Back to School

Last week, I was at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University for the beginning of what will be a yearlong course of study. For five days, my cohort and I were immersed in academic study, skill building, peer learning and radical self-inquiry. Among the many professors who taught us was the legendary community organizing “guru” Marshall Ganz, who worked alongside Martin Luther King in 1964, devoted 16 years to the United Farm Workers led by Cesar Chavez, and is credited with devising the grassroots fundraising model used in 2008 by Barack Obama. I am so grateful for my new community of worldwide leaders and their generosity of wisdom and warmth.

Justice Department to end use of private prisons

privateprisonsLong overdue news yesterday from the U.S. Justice Department saying they plan to end use of private prisons because research shows they are  less safe and less effective, do not save substantially on costs, and do not maintain the same level of safety and security.  To truly grasp the enormity of the problems at some of these profit-driven facilities, read Shane Bauer’s exposé of his four months undercover as a private prison guard in Louisiana or The Nation magazine’s story about deaths in privately operated facilities, both of which were cited by Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates in her announcement. (You can also hear great podcasts about these stories on Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting.) This is a big win for the power of investigative journalism to shed light on secrets others want to keep hidden and hold the powerful accountable. The push must continue to end profit-making private prisons still used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the U.S. Marshals Service and states.

Do you have a $100 million idea?

MacArthur logoA new competition launched by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation will award a $100 million grant to a single proposal designed to help solve a critical problem affecting people, places, or the planet. The Foundation’s competition, called 100&Change, is open to organizations working in any field of endeavor anywhere. Applicants must identify both the problem they are trying to solve, as well as their proposed solution. Every three years, the foundation will award $100 million to help make one of these solutions a reality. To learn more about this extraordinary opportunity visit the competition website or check out the foundation’s press release here.

Too young to wed

ChiefThanks to Huffington Post, I have a new hero. Theresa Kachindamoto, senior chief in the Dedza District in Central Malawi made 50 of her sub-chiefs sign an agreement to end child marriage in her area of authority. She also made the leaders annul any existing underage unions, and send all of the children involved back to school. Last year, Malawi’s parliament passed a law forbidding marriage before the age of 18. But under customary law of the traditional authorities, and the constitution, Malawian children can still marry with parental consent, and 1 in 2 girls in the country is married before she is 18. As in many nations, impoverished parents marry off their young daughters in exchange for a dowry and see no alternative to doing so.  “I talk to the parents,” Kachindamoto said to U.N. Women last year. “I tell them: if you educate your girls you will have everything in the future.” Over the past three years, Kachindamoto has annulled close to 850 marriages. Hers is a beautiful example of changing the world by acting where you can–with as much conviction and power as you can muster.

AB 2855 is a bad bill. Help stop it.

CalNonprofitsIntroduced by Assemblymember Jim Frazier, AB 2855 places duplicative and unnecessary requirements on nonprofits and then imposes penalties that are far out of proportion for noncompliance. The bill fuels misconceptions about nonprofits and overhead, relying on stories of a few high-profile scam charities to create an undue burden on all. Importantly, it does nothing to protect the public from bad players. CalNonprofits is organizing a campaign to stop the bill and you can help. First, for more information, read their open letter to Assemblymember Frazier to familiarize yourself with the issues. Second, Frazier’s office now with this simple message: “I am asking you to withdraw AB2855.”  Call 916-319-2011 today. Then pass this information on to your nonprofit colleagues and ask them to oppose AB 2855. got it right

Bryan StevensonOn Friday, February 26, announced a grant of $1 million to Bryan Stevenson and the nonprofit he founded, Equal Justice Initiative. And I could not be happier to hear it. The grant, “to push America to confront its violent racial history,” will help fund online public education programs, as well as Stevenson’s efforts to create civil rights landmarks such as the nation’s first lynching memorial and memorial markers at lynching sites. Stevenson is an experienced and credible leader, as well as an inspiration. If you are not already familiar with his work, I strongly recommend reading his book Just Mercy (reviewed here by the New York Times), or taking a few moments to watch his TED talk.

Love Heals

Thistle Farms 2016I am just back from Nashville, Tennessee, where I had the great privilege of visiting Thistle Farms — a community of women who have survived prostitution, trafficking and addiction, and established the most successful social enterprise of its kind anywhere in the world. Spending time with Becca Stevens, the organization’s founder and spiritual leader, and learning more about how the women harness the power of love to heal was one of the most profound and beautiful experiences of my life. Their accomplishments are far too many to share here, but I hope next time you want to buy  a gift for someone you love you will shop for Thistle Farm products as well as those from their Shared Trade  partners — small enterprises worldwide that are also protecting and economically empowering women. (Pictured right: Becca Stevens, Thistle graduate Anika and Isabel Allende)

Giving: my renewable resource

treeEach year at this time, I like to share a few thoughts on giving. But these are tough times and this year, finding things to say about my brand of generosity (which is steady but incremental) was not easy. Nonetheless, I tried. My 2015 piece on giving is now available at the online blog Medium. I hope you will take three minutes to read it. Even more, I hope you will share it with those you know who might also need a kind of a pep talk to stay hopeful in spite of all evidence to the contrary.



Out of the mud, grows the lotus

zuckerberg chanYou didn’t hear it here first, but it’s been a swell couple of days for envisioning a brighter future. First there was yesterday’s news from Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition—a new global initiative aimed at spurring private investment in clean energy. And today, Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan welcomed their daughter Max to the world by pledging 45 billion to “make the world a better place.” The cynics will say what cynics say. But after the darkness of the past two weeks, I’m going to ride this wave of hope and audacious generosity for all its worth.

Educating Girls: The Virtuous Cycle

(Arko Datta / Reuters)

(Arko Datta / Reuters)

Today, in The Atlantic, Michelle Obama outlines the case for addressing the global girls’ education crisis not just with resources like scholarships and supplies, but also by addressing “the broader cultural beliefs and practices that can help cause and perpetuate this crisis.” Obama promises to urge countries around the world to “both make new investments in girls’ education and challenge laws and practices that silence, demean, and brutalize women—from female genital mutilation and cutting, to forced child marriage, to laws that allow marital rape and disadvantage women in the workplace.” Time and again, it has been shown that when educated girls become healthy, financially secure, empowered women, they’re far better equipped to advocate for their needs and aspirations, and challenge unjust laws and harmful practices and beliefs. Thus, the virtuous cycle. I am grateful that another powerful female leader is committing herself to the cause.