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From New Orleans to Miyagi-ken, with love

Posted by mari on July 20th, 2011

Tipitina’s Foundation (yes, that Tipitina‘s) has a foundation dedicated to helping at-risk kids in New Orleans get access to musical instruments and education. They’ve been GlobalGiving members since November 2010. But in March of this year, they turned around and used the funds they had raised for their own program and chose to use them to purchase new instruments to send to programs in Japan working with youth in the tsunami affected areas to help them pick up their lives and instruments back up again.

Now this, I think, is philanthropy — love of man — at its best and brightest. The idea that people in New Orleans, who suffered as much as they did from Hurricane Katrina, would share the funds they had raised to buy their own instruments with the youth in Japan perfectly captures all of the things that make the act of giving so amazing. Perhaps better than anyone else, people in New Orleans knew the sense of loss and dislocation they had suffered. As Kim Katner, the Managing Director of Tipitina’s Foundation said, “I personally know that I would not have made it through the aftermath of Katrina if it wasn’t for music.” And they also didn’t think twice about whether the kids *needed* the donation of instruments. They just knew that getting the instruments replaced quickly would speed up a return to normalcy. And perhaps they knew that a connection to New Orleans would be particularly meaningful to these kids. As the music director of Bright Kids put it, “I did JAZZ and, through JAZZ, was able to receive the warm feeling of a lot of all of you. I thank Satchmo heartily.”

It’s a privilege getting to see these exchanges day in and day out, working at GlobalGiving.

 

Bittersweet Spring – an update on our Japan efforts

Posted by mari on April 15th, 2011

For us in DC, life is back to normal.  Spring is here and although I couldn’t quite make myself go view the cherry blossoms this year – associated as they are in my Japanese mind with celebration – it’s hard not to feel all revved up at the prospect of warmer weather, longer days, and days off.  And this year I feel keenly that it’s a luxury to feel this way.

Because for people in Japan, life is full of reminders that it’s not back to normal. Aftershocks continue, as you can see here in a map covering just the last week, and my mother tells me you just can’t get bottled water in Tokyo ever since the radiation scare that started 22 days ago. And people in the Tohoku area are mourning the 25,000+ people who were killed or are still missing, more likely than not at an evacuation center – for there are still more than 170,000 registered at the official centers. Then there are still others, official numbers unknown, who are squatting in buildings they were able to reach and take shelter in.

It’s required extraordinary efforts to keep a semblance of normalcy together in Japan. One of our project leaders has been just buying fuel, shipping it into Japan, and distributing it to people to power their kerosene stoves to stay warm. It’s not a long-term solution by any means, but it’s badly needed. To help with these efforts, and thanks to more than 30,000 donors and dozens of companies, GlobalGiving and GlobalGiving UK have disbursed more than $3 million to 14 organizations: Architecture for Humanity, Association of Medical Doctors of Asia (AMDA), Association for Aid and Relief (AAR), Civic Force, International Medical Corps, Japan Platform, Japanese Emergency NGOs (JEN), Lifeline Energy, Mercy Corps, Peace Winds, Save the Children, Shelter Box, Shine Humanity, and Telecom for Basic Human Needs (BHN).

But we’re also looking at the medium-term transition and a partial return to normal:

  • Civic Force has partnered with local carpenters to build bathhouses, making it possible for individuals who have gone weeks without bathing to wash;
  • JEN staff and volunteers are removing sludge from public buildings and homes;
  • Peace Winds and Mercy Corps have teamed up to train caregivers to help children through the trauma of disaster;
  • AMDA has organized movies and sports events and provided exercise equipment to alleviate boredom and restlessness in evacuation centers; and
  • The International Medical Corps has partnered with local organizations to provide telephone counseling and training in psychological first aid.

To support these ongoing relief and rebuilding projects you can head over to our Japan Earthquake and Tsunami landing page.

Others have begun to develop long-term plans for recovery. Architecture for Humanity is committed to the physical rebuilding of communities, while Telecom for Basic Human Needs has developed a plan for reestablishing radio infrastructure in collaboration with Japan Platform. You can see – and support – these specific projects on GlobalGiving.org and GlobalGiving.co.uk.

Over the next month or two, we’ll be channeling the funds that are still coming in from corporate matching campaigns, cause-marketing promotions, and individual donors. On our blog you can read more about how GlobalGiving’s corporate partners are contributing. And in the UK, GlobalGiving UK’s partnership with JustGiving continues to provide an easy way for individuals and corporations to fundraise for disaster relief projects. Ocado, the home delivery company, used JustGiving’s platform to raise £200,000 from staff and customers for Mercy Corps’ work via GlobalGiving UK.

For more real-time updates on our work, you can follow us on Twitter (@GlobalGiving) or “like” our Facebook Page. And updates from the field are all on our “Updates from Japan” page.

Many thanks to Adam Baker, whose photo graces this blog post (copyright Adam T Baker)

がんばれ、日本 「Hang in there, Japan]

Posted by mari on March 14th, 2011

Friday March 11th passed in something of a blur. I woke up, heard about the largest earthquake ever to hit Japan, and started speed dialing my family and friends. Earthquakes happen frequently in Japan, so every couple of years I end up calling, “Just to make sure.” But this time, I’d gotten an email in the middle of my night, immediately after the earthquake struck in Japan mid-afternoon, from a friend saying, “This might be it. If anything happens to me, please look out for my daughter.” But all circuits were busy. OK, try again later. From the quick snippets of news I saw, neither my family nor friends were anywhere near the epicenter. “Later” eventually got to be too late for me to be hassling people who may have been through a big scare and may have just gotten to sleep. So wait until the end of the day here, when it would be morning in Japan. Distract myself with work.

But working at GlobalGiving requires us to be on top of disasters, and much of the day we were scrambling like crazy to figure out what the scale of the damage was, where our project partners in Japan were, and how we could make sure to channel the outpouring of generosity that was already hitting our servers starting first thing in the morning. So I became glued to livestreamed TV from Japan. I couldn’t get away from it. Knowing all I do about how difficult it is for laypeople to help directly, it was difficult to resist the feeling that I needed to get on a plane back home. Maybe I could get through to my friends and family that way.

It’s inevitable when disasters happen that commentators point out that philanthropists might want to wait until after the immediate relief phase is over. But as I kept up my stream of emails into Japan, checking on existing organizations we work with, and looking for the right new organizations, I’ve been struck by how everyone I have been communicating with is so heartened to hear that someone wants to help, that someone out there cares enough from thousands of miles away to reach out.

GlobalGiving is working hard to identify the best local partners on the ground to receive these funds.  Already, our immediate disaster response partners are having an impact.  Save the Children is working to deliver psychosocial support aimed at children, establishing child-friendly spaces in affected communities, providing support to parents, teachers, and other key caregivers, and working alongside local communities to train volunteers in sounseling techniques to help children after this disaster.  International Medical Corps has already put together relief teams and supplies and have been in contact with partners in Japan in the first day of the disaster.  In the coming days we’ll continue to identify additional Japanese organizations providing relief following the earthquake and tsunami and will keep you updated by email about how the funds are used and the impact your donation is making.

I was glued to the livestream most of Sunday too. It was Monday morning in Japan and TV reporters were positioned at train stations to cover how people were getting back to work. But many stations unexpectedly were closed and people ended up waiting for taxis instead. Then, the litany of train lines that were not running came on–for close to 5 minutes. That spoke volumes. It only made me realize that I had an unspoken hope that life would start returning to normal–and it wasn’t going to. At least for now. The city of Tokyo is at a virtual standstill. Friends in the suburbs are wandering around looking for ATMs with cash and stores with food. Rolling blackouts are finally being implemented. Everyone–including people who weren’t directly affected–is going around in a daze.

And yes, I got through to everybody Friday evening. Everyone I know is safe. But to have thousands of people willing to help means more than I can say.

Hybrid Models for Non-Profits

Posted by mari on October 26th, 2010

Stephanie Strom’s article in the New York Times about hybrid organizations highlighted some of the challenges social entrepreneurs face as they innovate. Having experienced these challenges first-hand at GlobalGiving, we wanted to offer some additional thoughts about the trial and error process, and what it takes to keep iterating to Plan B.

We originally structured GlobalGiving as a hybrid organization because we believed that doing so could bring the discipline and capital of the for-profit world together with the mission focus of the non-profit world. As it turned out, after the tech bubble burst, it was easier to raise funds for the non profit, which became the dominant partner. Respected innovative funders like the Hewlett Foundation, Omidyar Network and Skoll Foundation provided up $7.6m of grants to GGF specifically for the purpose of investing in MFI. The founders contributed $1.4m as well. It was structured as a convertible note until a 3rd party could set a price–that happened at the end of 2008, and the result is that GGF owns 98% of MFI (and the founders have donated the proceeds from their shares back to GGF). At that point, we decided to consolidate all operations under the GlobalGiving nonprofit umbrella, explained here in detail.

As Ms. Strom notes, we believed so strongly (and still do!) in the power of connecting people, ideas, and resources that we were willing to put up our own money to get it started. Although our original business model is not our current business model, the bottom line is that it is working; GlobalGiving has now facilitated over $40 million to over 3,500 projects projects in more than 110 countries around the world. Thanks to the power of the internet, many of the community groups that list projects on GlobalGiving are able, for the first time, to reach out for ideas and support from around the world, not only their immediate neighbors. And we are doing this at a cost well below the cost of fundraising through typical mail, telephone, and other solicitation campaigns.

There are few silver bullets in any endeavor. Rarely does a single approach to any problem prove to be magic. We make progress in the world through trial and error and through incremental improvements–punctuated by an occasional breakthrough. The wonder of it is that so many of the people we know in this hybrid space have been willing to try different things, and keep trying others when they–and we–run into roadblocks. That’s why we are proud of what we and our colleagues in this field have accomplished over the past decade, and we look forward to even more progress in the decade ahead.

Dennis Whittle and Mari Kuraishi, co-founders.

Crossing the $30 million mark

Posted by mari on July 2nd, 2010

We passed $30 million in lifetime contributions to thousands of grassroots projects all over the world yesterday.

Most of us were so engrossed in our work that when we arranged for an impromptu gelato party, everyone looked surprised and happy, but a little sheepish about grabbing a cup and heading back to their desks.

And truth to tell, the milestone sort of crept up on us–we have annual, quarterly, and monthly goals and monitor them closely–but rarely step back to think about what $30 million really means.

$30 million over the last eight years translates to an average of $3.75 million a year.

That’s to say that if we were an endowed foundation following minimum guidelines on payouts, our endowment would be about $75 million. In reality, of course, our grantmaking has grown every year, and the $30 million actually doesn’t capture some of the other grantmaking that we carry out for some of the organizations that we work with.

And as we had a rushed debate–frozen yogurt? gelato? brownies and cookies?–with the ticker counting the donations coming in yesterday, I had a flashback to a day back in early 2001.

We had no name and no staff. We did have a clear idea about who we wanted to support and why, but only the fuzziest ideas about how we would persuade other people–funders, donors, technologists–to do that with us. We were with Barbara Gee, who, on the strength of one of our mentors, Randy Komisar, had flown out to Washington, D.C. to help us think this through.  On her dime.

We were also with Janine Firpo–another Good Samaritan who also was just helping us.

And we had rushed out to get something to eat–sandwiches and cookies–and gotten back to discover that the cookies were simply enormous. We joked about them, including the rush that had led to us getting an 8-inch cookie each.

“When you are big and successful, you can get these 8-inch cookies again as a reminder of what a rush you were in back then, to mark some milestone.”

Well, we are still feeling a rush, still making some decisions on the fly.  So I didn’t succeed in getting back to the bakery with the crazy cookies.

And although this isn’t as intuitive a milestone as “$30 million,” I actually got my personal milestone 12 days ago. Janine, who was the person who told us that the 8-inch cookies will one day be a talisman, told us 12 days ago as a user of GlobalGiving.org, that we were delivering real value.

We actually get a lot of people telling us these days. But Janine’s assessment was special, if only because she can remember what it was like nine years ago when it was just an idea on a piece of paper.

Happy 4th of July everybody!

Mari Kuraishi is the Co-Founder and President of GlobalGiving.

Rats for Dads

Posted by mari on June 17th, 2010

Today, New York Times columnist Nick Kristof ran an op-ed urging his readers to make meaningful gifts this Father’s Day.

“Wouldn’t most dads feel more honored by a donation to any of these organizations than by a donation to commercialism?,” he asked.

Many of the organizations he mentioned in his article are hosted on GlobalGiving, and we were, of course, thrilled and appreciative that he chose to highlight our partner organizations in this way.

To date, Kristof’s article has raised just under $30,000 from over 600 donors for just one of the projects he mentioned—the landmine detecting, mega-smart hero rats.

And the number goes up by the minute.

To us at GlobalGiving, this is yet another powerful reminder of how one person—or one idea—can make a hugely significant impact on a corner (or in Nick’s case, many corners) of the world.

I’m particularly appreciative to Nick given that this article falls on the day after his own father passed away.

Given what Nick has said about his father’s life, it’s no surprise that he would raise a son who would have such a broad, positive impact on the world. To all the great fathers out there, and the wonderful values they instill in their kids.

Mari Kuraishi is Co-Founder and President of GlobalGiving.

Stop the Madness, GlobalGiving Style

Posted by mari on July 22nd, 2008

book.jpgYesterday Bill Easterly, one of the first economists I got to know and admired immensely at the World Bank working on Russia, gave a talk at the Center for Global Development about his new book, Reinventing Aid.

Bill has since become a valued friend, and it’s with both admiration and much gratitude that Dennis and I have contributed a chapter to this book. It’s one of the benefits of being part of an edited volume–you can admire the book because of all the other amazing thinkers who contributed to the volume, whose reflected glory benefits your own work, “judged by the company you keep, etc.” More on their chapters later.

I’m also pleased to blog about the book because it gives me an excuse to highlight a little known obsession about Robert Dubois and Alison McQuade–some of the youngest and most dynamic staff members we have here at GlobalGiving. You see, to paraphrase Bill, Reinventing Aid is a collection of some of the most interesting thinking around how to “STOP THE MADNESS”–that is, stop doing what we know doesn’t work, and start trying something else.

And for some reason that I can’t fathom–besides the fact that this is one of the most insufferable music videos I’ve ever seen–“STOP THE MADNESS” is Robert and Alison’s favorite video. They love to play it at the end of a long hard day of work and leave us all at a loss as to what draws them to a video that was made just about the time they were born. You can be just as puzzled too–here it is:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z5zJvX3pIY4&feature=email[/youtube]

Working within the box and out of the box

Posted by mari on June 17th, 2008

Courtesy of NPRDennis has just blogged about Tim Kane’s observation when he first visited Japan in the 1980s-where he encountered a humbly equipped man sweeping the tarmac at Narita airport as if his life depended on it. Kane linked it to the overwhelming ratio of perspiration v. genius that adds up to excellence.

There’s something else there though. It’s symptomatic of how intensely Japanese individuals and organizations have come to focus on discovering value within their constraints. Toyota’s continuous reform (kaizen) program is justly famous for the way they look at change as a continuous stream, but a lot less is said about the implicit mindset that allows for what feeds that continuous stream. It’s the idea of working your framework so intensely and carefully and allowing the individual changes combine and “re” form the whole until you’ve eventually got a different box. But you didn’t start out insisting on getting out the box. In fact, it comes from a culturally mandated willingness to focus intensely on where you are and what you have. (The flip side of course, is that it can drive you mad to be so constrained, but more on that another time.)

What I was saying about the incredible Tokyo discipline to obey what can seem like a pettifogging rule of standing on the left is, I’m convinced, part of the same phenomenon-everyone is intent on getting the most out of every frigging commuting minute. It just wouldn’t happen that way otherwise. Same reason Japanese geeks are the most intense geeks anywhere. Or why Japanese classical concertgoers bring sheet music to performances. And why I am currently obsessed with us doing a better job facilitating the exchange when our project leaders can convey to donors the sense of incredible value and adventure that every project on our site represents. Here’s just a hint of what donors say when when the value gets uncovered. (It’s also why I try to wash and reuse our ziploc bags. It just seems un-Japanese not to.)

Only connect: Mother’s Farm

Posted by mari on May 11th, 2008

Sometimes a donor comment on a project will make me smile. More rarely, a donor comment makes me want to read it out loud to anyone who will listen. And perhaps even more infrequently, a donor comment will make me come back to my dormant blog and restart the blogging engine. This is one such comment, on, appropriately enough, a project called Mother’s Farm in Sudan–here’s an excerpt:

I am glad that the ladies started with sorghum this year as conditons are very condusive to sorghum harvest … I am really proud of the way Ms. Fathima has been able to do the work necessary. Please continue this work to enable women to do better and educate them as well in agricultural practices. I for one am willing to help.

For more

E.M. Forster was right. Only connect.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Becoming a locavore

Posted by mari on March 19th, 2008

Pan dulceAs some of you know already, I looove food. I love to eat it, to cook it, and will go to great lengths to experience and learn more about it whenever I can. And lately I’ve been quite taken with the idea of becoming a locavore, of eating foods that are grown within a certain radius from where you live. It means you’re more likely to know who and how it was grown, and in theory you are reducing your carbon footprint by lowering transportation costs. I say in theory because aI recently found out in a recent excellent piece in the New Yorker, calculating carbon footprints are not so easy, and eating a lamb chop originating in New Zealand in London is actually more ecologically sound than eating a lamb chop bred and butchered in the English countryside.

So as I was musing on the aesthetic elegance and ecological complexity of being a locavore, I came across a very different slant on being a locavore as I visited this amazing social enterprise on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, courtesy of our good friends at HelpArgentina. The social enterprise is called La Juanita, and it’s a self-organized coop engaged in a number of revenue generating ventures, including a well-known bakery. Their most recent success has been to build a partnership with a prize-winning chef, and turning out baked goods that could be sold at a premium to companies and individuals in the wealthier parts of Buenos Aires. The thing that struck me though, was that the price they were quoting for their pan dulce was almost 3x the regular price of pan dulce—and they were charging that price 1) because it was for a holiday occasion, and the market could bear that cost, especially when consumers factored in the idea that their pan dulce purchase was in part a donation; 2) the pan dulce was that good; and 3) they needed to charge that price because this social enterprise needs to cross subsidize the sale of that same pan dulce to the local community as below market prices.

The last point is where I started muttering, “But, but … that’s crazy. They should absolutely charge what the market can bear, but they should charge a price that is sustainable and delivers a long-term stream of income that allows La Juanita to establish a clear brand in people’s minds, and they should sell all their pan dulce to their high-paying customers, not keep any of it back to sell at subsidized prices to their local community.” But before I could say this, their chief baker intervened. He said that often there are those that produce, and those that consume, and usually the twain don’t meet. And it’s really important for the impoverished community around La Juanita to have access to the top-quality baked goods that they produce so that they too can experience what high quality is.

Morality aside, as a cook and a foodie, I had to agree. Because, you see, cooking is experiential. And you can’t learn how to make great pan dulce unless you know what great pan dulce is, can visualize it, and smell it and taste it. And a lot of other things besides cooking are experiential as well. And perhaps taking a strict business or economics view glosses over that experiential gap that can develop when one community produces and the other consumes. Perhaps being a locavore isn’t a short-term logical choice, but at La Juanita, it might lead to some kid there becoming a committed foodie, or the new Iron Chef from Argentina.