I hope you'll forgive the late nature of this week's post, but I have been busy doing something that....well, I've been reluctant to do, but need to do nonetheless. As many of you know, I've been co-organizer of Net Tuesday Chicago or "Net2Chi" for the past six years - sole organizer for the past year and a half. At the end of January, I'll be stepping down from that role.
Much of it has been due to increasing professional and personal commitments - after all, if I want to make time for work or a personal life, it means that I have to make some sacrifices. (As the man said, I can have anything I want, I just can't have everything I want). But I have to say that moving on from a group that's
been part of my life for the past six years - that's shared my mission of driving tech
excellence in the social good field - has encouraged a range of mixed emotions in me....and which I hope the next generation of leadership can face head-on.
I won't deny that we've had our successes - we've been able to drive the idea of digital excellence throughout the Chicago area. When I look at the variety of local like-minded organizations - from Free Geek Chicago to Pumping Station One - it makes me glad that I was part of the crowd providing the solution. (Not taking credit - just feeling fortunate to be a witness). When I hear of plans to establish broadband on the southeast side (which has met with some potential challenges) or gain work through Smart Communities funding, I know that my involvement with Net2Chi (or "the Chicago branch of Netsquared") has been very fortunate. The fact that a state task force focusing on driving socially-minded entrepreneurships is in existence simply provides that driving social good isn't just a trend, but is slowly, but surely, becoming a movement.
But I've also seen in the tech/social good sphere behaviors and attitudes which are...well, problematic. Several individuals are often self-serving, focusing on being "wonderful" rather than doing "wonderful" things. (You'll often see them making comments about other efforts that brings to mind a very NSFW Clash lyric about nuns and churches). You will often hear them talk about how "building awareness" is a great idea....without focusing on what to do with that awareness, or mobilizing towards a common goal. They can show you their press clippings, but not their achievements. In fact, there is an increasing belief that because they are part of the non-profit/social entrepreneurship/place-your-social-benefit-category-here scene, they don't need to follow normal rules....because they're doing something special for the community.
(Examples: a colleague from a marketing agency offered a non-profit a half day's work by members of his firm, and the non-profit responded that they needed three days worth of work. Another colleague had asked me for guidance, since a non-profit "connector" informed him that he "didn't get" non-profits. One organizer of a tech/social good organization turned down another's offer of a presentation because 'our members don't want that', despite attendees' providing positive feedback. That meeting was later canceled, with the announcement that a year's worth of meetings had been scheduled.)
In short, a few people have asserted their "guru" nature by claiming to be "community-minded", focusing on "collaboration" and "connection". However, their behavior seems more like "competition", using buzzwords to sound professional but focusing less on building consensus than sowing dissent. With a variety of organizations focusing on tech and the social good, it becomes imperative to focus less on competition than collaboration - that everyone has a place at the table, and that it doesn't matter who gets the credit - when we collaborate, the greater Chicago community benefits
For now, I'm looking forward to moving out of a leadership position - so far, I have two people who have expressed interest. If asked, I will share my guidance and insights, but sometimes leaving a leadership position doesn't mean giving up, or believing a cause to be lost.
It only means now, some of the real work can begin....
Know of any other organizations that are working to help communities bridge the tech gap? Or assist communities in becoming more tech-savvy? Please feel free to mention them in the comments below.