Archive for September, 2013

The Shop Around the Corner

Thursday, September 26th, 2013

My blog post from the Council on Foundations community foundations conference in San Diego, about how community foundations might consider differently how to work with private business.

Read it here on RE: Philanthropy.

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20 Feet from the Corner Suite: What Darlene Love Can Teach Us about Workplace Success

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

My first post on the fabulous and essential Role/Reboot, an online magazine about the evolution of gender roles in contemporary culture.

The post was inspired by the inspiring documentary “20 Feet from Stardom,” well worth seeing:

http://www.rolereboot.org/culture-and-politics/details/2013-09-what-backup-singers-can-teach-us-about-workplace-suc

Coat of Many Colors

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

New York City’s mayoral primary was this week, and the discussion reveals many of the dumb ways we think and talk about race, power, and representation.

The narrative around New York politics has long been about identity and voting blocs: blacks, Puerto Ricans, Chinese, Jews, LGBTQ folks have their own enclaves, candidates, and voting patterns. Candidates for City Council or Mayor play to certain constituencies with certain targeted messages.

This election scrambled all that. The queer woman candidate lost among women and LGBTQ folks by double-digit margins, the Chinese candidate couldn’t carry the Chinese vote, and the African-American candidate couldn’t carry the black vote. In the space of two months, Bill de Blasio, the public advocate (a largely symbolic post), came from nowhere to the cusp of a runoff-avoiding plurality.

So how did he do it? And why did Thompson and especially Quinn implode? Here’s where the dum-dums step to the mic.

Let’s get a couple of things straight. It’s insulting to think that representation trumps reality: Liu lost the Chinese vote because people could see him implode, and De Blasio convinced them that he couldn’t win and they should get on board with someone who could. And Thompson lost the black vote because he didn’t come out against stop-and-frisk, while De Blasio did, strongly. There’s pride in seeing one of your own come to power, but they have to deliver. It’s as simple as that. People can see what’s in front of them. So stop being surprised that people didn’t automatically line up behind “their” candidate.

You’ll note that the common factor in the above two examples is De Blasio’s cunning. Another element of it is the ad that featured his family, his African-American wife and their Afro’d teenage son. As the NYT points out in a fascinating piece about his campaign strategy, the ad made clear that De Blasio’s opposition to stop and frisk wasn’t just a progressive checklist item, but grounded in a real fear about his son’s well being. Bloomberg called this tactic “racist.” I mean, honestly. This is like Chief Justice Roberts saying “the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” No, sorry, it’s by educating people about the fictitious (as in, socially constructed) nature of race and emphasizing that part of people’s common humanity is their ability to draw on many different identities – and not be defined or determined by any one of them. Again, why is this so hard to grasp?

Don’t even get me started on how these fallacies play out in philanthropy. Suffice it to say that we need to make room for people to say the wrong thing so that real, sensible conversations can happen about how to acknowledge, respect, and balance differences of background and identity. If NYC voters can see past convenient labels to the reality of a candidate’s life and convictions, then funders have to be able to talk constructively about how and why they may or may not target particular racial or ethnic populations – without being called racist or automatically being thought of as progressive. What’s the thought process? We could all stand to do more unpacking of mental-emotional models via that kind of question.

The Manhattan Transfer

Thursday, September 5th, 2013

Over the past three years, I’ve become a big fan of European football, aka soccer, following the major leagues in England, Spain, and elsewhere, especially my beloved FC Barcelona. As a newcomer to this kind of fandom, I’m continually bemused by the sheer volume and breathless tenor of commentary around “the transfer window”, i.e., the two times of the year when teams can buy and trade players. Things can get very complicated because you’re trading across international lines, and often until the very last minute of “Deadline Day,” which was this past Monday. The big news of Deadline Day was Mesut Ozil, a German of Turkish extraction, moving from Real Madrid in Spain to Arsenal in London. My passport hurts just thinking about that! Not to mention my wallet: pounds, euros, dollars – the figures are reported multiple and confusing ways.

What’s interesting is how the hype machine processes trades, and how the “right” or “wrong” decisions can shape how teams are perceived in the local and international media, and how much leeway managers, particularly new ones, have to find their way. This has been a season of unusually high managerial turnover at the major clubs, the biggest of which was David Moyes succeeding Sir Alex Ferguson after 26 years at Manchester United. That’s right, one manager led that club for twenty-six years. Imagine the expectations for the new guy! The succession was scrutinized all summer, more so because there weren’t games to talk about. Since the league only starts up in late August, the media and fans judge managers early on in the season through their team’s activity in the transfer window. Never mind that there’s usually a general manager-type figure who makes personnel decisions, it’s the coach/manager who takes the blame for transfer activity perceived to be subpar.

For the last several years, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, an impossibly urbane and dignified Frenchman who favors tailored grey suits and an Arsenal-red tie, has been pilloried for his lack of boldness in the transfer window. Arsenal, one of the richest clubs in the Premier League, based in North London, as recently as ten years ago had an undefeated season. But the “Invincibles” of 2004-05 were the last Arsenal side to bring home a trophy, and the pressure on Wenger has grown with each passing year. Missing out on a big signing during successive transfer windows has eaten away at his reputation. Unlike other major clubs that rack up the debt in pursuit of trophies, Arsenal’s management – including Wenger – have been fiscally prudent, content with being a consistently playoff-caliber club with a clean balance sheet. But its fans expect more, they remember the Invincibles.

Finally, this year, Wenger and Arsenal made that longed-after big signing. On Deadline Day, they swooped in for Ozil, one of the stars of the 2010 World Cup and still only 24, his best years ahead of him. The reaction on social media and in the football press was sudden and raucous. Momentum was Arsenal’s at last. And this was the day after they beat their North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur on the road. From also-rans to top of the class in the course of a long weekend.

What I’m getting at is the power of talent to shape expectations, and the importance of managing the narrative – particularly when the story you have to tell goes beyond what gets reported in the press or discussed on social media. We’re really not good at this in philanthropy. A while back, I wondered what the “political arts” might be, and how foundations can learn from them. Shaping the narrative has to be one of those arts. The infrastructure of comment in philanthropy is nowhere near as developed as the football press, but word still travels fast. I’ll be watching Wenger this season as Ozil integrates into the side, and thinking about talent, narrative, and momentum.