Monthly Archives: October 2017

Group Volunteering during the holidays: why is it so hard?

Finding group volunteering opportunities on or around Thanksgiving in the USA, on or around Christmas, or anytime between these holidays, is much harder than most people imagine. Why is it so hard?

  • So many, many people want to volunteer during these holidays that organizations that involve volunteers during these days book their volunteer openings quickly, often months in advance (some food pantries and soup kitchens are booked with volunteers for Thanksgiving and Christmas a YEAR in advance!).
  • Most economically or socially-disadvantaged people find family to be with during the holidays. Even most people staying in homeless shelters go to a family member’s home on Thanksgiving or Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. That means that many shelters and soup kitchens don’t serve many people on Thanksgiving or Christmas.
  • It is very hard for a nonprofit organization to develop a one-time, just-show-up and volunteer activity that is worth all the expense (staff time to supervise the volunteers and supervise them, particularly since the volunteer may never volunteer again); often, it’s cheaper and easier to simply let the staff do the work themselves. In addition, group volunteering activities are also quite difficult to develop, for similar reasons.
  • Staff at nonprofits often suspend all training of new volunteers the week of Christmas, through January 1 – or even for all of November and December. This is to allow staff some time off to be with their own families for the holidays.

If you are absolutely determined to find ways to volunteer during the holidays, you should have started looking in August. I’m not kidding! If you didn’t start back in the summer, then you can use this advice for finding volunteer activities during the holidays. Also see:

If you are tech-minded, you can help a nonprofit, or a group of nonprofits, to develop a One(-ish) Day “Tech” Activities for Volunteers, where volunteers build web pages, write code, edit Wikipedia pages, and more. These are gatherings of onsite volunteers, where everyone is in one location, together, to do an online-related project in one day, or a few days. Because computers are involved, these events are sometimes called hackathons, even if coding isn’t involved.

If your organization wants to involve groups of volunteers over the holidays in meaningful ways – not just busy work that isn’t really essential to your organization, have a look at this advice for creating One-Time, Short-Term Group Volunteering Activities

 

Also see:

Virtual volunteering gets shout out in One America Appeal

Saturday night, during the One America Appeal concert, after the speeches by the USA Presidents in attendance, a representative from the Points of Light Foundation took the stage to honor volunteers who have made significant contributions to helping in post-hurricane efforts in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. I was floored and thrilled to hear virtual volunteering referenced!

Among the volunteers honored was Leah Halbina of Florida, who joined the efforts of Sketch City, a nonprofit community based in Houston. Together with other online volunteers, they helped victims locate their nearest shelter and satisfy other pressing needs in Texas. Leah helped Sketch City’s initiative harveyneeds.org by calling shelters and asking about their capacity. Shortly after, Leah had to use the technology and information-gathering in her home state of Florida as Hurricane Irma approached and made landfall. Leah and other online volunteers created irmaresponse.org, a website providing victims with information on shelter locations and capacity, and providing donors with information on the needs of each shelter. Chatbots (via text and Facebook messenger) were used to help evacuees locate shelters, and were equipped to speak both English and Spanish, while the website was offered in English, Spanish and Creole to accommodate as many residents as possible. “For Irma Response, I took on a lot of the same responsibilities as Harvey Needs: Setting up our Facebook page, Twitter handle, website, and helping route new volunteers to help them find their place and a project they wanted to contribute to. With a lot of help from others in the group, I also managed our social media to spread the word about the available tools and resources.” Other groups that contributed volunteers were based all over Texas and Florida, as well as in Atlanta, Georgia, Oklahoma, San Jose, Greensboro, Washington, D.C. and Louisville, Kentucky.

More than 20 years ago, back in the late 1990s, I presented at a Points of Light Foundation / Corporation for National Service national conference, introducing the idea of virtual volunteering to attendees. The next year, I contacted POL and asked if I would be presenting again. They said no – a presentation had been done by me last year, there’s no need for another! Sigh… I would submit information they could include on their web site about virtual volunteering, they would politely decline…. I am so thankful that times have changed.

Also honored by the foundation as a “point of light” was Ronnie Devries. With experience as the volunteer coordinator for TXRX Labs, a Houston nonprofit hackerspace, Ronnie helped create a makeshift command center at Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center, which became a shelter for thousands of residents displaced by the storm. Working overnight, he helped set up a system for volunteer coordination to ensure volunteers were matched with all aspects of shelter operations. After the volunteer coordination was handed off to Volunteer Houston, he created harveyseminars.org and conducted free seminars/workshops around information for people affected by the storm, or for people who wanted to help others. I love that someone who engaged in volunteer coordination and management was honored. The importance of quality volunteer coordination is too often overlooked! 

And another thing I loved about these honors: they aren’t about how many hours the volunteers have given, or about the dollar value of those volunteers. The honors are about how volunteering worth honoring is transformative, not about the number of hours.

Also see:

Disaster Crowdsourcing Event – FEMA’s Disaster Hackathon

Disaster Crowdsourcing Event – FEMA’s Disaster Hackathon
Sat, Oct. 21, 2017, 10 AM – 5 PM Eastern USA time
Washington, DC. and virtually

“Learn about FEMA’s current crowdsourcing coordination efforts, participate in building new projects, experiment with new tools, and shape the future of crowdsourcing in emergency management. If you are not in DC or cannot come in person, sign up to volunteer remotely. All skill levels and backgrounds are welcome, you don’t need to be a coder to participate in this Hackathon! Just bring a laptop!”

Sign up to participate onsite, or online, here.

Yes, I’ve signed up to participate remotely!
FEMA flyer

What Mad Men Can Teach Nonprofits & NGOs About Story-Telling

I love the television show Mad Men. The characters and their storylines were immediately and continually compelling and surprising to me. The sets and costumes evoke ever-fading memories of my early childhood – I remember some of those outfits on my mother and the styles of kitchens in particular.

I’ve been rewatching Mad Men in the last few months, and I was struck by something I hadn’t remembered: how much I love the fictional advertising firm’s use of simple storytelling for clients in order to sell ideas. I am as spellbound as the pretend clients on the show during these sessions. With no Powerpoint presentation, no high tech, just words and maybe a still image, the advertising staff use compelling words, tone of voice, eye contact and subtle body language to sell concepts that evoke emotions so strong that, sometimes, clients tear up. It’s theater, without the clients knowing that it is, without the clients knowing there is acting happening. It’s the art of story-telling through talking.

Here are three examples of how effective the Mad Men low-tech approach could be:

Note that the first thing the ad person in these scenes does is set a mood, just by talking. You see moving images as they start pitching an idea, even though no moving images of whatever they are trying to sell are shown. Every time, they are telling a story, and you want to hear that story. You are intrigued, and you listen.

I have no idea how many times I have sat in an audience or meeting room and waited for someone to get the computer started, get the wireless network connected, get the software booted up, make sure the sound is working, and on and on, in order to start or continue telling me about some idea. By the time they begin, or continue, the room is often not in-the-moment anymore, and there’s nothing the presenter can do – the presentation can’t be altered based on the changed mood of the audience and the presentation can’t adjust the message to the moment.

I also have no idea how many times I’ve changed how I am going to do a workshop or presentation because of reading the room. I walked into a room to do a workshop and found just five people in my audience, so instead of turning on the overhead, I had everyone come up to the front of the room, we sat in a circle, I opened my laptop in case I needed to reference it, but I did a discussion instead of the lecture. We talked. I still did my presentation, but it didn’t feel like a presentation. It wouldn’t have worked with 50 people. As a result of experiences like this, I always ask to have a flip chart and markers in the room where I will present because I may suddenly find that we need to have a spontaneous brainstorming session in order for me to keep the room engaged and to ultimately sell the idea I’ve come to pitch to the group.

Mad Men reminds me of the importance of being able to not rely entirely on a pre-programmed presentation and technology, and instead, knowing what the heart of a message is, the key points, the essence, and being able to say such in a way that feels honest. Polish isn’t the most important thing – the substance and feeling of sincerity is, as well as a clear speaking voice. Yes, of course, I use visual aids and technology sometimes – but I always remember that it’s the message, not the tech, that needs to shine.

I’ll save my thoughts about the way Mad Men perfectly shows what women in the workplace face, even today, for another blog…

Also see:  PowerPoint / slide shows: the antithesis of thinking

Why Girls Want to Join the Boy Scouts

I am really torn about the Boy Scouts of America’s decision to allow girls into their programs.

I love the idea of Girl Scouts of the USA, and I have some very precious memories of my time as a Brownie and Junior Girl Scout, especially regarding a week-long summer day camp that made me hunger for outdoor activities, something I still enjoy to this day. The emphasis at so many international humanitarian agencies on girls’ empowerment shows why the agenda of the Girl Scouts is still so needed and so relevant all over the world. In addition, the Girl Scouts have long been inclusive, far more than the Boy Scouts: they haven’t required girls to say the God part of their pledge since the 1990s, they have allowed transgendered youth since pretty much the moment they realized there were such, and they have no prohibition against gay leaders or members, unlike the Boy Scouts until very recently.

The Boy Scouts are saying they are now allowing girls into their ranks so that they can pursue Eagle Scout status. But the Girl Scouts of the USA has the equivalent of Eagle Scout status. It’s called the Gold Award. Remember the teen girl who brought to light that New Hampshire still allowed child marriage and she was pushing for that to change? That was her Girl Scout Gold Award project. I would like to see that award get the same coverage and respect as Eagle Scout status. But the reality is that not only does the press rarely mention it, Girl Scout leaders rarely mention it to Girl Scouts. I’ve talked to many Girl Scout leaders about the Gold Award, and many have either never heard of it, don’t really know much about it, or aren’t convinced it’s all that important and something their girls really want to work towards.

When I returned to the USA after living abroad for eight years, I was determined to volunteer for the Girl Scouts. I didn’t want to be a leader, but I wanted to help somehow. Maybe I could be a chaperone on a camping trip! Maybe I could lead some hikes! Maybe I could help recruit more girls to join, and more volunteers to participate! Maybe I could help connect girls to activities about computers, science and the arts. I was so excited to help.

I signed up on the Girl Scouts of Oregon and SW Washington web site in the Fall of 2009, within days of moving into my first home in Oregon. I was contacted promptly about the next and nearest service leader meeting, so I had immediate high hopes. I faithfully attended most of those meetings and any local events – and one in Salem – for more than a year. I immediately volunteered at that first meeting I attended to help with communications. Within two months, I felt the resentment from several of the leaders who didn’t like me, an “outsider”, and didn’t like being asked for information about events they were having: they wanted to just do word-of-mouth among other leaders they liked, and leave out those leaders they didn’t. Some wanted to fly below the “official” radar, which has strict requirements regarding reporting, especially about finances. The new service unit leader put together an amazing recruitment event, and we had one of the largest turnouts of new girls our area had had in years. Several troop leaders resented the success of the event and that we tried to follow the appropriate protocols in assigning new girls to troops. There was a holiday event held by one troop that I didn’t hear about until the night before – and I was told that it was “always done this way and everyone already knows about it.” I kept asking about camping, hiking and STEM-related activities, I offered to help girls get their computer-related badges…. but I slowly learned that a lot of Girl Scout troop leaders aren’t interested in those things – they just wanted to host pizza parties and mani-pedi parties for their daughters and their friends. (and please note: I love mani-pedis – they just aren’t why I joined Girl Scouts).

I also asked lots of questions of the state office about how and why certain decisions were made, why certain things weren’t communicated beyond a page on the web site or a printed brochure we may never see, why social media was so under-utilized, why we never got to do joint activities with the parallel Spanish-speaking troops formed in our area, etc. I rarely got replies to my emails. The communications manager for the state office finally called me at home as I was starting the second year of volunteering and said, per my questions, that she “couldn’t” work with me anymore. So I resigned my volunteer post.

In my year and a half in Girl Scouts, here’s what I also saw: the change the Girl Scouts leadership is pushing for, for more STEM-related activities, for more outdoor-related activities, and for more leadership-building activities, aren’t at all being embraced on the grassroots level. On my way back from a training from the state office in Portland, the leader I was riding with said she didn’t like what the national office was pushing for because it was “too socialist.” I was flabbergasted.

I shared some of these frustrations about trying to volunteer with Girl Scouts on my Facebook account this week, as well as being torn about the Boy Scouts decision. I wasn’t expecting the replies I got.

Here’s a comment from an Oregon friend:

I couldn’t agree more about GS leadership, at least around here. I even tried to be a leader so my girls could be in Girl Scouts, and I did not get good vibes or feel welcomed at all. I left. I refuse to be a part of such an organization.

Another Oregon friend:

I loved being a Girl Scout. I hate the Portland office for Girl Scouts. A few years ago, my daughter wasn’t allowed to join the local troop at her school because they said it was full. Then I was told she could join another but after two months of playing phone games and weirdness, I gave up. Then my daughter told me another girl joined the “full” troop. Pissed me off.

And yet another Oregon friend:

This is exactly what I experienced with trying to get my daughters in. I tried to become a leader, but they didn’t seem to even want that. I don’t want my daughters in an organization that sends that type of message.

A comment from a friend in Iowa:

I am a part of an outdoor Girl Scout community, learning because I am a novice, and while I would love to build this side of our troop, my co-leader has slowly allowed all other activities to be more important for her daughter, and it’s tough to schedule anything. Our SU fall camp out, which is not roughing it at all, is coming up, and she was considering going late so her daughter could go to her volleyball game first. Seriously. My daughter is missing theater class for camp. One girl left the troop because she doesn’t like to get dirty. Only my daughter enjoyed drawing with charcoal recently, while the others were worried about getting dirty (but at least they tried!). I don’t know how you get girls to go out and rough it, or their parents to help make it a priority… I really like the girl led, girl empowerment focus of GS. We need that, we need a space for girls to build confidence in a safe space, outside the comparison to boys, or the sense that their being a girl is somehow an issue. That said, I feel like the GS structure leaves so much in the hands of the troop leader, and it’s not easy to combine your stuff with other troops. You really have to work at it. It sounds like the pack and troop aspect of Boy Scouts has the advantage in that respect, with combined resources. I’m in a great service unit, big and active, but even that is challenging to get people connected and to share resources. If it’s going to change, it has to from the inside. They are making effort to do it, and I appreciate that, but overall, I still do a lot of legwork myself, because the stuff council provides can be rather dry. And there are so many other things people are involved in, that I think it’s just not a priority for them to offer up their help and ideas, much less have their girls be more active. I don’t know if that’s the same with Boy Scouts or not. I do know that a lot of boys will try to get all their outdoor stuff done by like 7th or 8th grade,  because they also get very busy in upper grades.

A comment from a friend in Kentucky:

I tried to put my daughter in the first year she was eligible. They had scheduled their very first troop meeting for Thanksgiving break at school, which seemed really odd to me because so many people travel at the holidays. And we too were out of town. So I emailed and called several times about a follow-up meeting or an alternate meeting and never got a response from whomever that was that heads that up here. I gave up.

Not all of my Facebook friends had complaints. One of my Facebook friends in Texas, a guy, wrote:

I was a GSUSA adult leader of Girl Scouts for many years doing single interest groups in backpacking. Many were the nights when my girls ranging from 6th grade to junior college hit the trail with 50 pound packs, walked farther than nearby boys groups, made camp and ate and laughed and told stories without “benefit” of the outhouse sized trailers towed along by the boys, and fell to sleep with the sound of the wind across our pup tents, the hoot of owls and the thrumming of the boy scouts generator.

THAT is the experience I was looking for but never found here in Oregon.

How many other people are out there that tried to volunteer with the Girl Scouts but never got a callback, or were turned away because an insular group didn’t want their participation? How many girls are there that tried to join a troop and never got called back, or joined and found the troop didn’t provide any activities that matched their interests? How many girls left because they had no idea what the Gold Award is and how awesome it is to pursue it and attain it? How many other Girl Scout state office employees are dropping the ball on customer service and outreach?

Girl Scouts of Oregon and SW Washington, Girl Scouts of Kentuckiana, Girl Scouts of Greater IowaGirl Scouts of the USA – are you listening?

I bet girls that want to join the Boy Scouts will immediately get contacted about their interest. They will immediately connect with activities they want to do: archery, camping, hiking, canoeing, fishing, computers, and more. They will be reminded at every gathering that they are a part of something special, and their support of each other is as important as their individual interests. And the phone calls from their parents will be returned promptly by Boy Scout leadership.

I debated a lot writing this blog. I support the Girl Scouts of the USA – in principle. I am not at all a Girl Scout hater. I want the Girl Scouts to succeed as an organization. I tried to be a part of helping to make that happen. But, obviously, Girl Scouts has a problem. It has many problems. I hope it will address those problems.

Also see:

Innovation & tech need to work for women and girls too

In September, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) launched the Global Innovation Coalition for Change with partners from the private sector, academia and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to encourage innovation and technology to work better for young women and girls around the world.

First, more about the GICC, then a short comment from me about it.

The coalition will focus on building market awareness of potential for innovations that meet the needs of women and will also identify the key industry-specific barriers that obstruct women’s and girls’ advancement in innovation, technology and entrepreneurship. It will also work collaboratively to identify key actions that can help overcome these barriers through actions including sharing of good practices, developing capacity and investing in specific innovations through targeted support.

The background paper to the GICC launch, Making Innovation and Technology Work for Women , details the barriers that contribute towards creating and sustaining the gender gap in innovation and technology and actions by UN Women to address these barriers. Excerpts:

“Women face a multitude of barriers that results in the persistent and sometimes growing gender gaps. As a result, innovations are unlikely to be available on time and at scale to address the needs of women. Transformative results will require private and public sector partners to come together to address these barriers in an integrated manner. While the task looks daunting, being able to demonstrate progress in a given industry could have multiplier effects across other industries that will enable innovation and technology to break current trends and drive achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.”

“The achievement of the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), notably gender equality and women’s empowerment, requires transformative shifts, integrated approaches, and new solutions. Based on current trajectories, existing interventions will not suffice to achieve a Planet 50-50 by 2030. For example, it will be 95 years before there is parity in girls’ lower secondary education for the poorest 20%; it will be 50 years before there is gender parity in politics at the parliamentarian levels; and it will be 170 years before women worldwide will earn as much as men. Innovative approaches are central to delivering the SDGs for all.”

SDG 5 is “Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.” The reality is that none of the SDGs can be reached unless this one is.

Global Innovation Coalition for Change representatives includes:

  • Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls: Meredith Walker, Founder; Maggie Chieffo, General Manager
  • BHP Billiton: Karen Wood, Chairman of the BHP Billiton Foundation; Athalie Williams, Chief People Officer
  • Businesspros and Branson Centre for Entrepreneurship South Africa: Antoinia Norman, CEO, Branson Centre for Entrepreneurship South Africa
  • CISCO: Charu Adesnik, Deputy Director, Cisco Foundation
  • Citi: Yolande Piazza, CEO, Citi FinTech; Corinne Lin, Head of Operations, Citi FinTech
  • DELL: Jackie Glenn, VP Global Diversity and Inclusion; Trisa Thompson, Senior Vice President & Chief Responsibility Officer, Corporate Social Responsibility at Dell Technologies
  • Ellevate Network: Kristy Wallace, CEO of Ellevate Network
  • Ericsson: Elaine Weidman-Grunewald, Senior Vice President, Chief Sustainability & Public Affairs Officer, and Head of Sustainability & Public Affairs; Paul Landers, Program Director Technology for Good
  • Facebook: Arielle Gross, Global Program Manager, Creative Shop
  • General Electric: Kelli Wells, Executive Director General Electric Foundation
  • HP Inc.: Nate Hurst, Chief Sustainability and Social Impact Officer; Michele Malejki, Global Head of Strategic Programs, Sustainability & Social Innovation
  • Johnson & Johnson: Alice Lin Fabiano, Director, Global Community Impact; Carol Montandon, Head of Women’s Leadership Initiative
  • JPMorgan Chase: Ali Marano, Executive Director: Technology for Social Good, Diversity & Inclusion at JPMorgan Chase
  • LinkedIn: Nicole Isaac, Head of U.S Public Policy; Sue Duke, Senior Director of Public Policy – EMEA
  • MIT Solve: Hala Hanna, Director, SOLVE at Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Alexandra Amouyel, Executive Director, Solve at Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • NY Academy of Sciences: Lorraine Hariton, Senior Vice President, Global Partnerships
  • Pax World Management: Joe Keefe, CEO, Pax World; Heather Smith, Lead Sustainability Research Analyst
  • PwC: Ben Zelinsky, PwC Partner Technology Consulting
  • SAP: Jennifer Morgan, Executive Board Member for Global Customer Operations; Sinead Kaiya, COO, Products and Innovation; Ann Rosenberg, Senior Vice President and Global Head of SAP Next-Gen; Shuchi Sharma, Global Lead for Gender Intelligence, SAP Diversity & Inclusion.
  • Sony: Shiro Kambe, Executive Vice President, Corporate Executive Officer Legal, Compliance, Communications, CSR, External Relations and Information Security & Privacy
  • South32: Patience Mpofu, Vice President, Corporate Affairs and Sustainability
  • Statoil: Ana Prata Fonseca Nordang, Vice President, People and Organisation

It’s a good list, but I wish BPEACE was there. And I hope that this effort will continually listen to women themselves about what THEY want and what they need. I hope these partners won’t go into communities and institutions and say, “Here, we made this for you!” but, rather, “Hi, we need to hear your ideas, and then we want to know how to work with you to make them happen.”

Also see:

United Nations Information Technology Service (UNITeS)

How to be active & anonymous online – a guide for women in religiously-conservative countries

women-only hours at community Internet centers? why?

Enhancing Inclusion of Women & Girls In Information Society

papers on cyberactivism by women in Iran & Azerbaijan

Reaching women in socially-conservative areas

If you ignore women in Afghanistan, development efforts there will fail

Empower women, empower a nation

The Wrong Way to Celebrate International Women’s Day

UNDP and Religious Leaders Promote Women in Sport and Education in Afghanistan

If you ignore women in Afghanistan, development efforts there will fail

I just read yet another list of the absolutely MOST important, key things that MUST be addressed for Afghanistan to become stable and peaceful. And, once again, negotiating with the Taliban is there, but improving the condition of women in Afghanistan, improving their access to education, healthcare and revenue-generation, is not.

Let’s be real: if a peace process or development strategy in Afghanistan does not make addressing women’s issues CENTRAL to its plan, does not make such a TOP priority, it will fail.

It. Will. Fail.

Addressing the condition of women in Afghanistan is not an afterthought, it’s not a supplement, it’s not just something nice to do after the “more critical” things have been addressed. Rather, it is imperative, it is fundamental, for any success in the country, and it must be baked into strategies. Equal rights for women is enshrined in the Afghan constitution. The Internet is rife with examples of how to leverage Islamic theology to promote the full participation of women in society. Humanitarian agencies hold the purse strings. In short: there is NO excuse for ignoring the condition of 50% of the population of Afghanistan.

I’m not alone in feeling this way:

BEHIND CLOSED DOORS: The risk of denying women a voice in determining Afghanistan‟s future, a report from OxFam

Afghanistan women: Give us a seat at the peace table

United Nations Calls for Women’s Role in Peace Process

I’ve said all this before:

When a girl in the developing world receives seven or more years of education, she marries four years later and has 2.2 fewer children (United Nations Population Fund, State of World Population 1990). When women and girls earn income, they reinvest 90 percent of it into their families, as compared to only 30 to 40 percent for a man (Phil Borges, with a foreword by Madeleine Albright, Women Empowered: Inspiring Change in the Emerging World [New York: Rizzoli, 2007], 13.). Empowering women in places in Afghanistan — giving them safe, easy access to primary and secondary education, to vocational training and to basic health services — improves the lives of everyone in the country. And, in addition, giving women a voice in defining and evaluating development goals is the ONLY way to ensure development activities meet the needs of women and children.

I rarely see Afghan women on TV news reports – and don’t tell me the reporters can’t find them. I rarely hear women mentioned in news analysis on network TV, in newspapers, in political debates about Afghanistan, in US Government briefings… That’s like not mentioning black Africans or apartheid when discussing South Africa in the 1980s. If the 50% of the population in Afghanistan being oppressed, tortured, killed, denied even basic human rights, were an ethnic group or a religious group, the outrage would be oh-so-loud and constant. But women? Suddenly oppression is a cultural thing we have to respect and not interfere with and just stand back and hope things evolve “organically” and “naturally.”

Balderdash. Bunkum. Nonsense.

Whether you are an aid worker or a policy maker, you have to be committed to women’s involvement in Afghanistan, no matter what the focus of your work is, whether it’s engineering or conflict resolution or arms agreements or WHATEVER. If you don’t, your work will FAIL. Your policies will FAIL. I’ve made many a male aid worker colleague angry for kicking back a field report that never mentioned women… Whether it’s a water and sanitation project, an infrastructure project, a weapons return program, an agricultural project, a governance project, whatever, it must talk about women. If your talk is going to be about how they aren’t involved at all, so be it. But you can’t pretend their non-involvement is normal, appropriate, and something your work cannot address.

Harumph.

Also see:

Empower women, empower a nation

The Wrong Way to Celebrate International Women’s Day

How to be active & anonymous online – a guide for women in religiously-conservative countries

UNDP and Religious Leaders Promote Women in Sport and Education in Afghanistan

papers on cyberactivism by women in Iran & Azerbaijan

women-only hours at community Internet centers? why?

Reaching women in socially-conservative areas

Enhancing Inclusion of Women & Girls In Information Society

Re-creating offline excitement & a human touch online

Back in 1998, an effort that became the nonprofit Knowbility started a hackathon competition before such events were called hackathons. It was called the Accessibility Internet Rally, or AIR, and in one day, professional web designers and web design students volunteered their time to build web sites for nonprofits in Austin, Texas – web sites that are fully accessible to people with disabilities and people using assistive technologies. Designers were divided into teams, and each team had a nonprofit to build for. The teams were all on one floor of a training center that donated its space and computers for the event.

It was crazy, fun, exciting and, at times, silly. I was at that first competition, and at the events in 1999 and 2000, representing a partner organization, via the Virtual Volunteering Project. I helped greet and register every participant as they came in. I also ran through the hallways, into the training rooms, shouting deadlines, like “Two more hours! Just two more hours!”  We got donated food from a local Subway shop and various grocery stores, and teams wouldn’t take a lunch break, despite our pleas for them to do so – they’d run into the room, scarf, then run back to their computers, ready for more designing. Austin-area corporations donated their branded swag that they had leftover from conferences in the past, or that had old logos on them, and we were able to put together goodie bags of memo pads, pens, frisbees and more to hand out to all participants. The second year, several corporate teams returned – this time with custom t-shirts they had made for their team especially for the competition! The event was so energizing and fun that teams came back year after year.

I still use the crockpot that we used to provide nacho cheese for teams…

The AIR competition has continued, and is still awesome, but a few years ago, it became an entirely online competition. It’s now called OpenAIR. The event is not limited to Austin, Texas – it’s global! Instead of one day, teams now have five weeks to develop new accessible web sites for participating nonprofits – and the web sites are far more sophisticated than they were back in the 1990s. A team’s members are all onsite together, at the same company or in the same web design class, for the most part, but they aren’t in the same room with the other teams, nor the nonprofits they are supporting – all interaction among teams and clients is via phone, online conferencing, email and shared online spaces. Another big difference from those early years is that, now, most of the participating nonprofits already have web sites, so their material is already digitized – we don’t need to scan logos or photos anymore, because it’s already done.

It’s almost 20 years after that first AIR competition, and I’m back with Knowbility, this time as a consultant, in charge of recruiting nonprofits to participate and supporting them through the entire process. And I have a goal: to find ways to recreate that craziness and fun and excitement and personal touch from the offsite, in-person events of the past online.

I’m supposed to be the virtual volunteering expert. So this should be a piece of cake for me, right? Afterall, I have ideas for creating a personal experience for working with online volunteers in The LAST Virtual Volunteering Guidebook. I’m using those recommendations, as well as looking through research I’ve curated about organizations working with online volunteers, information about virtual teams, remote teams, ework, telecommuting, etc., to come up with ideas… but I need more!

Here are my ideas so far:

  • Talk one-on-one with the nonprofits as much as possible live via phone or web conference. There could be as many as 45 nonprofits participating, and while there are plenty of tools to communicate en masse with the nonprofits, and I will use many such tools, I’m also committed to talking, in real time, with EACH nonprofit, one-on-one, both right after they sign up and as they need it through the process. If I’ve been clear in those mass communications – on the web site, on the intranet, in email, etc. – then we’re talking about a few minutes at time in real-time communications, not hours and hours. But those one-on-one meetings are, IMO, essential to restore that personal touch and personality to participation.
  • I’ll be asking each nonprofit to take a group photo of their staff holding a small 8 1/2 X 11” sign I will send them electronically, and that they will print out, that says something like “We’re in for #OpenAIR2018,” and then share via their various social media channels tagged with #OpenAir2018. And then Knowbility will share those photos as well via their social media channels, like Twitter and Facebook. That allows us to again see happy faces as a part of this event, and energize participants.
  • I’m going to do some short, private videos for nonprofit participants – maybe 5 minutes – very informal, just giving them updates about what’s going on or something they need to keep in mind, and with each one, having a joke of the week, or some theme (Star Wars, Halloween, nature, pets, basketball, whatever) – hoping that both the key message and the silliness will guarantee viewers and energize participants.
  • I’m going to have at least one live webinar, an “ask me anything” session, allowing nonprofits that have signed up to ask anything, “live”, and everyone in the webinars hearing my answers in real time. This is something PeaceCorps does periodically, and I really love how approachable it feels for participants.
  • I’m hoping the design teams and nonprofits, after they are matched together, will do some screen captures of their meetings together and share them with me, so we can share them with other teams to show each other what they look like when they are working together. Silly hats could be encouraged.
  • I’m going to ask the nonprofits to send something via postal mail to their design team. It can be a postcard of encouragement, a t-shirt from a previous event, a pen with their logo on it – just SOMETHING the web design team members can hold in a hand, something that represents the nonprofit in a personal way, something tangible, and something that didn’t have to be purchased or, if it did, was less than $2 and has something personal written on it by the nonprofit’s executive director or key contact (postcard!). If the NGO is, say, in Afghanistan, and has no way to send postal mail to the design team, I might ask them to send, via email, a recipe for a traditional Afghan dish, and ask the design team to share a photo of them enjoying the dish together.
  • I’m going to ask the design teams to send something via postal mail to their nonprofits. Same rules: it can be a postcard of encouragement, a t-shirt from a previous event, a pen with their logo on it – just SOMETHING the nonprofit staff can hold in their hands, something that represents the design team in a personal way, something tangible.

Those are my ideas for getting more fun and a human touch back into this competition. The challenge is to come up with things that are free, simple, worthwhile to spend the time on, that teams won’t see as a burden, and that nonprofits won’t see as a waste of time. If something can’t be all of those things, it’s not going to work!

So, there’s my challenge. What are YOUR ideas? Remember those restrictions:

  • free
  • simple
  • worthwhile
  • not burdensome
  • not a waste of time

Please put your fabulous ideas in the comments section!

And if you represent a nonprofit, non-governmental organization (NGO), charity, public school, or any other not-for-profit, mission-based organization anywhere in the world, I hope you will consider participating in OpenAIR. Your organization gets a new web site that is accessible for people with disabilities, people who want to donate to your organization, volunteer for it, support it or otherwise participate it in some way. Imagine how being a more welcoming organization online will look to your current supporters and to potential donors! The sooner you sign up, the sooner you can start preparing for the competition, and the more support you will get. Although the deadline for signing up isn’t until the end of this year, if you wait that long, you miss out on more than three months of support and preparation for the event!

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Afghanistan meets Kentucky: WKU honors Lotfullah Najafizada of TOLONews

I lived in Kentucky for the first 22 years of my life, and I am a 1988 graduate of Western Kentucky University (WKU), with a BA in Journalism.

I worked in Afghanistan in 2007 for the United Nations Development Programme, seconded to a program at the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development as a communications and reporting officer.

What a thrill it was to see my two worlds come together and as Lotfullah Najafizada from TOLONews in Afghanistan was honored with the second annual Fleischaker/Greene Award for Courageous International Reporting by WKU’s School of Journalism & Broadcasting. The award is given by WKU’s Fleischaker/Greene Fund for Excellence in First Amendment Issues.

Although I don’t know Mr. Najafizada personally, I am very familiar with TOLO, and enjoyed interacting with the channel’s staff in my time in Kabul 10 years ago. I still have many friends and associates in Afghanistan, and I’ve let them all know about this huge honor.

The spread of private media has been one of the few clear successes in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led international coalition invaded in 2001 and a myriad of development agencies and donors have worked to lift the country out of poverty and insecurity. Tolo, which airs a mix of news coverage and original entertainment, has dominated the market since its launch in 2003. TOLONews is Afghanistan’s first and largest 24/7 news and current events channel. The more than 100 media professionals that work for TOLONews, in Kabul and news bureaus throughout the country, regularly receive threats from the Taliban and other criminal and terrorist elements for their news coverage of what is happening in Afghanistan. A January 20, 2016 Taliban bombing killed seven Tolo employees.

Najafizada started out in journalism as a page designer at a local newspaper in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif. He later began writing and reporting, which led to a job in the online department at Kabul-based media group MOBY. When the idea came at MOBY to start a 24-hour news station, Najafizada was chosen to lead it. Among Najafizada’s many honors is being named a Press Freedom Hero by Reporters Without Borders for his fight for free press in Afghanistan.

You can follow Mr. Najafizada on Twitter: @LNajafizada

I hope he got to visit the Corvette Museum (& sink hole)… I wonder if there’s a photo of him with Big Red?

Here’s a photo after the presentation, from the WKU School of Journalism and Broadcasting Facebook page.

Here’s the official press release/announcement from WKU.

Here is coverage from the College Heights Herald, the university newspaper.

Here’s coverage by the Bowling Green newspaper of the event.

I will forever be grateful for finding the KFC in Kabul – um, I mean Kabul Fried Chicken. Okay, actually, it was Afghanistan Fried Chicken.

And, btw, Kentucky is nowhere near the size of Afghanistan. According to this web site, this is their size relation to each other:

 

Conference of the International Society for Third Sector Research

CALLS FOR CONTRIBUTIONS:
Thirteenth International Conference of the International Society for Third Sector Research (ISTR)
Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands
10 July  – 13 July 2018

Conference Theme:
Democracy and Legitimacy:  The Role of the Third Sector in a Globalizing World

DEADLINE FOR CONFERENCE ABSTRACT SUBMISSIONS:   27 OCTOBER 2017

Conference organizers are keenly interested in a wide range of submissions, especially on topics related to democracy and legitimacy. In addition, ISTR is also interested in research which advances our understanding of theory, policy, and practice of third sector organizations. Conference themes include:

  • Democracy and Civil Society Organizations
  • Challenges and Opportunities of Advocacy by NGOs and Nonprofits
  • Governance, Management, Adaptation and Sustainability of Third Sector Organizations
  • Hybridity, Legitimacy and the Third Sector
  • New Models of Philanthropy and Voluntarism
  • Active Citizenship and Activism
  • The Third Sector and Development
  • Social Innovation and the Third Sector
  • Research on Teaching Third Sector Studies
  • Emerging Areas of Theory and Practice

Abstract Submissions
Contributions may take the form of a paper, a panel, a roundtable, or a poster.  The abstract must be less than 400 words in length.

Full details regarding submission specifications are found in the Call for Contributions.

Submissions for Panels, Papers and Posters
All panel, papers and poster proposals for the Conference must be submitted using ISTR’s online submission service. To submit your paper or poster abstract using this service, go to the ISTR website – www.istr.org/Amsterdam – and follow the link for ‘Submit a Proposal.’