Smartphones Save Animals: Governing Magazine

According to a recent article in Governing magazine, citizen volunteers are starting to perform jobs once handled by government (“Full-Service Government Comes to an End,” by Paul W. Taylor).  Mobile technology enables this shift by enabling citizens to find out quickly about easy ways to help in their own neighborhoods.  People help each other more, and the city has to send out fewer trucks for minor jobs.

The City of Boston has implemented Citizens Connect, a tool that lets citizens report problems and see other citizens’ reports using their mobile devices.  Using Citizens Connect, Tech Networks CEO Susan Labandibar took care of a municipal issue in her South Boston neighborhood and became one of the examples in the Governing article.

As reported in the article, Susan was browsing Citizens Connect on a cold winter night when she saw this message: “Possum in my trash can.  Can’t tell if it’s dead.  Barrel in back of 168 W. 9th.  How do I get this removed?”  Susan saw that the site was a short distance from her home.  She walked over, turned the trash can on its side, resolved the ticket and tweeted “Good night, sweet possum.”

Mobile devices are increasing efficiency and bringing people together.  They improve our lives—and those of opossums—in unexpected ways.

Click here to view the full May 2012 Boston Techie newsletter.

Our CEO’s Idea of a Vacation

Susan Labandibar is on vacation right now, but you won’t find her at the beach. Instead, she’ll be in the Borneo jungle.

That’s because Susan’s idea of a vacation is to help save the orangutans and their rain forest habitat as they are threatened by encroaching palm oil farms and other environmentally irresponsible practices.

Two years ago, Susan visited Borneo for the first time. There, she met Dr. Birute Galdikas, the guardian angel of orangutans. Susan soon became an active volunteer and donor to help Dr. Galdikas’s nonprofit, Orangutan Foundation International (OFI).

As part of her effort to help OFI, Susan created the Hutan Project here at Tech Networks of Boston. Did you know TNB donates 20% of new revenue to save crucial rain forest habitat?

This year, Susan’s tour is even more ambitious. She’ll meet the founders of several grassroots nonprofits, as well as scientists from the Center for International Forest Research in Jakarta. She’ll help them rescue endangered animals, and publicize the plight of the orangutan amid rain forest destruction.

Susan will finish her trip at the Orangutan Care Center and Quarantine in Borneo, in the happy company of the Center’s long-term volunteers and intelligent, hairy residents.

Susan will be back in the U.S. on August 31, insha’Allah. (That means “God willing” in Arabic.) Susan won’t be doing much eating during the day, either: this month is Ramadan.

Fiddling While Rome Burns

Even if it’s not true that Nero played a lyre while watching the Great Fire of Rome, there are many historical cases of human inaction and apathy in the face of impending doom. I’m not sure if President Obama and BP CEO Tony Hayward have been playing musical instruments as they watch massive quantities of oil gush from the Deepwater Horizon. But this disaster proves that Americans are unable to take even the most basic precautions to protect our planet. I thought that surely we would take this oil spill seriously by declaring a state of National Emergency and by deploying all available resources to stop the gusher and remediate the damage. Instead, we are waiting, lawsuits in hand, for someone else to fix the problem.

What’s the difference between a socialist and a social entrepeneur?

[This is the text of the speech I gave on 3/31/10 at the Simmons College series on Enterprising Women. The title of the seminar was: Entrepreneur CEOs Working their Social Mission]

What’s the difference between a socialist and a social entrepreneur?

Neither one was familiar to John Adams when he wrote the Massachusetts constitution in 1780, but he was familiar with the idea of social responsibility. He believed that both public and private institutions have a mandate “to countenance and inculcate the principles of humanity and general benevolence, public and private charity, industry and economy, honesty and punctuality, sincerity, sobriety, and all social affections, and generous sentiments, among the people.”

One key difference between the socialist and social entrepreneur stems from private companies’ freedom to create flexible economic models for social programs. The socialist relies on compulsory taxpayer contributions to finance social programs while the social entrepreneur entices the customer to purchase goods and services where a portion of the revenues fund social programs.

It was in the spirit of John Adams’ call for social responsibility that TNB founded the Hutan Project. We partner with Orangutan Foundation International for the conservation of the world’s fastest disappearing rain forest. The United Nations Environmental Programme projects only 2 percent of the Indonesian rain forest will remain in 2022. Our partnership helps preserve 1,800 square miles of rain forest and protect the habitat of 6,000 orangutans – the largest protected population left in the wild.

For the first year of a new service contract, we contribute 20 percent of the total fee to OFI. Our goal is to contribute $50,000 annually to OFI to be used to acquire threatened rain forest in Indonesia, to repair damaged rain forest, and to support patrols to preserve the habitat of 6,000 orangutans. Implementing this project replaced our sales program, meaning we eliminated two sales positions. Since then, we have added three engineers and a sustainable services coordinator to help administer our social ventures.

Prior to implementation, we created 3 ground rules for The Hutan Project and other major social ventures at TNB:

Rule 1 – The customer cannot bear the cost for the program. My staff was especially concerned about this, but it has not been a problem. Our pricing remains competitive, and our credibility allows us to promote the program without causing clients to worry about increased costs.

Rule 2 – There must be a tangible business benefit. This is not cause-related marketing; in a business to business market, cause-related marketing is not a good option. Hutan has become an emblem of our social responsibility programs and a symbol of our sincere dedication. It helps us retain customers and, more importantly, recruit and keep talented employees.

Rule 3 – In looking beyond the Hutan Project, we must develop business mechanisms that promote social responsibility. We promote the idea that nonprofits and businesses can build social responsibility into their purchasing decisions. Wal-Mart has become a leader in promoting this idea as well with the introduction of their supplier sustainability assessment. Our efforts to assess our suppliers’ sustainability only became successful when we started mailing reminders with check payments.

So what is the difference between a socialist and a social entrepreneur?

The socialist builds electoral consensus that the government should create a more just distribution of society’s resources.

The Social entrepreneur builds a consensus in the marketplace that it is the role of business to build economies that are local, green, and fair.

I know that John Adams may never have heard the phrase “social enterprise.” But in days when the tea party is alive and well, perhaps it is our answer for building a great society.

The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts

In 1779, John Adams wrote the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Today, it is the oldest constitution still in continuous use.

Although this document served as a model for all of the constitutions to come, it places a unique emphasis on education that is not reflected in its more famous successor, the U.S. Constitution. For John Adams, the success of democracy depends on the general education of the populace. In the fifth chapter, he singles out Harvard College as one of the key institutions of the Commonwealth, just as necessary to good government as the legislature or the judiciary.

In addition to traditional subjects such as arts, sciences, commerce, and agriculture, part of the educational mandate is to “…countenance and inculcate the principles of humanity and general benevolence, public and private charity, industry and frugality, honesty and punctuality in their dealings; sincerity, good humor, and all social affections, and generous sentiments among the people.”

Most importantly, our constitution does not limit responsibility for education to the government and schools. All public and private institutions are asked to participate in the task of shaping an electorate that is wise, knowledgeable and virtuous. It seems that the ultimate mandate for Tech Networks’ corporate social responsibility program lies in these words written by John Adams over 200 years ago:

Chapter V, Section II.
The Encouragement of Literature, etc.

Wisdom, and knowledge, as well as virtue, diffused generally among the body of the people, being necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberties; and as these depend on spreading the opportunities and advantages of education in the various parts of the country, and among the different orders of the people, it shall be the duty of legislatures and magistrates, in all future periods of this commonwealth, to cherish the interests of literature and the sciences, and all seminaries of them; especially the university at Cambridge, public schools and grammar schools in the towns; to encourage private societies and public institutions, rewards and immunities, for the promotion of agriculture, arts, sciences, commerce, trades, manufactures, and a natural history of the country; to countenance and inculcate the principles of humanity and general benevolence, public and private charity, industry and frugality, honesty and punctuality in their dealings; sincerity, good humor, and all social affections, and generous sentiments among the people.

This blog post was inspired by David McCullough’s 2003 Jefferson Lecture, The Course of Human Events.

Update

It’s been a while since I put virtual ink to virtual paper here on the Activist CEO blog. As you can imagine, it’s not due to a lack of activism, but an acceleration of it. Here are the projects I am currently working on:

  • Leadership team at Tech Networks. Our vision is to achieve 95% customer satisfaction by the end of 2010.
  • Recruit for new SBN CEO Roundtable. I have benefited greatly from participating in the SBN’s first CEO Roundtable, which includes 8 leaders from other mission-driven businesses. I’m assembling a second group.
  • Orangutan Foundation International: Recruiting an assistant for Dr. Galdikas who will accompany her in her travels. Also, looking for consultant who will help us create a strategic plan for maximizing the value from our upcoming film.
  • Greenpeace / The Leadership Campaign: Recruiting business owners who want to be in a video. The point is to show business owners who state that “The US Chamber of Commerce does not represent me.”
  • Boston’s Citizen’s Advisory Committee on Climate Change: Recruiting for the City’s interactive workshops on climate change planning. We need at least 750 people!

My New Year’s resolution was to make sure that I am spending my time working on the things that matter most. My blog may suffer for it, but it’s all for the best!

A Vegan Thanksgiving

Everyone knows the easiest way to save the planet is to eat a healthy diet of grains, vegetables, fruits and nuts. Living on these nutritious foods has brought me much happiness. I appreciate the simple taste of the whole grain bread I bake, spread with fragrant fresh-ground peanut butter and spicy apple butter. The intensity of the deep green plants like kale, spinach, and swiss chard sauteed with onions and garlic and seasoned with tamari sauce. The utter simplicity and fresh taste of tofu made in Jamaica Plain at 21st Century foods.

A vegan diet has allowed me to live in harmony with my goal of compassion for all beings. By eating grains directly, instead of feeding them to livestock, I leave more food for others, more room for wildlife, and pollute less.

I am healthy. My sense of taste has been enhanced. And I maintain my weight without effort, year after year.

Start on the road to balance with nature. Eliminate meat from your diet and reduce eggs and dairy foods. Your body will thank you for it.

“Little Things”

Hey, life’s not all about the big stuff. When your head hits the pillow at night, sometimes you just want to remember one little thing you did that day to make a difference. Here are a few of my easy favorites for the environment. If you have a chance, please write in to tell me some of yours.
1. Choose low-impact transportation. Here’s me and my e-bike. No, that is not my Mercedes in the background.

 

 

 

2. Choose low impact food. My Boston Organics Dogma Box contains fresh, locally-grown produce delivered to my door every other Tuesday. Great convenience for a car-less vegan!
3. Recycle. My favorite item to recycle is food waste. My worms love it!

 

 

 

4. Educate. I have created Post-Its with the text of the Massachusetts law prohibiting unnecessary operation of a stopped vehicle (the five-minute idling law.)
I carry it with me when I’m jogging and use it to start conversations with people idling in parked cars. Yes, it works. People really do shut off their motors! (And sometimes they roll up their window and tell me to buzz off, but, hey.)
5.Activate. My mailbox contains letters from environmental organizations like the NRDC, EDF, Greenpeace, the Wilderness Society, and CARE2.org. It’s easy enough to address them to my elected officials and fire them away.
6.Protect. Plastic six-pack holders can be lethal for animals. Whenever I see them on the ground, I pick them up and tear them apart.

 

What are some of your favorite “little things?” Post them here or send me a link to your blog.

Success Update

I was going to call this blog post “Status Update” because there’s been so much going on lately. Instead, I decided to call it “Success Update” because everything I have to report is upbeat (for a change!)

Here are the highlights:

The Hutan Project is my passion right now. I’m learning how to talk to people about it in a way that opens them up and gets them excited about the possibilities for making a difference in their own lives. Last week, for example, I met with a client to resolve a billing issue. There happened to be a computer with a large screen in the conference room, so at an opportune moment, I grabbed the keyboard and put the Hutan Project website on the screen. Well, guess what? The Executive Director and two staffers ended up sitting there with me until 7:30PM! It wasn’t all about saving the rain forest. It was also about what philanthropy meant to them, and about the causes they cared about.

As we talk about the Hutan Project, people become alive to the possibilities for supporting causes in their workplaces. At this non-profit, for example, they decided to allow donations through payroll deductions. At another organization, Exemplar Law Partners, they have agreed to contribute 20% of fees to the Hutan Project for any client referred by Tech Networks. Talk about synergy!

Green IT:

We are going to be giving our clients a green makeover! That’s right! No more computers losing sleep at night. They need to get their beauty rest by entering sleep mode at night. We’re going to command them to go to sleep. And if they don’t obey, our automated services manager is going to beat them into submission!

Also, I have been invited to serve on the advisory board of the Green IT Consortium. This is a great group of folks on Linked-In dedicated to sharing information on lowering IT energy use.

Trees:

It’s not just the Indonesian rain forest I’m worried about. Ground-level ozone is killing our street trees here in Boston. Have you noticed? Those trees with no leaves on the top, or with large branches completely devoid of leaves are not going to make it. Street trees are in big trouble even if the Asian Long-Horned beetle that has caused such tree devastation in Worcester does not make it to Boston.

I am doing something about it. Every morning, when I go jogging along the ocean to Castle Island, I find people in their cars idling their motors. I jog up to them and politely ask them to shut off their engines. At first, it was hard. But with the right kind of smile on my face, I’m getting huge results. I tell them about the Massachusetts 5-minute idling law, which prohibits unnecessary engine idling. Ground-level ozone is so dangerous to human health as well as to to vegetation, that New York City is considering a 1 minute idling law while the Sierra Club advises to avoid idling your car for 10 seconds!

After I ask people to shut off their motors, about 50% of them actually do it. I figure that these people are less likely to idle their motor next time. Who knows? I might be saving more trees by politely asking motorists to turn off their engines than I am by bicycling to work!

True Bravery

I’m back from Borneo.  Two shining weeks of visceral living.  The fragile beauty of the rainforest, calling to me amidst the destruction of the smoldering forest stubble, the cruel rows of oil palms marching like an invading army into the national park, the brown sludge rolling into the clear black waterways.

The river is our road through the rainforest.  Long, slow klotok* rides at dawn and dusk.  Solemn proboscis monkeys waiting in the trees.  On the second day, we encounter an orangutan.  Waving branches at first, then gradually coming closer.  Baby clinging to her side.  Silence. The orangutan regards us.  I put down my camera and binoculars and drink her in deeply through misty eyes.  My heart is crying:  “God, what can I do to keep her world pure and free?”

Step back for a moment.  Look at the boat driver, the tour group, the orangutan and her offspring.  Now pan out over the river, the camp, and the forest.  See the orangutans, the monkeys, the wild Bornean pigs, and the clouded leopard.  Every living plant and every living being is here today because of the actions of one woman:  Dr. Birute Galdikas.

She came here 38 years ago to follow and study orangutans in the wild.  By anyone’s standards, she was amazingly brave.  Living in a bark-walled hut in the midst of the jungle accompanied by orphan orangutans who clung to her side and bit anyone who tried to remove them.  Tracking wild orangutans for days at a time, scrambling through crocodile-infested swamps as her subjects swung through the trees.  Suffering from every conceivable tropical ailment, from malaria-induced fevers to a paralyzed, claw-like hand, to weeping jungle ulcers that took months to heal.

My companions on the tour had read her account of those early years, called Reflections of Eden.  Everyone wanted to know how she had the guts to fend off flying snakes, blood-sucking leeches, and charging 300-pound male orangutans.  Her response was modest:  She said that she was too young to know any better.

Dr. Galdikas was brave to face those dangers, and undergo those hardships.  But there is a different kind of bravery born of right-thinking and personal responsibility that must endure the test of years.  This is the courage required to stand in the path of destruction, facing down the poaching, logging, mining, and palm oil industries and to say:  “Here you will not tread.”  Therefore, I asked Dr. Galdikas:  “How have you kept fighting when all around you the rainforest is being destroyed?”  And she replied:  “Because I have to.”