Nonprofits Plan for the Worse

December 20th, 2009 by Admin

Originally posted in The Washington Times on December 16, 2009.

By Christopher Gergen and Aaaron K. Chatterji

Even as the economy shows glimmers of recovery, a recent survey by the nonprofit consulting firm Bridgespan reminds us that the social sector has been particularly hard hit by this recession. The survey results, while sobering, also provide important management lessons for social, business and government leaders.

First, the numbers. Among the 100 responding organizations, 93 percent said they were experiencing the effects of the downturn – up from 75 percent last year. A reduction in charitable giving, foundation grants and government cuts also has taken its toll, with 80 percent of nonprofits saying they are working with less funding this year and 48 percent reporting that they are eating into their cash reserves to make up the deficit, up from 19 percent…(read more).

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Rating Social Investments

November 24th, 2009 by Admin

By Christopher Gergen and Aaron K. Chatterji.

Originally posted in The Washington Times on November 18, 2009.

Industry consolidation through mergers and acquisitions sometimes can spell trouble for socially minded consumers and investors. As firms become larger and competitors become scarce, incentives can weaken to offer quality products at competitive prices and maintain socially responsible business practices. However, the recent consolidation of one industry, socially responsible investing, could deliver several benefits to those who care about social impact…(read more).

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Katrina, Rita Victims Housed

October 7th, 2009 by Admin

From The Washington Times, October 7, 2009.

There are two reactions when one sees something that is not quite right in the world: make a mental note and keep on moving or stop and try to fix it. Shortly after Hurricane Katrina hit four years ago, Liz McCartney and her boyfriend, Zack Rosenberg, drove from the District to New Orleans to see how they could help.

At the time, she was running an area after-school program and he was a criminal defense attorney. They ended up in St. Bernard, a parish just outside of New Orleans. As Mr. Rosenberg says, “We were grossly unprepared for what we saw.”

“We just wanted to pitch in and help out,” Ms. McCartney recalls. “I naively thought that six months later, you’d see all kinds of progress. [But it] looked like the storm had just rolled through.”…(see more).

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Healthy Habits Promote Happiness

September 10th, 2009 by Admin

From The Washington Times, Wed., September 9, 2009

As the health care debate rages, from presidential proclamations to angry shouting matches at town-hall forums, some provocative developments overseas warrant our attention.

No, we’re not talking about whether some countries have mastered health information technology or resolved the infamous public-versus-private debate. Rather, we’re talking about Britain’s new “happiness czar,” Bhutan’s goal of pursuing “gross national happiness” (GNH) and an Australian elementary school’s new multimillion-dollar well-being center.

As common sense indicates, there’s a link between health and happiness — one that flows both ways — and it’s too important to ignore as we tackle health care reform.

First, the unhealthy facts:

Compared to other Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries, the United States has below-average life expectancy (78.1 versus 79.0 years) and above-average infant-mortality rates (6.7 deaths per 1,000 live births, versus 4.9). About 44 million Americans younger than 65 were uninsured last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

And the costs? U.S. health spending is expected to reach $2.5 trillion this year – more than the entire gross domestic product of all but five other nations, and more than eight times what we spent in 1980. That tab is expected to reach an astounding $4.4 trillion by 2018, according to the nonpartisan National Coalition on Health Care.

The reasons are complex, but one big factor is lifestyle, from smoking and inactivity to obesity. The United States has the highest obesity rate of all OECD countries, with 74 million obese Americans age 20 or older. Among children ages 2 to 19, 12 million are obese. Childhood obesity is the top health concern among U.S. parents, topping smoking and drug abuse.

According to a 2007 survey, 32 percent of females and 18 percent of males in high school had not engaged in 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity in the previous week. More than 47 million Americans smoke, with about a fifth of high schoolers reporting current tobacco use.

In a fascinating multiyear study of health and longevity, explorer and educator Dan Buettner chronicled the secrets of “blue zones,” places on the planet where people — including Sardinian sheepherders and Japanese grandmothers — live longer and healthier lives. In a National Public Radio report on his work, Mr. Buettner offered four tips for increasing life expectancy… (continue reading)

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The Opportunity of Recession & The Power of Mistakes

November 25th, 2008 by Admin

Today’s blog will kick-off a series that introduces some blogs and columns that we have recently penned for Harvard Business Online,, and the Washington Times. Each blog entry will have 2-3 such postings with a short description of the piece followed by an excerpt and a link to the actual piece. Please note that not all of our pieces are included here. To get a complete list of stories, please visit the Life Entrepreneur’s publication page.

This first installment includes two contrarian blogs we wrote for Harvard Business, one on how an economic downturn (or even a recession) can actually be a good time to start a business, and the other on how we need to re-wire our thinking about failure, because it’s often through our failures that we learn the most.

“Why Entrepreneurs Love a Downturn,” Harvard Business Publishing, August 26, 2008.

During our interviews with 55 successful business and social entrepreneurs worldwide, we were struck by the fact that many had started their enterprises during a recession or in the wake of one. Prominent examples include Clif Bar, Chipotle, and Hanna Andersson. Several others started their companies (including Cranium and Honest Tea) just before a recession.Many people assume that entrepreneurs are allergic to recessions. It turns out that downturns can be times of tremendous opportunity–and, yes, profit–for entrepreneurs. But only if they play their cards right.

That’s exactly what the founders of Clif Bar, the organic nutrition bar enterprise, and Method, the environmentally friendly cleaning supplies company, did. (Both were recently featured by

To view the entire blog, click here.

“The Value of Failure,” Harvard Business Publishing, October 2, 2008.

There is much talk in this year’s historic presidential campaign about how much voters should weigh the candidates’ experience. Turns out that entrepreneurs have much to teach us here.

Experience is an essential factor to consider, but not in the way that most people view it. When evaluating a candidate, most people seek a litany of accomplishments that demonstrate sound judgment, and failure is considered radioactive. Fair enough, but more often than not the character and worldview of leaders are shaped not via their accomplishments but by their setbacks in the crucibles of challenge.

We tend to learn more from our mistakes than our successes. At our best, we turn them to our advantage. Thomas Edison once said, “I make more mistakes than anyone I know. And eventually I patent them.”

To view the entire blog, click here.

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Mompreneurs Galore

May 7th, 2008 by gvanourek

When I came across the recent feature story in the Denver Post on “mompreneurs” (check it out here), it reinforced our findings on why entrepreneurship is such a growing and dynamic phenomenon today.  These mothers are launching exciting enterprises while raising families, tapping into a deep-seated need not only for fulfillment and contribution but also for flexibility and integration in their lives. 

The article documents “a rising tide of women with little children who have dumped their corporate gigs for startups that let them mind the kids and contribute to the family’s bottom line. They’re marketing from their basements, bringing the little ones to the home office and satisfying their entrepreneurial urges with work that keeps a flexible schedule…. For many of the moms, the mompreneur route holds out the potential for something tantalizing: flexibility.”

A few examples in the Denver metro area:

  • Stephanie Carter, a former lawyer who started Wallaroo Hat Co. and has sold $3 million worth of hats in a year, hiring 40 sales reps nationwide. 
  • Susan Lyles, founder and president of And Toto Too Theater Company, a nonprofit that promotes women in the arts.
  • Olivia Omega-Logan, a former ad exec working 60 hours a week who launched Baby Candy, a store selling clothes for kids wrapped like pieces of candy.  She founded the company when her baby contracted a virus and couldn’t go to day care.

Shannon Henry, a former writer with the Washington Post who co-founded the Cooking with Friends Club, says, “It seemed like the right thing for my life at the moment.  I think a lot of new moms are so in love with their kids, and they want to be in love with their work, too.  But it takes them away from their kids.  I think that’s why a lot of women become mompreneurs.  They want to figure out their lives in a more flexible way…. It’s natural for my lifestyle… for me, my work life and my regular life and closer together than they ever have been before.”

In our book, we interviewed several mompreneurs, including Stacey Boyd, who founded Savvy Source for Parents, Bridget Bradley Gray, who founded Wiggle Room, and Linda Mason, who founded Bright Horizons Family Solutions.  With the latter having 600 centers nationwide, 18,000 employees, and the honor of being named nine times to FORTUNE magazine’s prestigious list of the “100 Best Companies to Work For,” you can see that the mompreneurship spectrum is as wide as it is fascinating.

Other famous examples include the founders of Jibbitz and Baby Einstein.  Mompreneurs now even have their own magazine, club, and blog.

And let’s not forget the intrepid dadpreneurs out there—like my brother, a stay-at-home dad who recently launched his own company called Custom Homes of the Rockies.

Who among us doesn’t want to create an extraordinary life?  Who among us doesn’t want to integrate our life and work in ways that allow us to make contributions and find meaning and fulfillment?  For growing numbers of moms—and dads—entrepreneurship is a rewarding stepping stone to these worthy pursuits.

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Reducing the Cost of Entry

April 28th, 2008 by cgergen

There is never a better time to be a life entrepreneur.  Every day there is a new idea or article sparking this conviction.  Right now, for example, I’m sitting on a train to NYC and just read an article in Fast Company about the company Ning.  The cover story  outlines Ning’s “viral expansion loop” business model.  Essentially, it has created a platform that allows users to create their own mini social networks and then invite other users to join.  Deeply passionate about your local minor league baseball team and want to connect with others who share this passion?  Then create your own site using Ning.  Ning monetizes this growth by placing very targeted ads on each of the newly created sites (called Ning nets).  And grow it has.  As of this reading, the company is reporting more than 230,000 Ning nets – up from 60,000 a year ago.


Viral expansion is not new – just think about free email provider Hotmail which exploded to 30 million users in just 30 months.  But what makes Ning notable (besides being co-founded by Marc Andreesen from Netscape fame), is that this concept accelerates our ability to build highly personalized platforms based on our interests and passions.  Importantly, it also DRAMATICALLY reduces our cost of entry.


Have a dream of starting a charter school in your community?  Want to gauge interest in a new public school by other members in your community?  Want to connect with others who have done the same?  Rather than sketching out the idea in a static document and then reaching out piece-meal to neighbors through email and flyers – you can now build a site dedicated to this concept and then invite others to join.  They, in turn, can invite others to join the conversation and a community is born.  Rather than being restricted to your immediate network of friends – the viral nature of this concept allows you to rapidly create a diverse network of people who become invested in the idea and want to help it succeed.  The positive network effect is born and what started as a distant dream can quickly become a reachable reality.


Sites like Ning can’t provide you a clear sense of who you are and where you want to go – the foundation of the entrepreneurial life path.  But once you start figuring this out and waking up to the vast amount of opportunities on the horizon, there has never been a better time to create a shared vision of an exciting new future and making it happen.

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