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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.

 

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.

 

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.

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.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here because somehow I went from frustratingly idle to overwhelmed with “work.” I am pleased to say that I am fully engaged as a Strategic Volunteer with multiple projects and ongoing initiatives on my plate. So many, that I can now be selective about what I take on.

DeskI am still on my quest to redefine volunteerism models in the non profit space so that Boomers can put all their skills to work when they choose to give back. There is a lot of work to be done here.

I have managed to find an anchor from which I can expand my reach, involve others and in so doing, provide myself with fulfilling challenges.

This has taken 5 years. It has been a journey of patience and persistence. The patience to wait for the opportunities to surface. The patience to wait for others to understand your value proposition. The persistence to keep looking, asking and offering to help even when the response is uninviting. The non-stop faith that you can add value, that you can make a difference, and you can do it using all the tools you have.

So what did we learn?

Mostly we learned that everyone knows a piece of the puzzle and that coming together with open sharing of ideas and knowledge is good for everyone.

Questions: What’s the best technology for online donations, how do you best handle back office, how can you manage following up leads when your internal team is too small, how do you handle the new social media, what kind of pitches turn on a national chain, how do you inspire a community, how do you make it easy for a funder to say ‘yes’?

Answers: Yes, CSR is often a barrier; employee giving programs are often coercive; online donations providers take a big chunk but they offer a trusted environment; outsource cookies and chocolates as there are specialists that handle this well; work with millennials and participate in social media to understand it; draw the line that connects the business success and support of your cause; technology is an equalizer; everyone in the organization should be a cheerleader but you have to provide the brand message.

What did I learn? These types of salons are valued.

I am truly honored to have been accepted as a new trustee for Awesome CSI.

If you haven’t heard of the Awesome Foundation..

Created in the long hot summer days of 2009 in Boston, the Foundation distributes a series of monthly $1,000 grants to projects and their creators. The money is pooled together from the coffers of ten or so self-organizing “micro-trustees” and given upfront in cash, check, or gold doubloons. The chapters are autonomous and organized by the trustees around geographic areas or topics of interest.
The Foundation provides these grants with no strings attached and claims no ownership over the projects it supports. It is, in the words of one of our trustees, a micro-genius grant for flashes of micro-brilliance.

While all the chapters have a great mandate I feel particularly at home with this chapter created out of the Centre for Social Innovation a home for start up non profits and social enterprises. And I did feel the hand of fate at play as it was less than 48 hours from expression of interest, to an exchange by email of the current trustees, to the vote of support. Amazing!

As I struggle to add value as a strategic volunteer and quest to find volunteer models relevant for today’s head set, it’s experiences like this that give me hope.

PS They could use a couple more trustees so if you can spare $100 a month and believe in awesome things check out…
http://awesomecsi.ca/awesome-trustees/ or email csi.the.awesome@gmail.com.

Perhaps it’s heightened because of our winter or the shortened daylight, but it’s clear that the journey for international students can be a lonely one. With family often half a world away, minimal accommodations, cultural differences and perhaps a language barrier as well, it is a challenge to keep the faith in the promise this new country offered – a big reason that they came to Canada for higher education.

As a volunteer and mentor I am privileged to coach some very bright international students. Mine are the enterprising ones, with an idea or just the drive to make an impact both here and at home. They are braver than I ever was and all they need is a little support from time to time, to remember that they have a great potential. This is not a lot to ask of a mentor.

If you are looking for some way to add value and give back, become a mentor. Contact your nearest place of higher learning or youth-based organization and see how a little time nurtures the next generation of greatness.

Here’s a couple of starter ideas: http://top20under20.ca/, http://studentlife.utoronto.ca/Mentorship-Resource-Centre.htm.

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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