Friday, February 26, 2010

Oops, They Did It Again?

Here we go again. A corporate contest that uses social media to raise money and recognition for good causes is being cited for unfair meddling.

Last month, Chase Community Challenge got into trouble for allegedly disqualifying three nonprofits - Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Marijuana Policy Project, and an anti-abortion group, Justice for All -- over concerns it had about associating the Chase brand with their missions, even though the three organizations were among the favorites of those eligible to vote for them. [Chase also took a drubbing for failing to provide a clear leader board to let "do-good" groups keep tabs of the votes during the contest.]

Now it's Pepsi Refresh's turn to stumble. According to an article by philanthropy reporter Stephanie Strom that ran today in The New York Times, Pepsi Refresh -- which plans to give $20 million to good causes this year -- "accidentally gave a charity currently on top of its rankings a little boost by allowing it to submit some materials after its own submission deadline," Strom wrote. Materials submitted by the Joyful Heart Foundation, a charity founded by Law & Order star Mariska Hargitay to help victims of sexual assault, were updated after the submission deadline -- which is against the contest rules. This, Strom reported, "upset some of the contestants who wondered whether Pepsi was doing favors for a celebrity. 'I can't edit my own submission, so how did she do it?' said one who insisted on anonymity because he did not want to jeopardize his chances" of winning prize money.

Strom also quoted Jill Beraud, chief marketing office for the American beverages unit at Pepsi, as saying it was an honest mistake. "We didn't follow our guidelines to the letter," Beraud told Strom. "The bottom line is that we've learned from this and we're moving on." Beraud says Pepsi, as a result, will give away three $250,000 prizes this month instead of two as originally planned.

What is it about these corporate contests that makes it so hard for administrators to stop meddling over the outcomes? Transparency bites? Let us hear from you.

(Photo: Flickr)

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Apples and Oranges

There has been, for a while now, a spirited debate over whether philanthropy and social media-driven giving sites should have a place in social enterprise. The argument heated up again recently at a conference sponsored by New York University's Heyman Center on Philanthropy and Fundraising called "Charities on Trial."

There, New York Times philanthropy journalist Stephanie Strom questioned the blurring of lines in the social change space. Perhaps one of the most unsettling behavioral trends by today's philanthropy donors, Strom told conferees, is their growing willingness to funnel their tax-exempt dollars to support for-profit programs- and sometimes, at the expense of the nonprofit organizations they used to support."Newer forms of philanthropy," she said, "have been quick to promote the use of for-profit models for social good, and the case they make is persuasive. Why shouldn't GE get some sort of tax break for creating a system that better enables the management of health records, a system that would benefit nonprofit hospitals? ...When Citibank provides mortgage financing to low-income families, why shouldn't that portion of its operations be eligible for the same tax treatment as a local community loan bank gets?"

Trouble is, Strom told the NYU conference, some of the projects seeking funding on some of the new online giving sites -- such as Global Giving, for example -- are corporate programs. Donors making gifts to support those projects "are, effectively, underwriting corporate social responsibility," Strom says. "In other words, companies are using gifts for which a donor has received a tax deduction to finance their corporate philanthropy - something they used to have to fund out of their profit streams." Meanwhile, she says, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, among other private grantmakers, are starting to devote a small portion of some of their grants to partnerships with for-profit companies ranging from MTV to JPMorgan Chase and Merck.

Further, says Strom, donors are pushing charities to "look more like business" in their analysis and evaluation of their impact. "The demand for results that donors can understand arises every day, and it increases the challenge for fundraisers," Strom says. "The simple fact is that there’s a paucity of good, honest information about the impact nonprofits have and organizations today are going through enormous time, effort and expense to try to devise systems that will demonstrate their efficacy."

The problem, says Strom, is that many of these efforts also "blur the line between for-profit and nonprofit as fundraisers, consultants, and experts appropriate the language of business to try to explain what nonprofits achieve." For-profits, meanwhile, benefit from this new vocabulary, Strom said. There is a danger, she suggested, that this new language can sometimes be misleading to donors. "What is social investing if it’s not philanthropy?" Strom asked. "And is SASIX, the South African Social Investment Exchange, really a capital marketplace? Its Web site says SASIX makes 'carefully selected social development projects available as investment opportunities with a social return.' It sounds a lot like the materials I just got from Charles Schwab."

And there are other questions. Said Strom:

"A year or so ago, the IRS granted tax exemption to a small organization called Zeus Energy Movement. Its founder told me that he and his three partners had sought a tax exemption because they were finding it too difficult to tap into federal support to sustain their research on clean energy devices. ['One is a gadget that harnesses energy from sea waves. It's very interesting,' Strom says.] Their plan is to sell the patents they get on such devices to major energy companies as well as attract foundation grants to support research and development. The problem for me was understanding how Zeus was different from any one of the many small startup companies that my friend Richard, a venture capitalist, invests in. Richard invests his money in solar energy, wind energy, and water energy companies. He puts in the risk and hopes that the devices that his money is supporting will have widespread commercial value and produce a handsome return. Moreover, he pays taxes on those returns. Zeus doesn’t have to." (Is that fair?)

These and other questions will get debated again at this fall's Social Capital Markets conference, a place where investors in the business-for-good space are starting to converge. For the first time this year, there will be a Tactical Philanthropy track to look at how philanthropy is changing in response to the expansion in the types of groups and people now working for change. That track is being developed in partnership with Tactical Philanthropy, Sean Stannard-Stockton's philanthropic advisory services firm, which grew out of his blog of the same name.

What do you think? Does philanthropy have a place in social enterprise? Are new tax rules required to keep it all kosher? Where is collaboration needed? Let us hear from you.

-- Marcia Stepanek

[This piece first appeared on and appears here with permission.]
(Illustration by Ray Meyer for

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010


A widget unveiled by the Skoll Foundation's Social Edge today lets anyone search and add a real-time list of social entrepreneurs to their Web pages. The goal is to provide an exchange and transfer of information so as to avoid duplication in the "do-good" sector. "We want to help people find others in their field, specializing in their issue, or working in their geographical region so that they may learn from other business models, find new ways to collaborate and build coalitions for change," SE's announcement said.

The Social Entrepreneur API (application programming interface) is the first open database of information about social entrepreneurs who have won fellowships and awards from social enterprise funders. "It lets philanthropists, investors, press, and fellow entrepreneurs find leading social innovators based on keyword, location, cause area, population service and other factors," according to Social Actions, which convened the collaborating group and catalyzed the project with seed funding provided with a grant from the Peery Foundation.

The database was created by funders who have come together to pool their information on the social entrepreneurs they've vetted. Emerging social entrepreneurs can use it to find others in the field and vetted social entrepreneurs can benefit from increased exposure to themselves and their work.

Joining the Skoll Foundation in the effort are Social Actions, Civic Ventures (sponsor of The Purpose Prize), PopTech, The Draper Richards Foundation, and The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship.

What do you think? Will this help to make the fledgling social enterprise sector less fragmented and more collaborative? How good is the potential for this to exclude more people than it promotes?

(Illustration by Miroslaw Pieprzyk)

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Roundtable: Does Giving Sell?

(Clockwise from top left: Ellen Goldberg Luger, VP of General Mills, Inc. and Executive Director of the General Mills Foundation; Libby Archell, Director of Global Volunteering for Alcoa Inc.; Wendy Ramage Hawkins, Executive Director of the Intel Foundation, and Stacey Cooper, VP of Community Development Banking at Capital One. PHOTOS: Dan Demetriad)

I sat down early yesterday morning -- on Corporate Philanthropy Day -- at the New York Stock Exchange with the top giving executives of Alcoa, General Mills, Intel, and Capital One Bank. We talked a bit about the latest philanthropy trends in the corporate sector and how critical it's getting to try proving impact. It's a challenge that companies now share with nonprofits.

According to the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy, a group of business CEOs convened by the late actor Paul Newman to push corporations to give more, less than 1 percent of corporate profits go to charity and philanthropy. Amid public polls showing higher-than-ever public distrust of corporations, the CECP is urging member companies (including those represented by these four women) to start measuring the impact of their giving. It's not enough to say they're making a difference, the CECP says. Better to prove it, so as to be more credible and strategic about their programs.

What follows is an edited transcript of that conversation:

Jean-Paul Garnier, on the CECP board and the CEO of GlaxoSmithKline, told me in a 2008 interview that "public trust has gone down, and in a way, philanthropy gets us on the right side of the ledger." Public trust in corporations is even lower today than it was two years ago and corporate giving is still stuck at under 1 percent of profits. How much can measuring impact help to boost the public's perception of corporate citizenship?

LUGAR: Quite a bit. But just as significantly, measuring impact also helps companies internally. The (CECP's) initiative here is also about helping more corporate giving professionals prove the strategic importance of their work to their corporate boards. ...Many (corporate giving professionals) cite measurement as their primary management challenge and this will help to give those engaged in this work in this sector an exciting new opportunity to identify the most promising steps forward.

ARCHELL: Let me add to that. This is about doing more to align the work of the foundation with the business. We're seeing this evolving. There is now an expectation from the company that its foundation will start applying the metrics and rigor to what it gives, to see that what we're funding is, indeed, having an impact -- and if it's not, then making sure we start shifting our focus to giving areas that will.

That less-than-1-percent spending figure isn't changing, but some companies are pushing harder to develop their corporate volunteer programs -- engaging employees already keen to give to do it on the job, under the corporate brand. This has obvious marketing benefits for companies, as well as benefits for the community. It also tends to be a good retention and recruitment tool for some companies.

ARCHELL: In 2006, we had 12 percent of our employees volunteering. Last year, engagement was up to 37 percent. Anecdotally, Generation Y is much more socially-minded and interested in working at companies that have reputations for innovative giving programs. Volunteerism is something that is also seen as going beyond 'checkbook philanthropy.' Beyond that, we're also becoming more strategic about the philanthropy we do engage in. For the past year, we've been refocusing our efforts within the context of the downward trend in the external environment, developing a series of programs in the manufacturing belt, for example, to help people firm up and update a shakiness in skills.

HAWKINS: We support what our employees are doing, whether matching time or money, and that comes to about $20 million a year. Another $80 million goes into direct philanthropy, and almost all of that is in the form of funding for better education. (Our employee matching program) is a very popular program, here and around the world -- so popular that it nearly blew us away last year (laughter). This is part of a trend, but also the realization that the full extent of what we are as a corporation is not just about philanthropic dollars, but also time, the energy of our employees, the pro bono help we can offer to those who need it, and the targeting of our in-kind giving -- even the production of some products from the start that are made specifically for people tackling solutions to social problems. Corporate philanthropy today is all of those things together.

LUGAR: At General Mills, 82 percent of our employees volunteer. The other place where our board and corporate boards in general now want to know, is, 'What's the sweet spot for General Mills regarding our philanthropy? How does it connect with business strategy?' So we now focus a lot of our work on hunger and empowering women through working with CARE and other nonprofits and programs, investing in agriculture in Africa, and now China, and we're also using many of our R&D employees to help transfer their technical skills to help.

We've heard of "greenwashing" -- the term used to describe efforts by companies to dispel criticism of their environmental policies by touting green initiatives but falling short when it comes time to deliver. Another term is gaining currency -- "cause-washing." As the directors of corporate giving arms, it's a tough sell out there. How do you meet this challenge?

ARCHELL: Any initiative that encourages companies to start measuring their philanthropic impact on a community is really welcome in that regard. I think all the programs we're running are having a significant impact, of course. But it's one thing for me to say it and another to have the metrics to prove it. We have a stronger story to tell if the people we're helping can talk about how we made a difference in terms that everyone can understand.

LUGAR: The field is looking for more accountability, so the CECP's initiative is being very well-received so far by corporations that have been trying to explain more precisely the impact, or even to convince the board that more such activity can "pay." ... Corporate boards want to see ROI and this initiative gives those of us working in (corporate foundations) new impetus to go after the kind of projects that can be measured ... and to be more strategic about focusing our time and money.

HAWKINS: We're a company of engineers and so we love to measure. (laughter) ... Corporate foundations are one of the ways by which the corporation engages with the outside world. We're active in education, so one of the first things we did as a foundation was develop a tool with which to train teachers how to use technology, because they were saying they were afraid of technology and of the students. So now we've trained 7.5 million teachers around the world, and out of that initiative, which began purely as a philanthropic initiative, the company is now looking around and saying there's a market out there, and it's developed an entire branch (of the company) that focuses on education and technology, triggered largely by the experience of philanthropic engagement in this community. I think we're going to be seeing more of this type of thing, where philanthropic engagement leads to new products and new forms of engagement with the communities we serve (commercially).

Pepsi Refresh is one of the first social media experiments in the sector aimed at boosting public-private collaboration around philanthropy. How is the Web changing your company's approaches to giving?

HAWKINS: We live and breathe technology because of who we are. We are using social networking to supplement many of our programs and to engage the public and advocate for the things we care about. We also have a lot of student competition programs in science and technology; we are engaging in a lot of online contests, dialogues, mentoring programs and judging. The Intel-Berkeley Technology Entrepreneurship Challenge is all about supporting entrepreneurship and innovation. At our science competitions, kids show up with patents or patents pending. It's in the water in which we swim.

ARCHELL: We've been watching this space for a while, and we're launching a new partnership with the EarthWatch Institute, working with them to place environmental experts and teachers into the field in various parts of the world -- Kenya and South America -- and we will be having them report back, live, via the Web into suburban classrooms about environmental sustainability. This is about giving kids exposure to places they could not travel to themselves, and we look forward to developing this further.

LUGAR: We just launched an online community partnership with CARE that's called Join My Village. General Mills is focused on hunger as a cause. This online project with CARE works with 75 African villages; women in this country, families, anyone can go onto the Web site, 'join' the village and hear the stories of the women who live there, and then contribute in a personal way to those villages, to help those women achieve their dreams. Social media used in this way, either alone or partnering with a nonprofit, can empower women and help us work on hunger issues in Africa.

COOPER: We have bank branches run by students as part of our community programs, and clearly, media coverage about our activities can be a powerful incentive, and so we are trying to actively get the story out there, using traditional media and new media, letting kids themselves tell the stories about how their volunteer work is helping people and changing their lives. Are there more such stories that need to be told? I believe there are and technology can help.

All four of you happen to be women; is this a fluke or are the majority of people leading corporate philanthropy arms these days women?

HAWKINS: I do see that women seem to be more present (in corporate foundations) but there is an opportunity for women to come in at the leadership role. Often women have tended to be more present at the staff level of some of these foundations and even today, I'd say that corporations could do more in terms of hiring women as top leaders of their philanthropic operations. There's no question about what's going on at my company -- I'm a woman -- but around the table, I often see men brought in from outside to lead foundations where much of the work has been done by women.

-- Marcia Stepanek

PHOTOS: Dan Demetriad

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

School's Out

There’s an emerging set of young social entrepreneurs in the philanthropic world who are combining their talents, social networks, and passion for education reform to "shock the system" by creating a non-profit startup incubator called Startl.

This first-of-its-kind social innovation hub for education is being backed by some of the best-known foundations, including Gates, Hewlett, and MacArthur, and has garnered support from DreamITVentures, IDEO and investment bankers Berkeley & Noyes, among others. New forms of seed funding resources for social startups are being created across the social change sector in recent months, but this is the first that both focuses on single-issue change communities and offers technology app design boot camps as well as accelerator programs to teach entrepreneurs how to start sector-specific businesses.

Cofounder Phoenix Wang says the venture is setting out to build a community for young social entrepreneurs who want to revolutionize the education system "but have nowhere to go" to raise funds, share ideas, and collaborate for change.

Wang says Startl was hatched 18 months ago during a conversation among young innovators at various foundations who wanted to find a way to fill that gap."We're a group of foundations that got together to start thinking about the failure of a lot of interesting learning products that have had great potential but never make it to scale," Wang told Fast Company in a recent interview. A lot of young entrepreneurs "really want to change education in fundamental ways." Wang told FC writer Amy Kamenetz that "it's about money but it's also about the networks, expertise, cultivation, and insights to figure out how to be a good entrepreneur."

Wang says it's time to set up innovation hubs for social change, given the powerful pressure that technology is putting on many of the nation's outmoded schools and the fact that the costs of developing education technology are coming down. But most powerfully, she says, it's a cultural shift that must be addressed in today's schools. Wang says that today's new generations of kids don't want to be told what to learn. "They expect they should be able to have control over how they learn, what they learn and where they do it, as co-collaborators."

What do you think? Is there a collaboration example in Startl that should apply to more forms of social enterprise? Is it time to set up innovation hubs for all types of individual issues or sectors ripe for social change? Are issues-themed social hubs the right way to go to better channel and more realistically fund innovation or could they end up excluding more would-be innovators than including them? What are the drawbacks?

-- Marcia Stepanek

(Illustration by

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Gates Goes Green

At this year's TED2010 conference in Long Beach, Calif., Microsoft Founder and Philanthropist Bill Gates took on a new topic: energy and climate change—in part to explain his position amid a surge in requests for his foundation to fund green projects.

In this Feb. 12 talk, released today by TED organizers, Gates unveils his vision for the world's energy future, describing the need for "miracles" to avoid global catastrophe and explaining why he's backing a dramatically different type of nuclear reactor. The goal, he says: zero carbon emissions by 2050.

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Crowd Cash: GrowVC

There's a new start-up funding model -- Grow VC -- that's catching a fair share of viral buzz this week in the social enterprise space. Earlier this year, I named collaboration as one of the megatrends that would shape the social enterprise field this year. Grow VC, what some are already calling the "Kiva for social enterprise investment," is launching to disrupt the Silicon Valley stranglehold on new-business funding. Its goal: to crowdsource seed money for very new Web and mobile start-ups -- and chiefly in Europe and Asia.

The Hong Kong-based Grow VC creates a members-only Web community of start-ups, experts and funders. Each of these account types has a different set of features attached to it. Start-ups apply for funding from the funders; experts are service providers such as consultants and lawyers to help entrepreneurs be successful.

The platform pools 75 percent of all paid fees into a community fund that it manages but lets members determine which start-ups are most promising for investment. Members who are best at targeting the most successful companies get the biggest financial rewards when the fund starts earning a return on its investment; if a start-up fails and there is no ROI, the community fund covers its own losses. Subscriptions to the platform range from $20 to $140 a month, depending on how much money the start-up is seeking; the fund focuses on start-ups that need seed funding of between $10,000 and $1 million.

"We created Grow VC because nowadays, VCs tend to focus on more mature companies and friends and family networks and local business angels are not a solution for everyone and don't always support international business is the best way," says founder Valto Loikkanen, of Helsinki, Finland, who also is the Chairman of the Startup Commons Association, a nonprofit group that works to make start-up funding more cost-effective globally. "We created Grow VC to help new start-ups bridge that gap in seed funding, knowing there isn't as much supply for this kind of funding as there is need."

Grow VC, which formed in 2008 and has been fine-tuning its model since, isn't the only crowdsourced funding platform; TheFunded,, and others also aim to tap online communities for micro-funding as a way to end-run the dearth of seed-funding of new tech start-ups outside of Silicon Valley. But Grow VC says it offers the broadest array of community features yet, including a members leaderboard, access to experts, and introductions to entrepreneurs with common challenges and interests.

The upside to crowdsourced start-up funding? Such Web platforms expose more people to the goals of new social enterprises while exposing the start-up to the wisdom and guidance of an expert crowd. The potential danger of such models is that they could turn the push for seed funding into a popularity contest, giving an advantage to savvy marketing and already well-funded, low-risk ideas at the expense of bold [and more needed] innovation.

What do you think? Can crowdsourced funding models offer what others can't to spur innovation and seed capital?

-- Marcia Stepanek

(Illustration by Cyro Pintos, Uruguay)
(This first posted on and appears here with permission)

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Are 'Charities' Becoming Obsolete?

People have been asking for a while now whether there are too many charities—either too many focused on accomplishing the same things, or too few able to prove social impact.

But now, as the nonprofit charity sector enters its third year of steep declines in donor dollars, a new question is dominating the conversation: are traditional, middleman charities—whose purpose has been to raise money for various causes and spend it as their boards see fit—becoming obsolete?

To be sure, Establishment charities aren't just struggling for new dollars in this recession. They're also scrambling to regain credibility amid years of chronic waste, fraud and abuse dogging the sector. Traditional charities also are being pushed hard, to reinvent themselves amid new competition from Web-spurred advocacy networks and the rise of new "sector-agnostic" mass activism initiatives, including new social enterprises. For some time now, philanthropy thought leaders have predicted that unless traditional charities fundamentally reinvent themselves as aggregators and issues experts—and retool their funding models—they could die trying.

The signs of a massive charity shakeout are already under way. Donor trust continues to slide, according to recent survey data, and donations are down, government funding is falling and traditional nonprofits—from arts councils to food banks—are locked in painful restructuring, including mergers, acquisitions, collaborations, cutbacks, and closings. Industry estimates suggest a 30 percent rise in merger activity among nonprofits since this time a year ago, and rising.

But it's not just about the money. Indeed, today's nonprofit charity squeeze is being driven by multiple factors, not the least being the Web. Many charities still are hard-pressed to innovate using the Web, and it continues to spur wide-scale disintermediation; roles are being redefined, like it or not, in a world where it is now possible (and preferable in many cases) for supporters to "give direct"—with or without charities to guide them.

Today's charity squeeze also is a wake-up call around today's ever-more urgent need to prove impact. According to New York University public service professor Paul Light, "there have been very many niche nonprofits devoted to small slices of a problem and they have needed to be merged." Light has, for years, suggested that chronic waste and fraud has done much to weaken donor trust, and says that much of today's new thinking around the need for cross-sector approaches to social change is really an effort to "clean the slate and start over."

Also fueling the death of traditional middleman charities? The rise of social enterprises, and the rivalry they pose for some charities competing for donor mindshare and private dollars. New corporate forms and models that recognize social businesses (such as L3Cs and B Corporations); new calls for tax credits to social businesses, and new types of mission-related investing models and impact investing initiatives also are end-running traditional charities in the rush for innovation and impact.

Some sector leaders, including consultant Lucy Bernholz, are calling for the creation of industry-wise alliances to coordinate the efforts of social change efforts across the board; Bernholz and others have been expressing renewed concern about the viability of the traditional nonprofit charity model in an era where giving silos between businesses, nonprofits, and other social-change advocates are rapidly disintegrating.

What do you think? Is the traditional charity dead or dying? Is the fragmentation of the giving sector a good or bad thing for those in need of limited resources? Will current economic and technology trends force the demise of the financially weakest charities, regardless of what they do or do not offer to society? Let us hear from you.

—Marcia Stepanek

(Illustration by
(This was first posted on and appears here with permission)

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Slow Valentines

Think hand-made Valentine's are old-fashioned—not to mention obsolete? Guess again. Here, in honor of Valentine's Day, are just a few of Canadian designer Marian Bantjes' latest creations, made for her friends. Want to see all 150? Click here.

Bantjes, one of the speakers at this year's TED Conference in Long Beach, Calif., spoke Friday about the value of time well-spent and urged conferees to "find the worthwhile." She said: "Ask 'Who is it for, what does it say and what does it do?'"

For more on Bantjes, here's a video profile by Adobe TV and AIGA San Francisco:

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Friday, February 12, 2010

Jamie Oliver's War

'Tis the season of TED, that grand-daddy of social change fests, and yesterday, organizers formally awarded a young British chef and social entrepreneur their prestigious TED Prize, an honor conferred annually to someone with a big dream and the organizational management chops to pull it off, at least a bit.

This year, conferees chose to give the Prize's $100,000 cash award to Jamie Oliver, a 34-year-old host of the British TV hit, The Naked Chef. Oliver told TED-goers he will use the money to start a movement and social change enterprise to fight childhood obesity. It's a problem, he says, that will -- for the first time in history -- give today's children a shorter life span than their parents.

Oliver, the son of pub managers in Calvering, Essex, England, and a high-school dropout who parlayed his entrepreneurial skills into a best-selling cookbook and TV show in Britain, told conferees he wished for "a complete overhaul" of the American food system, saying processed food and industrialized agriculture are giving Americans poor choices, if any, of what to eat, decreasing their lives, and causing health-care costs to spin out of control. "This is a global catastrophe," he said in a passionate, 18-minute TED speech (see below) that has become the buzz and must-see of the conference this year.

"[Childhood obesity] is sweeping the world -- China, India, Britain, Japan, the United States--everywhere," he said. "And in America, obesity costs Americans $150 billion per year. In 10 years, it's set to double, and let's be honest, guys. You can't afford it."

Oliver called on conferees to help him raise awareness and start a global movement to stop the food industry from "taking advantage of people." Obesity, he says, doesn't just hurt those who are overweight, but also hurts their families and the communities around them. Further, the food industry -- from restaurants to agribusiness -- "needs to be stopped." Portion sizes are massive, he said, and food labeling "is a disgrace. The industry wants to self-police itself but how can people say something is low-fat when it's filled with sugar?"

"...My wish is to have a strong, sustainable movement to education every child about food, to inspire families to cook again and empower people everywhere to fight obesity," Oliver told the TED gathering in Long Beach, Calif. "England is right behind you, America. We need a revolution."

Oliver says he will use his prize money to: establish a good-nutrition foundation with funding, office space and facilities; find partners to create a traveling food theater troupe to teach kids about better eating; produce teaching materials on healthy eating for use in public schools across the country; build a Web site and social media campaigns to build an international movement to fight global good giants for healthier food, and start an "honest labeling" campaign to better alert consumers of what is in the food they're buying.

And that's just for starters. Oliver, who begins a program for ABC-TV in March called Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, first caught the eye of TED conference organizers with his "Feed Me Better" campaign in the U.K. in 2005 to improve school lunches, during which Oliver presented a petition with more than 270,000 signatures to the prime minister's residence, calling for healthier diets for children and young adults. As a result, the British government also pledged to address the issue. Oliver's TV show will follow him to Huntington, W. Va., deemed the unhealthiest town in America for its high rates of food-related illnesses and deaths.

What do you think? Can one social entrepreneur create a global food revolution?

Here's Oliver's speech from TED:

(Photo, top, by Dave Sucsy for

-- Marcia Stepanek

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Saturday, February 6, 2010

Radical Shock

Make no mistake: the privacy debate is hotter than ever. The recent uproar over Facebook’s new Terms of Service – and then, even more recently, Twitter’s new service terms – is all about privacy, says privacy scholar Helen Nissenbaum. The Internet, she says, has introduced a "radical shock" to our notions of privacy in society, disrupting our long-held distinctions between what is private and what is not.

But what do people mean in today's world of YouTube and Facebook and email when they say their privacy has been violated? They don't care so much that their personal information has been shared, Nissenbaum says—but whether it's been shared appropriately. That's why personal information, she says, ought to be distributed and protected according to social context—what’s appropriate, say, in the workplace, or a medical clinic, or a social network, or a school, or among family and friends.

Today’s privacy policies and rules are not nuanced enough, Nissenbaum says. We've got “one size fits all” protections that either go too far by ignoring these distinctions or fail to go far enough.

“The rapid adoption and infiltration of digital information technologies into virtually all aspects of life, to my mind, have resulted in a schism — many schisms — between our experience of and expectations for privacy today,” says Nissenbaum, the author of the just-published Privacy in Context: Technology, Policy, and the Integrity of Social Life. These gaps, she says, are producing in society “a kind of radical shock, and we need some new ways to talk about privacy.”

I caught up with Nissenbaum earlier this week at her NYU office just off Manhattan’s Washington Square. She is an associate professor in NYU’s Department of Culture and Communication and a Senior Fellow of the NYU Information Law Institute. What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation:

Last week in Davos, social media company CEOs met at the World Economic Forum to talk about the impact of social networks like Facebook and MySpace on society. Reid Hoffman, the LinkedIn CEO, told the group that “all these concerns about privacy tend to be old people’s issues.” He said the value of being connected and transparent is so great, that privacy is not so much a concern any more. What do you think? Is it an “old people’s issue?”

Nissenbaum: [Laughs.] Reid, actually, was one of my students at Stanford, years ago. But no, I totally disagree with those kinds of critiques that say young people don’t care about privacy. Some people say privacy involves withholding information or is the right to control information. But when I see people getting into a flap over privacy, I don’t think that’s what they’re really after. People want to share information; what they care about is the appropriate flow of information. They want the right information to go to the right people and under the right circumstances. They want this “contextual integrity” for the information going around about them. Everybody is interested in privacy under that definition.

Teenagers yell if their parents read their diaries; I have 18- and 20-year-olds in college coming to me all the time, saying, “Oh my god, my 12-year-old sister wants to friend me on Facebook! That’s awful.” I think these are all expressions of a desire for privacy. A number of years ago, at Princeton, where I used to work, I had an alumni event, with an audience of all different ages. I asked those assembled, “How would you feel if you were in a job interview and as a condition of that, you had to yield your medical records?” There was a huge difference in the responses. Older people were much more indignant about that request but many of the younger people said they wouldn’t mind. Does that mean they don’t care about privacy?

You say that individuals shouldn’t be able to control the flow of information.

That’s right. The nuts-and-bolts of my theory says that privacy depends on the social context of information being shared and what’s appropriate for those contexts. Right now, we take information and divvy it up into public information and private information, sensitive or non-sensitive – and then have two different ways of dealing with it. I think that’s problematic. People then get all wrapped up in knots trying to figure out if their IP address is personal or not. I know the EU is struggling with questions like these right now, and it’s a non-starter. Privacy isn’t ‘one-size-fits-all.’

We really need to be much more nuanced and descriptive, and to open ourselves up to the diversity of categories of all types of information and the range of social contexts for that information – and then act appropriately in each situation.

You and I are in structured situation at the moment. I know, more or less, what you expect of me in this interview and you know what I expect of you. These things are governed by social norms. So much of what privacy is depends on the nature of the information at issue and what our roles are as individuals within a certain social context. And then there’s something called the constraints on the flow of information. You could check out my Web site, for example. And then you could ask a whole lot of people to give you some information about me. And then you could go to ChoicePoint and pay them to write up a whole long report on me. In each of these cases, the way you’re getting information about me is governed by certain information flows and different constraints on the flow of that information. You could ask me some questions directly about myself, and I could choose not to answer some of those questions.

So there are circumstances in which people should control the information about them. But in other instances, this may not be appropriate. Let’s say you’re under investigation for having committed a murder and the police are investigating you, and they want to find out where you were on Friday night at 8 p.m. They may ask you, but ultimately, they must — behind your back — verify where you were at that time. And in this society, we’re not going to allow you to control that piece of information. We want the police to actually ferret out that information by any means. Nobody would say the police violated your privacy in this case, because we understand their need to get it independently of you. I think it’s intuitive.

Why did you write this book?

Too much time has been wasted deciding whether this or that piece of information – or this or that place – is private or public. What people really care about is whether information is shared appropriately, within the social context of any given situation.

You say some of this is intuitive. But do we need a set of rules that would lead to public policies that could more intelligently codify these distinctions – to honor what you call this “contextual integrity” of information?

Yes and no. We depend on entrenched social norms for guidance, so there are a lot of people who know already what should be public and private, particularly in the realms of the family. In the workplace, on the other hand, we need to be told what the rules are, and this is where information technology has been a radical shock. There, it’s not good enough just to have implicit behavioral norms, like those which tell you how you should behave at a cocktail party. If you screw up there, it’s not so terrible. But if you’re a doctor, it’s probably a good idea to be required to write down what your responsibilities are when it comes to somebody else’s information.

What is contextual integrity – the theory you put forward in this book?

There are two parts to it. The first asks us to identify the places where people are getting freaked out about information flow and privacy issues and recognize the kinds of challenges that we’re confronting with technology. And then, the second part, is the moral part of the theory that says that not all change is bad. The first part says here’s how we recognize the nature of the change on our expectations about the flow of information. The second part says look, we have much better medical monitoring devices and using them, we can now save lives, so that’s fabulous.

There are a lot of ways that we’re being monitored that are good and all to our benefit, and there are other ways that aren’t so great. Information that previously was available to your doctor is now being made available to entire consortiums of research institutions and insurance companies and so forth. We need to map these flows and how they’re changing. We need a way of looking at what types of information flows are appropriate so that we can start talking as a society about what works and what doesn’t – or what should. We need to be talking about all of this more intelligently.

Why now?

There are now things we can do with technology that we couldn’t do before – but that we, as a society, never really stopped to think about whether we should.

When suddenly we become confronted with something like Google Street View, we now have the possibility of surveillance cameras, if you will. Back in the day, it was considered okay if I saw you, so long as you could see me. But now, with Street View, we now have a surveillance image that gets posted on the Web and suddenly, this completely challenges our expectations of how some information flows, and is supposed to flow. Suddenly, there are people who can view you and you have no clue.

So my theory of contextual integrity really pushes for society to map out these technology changes, these points of radical shock where suddenly, information flows in highly unexpected ways and it challenges us. We freak out because it’s so unexpected. And no matter what you say about being in a public place so you should have no expectations, the truth is that you do have expectations – because that’s how life and (information) flow were governed for years and years. My book seeks to acknowledge the changes that information technology brings to our expectations, characterize the changes, and then advocate for us all to get on to discussing whether these changes are good or bad. Who are the winners and losers? Can we regulate the flow of information, or should we?

I mean, first you recognize the changes – such as the massive databases that can be aggregated from distinct sources, and then be used to mine different kinds of information and create profiles that can be used to make decisions about an individual. These are the types of radical, unexpected shifts in the flow of information that my theory seeks to address.

Hasn’t the legal environment been able to help add clarity to some of this already?

U.S. law has been heavily critiqued because it’s sectoral; it’s based on different sectors. You have, for example, financial privacy and communications privacy and video privacy, and so forth. People have said this is problematic, but I think the U.S. approach has merit because it has in mind particular contexts in which the information flow is occurring. I’m not saying that U.S. law is perfect: Choicepoint and Lexis-Nexis, for example, are out of control and highly problematic because they bring information from all different kinds of places, take it out of context and fail to respect the norms out of which it was shared with other actors – and then make that information available in contexts and under constraints that are inappropriate. This is an area in which the law, hopefully, will catch up. But I think we can do better.

It’s not hopeless. When the FTC, for example, was asked to create privacy rules for the financial industry, I think they did a pretty good job because they were able to focus on very specific types of information relevant to different contexts. For instance, there was an argument about whether your name and address, shown above the line in a credit report, should be public. Credit companies argued that it should be because it’s not financial information. But the FTC said it should be private, because it appears in the context of a financial action. The FTC went to court over it and won, and I thought that was fabulous. When laws are made correctly – with information flows and social contexts in mind – I think it could serve us all well.

Wouldn’t this all be easier if we simply put limits on what data could be archived, an approach raised by Viktor Mayer-Schonberger in his recent book, Delete? Should all the information about us be allowed to exist in digital perpetuity?

I do think information should be deleted, but again, to argue for deletion, you could say even that is a sort of arbitrary move. To restrict access to information may, in some cases, require deletion but the word that a lot of legal scholars use is that we’d want to tailor that deletion appropriately. There may be some instances where we decide there’s a whole lot of information being kept somewhere that should just be wiped out. But we want those constraints to be subject to the specific individuals and the context of given situations.

Some of the new mobile devices – from PDAs to the new iPad — are creating completely new contexts for the flow of personal information. Does the mapping of real-time, geographically-specific behaviors demand a new definition of privacy?

There’s an interesting re-configuration going on about what we think of as social space. People see their social space differently as a result of social networks and location-aware devices. I think we’re just now being forced to confront the question of geo-location. It’s now becoming a new aspect of information available about people that’s going to force us to start asking these same sets of questions around.

On Foursquare, for example, some people feel that by playing, they’ve already given their implicit permission to give up their personal information.

Nonsense. I think that before we start going around saying that anything is implicit in this way, we ought to explore whether it should be. What should the rules be? If you had to sit down and read every privacy policy on the Web or for every device that you bought, it would take you – and I’m making this up – two and half years, right? [Laughter] Ultimately, a lot of great work in privacy has been written about constraining the flow of information one way or another. But what I want to add to the mix of our discussion about privacy in society is the notion that we have to look at the contexts, themselves, to determine what’s appropriate, and under which circumstances. Thinking about privacy in this way leads us to ask much bigger questions.

I like working with computer scientists. Together with them, I’ve created a bit of subversive software, such as TrackMeNot, which is committed to privacy in Web search terms.

We’ve also created something called Adnostic, which is supposed to help against online behavioral targeting. And there’s another project we’re working on about court records and placing them online in certain circumstances.

So many of our questions about privacy and what’s appropriate when we’re creating this software takes us back and forces us to ask what are the functions of our institutions in society. Because of technology’s challenge to previous flows of personal information, we find ourselves almost having to go back to these first principles, even saying, what are the purposes of the court? What are records? That sort of thing.

For example, with the courts, if you don’t take care and dump everything onto the Web, including the names and addresses of jurors, for example, maybe the next time you get asked to serve on a jury, you will struggle hard to avoid it, and that won’t promote the values of the court. It will make the courts function worse, forcing us to reach back all the way to consider the roles of the institutions, themselves.

Very delicate considerations need to be embedded in these technologies.

Where has technology changed the traditional flow of information most radically, to what you refer to as “shock status?”

One is in monitoring and tracking. This isn’t visual anymore. It’s online and it can happen when you’re interacting with your supermarket. Second is this arena of aggregating information and analyzing it. It’s all behind-the-scenes and it’s driving a lot of the monitoring, so people are not so obviously aware of it. Sometimes, some little surprising thing happens and you think, hmmmm, I wonder how they knew that? And then, if you’re thoughtful, you realize that somebody has a database somewhere. But it’s not in your face.

Third, there’s the worry about communications and media because this is not just about information that sits in a database somewhere. It’s about distribution. This is Twitter and Facebook and blogs and email. In information science, this whole notion of aggregating information from different sources and then using it to profile people – to see if they’re terrorists or good mortgage prospects – it’s very cutting-edge stuff, involving statistical techniques and operations research. But here’s the problem. It’s not directly experienced except in the ways your bank will reply to you.

Are you hopeful about the future of privacy?

My hope level is in constant flux. When I think of the vast back end of information aggregators interacting directly and indirectly with personal information, such as Google, Choicepoint, ISPs, government agencies, and financial conglomerates, I fear the worst. I worry that the landscape of incentives will swamp just about any moral consideration we might bring to bear. At the same time, I’m buoyed by the growth in size and quality of privacy scholarship and practice, the guile, brilliance, and insubordination of computer hackers and NGO players. And sometimes, watershed events can be enormously important; grim as it is, the Google/China debacle may turn a few heads.

-- Marcia Stepanek

[Editor's Note: This interview was originally published on and is being reposted here with permission]

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Wednesday, February 3, 2010


Social change advocates have long dreamed of a day when corporate rivals might be able to collaborate, legally, to share some of their smartest ideas to fight social problems.

Sound pie-in-the-sky? Maybe so. But if GreenXchange gets off the ground, it would be a first big step in that direction. Launched last week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, GreenXchange (GX) is being spearheaded by 10 companies and social enterprises, including Nike, Best Buy, and Creative Commons, the San Francisco nonprofit that works to expand the range of creative works available for others to build upon legally and to share. GreenXchange's seven other backers include Yahoo!, IDEO, Mountain Equipment Co-op,, 2degrees, the Outdoor Industry Association, and nGenera, a corporate strategy think tank.

GreenXchange is groundbreaking in that it would enable companies working to protect the environment to share their research -- legally -- for social good and mutual profit, and at a time when businesses everywhere are allocating larger shares of their investment dollars to social innovation.

Skeptical? To be sure, while rival companies in the same market may not want to share the research and patents they have, companies in different fields may benefit from that very same research without posing a competitive threat to each other.

Let's say, for example, that Nike has done extensive research on how to maximize the efficiency of air pressure in sneaker design. Why shouldn't a company that makes truck tires apply that patent in a way that creates a more eco-friendly product and doesn't harm Nike's sales? Nike would be able to draw up a contract letting the tire company take a peek at its patents in this area, but decide to exclude other sneaker makers.

Or, consider other examples. How about letting several companies that make sneakers team up to create a more eco-friendly shoebox that will benefit the entire sneaker industry? [Participants on any one project will be bound by contracts spelling out access and profit issues, among others.]

This type of collaboration is what GreenXchange has in mind, and backers hope to catalyze the concept of "innovation communities" within and across industries. The benefit: to know what knowledge is missing and where breakthroughs are already occurring. As more patents are added to the pool, backers say, the exchange could be used more widely for social innovation across multiple sectors.

For starters, GreenXchange backers are focused on the environment. "GreenXchange is all about using social networks and collaborative platforms ... as part of new thinking about open innovation and competitive strategies," says Don Tapscott, the chairman of the think tank nGenera Insight, an Adjunct Professor of the Rotman School of Management, and one of the catalysts behind GreenXchange.

To get things started, Nike has committed to placing more than 400 of its patents into the commons for research. Mark Parker, Nike president and CEO, acknowledged that at first, Nike's lawyers opposed the Xchange, "but they've come around, seeing that this could bring competitive advantage." Indeed, any improvements made to its patents will be available to Nike, Parker says. John Wilbanks, VP for Science at Creative Commons, says his interest in the concept is being fueled by a desire to end widespread duplication of effort and "wasted resources" by companies working on sustainability. "We need to make it easier for individuals, companies, academia, and researchers to collaborate and share best practices," he told the Davos gathering.

What do you think? Is it possible -- and/or desireable -- for companies to team up in this way for the common good? What could be the pitfalls?

Let us hear from you.

-- Marcia Stepanek

(This post first appeared on and appears here with permission)
(Illustration by KYC Studio-Montevideo for

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Monday, February 1, 2010

Social Production

There's a debate among business leaders about the impact of social networks on social enterprises and innovation. At the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, Don Tapscott, a strategy consultant and an author of books on the so-called Net Generation and corporate transparency in the Digital Age, predicted sweeping changes in the way companies operate. What follows are excerpts of his remarks during a hot-ticket workshop co-led by the top executives of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace, and Ning, among others.

How do you think social networks will impact businesses and social innovation?

I think we're at an inflection point where social networking is changing and becoming a new mode of production. It's becoming what I call "social production." And social networks within the enterprise are becoming the new operating system of a business. Best Buy, for example, has a social network (Blue Shirt Nation) that involves tens of thousands of people, and this changes the way Best Buy operates its business. It has a link to its social network, as part of broader collaborative platform, to an electronic water cooler of 70,000 people that come up with all kinds of fantastic new ideas. It uses prediction markets to better understand what's really happening within the company. This is changing the way you run a business. It's no longer about hooking up online or creating a garden community for your products.

The more important opportunity for business is using these new collaborative platforms that are built around social networks to change the deep structure and architecture of the company; to orchestrate their capability to innovate and create value. I used Ning to run a contest for a book I'd written recently [
Grown Up Digital], where I asked kids around the world to give me a two-minute video that says what's wrong with the education system and how they'd fix it. I had a person working on this for two weeks. I got hundreds of videos from dozens of countries and it changed the way that I, as a company, relate to the rest of the world.

What other examples can you share?

InnoCentive is basically built on a social network. I'm Procter & Gamble and I'm trying to find a molecule that will take red wine out of a shirt. I've got 9,000 people inside the company but there are 200,000 outside on the InnoCentive network, and sure enough, there's a retired chemist in Taipei or a grad student in London that comes up with a molecule. I pay them $200,000 for the fix and I have a product that ends up being a billion-dollar product.

Or take Goldcorp Inc., a gold mining company. The CEO there was very frustrated that his geologists couldn't tell him where to go into production -- where the gold was. So he ran a contest on a social network and collaborative platform. He offered $500,000 in prizes for anyone who could tell him whether he had any gold in his company, and if so, where it was. He got 77 submissions from all over the world. They used techniques that he'd never heard of. And for his $500,000 of prize money, he found $3.4 billion worth of gold. The market value of his company went from $90 million to $10 billion. He's my neighbor, and I can tell you he's a happy camper. Social networks are changing the way we innovate and the way we get capability.

What are the risks?

One big problem has to do with moving to this new paradigm. There's a crisis of leadership in companies and enterprises typified by this popular habit that some companies have of banning social networks like Facebook within the enterprise. I was talking to the CIO of a state where the governor had banned Facebook and I asked, 'Why do you do that?' And he said the governor felt the people were wasting their time on the job -- to which I replied, 'Well, if young people are wasting time, is that a technology problem? Do you fix that by banning the technology? Maybe it has something to do with work flow, or job design, or performance evaluations.' I asked what the effect was of banning Facebook, and he said that everybody went to MySpace. Another youngster, 27 years old, had a different answer. He said it was the single most demoralizing thing management has ever done. It said to him that management doesn't get collaboration, doesn't get his generation's tools, doesn't understand his generation, and doesn't trust him. So there is a crisis of leadership emerging.

...The whole theme of Davos this year is that the world is bust and we need to rethink, redesign, and rebuild our institutions. The current model of nation-states coming together to fix things isn't working very well. The model we are exploring now at Davos is to create new multi-stakeholder networks to solve problems, so that while world leaders get stalled at Copenhagen coming up with a climate change deal, for example, there are something like 10 million people organizing on the Web around this issue. This is the first time in human history where we're all pretty much on the same side as citizens on an issue like this. To me, this presents a new opportunity to change the way we collaborate in the world and in the way we solve problems.

Nike has just launched something called the GreenXchange, where companies are going to contribute their intellectual property and put it in the commons and use social networking to do this. Nike is giving away 440 environmental patents and placing them in the commons. It's not just on the idea that a rising tide lifts all boats but we have big environmental problems in the world and need to move toward more open innovation and competitive strategies. Social networks give us a platform that radically drops innovation costs. This is a big change.

...Transparency is a new force that's causing companies to be more open, truthful and honest. Now, it's true. You don't always see it. But that's the general trend. Companies that are honest can use transparency as a friend.

—Marcia Stepanek

(Illustration by Saul Herrera for

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