Wednesday, November 02, 2011

What Story Would Be Written About You?

The man is slumped in his chair and he looks dead. On a crowded street corner, people and cars fly by, unfazed by the very real possibility that his man slumped in his wheelchair isn’t just high or drunk, but may very well be dead.

I know he’s not dead because when I first got to this coffee shop, I came upon another man checking on him and indeed the man was roused awake. But time and again, I have watched as the masses pass by. Worse yet, a number of people walk by, turn around and stare, but then decide to move on. But hope abounds, because I have watched time and again how when one person stops and tries to engage the man and make sure he is alive, several others stop, and ask what they can do to help.  There is discomfort, uncertainty, and confusion, but above all else there is a certain level of compassion and shared responsibility. And so from a privileged place I watch the best and worst of humanity struggle to deal with a problem that goes beyond one man in a wheelchair.

I must confess of all the social issues I care about, homelessness is one of the most vexing. It’s hard to find the kind of "light at the end of the tunnel" hope you encounter in something like education. No, with the homeless, the weight of the charity we offer indeed weighs heavily upon our shoulders as we are asked to work on a cause and with people where the hope we want to believe in seems to have faded long ago. 

We’re a results oriented culture, but I really believe sometimes we're tasked to just show up and acknowledge in the other the shared humanity and dignity they themselves might not believe they possess. Our task, however daunting it may be, is to somehow make the socially irrelevant realize how relevant they really are.

As I was finishing this post, a man leaving Starbucks approached the homeless man. After he saw he wasn’t dead though, he did something different. He stayed, and listened patiently for about 5 minutes as the man spoke to him. And the man just listened. Then he smiled, handed him a cigarette, split his breakfast sandwich in half, and then got behind the wheelchair, sharing a laugh with the man as he helped, literally and figuratively, move the man a little closer to where he probably really wants to be. He never noticed me, or anyone else whose eyes were fixated on the touching scene unfolding on a gritty and busy street corner. He did what was right most likely because his heart told him to do as much.

Some would say the odds are against us in this world. Now 7 billion people strong, there’s simply too many people, too many problems, to pay each one the proper attention deserved. Well, perhaps it’s true, but I’ll be damned if I don’t count myself among those who still try anyhow. How about you? What story is someone writing about you when you least suspect it?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Short Working Boys Center Documentary and Thoughts on Post Graduate Service

Google Alerts is perhaps one of the greatest things out there yet. Have a topic you care to follow closely? A Google Alert helps you monitor the internet for the latest content about that particular topic. Anymore, it's a must. You can use it to keep track of news about your company or about an organization you hope to one day be a part of. It's also a great way to monitor what sort of content is being released out there about yourself. That's right, set a Google Alert up to track anything that comes up with your name to help manage your personal brand.

One of my Google Alerts is for The Working Boys Center- the organization I volunteered with (and fell in love with) for a year in Quito, Ecuador. One of my alerts for the WBC this morning was a great link that really had me reflecting on the value and merits of doing some sort of volunteer work for an extended period of time right after college. A number of college seniors are reflecting on what's next for them, and for many, post grad service is possible in the cards. Reflecting on my own experience, I continue to see the benefits of my time in South America in both my personal and professional life.

So all this is to say, if you're contemplating a year (or two) of service after college, or really at any point in your career, I'm working on a post to really help break things down a bit. Until then, enjoy the video of one tiny place on the map that provides incredible opportunities for program participants and volunteers alike! If you know of the center, the video might take on even more special meaning. For example, the student speaking at 5:17 in the video was one of my students his first year at the Center. It's amazing to see how much he has grown up!

If you have any thoughts about post graduate volunteerism, let me know as I'll be putting together a future post.

Working Boys Center Documentary // Quito, Ecuador from Anthony Sylvester on Vimeo.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Facebook Timeline and the Implications for Millennials

Facebook Timeline preview from

Welcome to Timeline.  Mark Zuckerberg, at the f8 Developer conference, said “We’re more than what we did recently” as he went on to announce timeline profile pages.

If you want the idea in under 2 minutes, watch the official Facebook video.  Facebook has created what appears to be a beautiful mosaic that really takes a profile and focuses it into three areas: applications, self expression, and a users story. And they do this, all on one page. The idea, according to Zuckerberg was to more or less move from telling the story of your life in the last 15 minutes and actually captures the whole of your life. Audacious? Yes. Intriguing? Most certainly.

On one hand are the obvious privacy concerns. Many say privacy is dead and we should get over it, but I think I’m of a unique age group that has comfortably lived adult lives pre-facebook and after Facebook burst onto the scene. Privacy, in several aspects, still means something to us even if at times it’s difficult to see just how.

On the other hand, I am fascinated by the potential this has for changing the way we interact through social media. Whether privacy is dead or not I hope is a topic of debate for sometime to come, but there is no denying social media, in one form or another, is here to stay.

So what should tech savy (and career savy) millennials do in response to this roll out by Facebook?

Think about your biography
Because more or less, that's what this is. A biography.  No one likes a story where at the end, you knew there was so much more to it. If you decide to utilize this feature, go all in. Make it interesting. Make it uniquely you so that when friends go to your page, they do feel as though they've entered your virtual home. That doesn’t mean make stuff up, but work with what you’ve got- photos, interests, and everything else to really be strategic about how you present yourself in the world of social media.

About those friends of yours...
They're really the only people who should be able to see what you're up to Facebook. It never ceases to amaze me how many people don’t have some sort of privacy settings on their Facebook profile. In this day and age, there’s no excuse. Protect your profile.

Clean up your act 
There’s the old “don’t have anything on your profile you wouldn’t want your mom to see. Go a step further and think of your  (future) son or daughter.  An even easier rule: if you have to pause to think about whether or not something should stay a part of your profile, it’s time to take it down.

Talk to your friends
If there’s photos floating out there, tagged or not, that you feel could cause you embarrassment, talk to your friends and see if they’ll take them down.  Have one friend always posting things you rather not be a part of your Facebook story- it’s time to have that conversation or cut off their posting privileges.

Face to face is never bad
I don’t know which is more awkward, grandparents on Facebook or teens who don’t know how to interact in person. As we grow more accustomed to communication through social media, the true value of your abilities to connect with people face to face increases. Platforms like Facebook can and should more fully enable our online conversations to serve as an impetus for more meaningful interactions offline. As we communicate more and more over status updates and texts, your ability to communicate in more traditional formats will help you stand out.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Framing the Story: Spike Lee Remembers 9/11 and Martin Luther King Jr.

How do you remember 9/11? What was your personal story of that day? What are some of the stories that still resonate with you?

The LA Times had an article a few weeks ago that really captured the essence of good storytelling.

Day of terror in New York: Pages from a reporter's 9/11 journal is a series of reflections by Los Angeles Times writer Geraldine Baum on the journal entries she scrawled in her journal on that day.

As I was reading the paper a few weeks ago, I came across this line and felt my heart in my throat as though experiencing the moment myself:

"In the months after Sept. 11, Walter was preoccupied with trying to find who led him and his co-workers to a stairwell, saving all their lives. Finally, he was able to identify "our hero" — Pablo Ortiz, a Port Authority employee who had died helping others. A photograph of Ortiz's family hangs on Walter's office wall."

But also noteworthy is what is unfolding in terms of how companies are remembering 9/11 via their commercials today. Sitting here watching football on the first Sunday of the NFL, I’ve been more intrigued with the commercials taking place between snaps than the game itself.

I wrote a few weeks back about a Chevrolet commercial for the new Martin Luther King Jr. memorial put together by Spike Lee. The result, as you can see below, was powerful. And he’s at it again. I’ve seen this new State Farm commercial he's directed now 4-5 times today and it moves me each time. In  short, a group of school children sing Empire State of Mind while traveling through parts of New York, ending up at a local fire station to serenade a group of fire fighters.

I don’t know if State Farm will sell any more home or auto insurance based off this ad. I don’t really care about their motivation for making the spot. It’s a fitting tribute to the men and women who lost their lives. It says something about the resilience of New York, of America, really of humanity to never forget but carry on living.

Watch the spots below. I hope like me, you’ll be happy that two powerful spots like these are reaching a larger audience, and framing the story of two important events in a way any of us who believe in the power of storytelling are happy to see. If you like the version of the song, you can purchase it on Itunes and State Farm says that all proceeds will go to a national firefighters fund.

Chevrolet MLK Commercial

State Farm Empire State of Mind

Interviews and Extras in their own words (on State Farm Youtube site)

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Moving Beyond Generation Limbo, the Lost Generation, etc...

“What it’s like for 20-somethings to go looking for meaningful work- and not find it.” Welcome to the Lost Generation. The other day The New York Times came up for another name for us: Generation Limbo.

So what’s a well-educated 20-something to do? About 14 percent of people who graduated between 2006 and 2010 are unemployed. A greater chunk work in dead-end jobs that pay little more than the rent- if even that. Indeed living at home with mom and dad have less to do with laziness and everything to do with graduating college, prepared for a world that isn’t yet prepared for you.

But the real danger goes beyond the obvious financial woes and dilemmas. Long term unemployment or lack of meaningful employment can give rise to a way of thinking that internalizes the problem as less to do with an economic crisis and more to do with personal shortcomings.

So what can be done in times like these to avoid both the financial and emotional toll caused by lack of meaningful employment?

Consider moving.

Maybe it’s time for a scenery change, and nothing says employment with that change of scenery like Minneapolis, Houston, or Washington D.C. according to Forbes Magazine’s “America’s Best Cities for YoungProfessionals.” Good Magazine just released their own guide of best cities forthe young and broke, with cities like Austin and Philly making the list.  

Keep a schedule

Going to bed late, waking up late, and passing 72 hours in your pajamas is enticing for all of about 72 hours. After that, you’ll need something to stay positive. Set a schedule. Work out regularly. Schedule time for job searching and cover letter writing. Pencil in informational interviews, and be deliberate in scheduling time to grab lunch or coffee with friends and acquaintances who can help you on your search (and maybe pick up the tab for lunch or dinner).

Countless studies show that it becomes increasingly difficult to transition from a job that requires no degree to one that does. So while working for pay is ideal, if you can afford to volunteer part time or full time in a field more closely alligned with your career goals, look into it. Is there the possibility your volunteer work will lead to full time work? Check into it with an organization you've always wanted to work for.
Go back to school
If you were planning to go back to get an advanced degree anyway, well, there’s no time like the present. Depending on what you’re planning to study, there might also be great scholarship opportunities, usually based upon academic potential. So in your schedule, provide significant time to study for the GRE or GMAT.
Teach English Abroad
Always wanted to study abroad but never got around to it? In a way, now is your chance. Teach abroad, experience a new culture, hopefully even save up a little money, and add international experience (and maybe new language skills) to your resume. WorldTeach and JET are the names most people have heard of, but check out Matador Notebook for other leads.
Reach out to your Alma Mater
Call the career development office at your alma mater and see what sort of assistance they can provide. No longer live in the area where you completed your undergraduate degree? If you went to a Jesuit university, I know you can usually contact a career center at a local Jesuit university or college to gain access to the reciprocal services they offer to students and alumni of other Jesuit schools. Didn’t go to a Jesuit university? Call your school’s career center and see if they have any similar partnerships.
Looking for more advice?
Brooklyn based blogger Allison Jones has some great easy to follow advice in a blog post on Brazen Careerist.
And finally, going back to where we all started, keep a positive outlook, however trying that becomes. These trying times are no indiciation of your ability or work ethic. In the words of James Carville- “it’s the economy, stupid!”

Monday, August 22, 2011

Storytelling Fit For a King: Celebrating I Have a Dream

The Martin Luther King Memorial officially opened to the public today! The monument will be officially dedicated on August 28th- marking the 48th anniversary since Dr. King delivered his I Have a Dream speech.

Simple lessons can be taken from King’s speech to help you the next time trying to motivate anyone- from a prospective donor to a new employee.


In writing, this is known as bottom line up front. Give the main point away immediately. It need not be the first sentence, but it sure should be in the first two minutes of your talk. King gets to his BLUF in the first two minutes. “But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free” King says. He goes on to provide powerful visuals (we’ll get to that) and then tells those gathered: “So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.”

Listen to Aristotle

In Poetics Aristotle tells us “A whole is what has a beginning and middle and end”. Easy enough. And yet, how often do we fail to frame a story along at least a loose timeline? King’s speech starts in the past- “five score years ago” but quickly moves the audience along to the present reason they are gathered: “but 100 years later, the Negro is still not free.” And for most of us in the nonprofit world, the end is our ask- what we want the other person to do or believe, etc… For King that end begins (and lives on) with a few simple words: “I have a dream…” 


Storytelling in causes and nonprofits is just another word for the combination of imagination and kinship. A good story has visuals that allow the person on the other end to imagine the picture painted, and feel a connection with the people in the story. A great visual example building along “the table of brotherhood” King alludes to can be seen in this ad created by Spike Lee.


Clarence Jones, who helped write the famous speech wrote in his book Behind the Dream that the most famous part of the speech was not ever written out.

“Martin's favorite gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson, who had performed earlier in the day, called to him from nearby: "Tell 'em about the dream, Martin, tell 'em about the dream!"

Martin clutched the speaker's lectern and seemed to reset. I watched him push the text of his prepared remarks to one side…I have a dream . . . In front of all those people, cameras, and microphones, Martin winged it. But then, no one I've ever met could improvise better.”

Final Thoughts

Muriel Barbery writes that "In order for consciousness to be aroused, it must have a name." Storytelling for good is simply putting a name (and hopefully a face) to what you do and why it matters. Too many nonprofits fail not for lack of good work, but an inability to tell the story of why what they do matters. Give people a reason for why their consciousness ought to care about what it is you do.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Heard It Elsewhere...

Some of my favorite links I stumbled upon this week.

Kiva is trying to spread the word- lending money to aspiring entrepreneurs is cool. And for a short time, trying it out is free. Sign up for a Kiva account here and get $25 to lend for free.

For anyone who's ever had to raise some cash for their nonprofit- a visual approach to Sasha Dichter's blog post about making the big ask.

Let's reinvent the toilet. As perhaps only the marketers at the Gates Foundation can do- a blog and a video about, well, poop. Check out the innovative sanitation ideas here.

Old school vs. new school. Challenging the traditional mindset we have on grouping organizations as for profit or nonprofit.

Managing yourself by managing your network. My friends in The New Leaders Council passed along this Harvard Business Review article about networking done well. Hint:

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Going to Grad School After July 1st, 2012? It Just Got More Expensive.

Thanks to the recently passed debt ceiling legislation, it just became more expensive to attend graduate school if you'll be taking out loans. Graduate students applying for a loan after July 1, 2012 will no longer be eligible to receive subsidized Stafford loans. The $8,500 subsidized loan will instead be converted to unsubsidized funding.

What does this mean for graduate students? For anyone who gets a loan after July 1, 2012- interest will accrue on those loans while they are still in school. Before, the government had paid the interest on the loan for the length of time a student was in school. The legislation also eliminates a rebate students get when they make loan repayments on time for 12 consecutive months.

The change will save the federal government an estimated $26 billion over 10 years. To put that in perspective: consider three months of operation in Afghanistan costs roughly that.

Is there any upside for students? For those pursuing their undergraduate degree, yes. Part of the savings from the student loan cuts will help keep funding for federal Pell Grants. These grants are traditionally awarded to the most financially needy students. Republicans slashed summer Pell grants earlier in the year and many have been attempting to eliminate the Pell grant program altogether.

For a more in depth reading on the Stafford student loan issue, check out CNN Money.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Twitter: It Isn't Only About What You Ate For Breakfast

Who do you follow?  I have a number of friends who think Twitter is nothing more than a place to “text” to the masses what you ate for breakfast or declare what you’re about to do, and so they avoid Twitter. But Twitter, like most social media, has the potential to be about so much mroe.

Twitter is about access
Back in December, I sent a Tweet to Andrew Evans (@WheresAndrew) a travel writer for National Geographic who I had been following with great interest. I asked Andrew for his best travel advice in 140 characters or less. Twenty minutes later I got this reply:

@pjfurlong Say "yes" more than "no" & learn "Thank U". Make wrong turns. Treat your horse kindly. Passport & toothbrush R only essentials.

If I had emailed him, I don’t know that I would have received a response that quick, if ever. But with Twitter, the reply was instantaneous and was not only shared with me, but with thousands of other people who follow Andrew.

Take a look at this photo, probably snapped on her iPhone, and Tweeted by @MeredithShiner today outside Speaker Boehner's office as reporters wait for word about what will happen with the debt ceiling vote. Unpolished and real, you can imagine the anxiety the photo captures so vividly.

Twitter allows me to stay in tune with issues that matter to me.
I follow very few of my actual friends on Twitter because I don’t need to read about what they ate for breakfast- I’ve got Facebook for those types of status updates. On Twitter, I've created a nonprofit community of sorts. I follow people, famous and ordinary, as well as organizations who care about and tweet about the same issues that matter to me. By following them, I end up getting exposed to countless relevant articles, blogs, and videos that I otherwise might have missed.

So again I must ask- who do you follow?
If the answer is no one, I'd encourage you to take the plunge, sign up for Twitter. You can even pledge to never tweet about your breakfast (unless it's really good). To start, I’ve included a few of my favorite folks in the nonprofit Twitosphere that I think are worth following.

People you may have heard of: @BillGates, @Jeffdsachs, @thisissethsblog, @NickKristoff, @Tom_Peters

Everyday People: @CynthiaHellen, @Cdilly, @ajlovesya, @socialcitizen, @otreyes,

Organizations: @weblogtheworld, @roomtoread, @Harvardbiz, @Acumenfund, @ynpnla (LA specific), @Inventurefund

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Storytelling in the Nonprofit Sector

A couple years ago I had figured out what I wanted to do in life. I saw myself working for a dynamic nonprofit providing education and health services to those in the developing world. And I would be the organizations professional storyteller, not to be confused with development officer or program manager. I would be able, as Blair Miller of Acumen Fund puts it to “travel back and forth from the slums of Kenya to the conference halls of Aspen.”

Trouble is, I’ve yet to see any postings for Chief of Storytelling or Storyteller Manager I or II. And so, for those of us that understand the value of a story, and want to dedicate our profesional lives telling the stories of the poor and often voiceless, what must we do?

While I don't know the answer to that just yet, what I beleive we all inherently get, even if we don't understand it, is quite simple: Storytelling REALLY matters. Stories, the power they have over us, isn't an exercise in logic at all. Anyone who has ever donated on impulse after a moving talk or video knows it's actually quite illogical  Empathy still means a great deal in deciding where we will give parts of our precious  time, energy, and money. Data matters too, but it ceases to mean anything unless we have a way to connect what we see on a spreadsheet to what we experience in real life. In the end, it's about telling stories, ours, that of another, and the often overlooked challenge Blair Miller addresses of getting out of the way of a good story so that it can be told by the actual person living it.

Listed below are a few links to what I think touch upon the essence of good storytelling.
-Blair Miller at Acumen Fund writes a brief blog entry about The Next Phase of Storytelling

-Andy Goodman's podcast Storytelling For Good Causes

-And of course a couple amazing talks posted on Ted: JK Rowling's Harvard commencement speech and spoken word artist Sarah Kay's talk on the power of self-expression.