Saturday, November 16, 2013

SxSW Bound

My workshop on Cause Video, to be co-presented with Jefferson Graham of USA Today, has been accepted on the program roster for the 2014 SxSW. The workshop, "Viteracy Now! Cause Video and the Proof Imperative," is slotted to run on March 11th. Modeled after my NYU Cause Video Lab (which I teach as part of my graduate class, The Wired Nonprofit: Social Media Strategy and Practice with Howard Greenstein and Tom Watson), this SxSW workshop will explore the latest trends and practices in the emergence of short-form video as a critical tool for conveying urgency, proof and relevancy in the social good sector.
Jeff and I also will discuss ways to measure video impact and build cross-sector, group-to-group support for specific causes that can endure from one campaign to the next. Attendees will gain working knowledge of the 10 types of cause videos being used successfully in the social commons and advocacy sector today, and discover which types are best for creating specific outcomes. Attendees also will learn how short-form video is better made in-house, with the best campaigns employing smart social/mobile strategies for maximum impact and continuous engagement.

Hope you'll be able to join us!

--Marcia Stepanek

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Saturday, November 2, 2013

Turning the Outside In

The continuing disclosures about National Security Agency (NSA) leaks are either totally unsurprising, or the stuff of shock and outrage. Spying on friendly governments and their citizens? Tell us something new, right? Still, many ordinary people around the world are genuinely alarmed. Each new Snowden leak—mostly recently, that the NSA has broken into the main communications links that connect Yahoo and Google data centers around the world to collect data from hundreds of millions of user accounts—is either earth-shattering news, or simply confirms what many already knew or suspected.

Wikileaks triggered similar debates: What did we already know? What should we have known? Who should have known it?

It's true that spying by governments—including spying on their own citizens, enemies, allies, and frenemies—is not new. It’s even expected, post 9/11, and comes as no surprise to government insiders. But the vast scale of NSA spying, enabled by our nation’s shift to a high-velocity digital infrastructure, is novel. Millions of ordinary people suddenly have detailed knowledge that only insiders previously had. Their shock at the extent of the spying is real and consequential.

But focusing on who-knew-what-when misses the real significance of the ongoing Snowden leaks. Civil libertarians and digital freedom activists assert that the issue is less about whether governments spy on each other and their citizens, and far more about how our massive, digital infrastructure is rapidly eroding our long-standing and accepted boundaries between society’s insiders (those “in the know”) and those who know far less—insider-outsider boundaries that diplomacy, good governance, and politics have relied on for centuries.

Suddenly, those who were once exclusively privy to the inner-most secrets of our government are not the only insiders anymore. “Our digital tools have empowered dissenting insiders and are emboldening them to shine a light on all sorts of shadows previously left uninvestigated,” says sociologist Zeynep Tufekci, “ensuring there will always be dissenting insiders if an action is controversial or if oversight is weak.” There will be more Edward Snowdens, she asserts, because leaking is not only getting easier, it’s becoming more expected, if not more respectable. Public polling data continues to reflect rising support for Snowden’s whistle-blowing.

And the blurring of lines between who’s inside and out is happening everywhere. According to digital researcher danah boyd, it’s why teens are leaving Facebook in droves; they’re spooked by their parents’ ability to interrupt their insider postings with embarrassingly jarring, off-topic commentary or “reminders to bring a sweater.” It’s why institutions are finding that the internal communications they meant for a few insiders are suddenly exposed to the world. Consider last year’s high-profile leak by a dissenting insider at the Komen Foundation, disclosing the breast cancer nonprofit’s plans to defund Planned Parenthood under political pressure from GOP opponents. The leak, which Komen’s leaders refused to address for days amid supporter uproar, spread like wildfire through social media networks, and cost the organization thousands of supporters and millions of dollars in lost or cancelled contributions—the organization has never fully recovered.

The eroding insider-outsider boundaries fostered by our expanding digital infrastructure are also upsetting political strategists. This past weekend’s progressive Stop Watching Us rally against NSA spying began as a progressive anti-NSA rally, but Libertarian groups insisting that they should be included just days prior to the event crashed it. The resulting “joined-hands” dissent against government excess triggered a controversial, pre-rally blog post by writer Tom Watson, who urged some of the biggest names in civil liberties and digital freedom of information to stay home rather than march with political outsiders: “[Progressive] organizers trade their own good names and reputations to stand alongside—and convey legitimacy to—a [Libertarian Party] that opposes communitarian participation in liberal society and rejects the very role of government itself.” Critics of Watson’s column accused him of working against political compromise. Supporters, though, suggested that the Libertarians were intentionally crashing a political party not meant for them but unavoidably open, thanks to the digital political infrastructure that makes insider strategy secrets—and organized surprise—ever-harder to handle on all levels. (An informal data survey of marchers revealed that crashers mixed in with political compromisers from all sides of the political spectrum.)

Information will always be power, but now more people have it—and increasingly, they’re not always the “right” people, depending on who is drawing the lines. Our 21st-century governance and leadership can no longer depend on old, established norms about what constitutes “proper” levels of public knowledge and who gets to know more. Security clearances? No longer are those at the top of the leadership pyramid that can control access—nor the conversation.

What really makes the Snowden leaks so provocative—and, frankly, so unsettling to so many—has less to do with Edward Snowden and much more to do with the power of our digital tools to flip who’s out and who’s in—across society.

“The outsiders are peeking in and moving in, and they are here to stay,” says Tufekci. That is the big story to watch. Each new Snowden leak is just another wake-up call about how profoundly our digital tools are redefining the balance of power, big and small.
-- Marcia Stepanek

(Illustration by Elisabetta Stoinich; reprinted with permission from the Stanford Social Innovation Review

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Saturday, October 26, 2013


Last updated at 9pm EST

Thousands of people marched on the streets of Washington, D.C., today to protest the National Security Agency's post-9/11 national security apparatus, in a public demonstration they called The Rally Against Mass Surveillance. The crowd, representing an online and offline coalition of more than 100 public advocacy groups from across the political spectrum known as Stop Watching Us, demanded an end to government spying, chanting and waving banners that read "Yes, We Scan" and "Thank you, Edward Snowden." Many showed up wearing costumes and carrying props, including cardboard spy cameras and plaster drones. One protester wore a papier-maiche mascot head of Barack Obama and carried an "Obama-cam"; others wrapped their heads in yellow police barrier tape reading, Caution, Do Not Enter.

Protesters were cheered on in absentia by Snowden, the exiled NSA whistleblower who first disclosed the agency's surveillance programs. In a rare public statement prepared for the rally and read to the crowd, Snowden said "it is time to remind our government officials that they are public servants, not private investigators." The NSA, one of the biggest surveillance agencies in the U.S., was Snowden's workplace before he began leaking some of the agency's top-secret documents to the press in June.

"In the last four months, we've learned a lot about our government," Snowden said. "...Today, no telephone in America makes a call without leaving a record with the NSA. Today, no Internet transaction enters or leaves America without passing through the NSA's hands." Americans are fed up with government and with their lawmakers in Washington, Snowden added. "We are witnessing an American moment in which ordinary people from high school to high office are standing up to oppose a dangerous trend in government. ...We're told (by those in Congress and government) that what is unconstitutional is not illegal, but we will not be fooled. It is time for reform. Elections are coming, and we are watching you."

Another NSA whistleblower, Thomas Drake, showed up in person, talking to reporters about recent revelations that the U.S. government had tapped the phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and some 35 other world leaders. Drake told the crowd that any domestic surveillance legislation that may result from the Snowden leaks "must include whistleblower protection" because with them, "government employees will be more likely to turn a blind eye" to abuses of power.

The publicity campaign for today's rally kicked off on Wednesday with the release of a celebrity-studded public service announcement, a video that urged people to join protesters today "to end mass, suspicion-less surveillance" of American citizens. By the end of the rally, the video had wracked up more than 875,000 views on YouTube.

Indeed, more people attended today's rally digitally than in person. Rally organizers said before today that they expected more than 500,000 to participate in the march and in live-streamed "rally watching parties" occurring concurrently in eight other cities. The number of marchers who showed up in Washington, including several busloads from New York City, appeared to number only in the single-digit thousands, a smaller in-person crowd than organizers had hope for and expected.

The march was not without its critics on both sides of the ideological divide, with some saying the coalition of progressive liberals and right-wing Libertarian Party leaders represent, at best, an unsustainable mix of those who would change government and those who would abolish it completely. Rally supporters included members of the American Civil Liberties Union, Chinese activist Ai Weiwei, journalist Glenn Greenwald, as well as leaders of the uber-conservative Libertarian Party, including Gary Johnson, its 2012 candidate for U.S. President.

But Snowden, in his remarks today, insisted that "this isn't about red or blue or party lines and definitely not about terrorism. It's about power, control and trust in government. ...It is about the unconstitutional, unethical and immoral actions of the modern-day surveillance state and how we must all work together to remind the government" to stop "trampling on our right to know, our right to associate freely and to live in a free and open democratic society."

Chief rally organizer Rainey Reitman of the progressive Electronic Freedom Foundation, a pro-privacy group founded in 1990 to protect online privacy and free speech, said "we are not building this coalition for a rally today. We are starting with a rally and we will stop when the NSA stops spying on all of us." Added former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party nominee for U.S. President last year: "There are members of Congress who wrote the Patriot Act (after 9/11) and are now vowing to fix it, but the only way to fix it is to repeal it. ... We're mad as hell."

-- Marcia Stepanek

(Graphic, top, courtesy rally co-sponsor Ben and Jerry's. Photos: CauseGlobal)

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Urban Flow

Adam Magyar is a Hungarian photographer based in Berlin who is creating a stir in the international photography world by combining still photography and video in a way that explores the density and anonymity of urban life. His premiere work, called Urban Flow, combines multiple images of pedestrians into very long panoramas. By slowing time, from 12 seconds into 8 minutes of HD footage, he reveals the minute details of urban life normally invisible to the naked eye -- and transforms the way we view images, making them more interactive and intimate.

Magyar appeared at this week's annual PopTech conference in Camden, Maine, describing his use of industrial machine-vision cameras as "slit-scan" scanning technology that captures moments in time in a way that was previously impossible using conventional optical cameras. Magyar told the PopTech crowd he is attempting to combine science and art to "look into and challenge our identities as individuals in the urban crowd."

"I used to do street photography," Magyar said, "but my photos always revolved more around a theory or urban space than a single image, and so it occurred to me to make that theory an image."

"In my images, I stage a situation where people are seen from a distance and I depict them as particles in a system," Magyar says. In the work, Stainless, a short photo-video montage (excerpt above), Magyar scans "rushing subway trains arriving to stations. The images record people staring towards their destinations, standing at the doors of trains, framed by the sliding door windows. "They are scrutinizing the uncertain future," Magyar says. In all of his images, the main theme is arrival, the rhythms of life, "sections of infinite time flowing by relentlessly, like our own life spans," he says.

It is stark but stunning work. Stainless stretches 12 seconds of real time on a crowded train platform in Berlin into 24:44 minutes, suspending the busy crowd in time, rendering his subjects as free-standing images, frozen in hyper slow-motion, as if in collage.

Check out a shorter excerpt of his work here:

Adam Magyar: Stainless (excerpt) from Urban Video Project on Vimeo.

-- Marcia Stepanek

[Photo, above: Adam Magyar speaking at PopTech conference courtesy PopTech]

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Thursday, September 26, 2013

#CGI2013: Bill Gates on 'Rich Dogs' and Risk

The philanthropist Bill Gates, speaking on a panel at the Clinton Global Initiative, which ends today, urged nonprofit leaders to work harder and better at collaborating with business on social good projects. "It's interesting that nonprofits think the for-profit guys are evil," Gates told some of the world's most influential philanthropists and CEOs, NGO executives and government delegates to Bill Clinton's annual confab. "That attitude has blocked cooperation in many areas of the global food and drug sectors." And, Gates said, that attitude is blocking aid to the many of the world's hungry and dying.

The Microsoft co-founder and former CEO, in a candid assessment of philanthropy's role in global social innovation, also urged fellow philanthropists to start funding riskier projects "that nobody else wants to touch." Said Gates: "If you're a philanthropist, you don't want to go into an area that is already well-covered." Philanthropy, he said, "has more leeway to experiment. It should fund the higher-risk projects and let businesses and governments do the easier stuff."

What follows is an edited transcript of an interview with Gates that The Economist's Matthew Bishop moderated from the CGI stage this past week. Bishop is author of the book, Philanthrocapitalism, about the rise of for-profit/nonprofit partnerships for collaborative social impact.

Q/ BISHOP:  The world is having a discussion right now about what follows the Millennium Development Goals for 2015. How do we set targets (for global social good) for the next 15 years that are big bets—that are achievable bets but not too hard or too easy to achieve?

GATES: The Millennium Development goals are a phenomenal thing. They are the eight priorities that were adopted by the (UN) General Assembly (in 2000) as a report card for the world. They're very focused on  inequity—in health, in education, and in economics. It's quite amazing that several of them will be fully achieved, even though they were set quite ambitiously. The poverty goal [to halve the rate of extreme poverty by 2015] was achieved. And in fact, in the next round—the goals for 2030—we could get to extremely low levels of poverty around the world. In the health area, we had 12 million children dying every year from a starting point of 1990; we're now down to 6.6 million, so we'll be, by 2015, down to close to a 50 percent reduction. The Millennium Goals have been wonderful because they allow us to look at the countries that are doing it the best, and to go in and talk to the leaders of the countries that aren't and make it a priority. I think the world has come around to the idea that you really need amazing partnerships to make these big things happen. For child mortality, you have to break it down and say, okay there's malaria.  What can the drug companies do? What can UNICEF/World Health Organization do? What can the local governments do? There's diarrhea, there's pneumonia, there's the first 30 days. And so it's all become really quite concrete. And even philanthropy, which is a smaller percentage of the dollars here compared with, say, the private sector, rich world donations, and local governments, it can get involved in some of the riskier things. For example, the actual vaccine development teams (are funded) mostly by philanthropy. Philanthropy is the major player in that part of it. So it's amazing to see how all of that has come together.

Q: But when you think of the next set of goals, the next 15 years, how far should we stretch to accomplish even more?

GATES: The inequity today, that a child under 5 has 30 times chance of dying than a child in a middle income country, gives us a chance in the next 15 years to to largely eliminate inequity. We won't get it down to zero. There will still be a differential there.  But  we can make a very dramatic change. So the fact that these Millennium goals are unfinished goals, and that if we keep them as unique as they've been—and keep up these (for-profit/nonprofit) partnerships—we will be largely complete by 2030. To me, that says that these goals should be the centerpiece of what gets adopted as the world's next report card. Now, because Millennial Development Goals have been successful and every cause in the world would like to have an MDG, there will need to be some tough choices made in terms of measurability and prioritization.

Q: As you think about how to put your money and Warren Buffett's money to work to achieve social good, how do you determine how to get maximum bang for the buck?

GATES: Well, obviously, you don't want to go into an area that is already well covered. And because philanthropy is small, even compared to aid budgets, you have to pick something that is probably risky and therefore not likely to be taken up by aid budgets. Take inventing new vaccines. Governments other than U.S. really don't get into that kind of upstream R&D.  And that's a global public good. As Africa develops, it's not going to get organized to finance the malaria vaccine for itself any time soon. So philanthropy can be very complimentary. I totally agree with the private sector that we need those roads and electricity in a big way in Africa, but we need to realize that five or six magical new vaccines are needed, too, so that's a great place (for philanthropy) to specialize. Now, that kind of philanthropy is very risky. You need to have to have a lot of oars in the water. And you're going to need partnerships, working with universities and the NIH and the pharmaceutical companies, where there's a lot of expertise that only exists with them, so crafting exactly how you work with them is important. We do a report card called the Access to Medicine Index, that rates all the pharma companies on how much they do to help poor people. And it's been great because every year, the bar has gone up. The drug companies at the top want to do more and stay at the top; the ones on the bottom definitely see that, their employees see that, and so they push forward on it.

And further on risky philanthropy, consider polio eradication. It can only work if every country in the world manages to get  those polio drops out to over 90 percent of the kids that need them, around the world. And so now, we're down to northern Nigeria, northern Pakistan, and there's been a big outbreak in Somalia recently. In these places, getting access to those kids is very tough because of rumors that these are people from the West coming in with vaccines, they're from the U.S. and the rumors that the U.S. uses vaccination campaigns for bad things. And that has really overwhelmed the trust and knowledge you want to have on the ground to allow those vaccines to come in. We could fail.  We raised a little over $4 billion at a (polio) summit earlier this year and everyone endorsed a plan (for polio eradication) that runs through 2018. It's the kind of thing the world should take on because if you take it on, it will save millions of lives. But it's not an easy thing. It's not like building a wing of a museum, where probably it will get done. This one? Polio? It should get done.

"Polio eradication? It's not an easy thing. It's not like building a wing of a museum, where it probably will get done."

Q: Is it really worth the effort, to take the last few steps that could mean complete eradication?

GATES: That's sort of a math test. The only reason we have so few cases now is because we are spending so much money. If you stop spending the money before (the death rate from polio) gets to zero, then it goes back and hundreds of thousands of kids get sick or die every year, and the problem gets worse. But if you wait to stop spending the money until after you get to zero, it gets kind of nice because then, you can spend the money on other things—pneumonia, diarrhea, neo-natal, and whatever those other causes are. So you really have to judge, can it be done? The whole credibility of the global endeavor is very much tied up in this (the fight to eradicate polio). Will those hold-out countries allow us access to those kids? That's what this whole thing rests on. There are days I worry we won't get it. But overall, I'm quite optimistic.

Q:  Let's consider, for a moment, the "f word" of failure. In the business world, failures can often be taken as a badge of honor: you tried something, and you learned from it. But in the philanthropic world, failure really is a swear word. People don't talk about it and there is a sense that people don't take enough risks.

GATES: Well, people don't take enough risk, that's fair. And they try to do too many things. If you really want to take on big risk, you really have to be willing and able to develop deep technocratic understanding of the science, the tools, and the social science factors that weigh into the delivery (of the aid you're giving). Philanthropy should be taking much bigger risks than business. If these are easy problems, business and government can come in and solve them. Probably the most risky thing (the Bill&Melinda Gates Foundation) is doing involves the money we spend in the United States, where our top priority is changing the teacher personnel system in K-12 eduction so that teachers get feedback, so we learn from teachers who teach extremely well, and so we have a professional assessment system to really understand how to do things better and get the average teachers into the top quartile. But that has become subjected to all sorts of controversies—with the school board system, with some people who love the status quo and amid controversy over just how it would get done. This project has a very high high chance of failure, whereas our malaria work is just a question of when. I'll be disappointed if it takes too long. Malaria deaths will come down. We will discover drugs and vaccines and we'll get more bed nets out. Malaria is just (a matter of) impatience and cleverness. There is no mode of total and utter failure on that path, whereas K-12? All the money we spend on that could end up being wasted.

"Malaria deaths will come down. We will discover drugs and vaccines and we'll get more bed nets out. Malaria is just (a matter of) impatience and cleverness. There is no mode of total and utter failure on that path, whereas K-12 education? All the money we spend on that in the U.S. could end up being wasted."

Q: Throughout your philanthropy, you've been partnering with business. You just announced a partnership with JP Morgan on health innovation. Do you think the business world is finally escaping the Milton Freidman narrow view of a company's role in society and is now more willing to engage in some of these big bets to improve the world? 

GATES: The private sector is the biggest force in terms of dollars and innovation and often, that takes a form of trickle down, where, for example, a medicine will be invented for rich customers and then it's made available over time, as the patent expires and as manufacturing becomes more efficient. Now, that  has done an amazing amount of good. Unfortunately, that model doesn't work for everything because rich people don't get malaria. One truly ironic thing is that a drug was developed for rich dogs. These dogs had a real problem. They had worms and people wanted to pay to get rid of their dogs' worms, and so there was a great market for it. Ivermectin was developed for that. And then somebody said let's try it on humans in Africa. They have worms, too. And in fact it worked very well and the companies were extremely generous in donating all of that. But that's a strange form of trickle-down from rich dogs to poor people. A lot of things we can't do that way. I will say that in terms of some of these for-profit/nonprofit partnerships, it's sometimes interesting that the nonprofit guys think the for-profit guys are evil...and that's blocked cooperation between some of food companies and some of nonprofit actors in (various countries). ...Bridging the gap between the way the private sector thinks about things and what's reasonable to ask them to do—and the nonprofit people, who know how to deliver aid and are devoting their lives to it—trying to get the best of both worlds out of that often takes a middleman listening to both points.

 "It's sometimes interesting that the nonprofit guys think the for-profit guys are evil..."

Q: What could the private sector do better in these partnerships?

GATES: The most classic example is the Clinton Foundation. We went from suing the South African government for off-patent use of drugs to now getting all the poor countries to get their AIDs drugs at the lowest possible price and there's no intellectual property involved in that at all. That model has been very successful.

Q: We need to measure progress carefully, but when is measurement taken too far?

GATES: You need to do things that are hard to measure but there are some things you really can't measure very well. Consider the child mortality area. We are trying to ensure that kids survive malnutrition but many are damaged mentally by malnutrition, and there's a danger that if we don't understand that, we won't focus on the right interventions. There's a huge hidden cost in health care that goes beyond death. They do IQ studies in Africa, and the numbers in some parts are unbelievably low because kids that have gone through early malnutrition are never developed fully mentally. Anything you can measure is great but you want to make sure you're measuring the right things.

Q: And then there is, in much philanthropy today, a push for social innovation. You, for example, have decided to innovate the toilet. Why have you done that, how is your project going and are there similar, less-trodden areas where philanthropists might bring innovation?

GATES: It's a fantastic example where trickle-down doesn't work. (laughter). The rich world toilets are built on a Rube Goldberg kind of scheme, where you bring all sorts of water in, you make it dirty, you send it to very complex plant to clean it up. Just the piping system alone, if you were going to do this in the slums of India, you could never afford it. And so we need something with the smell- and disease-prevention characteristics that are as good as the gold standard, which is the flush toilet, but do not require a completely unaffordable infrastructure. And so you have to get the best people in smell, and in taking the disease out of the waste and getting rid of it. We had a big contest recently at Caltech, and gave out prizes, and now we're working on what does the engineering for those ideas look like.

It's easier at the community level to create a low-cost toilet. You want to go into the individual households so women don't have to go out at night, facing some insecurity or harassment. But that would not have happened without philanthropy coming in. Scientists will say, 'Oh, we know how to do smell, but nobody ever asked us to solve this problem with toilets.' So it's taking high IQ scientists who were not thinking much about toilets in the developing world, and drawing them into the partnership to try and help solve these very real and pervasive global challenges.

There are a lot of universities that have programs to come up with tools for poor countries, and you have crowd-sourcing, where someone will put out something and get back amazing results. There was this one thing, a call for a power light that someone suggested be made by pulling up a weight on a pulley to generate the power needed, and that got funded in, like, 10 days. So there's lot of neat things out there.

So, in you're a philanthropist, fund innovation. Pick what you're passionate about and think about what are the innovative tools. It will probably be risky. Are you willing to wait 5-10 years (for results)? Are you willing to figure which universities have the science to connect that area you want to fund? What you want to fund is often not something government does well, like education or even health. government can often miss some great opportunities. But philanthropy can help where others can't, and it's needed and a very important piece in these partnerships to make the world a better place.

-- Marcia Stepanek

[Photograph: Bill Gates on stage at CGI on Tuesday, September 24th]

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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

#CGI2013: Girl Power

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the subject of endless speculation over whether she will or won't run for the White House in 2016, made it very clear today how she plans to focus much of her time for the next two years. Speaking from the main stage of her family's power-philanthropy conference, the once and possibly future presidential hopeful said she will lead an international effort to evaluate progress made in empowering women and girls worldwide. "Whether we are talking about empowering and connecting women in economics or health care or education or politics, it all comes back to a question of the full and equal participation of women versus their marginalization," Clinton said.

Referring specifically to the 1995 United Nations summit of 189 countries on women in Beijing, where she led the U.S. delegation as First Lady, Clinton said there is much work yet to be done. The Beijing summit, she said, had been "a call to action for the global community to insure that women and girls everywhere finally have the opportunities they deserve to live up to their god-given potentials and contribute fully to the progress and prosperity of their societies." But while more girls are now in school and more women hold jobs and serve in public office, Clinton said, "it is still not enough. ...Women and girls still comprise the majority of the world's unhealthy, unfed and unpaid, marginalized in so many ways."

The year 2015 will mark 20 years since that conference in Beijing, officially known as the Fourth World Conference on Women. "It's time for a full and clear-eyed look at how far we have come and how far we still have to go, and what we plan to do together about the unfinished business of the 21st century: the full and equal participation of women," Clinton said. Since the Beijing summit, she said, "we've built an international architecture of laws and norms to protect women but it remains a bare scaffold without the bricks and mortar needed to make those laws effective in people's lives and turn our rhetoric into reality."

Clinton said her Beijing+20 initiative will work through the Clinton Foundation and leverage the convening power of CGI to bring together partner organizations, NGOs, international institutions, governments, businesses and others to evaluate global progress towards gender equity in time for the September 20, 2015 anniversary of the Beijing summit. She said Beijing+20 will also tap new online feminist networks and social media to encourage broad and global input and participation.

The move was generally lauded by political pundits in Washington, who said that throwing herself into the work of her foundation will give Clinton the ability to add to an already formidable network of donors and keep herself current in the national conversation. According to a report by NPR correspondent Mara Liasson, the Ready for Hillary superPAC announced today that it has reached 1 million Facebook supporters.

Clinton isn't the first women's rights advocate to push for a formal assessment of how far UN member states and other stakeholders have come in implementing the commitments made at the Beijing summit 20 years ago. In July, the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) adopted a resolution proposed by the Commission on the Status of Women to begin its own review.

-- Marcia Stepanek

[Photograph: Hillary Clinton, announcing her Beijing+20 initiative at #CGI2013]

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#CGI2013: Brokering for Good

Once again this year, Bill Clinton is hosting his annual power-philanthropy conference in New York. His annual Clinton Global Initiative this week marks its ninth year of channeling mega-wealth to social innovation projects around the world. Cool, exclusive, wonky and celebrity-studded, this year's gathering, like others, is also ferreting out new strains of global injustice and dousing them with nonpartisan outpourings of media, money, PowerPoints, and hard work from truly committed people on the ground.

But it is Bill Clinton’s social capital – his remarkable, ongoing ability to forge unlikely alliances among corporate executives, NGO leaders, celebrities, and government officials -- that distinguishes CGI as a game-changer in its own right. "The world's problems are so big, philanthropy cannot do it alone," Clinton said again this year in opening remarks. "We need everyone at the table." Indeed, CGI has done much over the past decade to help erode some of the traditional cultural barriers to business collaboration within the American philanthropy establishment, and has helped to focus it more acutely on social impact. Before CGI, there were no other high-profile, independent forums devoted to channeling philanthropic resources into specific, cross-sector giving projects tied to measurable results. Today? According to the Clinton Foundation's website, CGI members have so far made more than 2,300 philanthropic commitments which have improved the lives of over 400 million people in more than 180 countries. When fully funded and implemented, Clinton says, these commitments will be valued at more than $73.1 billion. 

To be sure, not all of the projects spawned at CGI have succeeded; not everyone gets invited back. [CGI rules require philanthropic commitments that can prove impact from one year to the next.] "Solutions are only effective if they are implemented," Clinton told Time this week. And not everyone thinks CGI is inclusive enough, saying it's still mostly centered around the 1% and not the 99% who are innovating the Internet and digital social networks to create mass philanthropy models capable of channeling more funds directly (and more quickly) to those in need.

Still, more than 1,000 large companies, celebrities, governments and big NGOs are represented here, roaming the halls and small ballrooms of the Midtown Sheraton with an enthusiasm for proving the nonprofit/for-profit collaboration model can work to more efficiently and quickly get money to those in need. During opening day talks, Bono talked about how, when he took his fight against AIDS in Africa to American and European consumers with his One (RED) campaign, he was able to raise $200 million for the cause, while Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook touted the recent launch of, a Facebook-led initiative to bring connectivity to billions of women in poverty living without it.

["U.S. lawmakers would tell us we're not feeling the (AIDs) issue at home," Bono told CGI attendees, sharing that his Global Fund to fight AIDS was flagging until he harnessed it to consumer market forces. "So we went straight to the people, to the shopping malls and Gap stores, and through the marketplace, RED started to turn up the heat on the issue. The marketplace is where the real money lies. Do you want a blue iPod or a red one? Kids started choosing red because they knew that purchase would count."]

Philanthropist Bill Gates, meanwhile, named again by Forbes last week as the wealthiest man in America, urged the nonprofit community to work even harder at nonprofit/for-profit collaboration. "It's interesting that nonprofits think the for-profit guys are evil," Gates told attendees. "That attitude has blocked cooperation in the global food and drug-health sectors" and it's slowing aid to the world's hungry and dying. On the other hand, Gates said, philanthropy has a unique role in the social good sector because it is more easily able to fund the smaller, risker projects, the kind "nobody else wants to touch," Gates said.  "You don't want (as a philanthropist) to go into an area that is already well-covered." 

Cause Global has attended seven out of the nine CGI meetings in New York. This year, attendees have started to refer to themselves as being in "the social commons." As the designer, Eileen Fisher, told Cause Global today: "These are exciting times for philanthropy because the tent is expanding, big-time, and now, it seems, everyone can play." 

Among other first-day highlights:

     *Bono did a good impression of Bill Clinton, to help fill time for the former President when he ducked back stage to get his glasses prior to starting a morning panel. The video of Bono’s impression got more than 6,000 hits by day's end.  Clinton, returning to the stage with his notes, quipped that “it must be real easy to make fun of me; anybody can make fun of me.”

   Sheryl Sandberg joined the International Monetary Fund’s Christine Lagarde and 24-year-old Khalida Brohi, founder of Sughar Women Program in Pakistan, to talk about the need to do more to empower the world’s women in poverty. “We’re going to invest in women and recognize that women need to lead,” Sandberg said of Facebook, her employer. Brohi, whose organization aims to mobilize a million women in the next 10 years, shared a phrase her father would tell her to encourage her to translate her tears into action. “Don’t cry, strategize,” Brohi said. Sandberg, meanwhile, gave a nod to Hillary Clinton, saying few have done as much for women’s empowerment as she has, stressing the double standard women face around the world with a quick poll of how many female leaders in the audience have been called “bossy.” “We teach ourselves from very young age that men should lead and women shouldn’t,” Sandberg said. “When this changes, we will have a society more productive, more peaceful and families will be happier.” Lagarde encouraged women to get into politics, citing countries like Rwanda, with a Parliament composed of two-thirds women. “In every crisis you see women rising,” Lagarde said. “When it’s messy you get the women in but when the mess is sorted, you need to keep the women in.”

   Mo Ibrahim, the Sudanese-British mobile communications billionaire and founder of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, blasted the West for neglecting investment in Africa, chiding Google for investing only relatively small sums and criticizing U.S.-based Internet giants for being “totally absent” from the push to provide broadband data access to some 3 billion in Africa who still don’t have it. He also rebuked stereotypes about Africa on corruption, saying that “for every corrupt leader, there are 50 corrupt business people, half of them sitting here.”  

*    Barack Obama joined Bill Clinton on stage to promote Obamacare as part of the Administration's two-week blitz to build public support for the new health insurance law. The GOP Congress is waging an effort to defund the law ahead of October 1, when new health-care exchanges will begin to enroll people for health insurance coverage that will take effect in January. “Let's face it," Obama quipped, "It's been a little political, this Obama-care thing." But Clinton was far more pointed. “What you’ve had is an unprecedented effort that you’ve seen ramp up over the last month or so in which those who have opposed the idea of universal health care in the first place have fought this thing tooth and nail through Congress and through the courts and so forth," he said. "They’re trying to scare and discourage people from getting a good deal.” Obama said those who need health insurance should tune out the naysayers. “Make your own decision about whether it’s good for you,” Obama said. “What we are confident about is that when people look and see they can get high quality, affordable health care for less than their cell phone bill, they’re going to sign up.”

   Cherie Blair, the wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and founder of the Cherie Blair Foundation of Women, conferees worked on ways to get more smartphones into people’s hands to create new opportunities for women. “Without access to mobile, so many poor have been cut out of the global economy,” Blair said. According to statistics, she said, countries that boost mobile phone access by 10 percent experience a 1.2 percent economic bump. But even the $20 needed to buy a phone is too much for the billions earning less than $2 a day, Blair said, and for women living in extreme poverty, there are often cultural barriers, too. Women in Africa and the Middle East are 23 percent less likely than men to have mobile access, she said. All told, Blair said, some 300 million women across the world could have access to mobile phones but don’t, due to cost, cultural attitudes that give men first preferences, fear of technology and environmental limitations such as a lack of electricity. Literacy creates another barrier, Blair said. 

CGI runs through Thursday. Watch this space for further highlights.

-- Marcia Stepanek

[Photography: courtesy CGI; Bill Gates and Bill Clinton, top; Bill Clinton on the CGI stage with Barack Obama, middle, and Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, bottom]

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Cause Week 2013

It's Cause Week again in New York, that wonky week-long stretch of mid-September when a perfect storm of three global-class, do-gooder gatherings floods Manhattan.

[Concurrent with the opening sessions of the United Nations General Assembly, Cause Week also means the start of the annually high-powered, invitation-only Clinton Global Initiative in Midtown, as well as the run of the annual Social Good Summit , the social-media-for-social-change crowd's Millennial version of CGI that's held across town.]

What all of these events have in common—besides their ability to paralyze Midtown traffic—are A-list attendees and speakers from all sectors pushing new policies, new partnerships, and tech-driven social innovation. From Barack Obama, Bono, Sean Penn, and IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde, to Queen Rania of Jordan, philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates, and Facebook's Sheryl Sandburg, the goal of these thinkfests is to take stock of the world's most pressing social problems, and to rally society's brightest minds to work more effectively for solutions.

First to launch this week is the Social Good Summit, which is being livestreamed to 120 locations around the world in 8 languages. Among top takeaways so far:

* Internet freedom is under growing attack around the world. Samantha Power, the Pulitzer Prize-winning human rights activist, former Harvard scholar and the new U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, warned #2030NOW attendees of a "crackdown on civil society" by governments around the world. "It's clear that a lot of governments are now sharing worst practices on how to crack down on civil society," she said. They are doing this "to impede the kind of connectivity that can occur virtually, even as they close off public streets and squares." The goal: to dissuade cause-wired activists from using social media and other methods to demand human rights and economic reforms. "Governments are getting more and more sophisticated at shutting down the Internet, and are blocking, filtering, and using technology to trace human rights activists" for retribution, Power added. "They are aware of the explosion in civil society and of the power of social media. It is time to sound the alarm."

* Millennials' passion for "good" products is growing.  Tina Wells, CEO and Founder of Buzz Marketing Group, cited "conscious consumption" as the No. 1 trend driving Millennials today. "Millennials don't just want to buy things that are cool. They want to buy things they love that also contribute to the world in a positive way," Wells says. That's not news, of course. But 80 percent of Millennials are now spending more than three hours a day online, and brands are getting smarter at working with the cause-wired online, inviting them to participate in conversations around the issues that are important to them. Wells is working with the United Nations to elevate the voice and input of youth globally via MyWorld, a UN initiative that enables youth to participate more broadly in the conversations around the UN Millennium Goals. "Millennials understand there is room for digital nonprofits and for-profit organizations to work together for change," Wells said. Note to social marketers and nonprofits: shared experiences equals trust equals consumption and support.

* Drones aren't all bad. Most people would associate them with military strikes, but a handful of activists are finding ways to use drones and tech surveillance capabilities to promote peace and stability in countries experiencing conflict. John Prendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project, is working in partnership with Google and satellite companies "to get eyes on remote locations in conflict zones, where there is no other way to verify that human rights abuses are occurring." Prendergast said that monitoring for mass grave sites and rebel movements, for example, can help warn innocent civilians and prevent human rights abuses from occurring in some areas. Kevin Kennedy, chief of integrated training services at the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations and Field Support, said his office is using drones for good in four countries—the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, South Sudan, and Haiti, to help monitor public health and rebel movements.

* The news is going social. It's no longer enough to be informed by the media. A couple of new journalism startups also want you to act on the story you just saw, read, watched, or Tweeted. "I think any of us who are Millennials would argue that if you have a microphone plugged into an amplifier, it's wrong of you not to sing," says Ian Somerhalder, co-founder of, a new news platform that drives readers and viewers to get involved in embedded action steps that appear at the end of each article. "We take readers to the next step with calls to action," Somerhalder added. "No longer do you have to read an article and that's it. Dead. Social media engages people. It has changed the world and we're all here witnessing it, and we're all part of it, and it's a really phenomenal thing."

* There is a new Africa rising. Two social entrepreneurs working with social media to fuel support for their organizations in Africa talked extensively about the rapidly growing entrepreneurial scene there. "Charity? Rather than support the traditional NGOs in Africa, support the African social entreprenuer," urged Magatte Wade, founder and CEO of Tiossan, a cosmetics startup that uses proceeds to benefit local education. Teddy Ruge, an Africa-based entrepreneur and a leader of the social enterprise movement there, agreed that local African entrepreneurs are reshaping their own communities for the better, and it is time for traditional aid organizations to work with these new innovators—and to hear their input—rather than drive their own agendas without collaboration.

* Traditional nonprofit philanthropy is dead, reimagined by social media.  In a world of social media, philanthropy and nonprofits can no longer remain in fortresses and operate without partnering with businesses and governments. "Philanthropy needs to collaborate more across sector and with supporters," said Jean Case of the Case Foundation. "We need to help nonprofits master social media and help them to communicate with these tools. When we think of philanthropy, our definition is any effective effort that promotes human progress, which doesn't mean we should get just anyone in the tent. We need talent and help from companies, too. The traditional sense of charitable giving is not where we should stop, because stopping would mean we're not using all the tools in our toolbox." One recent attempt at new engagement:, a mobile app that asks nonprofits what they're trying to do and helps them measure their effectiveness by putting them in touch directly with their aid recipients. Another sign of change? The ACLU is now raising its digital voice, busting out of the gate with soon-to-be-launched multimedia campaign called "My Big Gay Illegal Wedding." The campaign asks supporters to help it find and marry five couples in hotspot states. Think crowdsourcing for mobilization. "The thing about social media is that it demands boldness and excitement," Romero said. "Social media makes us all activists. We can redefine who we are."

The Social Good Summit ends tonight, just as CGI begins. Keep current with the highlights. Follow us @CauseGlobal for coverage and watch this space for updates.

-By Marcia Stepanek

(Photograph: Ripped posters on a wall, Carrer de Bailen, in Barcelona, Spain, by Rene Mansi)

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At this week's Social Good Summit in New York, Samantha Power, the new U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, told conferees that governments around the world are increasingly cracking down on Web activists "and it's time to sound the alarm." She said social media have the potential to counteract these forces against Internet freedom, but urged young conferees to "team up to make your voices heard."

What follows is an edited transcript of that interview, conducted from the #2030NOW stage by Mashable CEO Pete Cashmore:

Q: Your entire career has been about the importance of human rights. Why do those things matter so much?
I was very moved when I was in college, when I saw for the first time the footage from Tiananmen Square. I was working as a intern in the sports department of the CBS affiliate in Atlanta at the time, and I was taking notes on the Braves game and I looked up, and there was Tiananmen and the crushing of this democratic movement and moment. So that kind of got in my head, looking at what the citizens in China were trying to do for their country, for their children and their grandchildren. And then when I graduated from college, I was struck by images in The New York Times of emaciated men behind barbed wire, again in Europe—just 50 years after the Holocaust. It was a time when the Bosnian Serbs were cracking down brutally, committing ethnic cleansing, and I thought there has got to be something we can do about this.

Q: Are people more informed or less informed in a world of social technologies?
Well, as tech evolves, it feels like people are alert to the risk of seeing and hearing only what they want to see and hear and not, necessarily, what they need to be discovering, serendipitously. On one hand, we've become more insulated and cocooned, and other the other hand, more and more people are trying to seek out greater connections. There are inconvenient topics—topics and issues we wouldn't voluntarily really seek out because they're depressing or disempowering because of the magnitude of the badness. I think a lot of us have those emotions. Syria is the latest example of that. It's just so heartbreaking, and you can imagine why young people might not want to spend a lot of time watching videos of people getting gassed by chemical weapons. But I think technology also can be a force for good, a dream. It's a force multiplier like nothing we've seen.

Q: Is social media and communication technology fundamentally pro- democracy and civil society, or is it neutral?
We've got examples on both sides of the ledger. Governments are growing more and more sophisticated at shutting down the Internet, blocking, filtering, using technology to trace human rights activists. There was that devastating incident not long ago in Homs, Syria, where Marie Colvin, one of the greatest war correspondents of the last century was we think, tracked down by the coordinates of her cellphone and then struck by the Assad regime and killed. I just came from a meeting with civil society activists to talk about the use of technologies to impede rather than expand democratic accountability and civic activism. This one young Syrian activist was describing that Assad has used SCUD missiles and fired them in Syria, on his own people. He said it takes 8- to 15 minutes for these missiles to land from the time of launch. Young activists in Syria now have people organized to text ahead if they see anything in the launch phase, then text the coordinates of that launcher from where that launch occurred, which helps activists predict the missiles' path. Texters then send their messages into a central hub, and people can see where this SCUD is likely to land, and when—so they can get out of the way. It's an example of the creativity and ways in which people are using digital technology. And here's another example. I traveled with the President a couple of years ago, to India, and there's this amazing web site there called "I Paid a Bribe" and it's people sharing their personal stories around the indignity of having to have paid a bribe. Social media is good so far at creating communities of concern in this way. The Satellite Sentinel Project, which George Clooney and John Prendergast are using, gets companies to donate satellite time as resources so activists can document mass graves in parts of the world that are not necessarily accessible to humanitarian organizations. So technology has an upside and a downside, and it's all about how you use it.

Q: To what extent is government responsible? What is the role of the civilian and what is the role of government?
I think it depends on the situation. Citizens have the capacity, as they did in Darfur, to put an issue on the map. Young people and people in the faith community made Darfur matter in Washington and did impressive fundraising using tech. Once people get moved by what they see or what they're exposed to,  social media can be a great way to pool resources and get them to people in need. ...We were talking a minute ago about Twitter. I just joined but already I'm seeing the power of it. In the old days, you'd almost have to stage a press conference to get your voice out there, even as the UN Ambassador. But not anymore.

Q: Are you increasingly using Twitter to break news and decisions on social media?
A: I think that because you can move information so quickly, it's very easy to do it that way. But I also think that all forms of media still do remain relevant. Sometimes doing things so quickly is not always the way to get out the nuances of a policy, which is challenging anyway—especially on issues that are as complicated as many we work on. But when it comes to putting pressure on a government that has a mission here or an embassy there, you can use social media to connect with people in European countries or in African countries and have them raise issues that are critical. There are ways to build coalitions, particularly around the fate of civil society and the prospects for human rights, that just didn't exist when we were relying solely on the mainstream media.

Q: How are global activists engaging with tech to get their voices heard?
Tech is a major piece of how they connect with one another but this crackdown on civil society by many governments around the world is very sad, whether it's shutting down the Internet or blocking Twitter or blocking Facebook or, just as egregiously, using plain old-fashioned laws and regulations to restrict foreign funding to NGOs or to inhibit the space that activists have to protest publicly, or to crack down on their freedom to associate. So tech is not the only problem, and it's not the only solution. this strangulation by regulation can also be very effective. We used to talk in development and in human rights about best practices, about how we can push for best practices. It's now clear that a lot of these governments are now sharing worst practices on how to crack down on civil society, how to use the tools of tech to impede the kind of connectivity that can occur virtually, even as they close off public spaces and public squares. They're migrating those kinds of practices that they've used over time to the Internet, and to the social media space, and we're pushing governments in our meetings now to bring civil society back to the table.

Q: How can individuals get involved? What actions can they take?
A: We've seen activists in Haiti, for example, famously creating crisis maps and crowd-sourcing, where you could document who was buried where by virtue of people using technology to track them. We've seen tech being used in the U.S. and also in Kenya, during elections, to stop fraud. These kinds of things are very important. Tech also is a great feedback loop. Now that I'm on Twitter, if I give a speech and people are telling me that it didn't make sense when I said something about this, or didn't square with what I'd earlier said about that, it's not aways pleasant reading but it's important to hear. I don't think that leaders before these tools were able to have such direct and rapid sharing with the people they service. This is important.

Q: Finally, what's the outlook for civil society in the future, by 2030?
I think right now the trend lines are not positive. The truth of the matter is that many governments, in the last five years, have become more sophisticated in their response to cause-wired movements by the people to get their voices heard. More than 40 governments now are restricting freedom of speech and association and religion—the basic stuff. These governments are sharing worst practices but they are doing so because they are aware of the explosion in civil society and of the power of social media. Who will win going forward? I've always been on the citizens' side but right now, a crackdown on civil society is a pattern across the globe. It's time to sound the alarm. If we can get other like-minded governments and citizens and NGOs and foundations to team up to contest this worrying trend, then it won't be a close call between anachronistic governments trying to crack down on basic human dignity and the power of the people. History shows who's going to win that one.

-Marcia Stepanek

(Photograph: Mashable CEO Pete Cashmore interview Samantha Power (left). Photo by Mashable with permission.)  

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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Cause Video: A First-Ever Survey

YouTube, See3 and Edelman just released a first-of-its-kind survey on nonprofit sector use of Cause Video, asking 500 cause leaders and experts how the social good sector is using video stories to make an impact. [The report, Into Focus: Benchmarks for Video and A Guide for Creators can be found here.] Full disclosure: We here at Cause Global were among those experts polled, based on our work to create a cause video curriculum and lab at NYU's Heyman Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising to help the sector take video-making in-house.]

The survey's big takeaways? First, nearly all of those polled (91%) say video is important and will get more important over the next three years. Second, most nonprofit leaders (87%) say they intend to produce a lot more video. [No surprise so far: Cisco projects that by 2017, just five years from now, two-thirds of the world's global consumer data traffic will be video.]

But here's the rub. This video enthusiasm is not (yet) being reflected in nonprofit spending—and in a big way. Only 6% of the cause leaders queried say they anticipate a significant increase in their video budgets in the coming year, 24% said they expect only a slight increase, and the rest think allocation of funds will remain about the same as it is today, or even slide. "Only about a quarter of those polled expect some increase in their video budget and 70% do not," says Michael Hoffman, CEO of See3 and one of the founders of the survey. "That's a full two-thirds of organizations who won't be spending more than they do now, and maybe even less. There's definitely an underlying discomfort behind all that video enthusiasm."

So what's driving it? There are four top barriers:

* The biggest barrier cited, by far, are budget restrictions. Nonprofits would make more video if their budgets were bigger, 79% of respondents said. [Annual video expenditures for 66% of the organizations surveyed were $10,000 or less.] According to the survey, a full half of the respondents currently outsource what video projects they have to outside studios rather than try in-house projects which can be just as good, if not better. By tapping volunteers with special expertise or turning to lower-cost equipment, such as smartphones and free editing software, a rising number of organizations are starting to make short, high-quality videos themselves at very low cost. "The excuse that we nonprofits don't have the equipment has gone away," Hoffman says. "It's not just you who has a camera in your pocket. Your constituents do, too." Still, about 20% of organizations said they lack the skillsets needed to make their own videos.

* Staff resources aren't ideal. Slightly more than half of those polled (52%) said the staff lacked the time to focus on video production. People are already overworked and are reluctant to take on more, respondents said, especially if they won't be paid for their efforts. "Trouble is," says Hoffman, "video is here to stay. If you want to reach people with your message in this hyper-connected world, you need to incorporate video into your marketing and fundraising plans, and then assign the necessary personnel to take responsibility for producing it and overseeing it." Better yet? Start building internal capacity for video editing and storytelling with your very next hires in all departments. And meanwhile? Ask volunteers to film or photograph your on-the-ground programs as they occur. Sharing your organization's work in simple videos posted on YouTube is a good way to start.

* Internal departments don't collaborate very well. Nonprofit cultures still tend to be more hierarchical than collaborative. Cultural factors, such as a not-invented-here syndrome, and departmental silos, were cited by nearly 40% of respondents. In many organizations, both large and small, each department has its own budget and task list. "In some cases, we found that the communications department would have a video budget but the fundraising department down the hall didn't have access to that," Hoffman said. "Very few nonprofits are doing joint projects internally with shared budgets and goals—yet."

* Nobody knows how to measure the impact of a video. A large number of respondents said they don't know, and have no way of knowing, if a video works or not against nonprofit objectives. They don't have video metrics, and to be sure, most nonprofits are still struggling with measurement issues across the spectrum of their new media efforts. During the Philanthropy 3.0 Speaker Series  we curated and moderated at NYU this spring, both Hoffman and's top data scientist, Bob Filbin, cited the frustration. "How many views from people does it take to consider a YouTube video a success? Try 1.5 million," Filbin said on one of our NYU panels on the use of Big Data in advocacy. "We got that many views on one of the videos we posted in 2011, and we all thought it was a success, right? But then came the data report. Only eight viewers had signed up to donate equipment, which was what the video was trying to get people to do." So what happened? "We were concerned with the wrong metric," Filbin and colleague Jeff Bladt wrote in the Harvard Business Review on March 13. "...As we learned, there is a difference between numbers and numbers that matter."

Hoffman and other survey founders caution that maybe the sector is looking too hard at conversion rates as a way to measure the impact of a good video. Maybe something is getting overlooked, Hoffman says, suggesting the biggest survey takeaway of all may be this: "Videos provide the emotional framework for the ask," he says. "People respond to a good story more than anything else. Emotion leads to attention leads to support."

Among other survey findings:

* Who's in charge of cause video production at most nonprofits? Not surprisingly, the communications department (58%), followed by digital/social media (32%), fundraising (20%), and volunteers (19%). Outside video producers are contracted for about half of the total videos, though the trend is moving toward more in-house production, says Hoffman.

* Shorter is better. Viewers of all stripes start tuning out after 10-15 seconds. According to Hoffman, if you don't put the ask within the first 15 seconds of your video, you will lose most of your audience.

* 'Thank-you' videos are gaining in popularity, mostly because they can be made in-house, at less expense and by volunteers using their smartphones. These types of short videos can be an important part of your donor relationship management strategy; donors love to see themselves in a video or to be personally and publicly thanked in one. Here's one made by

* What are the top social media channels used to distribute cause video? YouTube ranked No. 1 with 81% of respondents, followed by Facebook (78%), Twitter (55%), Vimeo (16%), Google+ (10%) Pinterest (8%) and private social networks at 5%.

* What's the best way to get your videos viewed? Send your videos to known supporters of your cause and organization rather than to people who have shown no previous interest in your mission. "It is much more effective to get your video to 100 of your organization's most passionate supporters, who will share, promote, and engage with your content," Hoffman says. "These 100 are most likely to work for you, and their friends are more likely to view something that comes from someone they already know."

How is your organization using video? Are you experimenting with Vine? Our cause video news team here at Cause Global would love to hear from you.

-- Marcia Stepanek

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Friday, June 7, 2013

Funders: R U (Really) There?

When Nancy Lublin's social media team at began texting teens a couple of years ago to get more of them to focus their extraordinary energy on issues they care passionately about, what Lublin found was surprising. Mixed in with teens' texts about the need to help the homeless and rescue abused animals were many other texts that had nothing, at all, to do with DoSomething's social good campaigns at the time. "We started getting texts like, 'Help, I'm being bullied and I don't know what to do' and texts on eating disorders," Lublin said.

And then, Lublin told those attending today's Personal Democracy Forum, there was one girl who sent in a text that said exactly this: 'He won't stop raping me. It's my dad. He told me not to tell anyone. R U there?'"

It made Lublin, DoSomething's CEO, decide to start work creating a text-only crisis line, the first real-time teen crisis network —and a promising alternative to the thousands of pre-Internet crisis telephone hotlines that Lublin says can "make people wait two hours to get help" and largely fail to communicate with teens in their language, using the medium most common to their generation.

Fast forward two years, and DoSomething's Crisis Text Line, set to launch August 1, will attempt to use social media and text-messaging technologies to create the world's first data-driven text hotline for teens—and all at a level of cross-sector collaboration that Lublin hopes will break new ground in the nonprofit sector, involving unprecedented levels of cooperation among organizations that now compete to tackle teen bullying, rape and incest and sex trafficking. Lublin says DoSomething is still getting a steady stream of texts from a significant portion of kids that are unrelated to its dozens of cause-texting campaigns in any given month: Just last week, she said, during the launch of the group's new Undocumented for a Day text campaign, which simulates for teens what it's like to live in the United States as a teen without U.S. citizenship,  Lublin says up to 15 percent of those texting the nonprofit sent messages about sexual abuse, bullying and eating disorders. For Lublin, Crisis Text Line can't start soon enough. "This will help save more lives than penicillin," she says.

Designed with the help of Mobile Commons and the MIT Media Lab as an always-on, real-time conversation with kids in crisis that can scale nationally, Lublin says the text line should significantly improve DoSomething's ability to support teens. "Texting is a medium that teenagers prefer. It will be private. No one hears you, unlike when you're calling a hotline. It's quiet. You can be bullied at the lunch table at school and be texting for help in that moment. It's fast." But beyond rapid response, Lublin also hopes that Crisis Text Line will become a critical new example of how social media can be used to reinvent and vastly improve the way the nonprofit sector does its work—more effectively, using  only the latest data rather than outdated suppositions to tackle social problems. "In real time, we will have a map," she says. "We will have our finger on the pulse of what is going on in every zip code in the United States with these teen crises." School boards, police, journalists and local communities will now have better data to help drive policy change and reallocate public resources for better impact, Lublin told PDFers, "so politicians can be basing decisions on facts" rather than "just spewing policy based on their own personal convictions."

But Lublin says that creating the text line has been tremendously difficult—and shouldn't have been. "That girl who texted us (about her dad raping her) came to us two years ago," Lublin told her peers in the PDF audience, "so why is it taking us so long to build this thing? ... Why is it so hard for all of us (in this sector) to make something new?"

It's not that Lublin hasn't met big start-up challenges before. In her 20s, she founded Dress for Success, the not-for-profit organization in over 80 cities worldwide that provides interview suits and career development training to women making the transition from welfare to work. At Do Something, Lublin has transformed what had been a small New York City cause mired in red ink to one that now has 45 employees, 1.6 million members worldwide and enabled more than 2.4 million 13- to 25-year-olds to make an impact last year, alone.'s social media and information tech team is the envy of nonprofit tech activists; the organization has become one of the leading examples of smart social media innovation-for-good in the world.

The problem, Lublin says, is that for all of the nonprofit sector's talk about collaboration and the need to support technology innovation in the sector, "we're really, really bad at it." (Lublin said she wanted to deliver her talk today at PDF—an annual gathering of some of the nation's top minds in technology-driven social innovation—because its theme this year is Think Bigger.)

"There are lots of things that traditional foundations are doing to hamper this new disruptive stuff," Lublin said. In part, it's a vision thing. Traditional foundations, she said, tend to be innovation-averse. "So often I'll hear (when fundraising for this project) that this is a great idea, but you don't fit our (funding) bucket," Lublin said. "No shit," she offered as a response to PDFers, who applauded. "It's new."  She also said she wonders if large traditional foundations, like the Ford Foundation (one of PDF's sponsors), have simply become too "comfy" to take big risks funding the kinds of social innovation they say they now want to support.

"Do you really need to sit in that $400 million building, Ford Foundation?" Lublin asked. Most of the foundation's massive headquarters near the United Nations, she said, "is not even usable space" and suggested that Ford should sell the New York City landmark and move to a loft space in Brooklyn. Like the smaller, scrappier Blue Ridge Foundation, she said, Ford—which cited $10 billion in assets in 2011—should use more of the money it has tied up in overhead and real estate to support more start-up innovation.

But that's not all, Lublin said. Traditional foundations' insistence on seeing a business model as a prerequisite for funding also is hampering nonprofit innovation. During her fundraising for the text line, Lublin said, "I would keep getting asked, 'Is this sustainable? What is the model for Crisis Text Line? Maybe you should sell that data.'" Lublin said she refused. "No, I'm not selling the data," she said, to applause. "I'm not going to sell the data to some hedge fund or for certain police departments to use. It's going to be open."

Governments fund health care, provide education and build roads in some places "because it's what they think is important for the value system and for a state or the country," Lublin said. "Private industry does things because it thinks it can make money on it. And then there's us," she said, the nonprofit sector, which does its work because it thinks it can help people in need and tackle social problems that others often cannot or won't.

"We matter. We are worth funding," she said. (Click here for the video of her talk.) "Foundations, please don't forget that. This is not a pitch (for funding). Crisis Text Line is launching August 1st. We're doing fine. This is a request for all of us to take this conversation and put it out in the open."

Consider it done.

-- Marcia Stepanek

(Illustration by Andrew Polushkin for

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Filter Failure

The New York Times book reviewer, Janet Maslin, recently characterized Douglas Rushkoff's new book, Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now, as "one of those invaluable books that make sense of what we already half-know."

Agreed. For those of us who sleep with our smartphones within eyeshot—and Pew Internet tells us this is roughly two-thirds of adults who own a smartphonePresent Shock offers some comfort in numbers. The Internet (and social media), Rushkoff says, were supposed to give us more time to get things done, to let us stop punching the clock and work at home in our underwear, in our own time, "on stuff we wanted to do and exchange information with others in our Burning Man, pre-Etsy universe of slack."

But "something happened on our way home from Wired magazine," Rushkoff told the annual Personal Democracy Forum of social and technology innovators yesterday in Manhattan. Instead, "we are overwhelmed by an always-on, livestreamed reality that our human minds and bodies can never truly, fully inhabit." Rather than use our social technologies to create a new digital universe of possibilities, Rushkoff said,  we have—at least for now—turned human time and attention into a new commodity. We are living—live—"in a state of perpetual emergency interruption that used to be only endured by 911 operators and air traffic controllers."

Go ahead, says Rushkoff. Feel it. "Instead of using these new technologies the way they were designed, to time-shift, we strap our devices to our bodies and have them vibrate every time somebody pings us or updates us or Facebooks us or tweets about us, or tweets about something we might have tweeted about," Rushkoff says. "We are unable to really embrace the present ... because we're always trying not to miss what else is supposedly happening now."

Present Shock—which plays off the title of Alvin Toffler's influential 1970 book, Future Shock—not only diminishes everything that isn't happening right now "amid the onslaught of everything that supposedly is," Rushkoff says. Institutionally, present shock forces us into a weird state of crisis management. "Just as the individual is only really dealing with this tweet or that tweet, look at Obama. Look at any leader right now," he says. "It's the same thing. It's not governing. It's not managing. It's just crisis after crisis after crisis. There are no goals. It's all becoming purely tactical."

At PDF Thursday, Rushkoff offered up two recent Internet-aided political movements as examples of how present shock is reshaping politics—the Tea Party movement and the Occupy movement. "Tea Partyers," he said, "want everything right now. Right now. Immediate closure. No goals, no policy talks, no weeks of work seeking compromise. Just 'I want it now.'" On the other side of the spectrum, Rushkoff says, is Occupy's "unbearable perpetual quest for an eternal present. ...We are here, we are in the park, we have no goals yet. We are going to sit in the park until we reach complete consensus."

He urged PDF attendees to help the world create better and "more humane filters" against what he calls "digiphrenia"—digitally provoked mental chaos—to help social good advocates and others start focusing their energies and attention spans into building more effective, locally-networked online communities for longer-term social change. "I am much less worried about what technology may be doing to people than what we are choosing to do to one another though technology," Rushkoff writes. To be sure, it's not the technology tools that are driving us to distraction. "Human intelligence made these tools this way because there is a lot of money in reducing people to predictively modeled profiles and algorithmic battlegrounds"—to sell them something or do something, or to vote a certain way, Rushkoff says.

This isn't just a form of shock. It's a new form of exploitation for commercial and political profit, he says, and we're all just starting to wise up as our personal productivity plummets. For Rushkoff, it's time to take back the clock.

For more on Rushkoff's book, see his PDF talk from yesterday, below:

-- Marcia Stepanek

(Illustration: Cloudytronics for

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