People ask me how I go about figuring out what causes I really believe in and what's the most effective way to support those efforts. You can find a list of what I support specifically here. My general philosophy is to do some real good in the short run, while learning how to scale that up in the long run – to the entire planet in maybe twenty years. I'm also very committed to helping people from the bottom up, to give people a break that rarely get one, and to help give a voice to the voiceless.
When it comes to business success and money, know when enough is enough, which translates to a business model of doing well by doing good. I guess I've been real successful at that, and I've been told by a lot of startup people that this approach has influenced them.
So, in the short run, I've been doing what I can to help US veterans and military families, figuring that if someone will risk a bullet protecting me, I need to give back. Recently, people helped me understand that the family of an active service member serves the country while that service member is deployed, particularly in a war zone.
I've chosen groups to support, in government and in the nonprofit world, guided by considerations including:
- Do they impact something I believe in?
- Are they good at it?
- Can I help them via serious social media consulting and engagement?
- Can I learn from the experience how to use social media on a very large scale?
- Just in case, does the nonprofit tell a really slick, heart-wrenching story? Have they been seriously vetted? (If not, substantial chance it's a scam.)
So, the themes here have to do with "social impact," probably mediated by social media, while watching out for compelling scams. (Sorry, but this is currently a huge problem in the nonprofit world.) For that reason, I engage with Charity Navigator,GuideStar, and GreatNonProfits.org. In particular, Charity Nav is making real progress measuring social impact, which is about how good an org is at serving its clients. Social media provides the tools that effective people use to work together to get stuff done. We're talking not only Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc, but also tools like spreadsheets used to rank "employee innovation" efforts.
Human history suggests that change begins from the networks of individuals who work together through the social media of their times, from Caesar and Cicero, to St Paul and Martin Luther, and John Locke and Tom Paine. Consider the UK Glorious Revolution which resulted in modern representative democracy, which I frequently call the Twitter Revolution of 1688. (A great history of pre-Internet social media isThe Writing on the Wall, by Tom Standage, who reminds us that "history retweets itself.") That history tells us that social media provides a set of tools which can effect real change. That history is one of democratization; the costs of those tools restricted them to the wealthy at first, but now the cost of entry is close to zero.
In the short term, my focus is normally on small orgs, since they can be more effective. However, I'm now working with a huge org, the Department of Veterans Affairs, around 360,000 people, and from that, I'm learning how to run large organizations – and large governments – effectively.
For the long term, I'm supporting efforts in the here and now that are fundamental to universal fairness; the intent is to give everyone a break, to treat everyone how you'd like to be treated.
One such effort involves figuring out how to get news that I can trust. I'm a news consumer, but for the past decade I've been getting training in media ethics and trust issues, as well as being shown how the news sausage is made. (It ain't pretty, particularly with all the disinfo being flung around.) The theme is that "the press is the immune system of democracy" and that a good ethical framework might lead some part of the press back to trustworthy behavior.
Another effort involves voting rights in the US. While the Declaration of Independence reminds us that we're all equal under the law, bad actors in politics can only survive if they stop certain groups of people from voting, and that ain't right.
It might occur to you that "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice," and that is another articulation of what my stuff's all about. You'd be right.
Photo: creative commons licensed (BY) flickr photo by USDAgov