Posted by: Charlie | August 26, 2009

Unlikely Allies

IMG_0705Lets face it, we live in an interdependent society. The greatest leaders in government, business, and non-profit sectors accomplish great tasks through teamwork, partnership, and collaboration.

This evening I arranged an event at a tea house in San Francisco with my business partners from Runa and our cultural director of the foundation. It was a gathering of friends, family, investors, burners, and tea enthusiasts. Most you would more likely  find in a café with hot espresso drinks , others in the Ecuadorian Amazon, and some in leading non-profits – well maybe thats not quite so different.

Flavio, our cultural director, used this unique setting to share myths that none of the audience could have predicted. His creative story telling was a vehicle to unite people from diverse backgrounds and opinions.  Earlier that day he had shared the same stories in Silicon Valley – far from his home in the Amazon – capturing the minds of academics, “geeks” and innovators.

Speaking many languages and knowing how to listen to different audiences is essential to building dynamic supporters. And don’t forget to bring a translator if your director doesn’t speak English.

Engaged story telling has enabled my partners and I to form unlikely allies.  Cross-sector connections have enabled us to think outside the box, better yet, to think big. I like to believe that if you build unlikely allies you will likely be successful in your endeavors to do good.



  1. I work for an education nonprofit and, while completely unrelated, this post reminds me of an article I read yesterday about education reform and geeks. It’s a case for empowering geeks to “make learning cool, so the cool kids are the ones who get As.”

    Eight charter schools in San Diego County use this idea of unlikely allies to break the standard of a youth-owned high-school culture: “A big chunk of the school experience is having [the students] hang out with the adults they could imagine becoming.” Building dynamic advisers is important to the success of any program — whether in the nonprofit sector, education system, or elsewhere.

    • Kelsey,

      Thank you for your comment and for passing along the Wired article. Although we are talking about similar things, I recognize one key difference. Structuring education so that “geeks are cool” still creates a hierarchy – a situation with winners and losers. I believe that education and inspired learning is the goal, but perhaps there is a way to do this without a vertical social system. When I talk about unlikely allies I am saying that there is great potential in each individual that can be best realized in group settings. When we bring in diverse perspectives, instead of creating hierarchies, we create valued roles.



      • Ah, your point about the hierarchy between winners and losers is completely fair.

        The connection I was making to ‘unlikely allies,’ though, had to do with the example of charter schools inviting adults to spend time with students more as equals than as mentors. The success of the program inevitably comes from the sharing of divergent perspectives in group settings.

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