Week One at HBS

September 3, 2012

I just finished week one in the MBA program at Harvard Business School. I’ve had a long flight out West for Labor Day to write down some reflections.

The immersive experience is truly exhilarating. Everyone is so prepared and intelligent. Sectionmates can hold so much case information in their head at once and then speak extemporaneously on demand. Since everyone is smart and everyone wants to look good in front of their peers, everyone prepares.

The Sections

The Class of 2014 at HBS has 920 students. There are ten sections of about ninety students each who take all the required classes together in year one and create deep bonds with one another over time. In my section (section F), we have (at least) two Ph.Ds, two attorneys, two MBA/MDs, a Navy officer, an Army officer, a solar energy entrepreneur, a fashion entrepreneur, a guy who ran a hospital, and a nuclear engineer. Not to mention some of the sharpest consultants, investors, and bankers I’ve ever met from Bain, McKinsey, BCG, Goldman, KKR etc.

No matter what you accomplished before school, it’s more or less impossible to bring even a modicum of arrogance into the classroom as everyone is equally as impressive. Around a third of our section is from another country, bringing diversity of thought and perspective. While I’m still getting to know everyone in the section, I know we have classmates from Nigeria, France, Russia, Japan, China, India, Singapore, and Brazil.

The HBS Learning Model

Here, it is cool to be smart. We learn from each other as much as from the professor. The professor becomes a facilitator more so than an instructor. The experience of being in a rounded classroom utilizing the case method with so many other inspiring people is unlike anything I’ve been part of before. Needless to say, I’ve loved the experience so far and look forward to the months to come.

The case method works as everyone in the room is as smart and experienced as you are. There are no laptops. There are no mobile phones. Just eighty minutes of pouring into every detail and taking away the enduring lessons from a complex picture–three times per day. You never know when you’ll be cold called to present/summarize the case to your classmates, creating internal pressure to be ready for your moment. Nearly everyone is present and engaged even if they’ve been up till 3am.

You have to track mentally with each classmate comment in order to be able to be ready to make the next comment though quality of commentary is more critical than quality. A quality comment is one that is relevant and timely and moves the learning process forward in the class. A helpful scribe sits in every classroom taking notes on what was said, enabling later grading of participation by the professor.

Students With Competence & Compassion

HBS has made a concerted effort to bring in people who care about making a difference in the world and building shared value. It’s clear that it is no longer possible to get into HBS without having done something that makes a difference in a community or in the world. The smartest investment banker or management consultant won’t get in unless he or she has demonstrated a desire to serve humanity in some shape or form. I have heard that one the primary admissions criteria for interviewers is simply, “Does this person inspire you?”

After the debacle of the 2008 financial and housing crisis and the relatively high correlation between the graduates of top three MBA programs and the architects of the housing bubble, it is refreshing to see HBS admissions seeking to bring together a body of individuals whose purpose is to change the world for the better. I thought upon arriving last week that perhaps 20% of the individuals I met would express a desire to improve the world. Instead, I’ve found the overwhelming majority of students share this desire and realize the power of responsible business leaders to create sustainable models for building a better word. Here, sustainability has the double meaning of financially viable and environmentally viable.

Bravo to HBS leadership for systematically implementing a structure that brings together some of the most competent, caring, and compassionate people in the world for two years of life-changing and experience broadening peer pedagogy.

HBS appears as much a leadership school as it is a business school. It is a place for future and current leaders to refine their skillsets for building and growing sustainable organizational structures regardless of sector and accomplish much more than they could individually while meeting the people that will help them on their journey to impact the world at scale.

While I cannot properly compare the HBS experience to the Stanford experience, I am impressed so far with the promotion of the study of technology (both in the materials sciences, biotech, and info tech) and entrepreneurship.

A Place Friendly to Entrepreneurs

HBS also has made an effort to attract entrepreneurs. Some of my entrepreneurial friends in San Francisco and North Carolina had a difficult time understanding why I’d go to business school–historically considered the place for the risk adverse. I explained the school recently launched a new Innovation Lab (iLab) with available office space for startups and embarked on a top-led effort to welcome those who have started companies or wish to co-found firms in the future.

HBS also has a number of resources housed within the Arthur Rock Center for Entrepreneurship, an Entrepreneurs-in-Residence program, the FIELD program in which everyone on campus is required to start a small business in their first year, and a number of second year courses on technology and entrepreneurship. Unlike the past, entrepreneurship is today seen as a legitimate path into HBS and encouraged on campus.

While it will no doubt be challenging for me to balance leading a start-up on the West coast while being in school, HBS makes it as easy as possible. With a strong co-founder and COO running the day-to-day ops in San Francisco, and the ability to check-in around 3pm after classes each day, I know the company will make it through with my focus split for the time being.

While the school has already taught many well-known entrepreneurs and Global 2000 leaders, often it has been the undergraduate Harvard drop outs (Gates, Zuckerberg) who have built the most well-known technology companies. I can only imagine in the years ahead a number of world changing leaders will emerge from HBS with the innovative mindset and business intuition of a Gates, Zuckerberg, Jobs, or Musk.

Operational Execution

Everything pretty much runs like clockwork at HBS, leaving the student endless opportunities for engagement and learning. Much like a Porter strategy case, the interlocking systems of operational execution and aligned processes for strategic differentiation have been consciously architected.

One suggestion I could make for improvement so far is to have a professor teach a required 80 minute session on the alumni portrait project to help guide us in our first day reflections on “what we wish to do with this one wild and precious life.” The only other recommendation I’d have would be to form a Science and Engineering Club on campus to complement the Energy and Environment Club. I hope to be part of creating this club in the time ahead as I’ve developed immense interest in nanotechnology, renewable energy, robotics and synthetic biology this summer after attending Singularity University’s Executive Program and watching Dr. Jeffrey Grossman’s videos from MIT.

Week One Cases

And then, we have the cases. We have read nine cases so far in four days of classes. The average is 2 or 3 per day–requiring the student to hold immense amounts of information in his or her head and create a mental map for rapid information retrieval and summary of each case.

The cases are 15-25 page documents covering actual historical business situations from the perspective of a main character (called a protagonist) with a handful of tables and exhibits with additional detail. The professor often puts the students in the roles of the case protagonists and at times asks students to role play critical moments in a beautifully improvised learning experience that when done right can be magical.

The initial week cases were selected by the faculty to teach broad lessons while exposing us to entrepreneurship, globalization, marketing, social enterprise, and organizational behavior. In Leadership, we’ve studied the case of Erik Peterson at Biometra. In Marketing, we’ve studied the cases of Snapple’s resurgence under Triarc and Black and Decker’s 1992 decision to brand their high end power tools as DeWalt and give them a distinctive yellow color. In Finance, we’ve looked at arbitration in a Major League Baseball collective bargaining dispute with the Kansas City Zephyrs and evaluated the forecasted financials of a Tanzanian water filter startup.

In START, a two day program for students before the beginning of regular classes, we looked at the Zappos case of building a company with a great culture and focus on the customer experience and the awe-evoking case of a Bangalore heart hospital that provided low cost angiograms and open heart surgeries to tens of thousands of patients and then raised equity financing and scaled globally.

The most compelling moment often comes at the end of class when we are shown videos of what happened after the case (or get to hear from the case protagonists in person themselves).

Just in this first week I’ve picked up really valuable lessons around branding, management, and financial planning. Synthesizing these diverse lessons into a whole picture each week will be an enjoyable experience for me as I grow and learn. Time and again, we’ve learned from the cases (Black and Decker and Snapple in particular) that strategy is a collection of integrated processes that differentiate the company and its products and align internal resources toward becoming the best in the world at providing a particular type of value to a particular type of customer.

Irrational Exuberance?

In sum, if you have an opportunity to come to HBS, even if it’s for one of the many Executive Education programs, go for it. And if you wish to be a solid candidate for the HBS MBA program in the future, invest just as much time and effort in the work you’re doing to make a positive impact in the world as you are in your profession. Or even better, ensure that your profession is actually how to you wish to change the world (i.e. you’re working for a company or organization whose particular way of changing the world aligns with how you want to change the world).

I likely sound exuberant and excited. It is because I am! I am glad to be here. Almost giddy like a little kid in a candy store, perhaps. It is a great privilege to have these twenty months ahead of me to learn and grow and be pushed. Afterward I will take on an immense responsibility to use my remaining time on this planet to make a difference. I look forward to that day while being fully focused on the present.

My TEDx Presentation – “Creating a Better World”

January 20, 2012

On December 10th, 2011 I gave a TEDx presentation in Raleigh on “Creating a Better World.” Here is the video.

And here are the slides from the presentation:

TEDx Ryan Allis – Optimism for the Next 40 Years of Human History

Visit to the Akilah Institute for Women Rwanda

January 4, 2011

Muraho from Kigali!

Today I’m working from The Akilah Institute for Women in Kigali, Rwanda.

Akilah is a non-profit school that teaches hospitality, leadership, and entrepreneurship to women 18-25 here in Rwanda. Akilah was started in 2009 by Elizabeth Davis and Dave Hughes and now has fifteen full-time staff including twelve here in Rwanda and three in Tampa, Florida.

The school opened its doors in January 2010 with 50 students and will be expanding to 120 students at the end of this month in January 2011. Through the two-year program, the girls learn skills that enable them to get jobs in Rwanda’s burgeoning hotel and tourism industry that pay on average 10x more than the girls earned previously. Akilah graduates can expect to earn about $6,000 per year at an entry-level hotel position. Akilah received over 1500 applications for just 70 available spots for the class of 2012. It costs Akilah about $3,000 per student per year of education.

The Marriott, Hilton, and Radisson are currently constructing hotels here in Kigali that will open in 2012. These will be welcome additions to the current options in the city of the Hotel Milles des Collines (aka Hotel Rwanda), Manor Hotel, Serena, Top Tower, and Novotel.

More and more travelers are coming to Rwanda every year to conduct business, make investments, see the mountain gorillas in the Virungas in the Northwest, learn about the country’s extraordinary history, climb Mount Karisimbi, visit the Akagera National Park, or relax on Lake Kivu.

I met Elizabeth in October at the Opportunity Collaboration conference in Ixtapa, Mexico. In November I hosted a fundraiser for Akilah called “A Metropolitan Safari” at the iContact Offices in Raleigh at which Elizabeth and Akilah students Anita and Gisele gave a moving presentation. During the eight-city tour that included Tampa, New York, Providence, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C., and Raleigh, Elizabeth, Anita, and Gisele raised $185,000 for the organization, all going to girls scholarships.

Expansion Plans for Akilah

Akilah is currently raising funds for girls scholarships to enable them to get through 2011. You can learn more on their web site about donation options.

Akilah plans to expand from 120 students to 800 in the coming years. They have recently received rights to 40 acres of land from the Rwandan government to build their new campus thirty minutes south of Kigali in Bugesera at the site of an old Italian School that shut down in the 1990s.

Here is how the Akilah model works. Central to the model is the expectation and obligation that each young women who attends Akilah will eventually pay for another to go to school in the future, using a portion of the increase in income they now have.

What is Happening in Rwanda Today

It’s truly amazing what is happening here in Rwanda in 2011 after such a tumultuous history. Kagame has chosen to focus on building Rwanda into the tourism and IT hub of Africa and growing the country through private sector development. He says if Singapore and South Korea did it, why can’t Rwanda. The country is stable, developing rapidly, and extremely welcoming. Akilah is just one example of many of the wonderful things happening here!

More to come from Rwanda in the days ahead…

Muraho from Kigali!

Today I’m working from The Akilah Institute for Women in Kigali, Rwanda.

Akilah Institute for Women Rwanda

Here’s the beautiful vista of Kigali from one of Akilah’s classrooms overlooking some the many hills of Rwanda

Akilah is a non-profit school that teaches hospitality, leadership, and entrepreneurship to women 18-25 here in Rwanda. Akilah was started in 2009 by Elizabeth Davis and Dave Hughes and now has fifteen full-time staff including twelve here in Rwanda and three in Tampa, Florida.

The school opened its doors in January 2010 with 50 students and will be expanding to 120 students at the end of this month in January 2011. Through the two-year program, the girls learn skills that enable them to get jobs in Rwanda’s burgeoning hotel and tourism industry that pay on average 10x more than the girls earned previously. Akilah graduates can expect to earn about $6,000 at an entry-level hotel position. Akilah received over 1500 applications for just 70 available spots for the class of 2012. It costs Akilah about $3,000 per student per year of education.

The Marriott and Radisson are currently constructing hotels here in Kigali that will open in 2012. These will be welcome additions to the current options in the city of the Hotel Milles des Collines (aka Hotel Rwanda), Manor Hotel, Serena, Top Tower, and Novotel.

More and more travelers are coming to Rwanda every year to conduct business, make investments, see the mountain gorillas in the Virungas in the Northwest, learn about the country’s extraordinary history, climb Mount Karisimbi, visit the Akagera National Park, or relax on Lake Kivu.

I met Elizabeth in October at the Opportunity Collaboration conference in Ixtapa, Mexico. In November I hosted a fundraiser for Akilah called “A Metropolitan Safari” at the iContact Offices in Raleigh at which Elizabeth and Akilah students Anita and Gisele gave a moving presentation. During the eight-city tour that included Tampa, New York, Providence, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington D.C., and Raleigh, Elizabeth, Anita, and Gisele raised $185,000 for the organization, all going to girls scholarships.

Here are some photos of the beautiful Akilah Institute campus.

Akilah CEO Elizabeth Davis in front of the Akilah classrooms
Akilah CEO Elizabeth Davis out back behind the Akilah Institute classrooms and office
A view of some of the thousand hills of Rwanda
Elizabeth hard at work in the teachers’ office
Elizabeth in the Blue Classroom at Akilah
Ryan in the Blue Classroom at Akilah
Akilah Community Pledge
The Akilah Community Pledge

Expansion Plans for Akilah

Akilah is currently raising funds for girls scholarships to enable them to get through 2011. You can learn more on their web site about their capital campaign.

Akilah plans to expand from 120 students to 800 in the coming years. They have recently received rights to 40 acres of land from the Rwandan government to build their new campus thirty minutes south of Kigali in Bugesera at the site of an old Italian School that shut down in the 1990s.

Here is how the Akilah model works. Central to the model is the expectation and obligation that each young women who attends Akilah will eventually pay for another to go to school in the future, using a portion of the increase in income they now have.

The Akilah Impact Diagram

What is Happening in Rwanda Today

It’s truly amazing what is happening here in Rwanda in 2011 after such a tumultuous history. Kagame has chosen to focus on building Rwanda into the tourism and IT hub of Africa and growing the country through private sector development. He says if Singapore and South Korea did it, why can’t Rwanda. The country is stable, developing rapidly, and extremely welcoming. Akilah is just one example of many of the wonderful things happening here!

More to come from Rwanda in the days ahead…

You’re Invited: A Metropolitan Safari for Rwanda at iContact

November 2, 2010

I wanted to invite Dare Mighty Things readers to a special event coming up at iContact. We are hosting a “Metropolitan Safari” on Monday November 8th at 6:30pm at our new offices in Morrisville.

We will have as guests two remarkable women from Rwanda who will share with us their perspective of the Rwandan genocide, how the country has turned their economy around through technology and entrepreneurship, and the role of women in rebuilding the country. We will also be giving the grand tour of our beautiful new space and offering rides on our new slide.

We will have African food, African music, and an open wine and beer bar.

Tickets can be purchased here. You can also RSVP on Facebook. You can use the discount code “ICONTACT” when you register if you wish. All proceeds from the evening will benefit The Akilah Institute for Women in Kigali, Rwanda. More information is in the invitation below. I hope you can come. Thanks for helping us spread the word!

You can also download a PDF invite for the event.



You’re invited to join us for a very special evening at iContact’s new offices in Morrisville, NC

What: iContact’s “Metropolitan Safari” Fundraiser for the Akilah Institute for Women Rwanda

When: Monday, November 8th, 2010 6:30pm to 8:30pm

Where: 5221 Paramount Parkway, 2nd floor, Morrisville, NC 27560

Purchase tickets here

(You Can Use Discount Code “ICONTACT”)

Join us November 8th and see iContact’s new offices in Morrisville for the first time while supporting a great cause.

We’ll be giving the grand tour of our brand new building on the Lenovo Campus that gives us room to grow to 550 employees and offering free rides on our slide.

We’ll start out with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres on the 2nd floor at 6:30pm then going upstairs for the Akilah presentation. I hope you will join us for this special evening.

Ticket Information

(Use Discount Code “ICONTACT”)

All proceeds from the evening will support the Akilah Scholarship Fund and empower young Rwandan women to become leaders in their communities.

About the Akilah Institute for Women

Akilah empowers young women to transform their lives by equipping them with the skills, knowledge, and confidence needed to become leaders and entrepreneurs in East Africa. Learn More | Make a Direct Contribution

Opportunity Collaboration 2010 Recap

October 20, 2010

I went to Opportunity Collaboration skeptical. Why was a conference on poverty alleviation being held at a beach resort in Mexico?

I left Opportunity Collaboration on Tuesday morning in awe of what the conference had accomplished. It was a rare masterpiece of an ‘unconference’, organized by Jonathan Lewis of MicroCredit Enterprises, and put on by COO Topher Wilkins with the help of quite a strong team of volunteers.

While I would rather have been less separated from the local communities of Ixtapa and Zihuatanejo, Mexico, I must admit the setting did serve the purpose of allowing the 300 attendees to connect deeply in a relaxed environment.

The attendees, called “delegates”, were a mix of entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs, investors, foundation directors, and non-profit directors. The conference also welcomed 50 Cordes Fellows which greatly added to the age and geographic diversity of the crowd.

The conference ran from Friday night through Tuesday night. I left Tuesday morning to get back to iContact as we have a very big week getting ready to move 235 team members this Friday to our new offices in Morrisville.

The schedule for each day looked something like:

8am – Swim in Pacific/Breakfast
9am – Colloquium for the Common Good (Discussion on a Reading in a Group of 25)
11am – Open (we used it to convene a group of millennial social entrepreneurs each day)
12pm – Lunch, with breakout groups called cluster forks
1:30pm – Wellness time – Soccer, kayaking, volleyball, sailing, archery
3pm – Collaboration Challenge (topical discussions)
5:30pm – Open for 1-1 meetings
6:30pm – Dinner, with breakout groups called cluster forks
8:30pm – Companies and Causes – 60 Second Pitch Session
10:00pm – Networking on the Deck

There were no panels and no keynotes. This led to people having the time to connect in deep conversations. It was one of the more enjoyable long weekends I can remember in my 26 years of life. Having the opportunity to engage deeply with some of the most innovative practitioners in the field of poverty alleviation and social entrepreneurship was immensely inspiring and beneficial.

Being laser-focused on getting iContact to an IPO in the next couple years and now having a great staff who can attend our 25 or so company trade shows each year, I’ve scaled back the number of conferences I attend in the past couple years. I tend to limit it to Summit Series, the Skoll World Forum, Renaissance Weekend, and a couple investment bank or analyst conferences per year. I will now add Opportunity Collaboration to the select annual list.

Why Did I Choose to Come?

OppColl was talked about heavily when I was at the Skoll World Forum in Oxford in April and came recommended to me by people whose opinion I trust–Nathaniel Whittemore of AssetMap, Kim Scheinberg of Presumed Abundance, Jonny Dorsey of Global Health Corps, Mike Del Ponte of SparkSeed and Ben Abram of Westly Group. And so I signed up, not really knowing what would come of it.

My interest in being at OppColl was four-fold.

  1. Vacation & Strategic Reflection: After working non-stop since February on our $40M Series B fundraise at iContact it was good to take three days off for a mini-vacation. Any time I can get out of my normal environment I find I can think more clearly about our strategy and get a big picture perspective. It turned out to be quite a valuable experience just from an iContact perspective, as there were a number of deep discussions on leadership I gained from and I wonderfully ran into at least ten of our customers who I always love connecting with about what they think about our company and product and what their additional needs are.
  2. A Passion for Ending Extreme Poverty: A large part of my interest in attending goes back to a lifelong passion I have of wanting to be part of a generational movement to end extreme poverty in our lifetimes and learn all I can about the topic. In a world with so much, it just does not make sense that 2.5 billion people live on under $2 per day and 22,000 children five or younger die every day in the developing world—most needlessly from preventable disease and starvation. I think I can make the biggest difference in extreme poverty in the mid-term via investing and private-sector job creation, but I’m very aware that it requires all three sectors (government, business, and civil sector) to work together. To actually create sustainable economic development the trifecta of transparent, non-corrupt, responsible, and well-run government, civil sector (NGOs/NPOs), and businesses must exist. OppColl does a great job of bringing together folks from all three sectors to collaborate.
  3. Nourish International: The non-profit organization for which I serve as Board Chairman, Nourish International, is at an important point in its history. It is transitioning from a completely donor-reliant model to a more sustainable model that includes a portion of its revenue from earned income. I came to connect to other non-profit directors and board members that have successfully created substantial earned income models for their organizations.
  4. Humanity Fund: I launched a small personal investment fund called the Humanity Fund in January. Going to OppColl was perhaps the easiest way to connect directly with the leaders of the microequity field. Through the Humanity Fund we invest $10k to $100k at a time in socially responsible high-growth for-profit businesses in Africa, Latin America, and the USA. This is a small effort for now in which I want to dip my toes into the water and make a couple investments per year as a way of gaining some learning lessons, getting exposure to high-growth businesses in “frontier markets” and investing in creating jobs in high-growth socially responsible businesses that are growing quickly. My hope over time is to show that it is very possible with the right structure, even with the challenges of transaction costs, trust, and liquidity, to achieve above-market returns by investing in microequity and investing in the missing-middle of SME financing in which growth capital simply is not presently available.

The People

Of the 300 delegates, the folks I spent the most time with at the conference were:

I already have a sense a number of these will turn into lifelong friendships.

I also connected with some key people in the emerging and fascinating field of microequity and impact investing:

I was also particularly impressed by the economic potential (in addition to the social impact) of ventures of:

The Colloquium for the Common Good

The morning “Colloquium for the Common Good” offered an opportunity to connect deeply with a group 25-30 randomly selected delegates through two hours of discussion on a set of readings related to poverty alleviation (though I must admit I still struggle to understand why we were asked to read Antigone for day two). Our colloquium group was moderated by the well-known photographer Paola Gianturco. On the Saturday night a group of the millennial generation social entrepreneurs decided to have an ad hoc “indigenous community cultural immersion exercise” and went dancing in Ixtapa for a few hours so I regrettably missed out on the Sunday morning discussion of Antigone.

The readings for the Colloquium included:

  • A Letter from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • The Brothers Grimm, “The Wonderful Musician” (story)
  • Antigone (play)
  • Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas (essay selection)
  • Frantz Fanon, “On Violence in the International Context”, from The Wretched of the Earth (essay)
  • Hernando de Soto, “By Way of Conclusion,” from The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else (chapter from study)
  • H.D. Thoreau, “Economy,” selections from Walden (essay)

The Millennial Social Entrepreneurs

We used the 11am hour two of the days to convene a group of younger entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs to mind-map out on a whiteboard what we are currently doing to be part of ending extreme poverty. Then we shared our plans for scaling our impact over the next four decades and being part of the global movement to actually end extreme poverty by 2050. This was perhaps the hour of discussion I most looked forward to each day. Being able to map out the role I hope to play and gain feedback and go deep with Saul Garlick of ThinkImpact, Jonny Dorsey of Global Health Corps, Mark Hanis of the Genocide Intervention Network, Ben Abrams of Westly Group, Asher Hasan of Naya Jeevan, Leticia Casanueva of CREA, Amity Weiss of Rwanda Nziza, Mohamed Ali Niang of Malo Traders, and Elizabeth Dearborn Davis of Akilah Institute was intriguing and energizing.

Lunch & Wellness Time

Lunch provided ample opportunity to join a breakout “clusterfork” or have 1-1 meetings with other delegates. Example Cluster Fork topics included:

  • Do Gooders With Spreadsheets
  • Building Wealth and Assets Across Borders
  • Money and Power for the World’s Poorest Women Through Savings
  • Impact Investors: Get More Deal Flow
  • Preparing the Next Gen Global Leaders

After lunch we had time to relax or exercise. Having 90 minutes built in each day for “wellness” was unique and much appreciated for a conference. I kayaked, played soccer, swam, and even trapezed during this time.

Collaboration Challenges

The 3pm sessions convened groups of 30-40 in a chair-circle format to discuss a particular topic. My favorite “Collaboration Challenge” was the Millennial Social Entrepreneur themed session on Monday, particularly when we split off into a group to discuss for-profit social entrepreneurship and how to use the great power of markets and investment capital to increase social impact.

Some folks in the room thought that by definition you couldn’t be a social entrepreneur if you ran a for-profit business. No consensus from the group emerged, but I along with others made every effort to make the point that the entrepreneur who runs a socially responsible enterprise, regardless of entity structure, is a social entrepreneur. Personally, I define a social entrepreneur as a “problem solver who takes action.” To me, there are for-profit social entrepreneurs and non-profit social entrepreneurs and in some cases you can actually make a larger social impact by choosing to organize as a for-profit and be able to access capital and talent markets more effectively.

Example topics for Collaboration Challenges included:

  • Profits and Pitfalls in Social Investing
  • Fattening Up the Food Supply
  • Jobs at the Base of the Pyramid
  • Poverty and Pollution: The Poisonous Paid
  • Conscience of a Capitalist

Companies & Causes

Finally, each night after dinner was capped off by “Companies and Causes” a 60-second pitch session run by R. Paul Herman, author of HIP Investor. Perhaps 40 of the attendees pitched each night.

These pitches were generally good, with the sole exception of the unfortunate rule that if you combined into a larger group you would get as much as 3 minutes each instead of 1 minute. This caused the room to lose energy and the hour long pitch session to go 90-100 minutes, beyond the interest of most attendees who ended up hanging out instead in the adjacent bar. Overall, “Companies and Causes” was a great new addition to the conference, however I’d recommend keeping every pitch to 60-75 seconds next year. Less truly can be more.

Each night seemed to end with a spontaneous group of 20 and 30-somethings swimming in the Pacific.

So Should You Go to OppColl Next Year?

And so, if you’re working in the field of social entrepreneurship broadly defined, are interested in meeting the CEOs of entrepreneurial ventures that have a huge potential for both financial and social return, care deeply about humanity, or care deeply about actually ending extreme poverty in our lifetimes, Opportunity Collaboration is probably the best conference to come to for the deep relationships it affords.

It is not the best conference for content or big-name speakers–the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship is much better for that–but it is the best conference I’ve been to for facilitating the creation of deep, meaningful, beneficial relationships that can help both parties make an increased positive impact in the world. The conference is not inexpensive, so if funding is an issue be sure to apply early for a 2011 Cordes Fellowship.

Hope to see you there in 2011!


Were you there? What were your experiences? Do you wish you were? Is it justifiable to have an expensive conference on poverty alleviation at a resort if it brings great people together who in fact due to the connections they make are able to more effectively scale their social impact and more quickly end extreme poverty? We’d love your comments.

The False Tradeoff Between Financial & Social Responsibility

September 2, 2010

There is a perception out there that there is a tradeoff between social responsibility and financial responsibility. You can’t do both, people say. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. Well, very fortunately the data just doesn’t support that perception.

Can you actually be more socially responsible and increase shareholder value at the same time?

The Only Social Responsibility of a Company Is To Increase Profits for Shareholders

In 1970, Chicago-school economist Milton Friedman proclaimed in an article for New York Times Magazine that a company’s only social responsibility is to increase profits for its shareholders. In the 1980s Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, George Bush, and the Ayn Rand star-pupil Alan Greenspan turned this credo into de facto policy gospel.

There is passionate and meaty debate whether externalizing environmental damage and exploiting a work force is okay if there is no law or regulation against it. There is another debate whether these practices actually maximize long-term profits or the present value of future cash flows.

For a moment, let’s take this 1970 proclamation at face value and assume that an executive’s responsibility is to increase returns for company shareholders. Let’s agree that executives and board members do have a fiduciary responsibility to seek to gain a return on the capital invested in their organization, particularly if they work for a publicly-owned company or a company that is not a wholly-owned private corporation.

So this begs the question, can you do both–increase social return and increase financial return?

Can You Be More Socially Responsible & Financially Responsible?

Raj Sisodia, David Wolfe, and Jag Sheth recently published “Firms of Endearment: How World-Class Companies Profit from Passion and Purpose.” In the book, they share the results of a study in which they looked at companies that were especially socially responsible–they call these firms “Firms of Endearment” or FoEs. They compared the shareholder returns of these socially responsible firms with the S&P 500. What they found was that the firms that were socially responsible outperformed the S&P 500 by 9x.

These Firms of Endearment grew shareholder value 1025% in the last ten years while the S&P 500 returned 122%. Even when you compare the Firms of Endearment vs. the blue chip success stories profiled in Jim Collins’ Good to Great, the Firms of Endearment win. The firms profiled in Good to Great returned 316% while the FoE’s returned 1025%.” Here’s the graph from their web site.

Financial Returns of Socially Responsible Firms Vs. S&P 500 and Good to Great

Now, by no means does this data prove conclusively that more socially responsible firms create higher shareholder returns. The data show only correlation, not causation. The reality could simply be that firms that happen to be socially responsible happen to be in more profitable industries and so they can afford to give more to the community and create better work environments. But nonetheless, the point is clear– investing in being a socially responsible company certainly does not by definition go against shareholder interests and in many cases enhances shareholder returns.

iContact Case Study

Earlier today, I published a case study of social responsibility at iContact. In it, I shared the why and the how behind our social and environmental efforts at iContact over the past year including examples of how iContact has reduced costs and increased employee engagement through our efforts. As I wrote in the case, the benefits to date from our social responsibility efforts included:

  1. Vendor cost reductions of $40,000 driving estimated net savings of $19,000 per month.
  2. Increased employee engagement and excitement to be working at our company (which we believe will lead to greater passion in people’s work, additional discretionary effort from team members, increased productivity, lower regret employee turnover, and an increased ability to attract the best and the brightest).
  3. Increased customer acquisition and customer retention from customers who are coming to us and sticking with us because of our social responsibility programs.
  4. Additional press coverage from Entrepreneur, INC, and the Raleigh News & Observer that is helping us recruit the best and brightest and gain additional customers and partners.

So in fact, at least so far, we have been able to show both tangible and intangible benefits that connect the investment we are making in social responsibility with direct economic net benefits to our financial results and thus to the increase of shareholder value.

A False Tradeoff

While it would be nice to have even better data and employee surveys comparing before and after our work at iContact, there is substantial anecdotal evidence supporting a conclusion that in the case of iContact, increasing investment in social and environmental responsibility so far has increased profits, and will contribute very positively to increasing shareholder value in the many years to come.

So does increasing social and environmental responsibility always increase shareholder value? No, it does not. But in many cases it can and does and the Firms of Endearment study provides a fascinating basis for a likely connection between the most socially responsible firms and those who produce the highest return for shareholders. Investing in being a socially responsible company certainly does not by definition go against shareholder interests and in many cases enhances shareholder returns.

There does seem to be substantive and significant evidence showing there the tradeoff between social responsibility and financial responsibility is false and in fact social responsibility in many cases aligns with increasing financial profitability.


Thanks for reading. I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments on social responsibility, effective CSR programs, whether being more socially responsible helps or hurts a business,  and whether your shopping decisions could be influenced by whether a company is responsible or not.

Maximizing Social Return from The Giving Pledge

July 18, 2010

I originally wrote this post for the Social Entrepreneurship Section of Change.org. You can find the original Change.org post here or read below.

A Vision in a Time of Peril

It’s hard to see the big picture in times of turmoil. Let’s go back to Wednesday, March 4, 2009. That day, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, the richest individuals in America, wrote a letter to David Rockefeller, President of the Rockefeller Foundation. The letter suggested a gathering of their billionaire friends to discuss giving.

The letter was mailed in the backdrop of a tumultuous week. By that Friday March 6th, the Dow Jones Industrial Average reached its lowest point in twelve years, free falling 52.9% from two years before in the good ‘ole days of 2007 prosperity.

March 6th, 2009 brings back vivid memories. I was visiting the White House with a group of young entrepreneurs with The Summit Series. The White House Office of Public Engagement had put together the session to discuss their plans for the Economic Recovery Act. As Jason Furman, the Deputy Director of the National Economic Council, spoke to our group, the market was in freefall.

While the media was anointing The Great Recession and debating whether it would become a depression, Gates and Buffet had the fortune and foresight, to bring together their friends for dinner in New York to discuss how to give back.

The Launch of The Giving Pledge

Out of this meeting in New York came an initiative called The Giving Pledge, “an effort to invite the wealthiest individuals and families in America to commit to giving the majority of their wealth to philanthropy.”

So through The Giving Pledge Mr. Gates and Mr. Buffet are encouraging other billionaires to give at least 50% of their net worth away.

In fact, instead of the recommended 50%, Warren Buffett has pledged to contribute 99% of his net worth to charity within 10 years after his death, all to be used for immediate need and none for endowments. Laudable indeed. Buffet writes in his usual matter-of-fact style,

“The reaction of my family and me to our extraordinary good fortune is not guilt, but rather gratitude. Were we to use more than 1% of my claim checks on ourselves, neither our happiness nor our well-being would be enhanced. In contrast, that remaining 99% can have a huge effect on the health and welfare of others. That reality sets an obvious course for me and my family: Keep all we can conceivably need and distribute the rest to society, for its needs.”

How Much Money Are We Talking About?

Mr. Buffet will perhaps give around $50 billion to philanthropy by the time of his death. Through The Giving Pledge, he and Gates have the opportunity to leverage their influence and connections to multiply their giving many times over and set the example for other billionaires, who can no longer give away just 10% of what they have and feel good about themselves.

The total net worth of the Forbes 400 in 2009 was $1.27 Trillion. If Gates and Buffet convince 20% of these billionaires to give half of their net worth away, they’d be able to drive another $120B into philanthropy, doubling the amount of they themselves can personally give away.

So let’s say The Giving Pledge is successful and it generates another $120B in giving over the next twenty years, or about $6B per year for the next twenty years.

While an additional $6 billion per year can certainly make an impact, this amount pales in comparison to the $3.8 trillion proposed spending in the U.S. Federal Budget for 2011. It also pales in comparison to the $303B in total annual private giving by U.S. citizens.

The Goal: Sustainable Economic Prosperity

The two issues in our world today that are causing the greatest threat to a secure and stable human society with access to opportunity for all are extreme poverty and environmental sustainability. Most people don’t know that 39% of the human beings on this planet live on under $2 per day. If our goal is global stability, not to mention justice, this cannot be allowed in our world. And most of us by now get the global economic and natural disaster that will be caused if we keep increasing our annual consumption of goods without decreasing our carbon emissions.

As an entrepreneur and social entrepreneur, I believe that our mission, challenge, and opportunity as a generation is to create sustainable economic prosperity for all. We will never have a truly secure or stable world until we do. So how can this extra $6 billion per year be used to get the maximum return toward this goal of sustainable economic prosperity?

While humanitarian aid is absolutely necessary and moral, providing funds with this extra private capital for short-term gap filling needs caused by the symptoms of these issues won’t solve the issues themselves.

How Can This Money Make The Biggest Positive Impact?

So how can these funds best be used to generate the highest Social Return on Investment (SROI) and work toward sustainable economic prosperity for all?

The funds of these Giving Billionaires can either be given to address immediate need or invested to change much bigger systemic issues that are at the root cause of so much human suffering. While I do not know which will generate the highest return, I believe that by investing in changing global public policy (in a few select areas mentioned below) to reduce the incentive structures that are at the root cause of much suffering, lack of access to opportunity, and environmental damage these new Billionaire Givers will generate the highest SROI.

In order for this relatively small amount of additional capital to have the biggest positive impact, it must be leveraged. Philanthropic money can be leveraged by investing it in changing how other, larger, capital flows occur within our global system.

To effect real long term global change this $120B should be directed to:

1) Change U.S. domestic policy so we stop spending on the very expenditures that block access of the poorest countries to the market and creates need for more humanitarian aid and philanthropic giving in the first place (e.g. farm subsidies, trade tariffs, some military spending);

2) Influence a change in International Financial Reporting Standards and laws of nation-states so that companies can no longer off-balance sheet their negative environmental externalities;

3) As Nathaniel Whittemore has recommended, invest in social entrepreneurs who can leverage these dollars and markets (the largest capital flow of them all) to create sustainable change with dignity; and

4) Launch a campaign to encourage not just billionaires, but millionaires, to make a giving pledge and generate many trillions of additional dollars to invest in one through three.

Leverage Point 1: Invest in Domestic Policy Changes to Gain Social Return

Imagine the social good that could come from a concerted effort focused on lobbying to reduce the gargantuan $721B per year U.S. military budget (which as of 2008 was 48% of the world total military spending and larger than the next 45 countries combined) by 25% so that we could increase the salaries of every teacher in America by more than 50%.

There are 6.2 million elementary and secondary school teachers in the U.S. according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2000 Census. The average U.S. teacher salary was $51,009 according to American Federation of Teachers Survey and Analysis of Teacher Salary Trends 2007. So in total, the U.S. spends around $316 billion per year on teacher salaries. Hence a $180 billion re-allocation from defense to education would enable us to pay teachers 57% more.

Having this type of dollars and cents carrot might just enable Chancellors to negotiate out the single requirement of Teacher Unions that is the most damaging to our children’s education–the inability to fire a teacher who is not performing due to the tenure system, allowing the best teachers to be paid well above $80,000 per year.

Take a look at the below graph showing the allocation of 2009 U.S. Federal Taxes and you’ll see where our priorities seem to lie as a nation (of course noting that most funds for education come from State Taxes). A few billion dollars per year spent on influencing our Government to re-allocate this pie a bit more toward butter and a little less toward guns might just provide a huge return.

Source: Friends Committee on National Legislation Budget Chart for FY 2009

Leverage Point 2: Invest in Global Policy Changes to Gain Social Return

If these giving billionaires that join The Giving Pledge really wanted to get a large social return they would allocate dollars to change the public policies that drive the economic incentive structures that are the source causes of many of the issues.

One of the biggest problems in the world today is of course environmental sustainability. Six billion dollars per year, if the funds were focused, might just be enough to lobby the largest world governments to make a change to their accounting principles.

If companies across the world were required by law (that was enforced) to pay for the replacement of any environmental resource that they utilize such that each company had a net neutral impact on the environment, we’d remove much of the incentive structure that causes investors to seek out companies with the highest returns, which often are companies that unethically but legally have off-balance sheet environmental externalities that are simply passed on to all human beings.

Any philanthropist who can begin to create a tipping point for governments to stop accepting off-balance sheet negative environmental externalities that are not reported in GAAP or IFRS statements would enable the return on their investment to be leveraged many times over.

Change the economic incentive structure and you’ve changed the flow of trillions of dollars of private capital that billions of dollars of philanthropic capital simply cannot compete with.

Leverage Point 3: Create an Investment Fund for Triple-Bottom Line Entrepreneurs

As Nathaniel Whittemore suggested two weeks ago, some of the funds from The Giving Pledge should be directed to a Social Private Equity Fund. Nathaniel writes,

“What I can imagine is an institutional actor whose specialty is helping great social businesses with good revenues get even bigger while retaining their social and environmental missions. These types of firms would bring companies into their portfolio by acquiring some of the stock that had previously been held by investors and founders, in that way providing that liquidity that is missing from the current social finance system without compromising the social mission. This would create more incentives for early stage social investors, and provide social entrepreneurs more plausible returns that could increase the variety of the people thinking about social businesses.”

I agree with Nathaniel that late-stage capital for socially responsible businesses would be a help to provide liquidity, and thus returns, to the early stage investment funds already investing in triple-bottom line entrepreneurial companies.

I would add however, that any company that gets to $30M or $40M in EBITDA positive revenues, regardless of whether it has a core social mission or not, will be able to raise private equity and provide liquidity to shareholders. I don’t think the gap in the market is lack of funding for profitable at-scale social ventures.

The gap in the market is lack of funding and assistance for small-scale socially-responsible businesses that have the desire and dream to grow their impact and their revenues but don’t know how–both in the developed world and the developing world.

The biggest market gap I see is investment dollars in for-profit businesses in the developing world, where “microequity” investments of $5,000 to $50,000 along with some guidance and incubation can generate huge returns for a local entrepreneur who requires capital greater than a microfinance organization can provide but isn’t able to take on the $50,000 to $300,000 that organizations like Acumen Fund are able to invest.

And so, to maximize both financial return and social return for the Billionaire Givers, I would recommend not just a late-stage PE firm for social ventures, but also expanding capital investments in existing or new growth stage funds for socially responsible companies, particularly those in the developing world.

The second area of leverage I see within the world of private capital markets, is to invest in putting pressure on publicly-traded companies to implement strong CSR programs and actually live up to them. A few billion dollars spent buying mass media advertising to publicly encourage (read:shame) large MNCs so they live up to global CSR standards would be dollars well spent for social return.

Leverage Point 4: Invest in The Giving Pledge for Millionaires

While I applaud Gates and Buffet’s effort on The Giving Pledge, in order to enable this pledge to truly make a substantial impact, part of the funds should be directed to extend the effort beyond billionaires and create a new social norm where it is simply expected that anyone who makes way more than they need will contribute half of their net worth by the time they die to making the world a better place.

For the millionaires out there, it will just screw up your kids if you leave too much money to them. So why not ensure your legacy by committing now, publicly, to giving at least 50% away?

There are 10 million millionaires in the world, with a total net worth of $39 trillion according to the 2010 Merrill Lynch and Cap Gemini World Wealth Report. The average millionaire has $3.9 million.

Excluding the $1.3 trillion of the Forbes 400 from this $39 trillion, there is $37.7 trillion in assets among millionaires globally. What if there were a Millionaire Pledge?

If through a directed effort we can get 20% of global millionaires to commit to give half of their wealth, instead of an extra $120B for philanthropy, we’d have an extra $3.8 trillion. If we invest much of this $3.8 trillion in the three key leverage areas to fundamentally change our global economic and public policy system and use the rest to invest in filling short-term societal needs we can make a truly meaningful impact in the world.

Every multi-millionaire should commit to giving at least 90% of their wealth away by the time of their death. I made a commitment to do this in 2008 (in my book Zero to One Million) and will uphold this commitment. You can’t take money with you.

So who will take up this charge? And what do you think about these four areas of recommended investment?

Raj Sisodia on Conscious Capitalism (Awesome)

June 19, 2010

Session 10, Raj Sisodia on Conscious Capitalism
EO/MIT Entrepreneurial Masters Program
Year Two, June 19, 2010

I am getting so much value from this session by Raj Sisodia on Conscious Capitalism. Wow this was awesome!

I’ve tried to go to school on this in the last year, working to redefine the iContact Culture, roll-out new company values (WOWME), launch a formal CSR program (4-1s), and work on becoming a B Corp.

Raj an annual conference on Conscious Capitalism called the International Research Conference on Concious Capitalism. The next one is coming up May 24-25, 2010. This is focused more on thought leadership than the C3- Catalyzing Conscious Capitalism in Lake Arrowhead October 19-22, 2010.

Here are my notes from the session…

Raj’s book is Firms of Endearment: How World-Class Companies Profit from Passion and Purpose with co-authors Jag Sheth and David Wolfe. I just ordered 8 copies for my senior team to read in July.

Double Bottom Line Means a Bigger Bottom Line

He has data showing companies get a better financial bottom line when you focus on getting a double bottom line (social and financial) and create an awesomely engaging work environment. Companies with humanistic profiles are outperforming the S&P by 9 to 1 over 10 years.

Example companies from the data set are: Google, Southwest, WholeFoods, Costco, CommerceBank, Amazon, Ebay, Johnson and Johnson, Timberland, UPS, Carmax, JetBlue, HarleyDavidson, CAT, Honda, Starbucks, Toyota, BMW

Good to Great companies that have suffered:

  • Circuit City
  • Fannie Mae (got involved in mortgage crisis)
  • Phillip-Morris (this year 6 million people will die directly from tobacco and this is growing)

He says don’t define greatness only by financial performance, but by the net impact of the business on the world.

“The majority of the public believe that executives are bent on destroying the environment, cooking the books and lining their own pockets.” New York Times

There’s a collective price we pay for the cynicism and mistrust of business.

“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy preset.” – Abraham Lincoln

The Case of Whole Foods

100 years ago: 16% on food and 8% on healthcare
Today: 8% on food and 18% on healthcare

Whole Foods have 1800% return to investors in 10 year period.

John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods, took salary down to $1 in 2006 and decided to donate future options to foundation. Signed letter ‘Much Love. Here’s the actual letter.

John Mackey wanted to build a business based on love not fear.

No one at Whole Foods gets paid more than 19x the average employee (average $40,000 highest $750,000). Typical ratio at publicly traded company in 500 to 1.

Make your employees live for the work week not just for the weekends.

You are most alive when you are in a state of flow. Create a work environment where the team can enter a state of flow.

Link your personal passion and your corporate purpose.

Get rid of people who infect an atmosphere with negativity.

At end of training at Zappos, they offer employees $2000 to quit if they don’t want to be there.

Business is more and more about caring. If you don’t care you won’t be in business.

Book Recommendations

What is a Great Business?

A great business maximizes “total value created” on a sustained basis and distributes that value in an equitable and enlightened manner among all its stakeholders.

Be  a company that is on the right side of society, that is good for the world.

Businesses create or and destroy many kinds of wealth.

  • Financial
  • Intellectual
  • Social
  • Emotional
  • Spiritual
  • Cultural
  • Natural

What is Concious Capitalism?

It’s about a higher purpose (not just profits), stakeholder orientation (not just shareholders), conscious leadership (not command-and-control), and conscious culture (you can feel it/see it).

Be about mission and values and purpose. Why? Employee engagement.

Concious Capitalism is: relationship-driven, holistic, characterized by compassion, empathy, love, authenticity, and transparency, and reflective of more feminine energies and competencies.

Women are often better leaders. See this Atlantic piece on The End of Men.

From the Book ‘It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For’ by Roy Spence

  • Purpose is a definitive statement about the difference you’re trying to make in the world.
  • It drives everything you do
  • It matters to all stakeholders
  • It is your reason for being that goes beyond making money
  • Yet… it almost always results in making more money than you ever thought possible

Examples of Companies with Purpose

  • Johnson & Johnson – Alleviate pain and suffering
  • Southwest Airlines – Give people freedom to fly
  • Whole Foods – Make people, the food system, and the planet more healthy
  • Google – Organize the world’s information and make it accessible
  • REI – Reconnect people with nature (kids spend 55 hrs per week in front of a screen and 1 hour per week out in nature)

Four Company Purpose Archetypes

  • The Good – Service to other ethical evolved
  • The True – Based on science, analytics
  • The Beautiful – Excellence and perfection, aesthetics, delight
  • The Heroic – Changing and improving the world

The Purpose Motive: Compensated engagement is going down, uncompensated effort going up, volunteer work is nourishing people in a way that paid work simply is not. Need to shift the focus from profit maximization to purpose maximization.

Be about doing something meaningful in the world.

The Search for Meaning

From ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ by Viktor E. Frankl

“Happiness is the outcome of living a life that has meaning and purpose.

“Happiness cannot be pursued; it ensues from living a life of meaning and purpose.” – Viktor E. Frankl

Meaning comes from:

  1. Doing work that matters
  2. Selfless love
  3. Finding meaning in suffering

The formula: Despair = Suffering – Meaning

Conscious Leaders

  • “Leading by intimidation, by rank, or even by charisma alone is insufficiency because those who are supposed to follow are becoming self actualized and they won’t accept this outmoded style of leadership any more.
  • The more self-actualized people become, the more we’ll need seal-realized leaders who demonstrate mastery at serving some higher purpose and choose the right action.

To Build a Conscious Culture

Make it tactile (visible and touchable). Transparency, authenticity, caring, trust, integrity, learning, empowerment.

Paraphrasing a video from Gary Hamel shown by Raj: The management model from the industrial age is outdated. Create an environment the preserves passion. This will drive value creation in the creative economy. The question is how to reinvent management to enable team members to bring passion to work. Create companies where employees can bring all of themselves to work. Build companies that are fit for human beings.

“You can’t command imagination, creativity, or passion!” – Gary Hamel

Stakeholder Acronym: SPICEE = Society, Partners, Investors, Customers, Employees, Environment

In our world, we are all in the same boat.

In the future, you will have to operate with all stakeholders in mind to be successful.

A Historical Look

1776 – Same year Wealth of Nations and Declaration of Independence published. For the first time in human history man was in charge of their own destiny within a world of law. Age of Empowerment.

1850 – Age of Industrialization

1900 – Technology breakthroughs. Einstein, electricity, Marconi, telephone, radio, television. The birth of modern marketing. Age of Knowledge.

1989 – Berlin Wall collapses, Tienanmen square, Exxon-Valdez spill, Fatwah against Salman Rusdie. Fukayama’s essay “The End of History” The debate was what type of free market, what type of democracy. A new cultural age has emerged in which the consuming focus on materialistic gain that marked the Age of Knowledge is ebbing. Now we are in the Age of Transcendence.

The Zeitgest is Shifting

The zeitgeist is shifting from the strong self-indulgent me orientation of the 20th century society toward a stronger sense of interdependence with others.

In USA, there are now more adults over 40 than under 40. The Internet was invested by Tim Berners-Lee in 1990, which has shifted balance of power and making the world more transparent.

We are moving up Maslow’s hierarchy from survival, to success, to meaning.

Why New Balance is growing faster than Nike. Nike appeals to self-centered masculine-dominated youth. New Balance appeals to self-actualized older more feminine oriented individuals.

Human beings are not a resource. Coal is a resource. Turned on, a human being is like the sun. A source of regenerating energy.

“I would not give a fig for simplicity on this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. US Supreme Court Justice.

Humanity is one spirit. Natural resources are finite. Our inner resources are infinite.

To the Dominican Republic I Go

April 20, 2010

Weddings have been missed. Births have been missed. Babies have been conceived that otherwise would not have been. Lifelong friendships have formed. Serendipitous first romantic connections have blossomed in Hyde Park. Lovers have connected via Skype and Gmail video chat.

Yes, there will be a movie. And no, I still do not know how to pronounce that darn volcano’s name. No one does.

UK Airspace Closed Since Thursday

It’s 5pm GMT on Tuesday 20th of April 2010. I’m writing on a Eurostar train from London to Paris that will soon go under the ocean. I’m trying to get back to work at iContact in Durham, NC and to a loving girlfriend Jess in Chapel Hill.

UK airspace has been closed since Thursday mid-day. My flight home on Sunday was canceled. I had been stuck in London for three days, prior to deciding to stop waiting and head south.

A Plan to Escape

By Monday at noon I had a plan. I had booked a Hertz rental car at London Heathrow and would pick up Nathaniel Whittemore of Change.org and two other friends from the Skoll World Forum who were stranded here and drive down for a Friday flight in Madrid. The rental was expensive, but it was something that felt both adventurous and productive, two words that are too rarely aligned.

But then, in the hotel lobby the news came on saying the UK airspace would open. The newsflash scroller said airspace would open at 1800 hours. The lobby erupted with cheers.

My new 42 year old friend, fellow American business-traveler gone-astray Chris, and I jumped in a cab across the street to Heathrow Terminal 3 thinking we might as well go jump in line. He had been stuck since Thursday was trying somehow, someway to meet up with his wife, 9 year old son, and 7 year old daughter who left Boston today for his annual family vacation.

By the time we got back to the hotel with hopes dashed the newsflash scroller had corrected itself, by adding the word ‘tomorrow.’ But alas, there was hope for an opened Heathrow.

So I canceled the rental car and took take my chances staying put. I didn’t really want to learn how to drive on the left side of the road in the UK, anyway. Or for that matter, learn how to drive on the right side of the road in France and Spain with a right-sided steering wheel, regardless of the amount of liability insurance. Back to Plan C it was.

Excitement Until the Fiery Volcano Recast its Ash

After a serendipitous dinner with a new friend and Skoll delegate Darlene from Ikatu, who is setting up for-profit socially responsible businesses in Ghana to scalably employ disadvantaged youth after eighteen years at QVC, I prepared for bed excited at the possibility of going home.

Last night at midnight. I had a confirmed seat on a flight from Heathrow direct to Raleigh leaving tonight (Tuesday) at 8pm and had received the cherished official American Airlines text message telling me so. All was looking promising.

I forwent the mini-van to Madrid option that an entrepreneurial Skoll delegate had arranged to depart from our hotel at 5am and the Skoll Foundation canceled their rented coach service to Madrid intended to rescue their foundation members and stranded guests. All was looking rosy, and most went to bed happy.

But then, around 1am news spread on Twitter via the creatively coined #ashtag hastag that the volcano had started erupting again. By the 3am NATS update suddenly instead of preparing opening up Tuesday the situation was “dynamic and variable” which seemed to be governmental double-speak for “you’re probably screwed.”

And so the volcano started erupting again in the middle of the night, keeping London shut down for the sixth straight day.

Send in the Navy

British airspace, closed since Thursday, did open for a brief respite this morning in the North of the United Kingdom where a few lucky passengers slipped out. Plenty of planes coming from mainland Europe were flying overhead today as UK airspace was open for planes that flew above 20,000 feet. Unfortunately NATS did not allow planes on the ground to take off.

While the British government had sent in the HMS Albion to rescue stranded British tourists, partly due to political pressure stemming from an upcoming election that remains a toss up, they didn’t seem to be able to do much to get folks out of the UK.

The Queen Mary 2 cruise ship back to New York was fully booked up, the trains were full, the ferries were full, and the French train workers were on strike. Wonderful.

And thus I woke up, for the third morning in a row in a hotel adjoining Heathrow, anxiously awaiting news from the London Volcanic Ash Advisory Service (yes, really) and NATS as to whether they would allow London airports to open.

By noon the answer was a clear no.

Decision Time

After receiving the dreaded flight canceled text message, it was decision time.

And so, rather than waiting for an indefinite period of time, at least until Thursday, for a flight from Heathrow, here I am on a Eurostar train to Paris (the coach seats were all taken so here I am in first class anything for the first time in my life and hopefully the last).

Tomorrow, I have a flight booked to the Dominican Republic and then on to Miami Wednesday night and to RDU Thursday. Today, Paris is open. Tomorrow, we shall see. C’est la vie.

If Paris does not work out, then there is always a bus to Madrid. I have a backup refundable flight booked Friday from Madrid direct to Miami. It may prove difficult to get to Madrid from Paris with the French train workers on strike, but I’ll find a way.

I’m currently working on Plan F, hoping it sticks. I don’t think I’ve ever had a Plan F before, for anything.

Plan A: London to Raleigh by plane leaving Sunday

Plan B: London to Raleigh by plane leaving Monday

Plan C: London to Raleigh by plane leaving Tuesday

Plan D: London to Madrid (in rental car) to Raleigh (by plane) via Ecuador and New York, leaving Thursday

Plan E: London to Madrid (in mini-van) to Raleigh (by plane) via Miami, leaving Friday

Plan F: London to Paris (on the Eurostar train) to Raleigh (by plane) via Dominican Republic and Miami, leaving Wednesday

Plan G: London to Paris (on the Eurostar train) to Madrid (by bus) to Raleigh (by plane), via Miami, leaving Friday

Who would have thought going to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic via Paris would ever be the best option home to NC from London?!

I am sharing a Holiday Inn room tonight by Paris Charles de Gaulle airport with my new friend and fellow traveler from Boston, Chris, who is trying his best to get back to his family as soon as he can.

I’m enjoying the adventure and getting lots of work done.

Who We Should Not Forget As We Tell This Story

As the stories of the inconvenienced well-off are told, we musn’t forget those who are truly suffering tonight.

People like me, business travelers with an EA, who can afford hotels, are doing just fine and can relax and enjoy. I am not in the majority, however. Most here are tourists and families who are stuck and cannot easily afford the $2000 or $3000 extra cost per person to get home per person in any reasonable time frame.

I particularly have sympathy in this uniquely ambiguous situation for those who have truly been hurt financially or otherwise by this situation.

From the family sleeping in the Heathrow arrivals section, waiting now six days for their connecting flight, who cannot afford the jacked-up hotel rates (what was once 29 pounds is now 79, what was once 139 pounds is now 200) to the Kenyan farmer who now has nothing but wilted flowers or a rotten crop that must be tossed or turned into cow-feed, families have been economically devastated due to the decision to close the airspace, some say unnecessarily.

There is a tremendous economic story here, and tremendous economic pressure to open up the air.

Further, I hope that the attention this volcanic incident is getting, with  primarily middle-class and weathly Westerners “stranded” in nice hotels and having an extended European vacation (even if it is an expensive and unplanned one), will not detract from the ongoing much greater crisis in Haiti where there are 750,000 real human refugees who still to this day, 100 days on, are lacking shelter, clean water, and medical care.

As this story unfolds, I hope the global media does not lose touch with the much greater human story happening to folks who may not have as much resources. In our story, we should at least arc back to the other major natural activities of 2010 in this watershed year for strange natural behavior.

When You’re Stuck in a Trap Eat Cheese

The best line of the week was from Peter Greenberg at CBS speaking at TEDxVolcano, “When your stuck in a trap, eat the cheese.”

‘Tis the adventure of globalized commerce disrupted by a fiery Mother Nature.

So here I am in France. The train is now temporarily stuck due to a “problem on the tracks.” Perhaps some brie is called for.

UPDATE 12:53am: I made it to the hotel in Paris by the airport. UK airspace opened as of 9:34pm GMT Tuesday. The flight from Paris to the Dominican Republic is looking good for tomorrow. After waiting in line to see if we could get on an earlier flight and the only option being an outrageous $8000 business class ticket to Miami in the morning. We’re getting up at 6:30am to attempt to fly standby on anything to the U.S.

Volcano Causing Entrepreneurs to Be, Well, Entrepreneurial

April 18, 2010

I’m stuck in London for a few days due to the Eyjafjallajokull volcano eruption in Iceland.

I’m looking outside my hotel window at a calm Heathrow airport. It’s filled with parked planes, but nothing and no one is moving. All of the UK and much of European airspace is closed.

Here’s a concerning part–the last time the Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted in 1821 the eruption lasted for two years. Oh my! This volcano could affect European air travel for quite some time. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has said airlines are losing about £130m per day in revenues.

Fortunately the forecast is calling for a storm toward the end of this week that should make it safe to fly again, at least for a time.

I’ve looked into taking the 7 day Southampton to New York cruise home (people are actually considering this!) or getting a ferry to Bilbao, Spain and then a train to Lisbon, which is currently open for most flights, but it would take at least three days to even get to Lisbon from London at the moment as the ferry services are mostly booked up.

So I’m going to get comfortable and get some work done. It looks like iContact’s European headquarters will be opening tomorrow :-) .

In the meantime I’m attending TEDxVolcano tonight in London which looks fun! A few hundred entrepreneurial attendees of the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship and OxfordJam remain stranded as volcano refugees–so Nathaniel Whittemore has in 24 hours organized this event to bring us back together in true entrepreneurial fashion.

Also entrepreneurial is a ‘rescue mission’ set up by a local TV host here who is taking Britons stranded in France back to the UK by boat.

Some here are suggesting the UK, French, and US militaries need to get some transatlantic boat services running to get people stranded on both sides of the oceans home and back to work and their families. A lot of people here would take a guaranteed 7 day return at this point.

Anyone have any creative ideas on how to get back to North Carolina?

Next Page »