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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.”

un·con·fer·ence
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.

 

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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.

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.

Pic-PostAs a volunteer I am focused on giving. I connect, mentor, take on projects, spread the word, listen and offer a point of view. I am always there and often with home baked cookies.

But maybe one of the greatest gifts I have learned to give is the opportunity for others to help me. I have been independent for so long and am such a good problem solver that no one thinks I need help and I don’t ask. Instead I spend hours trying to figure out how to get things done.

I think that my decision to go car-less has had the greatest impact on my independence. There are times, although few for an inner city dweller, that nothing beats individual transportation.  Sometimes transit and taxis just don’t make sense and renting a car for someone who doesn’t drive too often, doesn’t either.

So I have found the bright light in all this. I have discovered the joy of asking for help. I know the satisfaction of helping others and now I am allowing others to feel the same and to pay me back for the support I have provided them. It’s an exchange of equals.

And I have found a way to turn these favours into mini meetups where I can share my perspective, my city, my secret places and turn the task into an adventure. I make it fun.

I suspect that asking for help is what I needed to learn and it is with joy and appreciation that I accept the help whether that is a trip to the store, help carrying groceries or merely hanging a picture.

boxI am moving. So are many of my friends. In fact, I am downsizing from a house to apartment style living. This means a lot of changes including the shedding of a lifetime of collections. Furniture, clothing, decorative items, gardening tools, linens, and lots of former treasures have to go. I have no space for them.

So this move has been an exploration on how to get rid of stuff. Some has gone to friends and family; things they need or find useful. A few valuable items have gone to a consignment shop or online to Kijiji and I may or may not get a few dollars for them. Some has just gone to the street and disappeared from there.

But what has been more interesting has been the many ways of donating these items, giving them a value as a donation. I did take some interesting treasures and donated them to an art exhibit. They became art. Books, of which I have hundreds, have gone to the local library to be used to raise funds. Some gardening tools and plants went to a teacher who runs a garden club for kids. He also took some old art supplies I’ve had for years.

Linens, especially towels and blankets have gone to the humane society to make a few animals more comfortable. Clothing to causes that put immigrants into the workplace. And furniture to an organization that sets up individuals and families in need with furnished homes.

We all have stuff to get rid of at one point in our lives and there are many ways to do this. But it feels good to take a little extra time and research to find a valued home for things you once treasured.

If you are in the Toronto area here are some sources.

I’ve talked about boards and their importance to an organization but a series of recent conversations have led me to reflect on the role of the executive director.

When do you know when your organization has outgrown your executive director? When is it time to urge them to give way to new thinking in order to revitalize the organization.

In many non profits, generally smaller organizations, the founder is the executive director and just like entrepreneurial businesses, there is a time when the this leader must adapt or step aside to allow their organizations to continue growing. It’s a healthy and natural process which if ignored, leads to struggle and stagnation.

All the conversations I had talked about the ED being the old guard, happy with the way things are, and seeing the role of the organization in a certain light. But the donations were declining, the membership unengaged and competing organizations taking the spot light. There was a need to review the value proposition and modernize the brand.

If the executive director is holding the organization back, generally the board is enabling this.

So the big question is – how to push for change. I’d say the core answer is courage. The courage to ask the tough questions, push for answers and seek solutions. That could be seeking out and bringing in new board or executive team members that have the skills and passion to affect change.  It could be creating new roles that act as change agents within the organization. It could be the employees banding together and speaking with one voice.

No one wants their organization to die, they just don’t realize how sick it is. Who has the courage to start the conversation?

I’ve been involved in a lot of events for student organizations lately. They all want the same topics presentation skills, entrepreneurship coaching, networking skills, and there’s biz case coaching or judging in there too.

While it is rewarding to give back and delightful when you can truly help someone, the experience is often a little lacking. But with a slight change in headset, I should think that all stakeholders would get a lot more out of these events and those involved will be even better prepared for the working world ahead of them.

Dump chaos for project management

Of course there is the chaotic approach to event management as it seems, like homework, the execution is usually a last minute blast of effort. How you clarify the event then arrange for speakers, facilities and do enough marketing all in 2-3 days is miraculous but seldom effective. Many of these events are conceptualized weeks or months ahead so a little classic timeline and project management would render far better results with much less uncertainty and stress, and leave a good framework for the team that will be responsible for the event next year.

Your audience is first, you are second

Perhaps it’s this rush on execution but I find that the focus is on getting the event done not on value to the audience. This is an issue of customer or member centric thinking. I would challenge student organizations to really understand and commit to their mandate and their audience. And it doesn’t hurt to understand their guest and sponsor needs as well. Understanding motivations and delivering a matching value will go a long way to securing success and an ongoing relationship.

An “ah ha” moment

I was advising a student group which was struggling with its reporting structure. It had the classic roles: prez, VPs, treasurer and so on. So I offered a little tweaking then asked “Do you really want to think outside the box?” They said “yes.”

I sketched a new organizational structure around the roles required for an events organization. After all, that what they were, organizers of student events, some social and others serious. Now they have alignment between their roles and the work they do.

Helping the next guy

And then there’s the issue of continuity. I acknowledge that It is a big challenge that student group executive teams change yearly. No sooner is someone up to speed then they are off, and often graduating so focused on with their career and not on campus.

Some groups have instituted a succession plan that cultivates executives. This way, learnings can be passed on and experience is built over a few years. Some groups are also better at choosing executives that are right for the roles they fill – logistics (events), sales (getting sponsors), marketing (promoting to their audience), etc. I realize that joining a student group in an executive role is viewed as an opportunity to learn and it’s good for the resume, but this should be balanced against the needs of the group and the audience it serves.

People power at non-profits

Following up a successful session on non-profit boards, I am gearing up for the next salon in series focusing on the full range of volunteers.

Volunteers are said to be the heart and soul of non-profits but many organizations struggle to attract and retain these valuable resources. With so many causes competing for attention and new expectations of volunteers, especially within the Boomer and Millennium segments, non-profits need to re-examine their relationship with their volunteers.

Among the questions we’ll consider in this conversation

  • What roles and models can be followed to leverage volunteers within the organization?
  • How to balance the needs of volunteers to the needs of the organization?
  • How is today’s volunteer different? What’s the impact of generational differences within the volunteer base? Has corporate volunteering changed?
  • How to manage the volunteer lifecycle: how to get them, keep them and turn them into advocates?

It should be an amazing session and I’ll be sharing some of the learnings right here.

If you’re in Toronto on the evening of Thursday January 17, 2013 and are interested in joining the salon, let me know imcindyrp [at] hotmail.com. Seats very limited.

I have the chance to interact with some student leaders recently and I’ve been amazed by the skill they use to move their organizations and initiatives forward. Sometimes these leaders are founders or presidents of their organizations and other times they happy to take make their contributions without the explicit title.

These leaders seem to have common traits. They are inclusive, solicit opinions, seek out experts, have a guiding vision and move forward continually and quickly. They are intuitive and not afraid to follow that intuition; they are curious and engage with questions. They’ll follow up opportunities whether those are events or introductions. They do all this with a grace that I wish I had more of.

I don’t know why I should be so fortunate to meet so many of these leaders. I just wish more leaders were like them. But then you can’t teach this, or can you?

My network is getting a good workout these days and we are all a little better for it. One of the benefits of getting older is that a) your friends end up in interesting roles and gather lots of experience and networks of their own and b) over the years you can collect a rather large and interesting mix of contacts. By the time someone asks “do you know someone that does …”, chances are, you have someone in your network directly or just one referral away.

I’m not here to state the obvious but instead to posture that the value of a Boomer’s network is probably larger that they will ever need and that the true value is in sharing it.

I do a lot of mentoring or coaching or chatting with folks that are looking for pathfinders. They are looking for their first job, their first meaningful job, a new career or a volunteer opportunity. Generally they are looking for validation and direction, and this is where my network comes in.

I started something called Dates with Destiny

It’s where I provide someone with a starter set of introductions and encourage them to follow up, creating 60 Days of Dates with Destiny to explore industries, roles, organizations and opportunities. The dates are given in sets of 4 or 6 contacts representing a wide range of experience or perspectives.

Those contacts are open to introductions and generously share their time and knowledge. In fact many of my contacts are grateful for the opportunity to share and some asked outright when I was going to match them for a date.

One recipient said that the first date spurred her to reexamine her own network and set up additional dates beyond my first set.

So my point is – Boomers have great value in their networks, much of which is untapped. If you are a Boomer, do share your network with those who are worth investing in. For those of you who need help or direction, don’t be afraid to ask for a Date with Destiny.

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