Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A dreamy day in Holland

Exploring my benelux surroundings, Dordrecht is a darling town I've enjoyed discovering in the Netherlands. It's such a friendly place - local families socialize on front porches and terraces. Though it's not a super tiny town (worthy of 2 train stations!), everyone knows everyone. A man who spoke with me on the street for a moment told me so. He knew right away that I was a stranger since the don't get many tourists in Dordrecht. He thought maybe I'd come for the little fair that was in town that weekend. Altogether a lovely late afternoon.

In case the embedded slideshow below doesn't show up, there are some photos on flickr I've shared over here.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Weaving a tapestry of shared air eXperiences

Wow, the last month of my life has been incredibly content rich. Processing all the themes that emerged for me from my Shine UK shared air experiences - particuarly with @DaveDawes, @RedButtonDesign and @liadavide, and from spending 3 intensely bonding days in Geneva with a powerful small group of women social entrepreneurs - all in transition with new innovations at late stages in their brilliantly impactful careers.

Around those physical movement for real time immersion I've been trying to put an ambitious plan for cosi10.com together, and facilitated a session on Transparency at an all virtual "unconference" this weekend called Radical Real Time.

I have also joined the Board at @HubBrussels, which has involved (by my own choice) quite a few hours over the past few weeks, as I've sat in on some staff team meetings and attended lengthy General Assembly and Board meetings involving discussion about a lot of operational development issues.

All this experiential learning about such varied operational aspects of social entrepreneurship is bombarding me with so much to think about. It's been hard to digest any of it into anything resembling a blog post. It's been starting to feel like a lot on my intellectual plate.

With so much to think about I've been feeling a little zoomed out sometimes.

Spending time in the garden with the kids has been a very grounding, whole different kind of shared air experience. My Lucas is a high flyer in his social scene at the moment, so has not been interested in connecting to the earth with us just now. But both Ben and Thomas have enthusiastically embraced a renovation and replanting of our flower beds. We're getting toward the end of that big job, and the garden is already starting to look great... well, much better anyway! I got a sweet new camera for my birthday, so will be sharing pictures soon...

Meanwhile, I'm thinking maybe cleaning my room could be a way to keep getting my mind clear. It's been a little too long since I did that.

Happy Spring!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Reflections on life as a social alchemist

It's sometimes odd to reflect that I have been planning events since way back in high school. It's quite a rollercoaster of a job, but somehow there's something magic in what can happen when you add structure to people interacting with each other. I think I am addicted to whatever that thing is. I have often described myself as a crazy social scientist who loves to experiment with human behavior. Tweaking social alchemy is a thing I'm good at.

In high school, I was the commissioner of activies and the homecoming committee chairman and the graduation ceremony organizer. What a lot of thankless work, but I fell in love with social alchemy even then. In college I organized a group fundraising event system for people (like me) who needed financial help to go and work 3 month internships in Washington DC. In Geneva, my 4 housemates and I threw great theme parties - Mexican Fiestas and champagne only formal holiday fetes. By the time I returned to DC to attend grad school, I had moved with some vigour into hosting dinner parties that brought together people I knew, but who didn't know each other well. I talked about them as my personal social experiments.

One of the best parts of my early married years in Brussels was also the events we threw - from a weekly open sunday brunch to huge backyard barbecues for 100 people, and lots of more intimate dinners with friends in between. In Uganda that changed, because I couldn't wrap my head around the role of servants and all matching china in the expat culture I was meeting people in. Nor was I able to wrap my head around the expectations of many Ugandans whom I invited home. My housekeeper Zarina was so helpful in that aspect, but we made some crazy mistakes together in organizing events that tried to break down the servant/employer hierarchies among the Ugandan workers at our home. Turns out, it wasn't just the expats in Uganda who had high expectations at parties.

I did host one really great party at home in Uganda that brought the diplomatic crew I knew through my husband's work together with some of my microfinance program clients, for a cook it yourself Mongolian Barbecue (ah yes, the food issue!). The crowd was entertained alternatively by a DJ and lively African singers in traditional costumes. At one point in the evening I could see people standing and dancing in place on 3 levels in our 4 level garden. Then my husband and I split, so that was the end of that.

With the change in living venue, I moved more into developing small learning groups and creating contexts for community planning dialogue. Life in Africa's history during my later years as Director is dotted by national events I convened, to see what could happen if the communities I had initiated in Kampala and Gulu planned together. By far the most interesting event I ever organized was a face2face meetup of a global online community in Northern Uganda. With financial support and online infrastructure from The Omidyar Network, we managed to get 100+ people from 13 countries to a weekend conference venue in an African post war zone. (Here are the photos.)

When I started my new social enterprise, Evolutionize It, with friends earlier this year, I wasn't thinking specifically about event planning as a business model. Inevitably, as I attend more and more social enterprise events, my mind is going there... and entertaining all sorts of exciting possibilities.

Stay tuned! I am imagineering some international social alchemy these days that could turn out to be lots of fun.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Nothing like a Volcano to kick off a party!

In the background as I work this afternoon, I've got TedxVolcano rocking in the background.

What an amazing thing. A group of Social Entrepreneurs and big money who want to invest in Social Change got stuck in London after the Oxford Jam and Skoll World Forum last weekend. Their first thought, put together a spontaneous Ted event in 24 hours. Way cool. I'd managed to get home from the weekend's events with a previously booked train ticket, but it was enough to make me wish I could go back.

Meanwhile, last week's overarching theme was collaboration, so my inbox is overflowing with emails from people I met last week, who are still stuck in London and organizing post conference meet-ups among the stranded. I have a feeling they are getting some amazing things done right now. I have to wonder when they actually will be able to leave, and can't help but marvel at how powerful this volcano will end up being historically, in both destructive and constructive ways.

On the destructive side, there is the disruption in global trade. Thousands of air cargo planes are also grounded, with thousands of tons of agricultural commodities from sunnier parts of the world laying in wait for export. The long tail of this particular volcanic disaster is going to hit Africa very hard.

On the constructive side, I find it incredibly interesting to think about the implications of thousands of people taking an unplanned extended break from their lives in a foreign culture. What an incredible opportunity for Governments to collaborate for global security; what a terrific non-military challenge to spur innovation in the aerospace industry. What a fabulous gift of unanticipated time for deepening collaborative relationships among the Better World Builders who got to be part of TedxVolcano in London.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Career-change cocktail banter

Yay! My perpetual state of career transition over the past couple of years has ended. I am now firmly in the saddle at Evolutionize.It, a new social enterprise I have started in Belgium. I suddenly find that I need to talk about myself differently in social situations. Each time I do, I end up reinventing it just a bit. I guess it depends on my confidence level that day. That's normal, right?

If you and I were face to face over a drink this week and you asked me what I'm up to these days, I might say something like this:
Well... I am basically back at the beginning. I left Uganda after 10 years of community development work and now I'm starting something brand new.

All I really have are some unproven wacky ideas for making an impact how our global development system works, and I am trying to develop a business around them that can actually pay people salaries.
Hmmm... doesn't sound very positive does it? True as those statements may be, on most days I'm actually really excited about what I'm working on. So if I was feeling more confident that day, I might reword myself:
I have just started a new social enterprise that is designing collaboration systems for social changemakers. I'm having lots of fun with it.
If we chatted a bit longer you'd probably ask why I am in Belgium (everyone asks that), and I'd give you the abridged version of our family context. You may or may not get the version that includes the unofficial separation from the husband who has the job that brings us back here. (Summary: we plan our lives collaboratively, we just don't sleep under the same roof.)

When you ask if we are in Belgium to stay, I'd mention (because I am determined to talk this into reality) that our hope is to move on to Asia in about 2 years. The kids and I would love to go to Thailand, if I can work that out somehow. A colleague of mine is thinking about going back to Uganda at around the same time, and we have some ideas for a project we'd like to start in multiple countries, to create a system for changemakers in under-connected parts of the world to collaborate with each other. If their dad can find a job within a 2 hour flight radius, our family can function well. It's worked well like that before.

If you seemed interested in my line of work, I might tell you that while in Belgium for these two years I am learning alot about social enterprise in Europe, experimenting with the design of online and offline collaboration events, and getting to build on what I learned from some of the mistakes I made starting my first social enterprise back in Uganda.

You might be curious about what happened to that when I left Uganda. If so, I would probably share something about new management structures taking over, and that it's been very hard for me to walk the fine line between supporting them and letting go of control.

After a long process, Life in Africa USA's 501(c)3 charity status in the USA has finally been granted (Yay!) The Ugandan management team have recently realized (on their own) that the new structure in place upon my departure from Uganda just isn't working for them. They have defined the structure they would like to have and are already embarked upon administrative changes that they feel will better enable the work they would like to do. Just last week, they constructed a darkroom for a community mushroom growing project to help finance the LiA center's expenses and raise start-up funding for additional community based projects. That's exciting for me to see.

Now mind you, it's rare that we would manage to cover all of these things over drinks - I tend to prefer asking questions to talking about myself in social situations. Not because I have anything to hide, but because I enjoy learning about all sorts of people and their view of the world.

In fact.... now that you already know the career and life-change skinny on me, let's just skip that part of the banter when you and I get a chance to see each other and get to the good part. You!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Writing & righting my wwworld

Over the past few months I've been working on development of a couple of blogs, each targeted at a different audience. I wanted to let folks know more about what and where those writings are, so you can choose which - if any of them - you'd like to follow.

My party @ christinaswwworld blog feeds directly into my facebook notes. It is the most personal of my blogs, about my life as a global gypsy and some of the things I've learned.
  • If you are following me on Facebook, what I post at the christinaswwworld blog will appear in your stream automatically. You don't need to leave facebook to read those new entries.

  • I also share this blog with some friends in the entrecard.com blogger community, that I've made while learning about personal blogging from them over the past couple of years.

  • New posts are additionally tweeted out to @ChristinasWorld followers at Twitter, and appear in the twitterfeed that's published at http://Evolutionize.It .

Evolutionize It: change through collaboration, is a new blog that I have started to chronicle progress in building the new social enterprise that I have recently co-founded in Brussels, Belgium.
  • New posts at the Evolutionize It blog will NOT post automatically to my facebook account.

  • I have, however, just started an Evolutionize It fan page at facebook, and will crosspost new blog entries there. So if you'd like to follow the chronicles of building Evolutionize It via facebook, please Become a Fan of Evolutionize It and enjoy reading about some of our current and upcoming collaborative adventures in the global social change sector.

  • New posts at Evolutionize.It will also be tweeted by Evolutionize It board members @ChristinasWorld and @liadavide

  • If you'd like to subscribe to follow the Evolutionize It blog by email or in a blog reader service, please visit http://Evolutionize.It and subscribe in the top right column.

Internet4Change is another blog for an Evolutionize It project I've been working on sporadically since September. I have slowed down on it recently, but it is by no means a dead project.
  • Watch for new posts about online collaboration 4 social change strategies on Twitter @ChristinasWorld and/or @liadavide, or

  • subscribe with a reader to the Internet4Change feed, and visit the main site now and again to see what's changed.

  • A further developed Internet4Change site launch is planned for later this year, in conjunction with the launch of a guide to the collaboration in the online social change space that I'm working on with @NurtureGirl from Thrivable.org.

Finally, you're all invited to participate with me in the World Bank's Urgent Evoke game between now and 12 May.
  • It's an online game that's designed to teach world-changing collaboration skills in less than 6 weeks,

  • it's open for everyone on the world wide web to play.

  • I'm still figuring it out, and would love to see you there!
So there you go... it's up to you to decide how much or how little of what I'm writing you'd like to follow. Now you know where it is if you want it :-)

Happy Spring!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Enjoying my slice of life

For the past 25 years or so I have gypsied my way around this wide world of ours, breathing in the experience of life, as it is known to all sorts and kinds of people who live it.

My quest has never been to experience the world's diverse natural wonders and climates, nor to witness all of humankind's amazing inventions. What drives me is to understand people, and how they make life work in different kinds of contexts. Along the way, I have lived with European millionaires, who call the very best that the world has to offer "normal." I have lived among the poorest of Africa's poor, displaced from their homes by some of the worst ravages the world knows how to inflict upon itself. I have lived with Asian Buddhists, who embrace self-inflicted poverty as the wealthiest kind of life they could possibly live. I've been a mom, a daughter, a sister, a neighbor, an employee, a boss, a friend.... albeit sometimes from far away.

If there is one thing I have learned, it's that we are all just people, wherever we live - through good times and bad, celebration and desperation, bad choices and things that just happen to us... even through the normal humdrum business of everyday trying to get by. We all do our best in our own way, to make the most out of whatever it is that the world offers to us. I don't claim to always understand when people are mean to each other, but I try not to judge too harshly. Everyone has a unique story, a unique context, a unique way of trying to piece life together in a way that makes sense. While it's that diversity that makes humanity so wonderfully interesting, our common human-ness unites us in ways we sometimes forget to see.

I recently had the privilege to zoom in on it for a while, when I took a month out to go home to the US and spend time with some people who are dear to me: family, old friends, and even some new friends who I'd only previously seen in virtual form. What an absolute treat to be welcomed into homes, to share meals, and to see how families have grown. What fun to reconnect with people I hadn't seen in 15 to 25 years. What a wonder to pick up old relationships from where we left off once upon a time, and to strengthen new ones with the added dimensions of reacting in real-time to facial expressions, and sharing the comfortable silence of simply breathing shared air.

How I love the feeling of connection to the world, that only time spent with other human beings can offer. And so I would just like to thank you, my dear ones, for sharing a little slice of your lives with me. My recent time with you all has made me grateful, and reminds me of just how delicious this thing called life can sometimes be.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Travel Alert :: California to Brussels

Just a heads up to those of you who've been following my month long journey of connecting with new colleagues and old friends ~ looks like the whole country is getting stuck in snowstorms, so my planned landing back in Brussels Saturday morning could change. I am scheduled to spend tomorrow in Atlanta with my friend Cynthia G., visiting an amazing treehouse for a special summercamp that she has designed. But 1-2 inches of snow are expected in Atlanta tonight, so the chances are getting slimmer that I will land in Atlanta tomorrow morning. The flight from there to Brussels is scheduled for 12 hours later, so I may still be able to catch that. But if it keeps snowing then I might just have to sit tight in Southern California for a while longer and reschedule the whole thing...

I will keep you posted