Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Here we go again.

Readers of the Vancouver Sun might have noted that Sun columnist David Baines continues to pursue a selective investigation of my past, this time beginning with a quote from a 2000 CBC Interview I gave seven years ago.

In it, I reference a CBC television interview done much earlier. I was featured jumping on a couch singing and dancing to a song. In the 2000 interview, I'm quoted as saying "Do you think I ever woke up in the morning, surveyed my apartment and said, 'Maybe I'll crank the tunes and jump on my couch for a while?' I don't think so." I spoke confidently and naively about my media awareness, going further with a comment that I told people "amazing, wonderful, and, in most cases, untrue stories about [myself]."

In this second column, Baines searches for investigative credibility in quotes taken from my father’s participation in the same interview. He said that I was “a prototypical child of the electronic age. He knows how to use the sound-bite. ... He will give you a sentence that will be tailored for you to put into your news broadcast. He is a child of the age in that sense."

The point in bringing this material up from seven years ago and then observing the amount of media that together with GiveMeaning I have garnered quite deliberately since, is to suggest that if I was "spinning" then, I must be spinning now. In a vain effort at making his point Mr. Baines brings up my short-lived employment at a firm called Whalen, Beliveau. I began there when I was 17 and ended a year later when the Vancouver office of the firm split to merge with another firm.

My entire salary was paid as an advance or draw against commissions. This simply meant that before I was entitled to any bonuses from commissions, all of my salary would be deducted and any additional expenses I incurred would first be repaid. Mr. Baines is correct that I did not close any deals where a commission was paid to Whalen, Beliveau, but this is because I was working to develop a new field of client, not because I didn't work strenuously on behalf of my employer.

Under the terms of my employment I was responsible for my own expenses and Whalen Believeau lent me the money to pay these expenses pending receipt of commissions. When Whalen, Beliveau split to join a new firm I was sent a letter by the Montreal office of Whalen, Beliveau demanded that I repay the loan. Since my employment had ended unexpectedly I had no income to do so and Whalen Beliveau ultimately did not pursue me further.

Quite separately, because this money was in fact a “debt owing”, and under the advice of counsel, certain of the facts are as Mr. Baines reports; specifically that I declared as income the advances I received and claimed the paid expenses. It is true that Canada Revenue Agency originally disallowed the expense claims on the grounds that I didn't pay them. It is true that I appealed that ruling, arguing that even though I didn't pay the expenses directly, I was liable to the firm for the full amount. The Tax Court decided that I had done everything correctly and Canada Revenue Agency did not appeal the court decision. It is not true that I didn’t “earn” this income as Mr. Baines quite wrongly suggests. I consider the matter closed although I am reserving the right to consider Mr. Baines assertions more formally.

In his first column focusing on me, Baines quotes a recent interview I gave to a Victoria-based newspaper called "Monday Magazine" in which the interview asked me "why aren't you more of a dick?" I responded with a column filling quote captured by Mr. Baines "I think because I was a dick," Williams replied. "This path I'm on now is only something I arrived at after having fully explored my own dickiness." But really there isn’t anything new here. I have been consistent and candid in suggesting that the motivation to start GiveMeaning lay in part to redeem myself and correct the course that I seemed to be headed-down.

And so, Mr. Baines speaks of my past grabbing thoughtless quotes from a teenager delighted with the new attention of the media. What a sleuth! He points to the typical failures of anyone attempting to find the right path to follow in his search for a worthy future. With GiveMeaning now a cause for celebration Mr. Baines is sure there is something wrong with the picture and so he has chosen to search in the past in an effort to discredit me and the work of GiveMeaning.

When Mr. Baines first called me, I decided to speak openly to him and spoke to him several times both the day before his first column and then a few days after it appeared. That won’t happen again.

If Mr. Baines had taken the trouble to read or watch any of the recent interviews in full, the ones particularly about GiveMeaning, he would know that I am in this for the long haul and I am in this completely. I am nothing if I am not open although people like Mr. Baines are quickly making me much less naïve.

As far as anything else that might appear on the web posted in an effort to capitalize on the cheap shots of someone who should know better, I would much rather you wrote me directly.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

My response to David Baines' article this past Saturday

A writer named David Baines called me on Friday morning to let me know he was writing a piece on me and GiveMeaning in the next morning's paper. Armed with our 2005 and 2006 annual reports we file with Canadian Revenue Agency, he recites publicly available numbers namely that we received $234,632 in tax-receipted donations (which are largely donations we received through our website for the projects on GiveMeaning.com) and another $730,350 from charitable foundations to pay GiveMeaning's administrative costs in operating the website in Canada.

He specifically states that I "refused to identify any of these donors" when in fact, I offered for him to speak with some of GiveMeaning Foundation's donors and yet he didn't take me up on this. I find it odd that Baines appeared to rush to publish this article, calling me for the first time the day before the article was supposed
to run.

Nevertheless, his main contention is that GiveMeaning Foundation has spent more money building the GiveMeaning brand and service than it has raised money for its projects. This is not only not in dispute but not surprising to anyone that knows anything about a start-up business. GiveMeaning launched its re-vamped website in late September of 05. Prior to that, our web presence was in Beta and very little transactions flowed through. The numbers that Baines is reporting on is our first full year of collecting tax-receipted donations in Canada for the GiveMeaning website. Given that our
average donation through the website is about $40, our first-year tally of money raised for projects is not surprising. It's also not surprising to anyone that understands the nature of a start-up that in the first few years of operation that start-up costs will exceed revenues. It took eBay eight years to make a profit.

Baines can't understand "why certain undisclosed charities would give money to pay overhead for what is essentially a charitable conduit." Foundations are investing in GiveMeaning because they recognize that the GiveMeaning service is helping charities of all sizes make fundraising easier and less costly. By supporting our work at
GiveMeaning, they are providing an infrastructure for all charities to use. He seems unaware that foundations regularly make grants to other foundations for capacity and infrastructure costs.

Of course I draw a salary and yes, my wife works as a contractor for GiveMeaning. Baines seems to think that GiveMeaning should run without staff and expense and that it's wrong for charitable foundations to provide GiveMeaning with the financial resources to build its service, a service used by charities of all sizes.

Baines seems unable to draw distinction between money raised through the GiveMeaning.com website for projects and money raised separately from donors who support our admin costs. When he says "Williams insists that, whenever a person gives money for a particular charity, 100 per of that money gets to the named beneficiary. That may be true, but it does not mitigate the fact that the vast majority of the
overall money collected during 2006 went to administration." By lumping together these two costs as one, he is ignoring the simple fact that the donors giving to our operating costs are doing so specifically FOR our operating costs and that donors giving through the website for projects have 100% of their funds passed on
the Implementing Organization responsible for carrying-out that

It can't be laid out more clearly than what we have in our About Us section which reads "We charge nothing for donations collected online and even cover the credit card costs associated with each donation. We rely on the support of generous donors and advertisers to provide this service."

Baines leaves readers with his own judgement on what is or isn't philanthropy, passing judgement on a fantastic grassroots economic development initiative out of Uganda which trains Ugandan people to build guitars and then sells those guitars in North America to create self-sustaining, economic development and on Wild ARC, which is the
division of the BC SPCA that provides rehabilitation and care to injured animals. Baines doesn't think Sea Otters and poor Ugandan people fall into the class of "quality charities." He's entitled to his opinion but the whole point of GiveMeaning is to give grassroots initiatives an opportunity to find their audiences as we believe that any charitable initiative deserves to have the opportunity to better find and connect with supporters who care about those causes.

Baines' final point sums it up nicely. He says that "we have a responsibility to scrutinize all charitable endeavours to ensure that we are getting decent value for our dollar." He clearly doesn't think that GiveMeaning's service is needed, valuable or useful to the charities and donors we serve. And that spending money on a new way
of fixing a big problem is not warranted. He's entitled to his opinion.


Saturday, January 19, 2008

Change Conference Q&A

Last night I spoke at the 8th annual Change Conference in Victoria, BC. I asked those in attendance to write and submit questions about making the changes they want to make in the World and I would do my best to answer each question. I was pleasantly surprised by the number of people who asked questions. This morning, I spent some time answering each of the questions I was asked. Here are both the questions and my answers.

For those of you at the conference who didn't get a chance to ask me a question, don't worry about it. Add me on Facebook and/or email me at my name at givemeaning.com

Thanks to everyone who participated!

How do I find out what I am passionate about?
I’m sorry I didn’t do this yesterday. Here’s a good way of trying to focus in on what you care about. Start by writing down 10 words that describe what’s in your heart and head. From that list, create another list but limit the words to five. From that list of five, further limit it to three.

I find that this little exercise helps clarify the issues that I’m passionate about, so that I can focus on then learning about and doing more about the things that I’m most passionate about.

Music and leadership / making positive change is my life. How can I integrate the two to benefit others?

(Another question with the same answer:) What role do you think music plays in positive change?

Well as the husband of a Musician, I can tell you that I have witnessed the impact a Musician can make. When a Musician hears from a listener that their music got them through a tough-time, helped them grieve, helped them open their heart to love, all of these things are making positive change.

So I think that simply by following your music, by making music from your heart, you are capable of making change.

At GiveMeaning, we’re exploring an idea we call “MusicGivesMeaning” which would promote various artists’ shows in exchange for the artist agreeing to raise some money that night for GiveMeaning.

I believe strongly that every artist should also seek to nurture art in others, so I think in addition to making music, helping others develop their musical craft is a great way of making meaning.

Change superficial and prejudice/racists bullying.

I’m not entirely sure of the question here so I’m going to riff on “sameness.”

The people who make fun of others who are “different” you must truly feel sad for. These people are so desperately insecure that they spend a tremendous amount of their time worrying about how to stay the same. They are totally powerless So insecure are they that they obsess about “what is cool” and do their best to live up to someone else’s definition of this. For as long as they do this, they are empty vessels, depriving themselves of understanding and respecting themselves.

Dare to be different. Celebrate the fact that you are not the same. Embrace your individuality. And understand that anyone who is making fun of you is actually jealous of who you are. Don’t treat them with disdain or disrespect. Just have compassion for the fact that they have not found what you have found. Yourself.

I think I know change is a positive thing and I would love to do all I can to help what can I do to change – make a difference? Any ideas?

I think one of the things to be aware of is that Change can’t just be a project, it has to be a daily way of living. In other words, someone who spends an entire month involved in a specific project but then spends the other 11 months not being aware of their world around them, is making only limited change.

I suggest you start with trying to listen and inform yourself more of what’s going on in the world and then follow your tears. But while you’re looking for that, start by trying to be more compassionate to those around you. Who do you have a hard time finding time or respect for? Start there.

I believe we should “bring ourselves down” instead of bringing 3rd world countries up” (wealth wise) What do you think?

I absolutely agree that we should see to “bring ourselves down.” I think we need to find the right way to express that sentiment. I really don’t like the term “sustainability.” I mean, do you want a sustainable marriage or do you want a GREAT marriage? Sustainability lacks a certain enjoyment in my mind. So I challenge you to come up with a way of “selling” what you’re really talking about, which is about celebrating ENOUGH. As I said last night, “more is always more” but enough is enough.

But I don’t think our focus on ourselves and enough should be done at the expense of trying to help others. Instead of seeing it as “one or the other” I think if we focus on enough, the logical next step becomes “ok then, what do I do with the abundance” and the natural answer is to give your abundance to someone who doesn’t yet have enough.

So by striving for enough, we will be led to give our abundance.

What occupation do you think would allow someone to affect change? Teacher, politician, doctor?

Any job that puts you in contact with another human being, even if that contact is through art or the written word or over the phone, is an occupation that allows someone to affect change.

Because it’s not about the job you do, it’s about the person that you are and the way in which you conduct yourself and treat others.

Me and my friends are organizing a 30 hr famine @ our school and I was wondering if you ever have done one and if you have any advice.

I have never done a 30 hour famine. The closest I have ever been to that experience is being in Northern Uganda in this tiny little town where a massive feeding operation was underway. People had lined up all day in the sweltering heat to get their rations of about 1 months supply of the most basic food supplies. The experience led me to actually feel physical pain for what it must like to starve and I remember sitting in this tiny little shack eating Casava and beans with my hands and feeling so grateful for that food.

My advice would be that if you want an easy way to collect pledges for donations, you can each create your own personal fundraising page at GiveMeaning.com which makes the process of raising money for the 30 hour famine much easier.

What gave you the idea to start GiveMeaning?

A bunch of conversations with friends, led me to three conclusions. Most every single person I know cared about something but it seemed as though none of us were actually doing anything about the issues we cared about. When I started to try and understand why, I realized there were three issues that prevented most people from doing something or doing more:

When I give, I’m asked to give more: Many people are put-off (rightly so) by the fact that after they’ve given their time or money to a charity, they get many requests to give more. The number of emails, letters, phone calls - altogether I call it “charity spam” – just really pisses people off, and so they don’t give any more.

How do I know that my money is being used effectively? Many people don’t feel as though they know how their money is being used by the charities they give to. And increasingly, people who can’t have the confidence of where their money is being spent, prefer not to give.

I don’t have enough to make a difference: Even some of my very wealthy friends said that they felt as though even if they gave ALL of their money away, it wouldn’t be enough by itself to change the issue that they care about. So if they feel that way, my friends with $5 dollars to spare certainly felt the same.

So I wanted to solve these three problems because I felt if I could, that more people would actually want to give.

So we solve this at GiveMeaning.com in the following ways: When you give money or sign-up at GiveMeaning.com, we never share your personal information with the charity or organization you are supporting. And we at GiveMeaning, never send you emails.

Everything at GiveMeaning that you can give to or fundraise for is a specific tangible project. Instead of just giving to Poverty relief, you can give to help a specific family, build a specific school or water well, or send a specific class on a field-trip. And then once the funds are raised, you can keep track of how the project you are supporting is unfolding because blog updates, photos and sometimes video will be posted at GiveMeaning.

And finally, it’s about pooling each person’s contribution together with other like-minded people so that your $5 and my $50 bucks and someone else’s $500 can all add up to be enough to complete the project.

On your website, do you help small growing charities or just large ones?

We welcome every charity of every size at GiveMeaning.com. We particularly love to help the small, growing charities because they are the ones who need our support the most.

What do you think the pros and cons are of political and religious ties?

Oh wow, I could write an essay on this one! I think faith is a beautiful thing. What amazes me is how much most every religion agrees with every other religion. In terms of what it means to be a faithful person, to be a good person, most every religion asks the same thing of its followers. It’s the ideology of the religions that causes so much pain, suffering and conflict. And it’s the desire for some people in positions of authority in their religion to abuse their power for their own reasons/motiviations that can turn many people off from faith. What a horrible line to write. That a small group of people can turn another away from faith.

Similarly with Politics, many Politicians don’t disagree with their members of their opposing political parties but it’s the ideology (again) and the desire to hold on to power that leads to a tremendous amount of arguing for arguing’s sake.

Your question asked specifically about the ties to religion and politics. I think the more that one affiliates with a certain ideaology, the more unlikely they are to be able to find people who share their same beliefs and desires to make change. And in order to truly change the world, I think we need to reach across the lines that divide us, stop being “right” and “left” “Christian” and “Muslim” and start being brothers and sisters, people who share the same fears, the same aspirations, the same desire to make the World a better place. So I think it’s much better to have a respect for all and a desire to include everyone no matter their faith or politics in the effort to make change.

What is the issue you feel most strongly about?

I care most about helping others connect with their passions and helping each person achieve their goals of making meaning in the World. That’s why GiveMeaning.com is the perfect place for me because I get to help everyone no matter what the cause or where they are working.

We have a tight neighborhood and we get together in the fall for a block party. I’d like to introduce the idea of a sister neighborhood in Africa.

This is a great idea and myself and my team can help you connect with a village to support. The notion of a neighborhood supporting a neighborhood from another place is a fantastic idea. I’ll be in touch via email to help you on this.

What is the most difficult choice you have made in your life, and who inspired you to make the decision?

I have always trusted and relied upon my instincts so I have never deliberated in the moment about a decision for a long-time. In other words, the biggest and most difficult choices APPEARED easy at the time, because I have always trusted in my own ability to survive, no matter if my choice turned out to be the wrong one. I think, looking back on it, it’s the choice to have created GiveMeaning and put all my remaining money into it. There have been many moments in making that decision, where I worried it was the wrong decision or that it wouldn’t work, but I persisted because I believed so strongly in what I was doing. Where I’ve drawn my greatest inspiration is from the people I’ve met along the way of this journey. The people that are trying to make the world a better place in their own ways.

Why did you end up giving your fortune away after working so hard to achieve it?

Because giving away my money to help others is the best thing I could spend it on. But let's be clear, when I started GiveMeaning, I wasn't a tremendously wealthy man, financially.

To start-up a non-profit for microloans what are the first three things to concentrate on?

Geographic Focus: Where will you focus your lending:
Lending Criteria: Who are the target beneficiaries of your loans? (Single mothers? Children? Anyone affected by poverty?)
Banking Partners: What criteria will you use in selecting micro-lending banking partners? Reporting, Credibility, Communications capabilities? Etc.

How do I motivate my friends to see a good cause as something they should support?

I’ve said about selling anything that I’ve never sold anything in my life but I’ve had a lot of people want to buy things from me. By this I mean that for as long as you’re trying to CONVINCE someone that your cause is right and just, it will be an uphill battle. But if you can find a way for them to see that they WANT to be involved in that cause, then they will be asking you to join. How do you have them WANT it? By positioning that cause as desirable to them based on their existing values and interests.

I wish strangers on the bus would chat more. It’s so quiet.

I totally agree! So take the lead and start a chat! Make it happen. And don’t get discouraged if it takes a while to get people to open up. Here’s a random idea: On Valentine’s day, buy a bunch of flowers and get on the bus and give one out to each person, along with a little note saying “we’re all on the same ride together” or something like that. I tell you, these simple kinds of things become infectious.

Some people find change difficult, especially if its for a cause like becoming sustainable). Is it our job to convince them? Is it our responsibility to always foster change in others?

While I think it’s important to reach out to as many people as possible, I think it’s far more important to live the life you are talking about. The quiet example of leading the life that many others TALK about will inspire others around you. They will then ask you questions about why you live the way you do or care about the things you do.

First of all, we <3 u! Second, do you think there is a solution/change to homelessness and how should, if we do, come about it?

First, thank you! I <3 all of you. There is most certainly a lot we can do about homelessness. How many houses have extra rooms? How many of the families living in those homes talk about their compassion for the homeless? How many of those families would be willing to take a homeless person into their homes? There is a disconnect between what we say we care about and what we are willing to do about it. Think of all the extra beds in Victoria alone. We have enough roofs to end homelessness. Do we have enough compassion to open our doors?

In my school people generally only hang out or interact with people in the same grade. I would like to see more inter-grade interaction and inclusion.

I think that’s a great cause to work on. What can you do to kick-start this? Can you talk to the student leadership in each grade and ask them to get their friends together once a week for a social with people in a different grade as a starting point? Also, start thinking of what you will do when you are in the oldest grade in your school? How will you use that position to create change and leadership.

If you’re passionate about an idea and you’ve raised awareness locally and money for a large-scale problem, how do you go about making sure that money goes specifically into solving the problem and doesn’t get lost in translation? Especially if there are no charities for that issue?

This is exactly what GiveMeaning.com was built for. You can start your own project page at GiveMeaning. We will issue the tax-receipts to your donors, collect the money online and then find what we call an Implementing Organization who will agree to take the money you raise and spend it on the problem you’re trying to solve. They will then report by blog update, photos and sometimes video on exactly how that problem is being addressed with the money you raised.

How do you decide if an organization/group is for you? There are so many options! I want to volunteer in Africa in an orphanage but I don’t know who to go with.

My staff and I at GiveMeaning.com can help you with this. There is a friend of mine from Victoria named Logan Cochrane who runs a great small Orphanage in Ethiopia. You can learn more about it at kidshome.givemeaning.com No matter what your passion is, GiveMeaning.com can help connect you with an appropriate organization is for you.

Out of all of your experiences, what was the moment that touched you the most prominently?

There are so many moments but if I had to choose one, it was probably sitting in the Hotel Des Milles Collines (aka The Hotel Rwanda) listening to the birds chirp on a beautiful sunny morning the day after I watched the movie Hotel Rwanda in my hotel room. I had been traveling throughout Africa for two weeks, meeting people that we had helped through the GiveMeaning.com website. I wrote about the experience on my blog and said that I truly knew in that moment the power that each person has to change the World.

I have been trying to get more involved with local chapters of two organizations and I know I can bring some energy to these groups but there is a lack of interest. The events that ARE planned are generally in 18+ areas like pubs.
[Note: I summarized this email question.]

I think the first thing I would do is approach one or both of those organizations and offer to captain an under 18 specific group and ask for some support and resources by which to make this happen. If this doesn’t happen, I would gladly support you in creating an under 18 youth group for GiveMeaning.com.

Have my Children plz?!
That’s probably the one question where my answer is no.

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Days like this

So back in October, I blogged about a touching experience at a Cineplex Odeon cinema and featured a charity called Gordon House Youth S.E.A.R.Ch. that was responsible for getting the young man that I wrote about at Cineplex Odeon, his job.

Then, just before Christmas, I noticed that Gordon House Youth S.E.A.R.Ch. posted a proposal at GiveMeaning trying to raise money for 12 computers and wrote a follow-up piece on my blog directing readers to their proposal.

Gordon House needs the computers so that they can provide at-risk youth with a means of searching for jobs online, updating their resumes and providing basic IT skills development.

And yesterday, I got a call from a man named Sergio Vettese who works for Softchoice Corporation, a publicly-traded (TSX-SO) Toronto-based company, which describes themselves doing for IT what I'm trying to do at GiveMeaning. Here's what they say:

"A distinctive corporate culture developed at Softchoice, one that continues to promoted integrity, forward-thinking and individual responsibility as the basis for every customer interaction. To this day Softchoice Corporation’s focus on finding better ways to help customers buy and manage their IT resources remains the central motivating force behind everything we do.

Sergio has facilitated a donation of 12 Laptops to Gordon House S.E.A.R.C.H, thus fulfilling the proposal before it even got its 100 votes!

I'm most certainly going to turn this into a Podcast! It's stories like this that make all of us GiveMeaning giddy!

Thanks Softchoice Corporation!!!

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Monday, January 07, 2008

Kenyan Situation Reports

Below are correspondences we have received from members at GiveMeaning who have posted fundraising projects at GiveMeaning benefiting communities in Kenya. We've asked each of our project founders to update us with what they are experiencing or their colleagues are experiencing on the ground to try and give you a perspective that might not otherwise be able to be obtained.

Because of the tribal violence, I have decided to remove any specific geographical references and any names of people mentioned in these reports. I hope to be updating this page with more reports in the coming days. These comments are infused with their own perspectives and not that of GiveMeaning or my own.

This update was received by a Kenyan-born Project Founder currently living in the US on January 3rd.

Dear Tom,
I come from Kenya, where i was born and raised. The reason i started to mobilize my friends to begin our organization [name withheld] is because i feel passionate about the plight of Kenya's children. What is happening in the Kenya is obviously unprecedented. The people of Kenya through history have been peace loving; always going about their businesses peacefully and trying to create a prosperous future through education and change. It is for this reason that they came out in large numbers to vote and exercise their democratic right, boy, they were cheated.

So many people have been displaced. Everyone i speak to in Kenya including my sisters and mother is scared. I have heard a frightened voice of my older sister, [Name withheld], an otherwise strong and courageous woman, quiver and afraid. For the first time she's of the realization that her marriage to a luo, a man she has married a number of years ago could have been a "mistake" and perhaps it might just bring death sentence to her and her entire family (something that was never a problem before). To think that her entire family could be a target is hard to fathom. Her family has lived in [location withheld] with several people of different tribal descent. Suddenly, she's become sceptical, afraid and dubious about her neighbors and what they would think of her.

In my home are of [location and details withheld] this problem has exacerbated the usual poverty and pauperism that has existed for generations. Speaking to my Mom, she said, "I have nothing to eat son; i have been sleeping without food for days." For an old woman, suffering from acute high blood pressure and arthritis, it is impossible to imagine my take about the situation. I have the money to send to her for food, but how? She cannot collect it because the service canters are closed. No food can be transported into the village; yet the village has been hit by a long spell of drought that has left the inhabitants of over 30,000 people with no much to eat.

Here in [location withheld] my friend in the small town where i live, just called me to tell me that his brother in-law and wife's uncle (both Kikuyus) have been hacked to death by an angry mob in western Kenya. My friend's wife would love to go home and attend the funeral, but how do you travel into a "war zone?" We are thinking of organizing a "Harambee" (pulling together) {fund-raising} to assist [Name withheld] with funeral arrangements. It was just the other day on New year's eve that i was at [name withheld] house where i had been invited to celebrate the start of year. [name withheld] and i had talked at great length about Kenya's after this disputed election. Never did i ever imagine that tragedy would hit this close.

War is destructive. If the leadership would realize that greed, power, pride and arrogance won't feed or bring hope to the hopeless, perhaps reason would prevail.

Sent January 2nd from the Province of Nyanza

"Thank you very much for your communication. Things do not look good here. The Opposition leader who was rigged out of the presidential election comes from my home Province-Nyanza. So the violence is intense here.The current president comes from a tribe called the Kikuyu and together with members of a tribe called Abagusi, they are the only people who voted for him. Now all the rest of the Kenyan tribes have risen against them, Rwanda style with pangas and arson (burning of houses). In my home area we live side by side with the Abagusi. Their houses were burnt and scores killed. It is amazing how people who have lived side by side for decades suddenly turn against one another.

A curfew has been imposed in several parts of the province and everything is grinding to a halt. There is no food, no public transport, no water because people fear venturing out to fetch it. People are just indoors fearing the chaotic blood letting. towards the event. Kisumu is a Ghost town as i write this and nobody can eneter or leave it."

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Sunday, January 06, 2008

Twitter could become the next Digg.

I just Twittered this idea but here's the expansion to this thought. First the thought again: That Twitter should add the tinyURL function into Twitter. By doing this, it would be able to track which URL's are being Twittered and build the conversation around the URL's. Add my tagging idea I've discussed before and we're really cooking with gas.

And since we have more vested interest in our Followers than an anonymous commenter on Digg, the conversation stream around the story should be better quality.

Calling all programmers, the Twitter folk or someone already working on a really awesome Twitter-based social network, let me give you my brain on this. I just want Twitter to live up to its potential.

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Friday, January 04, 2008

Obama and the Power of Plenty

I call myself a "CanadiAmerican:" I was born and raised in Canada up until 15 when I moved to the US where I grew-up in the US until about 22. I went to the US as many immigrants do, to take part in the pursuit of the "American Dream", the one where you arrive with a nickle in your pocket and several years later, you're a millionaire.

I arrived as a 9th grade drop-out working for Apple Computer and while I didn't leave a millionaire, I became a consultant to Fortune 500 companies, charging thousands of dollars a day for my uneducated advice and telling CEO's and executives of major companies how to run their companies better and they were listening. I started companies, helped manage a half a billion of venture capital for some of the World's richest people and had all the material trappings of wealth.

I always say that "success requires a persistent misreading of the odds" (a quote from Tom Peters) for the odds were not that I had a good chance of having the success I did when I left home for California. But I was full of hope.

One of my favorite quotes is "“Man can live about forty days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air, but only for one second without hope”

I have always been interested in politics and I've watched many political speeches both of living Politicians and of those who have passed. I have watched grainy videos of Martin Luther King Jr, JFK, Bobby Kennedy, Roosevelt, (not so grainy) Trudeau and many other Politicians of a different time wondering if ever there would be a speech given by someone in my lifetime as powerful as theirs by a person as galvanizing and enchanting as them.

Instead, I have had to content myself with remarking how well a spin was made, an accusation or barb thrown, a defense or criticism made, a policy articulated. The closest I got was Jeb Bartlett created by Aaron Sorkin and Hugh Grant as Prime Minister of the U.K. I, like many people, had lost hope that a Politician would come around and actually inspire me. Until last night.

This speech moved me to tears.

His opponents' criticisms (e.g. his inexperience and naivety on foreign affairs) now seem to me part of his appeal. Of course, it shouldn't surprise you that a 9th grade drop-out who became a consultant to CEO's feels that sometimes, inexperience is to be coveted.

I often tell people the story of how the Polaroid camera was invented. Edwin Land was a Harvard-educated Scientist who tried to share his scientific experience while on vacation with his three-year old daughter. She wanted to see the pictures they were taking right away and he was trying to explain the process by which pictures are developed. Not having any of the inertia that comes from experience, she wasn't convinced that his explanation was the ONLY answer. Edwin was prompted to think outside the box and soon after, the Polaroid camera was invented.

With experience comes inertia. An acceptance of the "norm" the "status quo." A cold, calculating look at the odds as a means by which to determine whether to try.

"Hope is the power that gives us the power to step out and try.”

Last night, a Politician gave me and millions of other people Hope. His name is Barack Hussein Obama and I believe that he is now destined to become the 45th President of the United States of America.

Pragmatically, one can question whether it would be better for Obama to be elected President later after someone else who is more hardened tries to clean up the massive mess that's been made. As an investor, I was taught to never throw "good money after bad" but this assumes you are content to write the investment off. We're talking about a Country here, a Country that Obama reminded us last night has the potential to be great.

I don't think anyone wants to write off the United States of America. It's time to throw good after bad.

I've decided that I'm going to head down to South Carolina on January 26th.

I'm making the trip because I've never been as inspired by a Politician living in my lifetime as I have been by Barack Obama.

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Thursday, January 03, 2008

Before a biz model, Twitter needs some features

With all of this talk about Twitter and it's potential to become a billion dollar business and what business model it should take, I'm thinking a couple features need to be added before Twitter can hit and more importantly maintain 100m users.

As a preamble, let me say to my most tweety friends who might have their feathers ruffled that I of course LOVE all of your tweets but consider the following:

At present time, when following someone, I have to take everything they're going to Twitter. This includes kids puking, drunken bar posts and conversations between two people that should be Direct totally lacking any context but for some reason are posted publicly.

Feature #1: Start tagging posts. They could even be one letter tags (#t = tech, #p = politics, #r = random stuff etc etc.) I could then choose when following someone, which of these types of tags, I want to listen to.

Feature #2: Allow Twitter users to rate others' posts. Reply to each post with a 1, 2, 3 or do it binary style "hot" or "not". This would build a Twitter Hot list that would be something to shoot for. Currently we have quantity over quality, and that poses a problem long-term. After all, how many of us respect people for how often they talk?

Feature #3: Build a Blackberry App! I Twittered this a little while ago to no reply but there is such a DOS/Linux command-line thing going on that so isn't retro-cool. Give me a slick interface that makes it such that I don't have to remember all of the command-lines. Command-line interfaces relegate the service to a more techie-oriented crowd, not the masses.

Feature #4: Last but certainly not least, get to the root of your service outages, missing tweets etc because if you're going to start charging or even adding advertising, QoS is going to be increasingly expected of you.

Of course, should you choose to implement these features, I'm available for consulting for a few stock options ;)

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