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Introducing Anish and the upside of optimism

December 26, 2010

Apart from my reputation for randomly pointing to the skies (or ceiling), much like Plato (see images), I am known as Anish and have had the honor of co-founding ChangeMachine. One of the reasons it has been such an honor is because of the energy I get to see in every meeting or communication that our team puts together. As with any enterprise, starting ChangeMachine would be impossible without optimism. But optimism alone is a disaster waiting to happen, and part of my role in ChangeMachine is to make sure our enterprise is as viable as we can make it, even at this early stage. So I wanted to illustrate for you how an integral part of our creative process is to consider the limitations of our proposal and seek ways to tackle them. Let’s take a look at some of the broad concerns that we have heard and had to explore ourselves – and what we are doing to address them, using a method that we can credit to our good friend Socrates.

Dear ChangeMachine, my concern for ‘micro-volunteering’ is evident in its name – the only tasks done are ‘micro,’ so isn’t the impact on nonprofits ‘micro’ as well?

This really is one of the reasons we were founded – to be able to make an impact. So we planned our model in such a way as to accommodate impact, in two main ways. First, the ability to create taskforces – groups of students that collaborate on our platform – will allow nonprofits to crowdsource more meaningful tasks than before. Second, we are in an endeavor to build relationships – between nonprofits and students, among students themselves, and between ChangeMachine and those individuals and institutions that would be our partners, many of whom we are already in healthy dialog with.

How do better relationships mean greater impact?

For impact, we need not only the completion of meaningful tasks, but also some longstanding participation from the parties involved. Because we can’t – and wouldn’t want to – simply enforce commitment, we have had to come up with incentives to increase the probability a user continues to use the platform and provide good work.  Much of this is linked to our plan to approach not only students, but the universities that harbor them. Paul has talked about this concern in more detail here and Annina provides a scientific explanation here.

So you’ve planned to make an impact. But it seems much of this depend on the collaborative interface you are going to be using – how can you be sure it will achieve these things?

I’m glad you brought it up, Socrates (or whoever you are). This is especially pertinent as we head into development, but as you may know, I am not free to give out details until we get clearance from tech. While it may not be an easy task, we believe we have the initial resources (and even more if you vote for us and donate,  folks) and expertise to make it happen, as well as the patience to follow a logical development process.

Optimism is key, but not as much as the careful kind – a quality that has in fact raised many healthy questions to add to those I’ve listed above; questions that we will continue to scrutinize. Interested in helping? Be our Socrates and let us know of your concerns and suggestions for ChangeMachine going forward. We promise to reply.


The Difference Between Micro-Volunteering and FreeRice

December 24, 2010

Odd title, right?

It is actually a really important distinction, something we have always known here at ChangeMachine but seems to get skipped over a lot in the news. We get asked sometimes what the difference between us and Facebook Causes or Jumo.

There is a difference between giving and volunteering

Why is that an important distinction? Well it came out in full during an interview with midVentures :

ChangeMachine presents itself as an alternative to apps like Causes, which “are more focused on raising awareness of an organization or raising money for it”, says Kaplan. “Rather than give a nonprofit $100 towards hiring a graphic designer, why not use students with the skills that can make the logo themselves?”

Why the dump on FreeRice? I mean no offense, it is just not what we are looking for. Following a dollar from a college students hand to a charitable organization is very difficult. There exist some nonprofits are not particularly transparent beyond what is required by law, and there is often confusion about who you are really donating to. Consider the  case of the “I ❤ Boobies” bracelets supporting the fight against breast cancer, many people had no idea where the money was actually going (I’ll give you a hint, it isn’t going to research).

But even if an organization is totally transparent, why donate money (fees) to an organization (taxes) to pay someone (taxes/fees) to do a job you can do yourself? True, building a house or making a TV commercial might be outside of a college students range, is coding for NFP website or making logo out of range?

Giving is great, seriously. It is certainly an unbelievably good thing to do. But it is old. It is the way of last century, it is time for something new.

It is time to give back, not just give.

An Update on Progress!

December 22, 2010

Sorry I have been away from the blog, I have had a much less relaxing winter break than I was hoping for. I just wanted to update everyone on all the great progress we are making here at ChangeMachine.

Our Micro-volunteering Platform (the tech stuff)

Well this was actually a silly one to start with, because if I gave away what we are doing behind the scenes with our platform the programming team (namely, Sean Clemmer) would kill me. I am under strict orders to keep that under wraps, but if you really are itching to know feel free to email me and I’ll drop some hints for you.

Just so everyone remembers, it will be directed solely towards college students to begin, as we believe that colleges provide the density of intelligence and enthusiasm needed to jump start a new form of volunteering.

Our Social Media Empire

Just kidding, it is more like our twitter and facebook page, but they take an unusual amount of care to tend to every day. I am happy to say that we are attracting quite a bit of attention. Our blog had over 1000 hits in its first week, our twitter followers have increased exponentially and… well… facebook isn’t all that great anyway whatever (check it out here).

More than meaningless statistics, I am very proud to announce we have gotten interviews from several companies running articles on NFP’s and start-ups, which is very exciting. Thanks again to midVentures for an interview, it was actually a great opportunity for me to explain our idea to someone who didn’t know anything about it. I think this is actually very productive, allows you to see the logic jumps and the big picture better.

“But ChangeMachine, I want to see a BETA!”

I have heard this numerous times. Don’t worry, it will be out soon (privately of course) and we will be distributing it only to devout followers and people who helped us out on the journey, so if you are interested in testing our website help us out by commenting on our blog, referring your friends, donating to our fund or voting for us in the Dell Social Innovation Contest

“Great, but Paul I need to speak with you about ChangeMachine right away!”

I’m not sure if anyone is actually saying that, but my email is in my profile on the right, email me if you have any questions!


Paradigm Shift of media interactions

December 20, 2010

One of our core ideas is collaboration.  Because we really believe it is the path of this century.

The current generation of young people grew up with the idea of online music swapping, eBay trading — things that involve virtual interactions in a way that previous generations could not have conceived.  We are giving out credit card numbers for an item that a complete stranger claims to be quality and will ship to us from hundreds or thousands of miles away.  My grandmother would definitely think that we are crazy.  Everything is based on a feedback loop that ensures trust.  Everything is about using online tools to match what some people need with what others can offer — all involving collaboration.

Rachel Botsman, co-author of the book What’s Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption, talks about this important transformation in a TED talk.

Sounds like ChangeMachine?

The landscape of media has been constantly transforming.  The invention of printing press, telegraph, telephone, radio, and television have all changed the speed and the manner of the spread of information.  Rapid transmission has become the hip style since these inventions.  However, the popularization of the Internet has been the real paradigm shift of media interactions.  The general population is no longer the passive consumers of television channels or newspaper firms — consumers have become producers and vice versa.  Each and every one of us can produce material and put it on the Internet for all to consume.  It is no longer about mass transmission of information, but also mass production.

Just look at Reddit: news before it happens — it delivers news before it happens precisely because it uses the mass power of the general population, who used to be mere consumers, to produce the news.  You might hear about the Comcast/NBC merger before everyone else if your cousin’s boyfriend’s brother’s girlfriend’s sister works for NBC or if you overhear conversation regarding said merger while having breakfast at the hip local French restaurant called The Fork.   But what if you aren’t the one who has that cool cousin or who happened to sit at the seat next to that table?  No worries, if someone has that cousin or that seat and they put it online, then thousands of people find out right away.  Even on their mobile devices while riding the train.

The Internet has truly transformed the media landscape in a paradigm-shifting way.  To move with the times, incorporating collaboration is the key.

Introducing Shengxiao and Social Entrepreneurship

December 17, 2010

Hello.  I am Shengxiao (nickname “sunshine”), one of the founding members of ChangeMachine.

I love languages, indigenous Latin American cultures, international development issues, yoga, flamenco dance, and mango juice.

Like many young and hopeful people, I have always been attracted to the work done by nonprofits to change the world for the better.  But through some of my experiences with nonprofit consulting, I have increasingly realized the efficacy and efficiency of social entrepreneurial firms.  For-profit businesses have existed for much longer than nonprofits, and more importantly, the study of for-profit businesses has existed for much longer than the study of nonprofits.  While they have different goals and stakeholders, different financial sources, different costumer/donor relations, for-profits and nonprofits are ultimately doing the same fundamental things — to sell an idea/product efficiently and effectively in a market.  This involves design, innovation, creation, management, marketing research, product distribution, ect. — all things that sound familiar to the long-existed sector of for-profit businesses.

So how about we apply lessons from an old and well-study field to a young and expanding one in order to make social impact?

That is precisely how social entrepreneurs think and what they do.

And that makes every bit of sense.

This past summer, I was on an island  on Lake Titicaca and the families there did no have running water or electricity.  Two summers ago I was working in China and visited some remote villages with almost zero reliable infrastructure and modern technology.  I have traveled through provinces in the Dominican Republic where children are running naked in the streets.  These people enjoy very little of the available modern conveniences.  But in all these travels, there is something common that I have always seen.  All these people, everywhere, they always always have Coke Cola.  Always. So why is Coke this successful and far-reaching?  What would happen if we learned from Coke — their marketing and distribution strategies — and applied to, say, child vaccination?  We may not have to see children die from preventable diseases in the future.

I believe, firmly, in our ability to effect change in this world.  And I want to apply business practices in doing this. If for-profits are using the latest technology, the hottest social media, and successful management philosophy, then nonprofits cannot afford not to.  The general public has, in some ways, accepted and even expect nonprofits to be inefficient and ineffective because they are nonprofits.  But nonprofit does not mean non-money, non-management, non-results, non-income — it is time to change this perception of nonprofits and put the business of nonprofits on track with the rest of world and its advancing fields.

This is why we are using smart google wave technology for the ChangeMachine site; this is why we are putting nonprofit tasks online to crowdsource; this is why we are creating ChangeMachine.

I believe in its efficacy.

I have real hope in social entrepreneurship ideas and approaches to better the world.

Here is a toast, to ChangeMachine.

From Ideas to Execution

December 15, 2010

How do you turn a great idea into a great product or service? This is a problem that every enterprise-corporation or start-up-must address, commonly known as the execution gap-a perceived gap between a company’s strategies and expectations and its ability to meet those goals and put ideas into action. This article gives 10 rules that business leaders can follow to close the execution gap.

We believe that ChangeMachine can function as a powerful tool for NFP’s looking to close said gap. By offering tools for collaboration and a talented workforce, the only thing missing is a good leader with a great idea, and that has never been in short supply.

More on Innovation!

December 12, 2010

This is another excerpt from our proposal in the University of Chicago Social Innovation Competition. If you have any thoughts or ideas, please feel free to comment!

Because microvolunteering remains in its infancy there is much space within the field for innovative new concepts and solutions. With current microvolunteering offerings like Sparked or Catchafire, individuals operate almost entirely outside the microvolunteering interface; users complete tasks independently, using their own tools, and return to the website only to post their solutions. Volunteers are separated not only from each other but also from the fruits of their labor and their impact on nonprofits. Volunteers using ChangeMachine, however, are no longer limited to working alone. ChangeMachine introduces an innovative collaborative interface and powerful group management tools to organize and administer volunteer efforts. ChangeMachine encourages volunteers to participate in nonprofit- and user-managed groups, greatly expanding the variety and scope of tasks that nonprofits can outsource. By strengthening users’ connections with the products of their work, ChangeMachine promotes relationships between volunteers and nonprofits, increasing the quality and frequency of contributions.

Instead of individual volunteers completing one-time tasks for nonprofits, organizations and users of ChangeMachine may create groups, or “task forces,” dedicated to a particular cause or task. ChangeMachine’s “task force” model allows volunteers to build meaningful relationships with nonprofits and other volunteers, functionality that simply does not exist in current microvolunteering frameworks. These frameworks, accommodating a wide variety of users, often lack the interest, skill, and feedback necessary for delivering a product. By applying this revolutionary model to universities specifically, however, ChangeMachine leverages the enthusiasm and intelligence of students to produce high-quality results.