Archive for October, 2011

Don’t Want to Work on Maggie’s Farm No More

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

I’ve written previously on agriculture as a metaphor for social change, and the idea of funding ecosystems.

Lately I’ve been thinking in terms of ecosystems out of balance. What happens when too many funders are chasing too few opportunities for impact? Or when everyone tries to promote “innovation” and no one focuses on the meat-and-potatoes work that provides the basic infrastructure of social services?

Private foundations need to be particularly aware of this problem as individual donors become more persnickety and less willing to provide organizations with discretion in how to spend funds. Discretionary funds at community foundations have been on the wane for a while; everyone wants their direct say in how the money gets spent. Maybe some funding ecosystems need like an index fund – a standard “basket” of investments that you choose precisely because it’s safe and predictable.

I want to explore this further – what are different types of ecosystems, and what are different ways that they can go out of balance based on how the actors (foundations, nonprofits, individual donors) interact within them.


I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

Had to choose a Beatles song title for this post title….

I’m kind of baffled by the fervor of the mourning for Steve Jobs. I mean, I’m writing this on a Mac, and we’ve gradually, consciously migrated to pretty much all Apple products over the past few years, but come on, people, he’s a corporate CEO. I thought these guys were meant to be the enemy – not genius/visionaries/etc./etc./etc. It’s interesting how ambivalence about success and wealth get transmuted when it comes to technology, particularly Internet technology. As if creating the tools for organizing absolves you from scrutiny.

Anyway, it’s notable that this outpouring should be happening the same week as Occupy Wall Street. Because so many of the quotes circulating on Facebook from Jobs are about defiant, damn-the-torpedoes individualism. “Think different,” don’t accept the inherited structures, stick to your singular vision no matter what, civility and protocol be damned. There’s become a romance to a kind of individualism that borders on solipsism – only I matter, my point of view is so singular that I must be heard in all my uniqueness, etc., etc. (Yes, I realize this is ironic coming from a blogger.)

Occupy Wall Street – whose statement is extraordinary and merits scrutiny, including critical scrutiny – is about not accepting inherited structures, but articulated in a much more collective, inclusive mode. Rather than cloaking their methods in mystery and parceling out information in cultish semi-annual rituals, these folks operate in the open and organize without hierarchy, in public. It’s the difference between rejecting inherited structures in favor of more of the same (accumulation of wealth), but for me, and rejecting inherited structures in favor of something different, for the rest of us.

It’s odd and perhaps telling about this moment that two models of social action, of being in the world, that are superficially so similar and yet ultimately so opposed should co-exist – even within some people’s minds.

Let’s appreciate Jobs’s contribution, but ultimately put it in its place. He made a tool. What matters is how it gets used. The medium is sometimes NOT the message.