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.