There really is green grass under the snow

No matter how many feet deep you have to dig to find it.

Not just metaphorically. Actual green grass, just waiting there for the spring.

Helps to remember that every now and again.

Mega Millions Jackpot Hits $586 Million

And 70 percent of the hundreds of millions of possible number combinations will be purchased.

Did you ever need more proof that what you’re selling is hope and possibility and not facts and figures?

Man’s search for meaning

Based on last week’s post, Jeff kindly sent me to a wonderful four-minute lecture excerpt by Viktor Frankl.  Even through the grainy recording you can see the twinkle in Frankl’s eye and his passion for humanity, with all its flaws and all of its potential.

The core of the video is Frankl relating a story of what he recently learned in his flying lessons, about crosswinds and where you have to aim when searching for your destination.

In Frankl’s words, from the video, “If you don’t recognize man’s search for meaning you make him worse, you make him dull, you make him frustrated, you add and contribute to his frustrations…”  Rather, borrowing the words of Goethe, let us aim high, for “if we take man as he is, we make him worse, but if we take man as he should be we make him capable of what he can be.”

Summed up even more simply by Frankl, “We have to be idealists in a way, because then we end up as true realists.”  Indeed.

Here’s the rare clip, a 4 minute video of Frankl himself.

The glimpse

The thing that gets people over the line isn’t how persuasive your argument is.  It’s certainly not because they see a big need in the world.

The thing that gets them over the line is passion.  Ultimately their passion, but before that happens they need to see your passion.  They need to glimpse something raw and unbridled and real.  A deep belief in what is possible.  Conviction.

In order for them to see that, they need to see you first, to understand who you are.  They need to be able to relate to your passion and have it mean something to them.  They need to appreciate that if you’re all fired up about something then it must be something worth getting fired up about.

The biggest mistake fundraisers typically make is to take themselves out of the story.  It’s a natural to try to step aside since what seems to be on offer is the story, or, worse, the need, and not the person telling the story.

Need is overwhelming and paralyzing to most people.  Need seems insurmountable.  We all are looking for real, grounded, plausible passion, possibility, potential and hope.  People begin to see that by seeing what you see, feeling what you feel.

If they don’t glimpse that in you, how are they ever going to feel it themselves?

More than a dollar

It’s a myth that money is fungible.

Ok, not really.  Money itself is, strictly speaking, fungible, but that doesn’t mean all money is equal.  Who it comes from speaks volumes about your organization, its worldview, and what you stand for.

Some of the pieces of the equation are obvious: money with a lot of strings attached is worth less than unrestricted money.  Money that will take you off mission is money you shouldn’t take in the first place.

But it goes deeper than that.  A few weeks ago I was in Ghana – we opened our Acumen West Africa office earlier this year.  One of our top priorities from the outset has been to raise significant philanthropic funding from West Africans, and by far the most humbling part of the trip was the chance to spend time with the three Ghanaian Acumen Partners who have already stepped up significantly to support our work.  Theirs is not just a vote of confidence from some of the most amazing business leaders in the country.  It also creates a completely different level of accountability, a completely different conversation what we mean when we talk about “our” work in West Africa.   It is truly ours, it is truly shared.

Recently, the UK government made headlines when it announced that it would stop giving aid to India after 2015.  In our lifetimes, the bright lines around which countries are rich and which are poor will fade.  By 2025 India could easily have 500 million people in its middle class and 500 million people in poverty.  Brazil’s GDP per capita could easily pass the $15,000 mark with 10 million or more people living in urban slums.

The time to start cultivating a truly global corps of philanthropists, philanthropists who support both local and global causes, is now.    There’s no doubt that today it is easier and cheaper for your organization to raise a dollar in New York or San Francisco or London than it is to raise it in Mumbai, Lagos or São Paulo.  But if you keep doing that, you’ll miss the boat.

Remember, all money isn’t equal.

If it’s so obvious, why hasn’t it been done before?

I’m in Kenya this week, with a small group of Acumen Fund Partners to visit our investments here and spend time with our East Africa team.  Today we had the chance to visit with David Kuria, the visionary entrepreneur behind Ecotact, which is single-handedly transforming the notion of what is possible in building safe, clean and affordable toilet facilities in Kenya and beyond.  David’s Ikotoilets, which are sprinkled throughout Nairobi, were used more than 4 million times last year – and these are early results from a company that was just an idea three years ago.  David will have 40 Ikotoilets up and running by the end of 2011 and all you need is to see the glimmer in David’s eye to know that this is just the beginning.

Walk down the sunny, bustling Aga Khan walk in Kenya’s Central Business District towards one of the most successful Ikotoilets in the Ecotact network (above), and you begin to understand the genius of the Ecotact model.  The street is literally teeming with foot traffic on this clear, sweet-smelling Nairobi morning, people walking deliberately in suits, ties, formal wear between the various government offices in the heart of the city.  David Kuria pulled a coup when he secured this location – not only for its foot traffic, which is stunning.  This toilet is part of daily life on this street, and not a single government official can ignore its success or turn away from its beautiful, colorful walls and the message they represent – that sanitation matters, that people demand it, and that it can be provided affordably.

And while we are just at the beginning, while the biggest challenges may lie ahead, these challenges, these iterations on the business model, are not top of mind for me today.  If anything, I’m struck with how easy it is forget that, no matter how obvious the Ikotoilet seems now (given its early success) no one has done this before.  It is so easy to put on our thinking caps and pick apart all the things that could be better, all the issues that will need to be addressed as the company continues to grow. It is so easy to forget that this thing was impossible before it became obvious.

Today I want to cherish the notion that all of us together have made a hair-brained, crazy, impossible idea a reality.

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P.S. If you’ve missed it check out Acumen’s new micro-site, Search for the Obvious, where we’re spreading light on just these kinds of ideas (old and new).

Blogging meta-post

On the days I don’t write posts, it seems just about impossible that I have a post in me.

On the days that I do write posts, I write them.

This means one of two things:

  1. I underestimate what is possible
  2. I accomplish the impossible on a regular basis

Pretty sure both of those are true.

(mind-bending side note: I wrote this post on a day I never write posts.  What does that mean?)

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Bejeweled moves

Recently, before boarding a transatlantic flight, I caved to the impulse to buy an iPhone app, and $2.99 later I was the proud owner of Bejeweled 2, the only game in the app store that I’d ever heard of.

By way of background, I should share that two decades ago I was know to wile away many a college campus visit (and, subsequently, a reasonable portion of first semester freshman year), playing Tetris into the wee hours of the morning on Apple LC computers.   I still have a soft spot for the mindless computer puzzler – though with drastically less time on my hands.

Bejeweled works as follows: your job is to make groupings of three or more jewels in a line; you can only move two adjacent jewels at a time; and for a move to be legal it must create a group of three.

It isn’t a great game, but it has one aspect that I find fascinating.  The way the game is programmed, there is always a legal move to be made – which is surprising since they’re often hard to find and the rules governing the game are so simple.  And this is the nut of what fascinates me: even knowing this, and even in the confines of a simple, 8×8 board, it’s easy to convince yourself that there are no moves to play.

The practice of playing, then, is as a chance to remind yourself that, no matter what you see, there’s always a move for you to make.  You get to see yourself talk yourself out of what is possible, time and time again, until you finally learn that you can always make a move.

Feels a lot like life to me: seeing the board, seeing the moves you think you can make, not seeing anything that’s possible, and telling yourself – even though you know the opposite to be true – that there’s nothing that you can do.

There’s always a move to make.  There’s always something you can do to make yourself better, to move forward, to make a change.  Always.  No matter what.


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Two reminders

There are two monstrous excuses out there that keep us from doing what we always wanted to do:

  1. I’ll have plenty of time to do it in the future.
  2. What if I fail?

This week I’ve been reading Randy Pausch’s “The Last Lecture.”  Randy, a Professor at Carnegie Mellon, was in his early 40s, happily married with three young children aged 5, 2, and 1, and had a very successful academic career.  Then Randy was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, which has a 20% one-year survival rate and a 4% five year survival rate.  He died less than two years later.

Randy gave an actual “Last Lecture” in which he shared his life’s dreams from his childhood.  The book builds on these stories, and it is part reflection on his own life, part sharing what it’s like to be a terminally ill patient, and part stand-in for all the lessons he hoped to teach his children in their lives, before he found out he was going to die.  It’s impossible to read the book without reflecting on how much time we all really have, and that this time, someday, will come to an end.

We’ve no choice but to live life as if we’re going to live forever, but every so often it helps to be reminded that we won’t.  The other day I was talking to someone who admitted that he’s so focused on the things that are urgent that he’s pretty sure he’s not giving time to the things that are important.  Put another way: it’s easy to spend a long time being busy and then one day discover that you missed the chance to do what you really wanted to do (because you don’t have the skills or the flexibility or the guts or the time).

Not so long ago, when my wife was thinking about shifting careers, I gave her a little metal block for her desk that said, “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?”  Sometimes we all need to be reminded that we are capable of great things.

We all will fail along the way, and none of us will live forever.  But we have a chance, if we choose, to live as if the time is NOW and that, if we put in the work, we can do that thing – we can live that life – we’ve always dreamed of.

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