Archive for Social Networks

CauseWired’s Laptop/Printer Contest

Some lucky nonprofit or social entrepreneur is going to win a free free laptop and printer bundle courtesy of HP and CauseWired Communications!

But you’ll have to answer a key question first, in order to win: “How we’re going to use social media and web technology to change the world.” Drop your ideas and thoughts into comments, no more than 500 words please – and include a link to your organization or website.

Here’s the skinny on this give-away. It’s part of the HP Create Change effort. For every purchase from the Create Change site that is part of the HP direct purchase website, HP will donate 4% to one of the following seven nonprofits that you can designate. The nonprofits are: American Red Cross, CARE,, Junior Achievement, Make-A-Wish Foundation, Susan G. Koman Race for the Cure, World Wildlife Fund.

You can download a widget for the HP Create Change effort form their site and follow their conversation on Facebook.

So what’s the deal with the contest? HP has asked me and a few social sector bloggers – Beth Kanter, Allison Fine, Katya Andresen’s Nonprofit Marketing Blog, Jolly Mom, and Amy Sample Ward – to ask our readers a question about social change. And then each of us bloggers will pick a winner from the comments on our blog.

Note: we’re not receiving anything. Only contest winners get the equipment. So let us know what you think!


At Clinton Confab of Heavy-Hitters, Amplification and Distribution Comes from Below

bill clinton

Putting the imperative issue of civil rights and justice around the world for women and children front and center at this year’s Clinton Global Initiative required intense coordination between CGI and the Obama Administration – starting of course with the world’s foremost power couple.

But it also relied on some special sauce that was both unpredictable and incredibly effective: the distribution, discussion and amplification of social media.

This year’s CGI, which brought together more than 1,200 movers and shakers in New York in the cause of social change and international development, became a virtual boombox empowering women…and it’s a two part-story that reaches from the motorcades and presidential suites to digital alleyways of Twitter and blogland.

First, the top-down power messaging.

Fighting abuse and human trafficking of women and children is the signature issue for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who declared in her closing address: “we will put women at the heart of our efforts.”

Her husband, former President Clinton put the theme out front on the meeting’s first day: “Women perform 66 percent of the world’s work, and produce 50 percent of the food, yet earn only 10 percent of the income and own 1 percent of the property. Whether the issue is improving education in the developing world, or fighting global climate change, or addressing nearly any other challenge we face, empowering women is a critical part of the equation.”

And President Obama tied the work of his late mother in microfinance to the “spirit of the Clinton Global Initiative” and work empowering women and assisting children. His Administration was omnipresent at CGI, which coincides each year with the opening of the U.N. General Assembly. Besides Secretary Clinton, speakers included Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, economic adviser Larry Summers, and senior adviser Valerie Jarrett.

One of the highlights was a peppery panel the first day, hosted by Diane Sawyer of ABC News, featuring Melanne Verveer, the State Department’s Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, Zainab Salbi, founder and CEO of Women for Women International, and Edna Adan, director and founder of the Edna Adan Maternity and Teaching Hospital in East Africa, along with the head of the World Bank and CEOs of ExxonMobil and Goldman Sachs. And the panel brought about one electrifing moment: when Salbi challenged ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson’s statement that funding isn’t the problem – a fairly typical assertion these days. Retorted Salbi, whose organization provides women survivors of war, civil strife and other conflicts with the tools and resources to move from crisis and poverty to stability and self-sufficiency:

But women still get very small, women and girls, get so very small, minuscule amount of funding…One cent of every development dollar, less than one cent goes to girls. So when you look at the larger scope of development money and how much is being invested in so many other things, women and girls get the least amount of funding. Money is not the problem in terms of if it’s available, but the political decision to say we need to invest much more in girls and women is not fully there yet.

You sensed some “shareholder value” vs. “humanity’s needs” tension on the panel, and indeed throughout this year’s CGI – where perhaps the corporate titans are taken for the infallible gurus of finance they were before the recession. Blogger Emily Davila at beyondprofit captured the panel’s vibe, the classic CGI combination of corporate powerhouses with practitioners:

On one hand, the unprecedented high-level private sector participation means that the women’s agenda has gone mainstream; real change will not happen if only women are talking to each other. On the other hand, the panel would not have succeeded if it hadn’t had two women from the trenches who could keep the discussion grounded in the life and death realities many women face.

Those life and death realities were emphasized in a news conference with Secretary Solis, who vowed that the Labor Department would pursue companies with slave labor in their supply chains, and Ambassador Verveer, who said that “modern-day slavery is a global scourge – no country is immune.”

Verveer and Ambassador Luis CdeBaca, who monitors human trafficking or the Obama Administration, clearly positioned the State Department as a new activist player on the issue. Indeed, Verveer wondered aloud if civil rights for women around the world hadn’t reached a “tipping point.”

If it has, the combination of star power on display at CGI and the bottom-up effect of social networking are playing complementary roles to U.S. government policy – a rare moment when an administration’s policy is in near-total sync with NGO and grassroots activists.

Star power also played a role. Film star Julia Ormond, who founded the Alliance to Stop Slavery and End Trafficking at CGI two years ago, said that “meeting with victims and hearing their story just seals the deal.” And singer Ricky Martin made it personal – and advanced the storyline – during a shutter-clcking appearance in a special session, well-captured by Ari Melber in his Nation blog:

When Ricky Martin took the stage at the Clinton Global Initiative on Thursday, he did not sing, or dance, or even flash his trademark grin. Following the same stage directions as dozens of other celebrities who dropped by Clinton’s 5th annual global summit, from Brad Pitt to Bono to Jessica Alba, Martin struck a somber note while discussing the fight against human trafficking.

“I feel that my heart is going to come out of my mouth,” he said, recounting his sadness for the “millions of children that didn’t make it.” Martin was followed by testimony from a woman who, along with her two children, was kidnapped and held for four years of forced labor.

Martin made his remarks in what an interesting venue for Twitter reach. His own tweets – “on the CGI it’ll b my honor 2 present heroes tht r doing gr8 thinx agnst human trffckng.will xchange ideas n learn what else needs 2 b done!” – reached more than 338,000 followers.

But the Twitter king – actor Ashton Kutcher (@aplusk) – was also making the CGI scene with his wife, Demi Moore (@mrskutcher); he has a Twitter-leading 3.6 million followers, whilst she pitches short messages to 2.1 million more. The couple tweeted their commitment:

Hubby & I have started The Demi and Ashton Foundation or The DNA Foundation as we like 2 call it. We’re ready 2 help bring an end 2 slavery

And Kutcher sent his followers to the live CGI video stream for the plenary on human trafficking. He also found time to tweak a more senior delegate to the meeting:

Listening to John Glenn mock the social web because he doesn’t understand it. I wonder if people mocked his space program.

Meanwhile, Moore introduced her followers to the nation’s leading journalistic voice on the issue:

Sitting in listening 2 a panel speak on investing in Women & Girls at CGI. In Nick Kristoff’s words Women are the solution not the problem!

Celebrity tweets clearly go to a rather broad audience, but I think they help to reinforce a potential cultural shift in how we view sex trafficking and women’s civil rights. Repetition from the likes of an A-list TMZ-type couple can puncture the social permafrost around a difficult issue like this, and deliver it to the mainstream.

Besides, there’s a core audience for information from CGI that is not celebrity-obsessed: writers, analysts and bloggers who work in and around the “social sector” year-round. To a large degree, they carry a lot of the heavy baggage for CGI in terms of disseminating and discussing ideas and innovation with a wider audience.

It’s this group that sent a couple of dozen correspondents (including me and my CauseWired partner Susan Carey Dempsey) into the chaotic and tightly-controlled CGI press pool – a large-scale operation that is understandably focused primarily on the video and still cameras, there to capture the bigshots and stars. And it’s this group that now uses blogs, Facebook, and Twitter to spread some of the bigger thoughts and developments to an activist group beyond the (occasionally oppressive) Sheraton press room. And you could see a the big theme of women and girls sprouting everywhere you looked.

For instance, tweets with both the #cgi09 hashtag and “girls” appeared more than 200 times over the last week, #cgi09 and “women” was tweeted more than 450 times, and #cg09i and trafficking more than150 times. This doesn’t include the celebrities, who tend to use Twitter more as a broadcast medium and don’t tend to use the hashtags to organize the conversation.

Relatively small numbers – #cgi09 never “trended” into the top ten of Twitter tags – yet the audience for international development and human rights was paying attention around the virtual network. And that’s important for an issue that’s just arriving at its moment, getting its wider organizing chops together under a new Administration with an activist State Department.

That’s important to an undertaking like CGI, I think. Despite its success and the billions committed to helping people around the world, building a network to carry its causes onward – even at smaller scale – is crucial to getting beyond the limitations of one organization, however large and high-powered. Upwards of 30,000 people watched the proceedings via the live stream, which CGI made available this year as a widget anyone could use on their own sites to carry the proceedings.

It isn’t about making the power brokers haul out their iPhones and tweet from the inner circle. As Bill Clinton said in his summation: “Twitter. That’s a funny word.” But he still got the importance of distributing the discussion; he said CGI generated 80 tweets per hour, and that the social network – inside and outside the hall – is heling to power the bottom of the innovation pyramid.

Chat Catcher

Why Seth Godin Is Wrong (Updated)

Online marketing guru Seth Godin takes aim at nonprofits in a widely-quoted blog post “The problem with non” today, a diatribe of sorts that repeats a meme that’s been active in American philanthropy circles for at least a decade: nonprofits are afraid of change.

And it’s true, of course – at least on the surface. Most organization, especially large ones, do not race to take risks. But Godin’s piece is both simplistic and under-reported. Sure, it’s easy to say – as he does – that “non-profits, in my experience, abhor change.” Yet in my experience, they hate a change a lot less than failure – and they also hate change less than vast swaths of the corporate world (Wall Street and big insurance leap to mind).

It’s dismissive at the extreme to lob this kind of question: “When was the last time you had an interaction with a non-profit (there’s that word again) that blew you away?” Besides, Godin’s “success” metrics are wacky:

Take a look at the top 100 twitter users in terms of followers. Remember, this is a free tool, one that people use to focus attention and galvanize action. What? None of them are non-profits. Not one as far as I can tell. Is the work you’re doing not important enough to follow, or is it (and I’m betting it is) paralysis in decision making in the face of change? Is there too much bureaucracy or too much fear to tell a compelling story in a transparent way?


If you spend any time reading marketing blogs, you’ll find thousands of case studies of small (and large) innovative businesses that are shaking things up and making things happen. And not enough of these stories are about non-profits. If your non-profit isn’t acting with as much energy and guts as it takes to get funded in Silicon Valley or featured on Digg, then you’re failing in your duty to make change.

Twitter followers? Digg counts? Pitching Silicon Valley VC’s? It doesn’t ring true. Sure, passion and the willingness to take risks matter – but I don’t think a simplistic techno-capitalist argument can be spread across the vastness of 501c3-land.

For one, I’m impressed every week by the work of nonprofits – work that does indeed, blow me away. And for another, there is some risk-taking out there – more and more capital directed toward experimentation – and some terrific advances in story-telling, organizing, fundraising, and activism. My book spent much 200 pages covering those stories. You want Twitter? Social change bloggers often dominate the serious discussion of social media’s impact.

This comment is particularly wrong-headed: “The only reason not to turn this over to hordes of crowds eager to help you is that it means giving up total control and bureaucracy.”

Undoubtedly, control and bureaucracy can be big problems with nonprofits, large and small. But does anyone now living believe that the most philanthropic nation in the history of the world should devolve its nonprofit and service sector into a crowd-sourced cyberlibertarian throw of the dice at utopia? Yes, $300 billion annually is less than 2% of GDP – but it’s a vital 2% for those who rely on the services and support that nonprofits provide.

I don’t – and I preach digital change to nonprofits every day. Change ain’t easy when the world keeps moving and you have the keep the lights on – ask the President.

Besides, nonprofits are way, way down the list of sectors that really abhor change. Wall Street, big insurance, government – now they really hate change. More nonprofits need to adapt, to experiment, to take risks, to embrace change. But they need to keep on providing services while they’re doing it.

I think the “non” in Seth’s post relates to its own currency frankly – it’s an old bromide that’s getting kinda stale.

UPDATE: Wow, lots of discussion in several interesting places. Let’s start with comments here. Seth responds to my post, and argues:

My point about VCs wasn’t that non profits should be raising money from them. It’s that we expect ‘real’ companies to be innovative risk takers, but somewhere along the way, the status quo for non profits has become to be boring.

And Seth’s basic point – that nonprofits accept a state of stasis too often (which I also agree with and have worked on for a decade) – won some positive comments, including Brad Rourke’s:

Seth’s description of the board meeting with the silent leaders felt eerily similar to meetings I have been in, where an uncomfortable proposition — perhaps as simple as “let’s eat our own dog food” — gets killed through inertia.

But others accused Seth of not tasting his own cooking – here’s Hildy Gottlieb:

I read the title and prepared to agree with Seth Godin on his post. Instead I laughed out loud. Why? Because Seth Godin is not on Twitter! He has a blog so he can blast out, but no way for readers to comment – no way for Mr. Godin to participate in the “social” part of social media.

And Sheva Nerad argued (persuasively, I think) that consumer marketing rules simply aren’t the same for nonprofits:

Godin’s rant about nonprofits completely ignores history of nonprofit institutions as petitioners as well as change agents. There is a different kind of risk taking involved when you’re marketing a luxury item, and social change is, alas, a luxury. NGOs have to be diplomats.

Further, says Kevin Williams, nonprofits (especially community-based organizations) have to adapt to survive, even if the pace isn’t always what we’d like it to be:

I work for a non profit and we embrace change. In face we have to in order to keep our advocates happy. The point that Mr. Godin missed is that non profits are constantly in the community talking and interacting with their advocates and donors. That’s where the real “change” happens.

Lots of other interesting comments – please read them and post your own. Elsewhere, some interesting commentary. At Beth Kanter’s place, there’s a great conversation around this – read all the comments and jump in – and here’s Beth’s take:

Change is hard for people and for people who work in nonprofits. Social media can also inspire timidness.  Seth’s painted a untrue picture of ALL nonprofits as deer frozen in the headlights. While there are many examples of nonprofits embracing social media and getting results with only a fraction of Ashton Kutcher’s Twitter followers – there are organizations that are not engaging.  If anything, Godin has got the attention of those who work in the nonprofit sector and are engaged in the social media conversation.  Whether or not that is only a small percentage of the nonprofit field or not remains to be seen.

Sean Stannard-Stockton did a special post on the controversy with lots of links, and takes the thoughtful middle road in judging the merits of the argument:

…we’ve come full circle. Tom, Beth and Seth are all right in my mind. Change is hard. Too many nonprofits (and philanthropists!) find change scary and by hunkering down instead of accepting uncertainty, they are wasting an opportunity to make a difference. Wasting an opportunity in the social sector means more people in poverty, fewer children with access to education, a quickly deteriorating environment. Seth is right to be pissed off.

But all is not lost! We are in the early stages of a technology and demographically driven Second Great Wave of Philanthropy. Books like Tom’s document the ways that more and more social change agents are getting comfortable with change and embracing new approaches.

Seth’s post was cranky, but he’s right. The work of nonprofits is too important for them to become paralyzed with fear.

Tom’s post was right as well. Everyone hates changes, not just nonprofits. And every day, more and more nonprofits are learning to overcome fear and more capital is being devoted to experimentation.

Geoff Livingston says Godin didn’t delve deeply enough before broadly characterizing nonprofits, and offers some examples of innovation:

My response to this is when was the last time Seth Godin did actual work in the field? Because I work with both nonprofit and commercial entities, and I can tell you which sector is getting it faster: Nonprofits. Much faster. If Seth did actual field work — instead of promoting his personal brand and ideas — he might have practical experience to cite in his lament. Instead, we have an uninformed opinion.

Consider the Humane Society’s efforts or LiveStrong’s or Live Earth’s and the National Wildlife Federation. These are all big brands that I’ve talked to in the past two weeks! Then there’s the CDC actively engaging to combat H1N1.

In any case, the conversation’s a worthy one. Sean’s right when he says that “we need to get comfortable with discomfort.” The blog/Twitter argument is a good one, so it’s fair to recognize Godin’s spark. As Beth says (in comments, above): “Anyway, he got us all blogging, twittering, and Facebooking about it …” Exactly. Thanks, Seth!

Guest Post: Citizen journalism, open government, status updates, community building, information sharing, crowdsourcing, and the election of a President

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Max Gladwell.

Our children will inherit a world profoundly changed by the combination of technology and humanity that is social media. They’ll take for granted that their voices can be heard and that a social movement can be launched from their laptop. They’ll take for granted that they are connected and interconnected with hundreds of millions of people at any given moment. And they’ll take for granted that a black man is or was President of the United States.

What’s most profound is that these represent parts of a greater whole. They represent a shift in power from centralized institutions and organizations to the People they represent. It is the evolution of democracy by way of technology, and we are all better for it.
Read the rest of this entry »

Craig on Obama’s ‘Craigslist for Service’

As Craig Newmark notes in an article on Huffington Post, President-elect Barack Obama ran on a platform that included a call for a national “craigslist for service.” But as Newmark writes, he’d like craigslist itself used “only a metaphorical reference to the need for greater service to others, with the spirit and culture of trust of craigslist.”

Besides, notes Newmark, there are already many outlets for service and involvement, including some of the organizations and sites profiled in CauseWired. He lists five ways for Americans to get involved with a “craigslist for service,” and notes the value of the public pledge in encouraging others:

To make this really happen, people need to declare themselves publicly, to commitment to some form of service, and follow through. This is like the pledge system of the Clinton Global Initiative, or, or We’ll need something which scales to the tens of millions, which also plugs into the social networking tools people actually use.

He’s got a point: the best in social networking involves the abandonment of anonymity and the embrace of the self in a very public fashion. Clearly, Obama’s campaign tapped that next-stage, public Internet over the past two years – and there’s real value to leveraging what has been a political campaign into more of a national movement. As Newmark says: “I feel that we’re entering a new time of civic engagement, where people can help others out in small or big ways.” vs.

If President-elect Barack Obama and his transition team are looking for a model that uses the power of social networks and citizen democracy to open up government, they ought to bring their own homepage – – and replace the g-o-v with a little o-r-g.

Online social activism portal, whose origins predate (by just a little bit) the theme of the Obama ’08 campaign, has opened up a super-connected suggestion box on national policy – and if they’re smart, the new Obama Administration will dive right in. I can almost picture a Capraesque scene in the Cabinet Room come January: Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel dumps a huge hamper of suggestions on the big, shiny and table and calls on the startled Secretaries to “dig in” as President Obama nods in approval.

Not that you’d divine that sort of attitude from the dot-gov side of the Change domain spectrum: is a handsome, well-designed billboard with a light Obama agenda, the latest transition news, and the ability to apply for jobs and send in suggestions. It’s the polar opposite of the much-lauded MyBO site of the campaign, where the campaign allowed organizers to – well – organize publicly using the Obama team’s digital plumbing. And no, your once-prized MyBO log-in and identity won’t work in the Office of the President-elect.

I don’t think you can fault the transition team of, especially given the campaign’s track record on balancing real online collaboration with total control over the big brand messages – and I can see some of the wisdom in its skeletal “no drama” approach.

But man, imagine if they’d gone with the Ideas section of

I was hanging out over there earlier today and the breadth of the suggestions for the Obama Administration – most of them pretty clear from Obama supporters, as least in the general – was pretty amazing.

The site throws Barack Obama’s quote on open government right up top – both an as encouragement and as a not-so-subtle challenge: I will open the doors of government and ask you to be involved in your own democracy again.”

The ideas number in the hundreds and they’re divided up by causes – economy has the most suggestions, followed by energy, government reform and education. The suggestions are voted on by members – high vote-getters include: closing Guantanamo Bay, gay marriage initiatives, fighting global warming, and legalizing marijuana. Yeah, it’s a young liberal crowd on the whole. But there are some really interesting ideas – I was taken with the suggestion of Michael Kleinman, who describes himself as an aid worker from L.A.:

The most effective reform would be to establish a new cabinet-level Department of Development, with the power to coordinate US foreign assistance across and throughout the Government, while also implementing a long-term, strategic approach. USAID, as a sub-cabinet agency, lacks the ability to play such a role.

There are a lot of efforts out there to keep the super-wired organizing work that came to life around the Obama campaign alive – and even grow it into a real national movement that transcends a mere election campaign for a single politician. What Al Giordano is attempting with his network of Field Hands is a good example of the post-election “keep-it-going” mindset. It’s light on any unity of policy yet, but as Giordano points out, people are talking actively about their own roles as participants in democracy – something that is, frankly, a pretty new concept for a lot of Americans. And that’s what the transition site alternative is all about – a potential complement to the side, the “outside” to the politician’s “inside.”

“I see it as parallel attempts to get people involved in civic life again — one through the public sector, the other through the private,” said Josh Levy, editor-in-chief of in an email. “I think they can work together.”

CauseWired: Legions of Community Organizers

I’ve been thinking about this since the Republican convention a month ago: isn’t the CauseWired movement the virtual empowerment of thousands – and potentially millions – of community organizers, that class of do-gooders so derided by the GOP nominees in Minneapolis? Sure, I know their derision was about knocking down a portion of Barack Obama’s biography, but I think the focus also revealed a stunning disconnect between a major political party and a major movement in American democracy that is unfolding in public.

I’m going to be putting up some excerpts from CauseWired over the next month as we get closer to publication, and in the spirit of community organizing, I thought I’d share a bit about Joe Green, one of the co-founders of Causes on Facebook:

Joe Green recalls working on the Kerry campaign in New Hampshire during the summer of 2003 and thinking social networks and organizing activists. “That’s when I first saw Friendster and I thought, here is this map of how everyone knows each other.” Friendster is a social networking service founded in 2002 that eventually grew to 50 million users, but peaked in the United States well before sites like MySpace and Facebook became household names. The service had much of what drives online social networks – profiles, photos, and lists of friends and contacts. Green was intrigued at its application on political and social activism campaigns: “That fall I thinking about it a a lot. I asked my roommate about creating social network for politics, but he was more interested in a social network for college students.” [Note: his roommate was Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook.]

Green went off to work for the Kerry-Edwards campaign in the general election, canvassing neighborhoods in rural Arizona for the unsuccessful Democratic ticket, but he continued to think about combing old-school organizing and new media social tools. set out to build one on his own. After the election, he founded, a non-partisan political social networking website that would let connect with one another based on political opinions. The site was deliberately small in scale and by invitation of other members, and it was designed to try and force intelligent discourse while discouraging flame wars and personal attacks. Its design around small groups of dedicated voices – using political statements called “resolves” to start discussions – hearkened back to Green’s personal experience as an organizer – which began in high school in Santa Monica, California. Green described the formative experience on the progressive political blog MyDD: “I first got active as a senior in high school. Santa Monica had a living wage campaign – one of the first that covered not just city employees, but everyone in our tourist zone. The campaign barely lost but we got a lot of students at our high school involved, many of whom had parents who cleaned hotel rooms in beach hotels for like seven bucks an hour.”

At Harvard, he studied under Marshall Ganz, a professor of public policy and a well-known organizer who spent 16 years working with Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers. The lesson was an important one: “Here was Cesar Chavez trying to take pretty much the most powerless people in the country, the people who are closer to serfs than we’ve had for a long time, with almost no legal rights, and organizing them. But first you had to convince them that it was even possible for them to have any impact on all-powerful forces. And once you did, there were no shortcuts. You start with a small number of people, just speaking one on one in a meeting, and you share your personal story, then you convince them to have a meeting, and it’s through these existing social connections of family and friends and church that you grow these movements. Basically you’re organizing yourself out of a job.”

In thinking about modern media technology and old school activists, Green was struck by the potential of online social networking in organizing support for causes. “One hardest parts of organizing is sitting down with the address book and figuring out who everybody knows – the transparency of connections struck me – if we had one of these networks where you knew how everyone was connected, it would be very powerful.”

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