Posted by: Charlie | October 30, 2009

Socratic Leadership

SocratesMy friend and former Do Good Well blogger, Nathaniel Whittemore, has added a great post over at, “How Your Leader’s Expertise Can Become your Company’s Biggest Weakness.” The gist is that there is a changing nature of leaders in organization. Success is dependent upon humble leaders, both self-starters and experts at delegating. Through his experience leading the Global Engagement Summit, Whittemore explains that when you let the reins loose, often the team can create more than a leader could conjure on her own:

The lesson for leaders is to think soberly and humbly about the nature of the commitments they have to their organizations. Every leader’s arrangement is different, but to execute specific tasks as well as to coordinate the work of others requires investing a large amount in the leadership of others. What’s more, I think the lesson is for leaders to think about how they arrange support around themselves that’s related to their expertise, even if that feels counter intuitive when they’re trying to save resources for elsewhere.

An entrepreneurship professor of mine echoes this notion, coining the term “vulnerable leadership.” He argues that a leader must be able to strategically let down their guard to give space for the rest of the team to advance. I prefer to call it “Socratic Leadership.” While the leader may have most of the answers, as Whittemore suggests, it is his role to socratically advance the dialogue amongst the team. By suspending judgment and comment, the Socratic leader enables team engagment, conducts ideas as a conversation, and collectively creates innovative answers.  When success is increasingly determined by an organization or team’s ability to execute on brilliant ideas, the role of the leader necessarily morphs to support the whole.

Posted by: Charlie | October 19, 2009

Do Good Digest: Three Ways to Take Words into Action

via Flikr

via Flikr

John Gerzema TEDx: Empowering consumers

The recession has changed consumer behavior. While personal savings may have fallen in the past 20 years, consumer voices have risen. New methods of organizing both online and offline may give consumers power to dictate the next steps in our economy.

Good: A Design For the Rest of Us.

Good design is not only a must for conveying a message, it is also a force to transform the world. This interview with Warren Berger the author of Glimmer gives insight on how use design problem solving for issues outside of design.

Planet Green: Green Materials Guide

Employ that design thinking and start building with green materials. This guide to green materials is must see for those about to undertake their next building project.

Posted by: Charlie | October 13, 2009

Business Innovation Factory 5 Recap

bif5-home-logoStory telling is the centerpiece of building communities. Last week leaders in business, media, policy, and education gathered at BIF5, to tell stories. I had to ask myself, why would impact oriented individuals be willing to give up two days to simply tell stories. Stories are not quantifiable, they are not deliverables to file away in work reports. So whats the big deal about stories? Well for one they inspire thought provoking dialogue and innovation. This is especially true at BIF5 where stories are not about historical accomplishments, but rather future projections.

Read More…

A cell tower in Kumai, Ghana via Flikr

A cell tower in Kumai, Ghana via Flikr

Two way communication died months ago. This weekend at the Better World by Design conference at RISD/Brown thought leaders in design, engineering, and appropriate technology collaborated on group projects and shared significant developments since convening last year. I was particularly delighted to see Ken Banks from Kiwanja / FrontlineSMS. His open software has enabled health clinics, farmers, and merchants  better track patient health, harvest growth, and sales in developing countries. A number of his constituent projects have received significant funding to scale successful projects to new countries.

The opportunity for cell-phones to change the world has  recurred throughout mainstream media in recent months. Yesterday the New York Times reported that texting in east and central Africa has enabled farmers to increase their livelihoods. Farmers receive texts about incoming disease strains, volatile pricing, and weather patterns. Farmers in rural areas are connected to urban centers where markets and commodity brokers influence prices. This urban, rural dialogue is changing farmers behavior and their access to global markets. This a contributing factor to Africa’s cell-phone boom, the largest growth sector in the mobile industry.

Access to global communication systems is changing the power dynamics and relationships between producers, manufacturers, and consumers. Working with Runa, a sustainable amazonian beverage company, my team was contacted by Ecuadorian indigenous farmers by e-mail before we had done first site visit. Having seen our  website (shoddy at best), they expressed interest in working together.

At what other point in history have rural areas had such sophisticated knowledge sharing tools to improve their livelihoods? How does this effect education and training for both knowledge and labor economies. When else in history have producers had the ability to access global networks of consumers so directly? What implications does this have for our conceptions of global trade?

Posted by: Charlie | September 23, 2009

Global Phenomenon, Local Empowerment

pecha-kuchaFlashmobs, Tweetups, and Pecha Kuchas are evidence that we live in an increasingly connected (and jargony) world. These gatherings allow for new forms of interaction and have profound meaning for both global and local civil society. Tonight I attended Providence’s 7th Pecha Kucha – a global monthly event where a handful of presenters are given 20 slides, 20 seconds per slide to share a new idea, design, business, or research – and was wowed to see democracy in action.

We were greeted by Pecha Kucha Worchester over YouTube and then heard talks by social entrepreneurs, doctors, politicians, students, and business leaders. We heard ideas on new medical devices, conspiracy theories, and movements to overcome poverty, but it was not the presentations that made the events, it was the audience. In the crowd included Mayor Cicellini, Senator Chaffee, professors from Brown and RISD, the executive director of AS220, the CEO of Ximedica, students, artists, citizens and so on… all meeting at a bar… to listen, learn, and share… on a Wednesday night. Is this actually the 21st century or just another town meeting like the founders envisioned? Read More…

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.

Posted by: Charlie | August 21, 2009

The Guitar That Changed The World

The Guitar That Changed the WorldWe are all indebted to the late Les Paul who passed last week at the age of ninety-four. A musician, inventor and entrepreneur, Paul’s legacy is definitive to American culture and the world of recorded music. As Paul said in his last interview with the New York Times, he was “born with all these things yet to do that haven’t been done.”

His secret: living in the present. Read More…

Posted by: Charlie | August 20, 2009

Do Good Digest: The Creative Imperative

Providence's Waterfire

Providence's Waterfire (Source: hottbucks on flickr)

Providence: The Creative Capital: Providence Rhode Island has recently rebranded itself as the Creative Capital. This post on Social Entrepreneurship in the country’s smallest state advocates the “small is beautiful” theory. The post highlights a few of the blossoming projects in this innovation mecca.

Art And Copy: “I think creativity can solve anything” – Art And Copy is a groundbreaking documentary on the power of creativity in the advertising industry. This trailer features leaders in the field engaging in provoking dialogue on creativity, manipulation, and possibility.

Burn On the Bayou: Burn on the Bayou is an unlikely film about an unlikely collaboration. Attendees of the illustrious Burning Man festival gathered their creative pursuits to rebuild New Orleans. A great story about releasing the potential of one affinity group to help another while enacting change and inspiring thousands.

“Snatching Digital Rights” or Protecting Our Culture?: Gearing up for the Burning Man Festival in Black Rock City Nevada, this post argues that restricted creative liscensing facilitates greater creativity rather than inhibiting it.

Posted by: Charlie | August 18, 2009

Know Your Audience – Or They Will Fight Back

Carrots For Corporate Social Responsibility?

Carrots For Corporate Social Responsibility?

There is a business motto saying ‘the customer is always right.’ That is of course unless they are left.

Whole Foods founder John Mackey recently published his personal  recommendation for health care reform in the Wall Street Journal – bad timing in a hot debate and bad economy. Not every Whole Foods consumer sides with Mackey’s politics. Although Whole Foods claims that his views do not represent those of the firm, his remarks have turned into a PR nightmare. The Economist reports that over 13,000 loyal Whole Foods consumers are boycotting the natural foods giants.

Mackey should have considered his customers before raising his voice amongest a heated political debate – it especially does not help to more or less blame Americans for being overweight. Many of his personal politics do not align with his liberal consumers, a large portion of the Whole Foods demographic. In hindsight his blunder is an obvious neglect of consumer of loyalty. But Mackey surely knew better – at least according to the Whole Foods website.

“His business philosophy is to act with care and responsibility toward all of the various stakeholder groups of the Company and to operate Whole Foods Market with social and environmental responsibility”

Read More…

Posted by: Charlie | August 12, 2009

Small is Beautiful: Images of Local Communities

Life in a Refugee Camp by UNHCR. Eritrean refugees in Shimelba refugee camp, Ethiopia via flikr UNHCR / F. Courbet / December 2008     Life in a Refugee Camp by UNHCR. Eritrean refugees in Shimelba refugee camp, Ethiopia via flikr UNHCR / F. Courbet / December 2008

Life in a Refugee Camp by UNHCR. Eritrean refugees in Shimelba refugee camp, Ethiopia via flikr UNHCR / F. Courbet

I am excited by a recent  film release, which affirms my belief that small is beautiful, that local communities can mobilize to support each other. Last night “Home Across Lands” opened at the RI international film festival. This magnificent piece  documents the global trek from an Eritrean refugee camp in Ethiopia to an immigrant community in Providence, RI. From where “life is on hold” to a  where the future may look better than the past. In their disrupted homes, these refugees are dependent upon outside aid. Although RI is amidst a serious budget crises, the union’s smallest state is an exemplary case of a local communities ability to create opportunity. Read More…

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