Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Day 5: Friday 3/28

Friday began with a trip to South Beach, San Francisco to visit Delancey Street, a home for criminals or drug-addicts who are committed to getting back on their feet and helping others do the same. What started over thirty give years ago as a dream in the heart of Mimi Silber, a criminologist who wanted to provide criminals with an alternative to grueling and demoralizing jail sentences has now grown into a home for up to five hundred former-criminals who operate as a supportive family for each other. Many aspects of the Delancey Street epitomized characteristics of true social entrepreneurship—Mimi had the enthusiasm, dedication, understanding of the issue, and vision of a particular need or niche that made her solution so successful. The people of Delancey street know how to make a lot from very little, and find solutions that not only make profit but also help convicts take ownership over their own lives. They operate their own moving service, built their own residence (a beautiful chateau-like apartment complex on the South Shore with a game room, independent film theatre, and car repair training studio), and run two fine restaurants.

We ate at the Crossroads Café, a clean, homey, and stylish café, bookstore, and art gallery with fresh, wholesome, and hearty meals served by clean shaven, well-groomed Delancey residents. While the transformation Delancey brings about in its residents speaks for itself, there was something magical about being there. Watching convicted criminals willingly and humbly rebuild their lives in a supportive space was a powerful experience. At Delancey Street there was something brave and radical but also logical and rooted in love—something both transformative and familiar.

After eating our chicken sandwiches and sipping our fresh OJs, we drove to the headquarters of Bridge Housing and met with CEO Carol Galante to learn about the business model. Like many of our hosts over the week, Carol expressed admiration and enthusiasm over our group’s willingness to put learning about Social Entrepreneurship over beach parties or moping around the house. Tired from our long week, we pulled up our bootstraps to reciprocate her appreciation for our time, and it was well worth it. Carol spoke about how Bridge manages to make low-income, family-oriented housing in high-income San Francisco possible—a mix of grants, tax credits, and mortgage, the main cost being construction. We then got to visit a Bridge development in the Haight District and the manager gave us a tour of the elegant, homey, and low-income development. We learned that residents, though comfortable, use Bridge housing as a transition home, to have the stability to improve their employment situations and eventually buy a place of their own. As he waived to appreciative and dignified residents, it became clear that we were visiting another safe place where people were building their lives through a clever funding model thought up by forward-looking and compassionate people.

Day 4: Thursday 3/27

Day four included visits to People’s Grocery in West Oakland which provides low income residents access to healthy food choices. West Oakland is classified as a “food desert”, a place without access to fresh fruits and vegetables due to the lack of supermarkets in the city. People’s Grocery tries to fill this gap by providing access to fresh produce as well as education to residents of the local community on how to improve eating habits.

After lunch, we headed out to the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. After a fascinating set of presentations on the Center’s work in the region, including Bay Area Police Watch and the Green Collar Jobs initiative, we were treated to an inspiring talk by Jakada Imani, executive director of the Ella Baker Center. Among the things that he emphasized, was how his job wasn’t “just a job”. Rather, along with his family, his career formed the core of his life. The lesson was one that we’ve been hearing all week: to be successfully in bringing about social change, you have to bring an uncommon level of passion, zeal, and intensity to your work.

After our visit with the folks at the Ella Baker Center we had a terrific chat with Britt Bravo, blogger, consultant, and all around super cool person. The session was designed to help us understand how we could think about careers, and how we could start implementing our ideas for social change today. We went through a brainstorming session on understanding how we could overcome the "blackholes" or obstacles in achieving our social goals and what it would take move our ideas forward. The meeting sparked a discussion that continued well after our visit and led to a fresh round of ideas on nonprofits and organizations that we could start once we were back at Stanford.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Day 3: Wednesday 3/26

After spending Tuesday night in the fabulous Hotel Tomo, located in Japantown in San Francisco (Thanks Sean!), we headed off to visit 826 Valencia, a nonprofit writing workshop and tutoring organization started by Dave Eggers (also founder of McSweeney’s, which incidentally is housed in the same building as 826). Eggers gave a fabulous presentation at TED this year that explains the philosophy behind 826 and the work that it is does, which you can check out below:

After lunch at the Berkley Bowl, we headed out to see the operations at MapLight, a nonprofit organization working on trying to improve government transparency. MapLight's use of technology to drive social change was particularly interesting - our discussion afterwards centered on the notion that the use of technology to drive social change still seems to be underexploited. (Random aside: Stanford Law Professor Lawrence Lessig recently joined the board of directors of MapLight.) Afterwards we visited Taoit, a new startup out of Berkeley that looks like it’ll be doing some really cool things. They’ve asked us not to blog about their service, so you’ll have to wait until the public release – but stay tuned.

Our day ended with a terrific visit with Brij Kothari, founder of PlanetRead and an Ashoka fellow. PlanetRead works on creating same language subtitling (SLS) for movies and music videos to help improve literacy in India. After dinner we all crammed into a tiny apartment in Berkeley, which was generously provided to us by Sophia's sister (thanks!)

Day 2: Tuesday 3/25

Day two started with a more reasonable wake up time and marked our last day at Columbae on the Stanford campus. Our first visit of the day was with the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation in Palo Alto. The Kaiser Foundation focuses on health care policy research, communications and education. It serves as a non-partisan source of information on health care for the press, policy makers, and the public. Our visit with Kaiser included an overview of their programs, a review of some of their most interesting research/survey work, as well as talks with several people from the foundation itself (including a number of Stanford alums). Among the more interesting programs that Kaiser has been involved with, is an international public awareness campaign for HIV/AIDS, called the Global Media AIDS Initiative. Started in 2004, the program has brought together over 200 different media organizations in regional coalitions to help raise HIV/AIDS awareness in countries around the world. Our visit with Kaiser also included a chat with its President and CEO, Drew Altman, who discussed, among other things, the role of metrics and measurement in nonprofit organizations. Taking the contrarian position of opposing increased oversight and accountability, particularly of private foundations, Dr. Altman touched on the need for "strategic flexibility" in decision making for a foundation like Kaiser.

Our next meeting also took place at the Kaiser office with the awesome women at the Draper Richards Foundation. The talk mainly centered around the process of due diligence that Draper Richards goes through when selecting a nonprofit organization for funding. The standards that they set for choosing people and selecting nonprofits is amazingly high. The quality of thought, the depth of understanding, and the desire for measurable results that Draper Richards demands comes largely out the venture capital background of its senior leadership team. Some key takeaways from the meeting:

-Scalability in nonprofits is important
-Measure, measure, and remeasure results
-Quality people matter more than any other single factor
-Having and knowing how to leverage social networks is super important for a nonprofit founder
-Self-learning capacity and high intellectual bandwidth are also key traits in founders

After our visit with Draper Richards we headed off to San Francisco to meet with Upwardly Global, an organization that helps highly skilled immigrants rebuild their careers in the United States. We arrived in San Francisco nearly two hours early -- and then spent the next two hours searching for a place to park our huge over-sized vans. (Lesson Learned: Parking sucks in the city). After a series of parking mishaps (pictured below), we finally found a place and set off on foot - only to walk to the opposite end of the city from where we were supposed to be. After a somewhat frantic search for a cab, we finally managed to make it to Upwardly Global. The founder of the organization, although not available to speak with us, was kind enough to record a video sharing her experiences of what it was like to run the organization. The highlight of the visit however was when we got to see Upwardly Global in action, during one of their training sessions for immigrants. Seeing all of the individuals benefiting from Upwardly Global's work was deeply inspiring and one of the highlights of a terrific day.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Day 1: Monday 3/24

Our week of visiting nonprofits started off with not quite a bang. Waking up at the ridiculously early hour of 6:30am, most students just, including myself, just wanted to get back to sleep.
However, we managed to drag ourselves to MicroPlace on time, and hearing about the organization from Ashwini Narayanan, the chief operating officer and head of product management, we realize the visit was well worth the early wakeup time. Microplace takes a very different approach than most nonprofit organizations. Instead of targeting the $250 billion in capital available for charity, Microplace reaches out to the $2.5 trillion available for investments. Donors invest a small amount of money in certain Microfinance Institutes, which then use this money to provide small loans to people in developing countries. The return on the original investment for donor is about 3%- the typical amount people get some CDs. Microplace provides a way for people to make money and SAVE the WORLD.

After visiting Microplace, Shazad, David, and I got into a spirited debate over which organization was better- KIVA or Microplace. By putting pictures of the people who need loans on its site, KIVA entices people to lend money by tugging at people’s heartstrings. However, Microplace does not relay upon altruism by giving people a return on their investment. Ashwini made a good point in her lecture that there is place for both organizations as the two target different types of donors. The great thing about organizations with social missions is that they help each other. While in the for-profit world companies often aim to destroy all competition, nonprofits aim to produce social change. The elimination of poverty needs both KIVA and Microplace.

Lenders for Community Development (LCD) was the next organization we visited. Instead of government programs, like Welfare, that discourage savings by taking away benefits if a certain income is achieved, LCD provides positive reinforcement through their two to one matching ratio for savings, such that for every one dollar people save, they will receive two in return. LCD took us to visit some of the amazing people it had helped. We meet Robert and Jane Sissons, the two wonderful people who own Evolution Suspension. With the loan from LCD, they were able to expand their thriving bike repair shop. The work that LCD does is amazing. It doesn’t provide a gift, but gives a small lift to help people become successful.

Monday ended with a dinner with Heather McLeod Grant, author of “Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits”. The discussion touched on a number of issues including the importance of relationships and social networks, the different methods of doing good, and the multitude of career paths on the road to becoming a social entrepreneur. Grant mentioned that the importance of relationships and social networks as key enablers in mobilizing people around a nonprofit’s mission seemed to be a recurring theme that characterized successful nonprofits. Our discussion also touched on the multitude of career paths that an individual could take on the road towards working in a nonprofit or social enterprise. The general consensus seemed to be that going from Stanford to McKinsey/Goldman to a Nonprofit was easier than going from Stanford to a Nonprofit to Private Industry.

Random Reflections from our conversation afterwards:
-Don’t get married or have kids. It’s not particularly conducive to spend your time with family when you’re bogged down in trying to save the world. David’s theory of population control: Make 1/3 of the world social entrepreneurs.
-Going into private industry first tends to be more useful than going straight into the nonprofit world
-Spend time developing social networks while you’re at Stanford, and don’t burn bridges. That conservative kid down the hall with the wealthy dad might end up becoming attorney general
-Finding a passion is hard and it changes over time. You have to expose yourself to different experiences to find out what you really like. As you age, your interests and priorities will change as well.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Day 0: Sunday 3/23

The week didn’t start off with a bang but excitement was nonetheless in the air. After Wes, Kalvin, and David picked up the two hulking, white vans from Enterprise (pics to come soon) that would serve as our mode of transportation, the ASB team gathered at Columbae to go over the itineraries and briefs. Each person presented his/her spiel on one of the specific social enterprises he/she researched that we would be visiting. Either Stanford students are really good at “B.S.ing” or everyone really knew their stuff because some presentations were quite stellar.

On a side note, we later stocked up on healthy munchies at Trader Joes. Organic indeed tastes better!

Yin yin, our social activities coordinator, provided us with a notebook where we could write our thoughts and feelings as they came up throughout the trip. Here is Sean pouring out his soul in the notebook. Check out the pictures corner to see what people wrote or drew in the book.

Ah yes. Sweet dinner time. Columbae is a coop house so we had to cook our own food. Props to Shelley, our head cook. Here we are enjoying some veggie burritos and just chilling outside the dorm. Everyone smile for the camera…say “soc-eee.”

Well that basically sums up day 0. Not much happened, but then again, it’s only day 0. Oh, one more thing, we did have an enforced bed time of 9:00pm since we would have to wake up at 6:30 the next day…whew, talk about a packed schedule.

Although we’ll probably be sleep deprived during this entire trip, we're totally stoked about what tomorrow has in store for us…