Posts Tagged ‘Dennis Whittle’

 

celebrating 10 lessons learned over 10 years – committed to ‘WOW’

Posted by ntavangar on March 15th, 2012

Ten years ago, Co-Founders Mari Kuraishi and Dennis Whittle launched GlobalGiving. In honor of these past ten years and in the spirit of one of our guiding core values, ‘Listen. Act. Learn. Repeat,’ we have launched a monthly blog series guest-written by former and current staff members. Each will speak candidly about their experience at GlobalGiving and offer up something that they have learned. Mari wrote our inaugural blog post in February, and this month, former ‘GlobalGiver’ Eli Stefanski talks about her important learning while working at GlobalGiving…

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My key learning from working at GlobalGiving?

Call everyone back within 24 hours.

Maybe you were expecting something more exciting? Something about the democratization of philanthropy? Something about the birth and evolution of social capital markets? For sure, I learned a lot about those things. But, first, and most importantly, I learned to call everyone back within 24 hours. Which, of course, isn’t about a communications policy, it’s about empathy.

It was a Dennis lesson, a ‘Dennis thing.’ I learned fast to pay attention to it. It was not part of the culture I had been raised in. It was not the culture that Dennis and Mari had been raised in either. And, well, that is sort of the point.

Elizabeth "Eli" Stefanski, former Director of Operations at GlobalGiving

For a few short months, this is how it would work:

As GlobalGiving’s first Director of Operations (and first Chief Program Officer) I was busy: I was busy raising capital; I was busy developing the richest and most diverse portfolio of projects; and I was busy trying to figure out how to fund and vet 400+ projects without violating the Patriot Act (and therein getting Mari and I arrested). I was so busy, that I occasionally missed an email or phone call from the social entrepreneur that Dennis had met on a plane on the way home from somewhere – a social entrepreneur who had shared his passion and aspirations with Dennis, a social entrepreneur who Dennis promised I could help.

In reality, I didn’t really ‘miss’ the call. The truth is, I didn’t really know how to deal with that one lone social entrepreneur. If I had vetted him, I would have had to vet all of them. Systems needed to be built – systems that previously didn’t always accommodate the outlier. The lone entrepreneur didn’t ‘fit’ my model. And so, from time to time, I avoided the call.

I would pay the price for that, however. The entrepreneur would invariably send Dennis a “thanks, but I guess you can’t help me” email, Dennis would forward it to me and hold me accountable, and well, I would feel like a mountain of manure. Not only because I knew I was in the wrong, but also because GlobalGiving was better than that. We knew how hard it was to be a social entrepreneur. We knew how hard it was to build something new, something transformative that hadn’t been done before. We knew how hard it was to build believers, attract users, convince investors, and ignore the naysayers. And day after day, we got up and kept with it – because we knew in our heart of hearts that we were building something important.

So the lesson about calling everyone back within 24 hours wasn’t about anything other than empathy, and building an empathetic organization that puts the beneficiary at the center of the design process – building systems around their needs.

This is why we:

  • Built a feedback system that gave project leaders real time feedback about what was working and what was not.
  • Designed evaluation tools that, instead of requiring longitudinal studies, relied on storytelling – the tool our entrepreneurs have in spades.
  • Created open mechanisms allowing all social entrepreneurs to participate on our platform, because we knew first hand how inaccessible the modern funding streams were.
  • Bankrolled relief efforts after the 2005 tsunami in Thailand without requiring proposals, because we knew social entrepreneurs were responding with or without the funds (and this is why we’ve responded many times since).

…And we learned to return phone calls within 24 hours – even when we couldn’t directly help.

It’s a lesson that took me a short time to learn at GlobalGiving – but it is the lesson that makes GlobalGiving great, and it is probably the most important lesson that any individual or organization can learn in a lifetime.

-Eli Stefanski

 

Farewell (But I’m not going far)

Posted by dennis on January 4th, 2011

After ten fabulous years at GlobalGiving, I fully turned over the reins to my co-founder, Mari Kuraishi, at the end of December.  This completes a transition that we began in 2008.

Although the decision to step down was hard, I feel that now is the right time.  We have proven the concept, established a world-class online platform, and made a big impact. When we started ten years ago, the idea of an open-access approach to aid and philanthropy seemed radical; it is now becoming the new norm.

To date, we have helped direct over $47 million to 3,000 organizations in 110 countries.  This funding has come from nearly 140,000 individual donors as well as from many of the world’s most innovative companies, along with their employees and customers.  We have been featured in over forty books and countless magazine articles, radio and TV pieces, and online media. Our success has spurred similar initiatives in other sectors and countries, and we now partner with some of these organizations to push the whole sector ahead.

Our accomplishments and momentum are the product of an amazing team here at GlobalGiving.  Our people are stellar, but more importantly they all work together like a finely oiled machine.  Our project team, donor team, business development team, tech team, finance team, and operations team work seamlessly. They can move new ideas, opportunities, and features from concept to execution and evaluation faster than any organization I have ever worked with.  I really am in awe of the people I have had the privilege to work with at GlobalGiving.

In late 2000, Mari and I left the World Bank to pursue a simple idea: that everyone in the world with an idea for improving their world should be able to have their voice heard.  We believed that any person, company, or organization should be able to support the ideas directly.  Not everyone would succeed, of course, but everyone would have an opportunity.  We had spent our previous careers in aid agencies that granted access to ideas and funding to only a select few.  We thought the time had come for   an open-access market connecting ideas with funding that provided a level playing field for all bona fide participants.

We also felt that with open access should come increased transparency and accountability – and an emphasis on continuous improvement. Our idea was that groups seeking funding should have their proposals displayed publicly, should be willing to answer questions from potential supporters, and should provide frequent updates on the site so that donors could see the impact of their support.  We felt that beneficiaries and others should be able to post reviews and comments on the site for everyone to see. We felt that organizations that learn and adapt should be encouraged and rewarded.  We felt that donors should be able to talk to each other about which projects and organizations they supported, and why.

Though we have not yet achieved everything we set out to do, the bottom line is this: For the first time in history, any group pursuing good in the world can now have its voice heard.  And donors of all sizes are empowered to make a tangible contribution to good in the world by connecting to those groups.  I could not be more proud of that.

Even as I turn over all day-to-day responsibility to Mari, I will remain very active in GlobalGiving.  I will be out there raising awareness, raising money, and advancing the mission.  I believe that over the last ten years we have laid the foundation for our next act, in which GlobalGiving’s impact will be ten times greater.  I intend to help make that happen.

In the first half of 2011, I plan to devote more time to writing and speaking on the general concepts behind GlobalGiving, which are applicable in many other sectors and endeavors.  During that time I will do some consulting for organizations that are looking to break down barriers so that they can unleash the potential of their own people, constituents, and customers.

Finally, I want to thank you for your encouragement and support over the years.  We could not have done it without you, and I am profoundly grateful for what you have done, in ways both big and small.

The democratization of aid.

Posted by dennis on July 29th, 2010

This piece on Mari and the inspiration for GlobalGiving is great. It explains accurately and concisely the rationale Mari and I had when contemplating leaving the World Bank to start GlobalGiving.

The article explains, “But Kuraishi had spent years working to change the world with a top-down approach and saw its shortcomings as clearly as its strengths. The idea of top-down is that if you can effect change in governments and economies, then you’ll naturally reduce poverty and improve lives. And while that approach works, Kuraishi decided there was also room for a bottom-up approach—especially in countries with weak or corrupt governments. ”

Indeed, when we left, that was the idea–an alternative model that would grant access to funding and markets to people and communities that were otherwise left out, whether because their government was too corrupt or they weren’t established enough to acquire high-level grants with big institutions like the World Bank or USAID.

That was and is our vision. But, as the article documents, our vision is also expanding with our success.

Tara Swords writes in the article, “Eight years later, the organization has raised US$29 million for grassroots charity projects in more than 100 countries. Perhaps Kuraishi’s former World Bank colleagues should reconsider.”

I won’t lie. I smile every time I wrap my mind around the extent of our growth and success (2,800 projects now funded, in fact). And you might wonder what thoughts cross my mind when I read thoughts like “Perhaps Kuraishi’s former World Bank colleagues should reconsider.”

What runs through my mind is hope.

Because our success indicates that this model is working, and will continue to work.

But what makes me even more hopeful is that as I realize the effectiveness, potential, and power of our model–now tested for eight years–I’m increasingly aware of the possibility that GlobalGiving will not only serve as an add-on to traditional aid structures, but actually can serve as a model on which to base their work.

My hope is grounded in reality.

The World Bank’s Urgent Evoke project, for example, is a brilliant concept that puts development entrepreneurship into the hands of, well, anyone.  And next month, they’ll be working with us to launch the funding component where the best, brightest ideas will have a shot at the GlobalGiving marketplace.

Graphic from the World Bank Urgent Evoke game

But the impetus and the seed money for this huge undertaking came from the World Bank.

This initiative is new, innovative, and smart. Not your standard World Bank funding fodder. I commend them for this type of open-access initiative.

I also admire their documentation of best practices and lessons learned, including what hasn’t worked. That’s brave and serves as powerful learning for the entire development community–exactly how it should work.

There are other hopeful signs out there of a shift in aid–that’s it’s moving, albeit slowly, to recognize that the true potential for change lies within the people and communities who are affected by the world’s problems, and not necessarily the people who write the most effective grant proposals.

So, when I hear others comment on our success, I’m hopeful. We no longer want to just be the guys who left the World Bank. We want to be part of a larger community of people dedicated to the democratization of the aid process. And it’s happening!

Dennis Whittle is Co-Founder and CEO of GlobalGiving.

It’s important to arm Nigerian girls, especially when the other guys won’t.

Posted by dennis on July 15th, 2010

It’s been obvious to me for a long time that the way to fuel sustainable, positive change in the world is to find, nurture, and fund local, grassroots solutions, like arming Nigerian girls…with the weapon of education.

So it’s always pleasantly surprising when I come across people who aren’t necessarily as steeped in the wonkiness of foreign aid and development as I am who completely get this intuitively.

Like Olivia Wilde, an actress who is currently on House. While I like the show, she really got my attention when she featured a GlobalGiving project on her blog.

Better yet, she explained why, writing, “Here’s the skinny: Small, grassroots organizations that focus on specific projects operated by the local community are often more effective and accountable than gargantuan, broad based, NGOs.”

Nice, Olivia.  It took you far less time than it took me to figure that out.

And now, I can only hope that with this kind of enthusiasm for the power of locally inspired projects and solutions ebbing up from all over–from Hollywood actresses to Alanna Shaikh–that eventually our major foreign aid institutions will follow suit and find ways to funnel more funding directly to them, as quickly as possible, and to allow the marketplace–not program officers or aid wonks–to decide what ideas should surface and which should sink.

So that instead of writing funding proposals and focusing on political relationships and attending meetings, the people with the great ideas can focus on doing what they do best: arming Nigerian girls with education and the like.

As Olivia astutely points out, that’s where the real effectiveness and accountability lie.

Dennis Whittle is Co-Founder and CEO of GlobalGiving.

Goodbye and Good Luck, Dennis & Mari

Posted by Donna Callejon on April 1st, 2008

Imagine our surprise this morning when, fresh off the plane from the Skoll Oxford Centre’s conference in the UK, our founders gathered the team here at GlobalGiving and let us know that they had made a decision to return to the World Bank, where they will be leading two separate, but related new departments. Dennis will be taking on the role of Director of the Strategic Longitude Office (“SLO”) and Mari will be VIce President of the Semi-Technical Evaluation And Dissemination Institute (“STEADI”)

After pouring seven years of blood, sweat and tears into solidifying GlobalGiving as a viable and successful online marketplace, Mari told us, ” The work of social entrepreneurship is hard. It’s time for the younger members of the team to take up the mantle and figure it out. And the opportunity to return to the structured, top-down, environment of the Bank was one we couldn’t pass up.” Dennis was overheard whispering, “I can’t wait to get a secretary again…enough of the Best Western Inn and doing my own expense accounts.”

globalgiving_md_5.jpgA World Bank press release quoted Dennis as saying, “Doing something innovative and in the field of disruptive innovation is highly overrated. It turns out that the crowds aren’t quite as wise as we thought. Mari and I are looking forward to being back in an environment where the rules are clear and the work is predictable. The future for us is SLO and STEADI.”

Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, (fools).