Curtis Chang has a new post up on the Social Edge website regarding working with FORGE. The World Economic Forum has ended, but I’m staying on in Dubai for vacation with my wife. I have lots to write about, but I’ll hold off for another day. Today I’m going to the souks.
So onto Curtis’s post:
You have to hand it to my client. I challenged her to make her case for why FORGE should matter to the collective nonprofit sector. And she responds by throwing down a regression analysis. She’s making me feel like I’ve time warped back 15 years ago, when I was a Head Teaching Fellow in public policy classes at the Harvard Government Department reading essays from very bright students.
So in that same classroom spirit, I’m going to grade her response from my perspective. I do so partially in jest. It is certainly not because I ultimately think of myself as her teacher or superior (any consultant who conceives of himself as either of those roles for his client is both arrogant and a poor consultant). In fact, the more I get to know her and her achievements, the more I am in awe.
But I’m going to grade her response because I want highlight this critical issue: how FORGE must communicate its indispensability, both during this crisis and in the near future. Kjerstin and I have already talked about these points over the phone and she essentially agrees with my perspective. So, I’m sharing this here as part of our ongoing committment to let you in on our working relationship.
Overall, I’d give her effort a “reluctant “B.” “Reluctant,” because there is so much of her vision that is brilliant and deserves a sheer A+; but in the end I think she only half succeeds in what she needs to do.
The essence of FORGE is inspiring and paradigm shifting: to turn refugee camps from “warehouses of misery” into “incubators for social development.” This is just the kind of bold thinking needed in Africa. It is the job of any consultant to respect and nurture that kind of boldness.
But it is also my job as a consultant to take that bold vision and – without quashing it – discipline and translate it into organizational effectiveness. And even though I haven’t gotten deep into my research on FORGE’s sustainability plan, it is already quite obvious to me that more effective communication of its message will be critical.
There’s a lot of work that FORGE will need to do in terms of the mechanics of communication that I’ll discuss this in the future. But for now, I want to concentrate on the effectiveness of the message itself.
Promise vs Hope
I set up the “exam” as one in which she had to show why FORGE was deserving of a collective bailout. The two questions were:
* What damage to the collective are we averting with a collective bailout of FORGE?
* What collective good – even if it is in the future — are we seeking by working for FORGE’s survival?
A simpler – and probably more elegant – way to frame my twin questions was that I was asking her to communicate what she could promise us right now and what we could hope for in the future.
I feel that Kjerstin’s piece was a good at hope, but weak on promise. And it didn’t need to be that way…
…Promise is what you can deliver. Hope is what you can inspire.
As a social entrepreneuer, you need to communicate both. And sometimes, you need more of one than the other…
…What potential investors are looking for
I’m emphasizing this promise versus hope distinction because Kjerstin needs to be very, very long on delivering specific promises and short on inspiring hope right now. If things break her way, she’s going to get air time before more and more audiences the next couple of months. Her real audience in all those cases will be potential investors. For potential investors evaluating FORGE these days, hope is heavily discounted. They want specifics. They want deliverables.
Indeed, the suspicion that Kjerstin has to combat among potential investors is that FORGE somehow got into this deficit by being unrealistic, dreamy eyed, recent college grads. The more she talks about lofty, seemingly unreachable hopes — instead of the real concrete achievements happening in the field right now – the more I’m afraid she’s going to confirm that suspicion for this crucial audience.
Which would be tragic, because I believe she has so very much to talk about.