One Cause At a Time – Archive

An Archive of Chicago Now One Cause at a Time Posts

Archive for October 2013

Hookers & Hackers & Buffer – Oh, My!

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George TakeiThis past week has been busy for me, prepping for Friday’s panel discussion at DexCon2013 (thanks to Pierre Clark of the Chicago Digital Access Alliance for the invitation), but I didn’t want to let this week pass without addressing several pieces of recent news and commentary on the tech scene….and their implications for non-profits, social ventures, and other mission-driven organizations. It will also allow me, for the first time, to use the phrase “hackers and hookers” in this blog.

That was the lead off to a recent piece by Blagica Bottigliero in Crain’s Chicago Business, focusing on how a planned Halloween party in San Francisco was inappropriately marketed. She makes some very clear, concise points about how the tech field may be regarding women, and points out the irony of 19th-century values being played out in the first decade of the 21st century. At a time when social media can be leveraged by even the smallest organizations, promoting the idea that somehow one class of people is “less than” another can and should be anathema to anyone in the field. (Although the company in question removed the piece, the deeper question – why was such a piece approved in the first place – should be a primary focus of scrutiny). As increasing numbers of “networking” events focus more on driving numbers than building relationships (and yes, I’m talking specifically about Chicago Interactive Social Club and Networking After Work), and companies are held accountable for their actions (see my colleague Yesenia Sotelo’s recent piece on GoDaddy), thinking about inclusion is incredibly critical. With the ability to leverage social networks, how organizations engage those networks – and the channels they use – need to be considered with greater scrutiny and clarity of thought.

A great example is the recent news that Buffer, a social media engagement platform that allowed for scheduling of posts, had been hacked. (Sadly, I was one of the many users whose accounts were hacked, with my Facebook contacts spammed). Although this was a situation easily reconciled (simply, a change of password, removal of spam posts and – for me, at least, disconnecting social media channels from Buffer), it was still a wake-up call. First, I am a proponent of using tools for a specific purpose, and in this case, although I rarely use Buffer (I much prefer Hootsuite), I still had a responsibility to make sure that my accounts were “safe”. In addition, many organizations rely on web-based software to facilitate their engagement efforts….and this should be a reminder about online safety. Although Buffer, has made a public apology, and is “working on the problem”….this is a very real breach of trust. Having a site go down is one matter, but the resulting loss of credibility for many organizations using the platform is real….and that regaining that credibility will be a challenge.

Finally, one new (and hopeful) source of information will be the news that George Takei is launching a new YouTube channel called “Takei’s Take”, which will focus on education around social media. Unlike some of his co-stars, Takei has endeared himself precisely by being himself….which is one of the strongest lessons in social media. Although nerd/geek culture prides itself on being inclusive, it is easy to assume that inclusion means focusing on higher-end concepts. (For example, focusing on gadgets with an audience that may not always have the financial resources). It may seem like an offbeat choice to focus on, but Takei’s channel does precisely what the “Hackers and Hookers” party failed to do: engage a wide audience around tech-oriented matters. In that, there are plenty of lessons for many non-profits, social ventures, and other mission-driven organizations to learn.

But what do you think? You’re more than welcome to leave comments below, or please feel free to join the conversation via our new Facebook page. In addition, you can contact me directly via Linked In or private e-mail (just mention One Cause At a Time in your note). And as always, thanks for reading!


Networking Online and Offline – Two Opportunities

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facebook logo Networking and resource sharing are critical when driving digital and technological excellence in socially beneficial initiatives, and thankfully, readers of this blog have two opportunities to network online and offline.

First, this blog now has a formal Facebook presence, which not only allows me to share posts more easily, but also encourages you, the reader, to share and comment. (Plus, any blogger will tell you that increasing the range of readers is critical). If you wish to join us, please “like” our page at

Also, the Illinois Task Force on Social Innovation, Entrepreneurship, & Enterprise is holding its monthly meeting on October 24th at the Michael Bilandic Building, located at 160 N. LaSalle (Full Disclosure: I volunteer for their outreach committee). For more information (and to RSVP), please visit

As always, thanks for reading!

Written by gordondym

October 18, 2013 at 10:05 am

Blog Action Day: Digital Excellence As a Human Right

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For bloggers around the world (including this one), today is Blog Action Day, which focuses attention on issues and trends in social justice. This year’s theme – centered around human rights – proved to be challenge, until I realized that there was a basic concept which drives tech and the social good, that impacts individuals and organizaitons, from small community groups to large non-profits.

Digital excellence – the belief that digital access and literacy amongst underserved communities is critical to overall development – is a fundamental human right, and  key efforts in Chicago are driving that belief.

It seems almost inevitable – after all, polls show that 79% of adults around the world believe that everyone should have access to the Internet. A diverse array of organizations are working towards driving digital excellence by insuring that people around the world have access to technology, but more importantly, are able to use that technology adequately. Even a report by the UN Special Rapporteur in 2011 asserted that digital rights – especially as they related to individual expression and freedom of assembly – were human rights.

However, this concept is a hard sell in a culture where there is gridlock over agreement of health care as a human right – in fact, Vinton Cerf has asserted (like many others) that Technology is an enabler of rights, not a right itself. Of course, in a world shifting away from a skills, manufacturing-based culture to a digitally networked, knowledge-based culture, those without access to digital tools find themselves at a loss. For those who have developed strong digital networks, their contacts and information is parcelled out in the belief that they need to keep for themselves, seeing collaboration and cooperation as depleting – rather than enhancing – their individual professional growth at the expense of the greater community. For them, digital access as a human right is an abstract concept – not a working principle.

Thankfully, two organizations – the Southside Broadband Alliance and Greater Southwest Development Agency – have been working to create broadband and wi-fi access along the 63rd Street corridor on the southwest side. (Note: I have professional relations with both agencies, and neither one had solicited this article). Efforts are underway to focus more on “crowdsourcing” efforts (think Open 311), developing smaller networks that interconnect people, versus the outmoded idea of the “One Grand Database” of resources. City data is increasingly being opened up and used by citizens to learn more about local resources. These are small steps (which for some are not happening fast enough) which are critical in driving digital access and digital excellence,  fostering the development of digital, virtual, and social networks throughout the city of Chicago…and asserting the belief of digital access as a basic human right.

When I moved back to Chicago in 2006, one of the first organizations I joined was focused on driving technological excellence and social good. Back then, much of what we discussed promised optimistic results by empowering individuals and organizations. Looking at digital excellence as a human right, Chicago is only now beginning to lay the foundation towards putting that idea into practice…and I, for one, cannot be prouder on this Blog Action Day.

What are your thoughts? Do you see access to tech, digital networks, and/or software tools as a human right? Please feel free to leave your comments below. If you wish to contact me privately, please feel free to touch base via Linked In (please mention One Cause At a Time in your note) or via private e-mail. And as always, thanks for reading!

Non-Profit Government Shutdown Survival Guide

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votingWith the government shutdown underway, many non-profits may be confused about how to proceed. With the debt ceiling deadline looming on October 17th, many organizations find themselves proceeding with great caution. However, this is also an opportunity for Chicago area non-profits, social ventures, and other social change agents to consider taking a slightly different approach.

So in that spirit, here are a few basic things to consider to make this crisis somewhat more bearable:

  • Know Exactly How Your Clients Will Be Affected – Various publications ranging from Non-Profit Quarterly to and Mother Jones magazine outline the direct impact of the shutdown. (You can also find information at This knowledge will be helpful when making critical decisions for how non-profit programs are implemented, allowing non-profits and social change organizations to be much more client-focused in their approach.
  • Consider An Open Source Approach to Software – and Collaboration – Many non-profits choose open source equivalents to commercial software to save money and open up services. (One good example is the Chicago Public Library making LibreOffice available to patrons). But open sourcing development and collaboration – allowing other organizations to take models, build on them, and create “forks” can enhance sustainability. (In addition, exploring potential partnerships with other non-profits, smaller organizations, and L3Cs/Benefit corporations can also be beneficial). Going open source can be a challenge, but thankfully, there are resources to assist in making the transition such as the NOSI primer (which is currently being revised)
  • If You Receive Federal Grants, Please Double-checkAs this article rightly points out, although some federal programs have integrated some contingencies, performing due diligence is not just a smart idea – it can provide for adequate planning and preparation to avoid later frustration and heartache.
  • Make Long-Range Plans and Rethink Your Strategies – Our only previous government shutdown seventeen years ago lasted about three weeks – there is no way to determine how long this current shutdown will last. As you inventory your non-profit’s current situation, attempt to see potential opportunities for partnership, services, funding and other resources. This is not a time to live in the age of the silo, nor is it the time to be a “gatekeeper” – adopting an open source approach will mean the difference between providing services and shutting doors. However…
  • You Can Make An Impact And Maintain Professional Standards – Many non-profit workers take the view that non-profits are not a business, and they do not require as much in terms of maintaining professional standards around hiring, bookkeeping, and other day-to-day activities. (In simpler terms, it’s much harder for a mission-driven organization to make an impact on the community if the electricity is turned off). As this article from Nonprofit HR points out, staying on top of current trends in non-profit administration is always critical, and being able to adjust to sudden changes in situation is a hallmark of an efficient organization. Although seemingly trivial, this is one area that non-profits and other social change organizations must stay vigilant.

Regardless of where we lie on the political spectrum, those of us whose careers have centered around social change and social impact will be affected by this shutdown. The impact may potentially be incalculable, but nonetheless, there is an opportunity for Chicago area non-profits, social change organizations, mission-driven businesses, and others who share our beliefs to move slowly, but surely, towards the 21st century. Perhaps the twin ideas of “peer progressivism” and “digital excellence” can be more than just buzzwords in the metropolitan Chicago area….perhaps they can be great examples for the rest of the country to follow….

Any other ideas about how non-profits/social change organizations can survive the government shutdown? Anything that I have omitted? Any other thoughts to explore? Please feel free to share them below. In addition, you’re always welcome to contact me privately via Linked In (just mention One Cause At A Time in your note) or via private e-mail. And as always, thanks for reading!