Love story

I’m a big fan of StoryCorps, and I found this love story very moving (thanks Katya).

Really, what more to life is there than love?


The weathermen are always wrong

They’re not, actually.*  For most days when no one is paying attention they’re usually right.

The thing is, we only pay attention when the stakes are high (“BIG STORM COMING!!” or when we’re planning for a vacation) and then when the forecast is wrong we remember that, hang on to it, and share stories about that day we prepped for the storm, canceled a meeting, stayed home from work…and the storm didn’t come.

Sure, sensationalist weathermen competing for viewer eyeballs play into this, so it’s fun to have them be the scapegoats.  But that’s not the point. The point is that people may talk louder about your failures than they do about your successes; or, worse, the naysayers speak up first and loudest, just when you’re getting going.  That’s the risk in showing up every day and putting yourself out there.

Don’t let the fact that the critics talk  – sometimes loudly – become an excuse for you not to show up in the first place.

*                       *                       *                       *                       *                    *

*NOTE:  here’s the chart (original analysis here) on the accuracy of weather forecasts.  If forecasts were 100% accurate, the solid blue line would lie directly on top of the dashed line.  Pretty accurate, actually.

Sign everything you send out

I was trading emails with a nonprofit CEO when the question of newsletters came up.  Specifically, who should his organization’s quarterly newsletter come from / be signed by since it’s not written by him?

We’re all busy, there’s a lot to get done, and really what people want is to hear what the organization is up to, right?

Well, no, actually.  That’s wrong.

The temptation not to sign and not to write your own communications is huge, but signing emails from “Us” instead of from “Me” is just a way of hiding from real work, real narrative, and real connection.  It’s an excuse to strip out all personality and tone and opinion and controversy, to iron out the bumps and smooth over the edges, because it feels safe to do so and you’ll offend no one.

How many times have you seen this one?

Dear Sasha,

Thank you so much for applying for this job/school/prize.  We received thousands of applications for this position, and while we were very impressed with your application and experiences, we will not be proceeding with your candidacy at this time.


The Place You Wanna Work / Go to school / Whatever

But a person rejected your application, right?  A person made the decision not to grant the interview.

Same story with your newsletter – written by a person, and received by a person (probably an important one to your organization).

You can pretend that it’s somehow OK to impersonalize it because you’re not willing to do the hard work of standing out and speaking in your own voice.  You can pretend that people have a box in their lives called “newsletter” or “updates” and somehow by sending this out you’re checking that off for them.  But I suspect you’re doing that because on some level you’re not convinced that this thing can be really valuable – for you or for them – or because you’re afraid that it will be worse to stand out and fall on your face than it will be to blend in.

It turns out that all that smoothing out and ironing out only guarantees that you’ll fade into the dull background noise in someone’s inbox, that you’ll never create something worth sharing.

So sign everything you write with your name, with a real return email address to which you will respond (or if that’s not practical, to which another human being will respond signing his name).

I bet that simple act of owning up force you to make a cascade of good decisions.

The future of impact investing

I’ve now spent four years in the impact investing space, and nearly three years as a blogger on philanthropy, generosity and social change.  The landscape looks radically different than it did just a few years ago.

On the upside, JP Morgan is now saying that impact investing might be a $1 trillion market; “impact investing” and “social entrepreneurs” are two of the top 10 philanthropy buzzwords of the decade; and we’ve seen a flourishing of philanthropy, especially by mega-donors, both in terms of total philanthropic dollars committed and in more visible and more public talk of results-oriented approaches.

At the same time we’ve seen the limits of markets: the global economy nearly collapsed in late 2008; microfinance, wunderkind of new philanthropy, was shaken to its core by a wave of suicides in southern India late last year.  No wonder that some are calling 2011 the year of reckoning for social enterprise.

Here’s my take on what this all means, from my talk at the 2010 NextGen:Charity conference.

(You also don’t want to miss these other great talks from the conference: Scott Case, Scott Harrison, Scott Belsky, and Nancy Lublin.)

Enjoy, and please share you reactions.

[vodpod id=Video.5460954&w=500&h=400&]


Which conversation – addendum

I’ve heard from a few readers that yesterday’s post – Which Conversation – was a little opaque.  So here’s take 2:

There are two models of how you build yourself up professionally, how you grow your visibility and responsibility.

The first model says that you do what’s asked of you, (over) deliver, and then ask for/be given more responsibility. That’s the school version of life – do your homework, get good grades, advance to the next class.

What I was getting at is that you’re holding yourself back if you always ask for permission.

Why not be indispensable instead? Go ahead and DO all those things that seem like the next step, the thing you’d like to do next year or someday.  If you do that well, if you’re already delivering like crazy AND handling a bunch of other important stretch opportunities, then you’re no longer going to your boss asking for permission, you’re going to her with a full list of things that you’re already doing and just asking her to formalize your role in whatever way will confer the official authority you’re looking for (but may not even need).

Of course this requires you to figure out a way to nail your current responsibilities and to make time and space for all the new stuff.  It forces you to think hard, confront your fears, do things without formal authority or blessing from above.  It forces you to do real work.

If you’re up for it, then you’ll find yourself having a very different conversation with your boss a year from now:

1. School version: “I did well. Is it OK if I do these new things next year?”

2. Indispensable version: “Here’s everything I’m doing, all the ways I’m going above and beyond.  Anything I should stop doing?  If not, at some point we should formally acknowledge that I’m doing a lot more than the job I was doing before.”

Hope that’s more clear.

Make Europe yours

I’m looking for a stellar self-starter who makes things happen to join my team.

Success means that a year from now, Acumen Fund will have a higher profile, deeper relationships, a stronger and more engaged community, and significantly more funds coming from Europe to support our work.

This is an opportunity to represent Acumen Fund across a major geography and be at the heart of the evolution of our sector – and if you’re really good, to help define how the sector evolves.

I don’t care if you’ve done not-for-profit fundraising before, but you must have sold things, created things, and gotten people to take action through your ability to build genuine relationships and your powers of persuasion.  You must have real working experience in the developing world – ideally India, Pakistan or sub-Saharan Africa.  You must have a demonstrated commitment to and understanding of our sector.

This is a unique opportunity for the right person.  All the details are here including the link to apply.

Applications close on February 6th.

Which conversation

I bet you had a great year last year.  You hit your goals and then some.  You checked all the boxes and now you’re thinking about the coming year and ways you’d like to grow as a professional.

Which conversation do you want to have with your boss?

One version goes like this: Hey, boss, great to see you.  I’ve been thinking that since I delivered so much last year that I’d like to take on these new projects and be given such-and-such new responsibilities and this new job title.

It might work, but wouldn’t you rather have this conversation?

Hey boss, not only did I ship like crazy last year, but as you know I also was leading up these projects, I’ve been taking responsibility for these relationships and these other initiatives that are underway, and I’m also the point person for this big idea that’s going live in March and it’s going great.

So, boss, which one of these things would you like me to stop doing?

Your choice.

Really, it’s up to you.

Wild rice, onions and Brussel sprouts

Lots of reactions to yesterday’s post on The China Study. Some people sent along skeptical and detailed posts about the conclusions in the China Study – which I read along with some thoughtful rebuttals – and some asked if I really was going to give up cappuccinos.

The most helpful “some’s” sent along supportive stories.  Here’s an example:

Hi Sasha,

A good friend recommended The China Study about 6 months ago.  My girlfriend read it immediately and we set out to change our diet – not 100%, but just tilt the scales towards plants.  Our 30 day trial has morphed into several months.  We aim for a Vegan/Vegetarian work-week and then on the weekend we might enjoy fish or lamb on a dinner out.  We’ve both lost weight – 15 pounds for me, 10 for her, and we feel great.  I’m glad to hear you are giving it a try.

Of course it is so tempting to cling to the counter-arguments, the skeptics and the doubters that let me say to myself, “You’re doing everything right already, don’t change anything.”

Then again, radical change shouldn’t be taken lightly, and before making any leaps one has to get back to one’s own sense of what makes sense, informed by the data and analysis we can get our hands on.

The most sensible, pithy advice on diet I’ve ever found was in Michael Pollan’s Food Rules:

Eat food, mostly plants, not too much

Which translates as:

  • Eat food: processed junk is not food.  Food is food.
  • Mostly plants: the majority of your calories should come from plants
  • Not too much: eat in moderation

And when I’m honest with myself, I’m following “eat food” and “not too much,” and falling way short on the “mostly plants” bit.  And I’m 100% sure if I shift to “mostly plants” I will:

  • Increase the amount of fiber I eat (almost no one eats the required minimum of 30g / day, and we all should)
  • Decrease my cholesterol
  • Eat more nutrient-dense foods
  • And probably decrease my overall calorie intake

So lunch today was wild rice, onions and Brussel sprouts, and it was delicious.  And while I’m sure I’ve not consumed my last latte, my last yoghurt, or even my last piece of meat, I think that the time has come to “tilt the scales towards plants.”

And the thing is, you can always do this tomorrow, but tomorrow never comes.  Today is the only time to act, to make change.

Thanks for coming along for this slight dietary detour…we’ll now get back to our regularly scheduled blogging.

(and here’s Graham Hill’s 4-minute TED talk on becoming a weekday vegetarian.)

This food is killing us

I’ve found that it takes TWO (not one) friends breathlessly recommending a book to get me to read it.

So six months ago, when a friend spent the better part of a week extolling The China Study (and telling me that humans weren’t meant to consume milk produced by non-humans), I filed it away under “someday.”  And then in December when a colleague told me he was off of meat and dairy because of the book, I gave in.

The China Study is written by Dr. T. Colin Campbell and his son Thomas.  Dr. Campbell is  an emeritus professor of nutrition at Cornell, where he has taught since 1975 and where he holds an endowed chair.  The book’s title is a reference to the China Study, one of the largest and longest (20 years) studies ever on the impact of nutrition on health.  And this obscure book published by an obscure publisher has now sold more than 500,00 copies.

The book is plain-spoken, fact-based, and data-driven.  It cites hundreds of peer reviewed articles and details the effects of diet on nearly every major disease.   And it argues that consuming animal protein (from meat, fish, and diary) is killing us.  Not just by causing heart disease, obesity and Type I diabetes, but cancer too.  And by consuming a “whole foods, plant based diet,” one in which protein consumed from animal products (meat, poultry, fish and dairy) approaches 0% of calories consumed, we can dramatically decrease the risk of contracting all of these diseases.

A streetcart I saw today

The studies that bowled me over focus on cancer.  Dr. Cambpell found that the risk of developing cancer in the presence of powerful carcinogens (specifically aflotoxin) can drop dramatically when people consume….a whole foods, plant-based diet.  And after showing the effects of diet in stopping cancer he details eye-popping results in fighting diabetes, heart disease, obesity, even in people with high risks and existing conditions.  All from changes in diet.

I had always assumed that since I generally eat “healthfully” and in moderation that I’m good to go.  It never occurred to me that I could dramatically reduce my risk of disease by altering my diet.  Sure, on some level i know that that I should be eating more fiber, more dark leafy greens, more vegetables, and less red meat and fat.  But I figured that I’m generally doing OK since I don’t eat fast food or a lot of processed junk.

What really got my attention were Dr. Campbell’s studies that showed the risk of cancer and heart disease drop dramatically (really dramatically!) when people shift from getting 20% of their diet from animal protein to 0-5% (and 20% represents a moderate western diet – the US dietary guidelines say 30% is OK).   The way Dr. Campbell writes, it makes me think that 50 years from now, the way we think about nutrition today will feel like the way people talked about smoking in the 1950s.   His studies show that genetic predisposition and / or carcinogens are like seeds in a garden – they put you at risk, but if you don’t feed them with a high-protein diet (the equivalent of sun and water), cancers and heart disease don’t develop.

Now what?

I have to be honest and say that I don’t know, yet.  I’m not ready to proclaim myself a vegetarian or a vegan today, but I’m taking Dr. Cambpell’s advice and giving it a 30 day trial.  I know I won’t pull off strict rules (the tortilla I had yesterday at lunch apparently has some dairy), but I also know that skipping the turkey sandwich and the gyro for lunch on two consecutive days for a hummus sandwich and a falafel didn’t leave me any worse for the wear.  And I’ve consumed two sweet potatoes this week.

This is a book you want to read, and then you can decide for yourself.  If you like the book, I suspect that you might soon find yourself browsing great website like

Seriously, this is information you want to know.

Whom do we honor?

Recently I found myself in the elevator at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, the doors closing on the name of yet another mega-Wall Street donor whose name was etched in marble, no doubt honoring a mega gift that built that wing of the hospital.

When I got upstairs I talked to a lovely couple.  The wife was a patient in the hospital who was at risk for giving birth to her twins at 26 weeks – more than 3 months before her due date.  She is a first grade teacher in the Bronx, worried that her students depend so much on her, worried that her sudden departure from the classroom would leave them without the support they needed.  Her husband is a social worker who does work for a number of local organizations in addition to some longer stints in India.

Where were their names on the wall?

Yes, I get it.  If someone chooses to part with tens of millions of dollars – maybe more – of their own money then by all means let’s write their names wherever they want to write them.  And maybe everything is working perfectly: the big name on the wall allows patients in need to get world-class care, so who cares what’s written where in what size font?

But walking through that grandiose hospital lobby, the names of subsequent Wall Street titans vying for all-caps supremacy in their etched legacy, I wished we had the same amount of space to write the names, in boldface, of people living lives of service: the teacher, the nurse, the social worker.