Impact Key to Parterships

January 3rd, 2010 by Admin

Originally posted in The Washington Times on December 30, 2009.

By Christopher Gergen and Aaaron K. Chatterji

The recent political wranglings in Washington over health care, financial regulation and the stimulus package often have devolved into simplified arguments over whether bigger government can improve health, economic and social outcomes. The more practical debate might be how to make government smarter and more effective in its cooperation with corporations, nonprofits and foundations to deliver social impact.

The public-private partnership model has taken hold across several areas of the government, including the U.S. Department of Education, creating tremendous potential for progress but also presenting new management challenges.

Take President Obama’s new initiatives to spur innovation in education, beginning with a $650 million Investing in Innovation Fund. The fund will distribute grants to start or expand research-based innovative programs to help close the achievement gap and improve outcomes for students. Individual schools or school districts can apply, but it’s expected that a chunk of the investment will go to entrepreneurial organizations that are partnering with school systems to provide high-quality intervention. There also is the condition that 20 percent of the amount is matched by a private-sector partner – increasing their commitment to education reform…(read more)

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Urban Farming a Fertile Idea

November 4th, 2009 by Admin

Originally posted by The Washington Times on Wednesday, November 4, 2009.

By Christopher Gergen and Aaaron K. Chatterji


Across our city landscapes, an age-old idea is redefining community development. From Detroit to Durham, N.C., the concept of “urban farming” is becoming common among urban planners and social entrepreneurs. The goal of urban farming initiatives is to take vacant plots of land in underused parts of our cities and convert them into productive farms. (Read More…)

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Why to Start a Startup in a Bad Economy

July 14th, 2009 by Admin

Some people consider Paul Graham‘s essays to be the “Berkshire Hathaway Shareholder Letters” of startups — a must read for all serious about doing well in the field. Having read some of those essays now, it would be hard to disagree. Graham speaks truth to the power of conventional wisdom and tells it like it is, from his personal success as a startup founder and from advising over 200 other founders through Y Combinator.

One particular essay that may convince you to take the leap is this one: Why to Start a Startup in a Bad Economy.

Granted, Paul Graham’s work is focused exclusively on the technology sector, but there are invaluable lessons for startups of all kinds in this essay library. Check it out for some great reading!

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A Countess with a cause

June 13th, 2009 by Admin

So it turns out the princess that every little girl dreams about being actually exists.

Countess Albina du Boisrouvray — a Bolivian tin magnate’s granddaughter who’s related to Monaco’s ruling Grimaldi family — has a big heart to go with her deep pockets. In 1988, her 24 year old, helicopter-rescue-pilot son was killed in a helicopter crash in Mali.

Devastated by the loss, the Countess decided to continue his work of rescuing people. She sold her business holdings and real estate and put $50 million towards creating FXB (her son’s initials), a Swiss charity that helps children that have AIDS, or could be orphaned by AIDS, by helping their families build microenterprises.

So far, 86% of the families funded have earned enough to rise above their country’s poverty level. Read the rest of the story here… (link to Forbes article)

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Seek meaning, service in life

June 10th, 2009 by Admin

From The Washington Times, Wed., May 20, 2009

As millions of American students graduate from high schools and colleges in cap-and-gown ceremonies both solemn and festive this spring, perhaps now is a good time to reflect on their prospects for successful living and working. Of course, those entering the working world are doing so at a time of great uncertainty and financial distress, with tight employment and credit markets.

It’s possible, though, that the recession could be a fleeting concern compared to a more personal and lasting challenge they face: finding their moorings amid a sea of choices in a culture that sends them profoundly mixed messages. Decades ago, the life and career paths of the young largely were spelled out in advance, but today’s youth must forge their own path. That can be liberating and unnerving for young people without much basis for making such vital decisions.

Graduation speakers across the land already are dispensing lessons learned and wisdom earned. What have we learned in recent decades about how to live – about how to lead productive, successful, rewarding and fulfilling lives?

Fortunately, a lot.

Not long ago, a sea change swept through the field of psychology, flipping the focus from debilitating conditions and diseases (i.e., what makes people suffer) to happiness and success (i.e., what makes people thrive). The emergent “positive psychology,” led by such luminaries as Martin Seligman (author of “Authentic Happiness”) and Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi (author of “Flow”), resonates not only with new research on youth and adult development, but also with surveys of key factors leading to success in life (from books such as “Success Built to Last”) and studies of people in their twilight years reflecting on how they lived. It also gibes with ancient ideas of happiness dating back to Aristotle and his concept of “eudaimonia,” or a full flourishing of self through excellence and virtue.

One could synthesize this convergence of research and thinking with two key words: meaning and service. That is, find ways to have meaningful connections with and make significant contributions to others. Meaning and service.

Fortunately, there is evidence that the rising generations get this. Countless surveys have indicated they are civic- and service-minded, and that many are not only “life shoppers” – searching for a lifestyle that suits them – but seekers of meaning and connection as well as success and wealth.

Take, for example, two high school seniors who recently received AXA Achievement scholarships: Joshua Wortzel and Brittany Bergquist. Mr. Wortzel started the Garden of Giving, which grows and donates organic produce to local homeless shelters via a solar-powered greenhouse located at a Pennsylvania retirement home, with 20 students and 10 senior citizens running it. The project fosters intergenerational connections while serving homeless people and cultivating environmental stewardship in the community.

Ms. Bergquist started Cell Phones for Soldiers with her brother, Robbie, when they were 13 and 12, respectively. To date, they have raised almost $2 million and distributed more than 500,000 prepaid calling cards to soldiers overseas. The project started when they were getting ready for school one morning and saw a TV report about an Army Reservist in Iraq who unknowingly racked up a cell phone bill of more than $7,600. Outraged, they ran upstairs, drained their piggy banks, hit up their friends at school for donations, and got to work. (continued…)

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Talent proven in adversity

June 9th, 2009 by Admin

From The Washington Times, Wed., May 6, 2009

All around us, we are feeling the bite of this recession, with stories of lost jobs driving anxiety over the potential of losing our livelihood. It may be time to take a different view of our circumstances. Specifically, this may be the best time to start thinking about what you really want to do in life.

In studying great leaders over time, authors Warren Bennis and Bob Thomas learned that many of them discovered their leadership abilities in times of significant stress – during “crucible moments.” A classic example of this is the time Nelson Mandela spent in a prison cell. He emerged a transformed individual and leader.

As Mr. Bennis subsequently wrote, “Whatever is thrown at them, leaders emerge from their crucibles stronger and unbroken. No matter how cruel the testing, they become more optimistic and more open to experience.”

As we open our eyes to the possibilities, two instincts tend to kick in. The first is a jolt of adrenaline where the dreams start to take shape in the form of a palpable sense that, my gosh, I can do that. Pen goes to paper, and the proverbial sketch on the napkin begins to emerge. Then fear kicks in, followed by strong dose of self-doubt and a string of excuses: not the right time, not the right place, not the right set of experiences, just plain not ready.

Fair enough – but let’s break that down. What is holding you back? For many, personal finances is a primary barrier. This is a strong driver and should weigh into any decision-making. As one begins to do the math, however, one quickly should be asking, “What are my needs versus wants?”

In our race to keep up with the Joneses, we have a tendency to get ourselves in trouble by living way above our means (which is, in part, what led to this mess). How about going the opposite direction and figuring out how to live below your means, thereby creating the financial flexibility necessary to pursue your dream? Granted, this takes time and discipline, but is the possibility of creating a fulfilled life worth it?

Another factor that tends to hold people back is a low tolerance for risk. Without a doubt, taking the path less traveled means venturing into the unknown. As strategist and author Jim Collins pointed out, “As an entrepreneur, you know what your risks are. You see them. You understand them. You manage them. If you join someone else’s company, you may not know those risks, and not because they don’t exist. You just can’t see them, and you can’t manage them. That’s a much more exposed position than the entrepreneur faces.”

Even as an entrepreneur in control of your own destiny, however, the path ahead is inevitably opaque and ambiguous. How do you get beyond that? (read more…)

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Say to Yourself Quietly… Anything is Possible!

May 20th, 2009 by Admin

For a dash of entrepreneurial inspiration, take two minutes and check out this uplifting video made by two Babson University students. It goes right to the core of why you should be an entrepreneur, even in the current economy. It’s sure to inspire:

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Human capital concerns stifled by shifts in volunteerism and culture building

December 30th, 2008 by Admin

by Christopher Gergen and Gregg Vanourek

As a final installation of our blog series catching readers up on our recent writing, we offer two more pieces that we wrote for the Washington Times – both dealing with important human capital concerns.  The first addresses the opportunities to harness the full potential of “volunteer capital” and highlights two organizations that have created national models for realizing the full potential of volunteers in highly creative ways.  The second shares the story of a remarkable shoe company that turns culture building and leadership development on its head – and offers a lesson to other organizations looking to recruit, develop, and retain the best and brightest.

“More Than Licking Envelopes,” Washington Times, June 7, 2008.

Two years ago, Nick Cotter retired as a senior executive at Exxon Mobil. Before retirement, he had managed activities in nearly 200 countries. Yet when he volunteered for a local nonprofit, his role was restricted to sorting food and “lugging boxes around.”

Confident he had the energy and experience to have a greater impact on those in need, Mr. Cotter started exploring other ways to help. He got tapped into Greater DC Cares, an organization that coordinates volunteering and business philanthropy in the District.

With the organization’s guidance and support, Mr. Cotter came up with a game plan to develop a set of governance workshops for area nonprofits, drawing on his years in the for-profit sector. Based on a successful pilot program last year, he is scaling up the program through a network of fellow executive volunteers who serve as management coaches and mentors to local nonprofit leaders.

Alas, stories like Mr. Cotter’s are too few and far between.

To view the entire blog, click here.

“Zappos Culture Sows Spirit,” Washington Times, July 16, 2008.

In today’s challenging economy, business and social entrepreneurs are becoming reacquainted with the importance of “culture,” of addressing the spirit of the place and not just the numbers. Developing a culture of excellence and engagement is notoriously difficult – yet critical for organizational performance.

One jaw-dropping example – with salient lessons for organizations across the sectors – comes from, the leading online shoe retailer. There, all new corporate employees receive four weeks of customer loyalty training – answering phones in the call center – before starting their actual job, whatever that may be.

After the training, they are offered $2,000 to leave the company – no questions asked. This “quit now” bonus, which started at $100, is designed to ensure employees are there for the right reasons. About 97 percent of trainees decline what the company calls “the Offer.”

To view the entire blog, click here.

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The Triple Bottom Line – One Book at a Time

December 26th, 2008 by Admin

by Christopher Gergen & Gregg Vanourek

We recently discovered that our book is now being sold by online bookseller Digging deeper, we discovered that these guys are the real deal in terms of the “triple bottom line” of people, planet, and profits. (Be sure to check out our interview with co-founder Xavier Helgesen in the audio player below.)

BetterWorld was started by three friends and ultimate Frisbee teammates at the University of Notre Dame — Helgesen, Jeff Kurtzman, and Chris Fuchs. Looking for a way to make some extra cash, they started selling their used textbooks online. The idea gained momentum and, in partnership with a local community center, they launched a more aggressive book drive – this time collecting 2,000 books and raising $10,000 for the center. Sensing they were onto something, they submitted a business plan to the McCloskey Business Plan competition and won the “Best Social Venture” category. With their winnings, these budding entrepreneurs launched “Book Drives for Better Lives” on college campuses across the country.

Read the rest of this Harvard Business blog here.

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Relationships, relevance & rigor matched with life as art

December 12th, 2008 by Admin

by Christopher Gergen & Gregg Vanourek

Below are two columns we wrote for the Washington Times, one on how a D.C. Catholic school for girls is achieving incredible things, and the other on how a paralegal professional from Oklahoma fell in love with yoga and created a studio, clothing line, book, and foundation for girls in the process.

“Raising Courageous Women,” The Washington Times, October 8, 2008.

Driving down Suitland Parkway in Anacostia, one comes across an unexpected jewel just off the Stanton Road exit. There, inspiration is waiting, tucked away in a neighborhood better known for tragic news than good news. One of the District’s most visionary projects sits in a gleaming glass-and-steel building with the letters THEARC stamped across the entrance.

Opened in 2005, the Town Hall Education, Arts & Recreation Campus is a 110,000-square-foot facility built on 16.5 acres in Ward 8. It’s is home to 10 nonprofit agencies ranging from Covenant House Washington to the Washington Ballet to the Children’s Health Project of DC, run by the Children’s National Medical Center.

To view the entire blog, click here.

“Yoga Cultivates Community,” Washington Times, September 24, 2008.

In her 20s, Kimberly Wilson found herself at the convergence of two big social trends.

The first? Social isolation. The first nationally representative survey on this topic in two decades, conducted by Duke University researchers, found a significant trend toward increasing social isolation between 1985 and 2004, likely caused by such factors as an increase in time spent at work and the geographic scattering of family members.

The second? The rise of yoga as a cultural phenomenon. The practice has been growing like wildfire. Americans annually spend an estimated $5.7 billion on yoga classes and products, with 15.8 million people practicing yoga, according to the latest “Yoga in America” study.

To view the entire blog, click here.

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