Friday, November 22, 2019

100 Days of Gratitude, Day 51: Dena Jones Trujillo

Dena Jones Trujillo
Twenty years ago, it was hard to imagine that there could be a place where almost anyone in the world could pitch - and possibly get funding for - an initiative to improve their community.  That dream is nearing reality.

GlobalGiving has now facilitated support for more than 24,000 community-based projects in 170 countries, with total funding surpassing $400 million and on its way to $1 billion. The team at GlobalGiving has gotten much of the credit, and deservedly so.  But there are a couple of people who have played key roles in the background, and Dena Jones Trujillo, our first program officer at the Omidyar Network, is one of them.

GlobalGiving got some of its most important initial encouragement and funding from Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay, even before he set up the full Omidyar Network. Like many startups, GlobalGiving struggled in the early days. It was hard to find good tech people in Washington DC, and in any case the technology at that time was  primitive and slow. User interface, product management, and marketing skills were also hard to find. Online financial systems were still in their infancy.

As a result, our ambition to serve everyone - not just in the US but in the entire world - seemed ridiculous to many people.  To be honest, we ourselves wondered at times if we had bitten off more than we could chew.  Some of our enthusiastic early supporters went quiet or abandoned us.  Others were quick to say "I told you so." At times it was very discouraging; the uphill battles were more than daunting, and it was hard to blame people for losing confidence, or even engaging in a little bit of schadenfreude.

Yet we endured because of the vision: Why SHOULDN'T there be a place where everyone in the world could go to have their voices and ideas heard?  We endured because there were a few people who never lost faith in both the vision and our ability to achieve it, despite the seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

Dena Jones Trujillo was one of these people. Dena advocated for us in our darkest hours.  She bucked us up when we were down. She was a steady and persistent advocate among our most important backers.  She foresaw what GlobalGiving could become - something many couldn't imagine - and she has never wavered.

Over many grueling years of hard work and dedication, the GlobalGiving team gradually created a world-leading technical and operational platform that has enabled nearly a million individual donors and 300 leading companies and foundations to support community leaders almost anywhere. These leaders now have access to training and knowledge resources that used to be available only to organizations in rich countries.  Those leaders can now talk with their peers across borders about what works best.  And, along the way, GlobalGiving has crafted a sustainable business model that allows it to cover the costs of its own operations.

How was this possible?  There are many answers.  But one of the most important is Dena Jones Trujillo, who has just announced she is stepping down after 18 years at Omidyar to rest and consider her next adventures in life and work.  While we stay tuned to see what she does next, let us all pause to reflect on the fact that she played a substantial role in dramatically expanding the ability of people around the world to have their ideas heard and possibly supported.  Dena: You have put a made dent in the universe - and the universe owes you a huge debt of gratitude.

Monday, November 11, 2019

100 Days of Gratitude, Day 50: John McArthur

John McArthur, 1934-2019
John McArthur kicked my butt, watched my back, encouraged me to try great things, and steered me away from impulsive actions that would derail my efforts.  He was much more senior than I, but when I called him for advice he would often say "What are you doing for lunch today?"

I met him at the World Bank, where he was a trusted advisor to the president, Jim Wolfensohn, with whom he had been business school classmates in the late 1950s.  John was later Dean of the Harvard Business School from 1980 to 1995.

For some reason, I was appointed head of the new products group of the World Bank in 1997.  I tried various initiatives that went nowhere.  One day I met John for the first time, and he asked how things were going.  I explained all the various plans I had.  John was kind of like a Canadian Sam Ervin; he gave the impression of being slow-witted but was usually the smartest guy in the room.  He replied "Those things sound kind of bureaucratic to me. I thought you were in charge of doing things different?" I smiled weakly, explained I had to go to a meeting, and left immediately. But his question kept nagging at me.

The first time I went to lunch with John, I had three burning questions on my mind.  I had even written them down so I would make sure to cover them all.  Alas, as soon as I sat down John launched into a long yarn about his early days at Harvard when the town council refused to give him a zoning variance he needed for a campus construction project.  The story had many twists and turns, and it lasted 45 minutes as we ate our cheeseburger and fries (he always wanted to eat a cheeseburger.) When the check came, John said "Well, it was great talking to you.  Keep it up and don't let the bastards get you down."  The only problem was that I didn't get to ask him about any of the three issues on my mind.

Subsequent lunches followed the same pattern.  I would have some type of crisis or tough decision and call John.  He would take me to lunch and tell me some long story - about convincing older tenured faculty to retire to make way for younger faculty, or about some convoluted legal issue he had been dealing with.  Each time I would leave scratching my head and kicking myself for not getting my questions answered.

Over time, it dawned on me that his stories were in fact about the questions on my mind.  John had an uncanny ability to anticipate the issues I was facing and to come up with a story that provided insights.  When I look back, many of the decisions I made were guided by what happened in his stories.

John died, aged 85, on August 20.  There will not be another mentor like him.  But his legacy lives on.  To the extent I have achieved anything in the last twenty years of my entrepreneurial life, John's influence is plain to see.  And when people come to me to ask for advice, I often tell them long, seemingly pointless stories.  They are not as good as John's, but I hope they provide some insights.

As I contemplate my own next steps, I wish I could call up John and have a cheeseburger with him. Right now, I really could use one of those long pointless stories of his.  But since he's not around anymore to tell them, I will have to return to what he said the first time we met and ask myself "Am I doing things different?"