As I type away Teri Whitcraft of ABC News is giving advice to 14 or so youngish leaders of social change projects. She is telling them how to pitch their stories to programs like Good Morning America; the kind of coverage can make or break a project. When Kiva.org was featured on ABC World News Tonight, the next day they had 1,000 new members and $100,000 in new loans.

Eric

Eric of PeaceGames practicing his media interview with Teri

Immediately following Teri is Lisa Witter of Fenton Communications, who is driving home the fundamentals of how to do well in an interview on TV, radio, and print. For example:

When a reporter asks you a question outside of your area or expertise, use a ‘bridge’ to bring it back to your talking points. If you’re doing agricultural development work in Africa and a reporter asks you what needs to be done to fix the US economic crisis, the ‘bridge’ goes something like this: “In difficult economic times it is especially important to think about what drives up basic commodity prices and where the opportunities exist. We believe that small scale farmers in Africa … blah, blah, blah.”

Lisa Witter

Lisa Witter of Fenton Communications

The most important piece of advice that Lisa gave the fellows is that, no matter if it’s print, radio, or television, a one- or two-hour conversation with a reporter boils down to four or five one-sentence sound bites (or quotes, when it comes to print). Reporters frequently repeat the same question several times because they can envision what the sound bite should be, but the interviewee isn’t quite spitting it out. The secret to giving a good interview is representing very big, inspiring ideas with brief, easy-to-follow sentences. It’s not a place for details – that’s why we have websites and blogs.

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The session on media training is just one of about eight intensive workshops that have been pounded into Pop!Tech’s inaugural group of social innovation fellows over the past five days. They have covered branding with Cheryl Heller, “design for social impact” with Frog Design, pitching venture capitalists and funders, taking projects to scale, and many others, including the session that Gideon and I did yesterday on digital storytelling. Essentially, in just five days they have been able to work with some of the best consultants (myself excluded) in all of the various facets of project and organizational development. And they didn’t have to pay a thing. In fact, all of the faculty and fellows have been pampered, well-fed, and treated to all sorts of useful gadgets, like their Nokia N95 digital storytelling packs.

I think they would all agree that it has been an invaluable boot camp – an entire MBA program geared toward social entrepreneurs, consolidated into a single week, and without the student loans.

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The Social Innovation Fellows Program is probably most representative of how Pop!Tech seems to be evolving from an annual three-day conference to a year-round social innovation incubator.

Conferences are abundant – I would argue over-abundant – but social change projects aren’t nearly abundant enough. It seems like there is something essentially human about our love of discussing problems and brainstorming how to solve those problems, but when it comes to making those solutions actionable and getting down to work, the enthusiasm immediately fizzles.

I have to give mad props to Andrew Zolli, the curator of Pop!Tech, who recognized the dormant potential in the Pop!Tech community during those 362 days when they are not all here in Camden, Maine.

The first step to Pop!Tech has taken to transition from stirring conversation to supporting social change is with its Accelerator program. As Ethan wrote last year when it was announced:

Zolli wants to refocus Pop!Tech around a new project, the Pop!Tech accelerator. This is a project to support interdiscinplinary, high-impact, worldchanging projects that apply new tools and new approaches to create significant global change. The goal is to make sustainable projects, to make the data generated from these projects extremely transparent (released under open source licenses) and to produce large amounts of media to explain what those projects are doing. Good projects will leverage bottom-up approaches and engage the community, and will learn from advisors like Barefoot College’s Bunker Roy and Clara Miller of the Nonprofit Finance Fund.

The first project to be supported by the Accelerator is Project Masiluleke led by Zinhle Thabethe, which we will be hearing a lot more about over the next few days.

zinhle

Zinhle Thabethe presenting in 2007

Choosing just one project to support with high-caliber consultants and advisors means, unfortunately, denying dozens, if not hundreds, of other projects the same support. This is a general criticism that I hear often about grant competitions: “Is the encouragement you give to five projects worth the discouragement you give to so many more?”

For Andrew, who is well-connected in the business and media world, I think that the thought of denying assistance to so many capable leaders was just too much. Hence the Social Innovation Fellows Program.

The third and final component (so far) to transform Pop!Tech from an annual conference with a hefty price tag to a year-round community of connected individuals focused on best practices which lead to social change is the Pop!Tech Hub.

Let me preface my thoughts about the Pop!Tech Hub by saying that 90% of the time someone tells me they are building a new social network I tell them it’s a bad idea. We don’t want to join more social networks – we want to see outcomes from participating in social networks. If LinkedIn lands me a new job, then that’s an outcome; if Facebook shows me new pictures of a friend from high school, then there’s value in that; and if I discover, thanks to dopplr, that I’m in the same city at the same time as a friend, then that is also a useful outcome. But there is no reason for me to be on 30 other social networks unless something tangible comes out of each one.

Now here is why I love at least the potential of the Pop!Tech Hub: it is focused on projects and not people. Most social networks are exercises in identity construction (‘here’s how I want the world to see me’). The Hub is focused on moving projects forward … the people are just the brain power to help get that done. The site is very much still in beta and it needs to be populated with a lot more content before it can be fine-tuned and made more useful, but what I am envisioning is something similar to Ideablob, but with the projects ‘winning’ valuable advice and consulting rather than a single payment of $10,000.

Pop!Tech, the three-day conference, officially gets underway tomorrow, which means I’ll be writing less about this broad meta-conversation and more on the specific ideas of the impressive speaker line-up. But what I’m really excited to see is what becomes of the projects that are already listed on the Hub and what gets added in the near future. You will be seeing Rising Voices there very soon.

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