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.