About this site

There’s a mantra in my family, which is notoriously good at losing stuff: when you’re searching for something that’s missing, Look Under Things.

So: I really want to start a social business. And it doesn’t seem so hard – just bring a great new idea to the table, network the hell out of it, be charismatic, and people will shower you with funding, partnerships, training and awards. But we seem to gloss over one tiny detail: coming up with the great new idea. This blog is an attempt to document my learning, pondering and whining as I search every nook and cranny - in my head and around the world - for a social venture to invest myself in.

Friday, February 1, 2013

In which Joanne encounters an unexpected moral dilemma

So here's an interesting conundrum: 

As a card-carrying Net Impact member and social enterprise/CSR junkie, I believe in incorporating one's values and ethics into the way one does business.  Bill Marriott disagrees. He checks his values at the door, which means, ironically enough, that his hotel chain sides with me on marriage equality:

"In an interview last year with Business Insider, Bill Marriott explained that he personally believed that marriage was between a man and a woman. But he said he does not mix his views on the subject with operation of the business.
'We have to take care of our people, regardless of their sexual orientation or anything else,' Bill Marriott said. 'We have all the American values: the values of hard work, the values of integrity, the values of fairness and respect.'
He further pointed out, 'Our church is very much opposed to alcohol and we're probably one of the biggest sales engines of liquor in the United States. I don't drink. We serve a lot of liquor.'"

Well, crap. Do I applaud the guy because his corporate stance aligns with my politics, or disagree with him for not using business as a force for (his version of) good in the world?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

I woke up at 30 and discovered, oh shit, I’m a feminist

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a child of the so-called ‘post-feminist’ era. Growing up, I never really ‘got’ why this women’s rights and feminism stuff was such a big deal. Granted, the lion’s share of that attitude stemmed from privilege: I was born to a loving, intact, upper middle class family. I was the middle child between two boys, and I was the one who was good at sports and standardized tests. I was a tomboy, and that was embraced. Mom and Dad told me I could do anything I dreamed of, Dad coached my girls’ sports teams, and Mom encouraged video games as much as Barbie dolls. But as I grew up and started my career, I was always the girl in a sea of boys – a math major in college, a nerdy data analyst in my first job, an MBA student in a program that was 71% male – and it never phased me. I figured if anyone would feel the effects of a gender divide, it would be me, and I wasn’t having any trouble.

So I fell into a common trap: this whining about widespread gender discrimination was sort of silly. It must be a phenomenon of the less educated, or the flyover states, or the unsuccessful women looking for an excuse, or the wives who hadn’t chosen enlightened enough husbands. It didn’t affect me. I was strong and confident and ambitious. If I ever encountered some anti-female bullshit, I would just kick it out of the way and move on creating a name for myself in the world. I fell solidly into the ‘go away, this topic annoys me’ camp of post-feminism.

And then I started to do things in the world. A switch flipped at 30: I was out of grad school, no longer focused on simply learning and growing, no longer climbing the lower rungs of the ladder.  I became the CEO of a startup and started looking for money, and partnerships, and high profile board members. I moved to San Francisco and immersed myself in the startup community, where Ruby on Rails proficiency had a far higher currency than business acumen, and as soon as someone discovered I wasn’t a tech entrepreneur their eyes glazed over. I was following in the footsteps of the founder of the startup, a white man, and I would get lots of approving head nods to the vision and strategy I discussed passionately, but only the most candid and well-meaning funders would tell me the real deal: this was going to be a hard row to hoe for a lot of reasons, but being a woman was only going to work against me.

Well, shit.

All those older women, my mom waxing poetic about the importance of pro-choice policy, the Sheryl Sandberg/Anne-Marie Slaughter debate, even my crunchy women’s & gender studies friends from college… they had recognized that glass ceiling when it was still so far above my head that I couldn’t see its sheen.

The other day I was chatting with the mother of an 18-year-old girl who reminded me a lot of myself: born and raised in the bay, going to a good college, raised by progressive parents. She had the same attitude as I had: oh, I’m sure this was an issue back in your generation mom, but ours is different. There are plenty of guys in my gender studies class, all my female friends are super ambitious, and we’d never settle for men who don’t understand that a marriage is an equal partnership where both parents have equal responsibility for the children. Thanks for all your hard work to get us here, really, but don’t worry about us – we’ve got it covered.

The message I wanted to send to her was: oh honey, just you wait.

And it’s not a bad attitude to have. It’s arguably better to assume there are no barriers than to feel from a young age like you’re fighting them – it creates a can-do attitude and allows women to build a self image around their personalities and passions and life goals, not the place they’re at in society. Perhaps the real lesson here is simply that that process of self awareness and self realization isn’t one that’s limited to our adolescent years, but rather is an iterative lifelong process. We constantly have to redefine ourselves for where we are in our careers, who we are in our relationships, and how society perceives and responds to us. I think the hardest part of waking up at 30 to discover that my gender does define me to some extent, does have an impact on my opportunity to succeed, was a big blow to the self-evident truths I had spent my formative years building up. To have that come crumbling down and have to redefine my world view mid-career was a challenge for which I was not prepared.

I guess that’s why they call it lifelong learning.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

An inappropriately personal blog post

The great thing about being a rare and totally sporadic blogger is that you have approximately 2500 half-written blog posts wandering around your hard drive at any given time. I found this one recently, originally written in October 2010, and was surprised to see how little my world view (and sense of self) had changed.  Definitely inappropriately personal, but also definitely important to share.

Why do we work in social entrepreneurship?  Why give up all the money, fame and glory of the private sector to slave away in a thankless industry with no financial rewards and rarely a faint feeling of accomplishment?  I think I might be getting closer to an answer for myself, personally.

I feel. Maybe in a stronger way than the “average” person. In this capitalist society that I love we’re trained that we need to harness our emotions, that over-expression is bad, that it represents a lack of the all-important quality of control. This simplifies things – it allows us to look at situations objectively, remove ourselves from hard decisions, let employees go more easily. I can do it to some extent, I can be a “professional”, but there’s a limit to it. More than the people I see around me, I feel.

I have strong emotions. I am impassioned. I get happy easily and angry more easily. I have all those emotions smart achievers in control are supposed to be able to bury – jealousy, greed, sadness, mania, idealism. A classmate joked the other day that he needed the name of my dealer because I was so zanily enthusiastic that I must be on drugs. That’s the good side. The bad side is what’s cost me relationships, made me break down in tears during performance evaluations, put me into screaming matches with good friends. It’s sent me to therapy. It’s made it harder for me to get over breakups, severed friendships, and family deaths. It’s kept me up at night worrying about poverty and natural disaster thousands of miles away. It’s what has led me to this field of work, and it won’t let go.

I work in this field because I have to. I can’t read the headlines of the paper and sigh at the state of the world and finish my coffee and go on with my day like normal people. Those headlines eat away at me. There’s only a certain extent to which I can detach from them. There’s only a certain amount of inequality and injustice and unfairness I can stand, without feeling compelled to fix it. I remember when I was in fourth grade and I learned about the Holocaust, and I thought my grandparents were bad people for having been alive when it was happening and not having put a stop to it. If only the world were so simple. And it’s not like I’m out saving North Koreans or Darfur refugees every day of my life. But I can’t detach so much that I can do work that makes NO difference. I did it for two years, I tried, and I just couldn’t do it anymore.

Maybe the people who are actually out there on the front lines, finding foster homes for battered kids or marching into the line of fire or physically feeding the malnourished, will turn their noses up at these statements. I can’t claim that I’m doing everything in my power, the way they can. But I think I’m a little closer to understanding myself, to understanding what compels me to work in this field of “social good” as opposed to the regular business life. I think I’m a little closer to understanding how my personal life, with all its ups and downs*, ties into my professional path, my other activities, and my insecurities. It’s all related, somehow, and I think I’m getting one step closer to knitting it all together.

* I could probably smooth out all of said ups and downs with a little daily pill. But would that make my life better off? This is something I struggle with sometimes. Would I rather feel less, have less pain and heartache, have more stability… but know that I’m not really “feeling” life to the fullest? Will this tendency to be more emotional and more passionate than others lead me to greatness, or drive me off a cliff?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

So many things to love about Hillary's speech

The last time I blogged about Hillary Clinton, I wasn't exactly complimentary.  I'm happy to say that today I can change my tune.

For those who don't follow the LGBT mediasphere religiously, Hillary gave a 30 minute speech to the UN Human Rights Council on International Human Rights Day ENTIRELY DEVOTED to the fight for global LGBT rights and equality.  It was greeted with a standing ovation.  Rather than make poorly crafted attempts to paraphrase her, I'll simply point out my favorite quotes, and let you check out the full video and transcript here.  (Or the NYT coverage of the new global US foreign policy implications here.)

On the costs of inequality: 

"…in all countries, there are costs to not protecting these rights, in both gay and straight lives lost to disease and violence, and the silencing of voices and views that would strengthen communities, in ideas never pursued by entrepreneurs who happen to be gay. Costs are incurred whenever any group is treated as lesser or the other, whether they are women, racial, or religious minorities, or the LGBT."

On religious and cultural influences:

"[The most challenging] issue arises when people cite religious or cultural values as a reason to violate or not to protect the human rights of LGBT citizens. This is not unlike the justification offered for violent practices towards women like honor killings, widow burning, or female genital mutilation. Some people still defend those practices as part of a cultural tradition. But violence toward women isn’t cultural; it’s criminal. Likewise with slavery, what was once justified as sanctioned by God is now properly reviled as an unconscionable violation of human rights."

"…no practice or tradition trumps the human rights that belong to all of us."

"…our religion and our culture are sources of compassion and inspiration toward our fellow human beings. It was not only those who justified slavery who leaned on religion, it was also those who sought to abolish it. And let us keep in mind that our commitments to protect the freedom of religion and to defend the dignity of LGBT people emanate from a common source."

"It is because the human experience is universal that human rights are universal, and cut across all religions and cultures."

On the overly self-righteous among us:

"Progress starts with honest discussion."

"… [anti-gay] views are unlikely to disappear if those who promote or accept them are dismissed out of hand, rather than invited to share their fears and concerns. No one has ever abandoned a belief because he was forced to do so."

On doing what is unpopular:

"Many in my country thought that President Truman was making a grave error when he ordered the racial desegregation of our military. They argued that it would undermine unit cohesion. And it wasn’t until he went ahead and did it that we saw how it strengthened our social fabric in ways even the supporters of the policy could not foresee. Likewise, some worried in my country that the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would have a negative effect on our armed forces. Now, the Marine Corps Commandant, who was one of the strongest voices against the repeal, says that his concerns were unfounded and that the Marines have embraced the change."

On the importance of the majority...

"LGBT people must help lead this effort… but often those who are denied rights are least empowered to bring about the changes they seek. Acting alone, minorities can never achieve the majorities necessary for political change. So when any part of humanity is sidelined, the rest of us cannot sit on the sidelines. Every time a barrier to progress has fallen it has taken a cooperative effort from those on both sides of the barrier. In the fight for women’s rights, the support of men remains crucial. The fight for racial equality has relied on contributions from people of all races. Combatting Islamaphobia or anti-Semitism is a fight for people of all faiths. And the same is true with this struggle for equality."

On the importance of communities...

"Eleanor Roosevelt, who did so much to advance human rights worldwide, said that these rights begin in the small places close to home: the streets where people live, the schools they attend, the factories, farms and offices where they work. These places are your domain. The actions you take, the ideals that you advocate, can determine whether human rights flourish where you are."

...and on the importance of the big guys.

"The Obama administration defends the human rights as part of our comprehensive human rights policy, and as a priority of our foreign policy."

And they're actually putting their money (a little bit, at least) where their mouth is: the administration has set up a $3M global equality fund to support civil society organizations working on issues of LGBT equality around the world.

3 big, rainbow-colored cheers. 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

I promise I'm not angry ALL the time...

...just an endless pontificator.  Today's tirade: the radicalism vacuum.

The questions started when I signed up to be a straight ally coordinator for my b school's LGBT club, and have exploded since I became its co-president: why the gay rights movement, Joanne?  Why do you care so much?

I got it when I spoke up in the first term of school during an ethics case, too.  Taking a strong stand on the need for black and white ethics in the workplace, the obligation of employees to stand up to their bosses when they're doing something wrong?  You're living outside of reality, little girl.  Ah, it must be your 'social sector background' - let me teach you how the business world really works.

To be clear, I'm not trying to get all high and mighty here - I'm no saint.  I certainly haven't consistently stood up for things I believe in.  But these experiences are starting to get me thinking... a dangerous path to go down, to be sure.

At the risk of mass stereotyping, I'm coming to the conclusion that we, middle class Americans, live in this world where we don't think we have to stick up for anything anymore.  We glorify the people who rocked the boat, idolize them and quote them, but when push comes to shove we'd rather do exactly the opposite - sit back, go with the flow, maybe chime in on the whining about the burgeoise and the conservatives a little, and at the end of the day take the path of least resistance.  In fact, we're constantly encouraged NOT to rock the boat.  And those who do are brushed aside as radicals, ungrounded, argumentative, naive.  (Well, at least the ones who haven't made a name for themselves yet.)  What happened to visionary, strong-willed, relentless, and outspoken being good things?  When did those get bundled as 'contrarian', and conformatism get propped up as the path to success?

You say it isn't so, but look around you.  How often do you thank a picketer for standing up for her beliefs?  How often do you back up the outraged customer throwing a tantrum in the store?  How often do you correct a stranger when they say fag, or nigger, or chink, or slut? (Think about how sexist that word is - what's the equivalent for men?)  How often do you, yourself, call out your friend, family member, coworker or boss, tell them they're wrong, and defend why?  It's much easier, and more socially acceptable, to just roll your eyes and change the subject.

Why are we so rarely proud of the people around us who refuse to let these things go, and so often embarrassed by them?

Maybe the real revolutionaries would laugh at me and say 'duh, that's what being a leader means - we all had to push against the current and annoy our friends to get to where we are.'  Maybe it's just part of my learning process.  But then why does it feel so strange, that all the ideals we wax poetic about as a society never get implemented in our everyday lives and conversations?

Monday, July 4, 2011

On defending your beliefs vs defending your employer

As usual, Bill Easterly's got me thinking today.  It's the 10th anniversary of the FT article that got him fired from the World Bank:

 William Easterly 

Not to make grandiose comparisons between esteemed professors and myself, but this reminded me of the time I got in a bit of a pickle with my employer for writing a negative blog post.  Mine was a much less drastic scenario - the blog simply poked fun at the manner in which my organization was moving to a new office (rather than criticizing the organization's core operations), and got me nothing more than a slap on the wrist.  But that kind of experience gets you wondering - to what extent is an employee's responsibility to cheerlead for the organization, versus to point out the mistakes it is making, in a public manner if necessary, in an effort to make it better?

No one knows better than the employees how effective an organization is, so no one is better positioned to provide constructive criticism.  But at the same time, if the people who work for an organization can't even support it, what chance does it have to build a supportive constituency outside its walls?  Sure, it's more politically correct to share reservations and concerns with your managers internally than on a public forum. But what happens when you've banged your head against your bosses' office doors so many times that it seems the only way to get through to them is to name and shame?

Do employees have more responsibility to make their concerns public when they have a social cause, or are funded by public money?  What about when the issues are systemic and core to the organization, versus small but potentially personally problematic to the employees?  (Easterly's gripe was the wastage of billions of dollars of public funds and the lack of social outcomes to dire issues of livelihood... Mine was moving in to an incomplete office space where women were encouraged not to walk to work alone from the bus stop because of safety concerns.  You be the judge of what's more important... my money's on Easterly.)

Personally, I think an organization's willingness to accept public criticism, even from employees, is pretty key to making it better.  That said, I've never run an organization and experienced my employees ragging on me in a public forum.  And at the end of the day, I removed my blog post: better to work to change the organization from the inside than simply picket it from the outside, right?  Easterly disagreed and has no regrets... I wonder how I'll feel 10 years from now.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

A good day for human rights in America

I teared up a lil bit reading this article today.

In 2008, I watched the numbers come in for Obama at 7am from a consulate gathering in India.  After swelling with pride for my country for the first time in my voting-age life and taking a few euphoric calls from Kenya, I called home to express my excitement.

The tone of my mother's voice when she picked up the phone took the wind completely out of my sails: she said she couldn't be truly happy about the victory because California's Prop 8 had passed the same day.  Coming from a woman brought up in the '50s in a Catholic household in Westchester, not her California-raised hippie liberal daughter, this sentiment reminded me how little the Obama victory actually symbolized a nation moving forward, and how much work there was to be done.

Two and a half years later, mom should be damn proud of her home state.  NY has done what CA couldn't do: nurtured a champion of the cause (Andrew Cuomo), organized a coalition of disconnected lobbying organizations, garnered support and muscle across party lines and overpowered the formidable force of the Catholic Church.  All this sure seems like it would be harder in an east coast state that contains Wall Street than a west coast state that contains the Castro*... so basically what I'm trying to say is, nice work, New York.  California, get your shit together.

Also, a shout-out to my father's employer of 35 years, Xerox, which made a significant contribution to winning the first Republican vote by endorsing the bill.  My school's LGBT club does a lot of work to promote and collaborate with companies that support equality for all their employees, and it's nice to see corporations standing up for what they believe in. (Hint hint, Exxon Mobil.)

*Obviously I know it's a bit more complex than this.  But it's still embarrassing to be a Californian when it comes to this issue.