Ready, Fire, Aim! - Mihail's Public Blog

Thursday, August 29, 2002

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PNNOnline delivers news, information, and resources to all segments of the nonprofit world in order to help them better achieve their goals.

Anagram generator

Thanks to Phil Gomes for this link to the anagram generator. I typed in Afghanistan and got the following: #178: AFGHAN SAINT, #191: ISFAHAN GNAT out of a total of 777 results. Pretty cool -- the site claims "Over 3719904 anagram reports served!"

The new panacea - Public-Private partnerships

Big business is everywhere at the United Nation's World Summit for Sustainable Development. But the effectiveness is still to be determined of the so-called public-private partnerships (that are so enthusiastically endorsed by the Bush administration):

With little progress made toward achieving the goals of eradicating poverty and preserving the environment in the past decade, the United Nations has welcomed corporations -- and their deep pockets -- into the main tent.

``We want business to buy into our basic values'' of promoting human rights and economic growth in an environmentally friendly way, said U.N. spokeswoman Susan Markham. ``You can't make them do things unless you join forces with them.''

...But activists accused Western governments of trying to shift responsibility for helping the world's poor and corporations of trying to ``hijack'' the summit's outcome to water down environmental rules and increase profits.

It's not rocket science, the problem is just money

Last night I agreed to go for dinner with a close friend and his Stanford GSB (business school) friends to Home Restaurant in San Francisco. I haven't seen such antagonism in several years. I had a simple point. Those of us who have personal money and/or access to vast amounts of capital need to use that capital today to help alleviate some of the problems in the rest of the world (or for that matter in our own backyard).

And if they are not, which appears to be the case, then we need to figure out ways to strongly encourage that. Maybe foundations need to be forced to give away a greater percentage of their endowments each year. Maybe we need to have more incentives for people who give their money to charities. I don't have the answers. Yet.

I hope the folks at dinner last night read the AP report this morning in the New York Times on the United Nations World Summit for Sustainable Development. It puts things in perspective and focuses on how the AIDS epidemic is causing a downward spiral on so many different fronts:

The pandemic is reducing life expectancies, devastating families and destroying economies, according to a report UNAIDS released Thursday in an effort to emphasize how crucial the AIDS fight is to development.

``AIDS increases poverty, there's no doubt about that,'' Piot said. [This is because] AIDS, which disproportionately affects adults of working age, is killing millions of productive workers in some of the world's poorest countries. Business costs there are rising because of constant absenteeism and the cost of training workers to replace those that have died.

...Last year U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan created the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, hoping it could raise $7 billion of the estimated $10 billion needed annually to tackle those diseases. But only $2 billion has been pledged to the fund so far -- and most of those pledges are one-shot deals.

``It's not rocket science, the problem is just money,'' said Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University in New York. ``If every person in the rich world would just spend dlrs 10 a year for the global fund, we would have dlrs 10 billion a year.''

Underground sketches

From the New York Times. António Jorge Gonçalves traveled to 10 cities around the world, drawing people on subway trains. See through his eyes at

MCC - Most Corrupt Country

The group, Transparency International, which is based in Berlin, said that 70 percent of the 102 countries it surveyed for its 2002 Corruption Perceptions Index scored less than a 5 on an index in which 1 is the most corrupt and 10 is the least. The numbers were a sharp deterioration from the group's 2001 list.

The group rated Bangladesh as the most corrupt nation, with a score of 1.2. Nigeria, Paraguay, Madagascar, Angola, Kenya and Indonesia, in order, were the next most corrupt. Finland scored a 9.7 on the index, ranking as the least corrupt country for the second year in a row. It was followed by Denmark, New Zealand, Iceland, Singapore and Sweden.

The United States was ranked the 16th-least-corrupt country, with a score of 7.7.

Cellphone Orthodontist Principle

Things weren't supposed to turn out this way.

When I bought my first cellphone nearly 10 years ago, my intention, like that of many others, was to use it only in emergencies. But the siren call of life beyond NPR in the car was too irresistible. I took to placing frequent calls to my mother-in-law while tooling around the streets of Austin, Tex. They were local calls, and therefore easy to justify.

It escalated from there. I began making long-distance calls to talk to everyone about nothing. I was quickly falling prey to what a colleague calls the Cellphone Orthodontist Principle. As he explains it, this is when you can no longer be in the car without taking the opportunity to make a call. You've exhausted your list of friends and family and you wind up calling your orthodontist from junior high, and saying, "Hey, I love what you've done with my teeth. Are you busy for the next 40 miles?"

Behavioral shift with cellphones

In what may be the start of an alarming trend for the nation's largest telephone companies, the total number of business and residential telephone lines declined last year for the first time since the Depression — to 192.3 million at year's end from 192.6 million a year earlier, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

While the rise of DSL (which has made a second line redundant) and economic uncertainity has contributed to this decline,

Nearly 3 percent of telephone users have made wireless phones their primary telephone, according to the Yankee Group, a telecommunications consulting company in Boston. So far the shift is evolutionary rather than revolutionary, but that is likely to change, said Keith Mallinson, an analyst at the Yankee Group.

..."It's a behavioral shift from the last hundred years in which we called a geographical place and got a person," said Jeff Kagan, an independent telecommunications analyst in Atlanta. "We're now moving to a model of calling a person — regardless of geography. The consequences of such a change could be profound."

Besides dropped calls and being more expensive if your provider does not offer free local calling, using your cellphone as your main phone also further blurs the division between work and home.

Last frontiers of transparency in software

Oracle Corp., the world's second-biggest software maker, said on Wednesday it will make its global pricing policies public next week [on the Web], in a move analysts said could benefit both the company and its customers.

``Pricing is one of the last frontiers of transparency in the software industry,'' said Joshua Greenbaum, principal of industry research firm Enterprise Applications Consulting.

Tax-exempt organizations

A federal judge has ruled that the IRS does not have to disclose publicly the reasons for revoking or denying tax exempt status to a charity.

The I.R.S. typically denies or revokes tax-exempt status only in cases where an organization engages in prohibited political activity, is operating for profit or in a fraudulent manner. The agency may impose sanctions for violations instead.

...The I.R.S. recognizes more than 1.35 million tax-exempt organizations. About 820,000 of those are classified as charities, and donors can take a tax deduction.

Ultimate feminist victory? Men cooking

"[T]o the secret delight of women around the country, the rise of lower-pressure supporting roles for women in the kitchen might just be the ultimate feminist victory," according to the New York Times. It appears that,

...27 percent of American men who, according to a study conducted at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, act as primary food handlers for their families. These are men for whom grocery shopping, cooking and the semi-regular dinner party are as intuitive as reaching for the sports page.

HotJobs still Yahoo's savior? story today on concerns about the role that HotJobs will have in Yahoo's expected revenues.

Since Yahoo acquired the online job bank in February, HotJobs has added muscle to Yahoo's turnaround pitch to Wall Street. The boost not only allowed Yahoo to show revenue growth over the past two quarters, it also helped bulk up its non-advertising business to 40 percent of its total in the quarter ending June 30.

Growth of non-advertising revenue has been a cornerstone for Yahoo's turnaround plan. During a meeting with Wall Street analysts last November, Yahoo executives outlined a recovery strategy by which they would lessen their dependence on advertising through acquisitions and the introduction of paid services.

So far, this plan seems to be working. Last quarter, Yahoo reported 1 million registered consumers who are paying for services, many of whom purchased additional offerings for e-mail, personals and data storage.

Startup valuations not hit bottom yet

Median valuations for venture-backed start-ups fell [reports the San Jose Mercury News] to $10.6 million in the first half of 2002, which is about where they were in 1996, according to VentureOne, a venture capital research firm. That's much lower than the peak of $29.9 million in the first quarter of 2000.

...But if you look at start-ups funded after the crash, the median ``seed-round'' deal was $3.2 million. That's much lower than the peak of $5 million in 2000, but still higher than 1995's median of $1.8 million. So we're not rock bottom yet.

...But the bigger firms are now returning to their roots, and investing smaller amounts too. Charles River Ventures' Ted Dintersmith says his firm made six investments of about $250,000 over the past year. Vinod Khosla, of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, says his investments are averaging about $1 million.

True, many ``angel'' investors -- who specialized in giving budding entrepreneurs $1 million or less -- have fled the scene...But other angels are still anointing start-ups at the same old rate: Ram Shriram, who runs Saratoga angel group Sherpalo, helped seed Internet search engine Google in 1998. He's made two new investments this year, or around the same pace he has in the past.

Will reward for innovation

Can a reward be used to help jump-start an industry? asks Rafe Needleman in today's What's Next on the X Prize Foundation (a $10 million prize fund designed to get private industry to build a space-launch system for tourists):

In the early days of aviation, cash awards encouraged the development of many technologies and systems, thereby helping nascent industries to grow. Charles Lindbergh was competing for the $25,000 Orteig Prize when he crossed the Atlantic in 1926. The following year, commercial air traffic jumped dramatically.

Literacy and Prison Growth

Do you know how the U.S. Government forecasts prison growth? By looking at third-grade literacy rates. This compelled 2 Harvard Business School students to launch BEST Education Partners, a for-profit education management company operating charter K-12 schools: "We have a commitment and passion to making sure that we build fewer prisons."

Swapping Microsoft for Nepal

As I'm going thru some archives, I found Swapping Microsoft for Nepal on former Microsoft exec, John Wood who quit in 1999 to start Room to Read (originally Books for Nepal).

Better Class of Teachers

This Wall Street Journal article a few weeks back addressed the two options -- alternative certification and the Teach for America program -- that seem to be working vis a vis improving the quality of teachers. Great, finally some improvement on the horizon!

New York offers a model here. To address large teacher shortages for math, science and English as a second language, the state enacted alternative certification in 2000. Its Teaching Fellows Program has since proven "incredibly successful" at bringing professionals into the classrooms in highest-need districts, says Saul Cohen, a member of the state Board of Regents. As chairman of the committee responsible for licensing teachers, Mr. Cohen finds that "the people these programs attract to teaching are of very high intellectual caliber." This year 2,200 professionals will seek certification through the fellows program.

Teach For America, a non-profit program that places recent liberal arts graduates as teachers in failing schools, is another success story. The Center for Research on Education Outcomes finds that TFA teachers succeeded in boosting student achievement in Houston's Independent Schools District between 1996 and 2000. And Secretary Paige's report says there is evidence that TFA teachers "may in fact elicit greater academic gains from their students than non-TFA teachers."

Wednesday, August 28, 2002

The Selling of America, Bush Style

The New York Times on the Bush administration's efforts to improve things abroad.

Within weeks of Sept. 11, Charlotte Beers, celebrated as the "queen of branding" among the public relations cognoscenti, was named undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs. Her job was explaining and selling the administration's foreign policy, especially its war on terrorism. The problem of "Why they hate us" was rephrased, in ad speak, as "How we reposition the brand."

To help win market shares from jihad, the former chairwoman of J. Walter Thompson Worldwide advertising agency recently received a $520 million Congressional appropriation to focus on "disaffected populations," especially in the Middle East and South Asia. As Ms. Beers testified, "a poor perception of the U.S. leads to unrest, and unrest has proven to be a threat to our national and international security."

However, this problem required much, much more than a slick avertising campaign. We need to start from the very basics -- by helping kids get an education, learn how to think, get trained in various skills, find jobs, and look forward to a better future -- only then can we hope to see success in changing how the targeted "angry young Muslims" feel.

...Advertising, when disconnected from more substantial cultural exchanges, runs a double risk: either it is treated as just more background noise and so ignored; or cited as another example of America's overwhelming media presence abroad, for which the nation is already criticized. The bottom line, to use ad speak, is that advertising is only as good as the product being sold.

Are you more productive under pressure?

You may think you are more productive under deadline pressure but you probably are not, according to the latest study published in the Harvard Business Review (HBR). The author HBS Professor Teresa Amabile writes:

I'd advise people not to kid themselves into thinking that they'll stimulate their creativity by avoiding working on a complex problem until the last minute. It's probably best to get started as soon as possible, laying out the problem in all its complexity and mapping out some strategies for tackling it.

Compass Point nonprofit consulting services

Some great resources provided by Compass Point (which provides nonprofit consulting services) such as the Food for Thought newsletter. Its examples are often Bay Area-centric but relevant to all. I just asked for their annual report and a gorgeous poster with the phrase: Nonprofits are the catalysts of social change.

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