Innovation in his own words

Brian Byrnes, CEO of the Vermont Community Foundation, is doing some great work. Read his blog here.

Follow the Irish

Download the text of Avila Kilmurray's closing speech to US community foundations here.

Look closely - its the last item under the banner that says 2005 Fall Conference for Community Foundations - they should have made this easier to find.

Open Source Education

The costs of higher education are out of control. That's the bad (and well-known) news. The good news is that - at least where over-priced textbooks are concerned - lots of people are doing lots about it. The open source textbook project and others noted in David Bollier's On the Commons essay is worth a look. Its also worth considering how these approaches could be applied in other domains.

They did it

Community foundations from the US and more than 15 other countries did it this last weekend - they held a conference where words like "racism," "discrimination" and "community impact" took center stage. From the opening comments by Emmett Carson, CEO of the Minneapolis Foundation to closing remarks by Avila Kilmurray of the Community Foundation of Northern Ireland, the need for community foundations to commit themselves to social justice was clearly articulated from the podium.

Now, the hard(er) work begins. I hope.

New Research Released

Two new reports released at the Seattle conference of US Community Foundations

On the Brink of New Promise: The Future of US Community Foundations is available here

Better Together: Regional Alliances and Small Community Foundation Sustainability is available here.

Foundations For Recovery

While I was writing my previous post on the need for creative community foundation action in response to Katrina, an announcement of FoundationsForRecovery.org was arriving in my inbox.

Can they respond?

Community foundations - as well as private, family and corporate foundations - have responded to Katrina in a big way (several hundred million dollars in foundation funds). Nationally, there have been several conference calls and regional meetings to coordinate efforts.

I'm on my way to the major annual conference for American community foundations. Like all such big events, the agenda for this one was set months ago. My question - how flexibly and creatively can the 1000+ people at this conference act to take advantage of this gathering and come up with a powerful, field-wide action in this moment?

The ability to be agile will be truly tested, as in all likelihood the conference will open on Monday with the announcement by Congress of some major new legislative sparks for charitable giving.

Open Source Art

Thanks to Larry Lessig for bringing to my attention this group of artists working on open source creativity.

Future of Community Foundations in the US

Eighteen months of work and here you go! On the Brink of New Promise will be launched at the 2005 Council on Foundations Community Foundations conference in Seattle this Monday, September 19, 2005.

Promoting giving

My previous post talks about pending legislation to spark giving.

If tax relief fails, I guess you can always sue. Floyd Norris covers Larry Ellison's "settlement charity" in which the Oracle Corporation CEO has settled a shareholder suit with a $100 million gift to a charity of Ellison's choice.

90 days to give

The Senate and House are working hard to offer "tax relief" for victims of Hurricane Katrina. One thing they seem likely to do is give Americans 90 days (October 1 to December 31, 2005) to rollover funds from their Individual Retirement Accounts to charity and avoid taxes on the IRA withdrawal. For more information on rapidly moving legislative efforts (is that an oxymoron?) click here

If the IRA charitable rollover is passed it will mark a victory for nonprofit and philanthropic sides that have been working on this for years. Nonprofits will have to move fast - 90 days till the end of the year. If it passes, many organizations, including the Council on Michigan Foundations stand ready to help community foundations and other public charities take advantage.

We need another way to think about this

So....two weeks after the rain stopped falling and 13 days after the blame starting getting passed around, the political divides over the role of government in protecting people (or saving them) from natural disasters rages on. In just one example, Larry Lessig takes on Bill O'Reilly and his ilk who see the failure of the public sector as proof of the need for less government, in their minds, "Government failed. More of itwould be worse."

When compared to the some of the claims about "what Katrina proved," O'Reilly almost sounds sane. Or at least saner than the neo nazis who think the Jews brought on Katrina, right-to-lifers who see the storm's 'fetus-like-shape' as proof that God wanted to wipe out abortion clinics in New Orleans, or the fundamentalist Christians who blame gay people. I am not making this up - click here for these and other hate-filled claims.

All it proves to me is that the "government or market" dichotomy of problems/solutions just doesn't work anymore (if it ever did). All the more reason to check out the really smart folks over at On The Commons who have been working for some time to fill in the vast rhetorical possibilities between these two poles. They remind us that there are important resources that we must hold in common (air, water, public safety) and that we must look beyond just the market and government for ways to protect, maintain and grow the commons.

Certainly philanthropy, resident of the murky middle place between these poles, should pay attention to the logic of the commons as it is clarified and becomes more widely understood. Then, perhaps, philanthropy might make more sense.

Managing the image instead of the relief

The Los Angeles Times reports that FEMA is trying to block the press from publishing photos of the dead in New Orleans. Now, I actually have a hard time with these photos - they're disturbing, they're sad, they're hard to look at, and - trust me on this - they're particularly hard to handle if you are searching for loved ones and you might know the person in the photograph. But the point is, information matters. To stop the photos or the reports is not an act of decency as FEMA claims, it is an act of censorship. These tactics reek of the same image management interest that has the Pentagon spending its time controlling photos of soldiers' coffins rather than figuring out ways to bring soldiers home alive.

These attempts at image control come just as the general buzz has built crediting the mainstream press for finally showing some chutzpah. After all, if it weren't for the television cameras, bloggers, and reporters showing the devastation in the Gulf Coast, Bush and Cheney might still be on vacation.

It does appear that the powers who prefer managing information to managing relief are succeeding in stopping a low power FM radio station from broadcasting about relief efforts.

There are also reports that PayPal has blocked accounts that were set up to funnel funds to the Red Cross and other aid organizations. Some think the huge volume of donations triggered PayPal's fraud detection systems.

The receding floodwaters will reveal things no one wants to see, but we must look. Our legacy of failure to provide for our most vulnerable and marginalized people was revealed by the floods themselves, and we must look.

We must look at the ways previous decisions shaped what happened and to whom. We must act now - publicly, privately, individually, and collectively - to prevent such devastation from being reintroduced or reinforced in our communities. As we continue to provide relief and recovery we must also think about how we rebuild - not just our cities but our public priorities and policies, our philanthropic and civic institutions, and our communities - with a commitment to equity and racial justice that will make them stronger and safer for all of us.

Here's the good news. Equitable and humane efforts at bringing relief are coming from all points on earth, from all kinds of people, and in all kinds of ways. The institutions that have so completely failed our poor will also fail to stop truly just commitments to relief and rebuilding.

The bad news about technology

My last few posts have been on the cool ways individuals have been using technology to help displaced people find loved ones (Katrina People Finder Project). There are also Google Maps mashups that let you see specific properties in the flooded areas, find shelters, and compare before and after maps of the area.

[special callout to the folks at the map room for pulling this all together]

There's also the cool work of the Champaign Urbana Wireless Network folks who are also bringing volunteers and donation funded resources to help communications in the area.

Sadly, its not all good news. The New York Times reports that the swindles and online scams started almost as soon as the wind stopped blowing. In addition to all their other problems, those displaced by the storm can add identity theft to their list of woes.

...more very cool ways technology might help

My previous post linked to some discussions about using technology in times of disaster. Here are two more examples, the Katrina People Finder wiki, the Champaign Urbana Wireless Network and Katrina HelpInfo.line using Skype

Looking ahead

There are some interesting ideas flying around the web about how today's always on, instant contact tech culture could be put to better use in disasters - natural and otherwise. Phil Cubeta covers it from the philanthropy side at Gift Hub and Boing Boing, Buzz Machine, and Dan Gillmor bring techie, media watching, journalistic views to bear. Be sure to read the comments.

Stop the insanity

Let's see....the levees failed because there were no resources to repair them (never mind the damage the levees did to Mother Nature's own flood control strategy), the people died because the public resources could not be mobilized to reach them in time (the nicest way I can think of to put it), and we continue to spend billions on waging wars that were started from falsehoods.

In their inimitable take-action kind of way the U.S. Senate has now taken the heartwarming step of postponing a vote on H.R. 8, a bill that would permanently repeal the estate tax. Don't misunderstand, Senator Frist still intends to bring the bill to a vote this year (later, when the TV cameras leave New Orleans, no doubt) because the number one thing we need right now is more tax cuts for the rich.

I am ashamed of my country.

A different twist on hurricane relief

Yesterday, feeling rather overwhelmed by the disaster caused by Hurricane Katrina I posted a somewhat snarky note about how quickly we have gone from using the internet to generate millions of dollars in relief and priceless information about such catastrophes to using the disasters as launch pads for corporate or political marketing - "Hey, look how quickly the Democratic Party and United Airlines stepped up to offer aid to those who are suffering."

I still think this blatant alignment of corporate or political interests with the real needs and sorrows of real people is unfortunate, to say the very least. I've since received several more solicitations to give from entities not really in the disaster-relief business. I'm done with these. However, I am interested in two other philanthropic phenomena now happening, related to the hurricane and possible only through internet technology.

MoveOn.org - a web community first developed to protest the incessant harping about President Clinton's sexual misconduct has started something called Hurricane Housing, which will try to use the mass organizing power of the internet to help match those who need shelter with those who have a bed, a room or a couch to offer.

Craigslist has also become a virtual message board for people looking for loved ones - its lost and found section is filled with notices asking for information on people who have not yet been heard from.

These two uses of the net are compelling humanitarian applications of this pervasive technology. Corporate or political marketing spam disguised as charity is not, its merely invasive and crass.