Sunday, March 24, 2013

Bono, the Pope, Pallotta, Poverty & Data

I apologize for another long post. However, I’m trying to tie several streams of thought together. I hope you’ll follow and add your own thinking.

Last Sunday I read an article in the Chicago Tribune titled “Pope wants more focus on poor.” I’ve been working on a story about this all week.

Then today I saw this TED talk, where Bono talks about data and facts and ending extreme poverty.

If you’ve not been totally absorbed on your NCAA Basketball Brackets, you’ve probably read about the new Pope and his commitment to “walking the talk” when it comes to setting an example for other Catholics and people of faith.

While most people probably have read or listened to something about the new Pope, I suspect most have not been having a soul searching discussion about philanthropy and how the system of charitable giving does too little to support social sector organizations serving the poor and addressing complex environmental, social and health problems that plague the world.

I posted an article a couple of weeks ago about Dan Pallotta’s TED talk, titled The way we think about charity is dead wrong. That TED talk has stimulated a number of discussions on social media space. I’m part of three on Linked in, such as this one.

In one Linkedin post the writer compared the challenges of changing how charities are supported to the challenges facing the new Pope, saying:

This good debate here over definitions defining our entire industry does not hold a candle to the thousands-years-old debate in the church. Just these two NYT articles today about the power-grabbing intrigue in the Vatican ( ) and the perceived goals of the new pope ( ) mirror our debate here.

Bono’s TED talk describes the 3000 year old fight against poverty. He’s fighting the same fight as the POPE, but on a different battlefield. It’s the same fight Pallotta is fighting. It’s the same one I’ve been fighting for nearly 20 years.

When BONO talks about using data he does not mention the most important asset he offers to the war on poverty, which is his own celebrity visibility. He’s been blessed with the ability to draw the attention of millions of people, wealthy and poor. When Pallotta talks about lack of advertising available to social sector organizations, he is describing how so few organizations have the celebrity power of Bono, or the POPE, to attract and educate donors and keep them focused on their work for dozens of years.

When BONO talks about using data he uses charts and graphs. I want to see him using , geographic maps, showing at the zip code level where extreme poverty, or extreme gaps between rich an poor, are most concentrated. I’ve used maps in many articles to propose a marketing strategy that engages people from every Catholic Church in the Chicago region in on-going efforts that help existing volunteer based tutor/mentor programs get the talent, technology, operating dollars and ideas each needs to constantly improve what they do to connect youth and volunteers and transform the lives of both.

In addition, when BONO talks of using data, I hope that the collection of data, and responses to BONO’s outreach, will lead to web sites that visually map all of the issues that contribute to extreme poverty, or extreme disenfranchisement. The pie chart shown on this Glasgow site is one example of how this might be done.

The Internet has created the ability to mine data from all over the world, and for teams of design and visualization engineers to create concept maps, like the one above, that shows the range of age-appropriate supports kids need as they move from birth, through elementary school, high school, post high school and into jobs.

Similar maps could show how fighting disease in a poverty area also needs to be combined with concurrent efforts to fight corruption, improve education and technology access, and create jobs. If you’re building a skyscraper, every page of the blueprint show skills needed to complete the work described on that page. Everyone needs to be paid and have the highest level of skills. If we think of ending poverty as we do of building a new hotel, what are all the skills needed at different stages of the project?

Maps like this can be interactive, animated, three-dimensional, and connected to data libraries that a) include research that provides a better understanding of the problem, and potential solutions; and b) links to web sites of organizations in different places that are working to provide a solution, but work with limited resources in many cases.

This is where both Bono, the POPE and Pallotta’s TED talks intersect. Bono and the POPE provides celebrity power that is far greater than what Dan Pallotta or most of the rest of us in the social services sector, can generate. While Pallotta’s TED talk has received over 1 million hits, stimulating discussions in many places, how will this be sustained, expanded, then turned into actions that improve the flow of resources to thousands of places?

Who is talking about this?

Bono talks about ending poverty by 2028, and talks about the inertia that might prevent this, or the momentum that might make it a reality. The articles about Pope Francis show that efforts have been made to reform the Catholic Church for centuries, with little success.

If Bono and the Pope and other leaders were to build map-based data bases, and concept maps, that work like blueprints to show work that needs to be done in many places on an on-going basis, they could draw more consistent attention to the problems with philanthropy that Pallotta describes.

As I’ve written these articles I feel that I have three mountains of obstacles to overcome.

1) Donors, businesses, public leaders and individuals are already doing a lot to try to help youth and families living in poverty. Thus, asking them to do more, which is what the POPE is asking, meets a lot of resistance.

Pallotta’s message is that unless we find ways to draw more resources into social sector organizations, so they can innovate, hire and retain the best talent, experiment and even make mistakes that they learn from so they can get better at what they do, we’ll continue to not achieve our long-term goals of helping kids born in poverty live adult lives out of poverty because of the help they have received from birth to work.

2) If you’re already a secure, well funded non profit, who is challenging you to do more than what you are doing? If no one is advertising, or trying to educate the public so they can look at an organization's web site and make a judgment as to whether or not the organization deserves financial support, how can we move beyond superficial measures, such as money spent on "overhead"? If no one is aggregating information and web links pointing to organizations doing similar work, how can you benchmark yourself against what others are doing, to see where you can improve? What’s your motivation if your donor base is constantly giving you money because of your history and reputation, or the names of the people on your Board of Directors?

3) If we don’t map where the need is for social services, and where existing services are located, with information that maps categories of organizations serving similar population, we won’t know if the money we are spending is reaching all of the people who need that help. We could fill every NCAA Tournament Basketball stadium with fans, or fill a football stadium for a visit by the Pope, and still not have people from every poverty neighborhood represented.

This graphic shows the role of intermediaries who connect people who can help (volunteers, donors, idea generators, etc.) to organizations in places where help is needed. If the Pope, Bono, Pallotta and thousands of others use their daily visibility to draw people to information that shows where and why they are needed, and motivates them to give time, dollars, talent, etc. they can continue the momentum Bono describes and provide the advertising support and resource flow that Pallotta describes, to all of the places where the poor live in need of extra help.

I’ve posted articles like this on my blog and web site for 15 years with the goal that someone in the Vatican, Bono’s team, the Mayor’s office, etc. would read them and bring them to the attention of these leaders, so they can add the ideas into their own leadership efforts.

As I build a library of content on sites I host, I point to sites with additional ideas. Over the past few years I've written more about network building, learning and point to virtual events such as the Education, Technology and Media MOOC, ETMOOC which demonstrate how thousands of people could be connecting, sharing ideas and innovating ways to reach people in high poverty with resources that aid youth and families in overcoming the challenges they face.

I won’t be alive in 2028 to see if Bono's dream comes true, but these ideas can be if you read, reflect and share them with others.


Tutor Mentor Connections said...

The Thrive Alliance of SSan Mateo County, CA is talking about Pallotta's TED talk. See

Tutor Mentor Connections said...

"Pope Francis calls unfettered capitalism 'tyranny' and urges rich to share wealth" Read about the Pope's message: