Two ways to change things

There are two ways to be a change maker.

One is to learn the a system so well that you know exactly why it’s broken. Become an expert in an industry, field or system, learn what’s broken, and fix it.  Economics, the education system, your work place.  Work in a field for 10,000 hours so you know it intimately.  Change from the inside out.  Become part of the problem, if you will, to become part of the solution.  This may be what Tea Party Candidates are attempting to accomplish by holding political office while advocating for smaller government.  This will be frustrating and works well if you don’t let being part of the system overtake your ability to critique it.

The second is to be completely oblivious to existing systems and imagine something from the ground up.  Set a completely new model.  Communal societies, Montessori, restorative justice.  This won’t be as frustrating because you will have to believe 100% that your idea is right for it to get off the ground, and works well when fundamental shifts in society have taken place to remove old barriers to the work.


Executing on your passions

I don’t know about you, but I’m involved in a lot of different things that I’m passionate about.

I thought I’d pass on a tool I’ve been using the past 5 months that really helps me stay on top of different projects.

ToDoist is fabulous for your multi-project world.  With color-coding, due dates, email reminders, and sub-tasks, it organizes all the many things you need to get done for various projects for a given day.  Try it and let me know how it works!

That passion seed

If you want to change the world, that passion usually came from somewhere.

Mine was in Ethiopia.  Bahar Dar, to be exact.

I was living in Addis Ababa for a year teaching English and traveled to Bahar Dar on a trip to visit an HIV/AIDS project.

I got to meet women living with HIV/AIDS and their children.  While I was holding one woman’s daughter, she asked me, “Will you take care of my children when I die?”

I had no idea what to say.  I believe I am still answering this question to this day.

But perhaps the passion seed was planted earlier.  I was in Ethiopia because I wanted to travel in the African diaspora, being half African-American.

I think identity has a lot to do with our passions, and I want to explore that more in my writing here.

Sustainable development

Why doesn’t charity:water have a button on their website that says “Get water”?

The website assumes its customers are donors.

Why aren’t its customers the communities that need wells the most?

Why can’t a village community member who made it to the city with a decent job and access to a computer and internet connection request a well be built in her village?

Why does charity:water get to decide where it will be benevolent and by chance and whim a well gets built in a village?

What happens when the well breaks down?  Who cares enough and has the resources to get it repaired?

Sustainable development requires a true partnership between the benefactor and beneficiary and a “Get water” button would be a great start.

Doing good questions & answers

As a career coach focusing on international development, I’d often get these questions:

How do I switch sectors from the private sector?
How do I get my first int’l assignment?
How do I maintain work/life balance?
What are good volunteer opportunities based on my interests?
What networking organizations should I get involved with?
How do I network?
How do I achieve work/life balance?
How much money should I be making?
What are career paths in the int’l dev field?
What type of education do I need?
How do I beat out other candidates?
How do I not pigeon-hole myself by choosing a certain role?
How do I avoid burnout?
How do I get promoted?
What skills do I need for an international job?
Where are like-minded people?
How do I know if I am successful?
What is the easiest way to make a difference?
What does it mean to make a difference?
How does a single woman life and work outside the U.S.?
What’s next after the Peace Corps?

These are all fine career strategy questions, and I can give you some attempted answers.

I’m more interested in knowing what injustice did you see that hit you at your heart that made you committed to this work?  And what are you going to do about that?

5 Ways the Net Impact Conference can Help you Re-imagine your Nonprofit Career

Note, this is cross-posted from YNPNdc’s blog.

I went to the Net Impact conference last week ready for the next career step after working for four years at an association of international NGO’s, receiving a StartingBloc fellowship, and ready to work with friends on a women’s empowerment NGO in Kenya.  Having never been to the conference before, I didn’t know what to expect.  By the end of the first day, my car was full of seven new friends on our way to PBR from the entrepreneurship dinner, my heart was racing, and I knew I had found new ways to make an impact with my career.

1.  Follow the money.
In the 5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting my Social Enterprise session, Darrell Hammond,  founder of KaBOOM!, described the sea change that happened over the past 10 years.  Ten years ago foundations used to fund nonprofit strategy.  Now, they have their own strategy and nonprofits have to fit into that.  If nonprofits want to develop their own strategy, they should consider other business models like fee for service or selling a product.  So perhaps skills in product development or sales will become more useful and transferable to the nonprofit sector.

2.  Don’t declare your career, declare your purpose.
Darrell Hammond founded KaBOOM! because he was pissed off that no one cared that 2 boys died playing in a car because there were no playgrounds in their neighborhood in which to play.  What fuels your fire so much that you don’t have to overthink but get to work making something happen?  Also, don’t get stuck on titles or career advancement.  Know what you need to do, why you need to do it, and do it because it matters and not for the recognition.  Finally, take a long-term view.  KaBOOM! was a 16-year overnight success, which Darrell started as a side project while working full time.

3.  Disruption starts with deep knowledge of an issue/industry and knowing the way it’s been done won’t continue to work.
Sara Horowitz was a union organizer and labor lawyer for 8 years before she founded the Freelancers Union.  She knew that the way we work was not going to continue to work and established the organization to offer group health care coverage and other services to freelancers.  You cannot change something you know very little about, so work with an issue long enough to get a grasp on the available levers of social change that is the most necessary to change.

4.  Don’t go it alone.
The people you hang out with have the biggest effect on your career and your life.  If you have an idea for a business or project, find like-minded people to help you get it off the found.  A great new startup in DC is PunchRock, which is a co-working space in Adams Morgan for entrepreneurs that stays open from 8am to 2am every day.  Also, when you get stuck, make a list of the 10 smartest people you can think of (regardless of if you know them personally).  Then call them and ask for their advice.  “I’ve never been taken to the Emergency Room for not receiving a return phone call,” advised Kyle Zimmer, founder ofFirst Book.

5.  You could be failing faster.
New planning processes like design thinking and the lean startup get your plans from idea to prototype to customer faster than trying to develop the perfect business plan or strategy.  At the Design Thinking vs. Lean Startup session, a small group of us were able to come up with a 60-second pitch for a ride-sharing app to reduce the carbon footprint of conference attendees with only 45 minutes to work on the plan.  Once your idea gets out of your head and in front of investors (or your boss), you can fail faster to learn and correct as you go.

You can check out more highlights from the conference curated by Net Impact via Storify on this website.

Getting Started in Human-Centered Design

A cousin of mine is working on a degree in industrial design and reached out to me with advice on how to get started in the field because of my experience working in international development.

I was happy to help, and thought I’d share my advice on the blog in case it helps others.

For me, working in this area is a life and not just a career. You are in a great position that you are young and can use your 20s to explore what you want to do. A great book to check out is 48 Days to the Work You Love (I finished this in a day). I also enjoy the blog the Art of Non-Conformity. I also recommend the book, Switch: How to change when change is hard. Oh, and The Blue Sweater.

Your degree will serve you well. You can always get a ‘traditional’ job and volunteer on the side until you can find a way to work in the field full-time. While in school, you might be able to take a class on social entrepreneurship or something similar. You may also want to look into an MBA with a focus on social entrepreneurship. Stanford would be the best program, but there are others (look on StartingBloc’s website for a good list).

Also, check out jobs on or other places and review job descriptions to find one that seems attractive to you, then work backward from there to obtain the skills and experiences you need to do the job. An example is this job description from a social enterprise in Kenya, which is something you might want to do:

There are a lot of organizations working in this area. It’s great that you joined Engineers Without Borders. Here are some other organizations to check out:

  • Net Impact
  • charity:water
  • Acumen Fund
  • McKinsey
  • Technoserv
  • Young Nonprofit Professionals Network

You should also apply for a StartingBloc fellowship or something similar some day.

Plus here is a great design challenge to check out

And this TEDx video on designing for people, not awards, will serve as great inspiration!

Photo credit:

Women for Peace in Washington, DC

It was great to be featured by my alumni magazine in the issue on Women Peacebuilders!

Especially with Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee on the cover!

Check out the article here:

If I had $100 to spend on my cause career advancement

[This is a cross-post from Network DC, the blog for YNPNdc]

Let’s face it, if you’re launching a social enterprise or working at a small cause, your employer might not have a big budget for professional development, so you might have to fund your own.  Here’s how I’d invest $100 in my cause career:

1.  Discover thyself

Self discovery is the best thing you can spend your time on to advance your career.  Inside the book is a code that unlocks an online test which upon completion summarizes your top 5 strengths and gives you advice about what type of roles to pursue in which you’ll be most successful, either at your current job or a new one.

2.  Be taken seriously

$5 – Professional logo for your blog from
Make the packaging around your ideas look as smart as you are with a professional logo designed by a freelancer.  Add it to any wordpress, blogger, typepad, or other blogging platform to instantly professionalize your online image.

3.  Grab a power salad

$24 – Lunch at Chopt with that girl whose job you want
Tweet that cool girl you met at Happy Hour, you know, the one with the red Toms, and treat her to a friendly lunch.  Just be sure to work in some not too overly aggressive questions about how she landed her job and where one could find something like it, if one were looking…

4.  Take your management skills to the next level

$15 – Career Tools Monthly Individual License – for just 1 month
Both the free Career Tools and Manager Tools podcasts are fantastic, but take Mark’s advice to the next level with access to the slides and show notes on casts such as How To Give A Decision Briefing that you can save to your computer and even share with your team.  Use the documents for training others and referencing great ideas you want to champion at work.

5.  Open a doorway to mentors, free conferences, and visits to the White House

Imagine the networking you can do attending a speech on the economy at the Rose Garden by POTUS, the annual Center for Nonprofit Advancement Celebration, and an online networking roulette session with 50 nonprofit mentors in just one year.  Plus way more.

6.  Ask the right question

$6 – Coffee at Bourbon with mentor
Mentors are busy and important, so re-connect with one of yours over an 8am coffee.  What to ask:  How can I help you?  Repeat as necessary.

Brazen Careerist is a Social Media Risk Management Tool for Gen Y

Like traditional societies, associations, advocacy groups, memberships, and unions, there is strength in the shear number of people Brazen Careerist has organized on your behalf that want to grow careers using social media.
On Wednesday evening, Brazen Careerist was gracious enough to let me produce their first webinar to launch the Networks feature on their site.  I set up the technology but also fielded questions from the audience to feed to Penelope & Ryan.  It wasn’t your mother’s webinar, and it was a lot of fun.  What a creative and thoughtful community Brazen has.
The webinar was for those who started groups in Brazen’s site.  For example, I had started the Associations group to find other young professionals who work at associations.  Brazen had just made the decision to change Groups to Networks and the webinar showed us how to be better Network leaders.  (If you look at my group, you can tell I need advice).
During the webinar many people wanted to know why they should invest time in Brazen instead of LinkedIn.  Penelope thoughtfully responded that Brazen is a network of bloggers and that blogging can help you land jobs because it publishes your ideas when you don’t have the experience to land a job right after college or grad school.
Participants responded, But blog writing is scary.  My ideas?  Out there?  Isn’t execution and experience better?  How do I know this is safe?
No, it’s not safe.  Like anything new, it is risky.  Brazen Careerist is genius because it helps you manage your social media activity risk.
This table shows you why social media activities like blogging are scary to you and explains the difference between traditional career networking and social media career networking.
Why Using Social Media as a Career Networking Tool is Scary for Gen Y
Traditional Career Networking
Social Media Career Networking
  • Resume
  • Personal Brand
  • Safe
  • Scary
  • Execution
  • Ideas
  • Feels like work
  • Feels like play
  • Work/Life Balance
  • Lifestyle Design
  • Exchange business cards
  • Follow each other on Twitter
  • Known & Reliable
  • Transparent & Risky
  • You will get a job
  • You could get your dream business partnership
  • Focus on getting promoted
  • Focus on learning through new projects
  • Happy Hours, Conferences, Associations, Speed Networking
  • Meetups, Blog Posts, Blog Comments, Online Social Networks, Facebook Groups
  • General skills like accounting = job security = good career
  • The more niche, specific, and bold your ideas are, the better but harder
Brazen Careerist manages risk for you.

Your Social Media Career Networking Risks:

  • Someone might disagree with my ideas
  • I don’t have enough experience, and my ideas will be dumb, no one will hire me
  • What if my boss finds out and fires me
  • Blogging needs to be so niche, limiting myself to one topic will hurt me in the log run
How Brazen Careerist Manages Your Risks:
  • Network to show yourself, your boss, and others that blogging is a new career tool that normal people use
  • Advice at your fingertips from other smart people
  • Teaches you how to express your ideas to your intended audience and industry in a professional, thought-provoking manner
  • Has created a talent market of tech-savvy, entrepreneurial people – think strength in numbers rather than competing for the same jobs
Questions for fellow Network Leaders:
  1. How can we leverage our Brazen networks to decrease our social media risk even more?
  2. What could Brazen Careerist develop that would make us thought-leaders on the well-executed personal brand?
  3. What type of education/training would help you be a better Network leader?
  4. How can Brazen Careerist stand apart from LinkedIn as a career management tool for Gen Y?
  5. Are we on Brazen an association?  Union?  Advocacy group?  Society?
  6. If we wanted 1 Thing in the world to change, what would it be and how would we do it?