Archive for the ‘I did’ Category

* 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. (more…)

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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:




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I was honored to be a part of the closing plenary of Netroots Nation 2013 in San Jose, California on June 22, 2013.  The plenary was a series of speakers using the Ignite model: 5 minutes, 20 slides progressing automatically every 15 seconds. I was stoked to be the first woman speaker amongst many of my heroes and role models.  I am particularly grateful to Jenifer Fernandez Ancona for being my champion.


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Lisa Lepson, Executive Director of Joshua Venture Group and founding board president of Exhale, wrote “Losing Ownership of New Ideas: A Mark of Success” in the Stanford Social Innovation Review on April 29, 2013.  In her piece, she writes about how social entrepreneurs, like me, impact social change by radically reframing ideas.

“The terms ‘pro-choice’ and ‘pro-life’ are alienating,” explained Heather Holdridge, director of digital strategy at Planned Parenthood, before she went on to describe her organization’s new campaign to drop them. I was listening to her speak on a panel at the Jewish Funders Network conference last month, but my mind quickly went elsewhere.

Eleven years ago, I was the founding board president of Exhale, an organization dedicated to providing emotional support to women and their allies after an abortion, and to removing the stigma around abortion. At the time, Exhale’s founder, Aspen Baker, a social entrepreneur, had a radical viewpoint: The political labels of pro-choice and pro-life got in the way of our mission. She put forward a risky approach: to leave the labels behind and make our home in the grey area of personal abortion experiences.

You can imagine the response we got at the time. Established organizations working in the field of abortion rights were dumbfounded, threatened, confused, and angry. We were told to pick a side or “admit” that we were pro-choice. We faced suspicion and outright hostility. It didn’t matter how we tried to explain it. No one got it yet. It was a novel, daring approach, and Exhale’s board, staff, and volunteers spent the next decade advocating our view.

Exhale can list all the people who have used its services or sought its expertise. It knows how many people have called the after-abortion talkline, accessed their online resources, and trained as volunteer counselors. There are personal anecdotes, new financial supporters, and plenty of media articles, Twitter followers, and Facebook Likes.

But, how can Exhale measure progress on its mission of removing stigma and promoting emotional wellbeing after abortion?

Social entrepreneurs such as Aspen inject new values into communal conversations and can measure their success by taking stock of how perceptions around the issues they support have changed. They can track whether and how their novel, daring messages become mainstream.

She continues:

What social entrepreneurs do for social change is unique. They arrive on the scene, bring attention to community needs previously ignored, push the envelope, raise questions, and provide an alternative view and voice. They tackle problems with innovative models and impact large-scale public perceptions. Often, they work in fields dominated by large, established organizations with complicated networks of stakeholders and bureaucratic systems with large budgets. But these established organizations aren’t often nimble, and they struggle to adapt to contemporary needs. So when an organization such as Planned Parenthood or BBYO makes a major change and begins to own progressive messaging and values, it is years in the making.

That’s how a social entrepreneur can measure their impact. Years after their radical idea is rejected by mainstream organizations, the very same organizations will adopt them and promote these ideas as their own. Success for the social entrepreneur happens when their views are no longer feared but embraced.

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Thanks Cosmo! You know how to make a middle-age lady feel like a winner.



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At 30-years old, I hit a metaphorical wall.  I was exhausted and burned-out.  A social entrepreneur, I had poured my whole self into the venture I began at 24-years old and it seemed there was nothing left of me, for me.  I had a hard time getting to sleep.  I cried a lot.  I was broke.

I looked for role models, for other feminists who had dedicated their lives to changing the world by leading organizations to see how they did it.  I saw just two choices.  Either I could keep going, personal sacrifices be dammed, and find myself an old, bitter lady fighting the same battles year after year, with increasing exasperation and exhaustion. Or, I could quit and find something less taxing and also, less meaningful. I thought this was a false choice. I wanted a third-way, a path where I could be a leader with a joyful heart and a full life.

I set out to make that path. You might say, I leaned in to the challenge. (more…)

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Philosophy Talk just re-aired their program on abortion and made it available for free online.  Exhale and our pro-voice approach are featured in a short 3-minute segment with the Roving Philosophical Report that starts at 8:35.  You can here me discuss how the labels of pro-choice and pro-life are limiting and why its so important that women’s voices and experiences with abortion are heard and understood.

Here I am with the hosts John Perry and Ken Taylor, featured guest Cynthia Gorney, and Roving Reporter Angela.  The show was taped live at The Marsh in San Francisco in October 2010 and aired in January 2011.  Check it out here.


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I had a great time sharing stories with other women who have had abortions on Huff Post Live last week.  No politics – only personal experience. The ultimate practice of Pro-Voice.  You can check it out here.

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*This was first published on Exhale.*

The characters on the television drama Parenthood experience issues many families face: a mother going through cancer, a child struggling to adjust to his adopted family, and a brother learning the intricacies of his interracial family. The emotion and connection viewers feel to the extended Braverman clan is what makes Parenthood such an addictive series to watch.

On January 8, 2013, in an episode titled “Small Victories,” Parenthood joined a  handful of TV series (such as Maude, Friday Night Lights andDeGrassi:The Next Generation) to feature a story about a personal experience with abortion. Before it even aired, Parenthood warned its viewers by Twitter to: “have your tissues handy.”

Sarah Watson is co-executive producer for Parenthood and was the writer of “Small Victories.” Sarah is known for her ability to tackle tough topics with humanity and empathy, including an episode earlier this season about the N-word. “It’s hard,” Ms. Watson says “to write about big, weighty issues [like racism or abortion] with experiences that are not your own. It requires incredible care. They are challenging stories as a writer” she revealed in a recent interview. And, she affirms that she’s really satisfied with how they both turned out. (more…)

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I was honored to be a part of an hour-long conversation on KQED’s Forum with host Michael Krasney on December 6, 2012 about the power of positive female connection, along with the editor of the anthology Nothing But the Truth So Help Me God: 51 Women Reveal the Power of Positive Female Connection, Christine Bronstein, and fellow contributor, Shasta Nelson.  Shasta is the Founder/CEO of GirlfriendCircles.com.

Listen Here.

Here we are before we go live!

Shasta Nelson, Christine Bronstein and me

Shasta Nelson, Christine Bronstein and me

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