2012-03-30 10.44.32I’ve just signed up for www.tenthousandcoffees.com. I’ve known about it for a while and like many, had a certain opinion until I met the founder Dave Wilkin. He’s an earnest entrepreneur who, in this world that is oversaturated with social network platforms, has momentum on one whose mandate is rather simple, creating opportunities over a cup a coffee.

Shaping What’s Next, One Conversation at a Time.  The Ten Thousand Coffees movement exists to bridge the gap and create an equal playing field for everyone by embracing the newest technology and the power of conversation.

I am looking at platforms for mentoring. Ways to bring people together, to self-manage the matching and support conversations that can be one-off or ongoing: students with recent grads; recent grads with those who found a good job; those who want to transition with those who have; and entrepreneurs with each other. I am looking at ways to connect lots of people, something that is less structured than traditional mentoring programs, more like “unmentoring”, borrowing from the concept of an “unconference.”

a loosely structured conference emphasizing the informal exchange of information and ideas between participants, rather than following a conventionally structured program of events. (Google)

LinkedIn is a leader but lacks representation in certain industries and doesn’t talk to passion. Graduway is a platform that many schools are rolling out for their alumni but while my alma matter is huge, there are interesting people elsewhere as well.

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Cindy, someone wants to meet you for coffee!‏

So after meeting Dave, I thought wanted to know more about his platform. I filled in the forms, was automatically categorized as an expert and the next day I had my first request for a coffee date. A young woman, a graduate from my university, and we had a common focus on nonprofit organizations. An interesting topic was put forward.

I mentor a lot of people. They come to me from my volunteer activities. Some are referred by people who know me or have benefited from my advice. And sometimes there are chance encounters as I wander around the globe. But never have I felt so exposed as when that request for coffee came in. If you Google me, my blogs and profiles are online. I don’t hide. But putting my profile on a social platform that is expressly to empower people, strangers, to engage in meaningful conversations seems a lot like online dating. This is not a passive profile but an open door for a coffee meet up.

I have replied. We’ll see what happens. I am fairly busy so if the requests become too much I can switch to group meet ups online or in person, or I can make my profile invisible for a while.

Go for a coffee date

For those of you that want some input, have a question, or are challenged by your situation, sign up and take a look at the many experts that are already on the platform. I was truly impressed at who is available to you.

If you think you have something to offer, think of www.tenthousandcoffees.com as a knowledge-based volunteer portal. Put yourself out there and be surprised and delighted when someone approaches you for an unmentoring session.


It’s a delicate balance when you have a strong personal brand and you volunteer with an organization. I’ve been working in many capacities at my university. Much of the volunteerism initially facilitated by the university is now fueled by the momentum of my personal brand. I’ve worked hard, made myself available to a variety of events and people, and helped wherever I could. If the notes of thanks and friends that have resulted are any measure, I have added value. I have become a go to brand. It’s not unlike a company that is defined by key employees and this brings into question loyalties and allegiances.

But while the recognition feels great, this is not my goal. I need to transfer these brand perceptions to the organization, and have the organization I belong to share many of these my personal brand attributes. I am just an example of the value one might get from this organization.

So now I begin a journey I have done before. Putting people, processes and expectations in place so that service delivery is seamless. So that the workload is balanced and the thanks or positive feedback is ascribed to the collective. So the organization’s brand is lifted and distinguished from mine. So that I can move on leaving the organization stronger than when I started.

The UN General Assembly proclaimed 10 December as Human Rights Day in 1950, to bring to the attention ‘of the peoples of the world’ the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.

I’ve had a few weeks of human rights events from film festivals, galas and write-a-thons, to meetings about fundraising and celebrations, and the odd flash mob and late night party. The focal point is Human Rights Day, and so in the days leading up to December 10th there is a flurry of related activities as each human rights organization contributes to the cause.

It’s been interesting to compare approaches of traditional organizations and newer Gen-Y driven efforts. Gatherings in cluttered spaces with crackers, cheese and soda versus those in grand venues with high end catering. There is deep knowledge etched in the faces of those that have been involved in this field for a while and youthful energy to tap into among some of the new recruits.

The field of human rights is tough

For many people, it’s dangerous to be involved in the human rights movement. For the victims of human rights abuses, it is probably life threatening. Human rights violations could happen anywhere and for sure are happening in Canada and the US, in addition to all those countries you hear about. The wins to resolve these violations can take years but they do come.

Collaboration offsets donor fatigue

When it comes to events there could be better collaboration between organizations, lessening the noise and increasing the impact. When so many events are booked around a pivotal date it makes sense to come together. Differentiation is possible even with a united call to action. With budgets constrained, a collaborative event offers economies of scale to the charities, while giving the attendees a richer experience.

The best of the old and new

Social innovation is transforming the human movement, just like with most other non profit sectors. This brings new methods, audiences and expectations. The differences were blatant as I attended two different human rights film festivals, one traditional and one of the new generation. Human rights draws in all ages and all backgrounds, and this would produce a rich conversation if we can get them talking to each other.

Early in the year I chose to take on a volunteer role with Amnesty International Canada. This is an important organization and a leader in the field. I am a newbie in this field and have lots to learn, but along with some of my Gen Y pals, I think we also have knowledge to share.

FacebookImage-HolyCowI can’t tell you how good I feel, but I’ll tell you why.  Today I purchased a community bond from the Centre for Social Innovation. The traditional return is modest but the risk is low and the social impact is huge. CSI is raising $4.3 million to purchase an additional building to meet the needs of its expanding membership of social innovators and entrepreneurs. It is raising the money through the sale of community bonds, something they did successfully before, with the bonds secured through the property. Within a few weeks 84 investors have contributed $1.8M.

So there’s a lot to feel good about by supporting this award winning organization that is generating social good in new and sustainable models. There’s good in knowing that your money is being used well for a few years and then will be returned.

But what takes the feel good to an inexpressible level, is when you click “send” to confirm your purchase and within 30 seconds you get a call from the Director of Culture of CSI personally and genuinely thanking you for your support.

Lately I’ve noticed the importance of timing when it comes to recruiting volunteers. Of course volunteers give time when it’s available but with our busy and changing lives that is often an elusive commodity.


If you can get a commitment of a specific time slot, volunteering becomes part of the routine, something that both parties expect. But the looser the terms, the more difficult it is to engage a volunteer. The cost or overhead of finding the right opportunities and the energy it takes to get calendars aligned might outweigh the benefit.

Get them early

The other aspect I’ve noticed is that when someone is just getting into volunteering it’s relatively easy to get them involved. They are open and actively looking to get engaged. Some may spend more time in the discovery phase than others, but time for volunteering has been set aside and they are looking to fill it.

The ramp up takes a while and so there is a defined period of time where the volunteer has to find any opportunity and then the right kind of engagement. But as soon as they start saying “yes” and the wave of options starts to flow in, it’s harder to get their commitment as you are now competing for a share of that precious allotment of time.

Change is good

Another window of opportunity to engage volunteers is when they’ve decided to switch their focus. This could be marked by an end of term among many other reasons. The window is usually short especially for exceptional volunteers as they have a reputation and are sought out, but if you watch for this availability you might get a great team member.

I was at an interesting event yesterday called Sharefest. The theme, as the name implies, was the sharing economy and most of the presenting organizations were there to explain how their exchanges worked. The sharing economy is the new word for an old concept called bartering.

You know or have something and are willing to trade it for a skill or product that you need. No money involved and no taxes.

In the hands of the generation that gave us social entrepreneurs and social innovators, these sharing organizations will provide a platform for sharing skills whether that’s teaching (Trade School Toronto) or repairing (Repair Café), and for sharing stuff like tools (Toronto Tool Library) and spaces (The Dupont), and you could even share a job (CoWorking Toronto). Then there’s the collective idea that we all give and all get, like the Salad Club, and general bartering platforms like SwapCity.

This was the inaugural ShareFest and yet there were nearly 30 organizations, a room packed with interested folks and nearly every table had a dozen or more people signed up. People in small towns might laugh at this as sharing is a way of life for them. But in our big city of Toronto this is a concept that is alive and growing and I’m sure we’re not alone.

To bring this back to volunteerism, which is my focus, I see the sharing economy as a flavour of volunteerism. You give and you get back. So for those of you with useful stuff or skills, look into the sharing economy for new platforms to be engaged. It gives you the engagement of volunteerism with the side benefit that you too can be a recipient.

I’ll do your books if you will fix my taps!

IMG_7600-rI’ve had lots of events this week with a common thread. In my capacity as the chair of the Community Engagement initiative for the University of Toronto Alumni Association (UTAA) along with a great team of volunteers and partners we held an event called UTAA Connected @ the Centre for Social Innovation.

It brought together about 100 UofT alumni to learn about the social innovation movement. For the 80 volunteers or want-to-be volunteers it was a chance to learn about the Centre and 14 (mostly) member organizations which do social good.

Our promise to the presenting organizations was to introduce them to potential volunteers who could contribute in professional or strategic ways. Our promise to the attendees was to introduce them to new ideas, interesting organizations and opportunities to give back in meaningful ways. And aside from under estimating how much food social innovators can consume, our surveys showed we did well.

If you have an idea – seek out these spaces, places and communities.
If you want to give back and have a business skill set – seek out these spaces, places and communities.

Two days later I was at an OCAD pitch competition and was surprised to see many of the same people that I had seen at my event. Of the 19 organizations pitching for mentorship or funding, about 3 were members of the Centre for Social Innovation.

What was interesting is how startups social or otherwise fluidly move between the constructs of shared workspaces, mentor programs, incubators of various organizations as their companies move through life stages. As their organizations evolve, they need to be around different resources. As they become clear about their goals, they want to be in a community of people doing similar things. It’s an interesting phenomenon to observe.

Never before has there been such a resource-rich time to be entrepreneurial with so many opportunities, some funded by governments and many supported by successful folks that are looking to both give back and revitalize their careers by being involved with young or new entrepreneurs.


I’ve always been a connector. Want a good restaurant, call Cindy. Want to hire a designer, call Cindy. Want a solid straightforward opinion, call Cindy.

There are certainly limits to what and who I know, but the circles seem to be getting smaller. I recently meet a perfect stranger and discovered that we had 4 completely different areas of connection. This is an illustration of how small the world really is.

I use my connections to help folks find jobs, understand industries, get things done and find opportunities for volunteering. In the last few years as I scout my city and the world for interesting things to do or experience, I’ve turned into a bit of a cool-finder. In doing this I’ve definitely skewed young, as anyone will notice from my Facebook friends.

But what’s been really interesting lately is that I am now starting to circle back to my cohort as they seek to expand their worlds and I’m a sure a few of them want to learn my secrets for staying young. It’s my next phase being able to connect folks with means with folks with ideas and passion, to pair people with experience with people with a new perspective and in so doing, add value to both sides.

I don’t know why some folks are considered connectors and others aren’t. Everyone has a network and although you won’t have a relevant contact all the time, it truly is a great gift to share one that is relevant at the right time with the right person.

IMG_0181This is said with a unique mix of admiration and distaste. I have just come back from 3 weeks in southern India and nearly all the great buildings and infrastructure was introduced with “it was made by the British.”

Buildings, factories, trains, bridges, roads as well as agricultural methods. Many of these things are undergoing restoration, but many more are decaying from neglect. It’s as if the best ideas, the great build was done by the British and when they left, time stood still.

I am looking for the unique Indian voice, the greatness that I know India can be within the cities and towns but what I see is decaying grandeur and shoddy workmanship. They say it is a result of the corruption and I believe them as nothing is what it appears to be.

This is a relatively young country having achieved independence in 1947 but other developing countries like Vietnam (and to some extent the new China) are racing ahead building enviable cities, infrastructure and economies. India with its vast diversity, layers of political structures needs strong leadership and yet the distrust of the system is everywhere.

Not all is lost. Education is highly valued, the workforce is huge, English, international language of business, is spoken nearly everywhere and the people are gracious and welcoming. India is a huge country, accessible (by air, road, sea and telco) and contains lots of natural resources.

But without a unifying will to be great, it will remain a land that thinks small and whose chaos drives strong partners away out of frustration. I have no answers, only hope that the new generation, many of them abroad, will bring the best ideas back to their mother country and make India the great country it should be.

Get enough of us progressive Boomers in places that need help and we’ll push for reform. We’ll make room for others to participate to their fullest. We’ll demand more of non-profits as we demand more of ourselves.

It’s starting to work. There are roles where experienced folks can do more than sit on boards; they can affect change, they can put all their skills to work…now I need you to put up your hand. The door has been opened and we need to continue bringing in new ideas and all kinds of mindsets, skills and experience. Okay my fellow Boomers, get involved – volunteer.

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