The First

Since the day she was born, my sister Katie has been the first to do a lot of things. The first in our family to get a tattoo. The first to skydive. The first to give up her Thanksgiving holiday to serve people in India. Today she's begun her next first: riding her bike across New York. The whole state. In five days. Katie first told me about her ride last year and that she had found an awesome way to do something adventurous and bring awareness to an issue that is important to her (and the world), human trafficking. There are millions of men, women, and children that are suffering the injustice of slavery and worse around the world and Katie's heart for these mostly unknown and voiceless people group compelled her to action. When she arrives in Buffalo today, she'll be meting up with a group of other passionate adventures from around the world and their bikes and beginning a trek across the Empire State. Each day they'll ride as a team and each night they'll be hosting rallies and meetings in the cities where they'll be staying to bring awareness to the cause and share how folks can get involved and help.

To say that I am proud of my sister would be a huge understatement. She is the most selfless and authentic person that I know and I can't wait to see her next weekend when she rides into the Big Apple.

If you want to keep track of her journey, or cheer her one, check her out on Twitter: @Ellweezie

Start Something

The more I've talked about the ideas and questions of the Philanthropreneur mindset, the more folks I've found that are wrestling to answer the same questions and the more passionate people I come across that also want to know: if the donor model of charity is in fact broken, how do we fix it in a long term sustainable way? I had the chance to chat with the editorial team at the Mays School of Business at my alma mater Texas A&M and talk through some of those thoughts and more.  The outcome of that conversation just came out in the Spring Edition of the @Mays Magazine.  Check it out and Read it here

Collective Leap of Imagination

It could be called the Sundance for Social Entrepreneurs. Or perhaps the SXSW for those with intent to change the world. Maybe even the Davos for the doers. Whatever analogy the strikes your fancy, the Skoll World Forum in Oxford, England was more than most could have imagined.  From performances by Peter Gabriel and Baba Maahl to a brand new film being premiere by the Sundance Film Institute to tmoving ideas shared by Princess Noor of Jordan and the incredible wisdom Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu - there wasn’t a shortage of incredible moments. But aside from the headliners and names that everyone knew before the event started, the new names and faces of social entrepreneurship have stolen the show.  From the moving speech of Rebecca Onie from Health Leads to the inspiring vision of Ned Breslin from Water for People, the big ideas and new level of accountability in action has been the undertone of the event.

Having attended Sundance, SXSW, and now Skoll World Forum this year, it was clear that each event had the potential to be an echo chamber for its audience.  Not every film at Sundance was amazing, nor every start-up at SXSW revolutionary.  The same could be said of Skoll: not every good intentioned entrepreneur had an idea that will change the way that you and I think about life in the community or field that they are working in.  But, the overwhelming and incredible part about the community that descended on Oxford is this: that’s okay.  Failure is accepted as a normal part of innovation and a possible outcome for the current strategies being played out by the teams that were in attendance.  The further they sail from the shores of conventional wisdom, the closer they are to create a new normal for the constituency they serve. A new normal that brings about permanent change in the real world and for generations to come.

When we understand that failure is a natural part, and even a predominate part, of the road to success, the less fear we have as we approach a new initiative or big idea that we don’t know will work.  As seen by the incredible stories of change at the Skoll World Forum, the timeline on which success must be viewed is much longer than we expect and will require the input and buy in of more people than we know.

Cara Mertes, the Director of the Sundance Institute's Documentary Film Program and my host in Oxford, has shared a quote with me a couple of times that I believe sums it up nicely.

“Every moment of major social change requires a collective leap of imagination” - Jeff Chang

Attention Deficit World Order

Yesterday, I asked myself an honest question: "Why does it seem that the American people cared more about the revolution in Egypt than the one that is currently going on in Libya?" And then a scarier question: "Does the fact that Charlie Sheen is on Twitter this week have anything to do with it?" I pondered the questions while I continued to read the Times and then posed the questions to my Twitter followers.  I got some great responses.

Some of the points that struck home with me:

1) It is amazing what kind of response you get to a truly honest question.

2) I need to get add some new sources of information since a lot of my current sources seem to be saying the exact same thing.

3) In the world of constant and instant information, our ability to care about one thing that doesn't directly effect us is increasingly short. Especially if the trend, in this case revolutions, is some what similar to what we cared about last week, we want something new.

This last point resonated with me and actually brought up a point that I had made in a conversation last year around the time of the floods in Pakistan. We are a fickle bunch that likes having our cause de jour but don't want to be tapped for more than that.  And, because of the earthquakes in Haiti earlier in the year, we were all tapped out when it came time to jump in on being a part of the relief in Pakistan.  We had all texted when Larry King and the Red Cross asked us to in January, so we were a little busy in July when asked again by those on the ground in Pakistan.

All of this continues to push me to believe that there must be a better way to change the world than the current nonprofit systems that rely on the fickleness of the American public. There needs to be more to motivate true change than a celebrity asking you to donate for their birthday, a news anchor using their "oh so serious" voice, or one of a dozen "we know it is the end of the year and you need a tax write off" postcards that I get each December from well meaning charities.

There needs to be a shift and a bigger way of thinking about things than our current filters.  There needs to be more to our news cycle than Charlie Sheen and his #Winning.  There needs to be a story bigger than ourselves that we believe in enough to sacrifice short term entertainment for long term gain.

Go Out of Business

There are over 1.4 million registered nonprofits in America alone.  That is far too many.  The redundancies and competition for the donors' almighty dollar are actually slowing down the needed solutions.  That is why, I think it is time to start helping charities go out of business. "Pragmatism often does not appear in the nonprofit field... The industry often is led by passionate hearts, not logical minds. Groups interminably squabble over scarce resources and fail to create long-term change."  wrote Jonathan Greenblatt, founder of Ethos Water. (read his piece on why nonprofits should consider merging HERE)

"The main reason that many of them still exist is the ego of their founders and their board, not the cause that they were originally created to tackle,"  was the perspective of a very successful nonprofit executive I recently spoke with.  She shared with me that here in New York City there were two organizations both built to help cure the same disease.  A donor put up over $2 million dollars to negotiate a merger so that greater good could be served.  After four years and countless ego driven battles, the organizations are still separate entities and still competing for donors' dollars.

Scott Case, Co-founder of Priceline.com and founder of Malaria No More, had a great perspective on why charities should set their entire organization's goals around going out of business.  Here are the top five reasons:

5) It is what everybody wants. No one that you serve wants to be dependent on you.

4) It allows you to prioritize your cause, mission and the ultimate outcome that you seek ahead of the "brand" your organization spends too much time defending.

3) It frees up creativity and you will be much more willing to take risks.

2) It will free up resources to help solve the next big problem.  Everyone who helped solved your problem can then be free to go help solve the next problem.  We are not going to run out of problems to solve.

1) We should celebrate our successes.  Ending a problem in the world is a great reason to have a party.

To see Scott's 10 minute talk with further details, go HERE

"That" Gift

Growing up, I always waited with some fear and trepidation for "that" gift on Christmas.  I am sure you have received "that" gift at some point as well.  The one sent from the well meaning relative, co-worker of your dad, or awkward neighbor.  The one you can't take back and the one that you just don't know what you are actually suppose to say when you open it while the giver looks on with uncomfortable anticipation of your reaction. This year, I asked for something from my family that, 15 years ago, I would have considered to be "that" gift.

This year I asked for gift cards to Kiva.  Kiva empowers individuals to lend to an entrepreneur across the globe. By combining microfinance with the internet, Kiva is creating a global community of people connected through lending. I got started lending money on Kiva about a year ago and have been slowly but surely increasing my portfolio of loans and entrepreneurs that I have helped across the globe.  It is really cool to read their stories and why they are asking for the loan they are and what their business plan is to pay it back.

The money that I have put towards these loans has now been used a couple of times.  The first Chilean entrepreneur that I lent the funds to has already repaid the loan from the profits that they generated.  I then reloaned those funds to a lady in Costa Rica.  I also have lent money to entrepreneurs in Peru and Bolivia and I was hoping to make some loans to a couple folks in Nicaragua and Mexico this week with my Christmas presents from my family.

When I went to Kiva's website to make my latest rounds of loans, I was greeted by an amazing screen: they have helped EVERY SINGLE PERSON that has asked for help through their field teams.  There is not currently anyone who doesn't have their request for a loan satisfied.  The Kiva community has fulfilled 100% of the loans that have been asked for and their is now a waiting list of folks willing to lend more money as soon as entrepreneurs ask for it.

Can you imagine if a traditional non-profit put that up on their website?  "Sorry, we can't accept any more donations, we've helped everyone that we possibly can."  It just wouldn't happen because of the unsustainable donor model that they currently operate on.  A model that, especially at this time of year when budgets have to be made, depends on the generosity of individuals who may or may not still be in the position to be generous based on this year's bonus check. But, because the funds that are lent through Kiva are repaid at an incredible 98.8% repayment rate, those funds stay in the Kiva community and are made available again to help more people.

This is the future of sustainable social change.  This is a way that you can be a part of the big $183,585,975.00 worldwide community that Kiva has created over the past 6 years.  If you haven't ever made a micro-loan, check it out: http://www.kiva.org/

1/3/2011 - UPDATE: Kiva and their field partners have added almost a thousand entrepreneurs to their site since I first wrote this post.  I was finally able to share "that" gift this morning with people in Chile, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, and Nicaragua.

Check out my Lender Page to see where I am investing: http://www.kiva.org/lender/andyellwood

Ridiculousness Abounds

I recently had dinner with a good friend of mine.  He has more degrees than he needs and is over qualified for his current job at non-profit.  But he believes in the mission of the organization and has really made a huge impact on their community in the short time he has been there. And he is being fired.

It was explained to him that due to budget limitations in 2011, his services were no longer wanted or needed. In fact, if he hadn't fought like a bear, his termination letter would have also been his last day on the job with no severance or assistance in moving on to what will come next.  And, the worst part about the situation is the people that didn't get let go.  The person one notch above his, without a degree even remotely associated with the work they do, much less two masters degrees like my friend has, will be keeping her job because of her marital relationship with someone on the board.

Now, I am obviously biased in my perspective on the situation, but it is an unfortunately prime example of why I often ask the question: What if non-profits were run like businesses and held to the same standards as for-profit business?  What if there were actual expected rates of return for the monies donated to these organizations? What if the use of funds was a question that the average giver knew to ask?

If that was the case, not only would the woman married to the board member lose her job instead of my friend, so would the head of the organization who has not grown the reach of the community or found ways to build a sustainable donor base.  And, as the majority of this current community is aging and moving away from their prime earning years, my friend was the only link to the young vibrant families and professionals that had considered associating themselves with this organization.

This isn't an isolated case and my friend isn't the only one put in tough spot by the ridiculousness of the standard-less standard of so many non-profits.  There has to be a better way.

Go Give

Steve Case is one of the three or four people that I have had on my radar screen as I have sought to define what are the traits and behaviors of current and future philanthropreneurs.  I have looked up to he and his wife Jean as role models in giving for impact and learned a lot watching how they have repurposed their wealth to leave a sustainable impact on this world.

So, you can imagine my excitement when I was asked to guest blog on the Case Foundation website about the work that Gowalla is doing this month and the way that we are giving back to charity: water during our holiday gift giving campaign.

Read the full post here: Gowalla giving back with Gifts to Go