Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Foreword to Building a Beloved Community

The Funders for Black Male Achievement's new report, Building a Beloved Community, is an inspiring, thoughtful, and strategic piece that applies to a much broader array of funders than might see it. I'm taking this opportunity to highlight it again - reposting the Foreword to the report that I was honored to be asked to contribute.


What does it take to help an entire population to achieve? What does it take to make that possible while also counteracting systemic obstacles, built over generations, that seek to hold back that same population? Building a Beloved Community is more than your typical philanthropic research analysis. It is more than a call to action, it represents more than analysis and encouragement, theories of change and multidisciplinary approaches.  It represents the full potential and hope of philanthropy and civil society. It represents what Martin Luther King, Jr. called The Beloved Community – a global vision in which injustice will not be tolerated because we as a people will not allow it.

The report inspires us to think about the positive opportunities created by reframing norms and shaping new conversations. It calls for understanding success and spreading it, for leveraging powerful voices (such as that of the President of the United States), for informing our work with data and looking for intersections across sectors. All of that is right and exciting.

But this report does more.  It presents philanthropy with a radical challenge simply by putting black male achievement at the center of the discussion. Though there have been generations of efforts focused on African American men and boys, and generations of those efforts have been asset-based, the general philanthropic community does not usually approach this work in this way. When the center of the frame is success it sheds new light on the relationships, dynamics and edges of the work that surrounds this goal.

For those in philanthropy and communities who dedicate their talents and resources to black male achievement, this report offers a networked energy and new choices. By highlighting strategic options that extend beyond asset-based approaches to shifting whole narratives, the report encourages a big vision. By recognizing the committed nature of thousands of community groups and the episodic interventions from institutional funders, the report reveals one way this work is similar to many other social change efforts. By noting that black male achievement is an agenda item for mayors, governors, presidents, corporate CEOs and major living donors the report hints at the extraordinary opportunity of this moment – to go beyond episodic attention to sustained effort, beyond lip service to real change, beyond punctuated action to sustained focus.

The report also holds forth a real opportunity for the majority of philanthropists and civic actors for whom black male achievement is not at the center of their frame. My hope is that we will all take the time to consider our actions in light of this centrality. How does this frame influence your work? How do you fit into a picture that draws on high achieving black men as an expectation in our society, as the norm in our communities, as an assumption informing your own professional strategies?

On a matrix of race and gender, I, as a white woman, would be placed in a box other then black men. At each stage in this research when the authors and funders reached out to me I asked myself, and them, why me? I am an ally in this work, so what are my responsibilities in that role? What do I contribute to this report is a question I have given a great deal of consideration. I know that I can help more black men achieve, that I can help change and defeat some of the barriers we’ve created to that success, and that I have thoughts to add and insights to consider when developing philanthropic strategies. Being an ally is more than just supporting the work of others. It involves extending my self and my networks so that they take on a new shape.

Let’s be honest – that’s a big task. Why might you do this? What if your success depended on it? The words of the ancient sage Hillel come to mind, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?” These words were not informed by modern day data analysis, policy reflection or financial systems mapping. But they still hold true – our success as a society is relational.

This report requires us to reconsider all of our work. Reading it is not just an exercise in learning about the strategies of building sustained networks of funders and organizations committed to black men. It requires me to consider the direct relationship between my own work and the success of these strategies. How do I contribute to or stand in the way of these strategies? How do my pursuits of social change – be they environmental action, health access, thriving families, or community development – accelerate the goals for black men or throw up obstacles to them? And how do my visions of a fair and just society depend on the widespread achievement and participation of black men?

These are not small questions. They have no one-off answers; they require constant attention. And they are by no means limited to a small group of identified funders or community groups. For more black men to achieve and for those achievements to be recognized as the norm that they should be, we need adjacent allies as well as movement leaders.  We need positive opportunities and narratives from all sectors, all domains, and all walks of life. We need to make sure we are not omitting opportunities or making accomplishments invisible.

Doing so requires both a steady focus on the goal, the people and the institutions dedicated specifically to black men. We must also be willing to find and to be allies. Over time, if we are successful, we will find those allies among an ever-expanding network of unexpected, untraditional and emergent partners.

This report offers a challenge that many have already accepted. For those readers to whom the challenge is new, or seemingly ancillary, I would encourage you to look for ways these goals and strategies intersect with your own. What I can offer, through the words of others, is a reminder of the “why” for making connections between our own frames and the one offered by this report. It comes from the vision of Martin Luther King’s Beloved Community and it comes from a medieval sage, Hillel, who noted for posterity the simple and powerful connections that bind us – and our pursuits – to the other.

Lucy Bernholz
April 2014
Visiting Scholar, Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society
Visiting Scholar, The David and Lucile Packard Foundation

Friday, May 16, 2014

Sharing Data

I wrote this about the SHARE Conference. Here's Beth Kanter's on the same conference, and here's a great post from TechSoup. Here's part of a twitter exchange Beth and I had across the plenary sessions:

I wrote my post in the middle of the conference, so with the benefit of a few hours away here are two other ideas:

1) I sat in on two discussions, one led by companies and one led by users, about creating "portable identities" for people. The companies were interested in ways to share data across platforms, make life easier for their users, and help simplify the process of checking reputations and trust from platform to platform. The users raised the idea in terms of being able to "control their identities" and be active civic participants, moving from community to community.

It's a data thing, so of course it interested me. But it also struck me as potentially a differentiating characteristic of tech-enabled sharing platforms and potentially some sign of "what's a sharer." I also wondered if other types of data-heavy, identification-based companies (no names needed but think of every major search engine or social media platform) would be in the same conference with their users and identify a similar solution to two somewhat different needs. I also wondered if such a conversation was happening anywhere among nonprofits and their constituents/users/donors? Keep in mind that just because users get civically engaged, doesn't mean they're a) going to do so on behalf of a company's agenda or b) not use that same energy of engagement to raise questions about the company itself.

2) Sharing companies with robust digital platforms have really interesting digital data that could be of use to researchers, policy makers and government officials. Want information on current transporation patterns (Lyft, Uber, Car share, bikeshare)? Want information on tourism patterns (Airbnb, Homeaway)? Want to look at structural racism, affordable housing or daycare, or gender and safety issues? (analyze use patterns from any of the aforementioned). Will these companies hold the data back and fight subpoenas from AGs offices? Will they negotiate with users to release data for public use? Are these data sets part of the "public benefit" potential of these companies and will they argue such when the inevitable battles between nonprofit and for-profit versions of home or car sharing services arise? Can cities and sharing companies strike pro-active data sharing deals that protect users privacy, inform public policy, and benefit communities - without going to court?

Thursday, May 15, 2014

SHARE 2014

Tuesday and Wednesday of this week saw 400 folks crammed into San Francisco's Marine Memorial Auditorium for the first (and I'm sure it won't be the last) SHARE Conference - focused on catalyzing the sharing economy. It was co-hosted by Peers.org and SOCAP and while the sponsor lineup read as if it were ripped from the SF Chronicle's local business page, I met and heard from participants from Madrid, Bogota, Mexico City, Grand Rapids and lots of folks from that easternmost Bay Area city, Brooklyn.

More than a year ago the first charrette we held at Stanford PACS (part of a series that led to the launch of the Digital Civil Society Lab) was on the sharing economy. Our hunch at the time was that the sharing economy - where nonprofits, businesses, social businesses, VCs, informal networks of individuals, freelancers, and government were all competing/cooperating/arguing and innovating - would be a rich vein of insight into the new ways we are using private resources for public benefit. Since understanding how we use private resources for public benefit in the digital age is the mission of the Lab it made sense to spend some time investigating this space. Here's a slide I used way back then to make the point that, in the sharing economy, the same purpose (in this case car sharing) was being served by multiple organizational structures:
Here's what I took away from the conference:
  • Everything old is new again - and that's good and bad. Rebranding co-ops as #Tcorporations (they're managed under section T of the tax code) will make them sexy to social entrepreneurs and that's OK. What's really interesting is not how iPhones are rejuvenating a 500 year old business model, but how the confluence of this phenomenon, along with crowdfunding, MIGHT lead to the growth of mutually beneficial workplaces and worker owned governance structures (e.g. coops). The MIGHT in that sentence is intentional, I've only drunk a small bit of the crowdfunding and sharing Kool Aid. Power imbalances, structural inequality and exclusion don't just roll over because there's a new(ish) model in town.
  • Real attention to creating new ownership models and new finance structures - that might distribute wealth in new ways - is exciting. And there's lots of innovation in the sharing space. 
  • Nonprofits and foundations that think they are the center of the "do good" world have blinders on. Sharing companies/platforms is just one place alternatives abound and money is flowing and good is getting done. Nonprofits and foundations need to come to this table, not expect sharing enterprises/practices to come to theirs.
  • Sharing companies are - for a wide range of purposes - talking about and building communities. The user-activism of home sharing hosts is notable (even if you disagree with their goals, you can't argue that they've sure become engaged in their communities).
  • The policy trainwrecks going on right now between cities, states, and these companies are going to continue - the issues of oversight, safety, taxes, and resource allocation are real. The dynamics between startups and governments don't need to be as adversarial as they are right now, and over time they won't be.
  • Again, nonprofits active on policy issues at the local level should be paying attention to the civic activism (for better or worse) of individuals motivated by their relationships with companies like Uber and Airbnb. People making an income from these companies are newly vested activists in city/state politics. Are they more than single-issue activists? Well, that depends on a lot of factors, including the ability of existing networks to engage with these folks.
  • Data matter. Sharing it matters. Companies are - or soon will be - working together on shared trust measures built from user (that's you and me) data. How are we going to act on this? I attended two self-organized sessions on data at the conference - one from the perspective of companies and one from the perspective of users (hosts, drivers, etc.) - on how they want to use their data to represent themselves in this space.
  • Joe Public may think of Airbnb and Uber as the disruptive avant garde of sharing. Most of the enterprises represented at the conference talked about those guys as the "big bad(ish) guys" who need to be disrupted. (Even as they went off happily to drink VC-funded cocktails at an Airbnb-hosted afterparty). This is a very fragmented space.
  • The #futureofwork panel - which included a labor organizer, a government workforce development manager, a researcher, and an investor - was fascinating. Where do robots, health care, freelance work, and insurance trends all come together? In your paycheck, if not now, then soon, that's where.
With all that, I'm still trying to figure out where sharing enterprises fit into the space where we use private resources for public benefit (what we call the social economy). Here's my latest image of this space:
Not too surprising, I am really interested in two elements of this whole chaotic scene:
I was hoping to attend the conference and leave with answers to these questions. After all, I've been asking them for several years now. Oh, well, I don't have answers. But I think my questions are getting better. What are your questions about where sharing fits into the space of using private resources for public benefit? 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Building a Beloved Community

There's a new report out from the funders focusing on black male achievement - it's called Building a Beloved Community. (pdf)

It presents valuable strategic options that should matter to all funders, including:
  • Now is the time to focus on changing narratives that have been built on decades of deficit thinking.
  • Grassroots organizing, collaboration, and communication - with digital technologies - are important leverage points for institutional funders.
  • To advance evidence-based practice, organizations must be explicit about goals, disaggregated data, and evaluate interventions.
  • Systemic challenges require systemic solutions. It sounds so obvious, but we don't act this way.
  • Longer funding commitments, permanent endowed funds, alternative models of support, and greater investment in organizational capacity are key to this field.
  • Companies and faith organizations are key to the  networks that will make change happen
  • Leadership, leadership, leadership. At both the grasstops and the grassroots. 
Read it.  It matters to everyone focused on social justice. And the rest of you.

*I had a tiny part in this work. I was overly honored by being asked to contribute the Forward.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Civil society is missing the boat on the issues that matter

(Note added as I finished drafting this: it feels like groundhog day. How many times have I written a version of this?)

For years now, I've been reading articles and books on the transformative effects of digital on business and on government. In almost everyone of these, just after making the case that industry and democracy will never be the same, the author invariably has a line something to the tune of "but nonprofits will step in." Why is the assumption that nonprofits will not be changed by the same forces changing business and government?

It may be because in the minds of some really smart people, nonprofits have become semi-synonymous with government contractors. In the U.S. this perspective is understandable - public charities report almost 33% of revenue from government sources. (Urban Institute, Nonprofit Sector in Brief, 2013)

Whatever the reason, however, recognizing the impact of digital activity - including concerns about privacy, freedom of association, and civil rights - on civil society itself, and engaging civil society organizations in the debates, discussions, and policy fights about the future of our digital environment - has never been more important.

(Photo: http://www.bostonreview.net/current-issue)

This point came home to me powerfully as I read the very useful discussion on Saving Privacy in the May/June issue of the Boston Review. In it, Reed Hundt, former Chair of the FCC lays out an argument for a new digital bill of rights. This is not a new idea, nor is it Hundt's original thought (John Perry Barlow may have written it down first, back in 1996). The last year of revelations about NSA surveillance, and the general public's increasing understanding of how corporations use people's data, has brought the idea back to general attention. In his article, and the thoughtful disagreements and discussions that follow from Marvin Ammori, Adam Kern, Richard M. Stallman, Rebecca MacKinnon, Archon Fung, Frank Pasquale, Jennifer Granick, Bruce Schneier, Jeremy K. Kessler, and Evgeny Morozov) there were:
  1. One call for collective, not individual action (Stallman)
  2. Two calls for independent civil action (MacKinnon and Hundt, in response to MacKinnon)
  3. One call for organizations committed to privacy and a broadening of their constituencies (Fung)
  4. One discussion of the role of trust (Schneier)
  5. One discussion of social movements (Granick)
  6. One discussion of the Fourth Amendment and a nod to First Amendment protections for "freedom of expression and thought" (Ammori and Kern)
  7. Two mentions of needs for "freedom of association" or for "secure digital spaces where [individuals] should be afforded the same privacy rights they would enjoy in the analog world" (Hundt)
I am grateful that these conversations (and the recent President's Commission on privacy) are beginning to connect the dots between digital communications, surveillance, privacy, and association.

What I hope civil society can do is see the connection between this tense terrain and its own existence. If you look at the policy or research agendas of associations that represent civil society you would think that the issues that matter are the charitable tax deduction, government funding, and the right to contribute anonymously to political activities.

Civil society fundamentally depends not on tax deductions and not on government funding. It depends on individuals' rights to a private space to form the thoughts we express publicly and the freedom to associate. In other words, civil society's existence depends on the very debates raging now about the future of digital connections, communications, governance, ownership, privacy and surveillance. But you'd never know it by looking at the nonprofit sector's stated policy interests.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Talent for good

Last year the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society and White House Office of Social Innovation, with help from LinkedIn, GuideStar, the Foundation Center and Palantir, hosted a GoodJobs CodeJam, where we supported student teams in using open data to create technological tools that would help students build careers in the social sector. In my role as co-leader of the Digital Civil Society Lab (which was launched at that event), I was focused on the digital tools that career starters use and rely on to for their professional planning.

The CodeJam was a success - cool tools got prototypes, several of which are still being developed and built upon. Data got used and reflections provided to app builders and data providers. Good connections were created between industry, nonprofits and students. The Open Data Dance had its world premier.

In retrospect, this event was a bit like asking me, when I was a college senior, to prototype using a telephone as a meaningful exercise in preparing for my career. Cutting edge technology at that time would have been faxes and answering machines (no, I'm not exaggerating. ATMs were new my senior year). For today's students, the assumptions about digital are ingrained. In their reflections following the CodeJam we heard repeatedly that the tools should be assumed and the challenges of shaping careers with meaning is about finding mentors, mapping coursework and internships, making connections, and finding enterprises that value them.

I've written a lot about the social economy - the complete space in which we use private resources for public benefit. This includes (as enterprises) nonprofits, social businesses, hybrids, informal networks, temporary associations of individuals, and the socially-focused strategies of corporations.

One way of thinking about the social economy is to imagine all the ways we as individuals organize ourselves to accomplish something that benefits others. In other words, at its root, it's about people.

(Photo by Lucy Bernholz: left to right, Fagan Harris, Cheryl Dorsey, Anne-Marie Burgoyne, Lisa Foster Thompson, Paul Schmitz, Jonny Dorsey)

Yesterday, Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society and the Aspen Institute Impact Careers Initiative hosted a "Talent For Good Summit." The question on the table was how today's career starters can plan for and make happen professional careers that focus on social good - and how the multiple types of organizations where that work happens can find, recruit and develop these people. At Stanford, this is a big question. The university is well equipped, creative, and resourceful when it comes to helping students find jobs or start enterprises in technology, finance, consulting, banking, and other commercial industries. (Just last week I experienced a true Stanford teaching reality - six weeks into a ten week term a student withdrew from class because his tech company had raised a seed round of financing). It has services and resources for students interested in careers in public service or the social sector, but these are less visible. Recruiters from the public and social sectors are much less accessible to students and much less visible than their commercial counterparts. The Talent For Good Summit was one step (of several) that students and the career resources on campus are taking to encourage and support students to dedicate their most significant private resource (their own time, interests and careers) to social and public interest careers.

The students invited, prepared, and hosted a great panel (Cheryl Dorsey, Echoing Green; Anne Marie Burgoyne, Emerson Collective, Lori Foster Thompson, North Carolina State University, and Paul Schmitz, Public Allies). Participants included social entrepreneurs, local nonprofit leaders, students, social business recruiters, and university leaders focused on career development. Small groups worked on ideas to create a shared agenda for recruiting, developing and connecting young professionals - from both campuses and communities. Related initiatives, such as the TalentPhilanthropy Project and the #OverheadMyth were looked to as potential allies.

There was meaningful disagreement about the need to channel some of the students' "I've gotta be a founder" energy into existing enterprises and the need to help organizations really use young professionals, instead of making them wait 20 years to have any input. The demographic and economic realities - from student loan debt to baby boomer professionals who won't (or can't) retire - were noted. Real improvements in recruiting tools (such as those used by TFA and the CFPB) were highlighted (yes, digital tools do make a difference!) And we discussed, dropped, revisited, and reminded ourselves repeatedly that community based social change requires leaders (and leadership recruitment, development, celebration) from communities, not just elite campuses. Can students from elite campuses help build pathways to leadership for their age-peers in communities, not just focus on building pathways for their own careers? We raised it and brainstormed about it - but no, we didn't solve it.

You can read the Impact Careers Initiative report - and see their ranking of colleges and universities that support impact careers here.

Hats off to the student leaders who are moving this work forward - Jonny Dorsey, Fagan Harris and Elizabeth Woodson.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

A practical and existential challenge to nonprofits

Thanks to those who chimed in on my post about Digital Data and Blurring Boundaries. To summarize - I note that digital data don't naturally respect boundaries between public, private and independent sectors, and that nonprofits/philanthropy and other civil society organization need to think hard about how they treat digital data as a resource/asset. I raise a possibility that I've been thinking about for a long time - that civil society organizations will need to encode into their structures (i.e. new corporate requirements) how they will use digital data as a private resource for public benefit in an analogous manner to the existing non-distribution and non-ownership regulations that define nonprofits and nongovermental organizations.

In particular, I want to pick up on a theme that Pete Manzo articulated most clearly of those who commented - in his own words:
"On the encoding question, I wonder if the coding of the rules should be done with regard to the type of information and its purposes, rather than by the type of entity that holds it (so, not encoded in the tax rules governing nonprofit status). You've probably seen Alastair Croll's suggestion that we should "link what the data is with how it can be used. I might, for example, say that my musical tastes should be used for song recommendation, but not for banking decisions." http://solveforinteresting.com/big-data-is-our-generations-civil-rights-issue-and-we-dont-know-it/ Not sure how to do that, but it sounds like a good place to start."

With regard to digital data, this is an interesting proposition. It's much harder than it sounds, because data collected for one purpose but stored on the internet in an accessible fashion immediately subjects it to the very forces that make "big data" big - it can be copied, repurposed, and connected to other data sources in ways that stray far from any original purpose.

But Pete's comment reminded me of another issue that I've been thinking about for a long time that has not so much to do with digital data as with the nature of hybrid enterprise forms and the new social economy.

Simply put that question is this - in an age when commercial social enterprises, nonprofits, hybrid organizations, informal networks and other structures all claim to be using private resources for public benefit, why are the regulatory incentives for doing so still linked to the organizational structure and not to specific activities?

This is a huge challenge for all of us - we're used to these equations:
Private resources for public benefit (PR4PB) = Nonprofit
Tax exemptions + tax deductible revenue provide incentives for PR4PB
But today the first equation actually reads:
Private resources for public benefit = nonprofit, social enterprise, impact investing,         hybrid enterprises, some informal networks....
 So why are tax incentives not = to all PR4PB?
But if its the activities that turn the private resources into public benefit, and those activities are the purview of many types of organizational structures, than why are the incentives aligned only with one type of enterprise? It's not hard to imagine a world in which regulatory or tax incentives are not "attached" to the organization type but to the "activities" - much as Peter suggested might be done in encoding certain values into the uses of digital data, not into the enterprise form. This, my friends, is an interesting - and very real - slippery slope.

This is the existential, and increasingly practical, challenge facing nonprofits in the social economy - what is their unique value that makes them privy to the tax incentives they enjoy?

It's an existential question because it goes to the heart of why we need civil society, why we provide regulatory incentives for these actors in our democracies (OK, philosophical at least, if not existential). It's a practical challenge because of the very real need these alternatives present for nonprofits to be able to show their unique value.

Friday, May 02, 2014

Digital data further blurs boundaries between sectors

The White House released its report, Big Data: Seizing Opportunities, Preserving Values, yesterday.

The only place the word "nonprofit" appears in the report is in the appendix explaining where public comments to the process came from. The report focuses on the collection, use, sharing, storing, mining, retention, and destruction of personally identifiable data by corporations. Many analysts have already commented that the report was timed and designed to draw attention away from the government's own practices regarding data collection, use, sharing, storing, mining, retention, and destruction of personally identifiable information. The report rightly points out the potential of digital data for efficiency and convenience and the perils it poses in terms of due process, discrimination and privacy.

Regardless, no attention is paid to the role of digital data in civil society, philanthropy, and the social sector. (This despite the fact that several of the public meetings held to inform the report were coordinated with university and nonprofit partners.)

Nonprofits and foundations do all the same things with digital data that businesses do - they collect, store, use, share, mine, retain, and destroy it. They may not do it on the scale of business or government, although certainly nonprofit research universities, hospitals, and science centers are pretty big. Often nonprofits will do everything they do with digital data on commercial services - internet service providers, telecommunications companies, and broadband providers. In this blended reality, where you willingly give your cell phone number and email address to the politically active social welfare organization you support because you think that that information will be kept private, you'd be wrong. If the organization stores the information on commercial cloud servers, moves their information over telecommunications firms wires or broadband connections, or made it easy for you to sign up with an online form, your information - and its connection to that organization - is already being stored somewhere else. It is subject to the same rules of disclosure or chance of being hacked as data on you collected by a commercial app or website.

Do we care? Should we expect nonprofits to treat our data differently? Do we want the text message alert system we agree to from our kids' after school program or the prenatal clinic or the cause-related group to be protected somehow? Do donors opting for anonymity in their charitable giving expect that their online interactions with the groups they support will somehow stay unreleased, protected, anonymous?

Does civil society have a set of values and/or norms that should be brought to bear in how organizations working within it treat digital data? If so, what are they? Given how digital data flattens terrain between organizations - it may be collected via a nonprofit website that is hosted on a commercial service - how will nonprofits express those values, how will they treat those data, and how will they affirm the expected norms with the constituents and donors they serve?

Nonprofits are distinguished in the corporate code by the rules that govern how they manage financial assets. Excess revenue above costs must be returned to the mission (it cannot be distributed as profit) and the enterprise has no owners. What are the analogous structures for governing digital data? Once we figure out how we expect nonprofits to value and protect our digital data, perhaps we'll look at how those practices need to be encoded into the organizational structure.