Finding Happiness in Selflessness

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I always like to hear the story (although I’m not sure it’s still in effect) about how Google permits its employees to dedicate 20% of their time to pursuing creative and innovative work of their own choosing. Here at the newly launched SoCo Partners, we’re instituting 20% time not for innovation, but for pursuing civic activism. I’ve chosen domestic and international poverty as my issue. Here in Austin, there are many ways you can contribute to helping the less fortunate. Here are a few causes I am involved with or with which I am planning to be involved:1. For the past two years, my daughter and I have participated in Operation Turkey on Thanksgiving. Bryan Menell turned me onto this from Facebook when we first arrived in Austin. We love doing it. Every year it grows and is more impressive. I plan to do this forever more. Wonderful way to give thanks.2. I’ve recently become involved with Mobile Loaves and Fishes. Last Friday I saw an Austin screening of “Happiness Is,” a beautiful and moving documentary by Andrew Shapter, a local Austin film-maker. Alan Graham, founder of Mobile

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Loaves and Fishes is featured generously in the film and participated afterward in a live panel discussion with the director. Alan said a number of things that completely changed my worldview regarding the homeless. In Austin we have many intersections where folks hold cardboard signs looking for help. The individuals are as varied as the messages they broadcast to the uncomfortable drivers waiting for the light to change (hurry light!… don’t make eye contact!). I’ve committed to helping Mobile Loaves and Fishes in any way I can apply my hands and heart and possibly socialweb and collaboration know-how to helping their cause. We are cooking up a fun project for SXSW called “Twegg.” Details are still being worked out, and I will be blogging on that shortly. Be sure to plan to attend Jon Lebkowsky’s Plutopia Monday night, March 16, which will showcase a large part of the initiative. Information on Mobile Loaves and Fishes (MLF) is available on their web site. Please considering donating.3. I met Tina Williamson over a year ago at her Christmas party. Tina has launched a program called, “Women Worldwide.” Women Worldwide has as its mission to enable women to help other women around the world. She recently returned form a trip to Mali in Central Africa. You can hear Tina’s story about what her team did there and the inspiration for Women Worldwide over on vimeo. I’m helping Tina leverage social media to raise awareness for her initiatives.4. I’ve become a student of poverty and am particularly interested in generational poverty issues. I picked up three books on poverty and have set aside time to read each one. I’m currently reading, “Nickel and Dimed” by a wonderful writer, Barbara Ehrenreich. She also wrote, “Bait and Switch” which has a lot of relevance for today’s economic downturn, as it focuses on white collar unemployment. A book I bought for the shock value of some of the demeaning language is “Bridges out of Poverty.” More on that one when I read it all the way through. I’m also subscribing to the Poverty in America blog on change.org. Learning a lot there.It was @timoreilly who motivated me to “work on something that makes a difference,” while we’re navigating through the vagaries of economic turmoil. Even though in his most recent posts on the subject he wasn’t advocating pure charity work, it forced me to look carefully at what I’m going to commit my time to. My goal is to help my non-profit friends to learn how to leverage the social web to make their work more productive and rewarding.Finally, the trailer from “Happiness Is.” Enjoy.

Giving. It’s all good.

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A friend alerted me to this terrific site for charitable giving. Modest Needs makes giving personal by vetting qualified individuals, families, and organizations that need small donations to achieve a particular goal– like paying for a car repair, or keeping a utility on. It’s personalized giving and goes directly to help folks navigate through the vagaries of struggling to make ends meet. The tendency to hoard money during an economic crisis is natural. But remember, this is the most critical time to give to help others in need.The signup takes less than two minutes. Check it out.

A Farewell to Arms

My daughter tells me I’ll never pull off this post. Her initial reaction was, “OMG, please don’t ruin a classic piece of Literature!” Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms was, according to Wikipedia, “Considered by some critics to be the greatest war novel of all time.” It’s about young Lieutenant Frederic Henry, an American ambulance driver serving in the Italian army during World War I. The book takes several twists and turns including Henry getting wounded and spending time on the front where he is caught in a bombardment by enemy forces. How does Frederic Henry relate to me? Why through Monty Python and the Holy Grail, of course.

Stay with me. Arm #1 = Web 1.0. (aka dotcom bust)

This beloved platform we’ve come to know as the Internet has been brutally battling me for ten years now. In the 1.0 era, I got swept up in the irrational exuberance and joined a company where I swiftly suffered several personal economic blows when the company I joined went out of business and I lost all my savings on investments that tanked and I was rendered unemployed by the eventual bankruptcy of the startup I joined.  (Ouch.)

Arm #2 – Web 2.0. (aka socialweb)

Fast-forward to 2006, I came back into the workforce after a nice, long break. About that time, I was once again swept up in the excitement over web 2.0 and what these incredible changes could mean for business. I discovered some smart folks talking about Enterprise 2.0 and was hooked. I blogged about being on the front lines of a valiant battle (Like Frederic Henry), ready to charge the hill of corporate complacency. This new wave of enterprise transformation is even more exciting to me than the hysteria that whipped up during the late 90s. I sailed past the third anniversary of this blog this month. Shortly before the Christmas holiday, I found out I was being laid off. Around that time, I also found out that because of the mudslide in housing values, I had lost virtually all the equity in my home I’d been unable to sell in NJ and now bear the burden of my own toxic asset.  So, web 2.0 is turning out to be more seriously damaging to me financially than 1.0 was. (And I didn’t think that was possible.) I’m writing this candid view into my personal life to explain why I am still ready to keep fighting.

Call me ignorant, call me a sentimentalist, but I believe in the power of the Internet to change the world. There, I said it. Leveraging technology to change the world for the better has been a lifelong ambition of mine. It’s the reason I chose computer science for a career and pursued a career in technology. For a long while, I spent most of my days in tech driving toward improved quarterly earnings for one company or another.  In 2009, everything is changing.  Technology has been such a powerful force in uniting people around the globe, and the impact the participative social web has had on the global political stage is unprecedented in modern history. There’s a lot that folks born in my generation that grew up in the 60s and 70s aspired to achieve.  The technology platform our global tribe is creating will enable those idealistic dreams of youth. But, like Obama says, there is much more work to do. One half of the world’s population has still not made a telephone call, yet tools are getting in the hands of people who can really make a difference. This simply thrills me.

So to those who would tell me to just give up, to admit defeat, to look for a new, more stable occupation, I say, “Bollocks. It’s just a flesh wound.” I just have to make sure the lights on my cable modem don’t go dark.