Welcome to the Pop!Tech Social Innovation Fellows Program.
What is Pop!Tech? It's a non-profit focused on facilitating the conversation on the social impact of technology and innovation on people. Every year they host an annual conference in Camden, Maine and although this will be my first year in attendance, my impressions are: forward-thinking, connecting, and embracing opportunity. The type of people that attend PopTech are the type of people who make great things happen.
What is the Social Innovation Fellows Program? A group of sixteen high-potential transformational change agents working on technology development for poor people throughout the world. Our 4-day training program includes workshops from industry leaders on: Branding, Design for Social Change, Digital Storytelling, Funding Social Change, Media Training, and Taking Projects to Scale. Each workshop is designed to make each of us more effective as leaders and social entrepreneurs.
Before I left for Maine I had a few stressful, sleepless nights getting ready for the Fellows program. I boarded a red-eye to Portland, Maine and then napped through the two-hour drive to Camden, a small Norman Rockwell-esque community. We're housed at Point Lookout, a gorgeous resort center overlooking the ocean bay, Oh, and did I mention that the leaves are turning this month? It's a beautiful, serene setting.
"Brand Camp" with Cheryl Heller, Heller Communication Design It's day one of the program and our first workshop was an eye-opening experience. As the founder of Catapult Design, I live and breathe operations and have become completely detached from people's perception of what I do and how I do it. I'm caught in a bubble of industry lingo and the details of organizational issues that most people don't care or need to hear about. In our session, Cheryl asks each of us, "Why do you do what you do?" My answer's easy: Billions of people around the world lack basic needs; design can change that. "Okay, so why is that important?" Hmm... Good design enables access to clean water, night time lighting, food security, etc. "Okay so, How do you do that? What's the benefit?"
Question after question until we're forced to get to the very core of our organizational objective. Why does our organization exist? How are you unique? What promise do we make to our customers, our investors, our employees?
I learned that while I know all the answers to those questions, I don't communicate them in an effective manner. In fact, most people and companies don't. Even when they think they are. Worse yet, in our group exercise I tended to skew people's perceptions of Catapult with my descriptions of our organization. Not a good sign; but a problem plaguing a lot of passionate leaders face.
Lessons learned: When my mom tells me she doesn't understand what I do, it means I'm not communicating effectively. Good communication and solid branding are vital tools for non-profit survival.
Other workshops for Day One included: Design for Social Impact with Jason, Luke, and Robert from Frog Design Social Media with Ethan Zuckerman and Erik Hersman