A Problem with the Women’s March…

Went to the Women’s March on Austin last Saturday. Energetic turnout and sunny skies but something really bothered me, and it involves the sign this kid is holding: “Want Small Government and Low Taxes? Move to Somalia.”

“Because…” the Sign says with a wink, “You know how Somalia is a terrible place where no one would want to live. The thought of going there should scare people.”

Why do people still think that the “Move to Somalia” sign is ok at an event that is supposed to be *against* harmful stereotypes and *for our mutual rights* to life, liberty, and happiness? Would the sign holder feel as justified if his sign said, “If you want low rent and cheap drugs, move to the Ghetto”?

Kid, are you really protesting against President Trump’s stereotyping of women, Muslims, Hispanics, Latinos, etc. with a cliched joke about how miserable Africa is? (By the way, check sites like Everyday Africa to see the kid’s dreaded Somalia)


This ties into the In Group (rather than Out Group) controlling the narrative of Opposition and Dissent, i.e. who determines the language and terms of “who deserves what rights in what form”. It is part of the North Dakota Pipeline Protest phenomenon too — where are the thousands of Standing Rock “allies” on the subject of Native American land rights in general, that convoluted system that denies people any form of real property ownership because of a decades-old belief that they were not “competent” enough to handle their own affairs?

It is a part of the Protest culture that I am uncomfortable with. It is the same discomfort I have with the “safety pin” movement following Nov. 8th and the tense relationship between movements like Black Lives Matter and “allies”.

Is it significant that the most popular Austin political gathering since Nov. 8 was formulated as a “Women’s March” rather than a “Human Rights March” or a “Black Lives Matter March”? Is it significant that while there were around 50k people at the Women’s March, there was far less of a turnout at the Nov. 19, 2016 unveiling of the Texas African American History Monument?

50 thousand people showed up at the Texas capitol this past Saturday. I was there. It was a popular event — but so was the Hillary Clinton campaign. The “Women’s Marches” across the country may even have had mostly the same demographics and participants as the Hillary Campaign.

Does this “Women’s March” movement have the same weaknesses and handicaps? Is it going to achieve the same outcome?

As was the question with Hillary Clinton, whose interests do movements like the Women’s March represent? What kind of change do they really want, relative to their own position (what would they have to give up or spend, to benefit someone vulnerable and in need)?

I don’t know the answers to those questions. But I think there is still a disconnect between the IN Group and OUT Group, and that affects the crucial transition from Protest to Movement to Action.

A Map for Socially Impactful Travel?

You can hear my rambling question around minute 45, about where travel fits into the broader discussion of “social impact”. What I was trying to say was this: if maximum positive impact is really the goal, how to we balance the human interaction of travel with the difference our travel money (hundreds or thousands for hotel, food, tickets, etc.) would make if instead directly invested in a local entrepreneur or service?

In that context, a more impactful travel industry means a more impactful economy. If travel businesses really help create more value for people in “host” countries (more income, more personal connections, etc.), then that should create more producers and customers.

As always, my understanding of impact is
(a) Frame: how does this affect the current narrative,
(b) Connect: what connections (human, financial, trading, etc.) are being made,
(c) Create: what products are being made/traded and how, and
(d) Build: what can be built on what’s already there.

So with that criteria for impact, I’ve got some other questions/topics for discussion:
– How do we make more connections between visitors and who is being visited? How can we make the relationship between visitors and residents one of “guest” and “host” — can we place more visitors with community hosts, AirBnB style?
– How do we build a more lasting relationship between guest and host? What about a PenPal system between them? How can we give people an *incentive* to do this?
– How do we improve the story of our travels, so that we give an honest and informed account of the culture we visit?
– How can the travel industry do more to build up local economies? Is there a “Fair Trade” equivalent for travel where the tours, hotel, food etc. all meets a certain standard of sustainability, sourcing, fair pay, etc.?
– How can we make travel more reciprocal, i.e. when one person from Texas visits Iran, Mongolia, or Thailand, does this help someone from those countries take a trip of their own?
– What is the most *negatively* impactful aspect of travel? Is it what travelers do or something they don’t do (e.g. encouraging people to structure an economy around travel and servicing outsiders, not buying enough from local businesses)?
– Does the modern travel industry add or detract from global inequality? For example, does tourism reward “bad” governments or exploit economically disadvantaged communities?
– Is it fair that we can think of hundreds of ways to explore “developing” countries but not how to bring visitors from those countries to where we live?
– Where do we go from here? How do we make more of the travel industry more impactful?

Austin’s Impacted Social Enterprises

As the Live Music Capital of the World, Austin knows how to make a lot of noise about things it likes. We like computers so we write code and build gadgets. We like art so we host some of the world’s largest music and film festivals. We like food and drink so we make some incredible beer and BBQ. We like starting companies that make the world a better place so we…wait…

Is Austin really creating a Social Enterprise sector?

What does “Social Enterprise” mean in Austin? What kind of Social Enterprise can someone start here, with what money and what local talent? Does Austin have the resources or interest to support a Social Enterprise industry?

These are subjects panelists Zoe Schlag (@UnLtdUSA), Steve Wanta (Xco) and Matt McDonnell (Notley Ventures) took on at last night’s “State of Innovation”, hosted by AustinInno (@AustinInno) in true Austin style: tackling world-changing ideas over local craft beers while sitting in a warehouse converted into a co-working space renovated to look a warehouse, etc.

The discussion covered a lot but I was left with more questions than answers about Austin’s Social Impact/Enterprise Scene. Some of my concerns:

  • Markets: In Austin’s Social Impact/Enterprise ecosystem, how do we identify the markets and sub-markets for goods, services, jobs, skills, etc.?
    (e.g. healthcare or employing the economically disadvantaged, creating mobile apps or consulting services for existing Social Enterprises, programming or teaching)
  • Cost of Entry: Starting a Social Enterprise seems even harder (i.e. expensive in time and money) than starting a “normal” venture. There’s also an information cost, since a Social Entrepreneur (+ their investor or donor) has to define “Social Enterprise” — a term both broad and new, unlike “microlending” which is at least anchored to the specific activity of banking. How can Austin lower these costs of entry?
  • Being Inclusive: Related to the Cost of Entry, Austin can’t let the Social Enterprise/Impact scene be too homogeneous ethnically and income-level (i.e. mostly rich and/or white people). Especially if as panelist Matt McDonnell put it, “Maybe one of the biggest ways we can make a social impact is to fund women and minority businesses.”
  • Standing Out: Unlike with “Fair Trade” anyone can describe their activity in terms of “Social Impact” or “Social Enterprise” (Walmart, Nike and Archer Daniels Midland already do). Should Austin try to create a Social Enterprise “brand” so that the word really means something to the producers, funders and consumers? Should Austin have an SXSW-type event or Armadillo Bazaar-type annual market to showcase local Social Enterprises? (SXSW Eco tried to do this, but it seems to be devolving into interactive advertisements and PR for universities and companies like Clorox).
  • Mapping and Matchmaking: A big advantage to the term “Social Enterprise” is that it offers a new language to donors, investors, entrepreneurs and would-be employees with a specific social mission. Shouldn’t there be an easy way for these people to find each other, especially those with specific interests? UnLtd USA made a great interactive map (available here) but what about a searchable directory?
  • Focus: Would Austin’s Social Enterprise/Impact industry benefit from a focus, e.g. on technology (phone apps), a geographic area, agriculture?