Monday, June 18, 2018

Do You Know the Next GlobalGiving CEO?

Mari Kuraishi announced recently that she will be stepping down as chief executive of GlobalGiving, where she has spent the last 18 years of her career. This is almost as emotional for me as it is for her. Not only was I her co-founder when we launched GlobalGiving , but we also got married three years later.

Why did we decide to leave our high-flying jobs at the World Bank to start GlobalGiving? The Harvard Business Review has a good piece that gives lots of good background , but it all boiled down to this: Mari and I were unwittingly thrown together into a situation where we (accidentally) gained a couple of insights about a possible new way to fund development projects, and we said to each other , “What the heck – life is short; let’s go for it.”

And so we launched what became the world’s first global crowdfunding platform. We weren’t exactly sure what to call it at first, because the word “crowdfunding” had not even appeared in print. And we had no experience doing a startup or running a tech-based platform (the web itself was barely a decade old). Yet we decided to go for it, and though the first few years were humbling, GlobalGiving gradually got traction, and today it has helped nearly 20,000 community-based projects in 170 countries raise hundreds of millions of dollars.

GlobalGiving allows any bona fide community organization in the world to post a project designed to make their world a better place. There’s no guarantee the project will be funded, but the GlobalGiving breakthrough was providing a platform for them to have their voice heard. An unexpected side-benefit has been to allow donors of all sizes to have their voices heard as well – no longer do small (or even large) donors need a fully staffed foundation to due diligence, make fast, secure disbursements, and monitor progress on projects almost anywhere in the world. Hundreds of thousands of individual donors, as well as many leading companies and foundations now use the platform.

Along the way, GlobalGiving has had to innovate in many dimensions, some of which are radical but "under the hood” efficiencies and some of which are user-facing (the ability to get detailed reports and provide feedback across the world). A number of these innovations will provide the foundation for the next leader to take GlobalGiving to $1 billion and beyond – they already inspired the creation of Feedback Labs, and they may even create the kernel of a new operating system for aid and philanthropy.

As I look back, three things leap out as me as key ingredients of GlobalGiving’s success: First, put the people we seek to serve front and center of what we do. This seems like common sense, but it was radical at the time, and we built GlobalGiving ground-up to let the people themselves have the primary voice in what happens in their communities. Second, a spectacular team is the secret sauce to breakthroughs. We have faced many obstacles along the way, and it is usually the team rather than the founders who not only solve problems but have radical insights about new innovations. And Third, it’s all about the network – not just the organization. GlobalGiving can serve so many people in so many countries so effectively because of the relationships it has built with thousands of organizations around the world.

Whoever is lucky enough to become the next CEO of GlobalGiving will inherit and awesome team, a tremendous network, a fabulous board, and all the ingredients required for another fundamental innovation in the aid and philanthropy world. Someone who merely wants to be a steward need not apply. GlobalGiving is looking for a high-flyer who says to herself or himself: “What the heck – life is short; I am going for it.”

Friday, December 15, 2017

100 Days of Gratitude, Day 47: Jean-Louis Sarbib

"Dennis, why don't you come work with me?"

It was the summer of 1987, and a dynamic young division chief in the World Bank's Africa region was offering me an exciting opportunity to work with him.

It took me 26 years to say yes.  In the 1980s, I needed to work in Asia for personal reasons.  Our work intersected a bit over the years, but it was not until 2013 that the stars aligned.

After I had published this paper on feedback loops at the Center for Global Development, I got a message from Jean-Louis asking me to come to a lunch discussion at the OpenGovHub.  He and his colleagues at the Development Gateway invited along a number of colleagues from other organizations at the Hub, and we began to have weekly lunches to discuss how better feedback loops might improve aid, governance, and philanthropy.

One thing led to another - a long story with a lots of heroes worthy of separate posts - and Feedback Labs was born in 2014.  The typical path would be to set up a separate organization to house the Labs, but I wanted build on the momentum of those lunches without having to establish the infrastructure for a new entity.

So I asked Jean-Louis if the Development Gateway would house the Labs for a while until we could get our feet under us.  He replied, "Of course."

For three years, Feedback Labs was hosted by Development Gateway.  Since Jean-Louis and his colleagues not only participated substantively but took the administrative burden off our back, the Labs gained momentum rapidly.  As a result, we started life as a separate legal entity late this year with the wind in our sails - over 400 organizations, foundations, and governments have now participated in collaborations we've hosted.

I felt guilty all those years for turning down Jean-Louis' offer in 1987.  But maybe there was a hidden logic.  Maybe that first offer was just preliminary to the real thing, which had not yet emerged.

Whatever the case the Labs would probably not exist without Jean-Louis, and in any case we could not have achieved what we have without his support.  For that I am profoundly grateful.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

100 Days of Gratitude, Day 46 - Uncle James

James Skaggs, 1922-2016
The last time I saw my great Uncle James, I asked him how he was doing.  He said fine, though he was annoyed that he had shrunk by one inch, down to six foot-two or -three.  "And I can't dunk anymore," he said, though he was pleased he had been able to show the younger generation some good moves on the basketball court the previous week.

Uncle James died this morning, days short of his 95th birthday. His posture was better when I saw him a few months ago than mine will ever be. His good nature and kindness and decency set a standard.

He was my father's mother's brother. He had spent his career working in mining in eastern Kentucky and western West Virginia.  He was one of a kind.

RIP, Uncle James.


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

100 Days of Gratitude, Day 45 - "Hick" in Overalls

This great piece by Bill Easterly dissecting the temptations and dangers of stereotyping brought to mind the following story.

In 1979, I had a teaching assistant for my undergraduate statistics class at Chapel Hill. For some reason, the real professor was sick or a no show, so this guy had to teach the whole course. He was a good ol' boy - probably all of 24 or 25 years old - and he told us he was from rural North Carolina (Farmville, I think).  My heart sank when he walked in sporting an incredibly ill-fitting pair of overalls.  With a smirk on my face I tried - without success - to slip out the back door.  He called the class to attention, and said something to the effect of: 
“Now listen up boys and girls.  I want you to write these five things down in your little notebooks, and if you remember nothing else from the entire semester, just regurgitate ‘em on the final exam, and you will pass.  Here we go, ready? 1) Population distributions (at least normal ones) have a mean.  2) Population distributions have a variance around the mean. 3) Populations with a positive mean can have part of their distribution in negative territory, and you gotta keep this in mind, because it can be really bad news.  4) Populations with different means often have hugely overlapping distributions, so they ain’t all that different when it comes down to it.  5) Over time, especially for human populations, the mean can change, the variance can change, and even the individual observations can change position in the distribution.  Now, let me show you how to draw this stuff, and then I want you to get your little butts out of here and go back to your fraternity and sorority parties.”  
I wrote those five things down, and in those 30 minutes I learned half or more of what I know today  And it’s taken me decades to realize how lucky I was to have that “hick” in overalls for a teaching assistant.  I wish I knew his name so I could thank him personally.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Coffee

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

100 Days of Gratitude, Day 44 - Bob Whittle

William Robert Whittle, 1953-2016
My uncle Bob taught me important things about how to live and how to die.

In the 1960s, at his parents place at "The Lake" in rural Kentucky, he taught us nephews and nieces card tricks, practical jokes, and how to make trouble without getting into (too much) trouble.

In late 1979 and early 1980, he and his wife Paula looked after me when I was a lonely college freshman living near by.

In the late 1990s, I watched and learned as he left a job working for "the man" and started his own business.

In the 2000s, I became more aware of how he was a friend to all and a stranger to none, something I have tried (and failed) to emulate. I hope to do better with the parenting skills he taught me.

And then, in May, just a few weeks before he died, I was stunned to get an invitation from him to a lobster bake.  He knew he had only a short time to live and wanted to assemble friends and family  for one last party while he could still enjoy a good meal and conversation.  We assembled at the same "Lake" place where we spent so much time in the 1960s.  We ate an enormous amount of outstanding lobster while he regaled us with a tale of a practical joke he had played on his surgeon and the nurses a few days before.

And then, on June 15, he was gone.  He was only 62. But I feel lucky to have had him as my uncle, and as a role model, for any amount of time.  RIP, Uncle Bob.

Monday, June 27, 2016

100 Days of Gratitude, Day 43 - Dr. John Niparko

John Niparko, 1955- 2016

John Niparko died April 25, aged 61.

A pioneer of cochlear implants, John transformed the world for thousands of people with severe hearing loss. In addition to his surgery and teaching, he co-founded the Listening Center at Johns Hopkins, and then the River School in Washington, DC - both with Nancy Mellon, his frequent collaborator.

I saw his work first hand: he gave my son the ability to hear for the first time at age four, and then to begin speaking soon thereafter.

There are many things to be said not only for John's clinical and academic accomplishments, but also for his humanity.  He would reassure parents when their kids came for testing, and then go into the gym next door to shoot hoops with the kids to relive their anxiety.

I am profoundly grateful to John Niparko for what he has done - for the world, and for my family.


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

100 Days of Gratitude, Day 42 - Shari Berenbach

Shari Berenbach
Shari Berenbach has died.  Most of us had no idea she was so ill.  That is because she always - always - had a smile on her face and an encouraging word for those of us trying to develop new ways of creating opportunity for the world.

I met her in Budapest in 2001 at a small, intense meeting of some of the early pioneers in social finance.  Most of us were in the early ideation phase, but through her visionary work at Calvert Foundation Shari had already achieved more than the majority of social entrepreneurs do in a lifetime.

I remember that at that meeting someone referred to her as the "grandmother" of social finance.  She was a bit offended, saying that she was only in her 40s!  But in retrospect, it was true: Despite the small age difference, she treated many of us over the years with fond indulgence, and helped us the way that grandmothers do - in my case acting as the original fiscal sponsor of a crazy idea called GlobalGiving in the shaky early years.  GlobalGiving might well not exist today if not for her early help.

There are many good people trying to do good in the world. But Shari stood out.  RIP, Shari. May the rest of us live up to your example.

Friday, December 11, 2015

100 Days of Gratitude, Day 41: Angus Deaton

The first course I took in grad school in 1983 was from Angus Deaton, who just won the Nobel in Economics.

He taught me to:

  • think clearly and plainly about the big questions
  • avoid complexity when simplicity suffices
  • always, always, always re-examine my assumptions and conclusions

But most importantl, he taught me - by his own example - to be strive to be humane and humble in the service of trying to do good.
PS: And if you want to know what kind of person he is, just watch the 4 minutes starting at 33:00, where he first describes his debt to specific people he has worked with, and then describes his debt (including sartorial!) to the giants on whose shoulder he has stood.


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

100 Days of Gratitude, Day 40 - Steve Rogers




Steve Rogers, Sr. Director of Engineering
It's difficult to overstate the role that Steve Rogers has played in GlobalGiving, where he recently celebrated his tenth anniversary.

In the early days, he was in charge of the back end of the website as well as the front end - and almost everything in between, including internal systems.  The job would have overwhelmed lesser mortals.  But not Steve.  He put his head down and took a never-say-never attitude (admittedly blowing his stack now and then, which no one blamed him for!). He gradually laid the foundation for the world-class tech and product team GlobalGiving has today.

A while ago, the whole GlobalGiving team asked Steve to reflect on what he has learned. Below is an excerpt well worth reading.

"As many of us who have crossed from the private sector for-profit world to the non-profit technology sector, I love the mission and while often being under-funded, under-staffed, and over-achieving, any frustration dissipates at the end of the day when I think of all the great social entrepreneurs and grassroots organizations that benefit from what GlobalGiving provides.
I have learned (and live) these lessons:
  • You can’t hit a grand slam if you don’t get some runners on base.
  • You can still score (and win) with several well placed “bunts.”
  • Incremental and iterative growth (a good leadoff) and change can lead to a “game changer” (stolen base).
  • Always be open to new ideas – encourage discussion; be inclusive. Take a seventh inning stretch to reflect and listen!
  • Never settle for, or give in to, the status quo. Don’t worry if that fly ball gets “lost in the lights”, track it, chase it down and make the play!"