Social Change

The Next Step

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After a few years of learning about the social economy it has become evident to me that telling stories is critical to the success of this burgeoning industry. There are so many people doing amazing things, but our culture seems to be more excited about bad news and drama than about those making a difference. How do we help people to feel like there is a light at the end of the tunnel when all they hear is bad news over and over again? This needs to change.

I delivered my first keynote address outside of the IT industry yesterday. I was invited to speak at the EDPA (Exhibitors, Displays and Producers Association) annual conference on Marco Island. The Executive Director of the EDPA, Jeff Provost, knew about some of the work I have been focusing on around the world, trying to apply my entrepreneurship skills to individuals trying to change the world. So, Jeff asked me to talk about the book we published, BreakPoints, and then talk about my journey that I am now calling “From Success to Significance.” I was able to spend 40 minutes talking about BreakPoints and 20 minutes about Success to Significance.

When people came up to me after the speech by the dozens I realized that I had hit a cord. People enjoyed the business conversation, but they really wanted to hear about the work I was doing around social change. I started the last 20 minutes of my keynote with a story about a conversation I had with Michael Gerber, the author of the E-Myth, back in early 2011. Michael had read BreakPoints and asked me what we were going to do with it. I said that I had recently moved to San Diego and wasn’t going to do much with it, I was just going to enjoy my life and play more golf and tennis. Michael then said, “no your not!” I asked him what he meant and he told me that we knew too much and needed to share it with the world.

My first comment was that that sounds like a lot of work, and his next comment was it’s not about you. He told me that I needed to find others that will help our clients and do the work through them. It was no more than 3 months later that a number of extremely talented people started to approach us to join our team. Now, 3 years later we have an amazing team of people working with our clients and I have freed up some time to focus on changing the world. But the piece that I spoke about yesterday was Michael’s comment to me about redefining success.

For the past 20 years I have always defined success as the ability to do what I want when I want to do it. I have always loved that definition and when he asked me to redefine it I struggled. It wasn’t until I was standing in JFK after spending a month in Africa 18 months later that I realized that I didn’t need to redefine success, I had already achieved success. What I needed was to focus on being significant. I went on to share the stories of a number of amazing people that are changing the world, and now I am realizing that this is part of my journey.

I believe that I can build a vehicle that brings the stories of these change agents to life. The first thing that I want to do is to start to work on a few book concepts that have been in my head for a while and start to document the work of these amazing change makers. I want to partner with Journalism students who are interested in social change to begin to write these stories and I want to work with movie makers and others that are experts in story telling. I want to combine e-books and online video to create a new version of storytelling that is in line with the next generation. I am not sure where this will all lead, but these stories need to be told.

I will keep you posted on my progress 🙂

‘Til next time ……

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TEDx Opportunity

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For the past few years I have been watching TED Talks like they were tv shows for most people. When I am on an airplane I download speeches that I can watch and continue to be inspired by. I must have watched a few hundred talks and I just found out recently that I will get an opportunity to deliver my first ever TEDx Talk at SDSU in late January. I am so excited and can’t wait to get on stage and deliver my story.

The focus of the talk will be on two main topics: The first topic is a concept I have been socializing for the past few months, “Are You Trying to Be the Answer Rather than Solving the Problem?” The second concept is about using capitalism to foster social change. I am going to start of the speech with the poem that Ilise, my wife, wrote when we were in Uganda last summer:

“Northern Uganda, Gulu a place of little money but love that runs through the burnt orange muddy streets. Boda/bodas that swipe by you on the wrong side of the road. No, that’s me on the wrong side of the road coming from a place where the values are upside down and twisted.

“Uganda, a world of we. We children who have lost our parents to the war, we children who are responsible for our siblings to clothe and educate them, we children who long for food in our bellies, clothes on our back and a roof over our heads.

“The US spells us, but it is a land of “I’s.” I want, I need, I deserve, I don’t care about what’s happening around the world it is all about me. Only I matter.

“Uganda, a land of strength – where mothers carry jerry cans of water on their heads so their families will have water. Children walk barefoot long distances for an education we take for granted. Beautiful faces that radiate warmth, trust, friendship and hope. A promise for the future and smiles that light up the world.

“We Americans thank you for showing us what you have here.”

Once I finish the poem I will talk about our journey to Africa and how we got there, the events that have shaped my life and how I plan on leaving this planet better than I found it. I have decided that I am successful and that the purpose of my life is now about focusing on significance. Then I will focus on the two concepts above before highlighting the stories of a number of amazing young people that I have been mentoring around the world.

I hope to make this talk compelling and something that will strike a cord in lots of people in the audience and those that might see it on YouTube once it is posted online. This should be a lot of fun and I can’t wait!

‘Til next time ……..

In the Background

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It seems that our society equates success directly to wealth or some form of financial return. I know people talk about other forms of success, but deep down how many people in my neighborhood really consider others successful when they live in poverty? After attending a conference focused on defining poverty and trying to understand where it comes from and why it happens, financial measures continue to come up over and over. Since when is financial success the definition of success?

I know that I consider myself extremely successful in achieving happiness, but I always believed that I couldn’t communicate to the world the way I wanted until I demonstrated success based on their measure. I might have been wrong, but if I want to influence others of means how can I do it without means myself? I grew up in a middle class family in New Jersey and life had its challenges, but in the end I have lived a pretty privileged life. I had a roof over my head, clothes to wear and parents that truly loved me. What deep pain could I pull from to move people without demonstrating that I had something that they wanted? How could I get on a stage and follow a motivational speaker who has no arms and no legs? Who am I to explain how to push through challenges when my challenges were rather insignificant in comparison?

Well, I believe that I am finding a way to do just that. I believe I have achieved a level of success that I can now start to motivate others to live a life of purpose, but what I believe might be even more powerful is to find those that have that deep pain and help them carry that message. I was once told that my voice can be carried more effectively through others than I can myself, and I believe I finally understand what he meant. This week in Mexico introduced me to some powerful people that have the goods to change the world and maybe my role is to help them achieve their purpose in life.

As a culture we focus on the founder, the person who starts the organization, but no great organization is built by one person. Maybe my need to be the front person is not my purpose. Maybe my greatest power is to empower others to achieve their best and be part of the support system. For the first time in my life I am wondering if my need to be in the limelight is not the best use of my skills. I really enjoy speaking and I look forward to the opportunities I have in the future to motivate people, but could it be that being in the background supporting those that have the “goods” is what I was meant to do? Do I really need the glory or do I really want to just impact the world.

This journey of self exploration and finding my purpose in life has been amazing. I always imagined it would lead me to being the one on the main stage, and maybe it will, but maybe, just maybe, I can have more of an impact supporting those that are amazing and just don’t know it?

‘Til next time ……

COO for Change

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While in Mexico I started to socialize a concept that one of the attendees titled a COO for Change, which I believe is a great title. I started calling it “The #2” but a few people thought that was a pretty shitty idea 🙂 Then the title of 2nd in Command, but the whole idea of command and control didn’t sit very well, but COO for Change is a perfect title.

So, what is a COO for Change? In all the years I have worked in business and from everything I have seen, business success comes from having great people. Great teams solve the biggest problems not individuals. So, as we look to build the social enterprise ecosystem there are so many fellowships for founders. There are Ashoka Fellows, Skoll Fellows, TED Fellows, Echoing Green Fellows and fellowships from hundreds of other foundations, but they all seem to focus on the founder. These are individuals that have the vision and the passion to carry the message, but do they have the business acumen to build a business of value? Do they know how and where to fi d the best talent to grow their organizations? In my experience it is usually no.

If that is the case what do we do to improve the success of these enterprises? It is my contention that introducing a great COO might be a great piece toward that solution. I was asked by someone at the conference “can’t these individuals find COO’s themselves?” Well, recruiting talent is a key to success but it is hard, really hard. To me it’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack. How do you find the right resource that is ready at the right time to interview appropriately that they want the job and can work for the salary available, and then there is the whole issue of where people live. You might live in SF but the ideal opportunity is in Miami. How do you connect the dots and make that happen.

Recruiting the right talent is the single biggest key to success and most of the best business minds are focused on making money today, not trying to change the world. If we could move just a small percentage of people that have the desire for a career switch from traditional business to the social enterprise sector we could move the needle faster. I am sure that this is not the silver bullet because there is no silver bullet to this challenge, but it one more piece to making this planet a better place for everyone.

The COO for Change would be a fellowship for around $100,000 for someone to move into the COO role at an emerging social enterprise that is on the brink of stardom. This person could be 10 years out of college working at a big or small business or an older person in the encore of their career. Where they come from is not the issue, the issue is that they need to know how to operationalize and systematize a business. There are lots of great organizations and great causes, but execution is often much more important than the idea. Without great business minds put to work solving these huge problems we will be looking at these same issues in 50 years, and to me that is just unacceptable. Let me know what you think of this idea, your thoughts are appreciated.

‘Til next time …….

Touching Lives

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This week I was able to meet some of the smartest and most talented young change makers in the world. I am so lucky to have found a community that is engaged in changing the world through building businesses for social change. This is so much in my wheelhouse and I am so excited to be a mentor and guide to a select few while finding ways to accelerate the entire industry. During my time in Mexico this week I met three young women that truly moved me.

The first one that I met was Katie O (Orenstein) from the OpEd Project in NYC (www.theopedproject.org). I landed in Mexico City at 5 AM after a red-eye from LA last Sunday and ran into Boris from Educate! (www.experienceeducate.org), a company that teaches entrepreneurship to kids in Uganda, and he was walking with Katie. We started talking and it never stopped for the entire week. She was engaging and smart and is changing the world through her leadership programs based on workshops to create thought leaders. Katie’s organization focuses on increasing thought leadership from women and I am excited about the opportunity to attend one of her workshops in San Diego in December. I am sure Katie and I will stay connected for many years to come.

The second young woman that I met was Carrie Rich. Carrie is the founder of The Greater Good Fund (www.thegreatergoodfund.org) and is wicked smart and at 27 has a chance to impact so many young people with her project. Here story is amazing, as she received an anonymous donation for $1 million when she was looking to raise $6,000 from friends and family to support 6 charities around the globe. Then her boss matched to money providing her with $2 million to get her project started. This money has put Carrie on a path to create an organization that will provide coaching and mentoring to social entrepreneurs and non-profit leaders around the globe. Talk about an amazing project that is so close to my heart, this is one I will surely look to do everything I can to help achieve her dreams.

The last young lady that I met touched my heart last year. Her name is Katie Meyler and she has been working in Liberia for a while looking to help child prostitutes get an education and become future leaders of their country. Katie is a force of nature with a passion and a drive that I do not often see. She has a gift that can change the world. My background in entrepreneurship and technology has made me focus my efforts in this sector on project that could use those skills, but human trafficing? That wasn’t in the plan, but Katie has changed all of that. Katie Meyler and her organization called More than Me (www.morethanme.org) can change the world one person at a time.

Ilise and I hope that make all three of these amazing individuals an extended part of our family. They are incredibly special and I am honored to know each of them.

I could write about so many more amazing people, and I will, but for now I look forward to helping these amazing people fulfill their purpose and change the world in any way I can!

“til next time …..

Continued Self Discovery

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As I continue to take one step at a time to try to do my part to impact the world as much as possible I learn so much about myself, my needs, my wants and what I am truly capable of. Over the past 20 years I have thrown so many ideas against the wall to see what will stick. In the past 2 to 3 years, our business, 4-Profit, has started to mature and there is less and less opportunity to be creative. For a while that was starting to frustrate me, but not anymore.

Our business needs stability and more certainty for many of our team members, which is important moving forward. Structure, predictable results and an organization that has very little noise. The frustration came because I need to be creative and and I need to push the envelope or I won’t be happy. The discovery that I made this week is that I can be the stable force that 4-Profit needs as long as I have a place to unleash my creativity and I have found that place. The social enterprise community is so early in its development and it needs people with my experience to help accelerate change and impact. The coolest part is the training I have received in entrepreneurship over the past 20 years is so relevant to this conversation.

For example, the biggest challenge that we notice in our clients is the ability to recruit and develop talent. Well, these social entrepreneurs have it even harder. Not only don’t they know how to recruit talent, they couldn’t afford them if they tried. So, there are dozens of amazing organizations that I have met over the past year or so and many of them would benefit greatly from having someone on staff who knows how to build a business. The outcome from this week is to create something called a COO for Change Fellowship.

This project would look to highlight the people that really make businesses successful. Our culture always promotes the leader, the one in front of the audience pitching the concept who has the dream. But most of these people have a very hard time building a business. If you could partner them with a smart business person, maybe someone later in life who wants an encore career, or a 30 something that wants to transition from a job they hate to one that could change the world, they could have an amazing impact on the right organization. By creating a contest for a fellowship we could identify the best and brightest that want to change the world and pay them to move their immense skill set into this sector. That would be amazing!

There are numerous steps to get this concept moving forward, and I will not be the person to run it, I just want to socialize these ideas and make sure someone else takes them forward. I already have a business to run and that is enough, but I do need to express my creative juices and this is how I will do it. This clarity allows me to have new dedication to my business and a vehicle to use my creativity in ways that I never dreamed of. This is getting fun!

‘Til next time ……..

Off to Mexico for Social Enterprise Conference

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Tomorrow evening I leave to attend Opportunity Collaboration for the second year in a row. Last year was an amazing experience, spending 6 days with over 300 people trying to solve world poverty. I felt like I could walk up to anyone at the conference and just say thank you, since everyone is there for the common good. Last year’s conference was exhilarating and crazy the entire week while I tried to meet as many people as possible.

That has been a big part of my pattern in life. Go places and meet as many people as possible and share ideas. I have not taken much time to slow down and just enjoy the process. I went to a similar conference about a month ago in San Francisco called SoCap and I decided to just sit back and go with the flow. I got engaged with a group that was providing entrepreneurial mentoring and decided to donate my time there. I spent just about the entire conference in their area just mentoring and enjoying the conversations, without an agenda and without any real desired outcomes. In the end I was just as fulfilled as if I was pushing and I accomplished so much.

On this journey I am learning that change comes in small steps. Not only is it exhausting to try and change everything at once and solve every problem right now, it is impossible. So, this year I am going to relax and enjoy the experience. I am sure I will meet a lot of wonderful people and get engaged in some wonderful conversations, but the agenda is starting to go away.

I have been told by a number of very smart people that when trying to create change that you can’t be attached to the outcome. Over the next week I hope to be engaged in the process and not be tied to the outcome. I am excited to head out tomorrow and look forward to what is in store for this trip.

‘Til next time ……