Book List: Giving

Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World by Bill Clinton

Just finished reading Ex-President Bill Clinton’s latest book, Giving: How Each of Us Can Change the World. I appreciated that he attempted to shed light on the topic of everyday philanthropy, and it comes in a very timely manner. With billionaire Bill Gates shifting his focus full-time in the social sector and new President Barack Obama renewing the meaning of public service for America, the seeds of service have been planted. Many Americans are starting to wonder how they too can get involved in making the world a better place, and Clinton’s book provides an inspirational “how-to.”

However, for people who are already involved in the social sector, the book reads more like a refresher of sorts. I found myself several times throughout the book thinking, “Oh, I’ve heard of this organization,” or “I’ve already read a lot about this cause.” Additionally, the book was almost too jam-packed with information. It read more like a series of blog posts with absolutely no transitions.

While I appreciate everything that the Clinton Global Foundation is doing and everything that all of the highlighted organizations are doing to eradicate some of the world’s most pressing social problems, the book also sounded more like Bill bragging about his foundation’s work and the work of his best buddies’s organizations.

I suppose that’s fine, but for those of you really looking to read a substantive book about social change causes and organizations, this is not that book. The most he devoted to an organization/cause is probably about 3-5 pages, and the least was one paragraph.

Bottomline: It still is an inspirational read especially for the “beginners” to the social sector and those who are interested in learning about how to give (time, money, talent, etc.). Those who are more seasoned in the social sector may find this book too fluffy, flat, and full of name-dropping.

Hit the jump for some excerpts:

Continue reading Book List: Giving

12: The Elements of Great Managing

This summer I’m transitioning into the site director role at BUILD after three years of proudly serving as the incubator manager. Yes, I’ve known for a while, and we have been making announcements here and there in the BUILD community (during our after-school incubator sessions and a big announcement during the Business Plan Competition back in May), and I suppose now is as good of a time as any to make a general announcement about it. Indeed it is a promotion, and one that I am extremely excited about because not only will it be a huge opportunity of personal growth and professional development, but I get to do it in an organization I love, with a team a really care about, and with a mission that I value.

After speaking with our management consultant, Linda, I realize that one of my biggest hurdles will be shifting from the role of individual contributor to that of a manager / leader. Coincidentally, tomorrow is my final year-end performance review in my role as the incubator manager, and it is so neat to reflect back on my value-add as an individual contributor. I will never forget the trials and tribulations of creating and implementing my first Business Boot Camp (and only now am I truly seeing it objectively… yes, after two years, thanks to Karla‘s Results-Process-Relationships triangle), the collaboration with Randy and Adriana on “The Bridge” (one of my proudest accomplishments), and the painstaking task of creating an expansion manual for my programs (don’t get me wrong, I love creating processes, but somehow I really just love to keep them in my head, so this was a good project). Through it all, I’ve been stretched, stripped, and developed, but now it’s time to move on. Just like our students move from one phase of our programs to another, so too will I move, and entrust our excellent site program assistant, Amber, to innovate and improve the program in my place as the new incubator manager.

Oh, and I also wanted to add a book to my booklist, and it is somewhat related to my transition into my new management role: 12: The Elements of Great Managing.

by Rodd Wagner & James K. Harter, Ph.D.

The book shows the importance of employee engagement through several real-life business accounts (a la any other business-y book out there), and argues that you can manage people successfully if you implement these twelve essential elements:

  1. Knowing what’s expected
  2. Materials and equipment
  3. The opportunity to do what I do best
  4. Recognition and praise
  5. Someone at work cares about me as a person
  6. Someone at work encourages my development
  7. My opinion seems to count
  8. A connection with the mission of the company
  9. Coworkers committed to doing quality work
  10. A best friend at work
  11. Talking about progress
  12. Opportunities to learn and grow

Some of them are kind of, duh, obvious, like “materials and equipment” (who doesn’t need a computer, desk and chair these days?), but I thought some of the more interesting chapters were regarding the “best friend at work.”

Something about a deep sense of affiliation with the people in an employee’s team drives him to do positive things for the business he otherwise would not do. Early research that identified the 12 Elements revealed a very different social bond among employees in top performing teams. Sebsequent large-scale, multi-company analyses confirmed the 10th Element is a scientifically salient ingredient in obtaining a number of business-relevant outcomes, including profitability, safety, inventory, and — most notably — the emotional connection and loyalty of customers to the organization serving them. (page 140)

In short, friends watch each others’ backs. And having that culture is invaluable because not only is it good for individual and team morale, but your constituents (or customers) can feel and see it as well… And with the staff modeling it, they will then start to mimic it — e.g. If you are friends with your coworkers and show it at your youth-serving organization, your students will probably be more friendly with each other. Sounds easy enough, huh?

Maybe my first order of business as the site director with my team will be some forced bonding time. 😉

Read on for more quotes from the book:

Continue reading 12: The Elements of Great Managing

Three Cups of Tea

Three Cups of TeaThree Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time

By Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

I loved the themes of facing insurmountable odds and overcoming even larger obstacles in this book. Greg Mortenson turned the huge failure of not climbing to the top of K2 into a life of even higher summits. This book was a fascinating and inspirational read, especially if you are interested untraditional nonprofit work. And by “untraditional,” I mean nonprofit work that we don’t always hear about or read in the newspaper, like Ashoka, TFA, or College Summit.

One of my favorite quotes from the book:

“That Day Haji Ali taught me the most important lesson I’ve ever learned in my life,” Mortenson says. “We Americans think you have to accomplish everything quickly. We’re the country of thirty-minute power lunches and two-minute football drills. Our leaders thought their ‘shock and awe’ campaign could end the war in Iraq before it even started. Haji Ali taught me to share three cups of tea, to slow down and make building relationships as important as building projects. He taught me that I had more to learn from the people I work with than I could ever hope to teach them.”

Eat, Pray, Love

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Again, I find myself reading another travel memoir, after reading Catfish and Mandala.  This time I’m reading about “One woman’s search for everything across, Italy, India, and Indonesia,” after a difficult divorce and what seemed like a mid-life crisis in her 30’s.

What a beautifully written soul-bearer! Even though at times I wanted to strangle the author/protagonist because of her ridiculously whiny explanation for her divorce and love-ache (I could not help but think that SHE did this to HERSELF! ugh, victims), she manages to be likable throughout most of her book and most of her spiritual journey.

The book is separated into three equal parts for each of the three countries she lives in, and my favorite part was her spiritual/devotional journey to India. Without giving it away, here are some choice excerpts from the book:

Continue reading Eat, Pray, Love

Catfish and Mandala

by Andrew X. Pham

I joined a book club through the Asian Pacific Islander Wellness Center (, and the latest book we read was Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of Vietnam by Andrew X. Pham. It was essentially a travel memoir through Vietnam written by a Vietnamese refugee.

I thought it was beautifully written; each passage was like reading poetry. Each page transported me to the author’s harrowing scenes. Moreover, it was exciting to read a book ABOUT an Asian country by an Asian American author. Lots of books out there talk about the white person’s perspective on visiting Asia, but it’s really rare to read a book that is so authentic about Asia.

Even though most of the book was set in Vietnam, I could easily envision lots of the scenes happening in the Philippines or even Thailand — especially the rampant corruption and poverty. But aside from the gorgeously written narrative on the country, the string that went throughout the entire book was the author’s internal struggle and journey from growing up in war-torn Vietnam to growing up as an outcast in hostile inner city America.

Through it all, I recognized my own American journey and learned to appreciate it a little bit more. I was never a refugee, and I thank the Lord for making my passage to America a lot less scarring (you’d understand if you read the book or know anything about the refugees/boat people who risked their lives to come to America). But I did recognize and see a little bit more of my family’s struggles in this book, and for that I really appreciated it.

Here is a choice excerpt:

Continue reading Catfish and Mandala

“College Dropouts” are the new “High School Dropouts”

College enrollment rates are historically on the rise in the US. Stats from this fascinating book I’m currently reading, Microtrends by Mark J. Penn and Kinney Zalesne:

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 69 percent of students who graudated from high school in 2005 were enrolled in college the following October. That was up from 59 percent in 1988, and up from 47 percent in 1973. Indeed, a record-high 54 percent of all Americans have been to some college. For the first time in American history, going to college is a majority expectation for families–most kids will start college–and over two-thirds of high school grads will.

Why is it that college graduation rates have stayed about the same, a paltry 66 percent for students in four-year institutions. And can you believe that that stat is dramatically lower for community colleges?

What does this mean for America today?

Well it means that although there are more Americans today entering college (which is fantastic especially because I have spent my life’s work for the past four years with BUILD and College Summit on this goal), there are also more Americans than ever dropping out, or taking a break from college, or being academically dismissed from college (for the sake of simplicity, I will just call these folks “college dropouts”).

More statistics:

  • 1 in 3 Americans in their mid-20s are now college dropouts (up from 1 in 5 in the late 1960’s).
  • Between 1995 and 2015, the number of undergraduate students in America is predicted to increase by 19 percent, to 16 million.
  • 80% of new students will be students color (hooray!), and many will be low-income and/or first-generation college-goers (double hooray).

However, if the dropout rate stays the same (at 66%), we could be facing somewhere around 1 million additional Americans every year prepared to do college-level work but not doing it.

Remember that college graduates earn over a million more dollars over their lifetimes than high school graduates. So think of the implications of having an additional million people every year who are college-ready, but doing high school graduate-level work and earning high school graduate-level wages. And my hunch is that a good majority of college dropouts will be the students of color and/or students who are low-income/first-generation because the reasons why students drop out of college are very basic: lack of money, lack of prior education, the urgent needs of their families, etc. (among other reasons).

Now I’m not standing here on top of my soapbox decreeing that every college dropout needs to go back to college to finish his degree because on some occasions, college may not be the right answer. I know first hand because some of the nearest and dearest to me are college dropouts of color, and they are doing fine (and are planning to go back to finish their degrees). I am saying, however, that the advantages of having a college education are extremely clear, and if we, as a nation and a community, are increasingly sending our students to college expecting them to succeed without the resources they need, then we are sending them ill-equipped and setting them up for failure. If we don’t act now, we can’t act surprised when our stellar cousin who aced all of his regular classes and got into a good state school, says that he’s not returning the following semester because he can’t afford the tuition, or he was dismissed for failing accounting.

Being Solutions-oriented

There are a lot of nonprofit organizations out there that prepare high school students to enter college; I mentioned BUILD and College Summit above because those are the ones that I work with now. The natural inclination that arises is to extend the resources that these similar students have been receiving into the undergraduate arena. BUILD or College Summit for undergrads? Not quite. Obviously we have to grow it up for the more adult audience, but that’s just one idea.

Students nowadays are facing enormous amounts of debt at a younger and younger age. Thirty years ago, you could graduate from UC Berkeley with barely $500 in student loans. Now, you are lucky if you graduate with $5,000 in debt, and the averages are more likely in the $15,500 for a public institution (!) and $19,400 for private universities (according to this USA Today article). Government really needs to bring back the love for students by upping grant money, and financial aid offices on campuses all over the country need to make it easier for students to access scholarships and other financial aid. And how about a mandatory course in financial management for all entering freshman… and an advanced financial management course for graduating seniors? Why is it just this year that I really learned how to keep a budget (almost four years out of college)?

And we as a community of people of color cannot stand by and watch our fellow Americans (or American residents) fail. I hate the whole lobsters in a bucket ideology that many communities of color subscribe to, especially communities of recent immigrants (e.g. Imagine several lobsters in a bucket. When one lobster tries to climb out of the bucket, generally the lobsters below it clamor to pull it down, and, thus, no lobsters escape the bucket.) We as a community of people of color need to educate ourselves and each other, and if our younger ones are to succeed, we need to give them the resources to succeed. In the very least we need to open up their possibilities so that they can see what success looks like. What does this mean in the practical sense?

  • Parents: look at your kids’ homework! Check it, and ask them the next day if they have turned it in. If you can’t help them with calculus, encourage them to go to tutoring. Teach them how to advocate for themselves at school so that they can get the resources for themselves. Man, it really is annoying when the resources are there and not being accessed by those who really need them. Teach your kids self-advocacy when they are young so when they get to college, they can actually use that skill!
  • Friends who don’t have kids: check-in with your relatives. Is your little cousin on the right college track? Is she taking the right classes? How about your cousin who’s in that state college? How’s he doing? Does he need some motivation? Why don’t you take him to work one day so he can see what it’s like to be a successful college graduate. And for crying out loud, volunteer! You are not an island, and your community needs your help.
  • Kids: If you’re not succeeding in a particular class or activity, tell someone. Get the help that you need. If that means less time playing Guitar Hero and one more hour of reading a book or working with a tutor, then so be it. You have all summer-long to play with your Xbox or Wii. Actually, don’t get me started with summertime; that’s a whole ‘nother tirade.

Now before you throw out celebrity examples of college dropouts who have been successful (like Bill Gates, Ellen Degeneres, etc.), my point is not that dropping out of college is a negative thing. It will happen, and statistically speaking, it’s not going to end. I am saying, however, that if our community of people wants to escape poverty and classism and is setting the expectation that our young ones are to succeed in college and in life, then we need to set them up so that they do succeed. And only we as a community of people of color can do that.

Who’s ready to help me start this new nonprofit then? Ha, just an idea. 😉