This site has been moved to http://www.thesojo.net/blog/
Please update your bookmarks, you will be redirected momentarily.

 
Picture
Today is my first day back at the office since our team meeting at the beginning of the month. I've been travelling overseas, for the past 2 weeks, but consciously decided to disconnected entirely from the Internet for most of my travels. While my hectic travel schedule did not feel like a vacation, being disconnecting from the daily inflow of work communications was desperately needed. My last Internet detox occurred 7 months ago.

The difference between this detox and last detox -- was last year I created detailed workplans for every team member before leaving. Aware that the team required guidance and direction, I took it upon myself to pre-orchestrate operations and team outputs.

I left the office a few weeks ago with a different type of confidence. While I had high-level discussions of expectations of deliverables with some of the team members, I really left it up to everyone to see what they were able to accomplish without my guidance. This laid-back approach happened for two reasons: (1) I didn't have the mental capacity or time to micro-manage everyone's schedules, as I could hardly keep up with my responsibilities (2) I wanted to see how the team managed without my direct involvement in the day-to-day operations of SoJo.  

My phone number was given to our key team members to get in touch if emergencies arose. Never once while I was away did I doubt our team's abilities to handle whatever came their way -- giving me piece of mind that I haven't yet experienced. It was great.

I'm now slowly catching up with the team to check-in on their status and progress. I was pleased (but not surprised) to discover that most things continued to move forward. Albeit I identified inefficiencies and know that some outputs would have increased had I been there to catch the bottlenecks, but all in all, the team did very well. Rather than get caught up on the things that didn't go well, I focused most of my feedback on what was learned and how things can be done differently next time.

My hands-off approach over the past few weeks is proof that the team is equipped to handle daily operations, providing me with the space needed to scale and grow SoJo.


 
 
Picture
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.


 
 
Picture
The last day of the year is always a very reflective day for me. Reflecting on all that was accomplished and learned -- and how that will influence behaviour and decisions in the coming year.

2011 was a highly experimental exploratory year. While there was great confidence in the need for a resource like SoJo, we didn't know exactly HOW it would come to life.  With100s of exploratory meetings and discussions, and an incredible amount of hard work the year ended with our first beta product launch.

2012 can be summarized as the year of fighting. With a product under our belt an increased clarity on how SoJo fits into the world, we were:
  • Fighting to prove our legitimacy to prospective partners
  • Fighting to explain the value of SoJo to people who just weren't listening
  • Fighting to establish and defend our legal structure (which we're still figuring out)
  • Fighting to convince funders of the impact created by SoJo
  • Fighting to get the attention of people who blatantly dismiss and ignore us
  • Fighting against a system and sector that operates fundamentally in contradiction to our values
  • Fighting to show the world that we are capable of doing the intangible and achieving excellence

Demand for SoJo's resources are higher than ever. At the same time, our team is more stretched than ever before. I need to be cautious of how we allocate our resources and energy. Mental energy expended on fighting is wasted resources that serve no value to SoJo. I'm done fighting. I'm done with the associated negativity. I'm done with trying to prove myself or SoJo to others.

Most of my talks this year were centered on struggle, adversity and overcoming the naysayers. SoJo is in a beautiful position to invent the future. It is so much more powerful to inspire through a vision, instilling values of an ideal of what the world should look like, rather than focus on its shortcomings.

I started this year with a resolution not to drive myself into the ground. Fighting (or the perceived need to fight) was exhausting, and in many ways brought out the worst in me. It took a toll on me mentally and can be attributed to an unpleasant burnout. Since I'm not really good at keeping resolutions, I've now decided to end the year with leaving behind Fighting.

SoJo is a moving train. We will gladly welcome onboard anyone who shares our vision and commitment to seeing it a reality -- but the train will not stop or slow down for the those who don't make it to the platform on time. They can catch us at another station, but for now, SoJo needs to value itself more and trust that it has all the support it needs to push forward.

While I let go of fighting, I hope to liberate this chip on my shoulder which has only been growing deeper with time. The ecosystem was not very kind to me in the early days of SoJo, and continues to act in ways that I don't agree with. As a response to these frustrations, I've been sub-conscientiously trying to prove everyone wrong. Instead of wanting to prove people wrong, I need to stop reacting and focus on proactively building the future. Over the past couple of months, SoJo has achieved phenomenal success, recognition and we have the strongest team ever.
The best way to end 2012 is to let go of the negative energy and celebrate what makes us awesome.


 
 
Picture
It's a word that I have a twisted obsession with: the more I hate hearing myself say it, the more I use it. It comes out of my mouth without a second thought, and I've become so comfortable with this word that I've lost consciousness of using it. My lack of self-control has forced me to outright ban this word from my vocabulary. The B-word being BUSY. Here is why:

Busy is relative
While there is always a need to improve my time management skills and my ability to create more space in my life for non-work related activities or personal down-time, at the end of the day, BUSY is my new normal. I will never get through my inbox or complete the entire to-do list. Busy is a relative term. What is busier than busy? I've over-used this word to the point that it has lost its relevance. I must accept the fact that the demands for my time will always outweigh the amount of time that I actually have. As such I must be smarter about how I choose to allocate my time, and not let BUSY be my excuse for putting the effort to actually change my behaviour.  

Being busy is being rude
Everyone has a lot going on in their lives. When someone asks me to meet this week and I tell them, "I can't, I'm busy", I'm making the assumption that my time is worth more than theirs. If I make a commitment to participate in an advisory role and do not attend the meetings, I'm in fact using BUSY as a cover-up and am indirectly telling everyone I don't actually respect the other advisors' time, because if I did, I would honour my commitment. Being BUSY is fairly presumptuous and outright rude, actually. If I legitimately do not have time in my schedule, instead of saying that I'm BUSY, I should tell people when my earliest availability is and also reconsider ongoing commitments.

Lacks articulation
When people ask me how I'm doing, my gut response is to say "I've been really busy." I've started to catch myself get too comfortable using the B-word as a catch-all-phrase. Using BUSY as a catch-all phrase belittles myself, as this word really doesn't mean anything. It is not concrete or tangible. Rather, I'm hoping the B-word Challenge will force me to be more articulate, and list out the actual activities that have been occupying my time.

Perceived loss of control
As alluded to above, BUSY doesn't actually mean anything. If I cannot articulate the things that keep me BUSY, then am I really that BUSY? Saying that I'm BUSY is most often followed with a sigh, anxious tone or frazzled look. BUSY is most often said in lieu of "I've consciously decided to allocate my time this way, and I'm in full control." If I'm consistently using the B-word, then it can be perceived as my inability to control my time. Busy is not synonymous for confidence. In my role, I must always sell SoJo and my ability to deliver on our vision. Always telling people that I'm BUSY doesn't emanate confidence or control.

Not a badge of pride
A recent NY Times essay states compelling arguments about society's obsession with self-imposed busyness. The writer refers to the 'Busy' Trap as "a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness." I would like to be seen as someone who achieves results, not as someone who is always BUSY. In fact, I'm on personal mission to prove that it is possible to achieve success without driving yourself into ground, and with grace. BUSY is not graceful. By constantly telling people I'm BUSY, instead of the work that gets done, I'm essentially feeding into this vicious cycle of the busyness trap.

It's going to be difficult to go cold-turkey and omit a word entirely from my vocabulary that I use multiple times a day; hence my public documentation of this challenge. To help hold me accountable, everytime someone from my team (the individuals who interact with me most consistently) catch me using the B-word in context, I will have to buy them a gift. If anything above resonates with you, then I encourage you to take on The B-word Challenge with me.


 
 
Picture
Yesterday I was honoured as one of Canada's Top100 Most Powerful Women by the Women's Executive Network. In its 10th year, this award recognizes the professional achievements of women in the private, public and not-for-profit sectors in Canada. Winners are selected based on their strategic vision and leadership, their organization’s financial performance, and their commitment to their communities. See SoJo's Press Release.

All of the winners were invited to an exclusive forum yesterday morning, where leadership challenges and stories were discussed very candidly. In the afternoon, we all participated in a broader leadership summit called "An afternoon of Inspired Leadership" where past winners shared their insights and knowledge on how we can advance ourselves in our careers and how to be better leaders.

It was humbling to be among a group of such distinguished and accomplished women across all disciplines. And although I was one of the youngest individuals in the room, it felt as though there was no hierarchy or distinction between myself and the CEOs and Directors of some of Canada's largest organizations.

As a early-stage startup entrepreneur, going to professional development seminars always felt like a luxury. Most leadership development programs are expensive, and never seemed to be a priority. Without any direct reports, I've been forced to learn much on my own; through experiences and from the advice of others. Yesterday was different then other conferences that I've attended. Being among my peers, with a focused agenda, and poignant and relevant facilitated discussions was a treat.

Even though I was among my peers, being on the earlier side of my career allowed me to use this opportunity to be a sponge and soak in all the knowledge and insights shared throughout the day. To top off an incredible day, all of the winners were honoured at a glitzy gala dinner. A celebration indeed.

I am now really excited for what belonging to this network means. A re-occurring theme was the idea of women supporting other women. I'm hopeful being part of the Women's Executive Network will open some new doors and that this incredibly powerful network will help me further advance the work and vision of SoJo.

 
 
While strolling the streets of Florence, Italy, a pair of lime-green suede pumps in the window of a shoe store caught my attention. Even though I was on vacation completely unplugged from work, the first thought that came to my mind : those are SoJo shoes! They were one size too small, and the heels were a little taller than what I was accustomed to, I still purchased the shoes with very little hesitation (it helped that they were 80% off and practically free).

Having never worn shoes that are not brown or black, I was a little afraid of looking ridiculous, nor did I know when I was going to wear them, regardless I was compelled to make this impulse purchase, despite any potential fallouts. I reasoned myself into making the decision; the colour matched SoJo's green almost identically and who knows if I would ever see such beautiful shoes again. They had my name written all over them.

This weekend at SociaLIGHT I was excited to wear my SoJo Shoes, as this was an event all about celebrating SoJo and wearing SoJo with pride (literally too!). Not only were the shoes noticed, they were the subject of many conversations and tweets. Here is a sampling:
Going on stage in front of 1000 people with bright spotlights shining on you was nerve-wrecking, and as corny as it sounds the SoJo Shoes did give me an added boost of confidence and reassurance. At first, I didn't want to look like a tacky walking billboard, but wore the shoes anyways and I knew how important it is for a founder to assume and personify the brand of your organization, both through actions and appearance. These shoes showed me that it is possible to do so with class and elegance.
Picture
Showing off the SoJo Shoes at our Booth
 
 
Picture
In many ways, SoJo flat organizational structure has contributed to the strong team culture that we've built over the past year. The team is SoJo's greatest strength, and when some of our team members are asked what they appreciate most about SoJo, many have mentioned their appreciation of not having a pronounced hierarchy -- where they felt like an equal to everyone else on the team. We're all collectively working towards the same goals and up until now there hasn't been a need to formalize the internal team structure.

A result of having a flat organization was having almost everyone report up to me. Being the only full-time team member, I was naturally the most accessible and fully present to everyone, and culturally people became comfortable and accustomed to reporting to me. I was directly involved in more activities than what I should have been, and as a result stretched myself thin to the point that led to a burnout. I also grew frustrated as I wasn't able to provide certain team members the individual support that they needed to excel in their roles.

The solution: Share responsibilities and accountability among different members, and introduce a hierarchy to remove the dependency everyone had on me to advance their own responsibilities. As SoJo enters its first phase of high-growth, it is important that the team and organization change accordingly.

A hierarchy was challenging to integrate before, as the other part-time team members did not have the capacity to assume the responsibility of coordinating and managing another team member. Now that we have some full-time team members, there is a greater ability to accommodate a change in structure.

In theory, I thought it'd be easy to divide the team up in key focus areas, assign a team lead and place members in their appropriate section. However upon further development, the structure became more complex. Reporting relationships do not always match functional relationships.  Even with defined responsibilities, SoJo operates in a very fluid manner and team members collaborate and interchange roles among different functions regularly.

Knowing this would be a difficult exercise, I began by writing out everyone's name on post-it notes and moved them around (many times) until I finally settled on a structure that made sense. This is not static, and will evolve as our team evolves. That being said, I foresee our greatest challenge keeping to this structure, as many team members will need to re-condition themselves to working with different team members.

As difficult as it is to transition a flat organization into
one with a hierarchy, I'm hopeful that this change is a necessary step in building out the infrastructure to support SoJo through this exciting growth phase.


 
 
Picture
Yesterday SoJo hosted its second-ever team-wide meeting. The first meeting took place 5 months ago and it was imperative at getting the team better connected to SoJo, aligned with our core values and fuelled the momentum that led to our public launch shortly thereafter. For most of our team members that joined in the Spring, the honeymoon stage was now over. The Fall is always a busy time, however it was apparent that some of our team members were over-worked and found it increasingly difficult to manage their SoJo commitments in addition to other commitments.

A team meeting was long over-due. It was important to bring everyone together to welcome the new team members, get everyone on the same page in terms of expectations, re-energize the group and reconnect everyone to the greater vision that we're all working towards.

The meeting kicked-off with a surprise in-person appearance from Trevor. Being based in Calgary, this was his first opportunity to meet the team for the first time, which was motivating to the group. He used this same opportunity to formally say goodbye to the team as he heads off to his Asian adventure. While we're sad to see Trevor leave, November 1st was the first day of Zainab's full-time position with SoJo.  Jesse started working full-time with SoJo last month and it is great to have a full-time team work with me to bring SoJo to the next level. Both Jesse and Zainab opted to join SoJo full-time at virtually no pay over the stability and security that comes with full-time jobs. Although SoJo doesn't have the cash in its bank account to pay their salaries Jesse and Zainab are taking a risk and hedging their bets in SoJo's favour. Fingers crossed that our fundraising mission comes through...

It is an empowering, validating and humbling feeling to have very smart individuals who I respect greatly share a similar burden and commitment with me. The responsibilities and expectations of the full-time team members will increase which will allow us to accelerate our outputs. But it is also my hope that they their increased commitment will lead to an increased connection, excitement and belonging to SoJo!

Picture
Zainab and Jesse, SoJo's newest full-time team members holding SoJo's Manifesto
 
 
Picture
"The future of technology is what you make it"
Those were the words of Nathan Masyuko, when speaking on stage at the World Congress of Information Technology (WCIT) yesterday in Montréal in front of thousands of the worlds leading business leaders and thinkers in information technology. Next to him was the president of one of Canada's largest telecommunications companies who so eloquently said that he wishes to put more (dumb TV shows - name omitted for obvious reasons) into the hands of more people. 

It was quite a contrast.  I've been to a handful of technology conferences over the past 2 years and spoken at many over this past year. I'm accustomed to hearing the latter statement. The themes at tech conferences are fairly predictable: big data, attracting talent, connectivity, etc... I had yet to attend a panel or hear a keynote focused exclusively on how to use technology and the data at our disposal to channel creative talent and energy to better connect and support people in addressing some of the world’s greatest challenges. Or better yet, hear every speaker and exhibitor talking about that. 

The World Summit Youth Awards (WSYA) is an annual international competition for digital and social innovators under 30, and was held in parallel to WCIT this year in Montréal. Over a thousand youth who have built an innovative idea using technology to address the UN's Millennium Development Goals applied to this award.  The winners were invited to a 3-day event, which I felt privileged and honoured to be apart of.

I had the opportunity to play with haki, a mobile game built for a Nokia phone (the most widespread device in Africa) that educates its users on environmental degradation. Nathan, a Kenyan, co-developed this game and it’s been downloaded by thousands of people in the developing world. Beyond mobile games, there were online localized educational platforms, multimedia applications to build self-esteem among vulnerable populations, SMS services to deliver relevant information to farmers to help them yield better crops, a web-application that displays public finances in a more user-friendly manner to provide open access to data, and a tool that keeps Presidents in newly democratic countries accountable.

I walked away from the past three days inspired and energized. Inspired by the incredible stories of the WSYA winners, the creativity of their projects and exciting use of technology to solve some of the worlds most pressing challenges; and energized by the sheer enthusiasm and passion that I saw around me. This was no boring tech conference with people in suits talking in buzz words; I was surrounded by energy, passion and brains.

I've always been hopeful about the future, but I'm now more reassured that the future of technology is brighter than ever.  The WSYA winners are living proof that it’s possible to make tremendous impact with an idea, an incredible amount of tenacity, and of course, technology as the vehicle.

I'm delighted to announce that SoJo will be working with these incredible individuals and projects to bring them to the next level.

 
 
Picture
Almost all of my greatest insights have come to me during the weekends. Not being connected to my inbox and daily operations of work definitely helps to take step back and reflect. I suffered from a burnout in September and October has felt like an off month all around. Over lunch with my brother on Saturday, I told him that I was concerned with how much SoJo feels like its taking over my life; and my inability to control my schedule (as evidenced by working on 12 hour days when I set a goal for myself to NOT work around the clock). Only when I said this fear out loud was I compelled to actually make some changes.

Solution: find the root cause of these persistent feelings of being stretched.  I was instructed to list out all of the activities (whole projects, not tasks) that myself and the team worked on over the past week. Despite having only 4 days in the week, I effortlessly listed over 30 ongoing activities; myself being directly involved in about 25 of them and solely responsible for 10. Its not that I have trouble delegating ( the team at SoJo will be quick to acknowledge my comfort with letting go and giving responsibilities to the team). Being the only person that understands all moving parts of the organization and the vision, I'm often called up for input to keep everyone on track. SoJo is a flat organization, and building in reporting structures has been difficult because most of our senior team members barely have the capacity to deal with what's on their plate, let alone manage and provide necessary support to other colleagues. Strategic planning has dragged out over 2 months and no clear changes have emerged.

SoJo grew incredibly fast and as such the scope and depth of the work at hand has grown exponentially. The problem is, our team hasn't grown at the same pace -- in fact, it has shrunk. Most of our team members came together only in the Spring, they had a lot of time to devote to SoJo and were fresh on energy. Fall is always the busiest time of the year, irrespective of where you work. 15 hours of commitment per week over the past 6-8 months has since shrunk to 5 hours. I'm extremely grateful to have product lead Jesse full-time with SoJo, but its not enough. Some of our team members are burnt-out from having to manage SoJo and other personal activities and have been forced to take a step back. A lot of the momentum from the summer quickly fizzled away in the Fall, as everyone's other schedules ramped up.

Making myself personally available to 10+ team member's part-time, fluctuating schedules has taken a toll on my personal health and wellbeing. I no longer have evenings, as I make myself available to people's consistently changing schedules our team members who can only come into the office after their day job finishes. To top it off, there is little consistency as SoJo is understandably not the top priority (so it is common for people to fall off the grid for weeks and I am left with no choice but to understand). These inconsistencies get me frustrated and the bottlenecks that occur as a result affect the momentum of the entire team.

All this to say that these are the trade-off with working with an a part-time unpaid team. I will say with full confidence that SoJo has an exceptional team which led us to all of SoJo's successes thus far, but in its current form will be unable to sustain the inevitable growth that has already hit us. I'm actively finding solutions to our staffing challenges (finding money needed to bring on some of our team members full-time), however in the interim need to make some changes and trade-offs.

Some of these changes include:
- Reducing the scope of activities the team is actively involved in and fine-tuning our focus even more
- Prioritizing need areas and tackling them one-by-one (rather than all at once)
- Un-flattening the organization to get me less involved in activities that I do not need to be involved with, so I can focus my energies on driving the vision forward

The changes noted above are going to be difficult as everything feels equally important. The Forbes article from this month nailed it:

"Kanika and her start-up have a compelling story and have received plenty of media attention. It is to be seen how SoJo can up the momentum, increase users, net-in some big-name partners and take its awesomeness places. What SoJo needs now is this: Focusing on the product, leveraging relationships and creating new ones, building tangible results including right media coverage, and forming a right-spirited and a serious advisory board. Kanika’s leadership and the ability to learn and adapt is the make or break factor here."

With growth comes change. Change is never easy, but I'm thankful that I've started to recognize the need to learn and adapt now, and not when its too late.


 
 
Picture
Last night I had a great call with Trevor, SoJo's community builder. Trevor joined SoJo when it was just an idea and has been instrumental in bringing this vision to reality. Trevor's been primarily responsible for setting up our social media presence, coordinating feedback and engaging with SoJo's growing community. Having been through the trials and tribulations of defining SoJo, dealing with the setbacks and deeply involved in all of our previous product launches, Trevor has been pivotal to our successes thus far. I was just informed last night that Trevor will be going on an extended escapade throughout Asia for the next couple of months, leaving in 2 weeks. I was forewarned that this trip was on the horizon, however details only started to firm up this week. I honestly did not expect it to come so soon, and the end of the month feels like it's just around the corner.

I am going to assume that Trevor will be off the grid as he will be travelling in remote rural areas, but also focused on this new chapter of his life. I'm thrilled that he is seizing this phenomenal opportunity, but also mindful of the void that will exist within SoJo's team.

What does this mean for SoJo?


We have 2 weeks to transition all of Trevor's responsibilities to an already stretched team. Social Media engagement, Newsletter Editor, Front-line contact with users, and feedback management. Beyond the actual manpower (and losing a very smart and competent team member), I'm a little nervous about losing all the institutional memory and insights that are in his head. Trevor holds a very unique perspective and it is through brainstorming activities and ideation sessions do those insights emerge to help to shape our strategy and future directions.  

This will be the first time SoJo goes through a major transition/turnover of a key team member. It doesn't help that I'll be virtually inaccessible over the last week of October on the road, speaking at various conferences and venues across 4 cities. Or that Steph, our Communications coordinator who will oversee the transition will be in Australia for a 2-week work trip at the beginning of November. Regardless, SoJo has a solid team and I'm optimistic that this process will be as smooth as it can be.

Transitions are inevitable and I'm looking forward to all the learning that will take place during this critical period.
I gladly welcome any advice you have on navigating through this process.


 
 
Picture
Exactly two years ago today, September 20, 2010, I wrote SocialJournal.net's first blog post. At the time, SoJo did not even exist. I was still dabbling with the idea of converting my Master's thesis into an e-book and had no idea what form SocialJournal.net would manifest itself into. Two years later, SocialJournal.net remains a blog; however it has taken on a voice of its own and inspired the creation of many exciting products geared towards helping people take their ideas for social change into action. I would compare the first 365 days of SocialJournal.net as dipping your toes in the shallow-end of the swimming pool. Only eight months after the inaugural blog post did I decide to pursue SoJo full time. The building blocks came in place in the first year: SoJo got its name, defined its brand identify, got more clarity on its purpose, released a private beta and most importantly I realized that SoJo has a long journey ahead. What initially started as a part-time venture spiralled into a vision larger than I can grasp.

In hindsight, the past 366 days of SoJo is comparable to jumping into the deep end of the pool. Where focus was a great challenge in SoJo's first year, this past year was marked by execution. I learned how to set a direction, quickly realign our focus, set goals and accomplish the tasks at hand. Despite this new focus, I was still very open to seizing new opportunities; but also struggled with prioritization.

Without a technical team in place, I had the tenacity to endeavour to launch SoJo's first public site at the SociaLIGHT conference, in front of 1000 people. Given the resources we had at the time, it was a huge risk. Leading up to the launch, it was 3 weeks of hustle, staying calm in very stressful situations and a great deal of nerves. Alas the hard work paid off, and not only did SoJo have a successful launch -- we effectively send out a message to our community: To opt for courage over fear. The first step to action is putting yourself out there, and SoJo led by example. Later on in the year, SoJo published its Manifesto, a set of guiding principles and core values which would ultimately influence every decision made.

SoJo finally got a home! Although it took a couple of months to feel fully welcome in Ryerson's Digital Media Zone, I am now proud to tell everyone about our home and extremely grateful for being incubated in this incredible environment. The support received from this community over the last few months has been phenomenal.

Through various speaking engagements, I started becoming excited about the possibilities of SoJo emerging as a thought leader in social innovation, effectively using technology as a vehicle for social change, and more generally on taking ideas into action.

With the press coverage and increased credibility came more attention. As the founder of SoJo, I was now being approached by many folks for advice and help. Although humbling to know that people respect your opinions, I learned and continue to learn how to push back and place and increased value on my time.

I recognized the need to work smarter, not harder. In efforts to get myself better organized and not get bogged down by my inbox, I challenged myself to email-free Saturdays -- and have since disabled all notifications on my phone. More than ever do I acknowledge the importance of not being connected to my work 24/7.

I felt like a small fish in a big pond when taking SoJo's first international trip to the UK. That trip inspired a strategic move a few months later to launch SoJo out of Beta. Moving forward, SoJo needs to move out of the sandbox and into the real world. Yes people are more critical and have endless expectations, but taking SoJo out of Beta has given myself and the team confidence to share SoJo and highlight all of its strengths; namely our endorsement from the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, reaching over 15,000 individuals during its beta test phase and creating the most comprehensive collection of informational resources and tools geared to helping early-stage social innovators take their ideas into action.

Yes, we have a site to be proud of, but this latest product launch's greatest accomplishment was without a doubt the success of bringing together SoJo's team. We held our first team meeting only 3 weeks before the launch. 366 days ago I clearly stated that SoJo's greatest challenge ahead is its people; on boarding and managing the right people to the team. Human resources will remain an ongoing challenge, however it is no longer our greatest challenge.

SoJo has been incredibly lucky with its people this year. Our co-designer experiment was extremely successful. Technical talent joined at the right time. Linus came in time to see our public Beta to a successful launch, Jesse joined in time to see SoJo's post-beta launch, and Rebecca joined as our first female developer. Despite being lucky with technical talent, my 8-month long search for a CTO came up dry. After countless hours into the process and utter exhaustion, I have shifted my energy away from this full-time search. We have since opted to crowd-source SoJo's CTO. An idea that is experimental; as brilliant as it is risky. Necessity forces you to be creative, and I'm hopeful this will be a great interim solution. We recruited more senior talent to help in communications, outreach and partnerships.

SoJo broadened out its mandate. We moved from serving youth to serving first-timers, and from projects to social innovations. SoJo also created its own legal structure: the hybrid social venture. Two moves which will serve as an integral foundation moving forward. Disappointments were inevitable, and with time became better at dealing with disappointments.   

A breakthrough moment emerged when I came up with a viable idea for a business model. After nearly 2 years of people asking me: "how will SoJo make money" what a relief to finally have some answers. May I remind you that our focus up until now has been proving the value of SoJo, and not monetizing it. As such, SoJo is a living breathing example of what can be accomplished with very little money.

A theme that emerged throughout the year is the importance of listening to your body and taking care of yourself, and the value of taking a break.  The past 12 months have been a record for the amount of times I got sick. In the new year, I vowed to be living proof that it is possible to achieve success without driving yourself into the ground. Although I no longer romanticize struggle, considering I suffered from a near burnout only a couple of weeks ago, it is clear that I still have a long way to go...

Moving forward our greatest challenge will be managing growth. Graduating from an entirely bootstrapped early-stage startup to a growing startup that needs to accelerate its pace of development and acquire newer resources to get started. Although I'm intimidated by what lies ahead -- when looking back at the past year, past behaviour has shown that miracles are possible and that SoJo has consistently been able to overcome adversity. Bring it on!


 
 
Picture
SoJo has been running lean since inception. I often take a step back with awe, thinking about all that was accomplished with no external funding. Bootstrapping a venture comes with tradeoffs and compromises. SoJo's beta site was initially hosted on one of our team member's servers to save costs. At the time it felt redundant to pay for hosting fees when there was trusted and freely available resource. SoJo has since migrated to a dedicated server, recognizing the need for full control, however outstanding files were on our original shared server. Since we do not own the server, we do not have full access to it. Our former team-mate is currently travelling in rural China with limited access, and getting access has been a challenge.

It is incredibly frustrating to move a product forward when there are bottlenecks that are completely beyond your control. An issue as simple as access has definitely slowed down the entire development team. This lesson has taught me to think long-term when making immediate decisions. It is impossible to foresee every possible implication of a decision, but understanding the risks upfront can help to make more informed decisions.

All things considered, given my limited knowledge and our resources at the time I think I made the right decision accept full responsibility for the unintended consequences that we are now facing. As the stakes increase however, we need to make more informed and well thought out decisions, as potential risks also increase exponentially.

At a time when everyone on our development team is frustrated, I must be particularly understanding to their situation, readjust expectations and ensure their negative energy does not get bottled up. To keep my peace, I go back to our core values, and remind myself that we must embrace imperfection...

 
 
Picture
Disclaimer: What I'm about to share is highly experimental and is not grounded in any theory or practice.

SoJo has many exciting product development decisions to make. Based on early insights from the strategic planning process, SoJo needs to improve the navigation, usability and interface of the public site. In parallel to making these improvements, SoJo is building its first-ever enterprise-level software product. The stakes are much higher now, and decisions have greater implications. I was able to guide the team to building a content site using a Wordpress framework in its most basic functionality. This next phase of growth is much more complex, and beyond our current capacity.

SoJo has great development team. When given proper direction and structure, they are able to execute above and beyond. That being said, both developers are fairly junior and SoJo is the largest technical project either of them has worked on. Trial by fire has been our methodology thus far,  however it can be a hindrance in moving SoJo forward. The entire organization needs to work at a more accelerated pace to achieve these next set of milestones.

When seeking advice, my challenges around the gap that exists between translating business requirements into functional requirements, the need for a CTO (Chief Technical Officer) came up quite often. Most successful technology companies are co-founded by a technical person, who becomes the CTO. Bringing on an external CTO at this stage of our development will be challenging. We have no intentions of selling SoJo for millions of dollars in the coming years, and the financial payout seems be to be a large motivator to attract good senior technical talent.

Technical recruitment has always been a challenge. Linus and Jesse joined SoJo right before major product launches. For the past 8 months, I've been keeping my eyes peeled for a technical partner. After 3 intense and focused months of searching for a technical team member, I've learned that effort will not always equal result. With the inability to offer a 6-digit salary and a highly competitive market, finding the right person will remain an ongoing challenge for us.

SoJo is in a conundrum where it needs a CTO to grow, however is unable to find one -- therefore the only logical solution is to create one. To fill its technical deficiencies, SoJo will be crowd-sourcing its CTO. This is highly experimental in nature. I have not found any successful case studies and I am still figuring out what it will look like.

Traditionally, crowd sourcing implies reaching out to the public for assistance. In this case, I will be reaching out to a closed network, seeking referrals to source individuals looking to commit their skills and experience to SoJo. Since SoJo is not building any unique technology, all development related activities can likely be covered by our existing development team. What we need instead is support in project management, information architecture, decision making and industry insights. Most of these skills come from experience, and so it makes sense to leverage the experience of many professionals, most of whom can complement one another. In addition to benefiting from the skills and expertise of experts in their respective fields, not having someone in the daily grind of the business can also provide fresh perspectives.

Product vision and business requirements will continue to come from me, so the crowd-sourced CTO will be used for technical guidance.

This approach is highly risky for many reasons:

Lack of ownership and accountability
SoJo will not the first priority of any of the individuals. Being a secondary activity, they may not dedicate the mental energy or time required for this role. A dedicated CTO invests in the company, both with their time and expected payoff. It will be difficult to hold a crowd-sourced CTO accountable to the advice that they provide, as the consequences of their advice may not directly impact them. Beyond goodwill and the opportunity to shape an organization with huge potential for impact, there is not much more that I can offer to our crowd-sourced CTOs in terms of compensation.

Effectively communicating the problem
A crowd-sourced CTO will not be able to get into the trenches or depth of problems. Only someone that works on a project day-in and day-out will understand all of the intricacies of certain technical issues and implementation problems. When only providing incomplete information, we risk getting incomplete or misleading advice.

Fragmentation
With multiple brains giving out different pieces of advice, it is likely that we will receive conflicting and incomplete advice. Distinguishing between everyone's bias can result in a lot of inefficiencies or lead us down a wrong path. Similarly, the different features and technical elements to our products are all intrinsically linked. Each crowd-sourced CTO will likely look at their own issues in isolation. Without taking into account the technical inter-dependencies of each of the solutions, it is possible that solutions to one problem create bigger problems elsewhere. 

Time

Having a dedicated CTO will free me completely of all technical related activities. With less focus on the product, I'll be able to dedicate my time to equally important CEO-type activities, such as getting funding, building the brand and supporting other functions of the organization. In addition to coordinating the schedules of the CTOs I will still be primarily responsible for relaying that guidance to the technical team.  

Risks considered, I'm quite excited about going ahead with crowd-sourcing SoJo's CTO. This could be an experiment gone wrong, in which case we know that we exhausted every option. On the other hand, this can potentially be a new model for what is possible, given limited resources.


 
 
Picture
Yesterday I had a great lunch meeting with a distant informal advisor, with the goal of further building the relationship, getting up to date on developments and seeking guidance. Before even ordering lunch we had a conversation on capital markets, which then evolved into international affairs and global politics, and finally transitioned into an intense discussion on the upcoming Quebec elections. (Note: before this conversation, I did not even know Quebec was having an election, knew nothing about the candidates running and what implications this election could have on the country and SoJo). Without sounding like a complete idiot, I grasped for common points and attempted to join this conversation in a coherent and intelligent manner. Impressions and rapport are integral in the infancy of building sustained relationships. It would be unfortunate to spoil this relationship over my ignorance of the world beyond my own, but then again, there is no reason why I shouldn't be more informed.

Pre-SoJo, I used to read the newspaper on a daily basis. Getting my fix of current affairs was so important for me to feel relevant and connected to the world.  When I look at my twitter feed, there is more news on the latest tech gadgets than on what's happening in the world. I can't remember the last time I read the newspaper and I find myself in technology-focused conversations with everyone I meet.
This lunch meeting was a wake-up call; to get out of my bubble.

Working in [physical] isolation without other people won't get you very far. Likewise, operating in an insular bubble, isolated from the outside world and happenings outside of your immediate surrounding does not make good business sense either. Being aware of the world around us, and the interconnectedness of different current affairs will undoubtedly enhance the quality of the products and services geared to social change.

That being said, if you're not a political analyst, I do not believe it is the best use of your time to read every political commentary published, because your time is likely best spent focusing and developing the ideas you seek to bring to life. Finding time to stay relevant is important and should be valued accordingly. It is easy to get caught up in a bubble and get over consumed in your work. Social change is complex and the more aware and connected we are, the better we are at identifying opportunities and understanding the implications of our work.


 
 
Picture
Over the month of July, everyone on the team was asked to reflect and make note of their key accomplishments, strengths, challenges and missed goals. Although SoJo continues to have a very young team, most have been onboard long enough to assess their performance and contributions. Often when you're in the daily grind, it is easy to forget about all that was achieved. Taking a step back to reflect allowed everyone on the team to do so, and take pride in their growth. Likewise, it is often easy to forget about challenges after they've past and continuously  repeat behaviours without awareness of the need to make corrections.

Zainab (the editorial coordinator who has direct contact with all of the editors) and I have started to turn these notes shared by our colleagues into individual development plans. In addition to sharing my thoughts on each team member's strengths and challenges, a section on Core Competencies was added. Through the use of specific examples, this section highlights a series of competencies, making specific reference to what was done well, and where improvements can be made. Each competency was backed by several examples, ensuring feedback was grounded in reality, and also aided the individual receiving the feedback to relate and better understand where actions could have been done differently.

The third and final section is a personal development plan. I am personally committed to developing and growing every member of SoJo's team, and ensuring that SoJo is positive learning experience, beyond the direct contributions everyone makes to our mandate. Everyone's development plan consists on average of 2 mutually agreed upon tangible goals. By writing out the developmental plan, it holds SoJo (myself or Zainab) and the individual team member to ensuring it happens.

Often we are not aware of the changes that we need to make. A manager or a peer is best positioned to provide an alternative perspective, as they can make the unconscious conscience or validate an assumption that previously existed. This inaugural round of development plans is adding some much needed structure and order to SoJo, and we're learning tons. Up until now, SoJo has had a very flat, friendly and collegial culture. To get over the fear of giving [critical] feedback to a colleague who is more like a friend, it is important to be reminded of the goal. In our case, we all share a goal of making SoJo the best it can be. As such feedback needs to be constructive, where the intention of personal growth is clear.

Making these plans are an investment, as it takes a lot of mental energy and time (2-3 hours for each individual). People are SoJo's greatest asset, and I see this investment necessary to show our team that we care, which in-turn will make SoJo the best it can be.

Likewise, once everyone's development plans have been completed, I will be inviting the team to share their feedback on my performance and leadership. This 360 review will provide a complete and thorough evaluation of everyone in the organization, ensuring we can all develop and grow together.

 
 
"Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success." - Henry Ford

SoJo's entire team came together for the first time less than 4 weeks ago. It is safe to assume we kept together, as yesterday SoJo had an incredibly successful official launch. With primarily remote and virtual interactions, everyone worked together as one cohesive unit to create magic.

While still in bed at 5:45am, with great anticipation I checked out newly released http://theSoJo.net. The first thought that came to mind as I was browsing the completed product: SoJo has the most incredible team. I couldn't be prouder of the product we released and of the incredible people who were instrumental in bringing it together.

The chemistry found in our team is something quite special. Although incredibly diverse, what unites everyone is their passion for SoJo. Even under a high-pressured environment with super aggressive timelines and a multitude of mini-setbacks, I did not hear a single complaint. Everyone owned SoJo and took it upon themselves to achieve their individual goals to meet a shared milestone. It has been a pleasure to see everyone grow over the past few weeks. New skills were acquired. A deeper understanding of the product was gained. And an even greater sense of belonging to SoJo was felt.

We have a team that looks out for each other. In order to do well (and to make the world a better place), we need to be well ourselves. Just shy of midnight, the night before the launch, editor Marc and designer Bill physically escorted me out of the office. After 15 continuous hours of plugging away, they had the foresight to remind me that I, too, am human.  

To celebrate the launch and UNESCO's endorsement, SoJo hosted its first ever party. Invitees were primarily partners, supporters and users of SoJo. Overwhelmed by a room packed with great energy and pride, I was humbled and in awe by the outpouring of compliments geared directly towards the team.

Last night, after seeing the team interact with each other at the bar and reflecting on what was accomplished over the past few months, did I acknowledge for the first time the intangible, yet beautiful team culture SoJo is fortunate to have. It feels as though this culture organically built itself over the past few weeks.
Rare and a further testament to how amazing Team SoJo is!
Picture
Toronto-based SoJo Team - Photo taken by Calvert Quatch
 
 
What do you stand for? In the first conversation I had with Joann Lim, one of SoJo's earliest partners and content contributors, she asked me what I stood for. I struggled to answer that question with coherence. Up until that point, everyone asked me what SoJo did, how we were going to make money, who we seek to serve and our goals.
No one ever asked me something so intangible and personal.

Joann further explained:
Our core is essential in helping us maintain balance and stability especially when life fluctuates. When we don’t have clarity on our internal core (values & beliefs), it can lead to falls, stress, trauma, and burnout.  As an individual, identifying the core of who you are is essential in helping you develop a solid foundation in which your life can grow and flow. It helps guide you in making decisions and taking inspired action to move forward. Your core is something which reflects the essence of your being and is one in which you should be proud to share with others.

About three months later in the middle of January with Sharpies and a blank piece of paper, I scribbled some thoughts. These thoughts reflected my core values, and ultimately SoJo's core values:
In early April I revisited that piece of paper and typed out a list of nearly 30 statements that embodied SoJo; lessons that I learned, things that I believed in, values, inspirations, and desired states of being.
Two months in the making, that plain-text document got refined, was edited by the team and received an exciting face lift from Bill to become what it is today, SoJo's Manifesto:
For SoJo, this document represents what we stand for as an organization, our core values, and guiding principles. It is a collection of words that, I hope, every team member, user, partner and supporter identifies with in some shape or form. As Joann told me: Meaningful work comes from an alignment between your personal values and those of the organization you are with. As in any relationship, the deeper the connection, the stronger the commitment. And commitment is essential in moving through the peaks and valleys in our development as individuals and/or organizations. This manifesto is SoJo's mission statement. As we navigate through an incredible amount of ambiguity, uncertainty and challenges, it is my hope this manifesto will keep every individual that makes up SoJo, and SoJo as an organization unified and centered.

Making change is not easy. I encourage you to invest the time to reflect, and ask yourself:
What do you stand for?

Read Joann's article on SoJo to learn how to create your own Manifesto

 
 
Picture
In a start-up, there is lots to do. With only a few people involved, skills don't always match what is currently need to be done. With the upcoming launch 5 days away, and super limited resources (time and human capital), everyone is expected to do their part to achieve communal goals.

Since joining the team, Victor has been monitoring user behaviour online via various analytics tools. As of this week, he is also now working with the content team to get the Toolbox in top shape before the re-launch. He just completed part one of sourcing all of the tools, he now has to put them online. The Toolbox is one of the only sections on the new site that remains in HTML (the other sections have templates, making it easier for editors to add the content).

Victor has never worked in HTML, but because he updated the Toolbox he is best positioned to transfer all of that content online. So, I decided to invest the time to train him on the basics of HTML. Over the course of our conversation, not only was I able to instruct him on the basics of coding logic, but that he very painlessly understood it all, and quickly.

What started as a leap of faith has since translated into great relief, as I am now reassured that the Toolbox will be complete in time for the launch. Moreover, I was overwhelmed with pride for two reasons:

(1) SoJo has an incredibly smart team, with people who are able to learn how to code in one afternoon!
(2) A year ago, I knew nothing about web languages and prior to SoJo avoided almost everything to do with technology. I now find myself able to teach basic programming skills, even virtually over Skype. When you are working towards achieving such a large vision, it is difficult to see the little wins/progresses along the way. Today is a living testament to how much I've grown through SoJo.

In start-up everyone must often wear multiple hats. All of them may not fit on the onset, however that should not stop you from learning how to make them fit. You may be surprised to see what is possible.

Picture
Screen shots of both computer screens side-by-side via Skype
 
 
Picture
On Saturday, June 2nd SoJo hosted its first ever team meeting. A year and a half into operations, this first team-wide meeting was well overdue. Although we've had tons of meetings in the past, all of the meetings were centred around discussing a certain issue/task. Up until now, there has not been an opportunity to regroup everyone, share our vision, and talk about SoJo with no agenda other than to give everyone a better understanding of how they fit into the team. With so much anticipation for this meeting, I was both excited and nervous. Extremely excited for the opportunity to finally bring the entire team together, but slightly nervous about a less than desired outcome.

Picture
With 3 virtual participants and 12 Toronto-based participants, we miraculously found a date that matched everyone's schedules. Steph was forced to leave an hour into the meeting, after feeling really ill. Thinking she was in bed, to all of our surprise she logged into the video conference and participated remotely for the rest of the meeting. The meeting lasted 5 hours, however time flew by so quickly that we all left wishing for more.

Picture
The Digital Media Zone was a great venue, as it was free and the staff here diligently ensured all of our technical needs were met without a hitch. The day started with an informal lunch and get-to-know-each other icebreaker activities. Everyone was on a mission to determine the oddest foods eaten by their fellow comrades and shared with the group the top of their bucket list.

Picture
We played picture games and told stories about SoJo, which will become the script for SoJo's next video. A skills development session on Networking was much appreciated, knowing that there are no shortage of events that SoJo will be participating in.

The bulk of the Agenda centered around better understanding SoJo. As most of our team is new and works remotely, it was imperative that we have an informal conversation about the organization, share how we got to where we are today, where we are headed, some of our challenges, and big things to look forward to. I am confident that everyone on the team now has a better understanding of SoJo and is even more excited about shaping its future.


Picture
Being the first time that everyone met each other, that too in one place, we were all marked by the differences and dynamism found within the team. It was equally clear however, that the diversity of SoJo's team will be one of its greatest strengths. At a loss of words, Trevor finished the day by saying, Hell yeah, let's do this; representing the renewed energy and excitement felt by everyone onboard.


 
 
Picture
Announced at SoJo's team meeting this weekend, SoJo's next product launch will take place on June 28, 2012. We deliberately launched a bare-bones, half-developed Beta on November 26, 2011 with the goal of getting a product on the market. Over the past 7 months, we've collected a lot of feedback from the 1000s of individuals actively using SoJo, grown our team and have a much clearer understanding of the direction of the product implementation plan. It is time that we move into our next phase of development.
What can you expect in SoJo v2.0?
The overall design and layout will look the same. New category pages will be added, enhancing the navigation and making it easier to find relevant content. 100s of new articles and videos will be added online. The Getting Started section, which was never addressed in the initial launch, will be an interactive and comprehensive starting point for users who seek additional guidance.

The biggest changes will actually occur on the back-end of the website. The public Beta was assembled in a very ad-hoc fashion. No one on the team had experience with the platform, and we were all forced to teach ourselves the necessary skills to bring the product together. The site was deliberately built in that manner, as we had a deadline to meet, and a site needed to go live. That being said, I am extremely proud of public Beta and the team that worked around the clock to bring it together. We have since recruited the necessary talent and will optimize the backend code, so that the platform has a more robust foundation moving forward. The most noticeable difference for the users will be faster load times, and an overall better user experience.

Decision to leave BETA behind
SoJo is guided and co-created by our users, and changes will continuously take place. The word BETA is often attached to products that are still under development. Although we will always be "under development" the decision to drop BETA was more strategic.  SoJo currently offers a lot of value to its users, and I am confident that it will add even more value after this new release. By calling ourselves Beta, in many ways we are downplaying our strengths and what we offer presently. We can hide behind the word BETA forever, however it is time we put ourselves out to the world, an truly embrace imperfection.

SoJo will be more vulnerable to criticism and attacks, as expectations will inevitably increase. SoJo tells our community to Opt for Courage over Fear; this is exactly what we are doing. We have less than 4 weeks to bring this together, wish us luck!

 
 
Picture
Over the past 5 days I was forced to stay at home, away from the office (and people), to give my body the rest it needed to recover from a flu-like bug. I've gotten more sick over the past 6 months than ever before, which serves as an ever constant reminder that the body needs to come first.

With the boredom that came with sitting at home without a computer, I indulged in movies. The closing dialogues from a movie I watched last night went along the lines of:
“The only real failure is the failure to try.
The greatest measure of success is how we cope with disappointment."

March, April and May felt very unstable for me for a number of reasons: six months into our public launch, the product was not progressing as quickly as I would have liked; after months of interviews I was starting to lose hope that a good technical person can join our team as a Product Lead to push SoJo's vision forward; we let go of exceptional editors who weren't able to commit the time SoJo needed; the pressures of building a product that will generate revenues were growing with no clear direction in sight; I was rejected from a handful of promising fellowship applications; all while feeling busier (and partly burnt-out) than ever before. Without a doubt, I was in a lull, and it is reflected in the lack of activity on the blog.

Admittedly, I was shy to share these challenges on the blog - and with our team -  as I was hopeful things would pass, but in reality these fears and challenges continued to pile up. I thought it was normal for someone in my position to worry, but SoJo is a moving ship and I did not want the optimism amongst our team and supporters to fade. It is imperative that everyone to continue to be excited about our long-term vision, and not intimidated by the short-term hurdles. This is a difficult balance to strike, while trying to be open and transparent at all times.

Not only does being ill force you to rest, it also gives you a chance to reflect and ponder. Triggered by the quote above, and an extended weekend of being with alone with my thoughts, I found a renewed sense of clarity and hope.

As a natural achiever, I've always "tried" (put effort into something) with the expectation of a certain return. After continuously putting oneself out there, trying relentlessly and seeing no results, it becomes really easy to internalize those feelings and view those efforts as a failure. In some ways, I felt a lot of my efforts over the past few months were a failure, as I didn't achieve the results that I had expected. Upon further reflection, I now acknowledge that those unrealized expectations were actually disappointments, and not failures.

Entrepreneurship (and life) is a series of ups and downs. Disappointments are inevitable. I used let myself get down with disappointments, wallow and build useless negative energy. I'm now learning the true test of resilience, learning how to extract the good from disappointments, the lessons learned, and converting that negative energy into positive energy to fuel me for the journey ahead. There will be bad days, and lulls are part of the process. Learning to accept and push forward truly is the best measure of success.

The next time you feel like things just aren't working out, try to remember:
“The only real failure is the failure to try. The greatest measure of success is how we cope with disappointment."

 
 
Picture
An invitation to keynote an event to a group of students and community of professionals interested in global leadership led me to Ottawa. After networking and meeting with people internationally in the UK and in the United States, a trip to Canada's national capital was well overdue. My meetings in Ottawa went very well, and resulted in new partnerships and collaborations for SoJo.

The only meeting without an "agenda" was a visit to the HUB Ottawa. Part of the global Hub network, HUB Ottawa is a place-based member community and co-working space that offers a unique mix of infrastructure, programming and connections to help people kick-start, co-create and grow enterprising ideas for a better world.

Vinod, the Managing Director of HUB Ottawa is a good friend and in many ways our entrepreneurial journeys have been running in parallel. Always keenly interested in social innovation, Vinod was helpful in connecting me with research participants for my thesis which ultimately led to the creation of SoJo. While I was in the early stages of figuring out what Social Journal would look like, Vinod was percolating ideas of how to make Ottawa a city more welcoming for innovation, and had creative ideas for unconventional ways of getting youth to inform the policy-making process -- and so our journeys began. I started SoJo in Toronto and he set out to transition out of his job to work full-time on bringing the HUB to Ottawa. Despite being in different cities, working in different industries (physical infrastructure vs. virtual technology), and in different life phases (Vinod is married and has a mortgage), in many ways we could relate to each other and would periodically check-in on each other's journeys. We hashed out our shared frustrations around access to financing, the inefficiencies and redundancies that exist in the current social innovation landscape in Canada, used each other as sounding boards, shared updates on mini-successes and talked about the difficulties of letting go of team members.

The same weekend SoJo launched our public Beta, The HUB hosted their first open-house to invite future members to preview their new home. Having the opportunity to see the HUB Ottawa complete and witness Vinod interacting with the members of this community he was instrumental in creating was humbling and exciting. It was great to share in the success of this new venture, an idea which I had a chance to see develop every step of the way on the sidelines.

In many ways our two ventures are very different, however it was great to have a fellow entrepreneur-friend be with me along my journey. No venture is built alone, and both of us have great teams and advisors - however the entrepreneur, the individual who has invested all of themselves in their ventures, face a different set of pressures and challenges. Building a peer-support network of entrepreneurs going through a similar journey (at the same time as you) is very healthy, as they can relate to what you're going through, which allows you to speak open and candidly without fear of judgment. Another companion great to have during this roller-coaster of a journey. 

 
 
Today marks the 101th International Women's Day. For the past 5 years, I've been advocating for the rights of young girls through Nukoko, and woke up to an inbox flooded with emails and messages from friends and family commemorating what today represents. I will be the first to acknowledge the barriers and inequalities that exist in our world in 2012, yet as a young female leader in an largely male-dominated industry, I'm very cautious of not letting my gender define who I am and what I am capable of doing.

Earlier this week, I read essays written by Frances Hesselbein, originally published in the Leader to Leader Journal. An accomplished pioneer in many respects, Frances Hesselbein was the former CEO of the Girl Scouts of the USA, and the current Chairman and Founding President of the Drucker Foundation.

Here is an excerpt which resonated particularly well with me:
As we focus on task [the work we do], we move beyond the old assumptions, practices, and language that can be barriers to equal access. One barrier is placing women in a special category of gender.

The management qualities that might be labeled feminine are embraced by remarkably effective women and men: leading with the power of language, cultivating relationships, building teams and structures that release the energy and potential of others, developing flexible and fluid management systems, building an inclusive organization that, in the words of Peter Drucker, "makes the strength of their people effective and their weaknesses irrelevant." Some might call this feminine management, others would call it the way we must lead

The future calls us to lead beyond where we are to focus on a new level of appreciation, inclusion, and performance. To continue to make remarkable progress, leaders who are women must focus on performance always.

Today is a day dedicated to celebrating what women have done, what they are doing, and what they will accomplish in the future. While we celebrate, let us try to move beyond labels and rather focus on mission, values and task. We must actively create the world we want belong to, and this starts with how we view ourselves and those whom we work with. 

History of International Women's Day
Beginning in Europe in 1911, more than one million women and men attended rallies where they calling for the right to vote, the right to hold public office, and the right to work. Later adopted by the United Nations, the day is about remembering the battles long fought to build societies on strong foundations of gender equality (Nukoko)
 
 
Picture
_In addition to providing direct support to youth interested in taking their ideas for social good into action (which remains our primary focus), SoJo has started to engage in high level conversations, to help shape broader policy agendas with organizations.

SoJo has a very unique perspective: we have direct experience working with early stage social entrepreneurs, we are redefining what entrepreneurship means, and we are in the same trenches with the people who we serve (which is quite rare).

Earlier today I was invited to speak on the topics of redefining socially conscious entrepreneurship and online professional development to the staff of one of Canada's largest charitable foundations. SoJo is employing a unique and innovative approach to online learning and training to young social entrepreneurs. It is very encouraging to know that other prominent organizations are interested in what we have to say and genuinely want to learn from us.

Over the course of our informal conversation, I had the opportunity to share SoJo's story, our values and approach to supporting and catalyzing young entrepreneurs. By that same token, I used this as a platform to make bold statements on why youth need more support in the early stages and why current infrastructure does not meet their needs. In hindsight, I realized that my words could have been interpreted as a direct attack to the organization that so graciously hosted me.

It is my hope that the staff of this foundation left the session with more critical questions to ask themselves and insights that may influence their thinking. I was speaking to an audience who have the power to make changes; this foundation in particular has significant reach in the region and has the financial resources to make meaningful impact in the lives of millions. If SoJo can influence or contribute to shaping their agenda and subsequently their social impact; then this is a big win for us (and the world). 

I'm learning to dance the fine line between sharing my knowledge and pushing boundaries, while still speaking to an audience without being polarized or dismissed. I'm eager for the conversations that lie ahead of us and what will come out of those conversations.