I was lucky enough to attend part of the Clinton Global Initiative last week in New York. An inspiring few days filled with an incredible group of international thought leaders from the public and private sector. The theme of this year's conference was "Designing for Impact." I, like so many others, had thought of "design" as something that was used to create new products, but then I spent two transformative days a few years ago as part of an Executive Education course in Social Entrepreneurship at Stanford's "D school" which completely changed the way I think about design and more importantly, changed the way I think about solving problems.
President Clinton took a bold step in putting design front and center at the conference, kicking things off with Tim Brown, the CEO of the design group IDEO instead of starting with the world leaders.
The entire three days was focused on solving problems in a scalable way and making a big impact. One of the sessions I attended, "How can we advance women-owned businesses in the developing world" divided the room into teams and had people using the Stanford Design school methodology to come up with solutions to questions like how to improve access to markets, access to finance and access to skills and networking for women entrepreneurs. There were some great ideas generated by an energetic room full of people. (you can see the archived event here).
Hillary Clinton talked about how CGI has had an impact on how she's "tried to think about the development work and the partnerships that the United States needs to have around the world."
The State Department is taking a different approach to diplomacy by incorporating development as a key strategy and thinking about development as investment not just aid.
Throughout the three days, President Clinton introduced so many amazing entrepreneurs working around the world to make a difference with both for profit and non-profit businesses working on improving education, access to healthy food, health care and so much more.
I left the conference with my head filled with ideas, inspired to take away a lot of the lessons and incorporate them into some of the projects that I'm working on. And then I went to order lunch.
I was in a hurry and the place was crowded. I ordered and then had to wait almost ten minutes. I was getting annoyed. A guy walked in who looked out of place in the lunch crowd, but this was in Chelsea in Manhattan and anything goes so I didn't pay a lot of attention. Until he asked me for some money. I was busy checking something on my phone. I made a half-hearted attempt to check the pockets of my jacket where there's usually some loose change, but I only had a penny, so I said "sorry" and that was that. He walked through the entire crowd of people waiting for our lunches and I didn't see anyone handing him a thing.
I have been struggling with this issue for a long time. I justify to myself why I don't usually give to the individual on the street or subway -- I'm on several non-profit boards where I can really concentrate my aid, giving both my time and my dollars and seeing the direct impact. I'm mentoring others on a regular basis. I'm an entrepreneur trying increasingly to work on projects that make a "big impact," so I say, I can't give to everyone who asks me in this city -- it doesn't make sense. I can't pick and choose and I don't know what they're going to use the money for... the excuses go on and on.
I was struck a while ago when I came across Sasha Dichter's of the Acumen Fund's TED talk on generosity.
He was struggling with a similar question, so decided to try and experiment by giving to everyone who asked him for a period of time. It was an incredibly positive experience.
I tried this for about a week after seeing Sasha's talk on the TED website. But then I stopped.
The day after I had my experience with the beggar at lunch, it was the last day of CGI and the eve of Yom Kippur. By coincidence (or not, some would say), the rabbi spoke of just this issue. He spoke of the Jewish tradition of Tikkun olam -- repair of the world. But then, he spoke of something equally important and perhaps more achievable in the short term: Tikkun Hanefesh or "healing of one soul in that person's time of need." According to the rabbi, "We can make one person's life better, even for an instant through our intentional kindness."
"Intentional Kindness." That struck me. Yes, we must continue to work on the "big issues." Yes, we can make change in a scalable way. But at the same time, we can be "intentionally kind" on a more micro level. It can never be an "either/or." A good reminder for us all. We will see how I do as I start this new year.