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With better access to services for girls, this story would not have to be told

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I have the pleasure of working with The National Crittenton Foundation. Sometimes their work can be hard to describe and very often the girls the organization works with are placed into stereotypes. We fail to look at the root causes and why they end up in the places that they do.

I went to a screening of a story that mirrors the life of many of the girls that Crittenton agencies work with: “Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story.”  By coincidence, I sat down at Busboys and Poets next to a woman who was pregnant in a Crittenton home in the 1940s.  She was unmarried at the time and her family sent her away to gave birth and  she gave her son  up for adoption.  “You just didn’t have a baby out of wedlock back then,” she said. I asked if she ever tried to re-unite with her child, and she said that she learned he was killed in the Vietnam War.

I’m glad that today girls and women have more choices. If only Cyntoia’s mother had some  access to services like the Crittenton family of agencies provide, this story would not have to be told.

I have re-posted a blog entry by Jeannette Pai-Espinosa, president of The National Crittenton Foundation, who reflects on the movie, bringing us insights from her decades of experience working with girls and young women at the margin.

March 21, 2011

Today 16-year old Cyntoia Brown is facing life in a Tennessee prison for killing a man who picked her up for sex she was exploited into providing. Like so many girls living at the margin Cyntoia’s complex life story includes multiple generations of sexual and physical abuse, addiction, sexual exploitation, poverty, and serious mental health issues. The documentary “Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story” that aired in early March on OPB underscores the legacy of violence and trauma into which many girls and young women are born. Cyntoia’s grandmother was raped by her estranged husbands’ best friend and gave birth to Cyntoia’s mother, Gina Mitchell. Gina became pregnant at 16; drank heavily while pregnant; and admits to being raped, to being an addict and suffering from serious mental illness issues. There’s more, but you’ll have to see the film for the complete story.

If it weren’t for the use of actual interview footage with Cyntoia and others you might think this family’s story is too horrendous to be true. There are countless places at which support and help could have made a difference for this extended family. Cyntoia may have been the one to pull the trigger but the cards were stacked against her when she was born by the two generations that came before her.

As this film airs, I have the honor of being in our nation’s capitol with young women from Hawaii, California, West Virginia and Florida whose childhood, trauma and challenges mirror that of Cyntoia. But rather than “facing life,” they will take a private tour of the White House and share their stories with Congressional representatives. Bold, courageous, smart, articulate, and proud–they are more powerful than they know. As they learn, laugh and struggle together, they are healing and they are healers. They will speak their truth and defy those who tell them they cannot succeed. They are still on their journey to discovering their potential but they are determined to stop the destructive cycles into which they were born.

Unlike Cyntoia, these young women found their way to the programs and services they needed to heal, thrive and lead. Sadly, when budgets are strained these are the first things to be cut. I could cite for you a long list of ways you can give and make a difference––but then you already know the drill. The problem is I don’t want you to just give–I want you to care. So no list, instead do one small thing that will take no more than 5 minutes out of your busy schedule: go to www.AtTheMargin.org and watch the “Get the Facts,” two minute video about violence and girls and young women in this country, and if you are moved, if you care and you believe in the power of their potential then get up and do something about it!

Jeannette Pai-Espinosa
President
The National Crittenton Foundation
Portland, Oregon

Celebrating one year!

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Today, January 8, 2011,  marks the first anniversary of Eightfold Strategy.  I was up this morning early to spend a few minutes meditating and saying my thanks for the good fortune I have had over the past year. Starting a business is always risky and doing it in a bad economy, well.. I have been told I was a bit crazy.  (You remember how bad the econony was last January, right?) I have been very fortunate to have the support of family, friends  and professional counsel who have offered me solid advice, referalls and positive energy.

When I started the company, I had saved enough to cover my personal expenses  just in case I did not have ANY clients the entire year. Turns out I had my first signed contract within a few weeks of launching and I was busy the entire year–even in August when the agency business is absolutely dead. Here are some of  the year’s highlights:

In January, hosting a small launch celebration with friends. I needed to make the company official and put it out to the universe, as they say. About 50 of us gathered at The St. Regis for drinks and appetizers and Eightfold Strategy was open for business.

In February, signing with Zula International to develop a comprehensive branding and marketing plan. The work took me to New York and to Las Vegas and led me to meeting Lois Golden, a media planner and buyer who is now a trusted collaborator.

In March, taking off my skis and setting up on the side of the Parley’s Park run at Park City Mountain  to host a conference call to discuss the development of some web content for Murillo/Malnati Group. The reception was excellent.

In May, hosting a media hard hat tour of the new Woodley Wardman Condominium with clients Julio Murillo and Don Malnati.

In June,   helping Middle Grades Partnership develop and execute a plan to share the research findings that show their program model is working.

In July,  developing a an advertising campaign for Woodley-Wardman Condominium that’s now running in DC Magazine.

In August, heading to Kiawah Island Resort, SC to meet with Terri Wright and other  former colleagues from the W.K.Kellogg School-Based Health Care Policy Program. We reflected on the work of this multi-year project and celebrated its success including the passage of federal legislation to fund school-based health centers.  

In September, working with Independent Sector to integrate social media into their annual conference and having the pleasure of  working with   thought leaderon the “networked nonprofit”  Beth Kanter. Plus helping Chesapeake Bay Foundation plan a major donor event.

In October, creating the Great Start DC brand with designer Judi Jachman. Appreciating  clients’ Maurice Sykes and Carrie Thornhill’s committment to early care and education in the District which they do tirelessly on a volunteer basis.

In November, planning a convening at The National Press Club with then Mayor-elect Vincent C. Gray sponsored by Great Start DC. I was turning people away at the door for this one. Great coverage in the Washington Post, WAMU and local community papers, too.

In December,  attending the launch of Murillo/Malnati Homes at a party at the luxurious Foxhall Road property. And collaborating on the development of the new website for Great Start DC with Miller Cox Design–coming soon! Making plans for a great 2011…

Starbucks brand change leaves bitter taste

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Everyone has now heard that Starbucks has removed its name from its ubiquitous green circle-encased siren.  This symbol-only brand identity is very risky given the backlash against Starbucks in recent years. Starbucks has been accused of being too big,  not offering sufficient employee benefits and for offering coffee mainly from non fair-trade sources, and sweets and pastries that contain more calories than most people need to consume in an entire day. I have not seen them do much to address these core issues. And now this move sends a signal that “we are so big and powerful, we don’t need to use a name.”  That’s a risky position, especially internationally where Starbucks is intent on growing its brand presence and where the United States is viewed as being less than humble.

I predict that the only good outcome of this for Starbucks is the huge number of blogs and media coverage.

Marching and Tweeting Off Limits

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In the past few weeks, there’s been a lot of  coverage of news media organizations working to ensure that their staffs do not participate in party politics or speak  as individuals when their affiliation with a media outlet is clear.  

NPR issued a mandate that employees cannot attend the Jon Stewart Rally to Restore Sanity. The  Washington Post told staff it cannot express their own views on Twitter if they are linked in any way to the media outlet’s name . The icing on the cake is Juan Williams being fired from NPR after decades of service for stating that he gets nervous when he flies on airplanes and sees Muslims. (Juan, did this really seem like a good idea at the time?)

Many people are saying that this is a violation of First Amendment Rights. But this is how it’s always been.  Journalism 101 teaches you about the ethics and standards you must adopt if  you enter the  field.   Its pretty clear that you won’t be volunteering for a political party, or pasting issue-based bumper stickers on your car or your person. It made sense.  How can a reporter go out into the community and cover politics or other divisive issues wearing badges of support for one side?   It was drilled into us that we were always representing the news organization–at work, at home, on the weekends. Openly stating our personal opinion on hotly debated issues when we are so clearly affiliated with a news  organization taints the waters of our coverage.

We rely on the news media for information that is well-researched, well-sourced and as objective as humanly possible. The media make a tremendous contribution to our democracy. In this role, it must  put party politics aside if we are to continue to hold them in this regard. And that includes marching, tweeting and dotting one’s lawn with political  signs.

Measuring social media ROI: Start with strategy

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Many clients are trying to figure out how to tackle social media. Should we? Shouldn’t we? How do we organize a team to get it done? And the most burning question: how will we know if this is successful?  There are many new tools to measure your “social media” profile. You can use How Sociable  and basic Google listings to determine how your organization or issue ranks on the social web.  Plus count the Tweets and RTs.  The list goes on…

But the truth is none of this matters if social media is not  helping you achieve your organizational goals.  So instead of jumping to measurement, think about how social media can help you address some of your organization’s challenges. How can social media help you  impact your change- the- world mission?

  • Can you raise revenues or attract new members to fund your work?
  • Can you better reach policy makers via  your Twitter feed than calls to their office with updates? 
  • Will you  reduce operational costs because you no longer have to engage in direct marketing since members are in your online community already ? 
  • Can your online community  answer questions about your product or service? I turn to the Quickbooks community for questions with my accounting software and I  get helpful answers without calling the  800 number.  
  •  Can you tap into  feedback that stakeholders might not be willing to tell you face t0 face or in your evaluation survey?

Also look at opportunity costs–what would  be lost if you did not engage in social media? Would someone else grab up your prospective community members?  Would you have been able to charge a premium for your brand if you had not built a loyal community of followers? Those are key measures to consider, too.

If you are going to engage in social media, figure out the strategy first, and measurement will come naturally.

Communication audits 2.0

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Suddenly I find myself working on more communication audits at one time than I have over the past several years.  Organizations of all types are taking the time to step back and to look at their communication programs and make some assessments about where they have been–and where they are headed.  A tried-and-true tool, the communication audit has been viewed (perhaps unfairly) as one of the more boring aspects of  the work.

But communication audits have always been a critical tool to determine an organization’s communication strengths, challenges and opportunities. Thankfully, today’s communication audit offers a bit more sizzle.  No longer does the auditor sit in front of a printed pile of materials, combing through them one by one, highlighter in hand.

Now we have podcasts to listen to, blog entries and reader comments to analysize and social media profiles to measure. Plus  a slew of new online survey tools to guage stakeholders’ thoughts about an organization’s communications. Now that the economy has improved, many organizations are planning  new programs, initiatives and opportunities and they are finding that the tried and true–updated with the use of new technologies– is the perfect way to chart that  new path.

Happy celebration

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Today marks the six-month anniversary of Eightfold Strategy.  It seems just like yesterday I was sitting here about to send out my launch announcement…nervous, excited, not knowing what the future would hold.  In the past six months, great clients who fit the Eightfold Strategy philosophy have come on board.

I’ve led media outreach and created new advertising for a new green building project in the District; created a marketing communications plan for a start-up company that designs  science-based curriculum products for young children; developed a marketing strategy for a non-profit working to bring more financial resources to help end urban food deserts; and crafted a plan to promote research findings that show the efficacy of a client’s program model.  I’ve figured out many aspects of running a business and I have learned good lessons along the way.

People often ask me if I feel alone or lonely in this venture. Truth is I have never felt more surrounded be people and engaged with others. I have met with hundreds of people, some new and some newly reacquainted.  I’ve built a solid team of collaborators including  designers Judi Jachman and Heather Miller Cox;  advertising copywriter Michael Neiderer; media planner  and buyer Lois Golden; earned media guru Theresa Wiseman; and editor Michael Leicht. We have similar styles and approaches and I enjoy every minute of collaboration.

We measure  success in many ways, one being the ability for the company to provide outstanding client work.  We could not do that without  fabulous clients like Julio Murillo and Don Malnati of Murillo/Malnati Group; Maurice Sykes and the DC Early Childhood Higher Education Collaborative; Deb Manchester at Zula International; Beth Casey and Sophia Rudisill at Middle Grades Partnership; Connie Evans at AEO; and John Talmage and Adelaide Steedely at Social Compact.

Thanks for allowing me to help you make the world a better place. 

I’m looking forward to the next six months on the Eightfold path.

What's new at Eightfold Strategy

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posted January 8, 2010

I am proud to launch Eightfold Strategy, a company focused on branding, marketing and communication for non-profit organizations, socially responsible businesses and foundations.

Where did the name come from? When I began studying Buddhism a few years ago, it struck me that the elements of Eightfold Path—the Buddhist approach that suggests that cultivating wisdom, ethical conduct, and mental discipline would lead to a happy life­­––were the same ingredients it took to be a good consultant. I named my company Eightfold Strategy because it represents my philosophy and commitment to my clients:  to provide a consistent flow of creative ideas, the highest level of ethics, and the discipline required to complete quality projects on time and within budget.

Read the news release: eightfoldnewsrelease1-8.doc

Special thanks to all those who helped me bring my dream to life. Jonathan Kirkendall, my personal coach who helped me water the seeds of Eightfold Strategy over the past year; designer LeAnn Locher who helped me bring my brand to life through logo and materials design; Tom Semmes from TGS Communications who designed my website; Barton Moorstein and Laura Conley from Blank & Moorstein; accountant Donald Cunningham; friend Jeannette Pai-Espinosa and sister Shari Griffith, who brought a critical eye to all of materials; Ted Nanavati, my partner who provided me with endless encouragement, support and solid business advice; and Donna and Eugene Saverino, my parents, who have always encouraged me to follow my dreams. Special thanks to clients Shari Elliker, Tony Talalay and Dara Tom; colleague Theresa Wiseman ; and to everyone who encouraged  me along the way.

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