Sunday, November 15, 2009

How to make a difference? Fast Forward Giving!

How can youth make a difference through Social Investing? EnvisionGood TV poses this question as title for recent interview profile they did on Fast Forward Fund (FFF), as part of their series on social entrepreneurs. Share your comments here or directly on the video!

One great way young adults are making a difference is by joining our Don't fall back...FAST FORWARD! campaign. The response was so enthusiastic, we're extending the campaign throughout this giving season. We need your help to blow this campaign through the roof! Check out three ways you can help : donate, promote, or suggest ideas for the campaign.

Students learning about Fast Forward through the fall '09 BGIA class recently heard first-hand about making a difference with two outstanding, back-to-back guest speakers: first Lara Galinsky wowed us during our site visit to Echoing Green, then we were inspired by Michele Kahane (until recently of Clinton Global Initiative, now Professor of Social Entrepreneurship at the Milano New School of Management), during her visit to BGIA. Both founding members of FFF's Board, these leaders are making their mark.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Don't fall back...FAST FORWARD!

How will you spend your extra hour gained from Daylight Savings Time? Help kick-off FFF's campaign: "Don't fall back...FAST FORWARD!"

Our bold idea is to get as many people as possible to contribute to FFF the value of one hour's earnings saved from Daylight Savings Time. Whether that's $7.25 minimum wage or much more, let's see how many donor-investors we can mobilize! Here's what you can do to make a big difference:

1. donate the approximate amount you would earn in one hour to Fast Forward Fund. You can do this easily and securely online right now and anytime here

2. help FFF spread the word any way you can:
* post "Don't fall back...FAST FORWARD!" on your website, facebook page, linked-in profile
* mobilize your network sending messages via email, twitter, facebook, linked-in
* mention the FFF Campaign with link to in blogs, articles, newletters, email
* include a link to in your signature
* announce the "Don't fall back...FAST FORWARD!" to your employees, colleagues, co-workers or community
* if you have employees and capacity, offer to match their one-hour contribution

3. suggest other ideas to mobilize donor-investors in our give back an hour campaign.

And to learn more about FFF, check out recent interview on SoCap & Unreasonable Institute blogs! What do you think? Can a twenty-something-year-old change the world through philanthropic social investment?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Let's Salute our Favorite Teachers!

Here's to the "My Teacher My Hero" project, allowing us to honor those teachers who imprint us indelibly. Thank you Miss O! Thank you Prof. Trachtenberg!

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsfree video player

Who are your favorite teachers? And who has taught you, directly or indirectly, about giving, philanthropy, social investment, generosity? What are the key lessons you've already learned? Teach us and each other! We want to learn from you.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Fast Forward favorite CGI thoughts

Here are some of my favorite CGI snippets of the past few days (I shared these on twitter, and reviewed to retrieve some of my passing thoughts during the swirl of Clinton Global Initiative):

  • Fola Adeola, The Fate Foundation: "What we hold in our hands is a compass, so we can write our maps as we go along"
  • Marilyn Carlsen: "holding up a mirror to ourselves may be best thing we can do"
  • Nick Kristoff: "need metrics of quality, not just quantity"
  • (not sure who said this, but it's good!) @CGI: "what is done to children they will do to the world"
  • (me!) : Why are 4 billion poor people "bottom of the pyramid," not "global majority"?
Fast Forward Fund was honored to get a glimpse into CGI this year, and happy to post guest blogs at!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Attend CGI virtually!

participate in CGI right now from wherever you are! follow cgi with real-time, live webcasts and send in your questions/comments. go to and connect with nearly 1000 world leaders attending global gathering in nyc!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Building a Pipeline of Next Gen Social Investors

Building a Pipeline of Next Gen Social Investors is the heart of Fast Forward Fund. So what infrastructure do we need to build this? What tools do we have? what's missing? One cool new tool getting attention in the social change ecosystem is the recently launched Social Entrepreneur API. Check it out and join the discussion on Social Edge!

Developed by Social Actions (full disclosure: led by one of my favorite colleagues, Peter Deitz), the Social Entrepreneur API is "the first open database of information about social entrepreneurs who have won fellowships and awards from social enterprise funders. The tool allows philanthropists, investors, press, and fellow entrepreneurs to find social entrepreneurs based on keyword, location, cause area, population served, and a variety of other factors." "Civic Ventures (sponsor of The Purpose Prize), The Draper Richards Foundation, ideablob, PopTech, The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, and The Skoll Foundation have pooled their data to create an open database of information about vetted social entrepreneurs. "

Sounds good in theory; how does it hold up in practice? To answer that question, let me call on next gen social investors to play around w/Social Entrepreneur API ! From your perspective, how is it helpful? how could it be more helpful? how could it inform and advance the efforts of social investors? Tell us how to shape this pipeline!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Social Innovation while wrestling w/new Blackberry

Last week, Fast Forward Fund had its final interview with Social Venture Network judges and professional staff for SVN's Social Innovation Award. Except for my mortification at not being able to figure out how to mute my new fancy schmancy Blackberry during the interview, I enjoyed and valued the experience immensely. Totally impressed with SVN's process, caliber of judges questions & engagement, stellar roster of fellow finalists. Thrilled, honored, humbled to be selected as finalist, and in such good company, for this award. One of the best parts of the interview was a fun & provocative question posed at the beginning: what's the most surprising thing that's come up for FFF in past 2-3 weeks? My answer: seeing how many cool SoCap09 people already knew about Fast Forward, that we've come so much further than I'd realized while simultaneously have so much further to go, and that there is even greater demand and opportunity than I'd imagined to build the pipeline for Next Gen social investors!

Leading a SoCap09 "unconference" session on Building the Pipeline for Next Gen Social Investors, together with founding FFF Board Member Michele Kahane (The New School), and FFF Advisory Council Members Justin Rockefeller (Uhuru Management) & Nathaniel Whittemore (Asset Map), we explored what's working, what's needed, and what we've learned so far. Interesting issue arose around use of term "social investor" v. philanthropist. The FFF "social investor" model aggregates philanthropic capital through what we call a "diversified social investment portfolio" to leverage impact of social investments to youth-led social enterprises (for profit, not for profit, and hybrid social ventures). FFF does not offer financial ROI, rather we offer a social return on investment (SROI) and a charitable tax exemption to investors. So why not just call FFF supporters "philanthropists," "donors," "givers"? Isn't it confusing to say "investor"? Well, that confusion is a risk we're bumping up against, and frankly, we may need to reconsider our language, maybe sooner rather than later. Meanwhile, the reason we say social investor is that we mean it! We very intentionally want to instill the value that philanthropy through FFF is not just a charitable donation rather it's a real investment with real returns in social terms. Directing capital to and through FFF is part of shifting philanthropic "business as usual" to a new era of strategic giving as a social investment, one that will build the society, the social context, of the world we want to create & embrace. That said, language matters. Semantics can be important. So what's in a name? What do you think? Is a philanthropist a social investor?

And Back in NYC...BGIA & CGI
After two summer FFF trips to California, I've settled back into New York where I happily began fall semester teaching "Global Social Entrepreneurship & Strategic Philanthropy" at Bard Globalization & Int'l Affairs ( BGIA ) last week. Splitting my time between NYC & mid-Hudson Valley, I feel autumn in the air from upstate apple orchards, back-to-school buses & kids w/bulging backpacks, to city slickers wearing long sleeves for first time in months. I'm looking forward to the upcoming Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), where I'll be blogging both for FFF and on What are the top questions or issues you'd like to see raised at CGI re:next-gen social investors, innovators, and change-makers? who are the top people you'd want to meet?

Friday, July 17, 2009

spread the FFF love from NY to CA!

Very cool to spread the Fast Forward love with inspiring friends new & old at FFF's 1st NYC meet-up! And it was amazing to hear Lily Lui from Public Stuff & Jessica Rauch from The Generation Project talk about the impact of participating in FFF's youth-to-youth Investor Pitch session (spring '09). They both emphasized the depth and quality of questions posed by their peers. The FFF student portfolio directors were able to probe issues and pose questions that prompted entrepreneurs to reach further in their thinking.... QUESTION For all those social adventurers out there: when you've embarked on a new endeavor, what questions have you found most provocative? trenchant? annoying?

So far, July has featured FFF's 1st Leadership Summit, FFF as keynote speaker at NYWSE's Incubator Project celebration, and our 1st young professional meet-up. What a great month...with two more weeks to go! This weekend, I'm off to California to introduce FFF to new partners & colleagues, find & deepen collaborative opportunities, and celebrate social investment with friends & family. Looking forward to the FFF picnic at the Ravenswood Winery, and to the first event for HubSF about mobilizing change!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

How would you Fast Forward Change?

Calling all world changers: if you could accelerate social change, what would you fast forward first? Think about it and send me your top 3 fast forward priorities! The best response will get featured and interviewed on next FFF e-newsletter.

And if you're in NYC, come to Fast Forward meet-up tonight: , SideBAR, 6-9pm, 118 E.15th St., NYC. See you there!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

FFF Leaders Enabling Growth

Well, tomorrow we gather Fast Forward Fund (FFF) leaders-- founding Board members, our pilot portfolio student directors, summer team professional staff, advisors & friends, for our 1st Annual FFF Leadership Summit. I already feel simultaneously exhausted & energized, in anticipation of the day-long retreat. One thing I know, the participants coming tomorrow, and all our amazing partners, are truly leading the path of youth-to-youth social investment.

Our theme is "Envisioning & Enabling FFF Growth." The day is structured around building our action plan in three respects: Intention, Integrity, Impact. I believe effective action requires all three qualities, as distinguished from mere activity. Intention is about envisioning, dreaming, seeing where we want to go. Integrity is about how we get there, making it happen, making it real. Impact is the significance, the outcomes, the results of our efforts.

Here's to a fruitful day!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Ultimate Mentors for FFF

Check out Nathaniel Whittemore's Social Entrepreneurship blog today at showcasing Stanford's E-Challenge & Fast Forward Fund. His Daily Entrepreneur Post also features snazzy photo of Yoda as "Ultimate Mentor"!

So who's your ultimate mentor? what makes for great mentorship? The mentors who've most impacted me range from lifelong angels with whom it feels like I've been engaged in an always timely, yet timeless, conversation with no beginning and no end, to visionary visitors who mysteriously pass through my life at just the right moment in just the right way to guide me along...

Here's a top-ten, dream-team, wish list of mentors I'd love to call on to help shape FFF:
  1. Oprah Winfrey
  2. Melinda Gates
  3. The Dalai Lama
  4. Jon Stewart
  5. Michelle Obama
  6. former President Bill Clinton
  7. George Soros
  8. J.K. Rowling
  9. my three children
  10. You
OK, uber-mentors. You know who you are. Fast Forward Fund needs you!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The End, The Beginning

Greetings all,

This semester has exposed us to a wealth of information, insight and experience, but there are two things overall that really resonated with me.

First, learning about - and experiencing - the "other side" of social entrepreneurship, namely the philanthropic and social venture aspect to the whole endeavor, which I had previously been ignorant of. Frequently- as speakers and faculty alike have noted all semester - Social Entrepreneurs are associated with an individualistic, glorified Heed to a Calling (much like how I considered traditional entrepreneurs in my early teens). So much is forgotten with that glorification though: first, the myriad contributions from family, friends and colleagues which enable a social entrepreneur to reach for the stars, or reach at all; and the second, the philanthropic piece we've all come to know and appreciate. Learning about social investment has been a real pleasure for me, not least because it gives us the opportunity to know social change from yet another angle.

The second thing which resonated with me was the insight, observations and achievements of us, the Student Directors. If the rest of you are at all like me, then you've been dismayed/disenchanted/discouraged by the (higher) education system more than once - it is a great privilege to live within it, without a doubt, but it is by no means perfect.* So it was a real treat for me to be part of an engaged and enthusiastic class comprised of dedicated people who will no doubt be a part of the shift we are all experiencing, as well as a part of FFF's future.

The end of this semester marks the conclusion of a few things: the first round of Student Directors for the Fast Forward Fund; the Spring 09 semester of Bard College's Globalization and International Affairs Program; and (of course) the first 100 days of the new administration.

However, if we're so inclined, this can also mark the beginning of extended engagement with FFF for each of us, in our respective towns, cities, colleges, countries and lives. Though I lived in Brooklyn this semester, and thus was unable to be as much a part of the BGIA community as I would have liked, I am confident that this bond between us that GSE&SP, FFF, Diana, and all the stellar speakers have wrought will keep us in touch for years to come.

All the best,

*Though we're not all from the same institution, or the same country for that matter, no system is perfect; it remains a great privilege nonetheless.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Action Center and Media Use in Social Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy

The Action Center website really brought home an idea I have been thinking about lately: the importance of media savvy in social entrepreneurship and philanthropy. The Action Center website is well constructed—it utilizes video and images as well as a sharp interface. This can make all of the difference whether on a conscious or subconscious level to an investor. A well-produced site gives an air of professionalism and caring—essential qualities for entrepreneurs.

This even was true in our pitch session. The video on Public Stuff’s site proves this. The video made the organization seem more in touch with the audience they may be trying to reach. The ability to tap into an increasingly technologically smart public will become an essential tool for these entrepreneurs.

In addition, the use of video—such as that on the Action Center website—allows investors to really feel a connection to their giving. It puts a human face and voice to a social problem. This is important as issues and giving becomes increasingly global.

Friday, May 15, 2009

End of Semester Reflection

The final selection process was an interesting and educating experience because we had to take a lot of factors into account before making our final decision. We had to review the nominations that stood out and carefully go over our notes from the investor pitch. We had to make sure we understood the project and the goals they were hoping to accomplish with our donation. The Health Portfolio Team chose the Mali Health Organizing Project because we believe it will have the most impact in the field we want to make a difference in. Supporting primary care health services for 60,000 people, maybe more, is a great way to make a difference somewhere. The FFF has surprised me in many ways and has contributed to my development as a social entrepreneur. We started off not knowing much about the subject and ended up being able to effective determine who should get a rather large sum of money to develop their project. I did not feel that it would be possible in a semester but through the course (site visits, readings, blogs, and other homework assignments) we were able to pick a venture. It has been an absolute delight working with the Diana, Natalia and others, and I hope to continue to work with them and the FFF in the future.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

FFF Reflection

Often you, or somone you know, has an amazing idea but there is a sense of isolation--especially among young entrepenuers. It is heartening to be able to connect with such a diverse group of people, this was especially evident in the investor pitch sessions.

While I enjoyed the virtual pitch sessions, I think being able to interact face-to-face was really useful. These interactions allowed me to see the passion the entrepenuers had as well as ask some vital questions. For instance, some of the key elements of Girl Guides USA was lost on paper. By speaking with the entrepenuer I was able to understand the depth of the project.

The virtual pitch sessions worked to really convey the global nature of philanthropy. While we could not feel the distance the live investors had travelled it was tangible in the virtual pitch format.
-Rachel F

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

To end with something means to start with something new

Every end is a new beginning! As Diana said, that bitter-sweet taste is so strongly present these days. At the same time excitement and discussions about decisions that we made, and that tomorrow we will present to others. They all had the same experience but at the same time different one, because we all concentrated mostly to our portfolios; and tomorrow will see the whole semester work of all of us. Final preparations are still on, and no matter how long we work there is always certain feeling of unknowing what is waiting for us and our chosen Social Venture.

I think most of us would agree that the pitch session (both virtual and in-person) was the most interesting part of working with the projects. To see people that came to the idea and that are leading the project changes so much in perception and visualization of projects future. Some things (as attitude and enthusiasm towards the project) are just impossible to write while working on proposal.

Working with FFF gave me an opportunity to think as an investor and to experience the difficulties and challenges that they face, and at the same time to see the beauty of knowing that your decision will make a huge difference.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Another Milestone...and we're just getting started!

I've got to say, as excited as I am about FFF's rapid development, I feel a little bittersweet as our pilot training program comes to an end with the conclusion of BGIA's "Global Social Entrepreneurship & Strategic Philanthropy" semester course. How can we be winding down? We're just getting started! The students have come so far in their study and practice of social investment. Now, all their hard work culminates this Thursday, May 14th, as the FFF Portfolio Student Directors (13 BGIA students from six countries) present the final youth-to-youth investment selections for their portfolio teams.

Seems like there've been weekly highlights and milestones:
And it seems like every week, new potential partners emerge (from New Delhi to New York), new challenges surface (from capitalizing the fund to managing growth strategy), and we're figuring out ways to do things differently (and hopefully better, next time) as we develop and refine FFF's social investment model.

Throughout their semester-long academic training program, the Portfolio Student Directors have been considering 14 youth-led social ventures for FFF youth-to-youth social investment. Nominated by four of our Pipeline Partners (this round: Clinton Global Initiative, Global Engagement Summit, NYWomen Social Entrepreneurs, and Teach for America), these investment opportunities address one or more of our four portfolio global social priorities: Poverty Alleviation, Public Health, Climate Change & Energy, and Human Rights & Peace. I can't wait to see what they come up with Thursday. And can't wait to continue working together well beyond the end of this semester. As the poet Tony Hoagland says, "What I thought was an end, turned out to be a middle." And we've only just begun!

Re: Action Center w/ Robert Sherman

Not much can be added to the poignant responses that students have already made. The Action Center is definitely an intriguing place, and one which will hopefully increase the commitments of interested children, adolescents, young adults et al. One thing I'm curious about however, is what the implications are of an action center relying heavily on internet technologies. In other words, what's the cost/benefit of a physical space using digital technologies available from home to facilitate action?

This speaks to the critique of any effort in a post-digital age that could be digitized and thus made more accessible: would it be better to auction off that space and use the funds to expand the reach of individuals' commitments? Should we be concerned that much of what goes on at the Action Center can be accomplished to varying degrees on the Action Center website? OR, does the potential of collaborative social justice really take hold in a dedicated, physical space? Does the prospect of visiting a space dedicated to ending world hunger in fact make it more accessible to school groups, college students visiting the city, industry professionals, etc?

What do you all think?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Lessons for the FFF

The Action Center is without a doubt an extremely valuable resource for the education of young people on the issue of world hunger and its underlying causes. Our experience last week was even more inspiring because we were not just another group of students, but the group of student directors of the Fast Forward Fund. Robert Sherman, the executive director, was very helpful and provided us with constructive advice.

He emphasized two aspects we should keep in mind when we make our investment decisions: projects must be sustainable, and the proposals must reflect acumen. A major problem with grants is that they create dependency on a single source of income. If projects are unable to sustain themselves beyond the funding received from donors, the investment is often not justified. Therefore, when we evaluate the proposals that were submitted to us, it is essential that we see beyond the writing and try to gauge the practical ability of the social entrepreneurs.

The mission of the Fast Forward Fund is to transform young people into successful social investors. Similarly to the MercyCorps initiative, its aim is to educate youth to take action and make a positive impact in the world. The Action Center offered visitors the possibility to contribute as much (or as little) as they were willing to. If you have only one minute, you can sign a petition to promote gender equity in HIV/AIDS relief programs. If you have a month, you can volunteer overseas. If you want to dedicate your entire life to the cause, you can become a member of the MercyCorps team.

If you want to help the Fast Forward Fund, you can take only a couple of minutes and help spread the word in your social network. If you want to support initiatives of your peers, you can donate as little as $5 with just a few clicks on the FFF website. And if you have an idea yourself, you can submit a proposal to one of FFF’s pipeline organizations.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Thoughts on the Action Center

Last week, Robert Sherman gave an intriguing talk that detailed the role and function of the Action Center to Eliminate World Hunger. It was quite an eye-opening experience because normally when you think of hunger, you think that its due to a shortage of food, maybe because of land that’s not arable. However, this is hardly the case. Not many people relate hunger to important issues like climate change, energy, war, and health. For example, there are areas of the world where large swaths of land that were previously used to grow crops have been flooded due to rising water levels. Nations in Africa that suffer from the scourge of war have fighters going around destroying farms in order to harm the other side. Diseases like AIDS leave nations depleted of human capital so there can’t be any production and growth. All of these issues create hunger and any campaign that wishes to address hunger on this scale must address all of these issues. Robert Sherman’s presentation helped us understand the link between the various issues and world hunger.

The Action Center itself is a unique place because it collaborates with many other organizations. Many organizations out there see themselves as competition with other institutions that are trying to reach the same goal. The Action Center facilitates Mercy Corps actions and helps other organizations that are having impact in another area. Their system which asks you how much time you want to give (a minute to a lifetime) is also an amazing way to get people to read how they can make an impact. It works.

A key point to take away from the visit would be that addressing one issue will have a ripple effect on other areas as well. For example, if you want to end hunger, you don’t need to start a campaign to distribute free food. Helping an organizing or starting an organization that is helping war victims rebuild their lives or an organization that is trying to stop a disease that kills hundreds of thousands of people will also result in impact.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Student Director Ivelina on the Action Center

As all previous guest lectures, this one brought a lot to our better understanding of what social entrepreneurship is. All lectures have contributed immensely to the core of the class and to our knowledge in the sphere of social entrepreneurship. At the Action Center I realized how great ideas can effectively be put into action and how great efforts can make people aware of global misfortunes like poverty and hunger. I enjoyed a lot the atmospehere and the way the Center is set up - not like an ordinary educational center, but rather like a center for communicating with people around the world - in terms of their ideas, personal stories and eperience. Moreover, I enjoyed the introduction movie, the creative headphones hanging from the ceiling and presenting Human rights in several languages (I was sorry that I could listen to it in my native language) and the idea with how much time people are eager to spend on making a difference about global poverty.

I really believe that places like the Action Center should continue to exist and become more in number on a global scale because to really understand a problem and become cautious about it, people need to be well educated first. Education should come as a priori and then action. Therefore, if we want to make people active and eager to help towards making the world a better place to live, we should all first think about educating them and making them aware of places like the Action Center.

Great place, great ideas, great people, amazing work!

Lessons of the Action Center in Terms of Engagement

The lecture at the Action Center this week really seemed to finally get to the idea of what the point of all these visits have been; that your vision can become something that will be able to be replicated and active. Other lectures up to this point have taken us to interesting places and demonstrated the core values of the institutions, but none have quite shown us exactly what active engagement looks like in the sphere of social entrepreneurship. At the Action Center it was clear how great ideas can effectively communicated in a physical space, and how interaction with the end-users who seem to more and more be making up the donors of these place are really impacting issues like hunger. The building reminded me highly of the incredible Liberty Science Center, with an approach not like typical educational centers with a goal of communicating detailed ideas, personal stories and experiences of the organization. The use of headphones hanging from the was clever, though it did have some drawbacks in terms of clutter, and the institution was spot on with detailing how little amounts of time can add up with their various time-frame oriented activities. Nothing spurns donor activity quite like this, and they deserve respect for implementing it so effectively and in an appealing fashion.

The details that make the Action Center successful should be monitored closely by FastForwardFund in an effort to imitate the best aspects of the program. While the institution was able to educate individuals well, and provide intense amounts of information, it failed with some of its touch screens to present a simple enough picture to not intimidate. If Fast Forward Fund wants to engage its donors effectively, it should remember to stick to simplicity in describing its issues. People who are really interested and engaged will find the more detailed information no matter what, so putting it all up front is more of an obstacle to the casual donor than a benevolent action.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Investment pitch and “my grandpa”

Surprisingly enough, the presentations last week reminded me of my grandpa’s story in early 40’s.  At that time, a military commander for the Albanian king “Zogu”, he was forced to commute back and forth facing a tremendous responsibility of his actions and impacts that may have on his entire battalion, sometimes even their lives per se.  Every so often, he would listen to his fellow arguments and then decide on the next steps that would have to be pursued. Indeed some of his actions were enormous success while some total failures.                          

Now sixty years after and in a total different environment, it is me who was sitting and listing to my fellow arguments/presentations trying to persuade me to take a particular action; specifically vote for their idea thT will improve some aspect of the social life.

Comparing to the last century, needs and people perspectives have been changed. Now we do examine offers in total different and new environment. For instance, for better off his nation, my grandpa tried to pursue the politics of listening and then acting sometimes with even fighting in the end. In this global time, me and my colleague directors focus on listening to the young entrepreneurs and take a specific actions such as deciding on which idea we’re  going to invest in but performing everything through creative ways of questioning, talking getting external/ internal perspectives, researching. This happened last week during presentation pitch. Additionally, I tried to look on how young entrepreneurs position themselves, how do they promote, would that be something that is in demand looking from both fff mission and the idea per se.  Overall, all the entrepreneurs showed a strong maturity, passion and frankly I was positively surprised about their abilities to step back, envision the future and in the same time knowing how to not jeopardize any percentile of their idea.  Nevertheless, indeed just as in my grandpa case, have to admit that some of their idea will also face some breakdowns but I’m confident enough that this will only motivate these young entrepreneurs to be global agents for change in the future!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

FFF Investor Pitch Session

One of the key points that came out of the investor pitch session is the idea of a well rounded but focused approach. When addressing such issues as poverty, climate change, health, and human rights and peace there is going to be the inclination to try and solve all the problems related to a particular topic rather than one.

This could clearly be seen in the pitches and the presentations. Those pitches, such as Out Against Abuse, which strove to accomplish so much (campus awareness, rape kit production, web resource, computer literacy training etc.) ended up not developing each idea to its fullest extent because it wanted to accomplish too much too soon. Other organizations, such as Public Stuff, which had a very narrow focus, was able to develop a strong well-rounded and confident idea because resources where funneled into developing one product and one service.

Fast Forward Fund Investor Pitch

This past Thursday marked the first investor pitch session for the Fast Forward Fund. It was particularly interesting being a youth director and getting the opportunity to hear these ideas come straight from the mouth of the person who had them. In almost every case I felt differently about the idea after I had heard and seen the passion in each presenter. Hearing their views on their ideas really helped me to filter out my biases about it, and allowed me to get a much clearer view of what each project might look like, why it was important, and who it would help.
I believe this is an issue of utmost importance for anybody considering an investment in anything. In order to ensure that the absolute best decision it taken, an investor, or more specifically a social investor, must attempt to see the idea from as many different viewpoints as possible. Having this opportunity allows them to see what is present in every opinion, and what is ultimately just opinion. This will allow anybody to get to the heart of the idea which they are investing in, something which is clearly of utmost importance.
This is just another example of how being open to as many new and different ideas is very important regardless of what you are doing in life. It will allow you to work infinitely better with different people and cultures and will ultimately allow you to have a much thorough understanding of the world that we live in.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Reactions to an Engaging Investor Pitch Session

The presentations a week ago were all great, but I particularly enjoyed the variety of initiatives that we got to hear about. Having read and reread the nominations over the course of the semester, I was confident that I understood what the social entrepreneurs were trying to do; moreover, I was skeptical about how much extra information and insight could be gleaned from hearing the social entrepreneurs present.

Clearly that skepticism was unfounded. Not only was it beneficial to add a personal element to each nomination, but indeed I think every group learned much more about each nomination, and gained valuable insight into the endeavors. Beyond learning about the initiatives, the entire exercise was beneficial and informative for us as Student Directors of FFF, and gave us a first-hand look at another part of the process.

Though Climate Change and Energy only heard from one of our nominations, it was a great experience for all. I encourage you all to check out Girl Guides USA.

Youth inspiring youth

Our last class, the FFF pitch session, was as important and educational as only a youth group meeting can be. I believe that all of us gained a lot in terms of new ideas and plans of action from the guests. I did not only enjoy the session, but I also learnt how young people can motivate other young individuals achieve their goals, dreams and ideas. The Q&A part was immensely helpful for our portfolio decisions, but at the same time it contributed to our better understanding of each project.

My take away memo from the pitch session was that everyone, especially young people, has their own personal ideas for which they live, dream and make plans. Natalia's interactive question that made us all stand up for having ideas and sit down for not being able to fund them is a vivid example that funding is a major obstacle. Quoting Buddha by his words that “An idea that is developed and put into action is more important than an idea that exists only as an idea" tells us that no matter how interesting and fascinating an idea could be, if it is not put into action, it is not as important as it could be with a little more action, i.e. investing.

All I am trying to say is that Yes, we all have ideas and Yes, we all need money to make those ideas true. However, finding those money is the hardest part. I appreciate the fact that we, the FFF students directors, had the chance to meet with other young individuals that showed us their ideas and inspired us even more. Even though I am part of the health portfolio group I would like to see not only the health projects put into action. I would love to see ALL of them come true. But how??? All of us were deeply interested in the pitch session and that was proven by our questions, participation and interviews. On the other side of the story is the truth that none of us can practically (meaning financially) help those motivated individuals. I want to take an action, but I can't invest with money in all those great projects. It seems like our next step should be finding a way to make other people interested into those projects, people with money and a little more power. We, the FFF students and youth directors, might not be able to be the real investors, but we can take the initiative to involve other people into this great activity.

To me the pitch session was a meeting for youth to inspire other youth. Let's make youth inspire investors and thus invest in the success of others' great ideas. Funding should not be the reason why we should sit down, but the reason we would stand up and fight for.

A Worthy Investment?

The 92nd Street Y 8th floor kitchen became an FFF director debate room Monday night. Ioana, Saranda, and I discussed the pitches and constructively argued their premises, implications, and entrepreneurial fervor.

My opinions and impressions were changed and enriched by theirs and I found myself heading back to my room with an underlying question - Which investment(s) is worthy of Fast Forward funds?

PublicStuff's entrepreneur and website impressed me on a success/professional level. She knew what she was doing, she was smart and seasoned, the pitch was business-like and she was a go-getter. But can I back investing in a human right - albeit arguably very worthy - that streamlines community members' access to local government when torture exists as it does in Sierra Leone? I can certainly support better resource access for Southeast Asian women victims of domestic abuse (Out Against Abuse). But the entrepreneurial venture seemed to spread its resources too thin, to try to appeal to too many audiences, and to too vaguely address too many concerns without enough research to back up potential efficacy.

There's value in passion and there's value in strong logistics. And, too, there must be a core idea that makes sense and will work. But to come across all the ingredients best suited for high impact change in a core area of need is rare indeed. I've learned to be both more respectful and more critical, and I take valuable lessons from this pitch that I expect will help me in many of my future social justice ventures.

Investor Pitch Thoughts

Having had a chance to go through the investor pitch last week, I feel obliged to share my feelings on how one’s initial criticism toward an organization can be so effectively defeated by the ability of its representative to be capable of defending itself, while organizations that are well prepared for presenting yet do not offer the expertise to answer criticism, or are even offered criticism, frequently appear lackluster and disappointing.

It should come as no surprise that our group, when asked to consider Girl Guides USA, was nonplussed by the wide range of similarities the group seemed to have to the ages old and familiar Girl Scouts, including the very fact that they both shared funding in some respects. However, our criticism and skepticism proved valuable insofar as we never reached the point of completely dismissing the organization in our minds. Thus, when the presenter was asked to defend her organization in regards to the heavy criticisms we had been able to find, she was able to answer very harsh questions and prove her organization’s ideals to be resilient both in the face of close competition and investor criticism. We were, to say the least, impressed with her answers and all commended her for being so involved with her organizations goals.

Yet in another presentation that was not aimed to our group, I felt the a negative experience emanating. The presentation was given in a very wooden manner with well prepared, but static, responses that did not convey a feeling of actual belief on the part of the presenter. The questions asked were detailed, but not critical, and the answers given on the part of the presenter were accordingly free to just regurgitate more statistics and promises. I would have appreciated both harsher questioning on the part of my fellow directors, and an increased degree of personal input on the part of the presenter. The negative combination we saw in this incident had me imagining that we could have replaced the speaker with a computer with voice recognition software to read off parts of the website to the directors when questioned.

I feel that these investor pitch events are ideal situations in which we can put good potential projects on the defensive through our heated questions. When we demand answers to real criticism that is inherent in any organizational structure, we get farther as an organization and come to trust the people who are selling the idea to us more.

Youth Investing in Youth

Wrapping up the very inspiring investor pitch session, Natalia Oberti Noguera of NYWSE asked those present to stand up if they ever had an idea. Everybody in the room instantly got up. When asked if they also had the resources to materialize it, all but one sat down. She then explained that it was this immense disconnection between vision and action that prompted the creation of the Fast Forward Fund.

All the initiatives that were presented last week clearly reflected the passion, energy and consideration that their architects had already invested in them. Taken as a whole, they were diverse, and separately, all ideas were original and well-suited. Somebody had a plan to improve health primary health care in Mali, and somebody else was helping underprivileged Indian women to achieve higher education. What’s more, all entrepreneurs were young! Not only did they display confidence and ability, but also great potential for future growth. Before, the general mindset was to timidly wait for those more experienced to come up with solutions. Now, if you have an idea, you have the responsibility to take action yourself!

As a student director for the poverty alleviation portfolio I was very excited for the two projects we are considering, Illume and Early Earners. The pitch session provided us the opportunity not only to clarify some aspects of the proposals, but also to meet the people behind the ideas. Talking to the entrepreneurs gave me a better understanding of how the experience is for them as well, and I trust that we are now better equipped to evaluate the challenges and strengths of our investment choices.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Investing is Action!

This week, FFF Student Directors are visiting The Action Center in lower Manhattan. Two years ago, I was working with Mercy Corps when The Action Center was in forward two springs later and it's up and running, led by a colleague I greatly admire, Robert Sherman. Robert joins an impressive roster of guest speakers (largely drawn from FFF talented Board!) enriching this semester's training through BGIA's Global Social Entrepreneurship & Strategic Philanthropy class. Very cool to build on our site visits to Echoing Green, Acumen Fund, and our guest speakers including Michele Kahane (Clinton Global Initiative), Natalia Oberti Noguera (NY Young Women Social Entrepreneurs)...

Fast Forward Fund Investor Pitch with a Punch!

Fast Forward Fund held its first Youth-to-Youth Investor Pitch session last week at Bard Globalization & International Affairs program, featuring 7 awesome social entrepreneurs nominated by two of FFF's Premiere Pipeline Partners: Global Engagement Summit and New York Women Social Entrepreneurs. Thirteen FFF Portfolio Student Directors from half a dozen countries probed their peers inquiring about specific tactics (market strategy, growth management plan, service delivery) and personal leadership vision. The diverse social ventures ranged from the Mali Health Organizing Project, catalyzing healthcare solutions in Mali slums (pitched by Mobido Niang & Caitlin Cohen), to Out Against Abuse, an interactive online resource to stop domestic violence in South Asian immigrant communities in the US (pitched by Sabrin Chowdhury). Amazing to see these savvy youth investors in action, and hear from visionary youth leading social investment opportunities across FFF 4 Portfolios: Climate Change & Energy, Poverty Alleviation, Human Rights & Peace, and Health.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

See the Change You Want to Be

Be the Change author Lisa Endlich gives great examples of effective social investors in her book's profiles of successful philanthropists. The book really drives home how there are so many ways to make a difference through giving. Not surprisingly, Endlich's book begins with the famous Ghandi quote: "you must be the change you wish to see in the world." Building on Ghandi's wise words, I offer that you must also "see the change you wish to be in the world." Before we can act on vision, we must have a vision. While we often turn to visionary leaders, teachers, writers and artists to guide us, we also can and must awaken the visionary within each of us. What is your vision of giving? A social investor has vision to direct philanthropy meaningfully and optimally. We all have that potential. To honor those remarkable givers who inspire us, send us your favorite quotes about giving, philanthropy, social investment. Why or how does this quote speak to you? What might you add in your own words?

Monday, February 23, 2009

At FFF's launch, forecast ahead to its 10th anniversary!

Amidst celebrities, global social entrepreneurs and world leaders, I couldn't help but think that the participants' Commitments to Action were the real stars at last weekend's Clinton Global Initiative University meeting in Austin, TX. This is where real change happens: the intersection of inspiring vision and hard work. Over a 1000 students, 100 university Presidents, and nearly as many social leaders gathered together to make their commitments of action for global change in: poverty alleviation, climate change & energy, health, human rights & peace, and education. As we launched the Fast Forward Fund, announced by former President Clinton at the CGIU 2009 Press Conference, I felt humbled and inspired to help drive a new path on the global social agenda: youth investment activism.

Through FFF, social investment--how we give and direct philanthropic capital, is a new form of activism, and becomes a means of global civic engagement. To pursue youth social investment as action, we need a better handle on how we give today and how we can imagine giving in the future. So, take a moment of reflection and let us know: what is your current thinking about social giving? What are your associations with and assumptions about strategic philanthropy? What is your experience if any as a social investor? How do you see young adults and college students as philanthropists? Look around and tell us what you see as the most creative, innovative trends in youth giving. And stretch your imagination: if you could forecast youth social investment 10 years into the future, what would it look like? Paint a picture of the Fast Forward Fund on its 10th Anniversary.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Launching FFF at CGIU with a push and a pull

Over President’s Day weekend, the Fast Forward Fund will be launched at the Clinton Global Initiative University, amidst a gathering of those people who most inspire FFF: young adults making bold “Commitments to Action” that tackle the greatest global challenges we face today. While CGIU promises to catalyze a new generation of social entrepreneurs, FFF promises to create a new generation of social investors directing philanthropic capital and partnership to youth-led social innovation. Arriving on the heels of the awesome TED conference and just weeks into the new Obama Administration, the 2nd annual CGIU heralds a historic moment of global social change, imperative, and opportunity. While times like these compel us to look at our leaders for inspiration, CGIU & the FFF remind us that we must also look at each other, and at ourselves.

Who inspires you? When we think about who inspires social change, great names come to mind: historic leaders and heroes, philosophers and visionaries, activists and martyrs, writers and artists. But when you consider who really shapes your personal approach to making a difference in the world, very often it’s someone far closer to home: a working mom or step-father, a 2nd grade teacher, a wise co-worker, a childhood friend, your first love. Someone who’s life has personally touched yours.

An old family friend and mentor of mine, Don Gould, “Uncle Donny” to me, was a huge figure in my young adult life, at 6’4” literally towering over my 5’1.75” frame (all people under 5’2” know their height to an eighth of an inch!). He used to talk about needing both “a push and a pull” to create real social change, whether that plays out in your personal life, your professional arena, or the wider world around you. The push for change comes from the challenges, trials, problems and unsolved puzzles that keep you up at night. The pull comes from the opportunities, dreams, visions, hopes, and possibilities that get you up in the morning. Of all the lessons he taught me, this “push-pull” dynamic is the one I keep recalling as I consider what it takes to be an effective social investor, what it might take to drive the global social agenda today.

I see this push-pull dynamic emerge as a common theme underlying the successful social change-makers profiled in Elkington & Hartigan’s book, The Power of Unreasonable People. These social entrepreneurs transform global challenges (that’s the “push”) into market opportunities (that’s the “pull”), corresponding to the U.N. Millennium Development Goals. Looking through a Fast Forward Fund lens, these opportunities cultivate the field of social investments we’ll be considering as FFF builds up its portfolios this year in four areas: climate change and energy, global health, poverty alleviation, and human rights & peace.

As you consider social investment opportunities, ask yourself this: what is your push and what is your pull? What keeps you up at night, and what gets you up in the morning? Let us know! We want to hear from you. How you answer these questions may serve to guide you well in deciding where and how to direct your social investments, and guide us as we shape the Fast Forward Fund and prepare to launch at CGIU.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

SRI: Integrity & The Unasked Question

Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) is a hot topic, made hotter by the vision of an Obama-inspired era of service coupled with the reverberating shock waves of devastating financial crisis. In case there was any doubt, the recent panel “Different Faces of Socially Responsible Investment” (presented by New York Women Social Entrepreneurs held at Columbia University) attracted a highly engaged, standing-room only crowd, even on an icy cold, January, NYC weeknight. Two thoughts linger from our discussion:

  • there’s no substitute for integrity, and
  • the best question was the one not asked.

Let’s start with the unasked question.
Funny thing is, while I loved participating as one of the “faces of SRI” on the panel, at times I wondered if I was in the right place, or if the panel had the right name. Why? Because our start-up, the Fast Forward Fund, isn't an SRI fund; FFF is a youth Social Investment venture. What’s the difference? SRI is a financial investment strategy; “social investment” is a philanthropic strategy. So, while I jumped in and enjoyed the provocative discussion swirling around the question of what is a socially responsible investment, here’s what we didn’t ask: what is a responsible social investment?

The distinctions between socially responsible investments and social investments may blur or overlap, especially as new investment models emerge and merge. But for now, I think the question of what makes a financial investment socially responsible is fundamentally different from what makes philanthropy responsible. It’s the latter that grabs me. How do you know if a social investment is responsible?

I suggest looking at three things: the soundness of social investment vehicle itself, compatibility with social investor profile, and (perhaps, most importantly and elusively) integrity.

First of all, know where your social investment goes. We have more capacity than ever today to assess the operational, financial, and social soundness of social investments. Online tools like Guidestar, Charity Navigator, and other hubs of nonprofit management information, offer good, though limited (and potentially contorted) snap-shots of organizations in the social sector. Responsible social investments consider available information from primary and secondary sources indicating how effectively the operation is run, how impact is measured, how finances are managed, how an organization is developed and how it is responsive to its mission and stakeholders.

Secondly, know who you are, or want to be, as a social investor. I say “social investor” rather than “philanthropist” here because I want to emphasize that the way we give, the way we direct capital to social causes, is a real investment with real returns and real impact. As social investors, we need to choose social investments reflecting our own investor profiles. Just as financial portfolios reflect investor profile in terms of capacity, style, risk threshold, financial goals, etc., so should social investment portfolios. Responsible social investments match investor interests, capacity, style, commitment, engagement, and philanthropic goals.

Finally, the heart of responsible social investment comes down to integrity. I raised this issue as the panel discussed governance and how we ensure that we’re doing the best work we can do as social entrepreneurs. While we talked about the challenges and importance transparency, leadership development, internal performance measurements, benchmarks and other governance metrics, I suggested there was another piece that may be even harder to address: we really need to talk about integrity. While perhaps immeasurable in quantifiable terms, integrity in governance is indispensable to doing your best work in social investment. Most of us recognize its quality when it is present, and notice when it is absent. Integrity is more than workplace ethics, though that’s essential, too. It’s about bringing a sense of wholeness to our work, and deriving a sense of respect, creativity, growth and fulfillment. The integrity of social investment establishes its reputation, enhancing its ability to recruit talent, attract investors, forge collaborative partnerships, and optimize social impact. Thinking about what is responsible social investment brings me back to my other key take-away: there’s just no substitute for integrity.