Mrs. Bill Gates on Philanthropy

The Gateses (Bill and Melinda, e.g. the third wealthiest family on the entire planet) are at a super geeky tech conference down in Carlsbad, CA, called All Things D. One of my favorite blogs, Gizmodo, (don’t judge me) has covered Melinda Gates’ interview by none other than the wise tech sage himself, Walt Mossberg.

In the interview, she talks about how her hubby is stepping down from the top seat at Microsoft to spend more time at the Gates Foundation. I don’t know about you, but I think it is an incredible gesture for this extremely intelligent leader of the tech industry to symbolically say, “I’ve done all I can in the tech industry, and now I want to focus my energy and skills on solving the world’s most pressing matters.” This is coming from the man who makes more money in 5 minutes, than I do for an entire year (yea… he makes an estimated $18,000 per minute). He can pretty much do anything he wants with his boatloads of money. He could sit at home all day and watch TV, he could run for president, or he could be build his own island continent in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with all of his piles and piles of cash.

But no. Instead he and his wife are choosing to fight malaria, HIV, the school drop-out crisis, and poverty to name a few of their key initiatives. If that’s not inspirational, I don’t know what is.

Mossberg: What’s the difference between your Foundation and others like it? More money?
Melinda Gates: We can take risks…

…Melinda says they could tap their entire budget by attempting to fix the problems in the education system alone. Their mission is more to help take on that risk that governments can’t in fixing problems.

One of the Gates Foundations’ key areas of focus is America’s ailing educational system, and the vast number of students who drop out of school every year. I’m looking forward to the risks they take in that arena.

Question from the crowd: How do you deal with violence in schools going from students to teachers?
Melinda says that comes from facelessness in big schools. She’s seen schools with three cop cars in front and two metal detectors. You can see the gangs going through schools and once the teachers recognize the kids, the kids act a lot better. Once the teachers know the kids’ names, these things fall into place. She’s seen schools that have fixed this in NY be able to lose their metal detectors, and graduation rates go up profoundly (up to 78%).

You can read the rest of the transcript below:

[All Things D Live: Melinda Gates, Bride of Bill via Gizmodo]

And you can read her “coming out” article here from Fortune: Melinda Gates goes public.

Personal Philanthropy Plans

Here’s something to think about during this sunny Memorial Day weekend:

America ranks first in the world in giving as a percentage of GDP at 1.7%. (Data and the stats on the right is from last month’s issue of Fast Company.)

Can you imagine if every family in the US planned to give at least 1.7% of their gross income to charity? I know that statistically speaking, Americans are the most “generous,” but how many families, and even individuals, out there really have a philanthropy plan built into their budgets?

When I stopped to think about it, I realized that I don’t really have a philanthropy plan. I can’t even count how many times I have been asked to give money to a friend who was riding in the AIDS Lifecycle or running a marathon for Komen for the Cure. But I hesitate to give because 1) I work in non-profit, and let’s be real, the pay isn’t the highest in the world, and 2) it’s hard to keep track of my giving throughout the year. There seems to ALWAYS be a cause out there that needs money, from HIV/AIDS in the gay community, to natural disasters in Asia, to starving children, to starving gay children suffering from AIDS in Asia. I can see how it can get overwhelming, and even tiring, to the layperson.

But imagine if everyone had a philanthropy plan where she:

  1. budgeted to give away at least 1.7% of her gross income every year, and
  2. had specifically chosen nonprofit organization(s) that aligned with her values to give that money to.

For the average full-time working person who makes the median income of $43,317 (from wikipedia), that would equate to being able to give away $736.38 per year. How many of us gave $736.38 or more last year? I think I gave someone $100 for a marathon last year, but that’s about it. And it wasn’t like I had thought beforehand for whether or not giving money to this person had anything to do with my values. I pretty much just gave her that donation because she was my friend. But if you really stopped to think about where you want your money to go, and where you want your money to make the most impact, wouldn’t that be more empowering?

As an individual or a family, look at how powerful it is to be able to say, “One of my/our values is ABC, and therefore I/we gave 1.7% of my income to XYZ organization. ” (Fill in “ABC” with your values, and”XYZ” with your favorite nonprofit org that aligns with those values.)

Now that’s really putting your money where your mouth is.

Imagine if we built this culture of giving into our families… No matter how big or small your family income is, what an important lesson it would be for our children! Maybe for your child’s/sibling’s/parents’ next birthday present, you can give him/her the power to give money to their favorite cause.

Anyway, just some food for thought during this nice long weekend. Anyone out there have a personal/family philanthropy plan that you swear by?

Our Rising Up

Yes, I am a chorus widow

Here’s a letter I wrote to some friends who attended our SFGMC concert last Friday, May 16, 2008.

Hey all,
I just wanted to send thanks and love for attending my concert and supporting my little hobby. It really made a difference to know that you all were sitting in the audience, and I felt like I was singing for you (even though I couldn’t see you… wasn’t wearing my glasses!).

I hope you left the concert inspired and moved. I know after singing the entire concert, some of the words of the music really started to sink in to me (“The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time.”). And with the recent ruling regarding same-sex marriage in CA, I feel like there was even more relevance to the concert, and I was so
happy to be able to share it with you all.

Thanks again for joining me last evening, and I hope you’ll continue to join me in this movement!

With love and respect,

PS – Here is a great blog entry from an award-winning songwriter about Safeer El-Layl, one of our songs from last night (it certainly moved him, me, and I’m sure many others!):

Thanks Coy for the awesome picture of us at the concert above. And as a bonus, songwriter Steve Schalchlin, snuck a camera into our rehearsal on Friday, and recorded us singing “My Rising Up,” which is a song he wrote. I’m in there somewhere, wearing the red shirt.

Help me bring Learn-a-Palooza to SF

Karla was telling me about this fantastic community-organized event they hold annually in DC called “Learn-a-Palooza.” Check out the description from their FAQ:

Learn-a-Palooza is a day-long fair being held May 10, 2008 where DC’s Mid-city (Adams Morgan, U St, Columbia Heights, Dupont) residents, artists, and business owners will offer classes on hundreds of different topics. Classes will range from “3 Basic Yoga Poses”, to “How to Change a Bike Tire”, to “10 Words in Farsi”, to “Columbia Heights History”, to “Intro to Red Wine”, to “Learn to Sing”, to “Be a YouTube Star”. Anyone who has something to share (and basically we all do) can offer a class.

The event will be free and open to the public.

How cool is that??? I feel like this is something that should have already been happening in San Francisco. Maybe we do? Has anyone heard of anything like this in SF?

If not, I don’t think it would be too hard to put together. And imagine the benefits! Community engagement, learning for the masses, people getting to step out of their comfort zones, businesses/organizations getting exposure. The benefits are limitless.

Who wants to help me organize this for 2009? If anything, it will be an interesting experiment in community engagement.

When Stories Don’t Align

This is a post about how a simple Sunday afternoon activity reminded me that stories are extremely important to consider in both business and nonprofit organizations.

Billy and I were shopping in downtown San Francisco because I wanted to buy a new shirt for BUILD’s Business Plan Competition. Normally I don’t shop at J. Crew, but I had a gift card there, so that’s where we found ourselves. Here we were in the J. Crew men’s section, and I felt so out of place. So completely out of place. It seemed like all of the clothes were nonchalantly pointing out that I didn’t belong there. I don’t know if any of you frequent J. Crew, but their latest fashions included various Nantucket/Martha’s Vineyard-inspired leisure-wear including light blue seersucker short shorts, a variety of rustic-looking polos in shades of aquamarine, and bold striped ties that sell for about $50.

Red sailboat beltMy gift card had $20 on it, and thus I was trying to find something in that price range (which at J. Crew is hard to do), and I found a belt on sale for $19.99. The belt was cute and red with little sailboats, and Billy said, “Um no. You’re not going sailing anytime soon, and you’re a not a kid.”

And I said, “W0w, you’re right. I’m not going sailing, I don’t have a yacht nor do I have access to one, and neither do my friends. And there is no sailing or yachting anytime in my near and even distant future.”

And that’s when I realized that the J. Crew story and my story were not aligned. Their story, while there’s nothing inherently wrong with it, just was not resonating with my personal value system. Or as Karla eloquently said, “Cause you’re not white and working at Deloitte?”

Pretty much.

Organizations, whether for-profit or non-profit, tell stories. I personally think that it’s a little bit easier for for-profit businesses to tell stories because 1) they only have to appease to customers and 2) there is only one determining factor to which business is measured: profit. When nonprofit organizations tell stories, however, they not only have to speak to their customers (clients), but they also have to use that story to engage funders, volunteers, board members, employees, and other stakeholders.

Your nonprofit organization has to create that story and pretty much build it into every detail. And that story has to align with your core audience of clients, funders, volunteers, board members, and employees. Luckily, nonprofits inherently have interesting and remarkable stories, but they are not all created equal.

People who can identify with BUILD’s story may not with a Teach for America’s or College Summit’s. In fact, I think it would be an interesting exercise to really figure out the type of person that BUILD’s story really resonates with. I wonder whether or not that story is consistent from the clients (our students) to the volunteer mentors to our funders.

I have a hunch that once the BUILD story and our messaging of that story is tightened up, we’d be more scale-ready.

Oh and by the way, I did not end up getting the belt, and instead I bought underwear. I figured that underwear is always necessary, and I wouldn’t have to promote the J. Crew story since it’d be hiding beneath my clothes.

Does your organization’s story align with the core audience’s stories?

Where do you find the time?

I thought I’d share this video I found on Lifehacker about how our society is currently at the next big shift from a very passive TV-obsessed half-century, to a more active and engaged future. It’s extremely fascinating.

So where do you fall on the paradigm? Are you still on the couch watching Gilligan’s Island?

Where do people find the time to do things like edit the Wikipedia? They watch less television, says author Clay Shirky in a fantastic, brief talk at the recent Web 2.0 conference. Shirky makes a compelling case that people are just learning how to deal with the “cognitive surplus” of free time modern life affords us. We’re waking up from the “collective bender” of mindlessly watching sitcoms and instead, we’re choosing instead to spend our free time volunteering, interacting, and Web 2.0’ing online. Hit the play button to watch Shirky make his case for the full effect, or hit the link below to read the text transcript of his talk. Next time your TV-watching friends make fun of you for opting to blog instead, point ’em to this talk.

Gin, Television, and Social Surplus [Here Comes Everybody]

Are we preparing our students to be successful in 21st century society?

This is an old video, but my dad sent it to me, and it’s definitely worth the 8 minute viewing.

It really poses a lot of questions for the future of education because our future is zooming into some vast unknown. If mainstream education is changing, what does that mean for our students and our systems that are currently failing our students? What needs to happen to catch them up?

Happy New Year – Happy New World

Happy New Year everyone! Why don’t we all set a collective New Year’s goal to make the world a better place in 2008.

Have you recovered from the Holiday shopping aftermath? I think as I grow older and older, I grow more and more weary of how Christmastime is becoming Shopping-time. It’s one thing to really live the holiday spirit by giving gifts to your loved ones, but I think our society has reached a point where our obsession with consumerism and shopping has gone too far.

I succumbed to it as well, by buying books and educational board games for my tween and teen cousins for Christmas, and I am sure many of you gifted as well. But after watching this 20 minute video on the “Story of Stuff,” I thought that there has to be a better way that we can celebrate Christmas than just buying each other presents that we’ll probably throw away in six months. Besides the season is about rejoicing the birth of Christ, and not about busting our wallets to impress each other with iPods.

Anyway, check out the video at or you can watch the first chapter below from youtube. The direct website has better resolution.

After watching it, I am rethinking my desire to buy that iPhone to replace my functional (but old) Treo. Sure iPhones are super sweet, but if my phone’s not broken…why fix it?

My brother recently joked around with me for being a wannabe “early adopter,” but I take pride in my “2nd generation adopter” status. Not only are most of my electronic purchases used, but I keep them for a long, long time.

“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. 😉

"Asian Chicken Salad"

I was eating at a restaurant the other day — location, occasion, name of restaurant are irrelevant — and I was kind of offended by their menu. It was a diner kind of restaurant that served breakfast foods, grilled burgers, salads, wraps, etc.

The menu was plain with a plain font, kind of mediocre in design, but it served its purpose. And then I noticed in the salad section that the “Asian Chicken Salad” was in a completely different font from the rest of the menu. It was in that “Asian” font. You know what font I’m talking about… the kind that looks like Chinese characters but it’s writing out English letters.

What were they trying to do by making the “Asian Chicken Salad” have a different font from the rest of the salads? Was I supposed to believe it was more “Asian” because of it? Were non-Asians supposed to feel like they were getting something more exotic because the salad’s name was written in an exotic font? Were Asians supposed to feel like the “Asian chicken salad” was more authentic because of the font?

And what exactly constitutes a chicken salad that is “Asian”? Just because you throw in mandarin oranges, almonds, crunchy rice crackers, and rice wine vinagrette does not mean it is “Asian.” And what part of Asia are they referring to anyway? I’ve been to, lived in, and eaten at several countries in Asia and never have I experienced an “Asian chicken salad” quite like the ones here.

Then I browsed through the rest of the menu and noticed the “Mexican Fajita Wrap” written in a “Fiesta”-esque font.


Americans are ridiculous.

Internalized racism? Or me being sensitive?