The Best Things I Read in 2015

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‘Tis the season for being overwhelmed with “best of” lists. Last year, I added to the list of lists with one of my own, of the readings that transformed my year.

Some of best things I read in 2015 covered life and how we live, tell, and write about it. A few covered the things we don’t often think about, and the rest filled the potpourri of my various interests. I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as I have.

A note on how I read: I swear by Pocket for saving, categorizing, reading, and sharing everything that doesn’t come in book form. 

Americanah

Holy Writ (Confessions of a Comma Queen)

Ask Polly: I’m 25 and My Life Has Been Great, So Why Don’t I Have a Passion? 

Life’s Stories

The Secret Life of Passwords  (more…)

Innovation is not Sexy

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Innovation is hard work–much harder than the headlines will admit, and much more complicated than the colored post-its let on. While researching government innovation, I’ve had the opportunity to interview several leaders of innovation teams in cities across the country–and the conclusion from all their stories is clear: innovation is not sexy work. 

Innovation is at its best when it’s supported by data, research, and lots of outputs. It doesn’t happen overnight–it takes patience. While many exciting new start-ups disappoint, the companies and cities doing real innovation that leave us pleased as consumers and citizens are putting in the time and effort to build lasting innovations, sometimes in unnoticeable incremental changes. Sometimes the output is a great new app; other times, it’s changes to a boring process that makes a big difference.   

That’s not to say that innovation is not also exhilarating. But I’d argue that the best innovation isn’t sexy–it’s not a fun and quick creative brainstorming session followed by a perfect product that solves a problem. (more…)

The Leadership Growth Experience: A New Way to Think About Volunteering Abroad

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Originally posted on the Huffington Post, with my co-author and dear friend, Eugenia Lee.

Voluntourism is when individuals take trips abroad for the purpose of “seeing how others live” and “giving back.” The problem is, these trips can create simplistic, self-serving narratives. Voluntourism can be harmful to local communities, while primarily benefiting the voluntourists — maybe even providing them with the perfectprofile picture. On the other hand, good intentions exist, and exposure to alternate realities can be valuable. The question is, how do we create a better volunteer model?

We need a new framework for volunteering abroad that is empathy-driven rather than sympathy-driven: the Leadership Growth Experience (LGE). Voluntourism falls on the sympathy-driven end of a spectrum, implying pity and exoticism of foreign communities. LGE is on the empathy-driven end of the spectrum, focusing on dignity and understanding. During an LGE, volunteers seek to engage with and learn from the community they are interacting with. The focus is on fostering empathy, humility, mutual multi-cultural understanding, and experience working with constrained resources.  (more…)

We Can Design the Future of Wearables for Social Good

“The best way to predict the future is to design it.” – Buckminster Fuller

Image: keoni101/Flickr

There is a future for wearable technology beyond the Apple Watch, and it can be for social good. On March 31, 2015, nearly 40 participants came together for Technology Salon New York City where we discussed the future of wearables in international development.

Here are my two summaries of the thought-provoking discussion: 

We Can Design the Future of Wearables for Social Good, Huffington Post

Development, data, and ethical design for our wearable futures, Wait…What? [co-author with Linda Raftree]

As we wrote, “The rapid evolution of technology urges us to think about how technology affects our relationships with our body, family, community, and society. What do we want those relationships to look like in the future? We have an opportunity, as consumers, makers and planners of wearables for the international context to view ourselves as stakeholders in building the future opportunities of this space. Wearables today are where the Internet was during its first five mainstream years. Now is the perfect time to put our stake in the ground and create the future we wish to exist in.”

Proudly Sharing Failures Next to Successes

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On a recent trip to Morocco, we stopped by the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakesh. The mosque stands next to ruins of its previous iteration. The mosque was originally built with a slight mistake in the orientation for prayer. The decision was made to rebuild the new mosque, identical to the original but with the correct orientation, right next to the original, which has since deteriorated.

What I love about this story is that nobody tried to hide the mistake. Instead, the mistake is proudly displayed next to the success. It reminded me of the Celebrating Failure series I worked on in India, which asked social entrepreneurs to share their lessons from failure.

What if start-ups, businesses, individuals, shared their failures right next to their successes? The logo that wasn’t chosen next to the one everyone knows. The original app template that tested horribly with users accessible via the new one everyone loves. The original business plan that never worked shared along with the current successful one. The wrong answers on my economics homework compared side-by-side with the right answers. Why do we hide our failures, when we and others can learn from them? In the case of the mosque in Marrakesh, it remains a memorable visual lesson for all of us.

Two Killer Methods To Tell a Social Impact Story

Originally posted on CauseVox

The social impact story you tell in your CauseVox crowdfunding video is critical–both for success in raising the most funds, but also in the message you are sending about your cause.

An unfortunate trend in social impact storytelling is something known as “poverty porn.” You know it when you see it–the sad music, dehumanizing photos, simplification of issues, and an infomercial-style plea to “make a difference.” And you’ve seen it in campaigns like KONY 2012.

The problem with social impact storytelling, especially when it comes to photos and videos, is that even if your cause will really make a positive change, the way you tell your story impacts the perception of your organization, and it could portray the people you’re working with as victims, or your work as ill-fitting for the cause.

Luckily, below are two great examples of videos and tactics to tell your social impact story in a way that keeps human dignity and the integrity of your work and cause intact. (more…)

Journal Publication on Empathy in International Security

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The latest issue of The Journal of Culture, Language and International Security includes an article by me on Cultivating Empathy and Internal Awareness for International Security Actors. As Robert Jervis said, “The ability to see the world and oneself as others do is never easy and failures of empathy explain a number of foreign policy disasters.”

Check out the issue here (PDF) and learn more about the Journal and Institute for the Study of Culture and Language here.