Monday, March 25, 2019

100 Days of Gratitude, Day 49: Britt Lake

I am excited to tell you that Britt Lake has agreed to take the baton as the next CEO of Feedback Labs.

This announcement from our board has all the details, but let me reflect for a moment how far we have come - and why I am excited Britt will lead us into the next chapter. I will continue to support Britt, the FBL team, and the community on strategic initiatives in my new role as Senior Advisor.

Feedback Labs started in 2013 as a lunch group of innovative organizations and leaders exploring how they might ask three simple questions: “What do regular people want to make their lives better? Are we helping them get it? If not, what should we do differently?”

Thanks to early support and encouragement from the Rita Allen Foundation, Fund for Shared Insight, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the White House, Feedback Labs came into formal existence as a project co-hosted by Development Gateway and GlobalGiving. Other key founding organizations included Keystone Accountability, Ashoka, Center for Global Development, GroundTruth Initiative, Frontline SMS, Twaweza ni sisi, and Ushahidi.

Since then, our community has expanded to include international aid agencies, foundations, nonprofits, government agencies and impact investors. Over 500 organizations have now collaborated through over 110 Summits, Labstorms, pilots, and research projects exploring how good feedback practices can be the right, smart, feasible, powerful, and expected thing to do.  We have worked together in places including Houston, Boston, Austin, New York, Hartford, London, Chonqing, Addis Ababa and many more.

Financial supporters and collaborators have expanded to include Omidyar Network, the Packard Foundation, USAID, DFID, Siegel Family Endowment, World Bank, GIZ, Global Delivery Initiative, GlobalGiving, Accountable Now, Liquidnet for Good, Nurse-Family Partnership, the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood, and the Oxford Said Business School.

Building on this momentum, the Labs is now focusing on helping the feedback community develop the tools and incentives to make good feedback practices the “only” thing to do. In this context, we have begun collaborating intensively with an expanded core group that includes Guidestar (now Candid), Charity Navigator, Listen4Good, BBB Wise Giving Alliance, Lean Data Initiative, Steve Goodall (former CEO of JD Power), and Bridges Fund Management. At the 2018 Summit, this group discussed with the community a draft set of core feedback principles, and is working on additional common standards and tools for the field as a whole.

No one is more qualified to lead Feedback Labs at this juncture than Britt Lake, who has been involved since the early days of the Labs’s founding. As Chief Program Officer of GlobalGiving, she has pioneered scalable learning tools and incentives for thousands of organizations in 170 countries - experience and expertise that will now be available to our entire Feedback Labs community.

I have worked with Britt for nearly fifteen years, both in her role at GlobalGiving and in her role on the Feedback Labs board. I am thrilled that she will now be leading Feedback Labs into its next chapter.

Please join me in welcoming Britt. I am proud of what we have achieved together over the last five years, but the best is yet to come!

Dennis Whittle
Outgoing CEO and CoFounder
Feedback Labs

Monday, November 19, 2018

101 Podcasts Before the Crash

It seems like a new podcast is being released every day.  What started out as a trickle several years ago has become a flood.  The formerly niche medium has become big business, with the hippest companies convincing podcast hosts to read their advertisements in the first person ("Let me tell you why I love this mattress...").  Some podcasts have vaulted obscure people to fame, and others are hosted by lions of the "old" media who are trying to re-boot their careers or stave off irrelevance.

The frenzy makes me wonder whether we have reached "peak podcast."  Are podcasts a fad that will burn out like the CB craze of the 1970s - or will they be eclipsed like social media has done to blogs?

Just in case the podcast bubble is about to burst, my friend Nick Hamlin and I have put together a list of 101 podcasts that we hope someone - anyone - will create before the crash.  (Nick came up with the best ones).  Please take this as permission from us to steal the titles and start releasing episodes:

1.         Some call it a rut, I call it my groove
2.          I’m not sure if I have a point, but hear me out.
3.         The opposite of elitist
4.         Oh my God, would you listen to this?
5.         I like it, but my wife, she don’t like it
6.         I just got in from Lumberton, and I just don’t know.
7.         A fine mess.
8.         Tautologies and Profundities
9.         Up to a point
10.       Not too much, Not too little
11.       Mistakes were made, but challenges remain
12.       If you look at it from exactly the right angle…
13.       CouldBe
14.       MaybeMaybeNot
15.       ConfirmingMyBias
16.       A Sample of One
17.       Unbiased But With a Variance of Infinity (HT Jeff Hammer)
18.       Optimizing Around the Wrong Mean
19.       Embroidering on the Head of a Pin
20.       Much Ado About the Wrong Thing
21.       What Is The Role of Intelligence
22.       Things We Used to Think (and Might Again in the Future)
23.       What Do We Know, and How Do We Know It?
24.       How Should I Know?
25.       Maybe I am Wrong
26.       Fifty-one Percent
27.       Until Proven Wrong
30.       Not The View of the Author
31.       Stealing Home
32.       Causation, not Correlation
33.       Eating My Own Dog Food
34.       Less Quantity, More Quality
35.       Less quality, more quantity
36.       Mean Time to Moron
37.       Push to Failure
38.       It all boils down to this
39.       I heard you the first time
40.       It’s really hard to say
41.       Not too much, not too little
42.       It all depends on how you look at it
43.       All multi-verses considered
44.       How should I know?
45.       It’s not fair
46.       Why doesn’t everyone understand how great I am?
47.       Dear in the headlights
48.       All cowbell, all the time. 
49.       Life is a 2x2 Matrix
50.       I See Your Point but I am Not Convinced.
51.       Your Behavior Doesn’t Fit My Model so You Must Be Irrational
52.       100 Reasons THAT Won’t Work. 
53.       You Don’t Know What it’s Like
54.       BĂȘtise, mode d’emploi
55.       Charlatan or genius I not sure. 
56.       Ex and Not Ex. 
57.       So many podcast ideas so little time
58.       An n of pi
59.       Works or Grace
60.       Given that I’ve been wrong before, what’s the likelihood I am wrong now
61.       Let’s find the root cause and tell someone to do an intervention
62.       It’s my way or the driveway
63.       Where you sit depends on where you sit. 
64.       If you listen, I will mansplain it to you. 
65.       Since geniuses are absent-minded, and I am also absent-minded, I am a genius. 
66.       I will try to be brief but I have something profound to say so it may take a while and you may not understand it. 
67.       Long pauses, deep thought, and intelligence. 
68.       Economists without garters
69.       Wars we have not waged
70.       It’s easier to see the flaws in my argument if you don’t agree with me. 
71.       The Pod with No Name 
72.       What If?
73.       How much Type II Error Can We Handle?
74.       Neither Meat nor Motion
75.       Turtles all the way down
76.       NP is not so hard
78.       Figures and grounds
79.       "Ceci n'est pas une blog"
80.       Searching under the grid
81.       In God we trust.  All others, bring data (HT Deming)
82.       Live the questions now (HT Rilke)
83.       Cargo cult science(HT Feynman)
84.       Who's missing?
85.       Wake up and Fight (HT Guthrie)
86.       Giving away my legos
87.       A Garden of Type 0 Errors
88.       Linearity is a lie
89.       p=0.06
91.       How much are you willing to bet on that?
94.       You ain't gonna need that
95.       Bizarre cathedrals
96.       The readiness is all
97.       This one weird trick is a weird trick
98.       Good/Fast/Cheap: pick 3
99.       Updating my priors
100.    Common tragedies of the commons

Some of above are from this blog post

Saturday, September 15, 2018

100 Days of Gratitude, Day 48: Laura Callanan

We will shortly announce the next CEO of GlobalGiving.  It's an emotional time for Mari and me, since GlobalGiving has been our "baby" for so many years.  But just as kids mature and go away to school, GG is ready (coincidentally, at age 18) to go on without us. Though we will remain active on the board, we will not micro-manage or meddle.  Instead, we will watch with pride as the organization moves to the next stage of life, flourishing and growing into something more extraordinary than we can currently imagine.

The truth is that Mari and I were far from the only "parents" of GlobalGiving.  I wrote earlier on this blog about Donna Callejon, who joined us as the first "adult"member of the team in 2003.  Without Donna, GG might not even be alive to go to college.  I have also written about Dave Goldwyn, Tom Bird, and Fran Hauser, former board chairs who were instrumental in steering through the early stages of adolescence and into high school.  Many others that I have blogged about (and some I will in the future) also played key roles.

Laura Callanan
But today I want to talk about Laura Callanan.  Some years ago as I was stepping back from day-to-day involvement in GlobalGiving, Mari engaged McKinsey & Company to help consolidate lessons from the first 10 years and envision how GlobalGiving could deliver on its potential for real impact in its next decade and beyond.  Since I had worked with so many management and strategy consultant teams at the World Bank, I had - how to put this? - low expectations.

That all changed when Laura Callanan arrived at our office. From the first meeting, it was clear that this woman wasn't your typical clever but predictable consultant, who maintains an ironic distance while forcing everything into a pre-determined, standardized framework dictated by their firm.

Instead, Laura threw herself into the gestalt of what we were doing, becoming a sort of strategic optometrist for a team comprised of some people who were near sighted and some farsighted.  Laura would hold various mirrors and lens up to the management team and say "Does this make it clear? No?  How about this?  OK, now is this one clearer or fuzzier?" Then she would go away and grind some custom lenses, and come back for more trials.

One day, after months of this, she brought in some lenses and the team's reaction was "Wow - that is it! We can see both up close and far clearly now!" So we locked in those lenses, and they became the strategic framework that enabled GlobalGiving to grow to serve more than 20,000 projects in 170 countries - providing nearly $350 million from 800,000 individual donors and some of the world's most innovative companies and foundations.

Most consultants walk away from one job to the next.  But we clicked so well with Laura that we asked her to join the board - and within a short period the board elected her as chair.  This year, Laura oversaw the search and recruitment process for our new CEO.   As we wrestled with the large pool of exception candidates, she helped us keep our eye on the prize - i.e., the heart and soul as well as strategic promise of GlobalGiving.  I am confident that the result will speak for itself in the next chapter of our growth.

Laura could easily have rested on her laurels at McKinsey - or at Rockefeller Foundation or the National Endowment for the Arts, where she held senior roles.  Her status would have been high, and the work (though stressful) would have been predictable, remunerative, and low-risk.  But here's the thing: Laura has guts and vision, too:  A couple of years ago, she decided to leave that security behind and become an entrepreneur herself, launching Upstart Co-Lab - an initiative to unleash a whole new way to invest in creativity and artists as a means to spur innovation and new solutions to the world's most pressing problems.

Upstart has already made a splash, and I have no doubt it will reach maturity in due course and go off to college itself.  I hope to play a small role in supporting her to make that happen.

Friday, June 22, 2018

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; 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.

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 an 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.”

UPDATE: We have found a great new CEO for the next chapter of GlobalGiving!

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


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.