Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Transparency Bites

There's a firestorm that's erupting over how JPMorgan Chase & Company has fumbled its online contest to award millions of dollars to 100 charities this holiday season, and the incident is sending a stark reminder to socially-conscious companies trying to raise their "good" profile.

The message? Transparency matters (a lot) to today's cause-wired consumers. But that's not all. There's another lesson here that bears repeating, and it is this: don't invite Web-savvy crowds to participate in a "do-good" project without giving them control over the outcome - regardless of what the CEO thinks of it. Online fans and networks, it's clear, cannot be shut down nor controlled once you energize them around open initiatives they care about. Try micromanaging or censoring the people you invite to an online gathering, and you risk being accused of "cause-washing" — or worse.

The Chase brouhaha, in case you missed it over the weekend, first came to light on Saturday, in a New York Times story by reporter Stephanie Strom about how Chase is keeping its customers and Facebook "fans" in the dark about the outcome of a recent online contest it organized to give supporters a chance to vote for their favorite charities. Three nonprofit groups among the candidates for aid — Students for Sensible Drug Policy, the Marijuana Policy Project, and an anti-abortion group, Justice for All — told Strom they think Chase disqualified them as they began to amass votes because the company "didn't wish to associate its name with their missions" if they won, Strom reported. Strom also wrote that until Chase made changes to its contest in its final days, "these groups appeared to be among the top 100 vote-getters."

But what really has social media advocates miffed is Chase's failure so far to publish the final vote tallies, and to clear up whether it had, indeed, disqualified any of the charities that had participated. Over the weekend, a number of bloggers began criticizing Chase for the allegations, as well as taking the company to task for failing to create a public leader board showing a ranking of the charities based on the votes each charity had received from the more than 1 million people who joined Chase's Facebook fan page to vote.

One blogger, Nathaniel Whittemore of change.org, was especially critical, writing Saturday what he called "an open letter to Chase about their big charity transparency fail." In that post, Whittemore took Chase to task for failing to run the contest in a more transparent way. "You had the potential to build an incredible amount of social oomph with this contest," Whittemore wrote in his "Dear JP Morgan & Chase" letter. "...Now, [most nonprofits I know] think you're just one more system to game. And me? Well, I think it's pretty clear how I feel." Whittemore said that failing to provide a public leader board made Chase executives "look like jerks."

Another blogger, nonprofit social media consultant Beth Kanter, also weighed in, choosing the advent of Pepsi's own online charity contest to write a post a day later entitled, "What Lessons Will Pepsi Learn About Crowdsourcing for Social Change from Chase Bank Contest Fail?" Kanter's post yesterday, about the new Pepsi Refresh Project — another crowdsourced cause marketing project aimed at recognizing influential changemakers in society — also questioned Chase's handling of the contest. "Let's hope [Pepsi] learns from the recent Chase Bank's Online Contest Fail," she wrote. "I hope they avoid going to the dark side and waste (sic) money on projects and processes that don't have impact as well as many nonprofits' most valuable resource: their time." Kanter asked her readers, "What can Pepsi learn so its contest can truly make a difference in local communities, help them sell more soda, and avoid having its brand get tarnished?"

While Chase's official contest rules state clearly that the company "reserves the right to disqualify any charity for any reason whatsoever" — its apparent decision to exercise that right has struck social media advocates as being unacceptable, including the followers and creators of ad-hoc Twitter groups called #chasesucks and #ChaseDoesntCare. Wrote Kanter: "There are some things to think about with a completely open contest, one where anyone can submit an idea and the crowd votes on the best idea and the one with the most votes wins. The sponsor needs to ask if they are truly committed to the idea that gets the most votes, no matter who suggests it."

She has a point. As social media expert Clay Shirky told me earlier this year for a post I wrote for CauseGlobal, social media are starting to require companies and institutions to invent new ways to manage their organizations. Said Shirky in that interview:

"People managing these newly interactive organizations need to start explaining why it is that what they're doing and asking is important. They need to start articulating how people's input is helping the organization and its cause. It really does involve a degree of openness on the part of existing organizations that we haven't seen before. In fact, if you're a manager of a traditional organization looking for control, you will have trouble in this Web 2.0 environment. It's a little bit like the relationship between a trellis and a vine. You can shape it, but the organic growth and the ultimate structure is really going to be produced by the people who come there, and especially by the people you invite."

Okay, now it's your turn. What do you think? How much damage do you think this incident caused to the Chase brand? What do you think are the key lessons about corporate activism and social media to be gleaned from this incident? What would you have done differently if you were running the Chase social media campaign? Let us hear from you

—Marcia Stepanek

(Illustration, Gossip, by Malombra76 for istock.com)

[This post first appeared on Justmeans.com and reposts here with permission]

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Friday, December 18, 2009

Copenhagen 2

Here's President Obama's speech today to Copenhagen attendees:

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

"Do" v. Think

At Stanford University's TEDx Silicon Valley conference this past Saturday, Nancy Lublin, CEO of the youth empowerment nonprofit, Do Something, said we have gone too far as a society lauding social entrepreneurs and other leaders — and not far enough celebrating the people who follow them.

"All movements are led by the people in the middle," Lublin told the Dec. 12 gathering. Lublin, who founded Dress for Success in 1997, has since helped to evolve Do Something, a New York City-based youth empowerment nonprofit, from a debt-ridden, stodgy group into a high-profile magnet for teens. Lublin says 90 percent of teens say they want to make a difference but only 23 percent actively volunteer. Do Something, she says, works to transform talk into action; the nonprofit draws more than 1 million hits each month to its Web site while spending millions in grant money to support young people with good ideas ready to launch or to scale.

Lublin says she believes that the social enterprise sector "spends most of its time and money on helping the 1 percent" of change-makers. Meanwhile, she says, most of the work that is impacting those in need is actually being done by the less-heralded or less-privileged 90 percent.

"We are now obsessed with creating the new at the expense of creating impact," she said. "We have been told that social enterprise will change the world but no -- impact will change the world. Changing something is what really matters, not simply that we have created something new. We don't need another new cancer organization; we need the 300 new cancer organizations [that already exist] to learn how to work together."

Lublin added: "Scale is not necessarily religion. It ought to be impact." She urged conferees to "give permission to people to join something" rather than to encourage them to create something new. "Nothing happens in social enterprise without smart, talented, innovative followers."

What do you think? Is this fair? Does the social enterprise movement pay too much attention to innovative visionaries and not enough to the people or teams implementing the sector's big ideas in the field? Why do you think so?

(Photo: Suzie Katz on Flickr)

(This post first appeared on Justmeans.com and is reprinted here with permission)

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Sunday, December 13, 2009


For the past few days, Cause Global has been aggregating some posts and off-camera snippets from some of our friends and acquaintances in Copenhagen this week for the climate talks. Here are a few excerpts we've collected so far, for starters:

* Livestream of the Climate Conference, from oneclimate.net. Click here to tune in.

* NPR science correspondent David Kestenbaum's 60-second explanation of what's happening and what's at stake:
"Most is happening behind closed doors but yesterday, there was a large rally of 40,000 people waving signs, including ones that read, There Is No Planet B, meaning there isn't a backup planet. But here's the deal: People at the talks pretty much agree the climate needs to be fixed but they also know that fixing it won't be for free, so everyone is working out how to split up the costs of repair. Most of the arguing is going on between the big and richest nations and the smallest and poorest nations in the world. The United States wants binding agreements from countries. They want countries to commit to strictly reducing their carbon emissions; they want people to put those commitments on paper and sign them into being. It's not politics so much as it is math. But mostly, so far, many representatives—including those from India and China—don't want to make those kinds of binding commitments, so everyone is continuing to talk."

* Climate-change skeptic Lord Monckton, a conservative British politican, business consultant and former policy adviser to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, told NPR Marketplace correspondent Steven Beard that he has found it annoying to see legions of youth protesters convening daily outside the summit hall. Said Monckton: "I have been surrounded by chanting children with zombie-like faces who have been trained by their teachers to yell fatuous slogans, including: 'Ooh, ooh, it's hot in here; there's too much carbon in the atmosphere.'"

* A small delegation from the small island nation of Tuvalu — the tiny Polynesian island nation in the Pacific, population 11,992 — has become the cause celebre of the thousands of environmentalists attending the conference, and its representatives at COP15 have been urging Summit conferees to hammer out aggressive commitments to curb CO2. "...Our entire population lives within 2 meters of sea level," Tuvalu's representative, Ian Fry, told conferees earlier in the week. "...I want to have a legally binding [350 ppm] treaty. We've had our proposal on the table for six months. I woke this morning, and I was crying, and that's not easy for a grown man to admit. The fate of my country rests in your hands..." Meanwhile, the Consequences Project at the NOOR photo agency shared this image of Male, the capital island city of The Maldives, in the Indian Ocean. We're reprinting this image of the crowded city at the ocean's edge, photographed by Francesco Zizola, below, with permission:

* Canary Project's Ed Morris, in a GOOD mini-series on the cultural happenings surrounding the talks, posted this after being in Copenhagen for a few days:
"I find myself waiting for the violence. I want to see something, anything that expresses real urgency and physicality. It's in the air, one of the many crosscurrents blowing across the cultural landscape. The Bella Center, where the conference is being held, seems like a distant planet toward which we orient ourselves in expectation. Winds blow from there, too, carrying this or that rumor. What will happen? And what will happen when nothing happens? The actual weather is a constant gray sky. Occasionally, you notice it is raining. When did it start? Will it ever resolve into a storm?"

* A video compilation of the weekend's protest gatherings, below:

*One of the many temporary installations set up by environmentalists in Copenhagen is a 20-meter-tall multimedia globe built by Maryland-based Absolute Hollywood Inc. The globe is actually a giant screen broadcasting real-time satellite footage of the Earth from outer space. The globe-screen stands more than 15 times taller than the largest IMAX screens and has been broadcasting the planet throughout the talks, "as a constant reminder of what is at stake here," says company CEO James Lanier says. Here's a YouTube profile of the structure:

* From sustainability consultant Mirele Goldsmith of Green Strides Consulting in Manhattan:
"...When I landed in Munich to connect to Copenhagen, the passport control officer asked me about the purpose of my trip. I proudly answered that I was going for the UN Summit on Climate Change.
When he didn't respond, I said, “the big UN meeting happening this week...” Again, he didn't understand. I was getting worried. I thought everyone knew about this incredibly important event. Then finally something clicked.“Oh, the conference on climate,” he exclaimed, “every human being on the planet has to do something about that. It's not only for the president.” That was more like the welcome I was hoping for.

...Before I arrived here I had a general idea about the issues being discussed. In just one day I've learned a lot more. Here's one thing you should know. The emissions targets we're talking about in the USA are considered laughable by most people here. One thing to know is that the U.S. government is proposing to reduce emissions based on 2005 as the base year. Climate experts want emissions lowered relative to the base year of 1990. That is very important because fossil fuel use went up a lot between 1990 and 2005.

Here's another interesting tidbit. I went to a briefing by a scientist from the Scripps Institute. He showed all kinds of graphs demonstrating that the emissions of greenhouse gases reported by countries are different from the amounts observed in the atmosphere. Not surprisingly, there is a lot more of these gases in the atmosphere than anyone admits to releasing. He was looking for money to fund research. But the critical thing is that we have to cut emissions even more if we want to get down to a safe level.

Finally, at the alternative climate forum taking place in the city center, I heard a negotiator from Bolivia. She was speaking on behalf of the developing nations and indigenous peoples. She pointed out that none of the emissions targets on the table in the negotiations will actually solve the problem. If any are adopted, we will still be emitting more greenhouse gases than the atmosphere can safely absorb. We shouldn't be arguing over reducing emissions by 17% or even 40% (which is the number in the most serious proposals). We actually need to reduce emissions by over 100% to begin reversing the damage we've already done.

What's my take on all this? We have to pressure our government to do better. And we have to keep building public support for more serious action. Don't forget to call President Obama before he leaves for Copenhagen."

* A group of journalists from Mother Jones, The Nation, Grist, The UpTake, TreeHugger, and other news organizations have applied the collaborative news-wire/social media model to covering the talks, forming the Copenhagen News Collaborative to curate the best coverage from their own reporters, editors, and analysts filing dispatches and blog posts from the event. Here's the collaborative newswire published at Mother Jones, and here's the one published at Grist.org. [Grist has this analysis of the talks so far.] Here's the collaborative newswire published at Discover, which is offering readers a special widget to get highlighted coverage, the for a list of the journalists in the Copenhagen News Collaborative newsgroup, go to Publish2.

* From Flickr, the free photo-sharing site, comes a variety of protest photos, including a B&W photo from Sunday's 40,000-person march through Copenhagen (bottom):

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Social Media ROI

And from the same producers, here's the earlier, "Social Media: Fad or Revolution?"


Friday, December 11, 2009

50 Social Media Tactics

From SlideShare [and out of the viral, cause-wired conversations now on Twitter] comes this useful bag of tricks for getting your group well-versed in the basics of social media:

50 Social Media Tactics for Nonprofits
View more presentations from Chad Norman.

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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Greg Mortenson's War

Nonprofit activist Greg Mortenson, co-author of the 2006 international best-seller Three Cups of Tea, knows firsthand about the challenges of nation-building in Afghanistan, and he’s got some advice for the Obama administration: Open your ears more to the locals, or risk shooting yourselves in the boots.

In interviews this week, Mortenson, 51, the former K-2 mountain climber-turned-philanthropist whose nonprofit Central Asia Institute has established 130 schools and promoted girls' education in rural Afghanistan and Pakistan, urged the U.S. to include input from Afghani tribal elders in the Pentagon's expanded military effort in the region—or risk failure.

In the deliberations preceding President Barack Obama’s announcement Tuesday that he is sending 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, Mortenson said, “there were nine meetings held behind closed doors, in secrecy, between Obama and military leaders but Afghanistan’s provincial elders were not considered in any of those meetings — even though they are the real power in the country.”

Mortenson urged the administration to expand its push to promote education of women and girls in the region. “Ultimately, education should be our top priority, as well as relationship-building with local elders and civilians,” he said in an interview. “We can drop bombs and hand out condoms and build roads or put in electricity but if we don’t educate children, and especially girls, nothing will change in society."

Mortenson is someone the military's top brass listens to — and has often consulted with. Three Cups of Tea has become required reading for U.S. commanders and troops deploying to Afghanistan, making Mortenson a valued but unofficial adviser to the Pentagon. Mortenson's follow-up book, Stones into Schools: Promoting Peace with Books, Not Bombs, was released Tuesday.

In an interview, Mortenson, a former U.S. Army medic and mountain climber from Bozeman, Mont., retracted earlier remarks that the U.S. Army were all “laptop warriors … who don’t have a clue what was going on locally, on the ground.” Now, he says, “despite a steep learning curve on the part of the U.S. military, I now think the military gets it.”

Since April, Mortenson has facilitated more than 35 meetings in Afghanistan between local shura, or tribal leaders, and U.S. military commanders, including Gens. Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, and David Petraeus, the head of U.S. Central Command. In those meetings, he says, more than 200 shura from dozens of provinces in Afghanistan conveyed that they want less military might and more brainpower from Americans in their push to rebuild after years of conflict. “They want us to know that it’s not just about fighting the Taliban but also about relationship-building with Afghan civilians and helping the Afghanis build schools and the infrastructure that they want and need.”

When asked what nonprofits can teach the Pentagon, Mortenson said that aid groups must do more listening, rather than deciding for people what’s best.

CauseGlobal caught up with Mortenson in Manhattan on Tuesday, at the start of his U.S. book tour for Stones into Schools. What follows is an edited transcript of that conversation:

Gen. Petraeus is a fan of "Three Cups of Tea" and has had you speak to the U.S. troops in Afghanistan. What have you said to them and do you find it odd that you’ve become a kind of unofficial advisor to the U.S. military in the region?

What I tell U.S. troops when I’ve spoken to them is that it’s critical to listen more to the local people, to be respectful of them — that Americans are there to serve the good people of Afghanistan, and that third, we need to build relationships with the people. It’s my contention that if you work with local people, you can go into the most volatile areas and be very successful, but you have to involve the community.

What needs to be done and which still is not being done is that we have to insist, as a nation, there be some kind of reciprocity, some kind of mutual payback from the Afghani communities being helped. So far, [congressional] legislation has contained money to the region but it doesn’t include the input of the local people on the ground and doesn’t insist on reciprocity, that the local people also must contribute and help contribute to the help they are getting from the outside.

Your latest book, Stones Into Schools, also about Afghanistan, just came out. Why did you write it?

Mainly because of our significant expansion into Afghanistan, and also because I’m in that country for half the year and I wanted my kids to know why their dad has been gone for half their childhood. But there is also a third reason I wrote it. After writing "Three Cups of Tea," I visited 120 cities, and everywhere I went, Americans expressed to me a yearning for global peace. I think it’s really important that we reach out and share that yearning that Americans have with the rest of the world.

Where did the title of your new book come from?

I’ve worked for 17 years in rural Afghanistan and Pakistan, and particularly in the tribal areas. In Afghanistan, there is what I call a warrior culture, and one of the things I’ve had the great honor to do is spend a lot of time with the mujahedeen, or the warriors. Some are shady and they have different backgrounds but there is a very common theme to the visits, and that’s where the title to my latest book comes from.

When you are visiting a mujahedeen, they will often invite you to their compound, and then, in the evening, they will sit you on the roof and as the swallows are flying around in the sky and you see the great panorama of the Hindu Kush, the premier mountain range in the region, sweeping before you. They will then serve you green tea and then start telling you war stories. And then they’ll ask, 'Do you see those boulders up there, the stones in the mountains? And then they’ll point out where their different skirmishes took place, and their battles, and then they’ll tell you that every one of those stones is a shahid, or a martyr, who died fighting the Taliban or the Russians or their other nemeses.

Now, they say, they must turn those stones into schools and make the sacrifices of their dead warriors worthwhile. You know, Afghanistan, for over two millennia, has been at the crossroads of civilization and has had different invading armies come and go, and the waxing and waning of empires. This is not my interpretation, but it’s how they perceive it — that they are a warrior culture and want now to make their war against ignorance. ...

There’s a saying the elders often repeat, and roughly translated, it’s that God created the world and it was good, and then he took the leftovers and threw them into a pile and cobbled the bits together and that became Afghanistan. When you hear that, it’s very sad, but at the same time, the Afghan people take great pride in knowing that it’s the last best place, the place where the bits and pieces have come together to become these very resilient and beautiful people.

President Obama’s decision to send 30,000 more troops into the region — will this help or hinder your efforts to educate Afghan civilians?

Our work will continue, regardless, because of our nonprofit’s relationships with the Afghani elders. I was quite angry that there were nine meetings held behind closed doors in secrecy between President Obama and several of our commanders and advisers in the run-up to the president’s decision this week to send in more troops; the one thing that was never considered in any of the factoring-in was: What do the Afghan elders, or the shura, want? I feel that they should have had at least 50 percent of the voice in those meetings with the president.

The only place where the shuras were able to have some say, at least a little bit, was in the dozens of meetings our nonprofit helped to organize and facilitate between the shura and Gen. McChrystal since the general was appointed in April. There have been probably 35 or so meetings between him and some 200 shura from many of the different rural areas in Afghanistan. Our nonprofit has done this all on its own; we don’t receive any federal money and we don’t have any agenda. We’ve done this primarily on behalf of the elders who really wanted to meet the generals, and the generals who wanted to meet the shura.

And who are the shura, specifically?

They are not elected. They’re pretty much people who have risen through the ranks of society in Afghanistan and are held in high esteem by the people locally. They’re successful businessmen or warriors or poets, and they are seen as being very wise and the real power in the country. And unfortunately, the Afghani government is fairly fragile and to some degree is also fairly corrupt, and so to the shura, it’s very humiliating and also very angering that nobody ever talked with them and asked them what their consensus is or how they feel about their own country.

I was able to sit in on some of these meetings, which would include Gen. McChrystal. One of the very strong points that came out in these meetings was that elders are very opposed to bombings. That’s their No. 1 complaint. The problem is that if you bomb, you kill civilians and if you do bomb, you need intelligence and the only way you can have good intelligence is to have more boots on the ground.

What other things did the shura say in those meetings?

I think our government has done a poor job telling the public that about a third to half of those troops Obama is sending over are trainer troops. Of the 22,000 troops announced in February, 8,000 of those are trainer troops — from the National Guard and reservists. They’re teachers and engineers, bankers, dentists, horticulturalists, civil engineers and veterans. And roughly about a third or more of the new 30,000 troops he is sending will be trainer troops.

This is in line with what the shura have been saying for years — that they don’t need firepower but brainpower. They say, 'We want you to help us out but we don’t need help to go fight the Taliban or to kill and capture al-Qaida, but we do need some help to get us on our feet again so if you want to send over some of your special soldiers, like veterinarians and doctors and dentists and nurses, we’d love to have those come over. But if you’re just going to send over troops for fighting, then we don’t want those, we don’t really need those troops.' That’s what the shura are telling McChrystal when I’ve heard him talking to them.

In Three Cups of Tea, I was actually fairly critical of the military. But now I think that, in many ways, they’re ahead of the State Department and our political leaders because they’ve been on the ground numerous times now. Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Maj. Gen. Eric Olson, the special forces commander, have — combined — been in Pakistan and Afghanistan 35 times in the last 14 months. Compare that with, for example, Hillary Clinton, who went over to Pakistan for a few hours last week. I’m hoping ultimately that all of the top military and American diplomatic and political leaders of will spend more time and get to know people and talk to them and listen to them more now going forward.

What else do you think Americans should know about Afghanistan?

Some of the things the elders will talk about that you don’t hear about in the public are, for example, that in 2000, there were 800,000 kids in school in Afghanistan, and this was during the height of the Taliban. The kids were nearly all boys. Today, there are 8.4 million children in school in Afghanistan, including 2.5 million females. So it’s the greatest increase in school enrollment in any country in modern history and the goal is 13 million. So what I’m saying is that there are some really good things happening in Afghanistan, as well. There’s also a central banking system now in Afghanistan that wasn’t there and which was put in in 2006. That’s had a huge impact on the country. There also is an Eisenhower-era road-building program so the roads are about 60 percent done.

...You can’t plug in a democracy; you have to build one. The real key is not only education but also land ownership. You go into the district courts now in Afghanistan and it’s mind-boggling how many women are going in and filing their titles for land ownership. I just try to tell people that yes, there are a lot of bad things happening and it’s very frightening but there are also some very amazing things going on and pretty much this all happened at a time when we put Afghanistan on the back seat. Just imagine what could happen if we devoted serious effort over the next two to four years to help the people of Afghanistan.

Gen. Petraeus has invited you to speak to troops on occasion. What do you say to them?

I visit about two dozen military bases a year and I also visit many of the senior commanders, and the first thing I tell the troops is, it’s imperative you put the elders in charge. The elders need to be affirmed that they are in charge. The second is, I say we need to spend more time listening and the third is we need to build relationships. I guess Gen. Petraeus could sum it up better than me, but he sent me an e-mail last year and he had read Three Cups of Tea, and he said there were three lessons from the book that he wanted to impart to his troops. No. 1, he said, we need to listen more; No. 2, we need to have respect, meaning we are there to serve the good people of Afghanistan; and No. 3, we need to build relationships. Three Cups of Tea now is mandatory reading for all senior U.S military commanders, and all special forces deploying to Afghanistan are required to read it.

How do you feel about that?

It’s pretty humbling, but having spent a lot of time now with the troops, I feel the troops are just like our brothers and sisters, just like us, nothing different. I also feel there’s tremendous dedication in the military. I can’t speak for Iraq, but I know Afghanistan. Many of the troops have volunteered to keep going back three or four times. I think that perhaps some of our best ambassadors, and those who ultimately will help bring the road for peace over there, will be our veterans who fought and served in Afghanistan. I also have tremendous admiration for the troops, soldiers who have this almost impossible task of trying to be warriors and diplomats and humanitarians simultaneously, and they’re trying the best they can to really do their job. It’s not easy.

I also think it’s a little hard sometimes because you hear the Western aid groups complaining, saying it’s not fair now how DOD is getting all the money and USAID and the other aid groups aren’t getting money. But you know, the aid groups refuse to go work in areas where they feel it isn’t secure, and my contention is if you work with local people, you can even go into the most volatile area where the Taliban are and be very successful with school projects but you have to involve the local community. And we can’t just be handing out money over there with no reciprocity or some type of input from the government or the provinces or the districts. These are cultures over there that expect to negotiate and barter. If you just go over there and start throwing money at people without asking anything of them in return, they think you’re kind of nuts.

I know it can be done, whether it’s at the micro or macro scale. It’s something we still have a hard time learning as Americans. It’s like tough love with your kids. You can tell them they can stay out late but you also have to tell them they need to clean their room first.

What more can you say about President Obama’s decision this week?

I’m glad there’s been a decision made. I still think it’s very unfortunate that the shura were never consulted and I do hope that as we move forward that they will be brought to the table and that their voices will be heard. I’m going to keep insisting on that. And I also feel that it’s been a great blessing to be able to help the shura meet with some of the U.S. military generals so that their voice is at least being heard by somebody.

But I also really admire the fact that President Obama says he’s open to dialogue with Iran and other countries, because I really think that the real road to peace is regional and involves Iran and Russia and the whole region. I’m also a ferocious believer that ultimately, education should be our top priority, especially girls’ education. We can drop bombs and hand out condoms and build roads or put in electricity but if we don’t educate girls, nothing will change in society.

What is your message to other philanthropists and social entrepreneurs in the region?

Listen, listen and listen even more. Often, when we Americans or Westerners have an idea and we want to go try to do something in other regions, I’ve found that in so many cases, people don’t listen to the people they’re serving. During the massive earthquake in Pakistan in 2005, for example, Americans sent tons of clothing over but most of the women burned it, using it instead for fuel. Most women simply wanted kerosene; I saw $200 tweed jackets from Manhattan being burned. Also, tens of thousands of tents were sent over to Pakistan and most of the tents were very expensive and highly implosive. Most people huddled together, five to 20 in a tent, and they had candles and kerosene lanterns and they burned outside the tents and hundreds of the tents imploded and hundreds of people died, and thousands were burned. But had anybody from the West asked them what they wanted, they would have said they could make their own tents out of canvas, and to send them canvas and sewing machines to make them.

I believe in putting local people in charge of things. Our staff at Pennies for Peace is a group I call the Dirty Dozen. A third of them are illiterate, most have very little educational background but they are willing to risk their lives, do anything, to promote education in the region. Three of our teachers are former Taliban. People in the United States gasp when I tell them this but these ex-Taliban are our biggest advocates, and we’ve learned from them how young men and boys can easily be turned around. The Taliban want these former members dead because they advocate education, but again, it always comes back that educated people are more independent.

I find it somewhat amazing how very nimble and small, poor organizations are able to exploit the lack of education very quickly and use ignorance to feed their own agenda. I think that’s why I feel that educating girls is so important. If you educate a boy, you educate an individual but if you educate a girl, you educate a whole community. There is a proverb in Afghanistan that, roughly translated, says that the ink of a scholar is holier than the blood of a martyr. And I believe that. Education is our greatest weapon.

By Marcia Stepanek

(Photographs: Girl students in Pakistan, top, and Mortenson with students in Afghanistan.)

(Courtesy Central Asia Institute)

(This post first appeared on msnbc.com, here, and appears here with permission)

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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The People's Lobby

From the folks who brought you "The Story of Stuff" a few years back comes a new video—just in time for the international climate talks set to convene in Copenhagen next week. Called The Story of Cap & Trade, the 9-minute, animated video was made in partnership with Climate Justice Now!—an alliance of more than 160 environmental organizations that want to give people outside congressional hearing rooms a thorough grounding on the approach that many international leaders are mulling as a way to reduce carbon emissions worldwide.

The filmakers' goal: an informed citizenry is one that can act/decide/challenge. And in this case? The film's backers want to crowd-source some public opposition, on the belief that complex "cap and trade" schemes create more political bluster than solution.

You may or may not agree or even like the video, but it will give you a better sense of one of the core issues to be discussed in Copenhagen. And at the very least? Story of Cap & Trade is just the latest example of a rising Web trend: viral "story briefing" videos about issues being put before governmental leaders to decide—a kind of 21st century lobbying technique that combines the power of stories with the vast reach of social networks wired to the Web.

Have a look:

The Story of Cap & Trade from Story of Stuff Project on Vimeo.

(Illustration by istock.com)

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