Written by Isabel Ahat
High School Co-op Student from Parkdale Collegiate
What to say, what to say, what to say… Wow, blogging is a lot of hard work!
Why am I even mentioning this? Well, this week I was challenged to free-write within a 5-10 minute span as an exercise into blogging. Blogging, from my understanding, is an opinion piece, thought process and after thought on any topic. The blog captures how you felt and what you thought about that topic/event/moment. It can range from being a piece on a social issue to how your first day of work went. The list is virtually endless.
The idea of blogging seemed so easy peasy, just write what comes off the top of your head, but I was quite confused. How do you blog? I've read a good amount of posts on fashion and lifestyle all over the web. Just thinking about it, I've noticed that the blogging sphere itself has changed a lot. It’s moved from personal diaries to public journals to sections of websites and eventually has taken over a variety of sites like Tumblr, blogspot, and WordPress. It’s given the writing community a new medium to master that happens to be less structured than novels and equally freeing as poetry, but how do I begin? What can I possibly talk about? What should I include?
I spent a good two minutes sitting in my bean bag chair, frustrated; mulling over more questions, grammatical structure, content choices and the greatest question, what I should write! That was my biggest problem in the exercise: finding a topic, writing my opinions on it, getting started. To be quite honest, I couldn't even officially begin my free-write piece without a prompt, (which helped me a great deal because I've secretly sneaked many of those lines into this post). And as soon as I got the ideas flowing, my time was up and all I had written was equivalent to the 322 words you've read thus far (though those words were poorly organized and incredibly illegible).
After re-reading what I had concocted in the exercise, I came up with some simple personal tips for blogging next time:
1. Have an idea.
2. If you don't have a solid idea, just write what comes to mind (e.g. overview of the week)
3. Avoid trying to make the sentences perfectly witty on the first try. Let it all flow first because you can always edit later.
4. Don’t be afraid to speak from the heart, and include it in you piece. Incorporate the thoughts and feelings you have in the process of writing.
5. If all else fails, remember that tangential writing usually spurs better ideas.
Hopefully these tips will help me out in my next blog so I can avoid being stuck in another topic jam.
Written by Zainab Habib, for Blog Action Day 2013
Most people I know often equate human rights with issues stemming from discrimination, especially with all the “isms” and “phobias”: sexism, racism (ethnic and religious), shadism, xenophobia, homophobia, etc. However, there’s a broader definition of human rights, as this abbreviated list from the University of Minnesota
We used to previously say “SoJo is for everyone!”, but we know that we want to most help young passionate individuals who want to make a difference but don’t know where to start. However, the first step is knowing that your passion to create even the smallest social change is indeed enough to make that difference. Like the butterfly effect in chaos theory, one small change can lead to bigger changes in a community. I personally believe all social change helps to advance human rights because real social change is about creating access or opportunities for others who previously were not able to enter that space or setting – whether this space is physical, social, or economical.
It often seems like one has to have a moving experience or one significant point in their life that brings about that urge to act immediately, but this is hardly the case for most changemakers. Having a lot of passion for one particular cause can also be overwhelming or daunting but it shouldn't be. One can
have passion but no or unclear direction as to how to channel this passion and that’s fine, since there are so many causes to choose from. How would I know which one is right for me? After all, isn’t expertise also helpful in making a difference?
But the longer you delay taking action, the less time you get to learn or to make a difference. Well, you know you care about human rights in general, but where do you begin to start?
Start now by picking something that interests you enough that you’d like to do something about it and see where it all goes – you may just find that your starting point will lead you to your next point with some new and wonderful perspectives. I know from my journey and from others that moving through social causes or industries can actually work in your favour when you can learn from one social movement or job and bring it to the next big issue or project you work on.
Though social innovation and social justice are not
the same thing, I do not believe that they have to stay mutually exclusive since charity and change can
happen simultaneously and together. So start by learning more about the issues you care about and about what you can do to make a difference of any kind. Then work your way to creating social change that will eventually create the way to advancing human rights further.
Social change is like breaking down a house: even if you don’t have a wrecking ball to start with the whole structure, even loosening a brick at the beginning will help you break it apart. Then watch it all tumble down eventually when you've pulled out enough.
Written by Zainab Habib
I know we often don't write about things to come as often, but I wanted to let you know about Blog Action Day
, a day which brings thousands of bloggers together to write about one important issue on the same day. This year, the theme is human rights, as the video below explains.
I will be writing on the 16th for SoJo and
for the Digital Media Zone - the startup incubator we work in a.k.a. SoJo HQ - as well. I signed up Social Journal a few days ago, as you may have seen from our social media (I mentioned it on Twitter and Facebook) but in the last two days, I have felt even more strongly about this.
A) There's a lot of social issues I care about But why is this particular issue - human rights - so important to me in particular? Because it invades almost every aspect of our lives.
I cannot help but see human rights issues everywhere I go - even when it isn't as obvious.
Though we are very lucky at SoJo that we're located in Canada, a country that tries to celebrate and protect human rights, we too have a deeper, darker history with mistreating many peoples -- particularly the First Nations
*. Also, what's happened in the last few days:
- At work: two female friends of mine have been disrespected in different ways in their mostly male environments at work (different offices and industries). One has been bullied by a male coworker for a few months now, while another finds she is either ignored or cut off at meetings when she is speaking.
- At home: I came across news like this little girl's murder, where children have little to no rights in many countries.
- In culture: Though these are not recent, human rights issues also pervade pop culture with songs titled "Burqa" and "Asian Girlz".
- In society: Almost all societies face human rights issues - check out the Human Rights Watch website and you'll see why I have to visit from time to time.
B) I'm a writer. My pen (or the keyboard) is my sword and it is the voice I feel most comfortable using, not matter how big my audience is. Therefore, it is my weapon of choice for taking action - because I know that it is the way I best do what I love: teaching, learning, sharing, connecting, encouraging, and inspiring.
SoJo is all about getting you to turn your ideas into action for a good cause you're passionate about. So for all the bloggers out there, think about why human rights matter to you, and speak about whatever it is that boils your blood. Use your words to raise awareness, to inspire passion, to evoke emotion, to provide perspective, to encourage action. Use your words to do something
. Why will you be writing? Let us know if you're joining in and what the links are to your blog posts for Blog Action Day.
We'll be listing all those posts on the 17th then for you to check it all out together. *I use these sources because I like how they explain these issues; however, these are not endorsed by SoJo as an organization and I suggest looking to other sources for more information as well.
Written by Zainab
One of my main goals this month is to change up the Getting Started
section. Some of us have known for a while that the language and format didn't reflect what we were about at all, and so we feel this is a pretty high priority for July.
We had originally gotten some feedback from a partner and from a few team members regarding the flow and the tone. The feedback was great as it highlighted the urgency to address it.
So we've seen the red flags; now what? How do we take them down and how do we truly ensure what we put in place is actually doing what it's supposed to do?
I knew I had to think outside the box, but I wasn't sure how I would know I'd actually stumbled upon the right territory. After some trouble starting work on it, I decided to throw out my expectations for what it should be and be a bit more playful with it. One of my best friends always jokes I'm her therapist, because of the way I ask my friends questions and let them come to their own conclusions when they are looking for support. I wanted to be able to give our readers the same approach, because that's what exactly I feel you need - to find the answers within yourselves, without biases, doubts, or comparisons. Keeping that in mind, I wrote out how I imagined such conversations would look like if someone came to me with any of those concerns. Keeping in mind that we'll also have to think about design and how the quizzes actually look, I'm certainly not close to done. However, it's an amazing start.
The secret? The best way to break out of the box is to throw out your expectations for what it should look like but keep the values for what it is supposed to do. Then you can start to explore it from your most creative place knowing what you want it eventually be like. This can then help you make smaller, incremental changes that will lead to the biggest change - the one
Written by AJ Tibando
It's been two weeks since I got back from my vacation. Vacations are the best for many reasons - a chance to relax, unwind from daily stress, get away from work and emails and responsibilities and focus on yourself. They also give you a chance to step back from the busyness of your day to day activities, gain perspective on the big picture and re-centre. Since this wasn't just a vacation, but was also my honeymoon, I was adamant that I was going to unplug 100% and with all of the stress leading up to the wedding and the changing circumstances at SoJo with Kanika being away, I was more than ready to get re-centered.
We went to Europe for just over two weeks - Paris, Milan and Scotland - and it was wonderful. Being in different countries, eating different food and listening to different languages helped me to unwind and shed a layer of stress that had been building up over the months. It definitely helped me to step out of my bubble and gain perspective on work, SoJo and what we're trying to do, as well as some perspective on life. There's nothing like vacationing in countries where the essence of life is to eat, drink and live well to remind you about what's really important.
The other great thing about being away, is coming back and seeing how much got done without you. Zainab and Jesse and the whole SoJo team managed to 'wow' me with how much they accomplished in the two weeks I was away and it was great motivation for me to dive back in on my return. Yesterday, Zainab left for vacation - she will be gone for two weeks - and Jesse and I are determined to 'wow' her when she gets back.
Written by Zainab
I've been struggling to write blog posts - or really anything - for over a week now.
If you're not familiar with the term, writer's block refers to the state of being stuck and unable to write. Wikipedia's article gives a grim opening to this:Writer's block is a condition, primarily associated with writing as a profession, in which an author loses the ability to produce new work. The condition varies widely in intensity. It can be trivial, a temporary difficulty in dealing with the task at hand. At the other extreme, some "blocked" writers have been unable to work for years on end, and some have even abandoned their careers.
For a writer, this state feels similar to paralysis, in that the inability to write feels like one can't move, express, or be.
Like many others, I've had writer's block before and usually, it feels a lot more trivial. This time, I've tried a number of tactics that were not proving as effective:
- writing on paper. Sometimes you need to get away from a screen and just write without filters like spell-check.
- writing in a different location. Certain moments throughout the the conference I was at earlier this week made me go "aha, that would make a good blog post!". And though I made notes in between kiosk visitors, I still couldn't bring myself to write more than a few bullets.
- taking a break. I worked at home yesterday, thinking an extra hour of sleep and three hours saved on commuting would help me feel more energized. Not a single word was written, aside from my emails.
I saw a tweet this morning that finally
had me put these thoughts down in print:
And sometimes, that's exactly what you need to do, even when you have nothing to write: write anyway.
I'm sure other writers can relate to me when I say that for me, my writing is part of who I am, that the pen is my sword, and my written words are my voice.
It feels good to write... even if it is a struggle to do so at the moment.
Written by Zainab
One of our goals this month is to blog more often here. Before, the blog was mostly Kanika's thoughts, with occasional posts from a few other SoJo members, usually around particular topics or events. The blog already has a certain voice, that of an young social entrepreneur going through the process of taking her ideas into action. Because a blog can take on a personality of its own, SocialJournal.net always seemed like a mini side project of its own. I don't think we ever thought to look at it as part of SoJo's content... until one of SoJo's advisors recently suggested we start looking at it that way.
Though AJ and I have started to blog more due to Kanika's absence, our newer goal for blog posts replaces the necessity approach we had developed with the blog over the last couple of months.
Though I certainly see the value in blogging, I know I realistically cannot write these blog posts all on my own. It also wouldn't reflect the reality that I'm one part of a larger intelligent, passionate, and organized team; each of the members being extremely critical and reflective of their work and impact.
I, therefore, need to see and later share the value in the exercise of blogging to the other team members if I want their input and contributions. Here are just some of the reasons I can pick out, though in no particular order:
- Sharing through our blog causes excitement for our work - we do great stuff and we want you, our fellow users and readers, to join us!
- Blogging outlines the realities we go through; the good, the bad, and the ugly all get coverage here.
- Writing helps us document our history and our learnings as an organization
- We find validation and support when we write it down; perhaps because I used to blog myself when I was younger, I can say there is a certain therapeutic release that comes with writing it out because the thoughts are all yours at that very moment in time.
But this is where you, the readers, come in. We would love feedback on what you'd like to read about. What are you curious about? Why do you read our blog? What areas would you like our take on? Though we are not consultants, we can certainly share our thoughts and experiences with you, hopefully so that learning about our experiences can in turn help you along your journey. And that
is our biggest mission at SoJo.
Written by Zainab Habib
It’s been some time since Kanika has been away from the office. It was right around then that AJ joined us full-time and was thrown into the position of juggling between Kanika’s commitments for the next few weeks and
beginning work on organizational development and outreach for SoJo on a full-time basis
One would naturally wonder how things are going at the office and how we have handled it as a team. This comes at a point where we are continuing to expand our team and focusing on particular aspects of SoJo, as we continue to work towards being the leading online resource that social innovators reference to turn their ideas for social change into action.
Yes, it definitely feels like something is missing. It is certainly not
the same without Kanika here. She may be The Boss but she is certainly not
bossy. Unlike the stereotypical Queen Bee, she has been supportive and she treats each of her staff without hierarchical bounds, allowing most of us to work directly with her on different projects for SoJo and to develop ourselves professionally and personally with her assistance. She is also the face behind the SoJo brand and has been at the forefront of it all. Her time away then has certainly created a shift in how we view SoJo from the inside and out then, knowing that she isn't here.
However, Team SoJo has really banded together to make sure we continue business as usual. Our partners have been very understanding and many have offered their help with whatever we may need. Our core team has continued to work on our individual projects and support the teams within our respective areas. We have also started a routine of working together as a team more formally; for example, we now have scheduled in weekly meetings between the full-time team every Monday. We are also now in the midst of assembling a team to focus on building SoJo’s community.
All in all, SoJo is definitely buzzing with activity. Even if we are missing the Queen Bee.
About an hour ago I submitted SoJo's application to the Future Fund. This was the fifth and final step of a long, tiring and very competitive process. SoJo is among the finalists and we have a really good chance of securing the funding needed to grow our organization. This is a great opportunity (especially in light of our recent funding challenges), so I prioritized extra effort on this task.
While this was my first time writing a grant proposal and my learning curve was fairly steep, it wasn't my first time writing a proposal. Last year started with SoJo's application to a prestigious Fellowship
, I assisted Jesse writing our first research fellowship (which he received), and despite everyone's doubts - I miraculously completed an intense 89-page proposal for a Research Grant
in the Fall.
Similarly, SoJo has been through 4 product launches: a closed Beta
, open Beta
, official launch
and finally a cross-platform
mobile version. All of those launches resulted in working around the clock, all-hands-on-deck attitude, intense focus and endless details. Many parallels can be shared with the experience of writing major proposals and product launches, however my attitude is different towards both of them: Saying what you're going to do vs. Just doing it
SoJo has been action-oriented since its inception. Innovation is not knowing all the answers, so we trusted the process and consistently received gratification as we learned and progressed. On the other hand, telling people exactly what you plan to do and how you're going to do it is quite tiring. To me, it feels contrived, and in some ways an inefficient use of time to write out a master plan- as it is rare that things go according to plan. Control over timelines
All of our product launch dates were self-imposed. We decided when we wanted to complete them, and held ourselves accountable to ensuring all launches occurred on time. Application deadlines are not in our control, and often force us to work at times when we do not want to work: ie over the Holidays or during key strategic business planning times. Control over outcomes
The win from a product launch is clear: our product advances and is better. The win from a proposal isn't so clear. If you are successful - awesome. Team SoJo has collectively invested over 100 hours into this recent application. If we're unsuccessful, there will be great disappointment for not succeeding and frustration for all the time that was invested with little to show. I'm learning to lower my expectations on outcomes and seek value from the process instead.
While its clear that product launches are a lot more exciting for our team while we're in them, writing applications for external support are just as important to grow the organization. I must treat them both with great importance and while the outcomes are different, the time dedicated to each one is equally valuable.
Earlier this afternoon I had a meeting that didn't go so well. I can handle one bad meeting, its a consistent trend of bad meetings that start to get me anxious. The meeting in many ways represented my frustrations of the system that I'm trying so hard to fix. I felt as though no matter how hard I worked - it was never enough, and that the system was incurable. Today's meeting was the last straw that broke my back and I was ready for a mini-breakdown. While my instinct was to fight, get defensive and show everyone up -- I reminded myself that I left fighting behind with 2012. Giving up is obviously not an option, as we've come too far to throw in the towel. That leaves me with finding a solution. When talking through my frustrations with an advisor, he responded with the following words:
"Kanika, this is what you signed up for. Your job is to find a solution. That is what you do."
And so I was inspired to change my title to Chief Problem Solver -- because that's what the person on top does. It is my responsibility to ensure that the organization progresses forward, irrespective of setbacks and inherent challenges. When something does not work as planned, or the problems only feel like they're getting larger with time; finding solutions is really the only way forward. It takes more creativity and effort to find a solution, (especially if you don't think the problem should exist in the first place) however in the long run, that is the way to go.
I'm not actually going to officially change my title to Chief Problem Solver (as I like Chief Catalyst way too much), but it is a hat that I will carry at all times, and remind myself -- that when things look rough, rather than give up or fight, find a way around by finding a solution.