Written by Zainab
First off, our apologies for not writing in a very long time. Though I will swear that we are certainly up to something here. We've been in the process of moving the blog over to our main site (yes, this is the unofficial announcement) since it's a move that makes sense for us (more on that later).
Between this and my content audit (a process where I'm going through everything
on the site to create an inventory with notes), I've been doing a lot of time-consuming work that feels never ending with no quick wins. And today, I was visibly tired of the task at hand. Though we have shifted a lot of the basics over, I'm now going through and adding the finishing touches to each post. Since it's time-consuming, it feels like I can't see the results of my efforts anytime soon. To combat this, I took physical and/or mental breaks every now and then... but it never quite got rid of the feeling I wasn't getting anywhere.
Then I remembered this article by Sarah Von Bargen where she suggested that the key to happiness at work is to track your efforts, not your results
. It may seem like odd advice but in the midst of this particular task, it's exactly what I needed to remind myself, that there was a value in doing this work and I am indeed the person to do the job (even though I must admit, some of this will get delegated).
Sometimes we all need to take a deep breath and remind ourselves why we're doing what we're doing, whether that reminder is about a task at hand or about our roles and projects. If you're feeling the way I am right now, you're certainly not alone in wondering where this is all going - I assure you you're going somewhere and soon enough, you'll land where you need to be.
And if it's not of value, then determine whether you should still be working on it - and do something to change that.
Written by AJ Tibando
After months of waiting to hear, SoJo is excited to announce that we've been awarded an NSERC research grant! This grant will be dedicated to research and development of backend technology for www.thesojo.net
that will help to customize the learning experience for each person who visits SoJo. SoJo is all about supporting people through their journey of learning and launching their ideas, but we know everyone learns differently and requires different kinds of support and encouragement to get them moving. And so while we can provide a range of diverse content for people, its imperative that the design of the website is such that its delivery is diverse and customized as well.
For this project we've partnered with Dr. Ebrahim Bagheri,
a visionary professor at Ryerson University in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, as well as another industry collaborator, PetaCube
. Dr. Bagheri has been an indispensable supporter throughout this process and will be leading the research project, with SoJo providing support and consultation on technology development along the way to ensure the product developed meets the needs of our users.
This grant is hugely exciting for a few reasons. First, the fact that we even got it! While we here at SoJo are always trying to stay focused on being positive, we definitely entered into this application process with a chip on our shoulder. We knew that to build the product we want to build, we would need some serious R&D behind us and the best place to go to get that was NSERC. However, when we shared our ambitious with others (advisors, colleagues, peers, mentors) everyone told us we were wasting our time applying. Why would NSERC - the 'hard sciences' research arm of the government - support something as fluffy as social enterprise? we were asked. Because its a good idea and a solid proposal, we responded. Still, we faced a lot of doubt and dismissiveness from pretty much everyone. However, we stayed focused and committed to the process anyway, believing that if our proposal was as strong as we thought it was, it would speak for itself. Luckily, the good people at NSERC - the only people who really mattered - agreed with us.
Second, this grant really will give us the technological heft behind our website that we will need to realize our vision of creating a customized and personalized learning environment for every user at SoJo. While it will take us a while to get there - the grant is over two years - it lays the groundwork for a very solid future and puts us on the path to get there.
SoJo has now received funding from two very different sources - the Ontario Trillium Foundation, which is focused almost exclusively on social impact, and NSERC, which is focused on technology and innovation. This diverse funding base is reflective of SoJo's refusal to be defined by one sector or another - and with it, we have essentially formalized our non-conformist approach into our funding structure, ensuring we will continue to straddle multiple sectors for years to come.
Most importantly, this grant has reinforced that the best thing we can do for SoJo is stick to our vision and convictions and ignore the naysayers. Because when we do, awesome stuff happens.
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 Wollette BrownHigh School Co-op Student from C.W Jefferys Collegiate Institute
Zainab has talked about having writer’s block before on this blog but surely enough, everyone experiences their own block where they’re stuck and can’t even get started. Starting anything can be a scary process but you need to do something in order to get started.
Freestyle writing is a great way of exercising your brain to get out of that block by letting out all your ideas and emotions. As a singer, I also write my own songs and use freestyling when I’m experiencing writer’s block. In fact, I am doing this right now. There are a couple of ways you can go about this.A) Freestyle Writing
You can try this exercise when you feel that mental block about starting anything. It doesn’t require any heavy thinking and you will find yourself doing a lot more than you normally would. All you need to do is write whatever you want to write on a piece of paper or in a notebook, whichever one you prefer. Just keep on writing until you think you’re done or until your time is up (if you’re using a timer). For this exercise, Zainab and I challenged each other to see who could write the most in 10 minutes - and this blog post is a result of that friendly competition. The point of this exercise is to stimulate your mind and get your brain active. B) Record and Rhyme
If you’re looking to help you brainstorm and write something more creative, my brother and I use call the Record and Rhyme challenge. We use it as an exercise to find rhyming words without taking 15 minutes to come up with a single word. It’s a fun way to to clear your mind from all the stress on starting a sentence, whether you’re writing a song or just need a new approach to thinking about your task.
You will need:
- a voice recorder, just in case you miss out a word (you can even use your cell phone to do this)paper/notebook, to write down every word you come up with
- a partner (optional)
- a beat (it could be any beat you like)
- a timer
I prefer to do this exercise with a partner because it’s easier but if you like a little challenge, then you can do it by yourself. After you have gotten everything you need, set the timer on for 60 seconds and have one person record and write down every word you come up with. Remember, every word has to rhyme! When you’re done, do the same for the other person, then see who got the most words that rhyme.
Now that was just the first part of the challenge. Set the timer again for 60 seconds and you both have to write something using those words. The hard part is that the writing piece has to make sense. Whoever finishes first wins!
These exercises can help you who has writer's block and for anyone who needs to take a little break. It would also help with your writing skills and your grammar. Next time you find yourself stuck, try one of these two ways to get your thoughts and emotions moving somewhere where you can see them.
Written by AJ Tibando
Over the course of the summer, several of our volunteers left to start new adventures in school or traveling or new jobs and as a result the team went from 12 people down to about 5. While it was sad to see many long serving team members leave, we couldn't be more excited for their new adventures and so thankful for the time they did spend with us.
I've spent the past month and a half searching for new volunteer team members to bring on board. When thinking about how to pull new team members together and recruit volunteers, I decided to focus on bringing on people who had established expertise in particular areas. It can be hard to find talent - then even harder to ask them to help out for free - so I started by looking at the friends in my network and asking them for help. Two of our newest team members joined that way. Andrew comes from a background in journalism and has extensive experience in producing and editing websites for magazines. Ken just finished his MBA and is looking for experience in a tech company. We need help with business development and improving the production of our site, so these friends were pretty much the perfect fit. Add to that the inherent trust of bringing on someone you know, and bringing on friends can be a no-brainer when building your team.
Two other new volunteers come to us from Now Creative Group, a start-up creative agency looking active in the non-profit space. It's run by Daniel Francavilla, who was one of the earliest original volunteers at SoJo and helped to come up with our logo
. Daniel, and his colleague Damon Pfaff, will be helping us with our design and user experience as we begin to undergo a revamp to improve engagement.
Finally, Ellen joins us from SocialFinance.ca to help with our content strategy and community engagement. What started as a meeting between us to discuss a content partnership evolved into an offer to volunteer. Finding yet another volunteer with extensive experience at running a website was too good to be true.
We're rounding out our team with our two new awesome high school co-op students, Wollette and Isabel, who are bringing a great energy and fresh perspective to the team.
Everyone met for the first time at our team meeting last Wednesday, and the energy was explosive. What was supposed to be a one hour meeting turned into three, with the ideas flying and me scrambling just to keep up at the whiteboard. It was so so so exciting - for months I've felt like I've been trying to find the right people with not just a deep knowledge base, but perspective and opinions as well, and on Wednesday it all came together beautifully. I left the meeting with a renewed sense of enthusiasm and excitement, and a clear set of tasks for everyone to do. We've decided to up our team meeting schedule from once a month to every two weeks, to keep the cadence high and the energy steady.
Running a team made up of a majority of volunteers will not be sustainable for us for long. Our ambitions are huge and so is our workload, so eventually we will need to convert many of these volunteers into paid staff to ensure consistency and reliability. However, bringing on a new team as volunteers is a great way to test how they fit into the culture, how they work and give a test run to whether they would make a good future employee. Based on the energy and enthusiasm from the new team members last week, I can tell that won't be an issue.
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 AJ Tibando
Last Tuesday, I drove down to London to spend the day at the Ivey School of Business at Western University. Last September, Professor Oana Branzei found SoJo through our blog and began chronicling the Kanika's story of how she got the idea for SoJo and the experience of launching a start-up social enterprise. In January, Kanika and I traveled to Ivey for the original case presentation
, which was an amazing experience.
This September, I was contacted by Professor Rob Mitchell who is now teaching the Social Entrepreneurship class at Ivey about attending another case presentation of SoJo. And in light of all the changes and excitement SoJo has seen in the past year, they wanted to write a Part B to the case. The last few weeks have been a whirlwind of calls and updates between myself, Oana and Rob, as I walked them through the past ten months at SoJo.
My day started with a video taped interview with Oana. She wanted to capture my experience of taking over the responsibility of running SoJo and asked me to talk about both the venture and organization, as well as my own personal experience and the emotions I went through. There are so many valuable things that come out of being part of a case study, but one of the most valuable is the fact that it forces you to slow down and really take stock of events. As I've learned in start-up world, things move so fast you often don't have time to process one thing before you have to shift gears to focus on another. Being part of this case study gives us the space to think through and digest the events of the past year, not just from the perspective of the organization, but how I've personally experienced and dealt with things, and doing so helps me to see how far we've come.
After the interview, I had lunch with Rob and a few of the students, then it was class time. I'm always blown away every time I have the opportunity to step into a classroom and work with students. This group was so engaged and bright, and the insight that they brought to their ideas about SoJo was incredibly deep and well thought out. You could tell that they really understood the tension we were trying to balance between social impact and financial sustainability, and the complexity that tension brings to decision making. We spent a while first talking about what they liked about SoJo and what they thought we were doing well, then spent some time examining areas where we could improve or challenges they experienced when they were on our site. It may have been a case study for them, but for me it was an hour and a half of the most insightful focus group testing I could have ever dreamed of. Before the class ended, they did a brainstorm of where SoJo can go next to develop new ideas and products, and of course, make money and become sustainable. The ideas flew out fast and furious, and have already sparked some new discussions amongst the team.
All in all, another amazing day on campus. The great thing about working with Ivey is that I never seem to leave empty handed - a project group has been assigned to work on SoJo as part of their class project, helping with research and development of our for-profit product; and I've also agreed to mentor a student who is interested in social enterprise and has a background interest in politics (just like me). The ongoing support and championing of SoJo is just one component of what has made working with the team at Ivey really special for us, and we can't wait to be back there again soon.
Written by Zainab Habib
I attended a workshop yesterday titled "Targeting Networks" hosted by partner-in-the-making* Basim Mirza, since we had helped him secure DMZ space after his first location fell through. I knew Basim was a good speaker and that he definitely knew a thing or two.
It got me thinking as to how our working relationship came about. I met Basim originally at a Canada Pakistan Professionals Association event, and we soon became Facebook friends after I had asked him to post something on but there was no real engagement after that. A few months passed and he mentioned he had finished writing his book, and I wanted to buy a copy. When we met up so that I could buy the book, Your Naked Brand
, we got talking about what we were currently up to in our work.
What is interesting to note:
a) we had not developed a working relationship right away but
we had kept in touch loosely, until I had said I wanted to buy his book because...
b) at this point in time then, we both had something to offer each other: I was able to offer SoJo to him as a platform to share his voice while he was able to provide me with content we can use - all of which benefits you, our audience.
This is exactly the win-win-win situation or 1+1 = 3 equation Basim was talking about last night - which is one of the best opportunities one can find when networking.
In addition to hosting his content on SoJo, when Basim's space fell through for the workshop, he called us and presented this as an opportunity for us to be at an event we normally wouldn't be at - and with potential users we may have not met otherwise (especially after that kind introduction!). This additionally has ensured that the efforts are reciprocal in nature... all of which has further fuelled the partnership we're building together.
People now have the tools to maintain loose relationships while seizing opportunities quickly when required, like social media. Often times though, people assume that networking involves meeting new people and continuously adding them to a rolodex or social media accounts - the more, the merrier. But great networking is also about using the networks you already have and building relationships from there, and we did just that.
So tell us in the comments below: what are your top two burning questions for social networking?
Tell us and Basim will tailor content specifically to you.* We have yet to get some material together though he's given us free reign to use his book too!
The first ever GenIMPACT Social.
Written by AJ Tibando
On Thursday night in a small community space in the west end, 20 young social innovators came together to talk about their passion, ambition, ideas to change the world and the challenges and questions that keep them up at night. Co-organized by SoJo
, Youth Social Innovation Capital Fund
, our goal was to bring together some of the young social innovators that our organizations serve to meet each other, put faces to the community, share experiences and find ways to help each other achieve our goals.
The result was an amazing event filled with really deep, insightful discussion and honest assessments of the fears and emotions that plague anyone trying to make a difference, particularly job-pinched young millenials
who are trying to find a way to build a career with impact, and not just a pay check. The group was made up of a mix of recent graduates who are looking for direction as they try to build a career path, pre-early stage entrepreneurs who had ideas but hadn't really started acting on them yet, and full on social entrepreneurs who had launched initiatives and were looking for emotional and personal support on their journey. SoJo talks a lot about the importance of peer to peer learning and speaking through actions and learning through experience - the GenIMPACT get together was like the in person embodiment of what we're doing online - learning through peers and lessons through storytelling and lived experience.
I learned more about the needs, fears, ambitions and goals of our SoJo community in that night than I could have at any focus group, and it was great inspiration for all of the organizations involved to redouble our efforts to support our amazing community. People are worried about the future for this generation, and when you look at some of the stats related to employment, things can seem pretty bleak. But I'm not worried. While everyone in the room was different, the one common word I would have used to describe all of them was 'unstoppable' - they know they're up against big challenges, but they all realize that its meeting those challenges head on, not avoiding them, that will lead to achieving the level of impact and social change they so crave. It was an awesome and inspirational night and we organizers all left the event pumped up by our inaugural success and motivated to start planning round 2!
If you're in the Toronto area and are interested in attending our next event, let us know by contacting us at email@example.com with the subject line "GenIMPACT".
Written by Kanika Guptaand AJ Tibando
It’s hard to imagine that it’s been three years since Social Journal was born
What initially started as a blog to share ideas and stories grew into something much much greater.
Looking back, the first year
can be generalized as dipping our toes in the water: testing out our ideas, building our initial team, establishing a support network, and releasing our closed Beta for our community to sample. As our experimenting began generating lots of positive feedback, we felt comfortable enough in our second year
to jump into the deep end of the swimming pool.
It started by us launching our open Beta in a big way at the SociaLIGHT conference and within a few months, we were ready to take SoJo out of Beta and trust that our community would help build it out along the way. SoJo’s team of dedicated volunteers came together and a real organization started to take shape.
If Year One was about dipping our toes in the water and Year Two about jumping into the deep end, it’s fair to say this past year was like getting thrown into the ocean with the sharks, rough waters, and no safety net.
For starters, the year kicked off with a major burnout
and a lot of frustration
. I finally admitted that I was stretched too thin and that it was no longer sustainable or realistic for SoJo to be run solely with part-time unpaid volunteers. With momentum picking up, we needed a dedicated full-time
team of paid staff to carry us through our next phase of development.
So my top priority became fundraising. To be very blunt (and to keep with the water metaphors), fundraising for an early-stage social innovation start-up
was like swimming upstream with jellyfish. Despite all your effort, you feel like you’re making no progress and getting stung at almost every conversation. It was incredibly exhausting and frustrating trying to convince people to listen to a message that they weren’t ready or interested in hearing and to preserve the little sanity and energy I had left, in the best interest of SoJo, by the end of 2012 I vowed to stop fighting
Everyone on board SoJo believed that we were on the cusp of something big with our ideas. If the ecosystem within which we operated in wasn’t able to see or ready to support it, then we would just have to trust in ourselves and look for support elsewhere.
Our rockstar team also had some inevitable changes, with team members transitioning out
and moving on to other opportunities. We took some risks by hiring high school co-op students
, and other volunteers chose to come on board full-time
, and we eventually began to introduce hierarchy
into the organization.
Despite the mountain of setbacks, some pretty awesome stuff happened in the first six months of SoJo’s third year (Sep-Jan 2012), which is what really kept us going. We were featured in Forbes.com
and other international press; the subject of an Ivey Business School
case; invited to speak
almost every week in a different city throughout Canada and the north-eastern United States to tell our story; and invited to apply
for the Ontario Trillium Future Fund.
Then, with no warning, the storm came in. In early 2013, a brain injury forced me to take a step back
and focus on my health, and ultimately let go entirely
of contact with SoJo. I had to temporarily sever all connections with SoJo and leave the team on their own – without my guidance or leadership – in order to nurse myself back to health. And it was uncertain when I would be able to return (this blog post is the first since the departure).
Despite SoJo’s ability to weather previous storms, my sudden departure was unlike anything SoJo had experienced - which caused a lot of anxiety amongst all of us. But did we ever show that storm who’s boss. Within a few days of my injury, AJ (a volunteer at the time) had the courage to quit her job and took a leap of faith to join SoJo full-time - only a few weeks before her wedding - and take charge of the ship. AJ:
I started 2013 working as a Senior Advisor, Social Policy for the Minister of Community and Social Services. While that was where I started the year, I knew I wasn’t going to be there for much longer. I had been volunteering with SoJo for about 8 months and was itching to leave the world of government and politics for an experience in the start-up community. Kanika and I had bonded during my time at SoJo as we quickly grew to see each other as partners, and I knew that the two of us working together at SoJo full-time would be close to unstoppable.
When Kanika got injured, I was already making preparations to leave my job for SoJo – the injury just put it all into hyperdrive. And I was looking forward to transitioning between worlds and easing into the new role, which of course never happened. What did happen was that on Friday I was a volunteer and on Monday found myself in the role of Acting CEO
To say the first few weeks were rough would be the understatement of the century. Kanika is not a “sit still” kind of person; and she had a ton of meetings, speeches, events and other commitments lined up, as well as grant applications and partnerships in the works. We have a large team of volunteers, with new members
that were about to join, and they needed to be reassured that things would carry on. On day one, my ‘crisis management’ skills were put to the test, as I had to pick up the pieces on all of her commitments and find a way to follow through on them, all without having the luxury to speak with her for context or guidance.
This pushed me way outside of my comfort zone. For example, I had never given a speech before and found myself within a few weeks on stage
in the front of a packed room, standing in for her. Sure we could have cancelled her commitments – I’m sure organizers would have been more than understanding – but these were good opportunities for SoJo and I knew Kanika would never want SoJo to miss out on something just because she wasn’t there to do it.
As the weeks passed and turned into months, things settled down into a weird ‘new normal’ and the team found its stride. The injury brought us all together and connected us as a team
, as we all had to really rely on each other to get things done. And we had some great milestones
that helped us along, including our first investment – a grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation’s Future Fund
allowing SoJo to finally have a team of full-time paid staff – and a handful of exciting new partners, eager to support us.
Now that September is almost over, it definitely feels like SoJo has weathered the storm, and come out that much stronger for it. We’ve navigated more uncertainty and ambiguity over the past 8 months than most companies experience over their entire existence. And through it we’ve proven that our team is adaptable, resilient and filled with grit and determination – the things no start-up bootcamp will ever be able to teach. Kanika and AJ:
As we begin to enter into our 4th year, we have the humility to anticipate the inevitable twists and turns, as well as pleasant surprises in our ongoing journey of being the premier source of support and guidance for individuals passionate about making the world a better place. The battle scars acquired over the past year has also given us a fearlessness that we can and will take on anything that gets in our way to achieving our vision.
As Kanika’s health starts to improve, she’s thrilled to get back involved with SoJo; however, this time in a very different capacity, which will surely be an interesting experience for all of us on the team.
All great things take time.
After taking stock of the past 12 months – and last 3 years - it’s clear that our goals are unchanged and our plans are as ambitious as before. Now with greater clarity on the paths to execution and an organization that’s stronger than ever, the only thing that we can say with certainty about the next 12 months is this: you’ll want a front row seat to watch everything that we’re about to accomplish.
Written by AJ Tibando
Last week I did a little road trip out to Waterloo. On Thursday, I met with Communitech
and their Future Fund collaborative (Communitech also received funding through the Trillium Future Fund grant, and we've been working together to compliment activities) and on Friday I gave a workshop to GreenHouse
, a social innovation incubator located at St. Paul's in the University of Waterloo. Both days were fantastic. SoJo got a very warm welcome at Communitech from all the great organizations present. It was like a who's-who of social innovation orgs in the Kitchener Waterloo Region, and almost all of them came up to me afterwards to thank me for the presentation and comment on how impressed they were with SoJo. It was so exciting and energizing to see what an strong impression SoJo made on everyone and how they connected with what we're doing. So many pitches and meetings can feel like uphill battles to get people to understand or care about your ideas, that when a group like that responds with unmitigated enthusiasm, its like a shot of adrenaline straight to your arm.
On Friday I drove back to KW to do a workshop with GreenHouse. It was a group of about 10 students who have signed up to participate in a four month social entrepreneurship program at St. Paul's. Last week was their opening week bootcamp, and I came for the last day of it. The students had spent all week working on their creative thinking skills and finding their passion, so my presentation was all about how to take that positive energy and turn it into action. Again, I got a great response from the students and program leaders and everyone was really excited to learn about all the resources at their fingertips with SoJo.
My two amazing days in Waterloo Region were a great reminder that there's a big world of support out there and but you need to leave your comfort zone (Toronto) to see it. Hopefully the contacts I made over the past two days will translate into new opportunities and I'll be back in KW soon.
Written by Zainab Habib
I've probably mentioned before that I'm not very good at asking for help. I tend to have a I'll-do-it attitude towards things which is great... but two heads are always better than one. I will admit to being stubborn generally as a person in this regard but it's definitely something I'm working on, especially since I know I can't do it all. However, what I'm still learning is how to ask for help then. I often know what needs to get done but how do I know how others can help, especially when I'm not always sure as to what they can do?
I say this because I just went to a check-in meeting on AJ's behalf with the DMZ. The check-in also serves as a chance for them to find out how they can help us, since they're very much invested in our success. I had already talked to AJ about what updates to give them, since we've made some wonderful progress recently, and so I gave those updates happily.
Yet I was stumped when they asked me what they could do for us. I answered it with, "at this point, our main challenge is really an opportunity that we're just waiting to hear back on". But I know there must be something that they could do... right?
Though AJ will confirm that one later for me when I talk to her on Monday about how it went, here's one thing I will definitely start doing with all my projects and meetings:
Write out what I want help with -- even if I'm not completely sure if the other person can do it.
See, I did this for our content strategy too and though it took me a few extra minutes more than I anticipated, I had it clearly and precisely in writing - which is exactly what I needed to know and clarify for myself, before I could get anyone else involved.
And if they can't help me, at least I'm a lot clearer on what I need - which is the first step in admitting I can't do it all.
Written by Zainab Habib
Advice is always easier to give than to follow - and I'm unfortunately prone to not following my own advice.
I've said that exact saying to at least two friends this week yet I realized that I haven't been following my own words in certain aspects of my life. Though we usually don't do substandard work at SoJo (we all make mistakes but it hardly can be called substandard effort), there are times where I don't hold other people up to certain expectations.
Expectations are usually considered a bad thing, but I personally don't view them badly in certain contexts in the professional world. To clarify:
- When you can't have expectations: there are things that are beyond your control - certain outcomes that no matter what you do, you really can't do much about it in the end. This is where expectations are unhelpful because in the end, it's not up to you to decide. Example: you didn't get a promotion even though they promoted someone else in the organization who may not have worked there as long as you have. Though it is fair to feel that this decision was unfair, you may also have to consider what management's reason was for the decision.
- When you can have expectations: however, you can still have certain expectations over how you interact with someone to a certain degree, which is a part of process. I would include expectations around conduct like (but not limited to) respect and politeness -- because they maintain someone's dignity. Example: following the situation above, you then ask your boss if you can talk about why you didn't get the job. She tells you why they chose the other candidate, even if nothing was particularly "wrong" with your application or interview. Though you couldn't control why they chose Candidate B instead of you, you can still have a level of expectation about how your boss addresses your concerns because it's part of being in a professional work environment.
My (sometimes unhelpful) approach as of the last few years is to have fewer expectations. I personally tend to be the type to do it all for myself, and often don't ask for help even when I should. Not having as many expectations of others has allowed me to maintain control to some degree (if I don't have expectations, I won't be disappointed, right?) but it also may be too relaxed of an approach when working with others -- almost letting the substandard take place.
Over the last few months, I've had to be a firmer manager and representative of SoJo when working with team members and partners (current and potential). How then do I temper what expectations I should have, and what should I not expect?
For one, I'm taking back the idea of no expectations: I'd like to have one expectation
, which is to not get substandard - whether it's substandard treatment or substandard work. To be fair, there is a difference between substandard work and not-as-great-as-it-could be. Substandard work is a reflection of how one views you - because they felt you didn't deserve their best work.
And you always
deserve someone's best, no matter what. :)
Written by AJ Tibando
A few weeks ago we held our SoJo Team Summer Social (or as I liked to refer to it, the SoJoSuSo). We kept it pretty low key (and cheap!) with a picnic in the park. It was an opportunity for all of us to come together as a team without an agenda other than to enjoy each other's company. We also have a number of our long time volunteers leaving at the end of the summer to head off to school or begin new life adventures, so it was also a nice opportunity to thank them for their service and wish them good luck on their new journeys. The past few months have been a real whirlwind for the SoJo Team with lots of changes, developments, product launches and other exciting things on the go, so it was really nice to just stop, relax and just have fun for an afternoon. The best part however, was that Kanika was able to join us - the first time since her accident that we were all able to assemble as a full team. It was great to have everyone together and seeing Kanika definitely lifted everyone's spirits.
Last week we held our August team meeting. This was an interesting meeting for a few reasons - first, it was the first meeting without the team members who moved on at the end of the summer. Second, it was the first meeting with some of our new team members
. And third, I introduced a new meeting format and this was the first time we tested it. For the past six months, monthly team meetings have been mainly about sharing information among the team about SoJo's achievements over the previous month with everyone around the table taking turns to discuss what they're working on.
While this was a good way to ensure everyone was on the same page, it wasn't leveraging the collective brain power of the team to collaborate and develop new ideas. So this meeting, I changed it up. We only spent about half the time we usually do going over the month's activities and accomplishments, then dedicated close to an hour on brainstorming. I put up some slides identifying our current assets and our products under development, our goals, objectives and targets as an organization, and posed a few key questions to guide discussion. Then I pulled out a marker, stood by the whiteboard and just tried to keep up as the ideas started flying. It was incredible and inspiring to see the team so engaged, especially with the mix of older team members and the new members with an outside perspective, and we made some pretty big breakthroughs in our thinking in a pretty short period of time. It seems like a no brainer that this will be the format of our team meetings going forward.
Amir explaining what we were learning that evening.
Written by Zainab Habib
I thought I was going to Mockups to Launch
's How to YouTube workshop series simply to learn about how to do YouTube videos. And I came out with a badly-needed urge to do something about our content instead.
Let's be honest, I still don't know how to actually make
videos. That will require a different set of classes somewhere. But what made me renew my conviction that our content needs a major overhaul? This matrix below:
Amir, Co-Founder and President at WebRockkr
and the very engaging instructor for the workshop series, would constantly emphasize his point that all content falls under one of these four purposes: to entertain, inspire, educate, or convince - and that you ideally want to be able to entertain and/or inspire.
Why not for educational or conviction purposes? People seek out educational material only when they are looking to be educated on a particular topic, especially out of a really strong desire or need to learn about the subject matter (example: person has to get user input as soon as possible and so needs to learn how to do quick user research
). And no one really watches advertisements... again, unless they're already entertaining or the person is looking to buy a specific product anyway.
This couldn't be truer. Everything else in the class then related back to this point, as you'll see in the notes if you visit the Mockups to Launch Facebook page
As I rethink what content at SoJo looks like -- particularly our tone and voice as part of this content strategy, I'm trying to think of how we can make our content more fun and engaging. It's already a terrifying process to turn your biggest dreams into action. The least we can do is make you laugh -- or at least smile a bit... but without scaring you further of course.
Though this is going to take some more research and digging around, I know that I'm starting to ask some of the more important questions, thanks to workshops like these. If you're in the Toronto area, I do recommend checking out free workshops like the Mockup to Launch ones. Though they're free, the learning you get out of it is priceless.What other workshops would you recommend we - or other social entrepreneurs - should check out?
Let us know in the comments below, whether you're in the Toronto area or not!
Written by Zainab Habib
Yesterday, I met one of our profiled entrepreneurs
. Though it was quite by accident actually, since we just happened to both be at a workshop, it gave us a good chance to connect with each other on where our respective organizations are right now.
Maybe the SoJo connection helped but I mentioned that it has been unfortunate that I have not kept up with SoJo's profiles section
. In fact, it's the section I've worked on the least. He then suggested that we could make it easier by emailing our profiled entrepreneurs every now and then for updates and we could then display it on something similar to a Facebook timeline.
This idea has tons of merits. For one, it wouldn't require a whole interview but it would force us to continually update the pages simultaneously. It would also add a personal touch to those profiles - and we want our users to feel a connection to these entrepreneurs' stories.
It seems like a simple solution and it's opened up my eyes to exploring what possibilities we could come up with that could indeed foster ease and consistency on our end while still meeting our reasons for profiling entrepreneurs on our site that way in the first place.
And it wouldn't have come up if I hadn't been honest and owned up to the fact that we had not been keeping up with it all this time.
It's our graphic design intern Kaitlin's last day here at SoJo and we're certainly going to miss having her around. We like having another face around the office regularly and we never ran out of work for her to do.
Graphic designers add a special unique dimension to SoJo:
- An eye for what really looks good. Let's be honest; we see things whole and then look at the details. No one is going to read great content without liking the way the website they're browsing around looks terrible, unless they're already looking for the content. However, as Amir from Mockups to Launch put it in class on Wednesday*, great content will get someone to look at it even if they weren't looking for it. And a pretty website never hurts.
- The talent to translate your requests into pictures. They're able to take what you're looking for when you make a verbal or written request and then turn it into pretty visual mock-ups.
- The ability to make it happen. And they're also able to use the tools at their disposal to then implement it once you're done giving them feedback... again and again and again. Speaking of which...
- The professionalism to take feedback and direction. We've given Kaitlin tons of feedback and often changed our minds on different things we wanted her to do. I'll admit, we must've said this one many times: "Maybe we should do it this way, even though we told you not to do that before". We've done this many many many times on the newsletter now.
- When in-house, understanding your products/services and owning their place in making it happen. Kaitlin understood how her work impacted SoJo and so she knew that she would be involved in a variety of projects since frankly, she had the most expertise in this area. And it didn't hurt that she also knew how to code a little bit, which often helped too.
- Knowing the possibilities out there. Even when we knew what we wanted, she often could help us want more - like the descriptions that pop up on the right when you hover over the categories on the Knowledge Hub page.
Of course, these are only some of the benefits to having a web and graphic designer around. Now Kaitlin will be going back to school so we'll need another volunteer we'd like to bring on board as a designer. We've become a little spoiled with having her around :)
If you're interested in joining us, check out the posting on our site for the web and graphic designer position
. Know a friend instead who'd want to talk to us. Pass it along to them too!*I'll be blogging about this experience soon too so stay tuned!
Written by Zainab Habib
Last night, I was at a workshop when I met someone who works with media production. We struck up a conversation about we do but I didn't realize that I was walking right into a sales pitch.
Please note that this post is certainly not
meant to disparage her for her effort; in fact, quite commendable really on her part. I certainly don't blame her, even if I would've preferred that she had handled that differently. It's her job to find these opportunities especially at moments like this. But I was having a difficult time trying to get myself out of it, especially as I was stuffing my mouth with pizza (I was very
hungry) until it became clear that we could not "work together" because we have no budget at SoJo for that work. It really would have been great to have that help - unless it clashed with our values as an organization, why would I reject such assistance otherwise?. But as she put it, "no, that won't work for us." Side note:
I believe there is a very clear distinction between a) working together where all parties are on the same playing field together (a collaboration or partnership) and b) providing services that involves a transaction and one party conducting work for another (a client-service provider relationship).
Perhaps it was her tone that set me off internally; I know I can be a bit sensitive. However, I couldn't help but wonder what bothered me about the situation generally. After some reflection this morning:
- We're a start-up and hybrid organization, so we’re not making truckloads of money at this point. It’s not necessarily the best assumption that a start-up would even have enough money for what a service provider would try to sell to you as "the basics", even when it's sometimes as immediate and looming as legal and financial concerns.
- Content is one of our core activities. It’s essential that we do things like strategies, production, and the like in-house. Because we don't have as much money as we’d like, I'm willing to instead learn how to do those basics on my own. That's just how you get by in a start-up.
my last full-time job before SoJo was with a consulting firm so I understand why outside expertise is important. But it makes the most sense to outsource or hire a consultant for a job when it’s not a core function of your organization and
you have no one with the ability to take it on.
She and I agreed we’ll keep in touch and as she said, maybe we'll be able to talk when SoJo has money. But maybe by that point, I hope we’ll be big enough to have that knowledge in-house, whether it’s by me learning that material or by hiring someone who brings that knowledge will them.
Written by Zainab Habib
I read this quote from Bill Gates a long time ago:“I choose a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.”
You may have also heard of KISS:KISS = Keep It Simple Stupid
I don't think I realized how true these were though until today. See, it was the 15th of the month and I had forgotten to write up a book review (well, I had forgotten to even read a book or make notes with the review in mind). I knew I had a book review that our community builder Shauna
had submitted when she first started at SoJo. However, because it had been done on different guidelines than what we were using at the time, we hadn't done anything with it.
Mind you, I've been thinking about this change for the past few days. Last night, I went through some of my favourite magazines at home and browsed around on the web to see how other people do book reviews. And much to my delight, these range from the long (New York Times' Sunday book reviews
are 2 pages long) to the short (see YES! magazine
; the last one I did a count for was under 300 words). So I knew I had a range of options to play with (besides, if the rules don't work for you, make your own).
This morning, I got in later than I would've liked to and realized I still had to write a book review. But why not use what I already have and let the readers decide for themselves what format they like? So dear loyal readers, let us know what you think of Shauna's book review of Everyone Leads: Building Leadership from the Community Up by Paul Schmitz
AJ's always encouraging me to keep it simple and to avoid over-thinking everything - that often can doing more work than necessary, especially if it's a task that requires some trial and error. And Bill Gates has said it too.
Here's to my first experiment to keeping it simple from the start! Now, to make sure this continues.
Written by AJ Tibando
Today I met with an advisor who is an angel investor. I was looking for advice on my business pitch and trying to begin to learn the language of investment. It was a tough, uncomfortable but very satisfying meeting. Uncomfortable in the way that I didn't feel like I had good answers to his questions, but satisfying in the way that I learned more in that 45 minute conversation than I ever would have just reading up on the topic. There's lots I could write about regarding the actual content of the meeting, but I want to focus on what happened about halfway through the meeting - one of those 'worst case scenario' moments that you always fear. The one thing that you worry could happen at any moment and try to plan against even though you know you can't. A moment of weakness to end all moments of weakness.
I thought I was going to cry.
There was nothing particular he said that set me off, I was just tired and overwhelmed. I enjoy tough, direct, no nonsense advice and would much rather have someone spend time telling me what I can do better than what I've done right, but that said, it can be a little difficult to take every now and then. And about midway through the meeting my stomach decided it had had enough and shot a lump up to my throat, which told my tear ducts they had the green light to open up. I took a deep breath and my desire to cry was quickly overwhelmed by my panic about actually crying and I sent the lump back down to my stomach to hibernate until the next rom-com.
Sometimes this happens. There's lots of writing about the importance of not crying at work, and while I don't always agree that shedding a tear at work is as terrible as people make it out to be, crying in a meeting or in front of a potential investor is pretty much the worst thing ever (unless there's some sort of personal reason for it I suppose). I wasn't having an emotional breakdown, I wasn't falling apart, I was just a little overwhelmed, a little tired, and my body responded accordingly. While I fought it off, it reinforced to me the importance of SoJo's focus on supporting the person behind the idea, not just the idea itself. This gentleman I was speaking to wasn't there to support me as a person, nor should he be - he's there to evaluate the idea and business and give me direct feedback. But having that moment of panic and exhaustion, and leaving the meeting feeling like I had just gone through the ringer, made me so thankful to have colleagues I could talk to after and who would support me emotionally. But for those people who are just starting out and on their own, who don't have a network or community to support them, it can be much harder getting back up after getting knocked down a notch or two. SoJo is here for them - for you - because even though you're strong and smart and will have a lot of great days on your journey to create change, some days you're gonna feel like you want to cry.
Written by Zainab Habib
I've noticed that we're good at asking for and taking up offers to help as an organization, particularly in Kanika's absence. Speaking for myself at least, I'm terribly stubborn... especially the kind of stubborn that will just do everything myself, so admitting that I can't do it all is a challenge that I've been working on for the last few years.
One way of being able to learn though is to stay open to the opportunities that come. Adults often come to their "education" and learning because there's something they want to get out of it - meaning they have expectations of some kind (think of the last workshop you attended or course you enrolled in). As Kanika has said before, it often helps to enter conversations without (great) expectations
and for us, our biggest learning has taken place within conversations.
AJ has had an advisor for a while since she came on board full-time; one of Kanika's most trusted advisors has been working with her and has helped her ease into all things CEO- and business development-related. Though AJ already has great skillset, she's told me it's been so helpful having this support.
AJ went out to lunch today with a close friend of hers and she returned with good news for me: he had asked what he could do to help and AJ was taking him up on the offer because he's someone in the industry who understands content inside out. He will be able to act as an advisor to SoJo and particularly to me, especially because he's an award-winning journalist and he and I can both relate as writers. Though I can do almost everything related to our day-to-day operations in content, I have much to learn when it comes to thinking about content in more strategic terms. I also haven't been able to reach out to anyone who does content in a meaningful manner because I haven't met anyone really working in content full-time yet.
As AJ pointed out, there's only so much either of us can learn on our own, even if we're both really resourceful. What's exciting about these advisors is that they want to get their hands dirty when they're helping us; they're not just people who point you to your next resource without any real guidance on why you're following a particular process. They're willing to stand by us as we learn from their expertise and insights, and as we then turn our learning into ideas and later action. This accelerates our professional development, which allows us to spend more time actually doing something with everything we're learning.
I can't wait to get started on this process. I'm going in with an open mind and a blank slate for our content and though I have no great expectations, I know this will be a learning experience regardless.
Written by Zainab Habib
As we ramp our efforts to turn our audience into a community, I've been thinking a lot about the possibilities of where our users come in to our content, other than as the audience. We want to be able to give you some say - directly or indirectly - as to what content goes up. This could come in a number of ways:
- general feedback - we'd love to hear from you about who you are, what you want to see more of (design and content), and what you don't really use on our site. Are there things we can do differently? Let us know that too.
- questions - we often get emails from users who would like help with a specific task on their list. Though we unfortunately can't connect you to the very resources you're looking for (like funders - sorry!), I definitely would like to see if we can answer your questions somehow in a meaningful and effective manner.
- topics you'd like to read more about - if there are topics you're interested about but haven't come across on our site, tell us - especially if you have a particular case or situation in mind.
As I've put it to AJ before in one of our morning chats, it would be fun to do a few "Ask SoJo!" posts, knowing that you have very real questions that sometimes need answers that aren't as obvious. And we want to make it as easier for you to access those answers -- since you have enough finding to do.
We'd generally like to take the feedback and questions and see if we can write an article or two for each of your questions or interests, because we'd like to share those lessons created and learned with everyone in the community. In your best interests, we would keep it confidential and anonymous unless you request otherwise.
Use the form or comment on this post below, or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
. I'm looking forward to hearing from all of you!
Written by Zainab
As I've mentioned before, I'm working on redoing the Getting Started section on our website because it's not as reflective of who we are as an organization - it feels cold and unfinished at the moment, and we aim to be as supportive and comprehensive as we can.
The quiz I've had the most trouble thinking of questions for is the one where you would ask: "am I passionate enough?" We will rephrase and reframe the quiz so that a user taking it would probably just say, "I'm trying to find my passion" and so I've gotten started on a second re-edit of it this week.
I'll be honest: I've almost always found my passions through a) slowly admitting to myself that a certain intellectual space wasn't right for or b) pure accident. I'm also lucky that I happen to be in a space where I can be passionate about what I do. But I'm curious as to how other people find passion. How would they know? How do you ask questions without that two way conversation to help guide you?
So I'm putting it out to you there: how did you find your passions? Were there certain questions you asked yourself to get there? Are you still looking for yours?
In the meantime, I'm going to step away and take a break from it. As passionate as I am about what I do, we all need a break every now and then.
Written by Zainab
One of my upcoming projects is to think about our content strategy.
I will make a confession though: I am not
a content strategist. Or at least I've never really thought of myself as one... up until I picked up a copy of Content Strategy for the Web
(the second edition) by Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach.
See, there's nothing wrong with what I currently think I do at SoJo as editor/ writer/ content coordinator/ volunteer manager/ anything-else-I'm-missing. What tends to happen though is that I often focus on the short-term tasks and projects... and forget that my role is there for me to think about the broader, higher-level aspects of content.
I admit it's easier to have let it slide for some time because I have no real background in content, in terms of education or prior experience. I just happened to fall into this. (Very happily of course! :))
And so I've gone with the current, doing what we've done with changes here and there. Our content is great, but I know it could be better. It especially matters when you, our users, are not satisfied with it either.
As I've alluded earlier before when looking at setbacks
, pulse checks are necessary - even when things seem fine. After all, we want to ensure we're always pushing the envelope.
And in this case, it means stepping into yet another new aspect of my role here at SoJo: strategically thinking about our content and what it does for our users, and then acting on those changes and educating the team about good content principles - which I will definitely be taking from the book and from Brain Traffic's blog
I've gotten three chapters out of twelve so far and I'm already inspired. I'm certainly going to keep you updated as I learn more and expand my thinking around content strategy.
In the meantime, tell me what you like and don't like about our content and layout of it all. Speaking of layout, what do you think of the new Knowledge Hub
? Tell us in the comments below or email us at email@example.com