Smart Girls Interview Uncut

It was great to reconnect with Karen Graham, Idealware’s new Executive Director, at the NTEN/NetSquared Community Organizers meeting following the Nonprofit Technology conference in Austin from March 4-6, 2015. After the meeting, she emailed me to see if I would be willing to do an interview for her blog Smart Girl Consulting. I responded I would be happy to do it, but it was not an easy task.  I stayed up late one night to finish answering her interview questions and included some other topics as well.  It turned out to be quite a long post, so Karen edited it before posting it.  Here’s the link to the blog post interview.

For those who would like to read the unedited version, I am sharing it below. Remember, it was quite late at night (1:27 am to be precise) when I finished writing it, so it does evolve into a bit of stream of consciousness towards the end. Special thanks to Karen for inspiring me to reflect a bit, in these times when everyone is rushed, and there is no time to sit and ponder. Enjoy!

Tinkering Around
I have always been inquisitive and curious. When I was young, I used to love taking things apart and figuring out how they worked. When I was in school, I took computer classes and learned BASIC. It was fascinating to see how I was able to create simple animations using code. Later in life I took html and information architecture classes on the side.

Exploring the World
However, my major interests in college were cultural anthropology, journalism and education. I really wanted to be a foreign correspondent when I was younger. I loved traveling, learning languages and exploring the world. I was selected for the Peace Corps internship in Thailand while studying at Trinity University. Later I studied abroad in Bolivia for six months taking sociology and cultural anthropology classes. After college, I was selected for the Rotary Ambassadorial scholarship, which I applied to a nine month certificate program in Grassroots Development & NGO Management in Zimbabwe through the School for International Training. I went to to get a MA in International Development from George Washington University, and worked in international development in El Salvador for a year and later with international development organizations in DC. As I traveled to different countries, I started documenting my experiences through photography. I did photography exhibits about countries I traveled to starting with an exhibit on Bolivia called 500 years of Resistance. Over the years I have continued to travel and do photography.

Networking, Learning and Community
My attention shifted from international development to nonprofit technology when I started working for in the U.S. in 2001. My job focused on managing and growing the community of nonprofit organizations. I organized monthly Peer Learning Exchanges where individuals working at nonprofits could share best practices around fundraising, communications, technology and other topics. I continue to bring people together around nonprofit technology issues through my work as a volunteer co-organizer for NetSquared DC.

CiviCRM & Open Source
In terms of my current work, I am the Director of Strategy and Engagement at Ginkgo Street Labs, a company that helps nonprofits to implement CiviCRM projects. CiviCRM is an open source software that helps organizations to manage all their constituent relationships in one place, and it integrates with Drupal, Wordpess and Joomla. Instead of using different tools for different activities, such as email lists, fundraising and events, they can use the same tool, so their data is integrated, instead of being fragmented. They can segment their communications and really get to know how people are engaging with their organization. Since CiviCRM is open source, there are no licensing fees, and there are developers all over the world helping to improve the code, so you can benefit from other people’s work and others can benefit from the work you do with your code once it’s contributed back to the community. Another thing that’s great about CiviCRM is that it can be customized to fit your exact needs. You don’t have to be stuck with what you have like with most proprietary tools. Finally, you have control over your data, instead of having it stuck inside a proprietary tool.

Looking Ahead
Technology is changing at such a fast pace. We can no longer access data that was stored on a floppy drive and later on a cd. Now people store their data in the cloud. Instead of printing a photograph, it sits in the cloud. We are shifting from material to ephemeral. I think life is but a dream, and everything is “maya” illusion and we came with nothing and leave with nothing!

The way we communicate and work is shifting so quickly with mobile technology. I use my cell phone for photography, work and personal use. Wow, talk about all-in-one! We are connected, yet so disconnected. We sit in the same room, but with our face down in our devices. We communicate less face-to-face, more mobile-to-mobile. Through technology we are close to people who are far away, and far away from people who are close to us. We are engaged, but distant at the same time. We are not in the present moment. We are in a far away place sometimes quite unaware of our environment and people around us.

Despite its drawbacks, I do embrace the power of mobile devices and their potential. I think we are way beyond thinking about the web. It’s not about adapting a website to mobile. It’s about using technology native to mobile devices as a way to share content and engage people. We have only scratched the surface when it comes to mobile and its potential. In other countries, people and organizations are much more sophisticated in terms of how they use mobile devices. We have to think outside the box, and learn to solve problems the “mobile” way.

With the rise of social media and content sharing, people are empowered to both share their thoughts and ideas and learn about new things. People go onto Youtube to learn how to fix things. Who knew Youtube would be used as an educational tool? Organizations are no longer relying on the media to talk about issues they care about. They can publish their own content and create a community to share this content with. There is a lot of power and responsibility that comes with the ascent of social media and content generation. We are all content creators and content gatherers. However, how do we know what’s real? Is there anything such as objective journalism? What is the truth? Is it all subjective? Can we see through the content haze and decipher the truth? Perhaps, sometimes, and sometimes not…

Finally, what is happening in the world around us? Who really controls what’s happening around us? What is the role of governments and the role of multinational corporations? How do we evolve from a consumeristic, throw away culture, to a culture that values things that last? How can we shift from enjoying fast food to slow food? How do we take care of our natural resources, especially the air and water, around us? We are often disconnected, and don’t appreciate the impact of our actions on the world around us. How can we hold food corporations and pharmaceutical companies accountable for filling us with junk food, sodas and drugs that are harmful to us? How can we let companies like Monsanto bully farmers worldwide and patent seeds, and destroy our soil with pesticides? We need to better understand everything that is happening around us, and wake up to the realities of what’s happening around us and how we can come up with small ways to make a big difference in the world!

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