The amazing networks of strangers

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has. 
Margaret Mead 

First a shout out to my friends and colleagues of APEX, the premiere Asian American professional networking group here in SoCal. APEX celebrated its sweet 16 birthday last night. For the last two years, APEX has been under the fantastic leadership of Hogan Lee who has taken founder Stephen Liu's vision to new heights. There are many things I like about APEX. I have watched it grow and mature. Today it enables thousands of youngish Asian Americans (I am too old :) and new immigrant Asians to develop their confidence through mentoring, networking, leadership and service. 


 Apex has grown well beyond the typical networking and mingling orgs that connect young people for business and pleasure and evolved into a formidable community resource for new leaders. I have always advised joining organizations that have purpose and meaning to network v.s. joining a networking org that has no other purpose.  Some people are still critical of ethnic oriented groups because they segregate. What those critics don't understand is groups, especially immigrant and under-represented groups, need to build bridges of commonality to integrate the tremendous ambitions and talents of the very diverse Asian American community into the greater society. To be honest we need more APEX-like orgs. Congrats to Hogan and his leadership team for their accomplishments. 

This last week I was reminded of the power of strangers networking. Previously unconnected people coming together for a common purpose, driven by self interest resulting in collective benefit. Howard Rheingold said in his book , "Smart mobs emerge when communication and computing technologies amplify human talents for cooperation."  

Group idea

James Surowieki in his book the Wisdom of Crowds asserted how valuable the informed perspectives of the many are to see the whole and to derive more effective solutions. 

Open source organizations have led the way using smart mobs and wise crowds for many years. Open source, some say open architecture, allows for contributions and improvements to come from diverse peer-based sources v.s. a closed controlled and hierarchical system. You have undoubtedly heard of or used many open source products/services. WikipediaFirefox, and Moodle come to mind. Linux pioneered open source development where volunteers and peers update and improve the software or service driven by their own professional development AND contributing to the common good. Most often these products and services are free to use as well. 

Beyond open source, there are numerous examples where smart crowds are gathering. I just joined Groupon. (a commercial enterprise) Have you seen this? Bulk buying with strangers. A deal is offered in your home city (24 now) and a minimum number of purchasers to get the deal is announced. The deal is not good until that number is reached within a set time. Sort of an eBay bid for a Buy it Now with a minimum number of buyers. Brilliant. 

One of the hottest trends in philanthropy are giving circles.  Giving circles are groups of like minded people who gather offline and online to use the wisdom of the group to find worthy recipients of their collective charity. Smaller groups are more enjoyable and more effective.Today giving circles account for $100mm of gifts annually.



I have been a huge fan of Donorschoose.org. They have led the way in making small project donations delightful and easy. Donorchoose enables tens of thousands of teachers (250,000 so far) to post their requests for supplies, special class projects, and field trips. A donor can contribute as little as $1. Here's the great part: Donorchoose receives the donations, delivers the purchases, including the field trips to the teachers AND thanks the donors. If you give $100 or more your get a report on how the donation was used and the impact it had. What has been a pleasant surprise is that donors are not just geographically focused, but also funding ideas and subjects across the nation. For example, donors who love Shakespeare, search and fund those projects locally and across the country. Donorschoose calls it Citizen Philanthropy and they have set a standard that all fundraising orgs should follow.


 is another incredible site where you can connect with other people and their networks who have similar medical challenges. And get the benefit of wise and smart crowds.

I have learned how to rely on strangers on the net, I am trying to translate that to my face-to-face life! How much wiser would we be? How much smarter would our decisions be?-- if we would work and think together in an open source way. 

Thanks for reading. John

Who is mentoring our kids?

J0439456 Most kids have returned to school. Isn't the Fall a wonderful time to reflect and consider our possibilities--how we all need to get back to the "school of life". 

Check out this new website that my good friend quietly launched this week My Teacher My Hero. See who influenced some of the top thinkers and leaders in our country. Funny how we can each remember a teacher or two who made a deep and lasting impression on us. Someone who took an interest in us and made us see our own possibilities. A teacher who challenged us to reach higher and further. This was one of your first mentors, they helped you become better as a person and a student. For me, Mrs. Lewis in 3rd grade and Mr. Bougeris in 10th grade stand out as teachers who made a difference. J0439571

Educate yourself about this debate on teacher quality and teacher performance -- makes a difference to our kids and the next generation. We don't appreciate how hard this job is. We don't really understand what it takes to manage a classroom, get through all of the curriculum that is required and do that basically by yourself. It is a job we do not understand or value enough. That being said, having the best teachers standing at the front of that class could be the difference that not only changes student lives but changes all of our lives. We all lose when any talent or shred of genius is not given the chance to shine and grow. This is not a standard that can be compromised. 

The Gates Foundation has spent literally billions of dollars trying to improve public schools. It has been a experience that has yielded great lessons and data. Watch this video Bill Gates Unplugged, he discusses malaria and then gives a riveting presentation on teachers. 

And I like many believe that teachers are undervalued and underpaid. I like what  Michelle Rhee Chancellor of Washington DC school system is doing, --offering huge pay increases for the right to evaluate teachers on performance and not on tenure is a model that needs to be emulated. Hard to believe that most school systems give tenure--security of employment for life-- after about 5 years, it varies from 2-7 years. Did you know that? No other profession I know has such an amazing deal. Clearly that is one of the factors that keeps salaries down. Not against tenure, but performance and quality have to be major factors in granting tenure, right? And should tenure be for life?!! 

If you have an interest in addressing poverty, helping kids make better choices, improving the economy--think about how we guide and mentor our kids outside the home. Think about one of the biggest influences on our kids--teachers. Don't you think that if students encounter a teacher like the ones we remember, that their ability to find themselves, to stay in school, to become productive members of our society increases? For many kids they don't have 2 parents or any parents. Who mentors these kids?

When I was at Big Brothers Big Sisters, I used to ask people what the most powerful mentoring organization is. It was a trick question. I would say "Gangs."  Homeboy They have an incredible system of mentoring, training, and fulfilling the needs of young vulnerable people. And the consequences are deadly. And for the few who can escape or be rescued, the re-entry into society can be brutal. One of many guiding lights in this area has been Father Boyle's work at Homeboy Industries. Homeboy does miracles with its tattoo removal, re-education, training for jobs, and placement services. But this is the consequence of a failed system. I am not blaming the schools, I am blaming us. How did we let this happen?

We all know, if a kid can stay in school, the likelihood of being recruited to the dark side is lessened. And, if those kids are fortunate to have teachers who will inspire them, to mentor them, then we save kids and we preserve the talent in our community. Those of us who have kids or care about our future--that would be all of us!--need to keep on top of this issue. No single factor makes a bigger difference in our public schools than the teacher.

Let's all go back to school this Fall. Let's all cherish those teaching and mentoring memories of days gone by. Let's reflect on the influence of great teachers and mentors. Let's engage in the understanding of what is happening in our classrooms. Let's support our teachers and our public schools. 

Who are you mentoring? Never forget, regardless of your position in life, you too are mentoring and teaching kids and others by your actions.

Thanks for reading. John