  


Monday, March 24, 2008

In praise of defiance

“No way I am going to charge people $10.50 a pound.”

That was what an old lobster fisherman outside of Hampton, NH told Mari this past weekend. We were on our way to the beach with my family and saw a hand-lettered sign that read “Lobster” and pointed down a gravel road. My brother was visiting from Guatemala, and he really wanted some lobster, so I took a right and wound around the back of a house to a small clapboard building at the edge of an inlet. There were lobster traps and other fishing paraphernalia stacked in the yard.

Above the door of the building was a sign that said it all: Defiant Lobster Co.

We went in and asked for lobster. The man told us that he did not have any. He said that it was the off-season for the NH lobsters, and that he usually bought lobsters from Maine during this time, but that the wholesale price was too high.

“Wholesale prices are over $9.00 a pound, so I would have to charge people $10.50 a pound. And I just won’t do that. I have been lobstering for over fifty years, and I have never seen prices this high.”

I was stunned. First, that he would only charge a $1.50 markup. And second that he would simply refuse to sell something at a certain price. The economist in me was doing backflips.

I spend a lot of time in Silicon Valley, where the talk is all about “scalability” and “margins” and “pricing power.” This lobsterman had pricing power over me – that’s for sure. I would have gladly paid $10.50 a pound or more, because I was in a hurry and really wanted that lobster.

But the lobsterman was not a profit maximizer – he wanted to make a decent income, but he also had a sense of what I have come to call market “aesthetics.” He would not participate in transactions that he felt were not right in some way.

This reminded me of a time in Indonesia when I was having a big dinner party, and I needed a whole lot of avocados. I went to a small stall at the market and told the man I wanted his whole stock. “I can only sell you ten,” he told me. “What? Why not all of them?,” I asked. I thought he would be overjoyed to sell them all at one time. “Because," he responded, "if I sold you everything I had, sir, I would have nothing to do for the rest of the day.”

Back in Hampton Beach, I thought about arguing with the lobsterman. But instead, I talked to him about the ups and downs of the lobster market over the decades - something I could never have done at the local profit-maximizing supermarket. And then I bought some really nice clams and oysters from him (at a price he considered fair), and I took them home. They were very good.