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* This post first appeared on Huffington Post – Media*

We don’t always want to be known for the most vulnerable or emotional story of our lives. New York Times best-selling author of How to Be Black, Baratunde Thurston, once asked his live audience not to tweet or record his telling of a personal story at a public venue because he’s “not interested in that story blowing up and getting lots of YouTube hits. I’m not interested in being KNOWN for it…the idea of people streaming and live-tweeting and uploading this personal, intimate tale felt like a violation.”

After she wrote about her abortion experience in the The Texas Observer, Carolyn Jones was shocked to watch it “spread faster than a Texas wildfire” across the internet. She wrote later that sometimes she wakes “up in a cold sweat, shocked at what I’ve done. Not at having the abortion — I’m at peace with the choice we made — but at having written about the most private and painful of traumas.”

In many cases, the internet has helped people who once felt alone find others who understand what they’re going through, whether its an abortion experience, divorce or death. Yet, the intricacies of what’s private and what’s public are getting harder to navigate. Those who seek connection and self-expression online to mitigate their feelings of isolation, or to challenge myths and stereotypes about sensitive experiences, can find a number of difficulties, including the unexpected emotional impact of strangers curating and sharing their stories.

Does viral, vulnerable personal content challenge cultural stigmas or does it exploit it? Continue Reading »

* This post first appeared in the blog of the Stanford Social Innovation Review *

Aminatou Sow was living a good life as a digital media strategist in Washington DC, consulting for big brands, media companies, and government agencies. But, she says in one interview: “Every once in a while I would get these articles that were like, ‘There’s only five women who know how to do math! There are seven women who know how to use computers.’” This exasperated her. While she understood the desire to discuss the lack of women in technology, she was tired of it, because those conversations “make the women that are already there invisible.” So she and a partner decided to build Tech Lady Mafia (TLM), a network of women who are already there, working away, and building success.

Sabrina Hersi Issa, an entrepreneur, technologist, and international humanitarian who is listed on nearly every “who’s who of the future” list of powerful people, also looks to solve problems of underrepresentation by building community. “When I look around the room and don’t see people who look or sound like me, I seek them out,” Hersi Issa told the Washington Post in a 2013 interview on women in technology. “With women and people of color, there’s always this community-building backchannel that’s happening at conferences, summits, and hackathons.”

Sow and Hersi Issa are just the latest in a long line of social entrepreneurs who have used dilemmas drawn from their own personal experiences to spur invention, creating solutions for their own communities and making a social impact that goes far beyond their own lives. Continue Reading »

*This first appeared under Inspiring Voices on The Women Take Over*

There are few things I enjoy more than the discomfort and ambiguity that comes with discovering a new dilemma. When I find a one, I know that opportunity, invention and change are right around the corner.

I first learned about the power of dilemma after I had my abortion and was surprised to find that the only places that provided emotional support came from those who advocated against abortion. There was nothing available from the other side. That dilemma showcased a previously unmet need and I saw the opportunity in the obstacle: to build a place of nonjudgmental support. I co-founded Exhale, the nation’s first organization designed by and for women who have had abortions, with a mission to change the social climate from one of judgment and shame to one of support and respect.

Fourteen years later, because of Exhale’s services and the broader social impact of our mission, thousands of women and men have found the comfort and connection they need after abortion, and more advocates and organizations across the entire political spectrum are doing their part to promote emotional well being after abortion. Continue Reading »

* This was first published on Huffington Post Impact *

Michelle Goldberg’s cover article for The Nation, “Feminism’s Toxic Twitter Wars,” details what many of us have already seen — or personally experienced — online: judging, shaming, marginalizing attacks couched as credible “feminist critique.”

The consequences of such behavior have been so debilitating to the cause of feminist power and influence that even some of the entrepreneurs of “online feminism” have looked for new ways to make a difference. Anna Holmes, founder of Jezebel, notes in the article that the blogosphere “feels like a much more insular, protective, brittle environment than it did before. It’s really depressing,” she adds. “It makes me think I got out at the right time.”

While the pain and hurt that many feminists have experienced as a result of our online interactions with each other is quite real, I hope it is not the end of our story. Continue Reading »

* This first appeared on the blog for the Stanford Social Innovation Review *

Even engaged citizens in Oakland, Calif., didn’t know the city had a Public Ethics Commission, let alone what its purpose was, when I joined its ranks three years ago. And people who did know about it didn’t have many nice things to say: Local blogs sneered at its lack of power and few politicians feared its oversight. Created in 1996 as a watchdog organization responsible for opening up city government, the commission had become just another element of Oakland’s cumbersome, opaque bureaucracy.

It’s easy to see why. Technology and media have dramatically changed our expectations for what defines transparency and accountability. For example, in the past, walking into City Hall, making an official request for a public record, and receiving it in the mail within two weeks meant good, open government. Now, if an Internet search doesn’t instantly turn up an answer to your question about local government, the assumption often is: Government’s hiding something. Continue Reading »

A member of the Oakland Public Ethics Commission, a year ago, I initiated a subcommittee to review Oakland’s Transparency practices. A final report on our activities was published today and I couldn’t be more proud and excited about it’s depth, breadth and  potential to strengthen Oakland’s culture shift towards more innovation, accountability and transparency.  Last night was my final Public Ethics Commission meeting: I hung up my hat as Vice-Chair and ended my three years of public service.

I encourage you to read the report – Toward Collaborative Transparency.

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My last meeting with my fellow Commissioners:

 

 

 

*This was first published on HuffPo Impact*

2013 revealed a promising new political trend: A renewed interest in listening, connection and acknowledgment of gray areas to spur innovation and possibility. It’s not surprising that activists, leaders and organizations would respond to the dysfunction of the federal government by exploring ideas and practices to resolve conflicts and develop common ground.

No one understands the challenges of conflict more than Planned Parenthood, so it makes sense that they stepped out early. Last January, Planned Parenthood made a major announcement acknowledging that Americans’ views on abortion weren’t so cut and dry. Their willingness to adopt the gray area so proudly and publicly signaled potential for a major shift in the abortion conversation.

Less than a year later, they are less alone in their approach. More and more public figures are advocating for better ways of dealing with our differences.

In a fall TEDTalk, Sally Kohn, the liberal pundit formerly of Fox News, spoke about a concept she calls emotional correctness: “You can’t get anyone to agree with you if you don’t listen to them first… we spend so much time talking past each other and not enough time talking through our disagreements.”

Philanthropy publicly embraced the idea of building bridges across divides this year too. The Board of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation announced a new initiative, which will “zero in on the problem of political polarization. We believe… that alleviating polarization is a precondition for successfully addressing the other problems that bedevil us.”

This desire to try something beyond fighting is happening on the local level too. Continue Reading »

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