Five ways to collaborate online

Having effective ways to collaborate online enhances our ability to engage in a meaningful way. You have probably worked on a shared document with others by sending emails back and forth. This seems to still be the default way to collaborate, but it is less than ideal. It sometimes hard to identify the latest version of the file and updates take time. And for busy people the trail of relevant emails can be spread throughout your inbox.

Here are five ways to collaborate.

Google Drive

Google Drive (formerly Googledocs) offers a free online document creation and storage facility. Google Drive also has the capability to connect other apps that complement Drive’s native apps. Google Drive also offers 15 gigs of storage space. Online collaboration is easy with Drive – you have the option either to share a file or a folder with others and enable them to edit.

Microsoft Office 365

I haven’t used Microsoft Office 365 yet. It is a shift from a one-time purchase of the software to an annual lease. It offers file sharing and capability for collaborating on documents. Other features include multi-party HD video conferencing.

GroupMap

GroupMap offers different collaboration capabilities. It is more suited to collective brainstorming and sharing information and ideas rather than formalising them in a document. When you share a GroupMap with someone, they are able to contribute ideas by typing into “My View”. Switching to “Group View” displays aggregated contributions. Note that GroupMap has a template for stakeholder mapping.

Blogging

Blogs such as WordPress.com or Blogger are easy ways to establish a website providing the advantage of a publishing platform. In WordPress.com you can invite others into your blog as contributors. When I have attempted this, some have not got past the need to set up a WordPress account. If you have a WordPress.org account, there are a number of plugins available to enhance collaboration. Participad is a WordPress plugin that allows multiple people to edit the same WP content at the same time. I haven’t used Blogger and am interested to know if access is easier for guest bloggers.

Wikis

Wikipedia is the best known wiki and you can collaborate there to create new content. Mediawiki is a probably more suitable for those that want to collaborate without the pressure of conforming to Wikipedia’s protocols. This website provides great advice for collaborating through a wiki.

Using social media for crisis management

This superb infographic from http://www.emergency-management-degree.org reveals the power of social media to help with crisis management. Note that Youtube has surpassed 1 billion unique monthly users.Using Social Media as a Crisis Management Tool

Engagement and the Regeneration Roadmap

Engagement processes are at the leading edge of sustainability. The Regeneration Roadmap is an initiative of Globescan and SustainAbility aiming to achieve sustainable development within the next generation. Their focus is on the private sector to drive a lot of change.  This video features global thought leaders articulating the road to sustainability. As you watch, notice how pivotal engagement is a agency for change.

Mobilizing the Response from The Regeneration Roadmap on Vimeo.

Gro Harlem Brundtland, a past Norwegian Prime Minister and Director General of the World Health Organisation. She is currently a Special Envoy on Climate Change for the United Nations. She places engagement at the heart of change.

Personal engagement, personal commitment and building confidence with other people and other nations is the only way to move forward.

The video reinforces the need to generate positive discourse around sustainability, articulate a vision of a sustainable planet and create a culture to embed sustainability as a way of life.

For more videos by these gifted thinkers go to the Regeneration Roadmap website.

Engagement and community building – the White Dog Café

In 1983 Judy Wicks started the White Dog Café in Philadelphia. It has become an exemplar for a community-based enterprise.

Where I live, community enterprise is slowly but surely being eroded as an increasing number of national or international chain stores supplant local stores. While this typically provides benefits such as cheaper goods the longer-term impacts are not beneficial for the local community (more about this in a later blog).

The White Dog Café started off as a restaurant, and remains a restaurant, but it has become the centre of a local network of suppliers, customers, employees and community interests. In the early years of the restaurant, Judy became increasingly troubled that the meat on her menu came from industrial farms. She changed to free range pork and then other meat and chicken and free range eggs. If produce is available locally, and is preferably organic, the White Dog Café purchases it in preference to imported food.

Initially Judy regarded locally sourced production as a point of difference for her restaurant, but her thinking evolved to consider the greater good and she went about engaging other restaurateurs in the concept. Her engagement with local farmers and growers created momentum for the establishment of the Fair Food initiative. Farmers and growers benefit from having a larger market for their produce locally. This animal welfare aspect of the White Dog Café remains one of her strongest motivators.

Networks of services

A restaurant depends on a web of services to operate. As Judy sorted out the produce for her menu, she became aware of a series of expanding possibilities to make the restaurant more sustainable and support the local community. She sourced renewable electricity and created a solar-heated water supply. Organic waste is composted and other waste recycled where possible. Local products are used whenever possible – for example locally produced soap is purchased for hand washing. For those products not available locally, such as tea, sugar and coffee, Fair Trade sources are used.

The invisible had works when we live in the same community.[1]

Staff also benefit from the sustainability philosophy – Judy pays a “living wage”. The Restaurant also supports a number of local community service projects such as Crime Victim Services and many others.

Business philosophy and selling the business

The mission statement of the White Dog Café is “Serving our customers, serving each other, serving our community and serving the earth”. Business decisions are based on serving the greater good, growing consciousness and increasing happiness.

After 30 years in the restaurant business Judy decided to sell the restaurant to help her focus on the promotion of sustainability. She wanted to keep the mission of the White Dog Café alive, so she found a local purchaser and retained the rights to the name of the business. To perpetuate the sustainability agenda she set up a Social Contract that keeps the White Dog Café on the same trajectory. The purchaser is able to set up other branches as long as they have 51% local ownership. This video outlines Judy’s perspectives, the restaurant’s operations and the Social Contract.

Above all, Judy has show how one business can generate social good by building rich networks in its local community. Do you know of other examples?

image credit: Real People Eat Local

Social capital and good books

“Social capital… reflects the community skills that have co-evolved with individual skills. People working together generate webs of social capital”. So say Jessica Lipnack and Jeff Stamps in Virtual Teams. Social capital is built on rich social networks.

It is a delicate thing. Social networks are forged from trust and as anyone who has suffered from infidelity in a relationship can tell you, trust builds up over time and but is very easy to destroy. According to Stephen Covey, trust becomes established when individuals demonstrate character and competence. Where these intersect trust and credibility is established.

Stephen Covey’s model of trust

We can easily see the beneficial consequences of trust and the accumulation of social capital when we consider those societies where trust and social capital has been shattered. Many of us can only imagine what it would be like to live in community where there is frequent violence, abuses and threats. In circumstances such as these the dismantling of social capital is accelerated when the state is perpetuating abuses.

Social capital is relevant for all social units: families, cities, businesses and nations. According to Lipnack and Stamps:

People generate wealth in dense networks of horizontal relationships in two primary ways because they lower transaction costs [and] increase opportunities for cooperation.[1]

A simple example is the knowing a friend will meet you as agreed, although a week has elapsed since the meeting was scheduled. You can probably think of a friend like this – and, by contrast, those that you would always contact to confirm the meeting. The extra workload, even if it is only small as illustrated in this example, reveals an added “transaction cost” to the relationship. Stephen Covey Junior provides another example in The Speed of Trust. A New York street vendor selling hot dogs found long queues dissuaded potential customers. He decided to enable customers to make their own change. This freed him up from dealing with cash and enabled him to provide much quicker service. His customers appreciated being trusted.

Now take these small gains and multiply the effect in large organisations (such as businesses) and their multiple stakeholders. The difference between a high trust and low-trust environments is clearly substantial.

Better World Books

Better World Books exemplify the development of social capital. They are a social business, motivated to do good. The profits flow, and they disburse much of them by supporting literacy initiatives around the world. According to Kevin Jones Better World Books “is now approaching $60 million in revenues with healthy profits and a compound annual growth rate of 35 percent. It’s donated more than $11 million to nonprofit groups helping to give the gift of literacy.[2]

Better World Books stock comes from donations from individuals, educational institutions and libraries. They are sold for a reasonable price to fund the company’s philanthropy. The Good Capital Social Enterprise Expansion Fund (SEEF) invested in Better World Books to aid it through its establishment phase. So we have a company who have a philanthropic supply chain, have staff who are no doubt inspired by the company’s mission, social enterprise investors, customers who buy into the mission and an increasing cohort of beneficiaries of literacy programmes. This is a potent recipe to build social capital that extends well beyond the boundaries of the company.

As Professor Muhammad Yunus says, every problem can be solved with a social business. The challenge for more conventional companies is how to use this dynamic and learn from its masterclass of engagement and social capital accumulation.

Here is a YouTube video of Better World Books. Note that the figures presented are four years out of date (reinforcing their incredible growth).

[1] Jeffrey Lipnack and Jessica Stamps: Virtual Teams: People Working Across Boundaries With Technology (2008) http://www.netage.com/pub/books/VirtualTeams2.html

More reflections on blogging

I have been blogging now, consistently for most of this year. I am starting to see the fruits of my labour as the search engines seem now to have discovered my blog.

Blogging as exploration and inquiry

I have been a student for most of my life, completing my formal education just a few years ago. Some of my experiences as a student were intense learning experiences, and most of what I learned was relevant. Blogging has been at least as intense as any formal learning. Why is this so?

While blogging, the central themes of stakeholder engagement and sustainability dominate, but I reference back to other disciplines that underpin them, such as communication, organisational learning and leadership, and from this mix, explore the world laterally and align areas of inquiry with these central themes and disciplines. For me, it has created intellectual discipline and a space for creativity that has enabled the generation of new ideas. The Communication Spectrum is a good example of the fruit of this process. I also enjoyed exploration of relevant “big picture” stuff, such as The End of Empires.

I am a Tom Peters fan. He has sold millions of books and started blogging in August 2006. In this video with Seth Godin he raves (as only Tom can rave) about blogging:

No single thing in the past 15 years professionally, has been more important than blogging. It has changed my life; It has changed my perspective; It has changed my intellectual outlook; It has changed my emotional outlook… and its the best damn marketing tool I have ever had.

While I am yet to harvest the benefits of marketing, I thoroughly endorse Tom’s comments.

Finding voice

In the same video, Seth Godin identifies blogging as a “free micro-publishing tool” and stresses its importance as a platform for people to express their voice and join conversations. Thus blogging is an essential engagement tool.

Given blogging’s potential to support intellectual inquiry and to provide a ubiquitous platform for voice, imagine the impact it will have on our world as it becomes more common. I believe it will, alongside a host of other democratising influences, provide great impetus for beneficial social change and the development of more cohesive communities.

If you lead an organisation, or are in an influential senior position, I hope you are blogging – it can only improve engagement.

 

 

Leadership for our fragile oasis

Last week the NASA astronaut Ron Garan, and the great Muhammad Yunus addressed the Global Social Business Summit. They conveyed a similar message, but from totally different perspectives. Ron Garan is one of those elite who have seen the planet from the outside, and as with several of his peers, the experience had a transformational impact. They see things from a new perspective – the “orbital perspective”. Svetlana Savitskaya, the first woman to walk in space expressed it this way:

When in orbit, one thinks of the whole of the earth rather than one’s country, as one’s home.

At the conclusion of his talk, Ron Garan presented a spectacular video of the return to earth of his spacecraft, Soyez TMA-21 in September this year. Here is a short segment from YouTube. (The music is Peter Gabriel’s Down to Earth).

Soyez TMA-21 re-entry 

Muhummad Yunus connected back to Ron’s talk beautifully stating how it is an “unfortunate thing that we can’t keep this home as a home for a happy family”. He then spoke about the worm’s eye perspective. When he returned to Bangladesh from study in the United States, his country was experiencing warfare and famine. He found his economic theories hollow and impotent in the face of human tragedy. When he went to the neighbouring village he learned about life from the ground level – the worm’s eye view. Here he is explaining the concept.

The bigger you grow – the more distant you get away from the ground level.

Muhammad Yunus’s strength is his ability to operate from both perspectives.

Following Ron Garan’s space experiences he has dedicated his efforts to improving life back here on earth. He is a member of Engineers Without Borders, the founder of both the Manna Energy Foundation and Fragile Oasis.

Although Ron Garan adopted the posture of a student before the master (Muhammad Yunus), both men epitomise the quality of leadership required for our “fragile oasis”.

The higher ambition leader

On reading Harvard Business Review’s September 2011 article, The Higher Ambition Leader, I am struck with the parallels to the concepts championed by Muhammad Yunus and Ron Garan. The article extols the leadership by CEOs of companies such as Standard Chartered, an international bank. The bank’s vision is to be “the world’s best international bank” by “combining global reach with deep local knowledge to become the ‘right partner’ for its customers”.

The article is centred on studies of three companies whose CEOs manifest higher ambition:

to create long-term economic value, generate wider benefits for society, and build robust social capital within their organizations all at once.

These lofty ideals are achieved through creating powerful strategic visions, world class levels of engagement and a constant leadership focus on achieving the strategy.

The link to engagement

The examples of Ron Garan and Muhammad Yunus, alongside the three companies featured in the HBR article illustrate the importance of engagement. Campbell Soup’s CEO “relentlessly drove progress on two measures: total shareholder returns and the level of employee engagement”. Employee engagement levels at Campbell Soup exceeded Gallup’s benchmark of 10:1 for world-class engagement. By 2010 the company achieved “a ratio of 17 engaged employees for every actively disengaged one”. Is it a coincidence that, for the six years up to 2010 Campbell Soup achieved a cumulative total shareholder return of 64% (S&P packaged food index return is 38% and the S&P 500 return is 13%)? I don’t think so.

The leadership described here is becoming the default standard of leadership. We need leaders with both the worm’s eye view and the orbital perspective – those who can focus on the needs of their communities and companies, while also committing to sustaining our fragile oasis and its communities.

Stakeholder engagement pays – indirect benefits

With the new year looming, smart companies are considering their development options for the coming year. The smartest will be looking to further develop their engagement capacity. In an earlier post, we looked at the direct benefits of engagement. Here is a sample of some of the indirect benefits of engagement for each of the main stakeholder groups.

I emphasise that this is just a sample of the increasing evidence of the efficacy of stakeholder engagement. These indirect benefits are those that aren’t immediately visible in the bottom line, but over time provide tangible benefits for the organisation and its stakeholders.

Indirect benefits – financiers

The seismic financial shocks that rocked the world in the latter years of the first decade of this century have been devastating for financiers. And it looks like they will continue for some time. According to the Daily Mail, in a week in August 2011, three trillion dollars was wiped off the value of global sharemarkets.

While engagement itself, will not remedy the volatility of investments, it has huge potential to soften future impacts – if you factor in the ethos underpinning engagement. For example, the U.S., banks that gorged on cheap finance, distributed it with insufficient due diligence and then on-sold them to other banks. Banks with an engagement ethos would balance their profit motive with the interests of all stakeholders. Our recent experience demonstrates how a singular focus on profit creates a series of compounding negative consequences.

New McMansions are demolished in Victorville, CA earlier this year to free the city from liability resulting from possible vandalism, crime and fire danger. (LA Times photo)from Sprawled Out.

Indirect benefits – employees

Rudy Karsen and Kevin Kruse’s book We, reveals strong links between effective employee engagement and benefits to employee health and family life. They cite a study from Iowa that found that job stresses on one partner in a relationship creates a similar level of stress for their spouse. Similar effects were found for children. The British medical journal found that dissatisfied workers were 2.4 times more likely to die from a cardiac event.

Indirect benefits – customers

The most obvious benefit from customer engagement is that engaged front line staff generate better ambiance and customer experience. And brand loyalty is built through engagement. According to Tom Peters, women don’t just buy brands, they join them. If a company is able to facilitate connections between female consumers it also connects them to the brand.  Tom claims that women tend to be more relational in their purchasing, and he stresses that the purchasing power of women continues to climb.

Indirect benefits – suppliers

Over the last few decades, the attention of consumers and NGOs has shone light into the dark places of the global supply chain, often revealing shocking abuses. Engagement has enabled consumers to learn more about the conditions people suffer when growing, harvesting or extracting resources and processing them for wealthier markets. Initiatives such as Fair Trade and Sustainability Standards have generated huge benefits for disadvantaged communities. Participating companies benefit from enhanced reputation. Technology such as the Internet and satellites makes it difficult to hide. Satellite images revealed the true extent of the gulf oil spill, debunking the claims of those who sought to minimise it.

Indirect benefits – community

All of the above impacts on the community.

Pepsico have recently partnered with USAID, the United Nations Food Programme and 10,000 Ethiopian farmers to grow chickpeas. They will be used for food supplements for the starving, for the local Ethiopian market and for Pepsico’s humus. Multiple community benefits will accrue. For example, the health of Pepsico’s range of brands will be improved with the greater use of chickpeas. This aligns with another initiative from the company to reduce levels of saturated fat, sugar and sodium in their food. There are anticipated flow on effects to the health of consumers.

I welcome any comments about indirect benefits of engagement that you have encountered.

Pepsico, Ethiopia and chickpeas – a win-win-win

Pepsico are engaging with partners and the Ethiopian Government in an initiative to improve chickpea production. Chickpeas are an ideal crop – they grow well in Ethiopia, the have great nutritional values, including high protein and, being a legume, help build soil fertility.

Chickpeas – image credit and history of human use

The plight of the poor in Ethiopa rarely comes to our attention – it has to compete with our fixation on the economy and other more pressing news. Ethiopia is currently experiencing another drought and famine. And Ethopian resources are further stretched as refugees continue to flood in from its drought and war afflicted neighbour, Somalia,

Pepsico, in partnership with USAID, and the UN World Food Programme, will work with 10,000 farmers in Ethiopia to help them reap a twofold increase in sustainable chickpea production using irrigation and advanced agricultural practices. Other partners include the Stellenbosch University in South Africa. The increased volume of chickpeas will have three markets:

  • the World Food Programme will produce a locally sourced nutrient-rich, ready-to-use supplementary food to address malnutrition initially targeting 40,000 Ethiopian children
  • local commercial uses in Ethiopia
  • expansion of Pepsico’s hummus offerings.

This is a great example of the good that companies such as Pepsico can generate as they build their own internal awareness of the plight of the world and the interconnectedness of the systems that sustain us. The cynical might deny the element of altruism, that I believe, is undeniably manifest in Pepsico’s thinking. (This earlier post discusses altruism as a sustainability driver).

“With the ingenuity, power and reach of the private sector, we can make great strides in ending the malnutrition and hunger that is threatening the lives of millions,” said Josette Sheeran, Executive Director of WFP. “The world knows how to prevent malnutrition. The hunger we are witnessing today in the Horn of Africa is preventable with local solutions that support small farmers in being part of the solution. Enterprise EthioPEA will change the lives of tens of thousands of children and will chart the course for future partnerships to help stamp out hunger around the globe.” (from the Pepsico website)

Among the evidence of Pepsico’s intent is the partners it chooses to work with, and the people it employs to champion such projects. Here is a video featuring Derek Yach, the current the Senior Vice President, Global Health and Agricultural Policy, PepsiCo Inc. He was previously the Professor of Global Health at Yale School of Public Health, and Executive Director of the Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health cluster at the World Health Organization (WHO). In the video he elaborates on the project.

Pepsico are also aware of the health risks that many of their products pose back home. Their 2010 sustainability report includes goals to reduce the quantities of saturated fat, sugar and sodium in their products.

from the Pepsico Sustainability Report

Derek Yachs believes that the future of Africa depends initially on more effective and sustainable agriculture. This quality of thinking and effective engagement with partners will see corporates such as Pepsico transform the global economy and society.

Engaging stories: Fairtrade cotton

I mostly drink Fairtrade coffee, sometimes eat Fairtrade chocolate, but must confess, I don’t wear Fairtrade cotton. That will change now that I am reading Harriet Lamb’s Fighting the Banana Wars and Other Fairtrade Battles.

Struggling to stay above the poverty line

Harriet Lamb tells of cotton grower’s subsistence existence in Africa, where cotton supports about 10 million people. For countries such as Burkina Faso, cotton is the major export. Typically the growers live in villages that often don’t have direct access to drinking water, education and healthcare facilities – things we take for granted in the West.

African and other third-world cotton growers are enmeshed in the fabric of global trading dynamics. If they only had to contend with the vagaries of the weather and nature, and even the free market, they might be okay, but their problems are compounded by subsidies that wealthy countries pay their cotton growers. The U.S. Government subsidises their own cotton growers in response to falling cotton prices. When U.S. subsidies increased in 2001, U.S. growers responded by growing more cotton. Not, surprisingly, increased production saw the global price fall further. In 2005, the U.S. Government spent $4.7 billion on cotton subsidies, more than it spent on aid to Africa.

We also have spare a thought for the U.S. taxpayer here. The Government’s subsidies distort the market and impoverish parts of Africa, impelling Western governments to provide aid – so the U.S. taxpayer pays twice – through cotton subsidies and through aid. And it is even more crazy when the US subsidises Brazilian cotton farmers as part of a free trade deal. Unfortunately the Africans don’t have a free trade deal! The Fairtrade story, teaches us that aid is less necessary when factors influencing global markets are more carefully managed for all stakeholders.

Minimum prices

Fairtrade’s main mechanism for creating better returns for growers is a minimum price. This provides a buffer for growers and with the troughs in the market cycles eliminated, growers and their communities get the cash they need to raise living standards. Typically communities will invest additional income into clean and local water supplies and education.

As important as the material improvements, is the contribution the Fairtrade ethos brings to village life. For example, Fairtrade work to raise the status of women, through the agency of additional income and education. This video about Fairtrade cotton in Cameroon features the benefits to women. One of the women outlines the benefits:

The Fairtrade standards insist that women are in the group. The men had difficulty accepting this at first but slowly they realised that it could work. And now they own their own land… they are independent. They work their land, they go and receive their money alongside the men and this motivates others to get involved as well.

Commodity price increases

Recent spikes in commodity prices around the world have ameliorated the distortions created by subsidies. Demand for cotton has increased, as more people join the middle class, cotton production decreases and discerning consumers learn to favour natural textiles. This chart from the Index Mundi website, show the cotton price over the last fifteen years, revealing the sharp recent spike.

What I don’t know, is the impact this spike has had on third world growers. When commodity prices rise, growers don’t necessarily benefit. Has Fairtrade been able to ensure a fair share of the benefits get to those that need it most? And does it make you feel better about paying more money for a pair of jeans?