When You Practice What You Preach…

I’m hearing, anecdotally, that cultural transformation at VA and elsewhere might have been nudged into motion by relentlessly handing out my business card and practicing what I preach.

The big thing I’ve learned here is that for me, tech skills and money aren’t what gets the job done. What works is bearing witness to the good works of others. This can work partly through helping ’em get their social networks going, by sharing their stuff.

bizcard
My business card says “customer service rep & founder” and people see that I’m committed to that, every day.

Customer service is a big part of what inspires me; that, and my rabbi, Leonard Cohen. Ya know, customer service can really be corrosive, and it gets worse than the usual trolling and abuse. However, singer and poet Leonard Cohen really helps me get through the day, with a small but substantial assist from Dr Stephen T Colbert, DFA (Doctor of Fine Arts).

Seriously, my team, people smarter than me, and I, we’re listening, and what you say affects the trajectory of our work. If you feel we miss something, please tell us via craigconnects.org/connect, or if you really want, I’m personally at craig@craigslist.org.

(Recently I’ve made a point of reminding people that I haven’t been a spokesman for craigslist, or had any role in management since 2000. On the other side of things, I’ll be in customer service for a lifetime…)

Special Thanks to Vets

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During Fleet Week, I took a brief tour on the USS Kidd through the Golden Gate and back. They wanted to do something special for the President, so they made this hat for him.

And, folks, I got a non-POTUS version of the hat so you can see what they look like up close:

craig hat

On board, I learned:

      • it’s a “ship” not a “boat”
      • UPDATE: chatting with a senior Marine, he tells me they call it a boat to irritate sailors
      • the ship floats in what they call “water”

Again, thanks to all the vets out there, for all that you do… (and you can also follow the USS Kidd on Facebook, maybe support ’em.)

 

New, Free App Aids Military Families

MML in handMilitary families shouldn’t have to struggle to find information they need.

MyMilitaryLife, an app by the National Military Family Association, eliminates the stressful search by connecting families with credible and tailored information. With the new Military Spouses Advice feature, spouses can recommend resources and share their expertise.

Users have unique access to advice from fellow military family members. Spouses can also rate resources and provide reviews on programs and services they’ve used. MyMilitaryLife is free for both iPhone and Android devices.

Features include:

  • Customized to-do lists
  • Tailored suggestions based on branch of Service, location, and needs
  • User rating system for resources
  • Advice from fellow military spouses
  • Due date reminders
  • Notices of new programs
  • Emergency phone numbers specific to military family needs
  • Social networking features to share information

Please note: If you download this app from a smart phone, it’ll take you to the app store or Google Play (depending on the device). If you click from a computer, you’ll be redirected to the online version of the app. The only downside to the computer version is that it hasn’t been updated with the new feature above.

Regardless if you’re in the app or online, you can enter as a guest. As a guest, you can view content, but you’ve gotta create an account to add content.

Folks, it looks like a good attempt to provide milfams with the resources they need, but we need military spouses and family members to enter info on programs and add reviews for this to be effective.

Why I Support Vets

Photo Credit: U.S. Dept of Veteran Affairs
Photo Credit: U.S. Dept of Veteran Affairs

Bottom line: if someone volunteers to risk taking a bullet to protect me, I should stand up and help out.

This might date back to my mid-teens, towards the end of the Vietnam war. I saw returning vets getting treated without respect. At that time, I knew that was wrong, but couldn’t articulate it.

Maybe seven years ago, I was at a lunch, sitting next to a guy from the Iraq & Afghanistan Vets of America, IAVA.org. Finally, it clicked in, that this was the right way to support regular people who gave up a lot to protect us, and that includes their families.

Now, I’m on the board of IAVA, and am involved with a lot of vets and military families groups, and the Department of Veterans Affairs (I’m their official nerd-in-residence).

What are some reasons you support vets and military families?

5 Reasons We Need Social Change

Folks, I started this craigconnects thing because I really want to use tech to give a real voice to the voiceless, and real power to the powerless. Ever justicesince starting craigconnects, I’ve created a list of issues areas that I’m really focusing on. It’s important that we work together, as a community, and collaborate to create real social change. You can’t change the world from the top down.

Here are just 5 (of many) reasons we need social change:

  1. We seem to throw money into food and housing, yet a lot of folks are still in need, so something isn’t working right. This includes military families and veterans. We need to do it better.
  2. We need to improve the reentry experience of war veterans into the American economy and society. Less than 1% of Americans currently serve in the military, so this is a really important conversation to have. The conversation has already been started, we just need to keep collaborating and working toward our goals.
  3. Journalism Ethics. We need to ensure that journalism fulfills its role as the heart of democracy and its mission of seeking truth and building trust. The press should be the immune system of democracy. Turns out that what we have now are a lot of ethics codes and policies, but very little accountability. This is something I often discuss when I talk about trustworthy journalism in a fact-checking-free world. And this is also why I joined the board of Poynter, and work with the Columbia Journalism Review, Center for Public Integrity, and Sunlight Foundation.
  4. There are some real bad actors out there trying to implement laws to stop eligible people, including women, the elderly, and disenfranchised communities, from voting. What I learned in high school civics class is that an attack on voting rights is virtually the same as an attack on the country. We need to step up and remind folks that the Founders of the US tell us that everyone is equal in the eyes of the law, meaning that citizens have the right to vote. And we need to protect that right.
  5. Today, women represent 12% of all computer science graduates. In 1984, they represented 37%. This number should be increasing, and we can change that. It’s important that we encourage girls and women to get involved in tech. Here’s more on the importance of girls in tech.

Personally, I’m a nerd, and feel that life should be fair, that everyone gets a chance to be heard, and maybe to help run things. Sure, life isn’t fair, but that won’t slow me down. A nerd’s gotta do what a nerd’s gotta do.

Note to self: JUST LISTEN. That is, don’t ALWAYS attempt to solve the problem, SOMETIMES YOU JUST NEED TO LISTEN. (Courtesy of  “You Just Don’t Understand” by Deborah Tannen.)

Big News: Over $345K Raised for America’s Heroes

Hey, big news just in time for Independence Day! We just raised $346,438 for America’s Heroes during the Veterans Charity Challenge 2. The organizations raised $296,438 online. Another $5,265 was raised offline, and I gave $50,000 to support these Veterans, Military Families, Police, and Firefighter organizations.

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winners

A total of 94 teams signed up. All of ’em were the real deal. Folks, I can’t thank you enough for all the good work you’re doing.

  • The grand prize winner of $20K is Warrior Canine Connection (WCC), which raised $74,687 for training therapeutic service dogs. WCC utilizes clinically based Canine Connection Therapy to empower returning combat Veterans who have sustained physical and psychological wounds while in service to our country. This is WCC’s second time coming in first place.
  • 2nd place winner of $10K is Dogs on Deployment, which raised $32,800 to give military members peace of mind concerning their pets during their service commitments by providing them with the ability to find people and resources able to help them.
  • 3rd place winner of $5K is Leave No Veteran Behind (LNVB), which raised $26,528 for their innovative educational debt relief scholarship, community service, employment training, and job placement programs. LNVB invests in heroes who have honorably served our nation and seek to continue their service as productive citizens in their communities. Last year LNVB came in 2nd place.

It was really close in the end, and an exciting finish. Our team was able to call and chat with (or leave messages for) each of the big winners, and really thank them for all they’re doing for our service members and their families. I figure if someone’s willing to risk their life for me, this is the least I can do to give back…

Over the course of the Challenge, there were 6 Bonus Challenges, and we had 13 teams win.

  • Bonus Challenge #5,  get the greatest number of individual donors this week: Warrior Canine Connection won $2500.
  • Bonus Challenge #6, the first 5 charities to get 5 donations this week: Things We Read won $2K.

I’ll be interviewing some of the winners in the coming weeks…more to come…

If you didn’t give during the Challenge, you can still give now. And it’s a great way to honor our heroes for Independence Day, and really, every day.

Did you participate in the Veterans Charity Challenge 2? I’d like to hear your feedback. And again, congrats to all those orgs who really have their boots on the ground making a difference for our heroes.

6 reasons to make a difference

Folks, I believe that it’s important to help people out when you’re able to, and that means making a difference. It doesn’t have to be big stuff to really create change.

A lot of the work I do on craigconnects involves quiet, back-channel communications, which I might never go public with. Mostly you hear from me bearing witness to good works of others, or, if I think I’m funny. (I know I’m not as funny as I think, though by Washington standards, I’m hi-larious.)

Here are 6 reasons that I work to make a difference:

  1. Code is power, and it’s important to encourage girls to learn how to code. Orgs like Girls Who Code and Black Girls Code are doing this.
  2. Vets and their families do a lot for us. If they’re willing to risk their lives for me, I’m willing to give back to them as much as I can. It’s one of the reasons I became the VA’s Nerd-in-Residence.
  3.  Ok, I really just want news I can trust. Trustworthy journalism’s far and few between lately, and that needs to change. Couple years ago, I blurted out that “the press should be the immune system of democracy,” and I still believe that.
  4. The Declaration of Independence reminds us that everyone is equal under law, and I figure election integrity is a big deal. However, there are some bad actors that are trying to pass legislation that will keep eligible people from voting. I’m working with folks like Voto Latino to stop ’em. Here’s an infographic the craigconnects team and I created about these issues: Think You Have the Right to Vote? Not so much!
  5. Consumer protection is needed to protect regular people from predatory financial institutions. That’s like home loaners who’ll make loans to people who can’t pay the bills, or payday loaners who deceive military families. Check out the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to see how an effective government org gets stuff done.
  6. I’d like to help give a voice to the voiceless and power to the powerless. Everyone should get the chance to be heard. It’s why I started craigconnects. My goal’s to team up with good folks in an effort to connect people and orgs around the world to get stuff done.

I’m looking to help solve problems that exist now, while learning how make things work better in the longer term by motivating people in increasingly large numbers.

social change
Photo Credit: Aleksi Aaltonen

That includes figuring out how to get people to work together, particularly the people at groups with similar goals. Nonprofits with common goals normally find it really hard to collaborate, and that begs for a solution.

To be sure, I don’t feel this is altruistic or noble, it’s just that a nerd’s gotta do what a nerd’s gotta do.

Sure, sometimes I gotta be a squeaky wheel, or sometimes I need to be annoying enough to motivate people, but will do so reluctantly. What are your reasons for making a difference?

Supporting some nonprofits, and some not, here’s the deal

For well over ten years, a whole bunch of nonprofit orgs (NPOs) have asked me for assistance, and I think I’ve gone way above and beyond to help as much as I could.

The vehicle for all that is now craigconnects.org, where I support some causes for the short term, while learning how to do it way, way better with a twenty-year horizon.

I’ve chosen a range of causes that feel right to me, they resonate for me at a gut level. Military families and veterans efforts feel right, so does the effort to help restore trustworthiness to journalism.

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One way that I validate my gut reaction about a NPO is through good orgs like Charity Navigator, Guidestar, Center for Investigative Reporting, and GreatNonprofits. They help me find good, effective nonprofits. When they talk about America’s 50 Worst Charities or rate how NPOs are doing, I pay attention.

If I believe in a cause enough, it becomes a craigconnects focus, and my team and I locate NPOs who are really good at helping, at “moving the needle,” and support them.

Also, I’ll support NPOs that are effective and do things that I believe in, with no specific pattern.

The danger with going with my gut is that we’ve learned, the hard way, that some NPOs are really good at telling a really good, heart-rending story. Turns out that they aren’t really good at helping anyone who needs help. Cash sent to them winds up in some briefly attention-getting awareness raising, something normally useful, and in salaries and perks. Usually, an NPO gets attention via getting real results, but the kind I’m talking about, they get attention, and hope that no one checks if they get anything done.

NPOs want help from me in social media, both in consulting mode and in using social media to their benefit. I’m okay with both. Even a nerd can get to be good at all this, though I’ll never be good as a natural.

For more, please check out craigconnects.org, check out [connect with Craig], that’s a start, and I really appreciate it.

Thanks!

 

The nerd-in-residence

The Department of Veterans Affairs has named me a “nerd-in-residence.” You can find more under VA team bios > Craig Newmark.

I really am a nerd, old-school, wore a plastic pocket protector, and glasses taped together, in the early sixties. I can now simulate social behavior for an hour, two hours tops, but then I start getting cranky. nerd-4

Far as my team’s concerned, this makes me the biggest nerd in the USA…

maybe the world.

(As you see, I’m comfortable being a nerd, and also, I might have a sense of humor. I don’t seem to be too concerned with dignity.)

On the other hand, I’m a customer service rep for craigslist, have been for more than eighteen years, and that changes humans. The stuff I do, I can see we help people put food on the table, and that matters.

The job also reminds me that crap rolls downhill, aimed at people with jobs that can be grinding and thankless. For example, I’ve first-hand seen that thousands of frontline VA people are doing everything in their power to do right by Vets, but government employees are being demonized or neglected.

(Dilbert is an excellent reference work regarding this. I’ve always resisted despair, that’s Wally; I’m Dilbert.)

Ever since connecting with the Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America I’ve been getting more and more involved with military family and veterans’ efforts.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is doing some really good stuff for vets that no one hears about, catching up since 2009. I’ve helped, in a very minor way for several years, now I gotta do more, for VA, military families, and vets.

Anyway, a nerd’s gotta do what a nerd’s gotta do.

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