Saturday, February 13, 2016

Defiance

There are many points you can take away from the Martin Shrkreli media circus. You can talk about ethics and business and human nature. How after decades, centuries even of being conditioned that success should be the ultimate goal - and that being inventive and prosperous is a good thing- we are suddenly talking about drawing a line. How we are seeing that all of the sudden, some industries are different than others, although all businesses take time, money and involve risks to develop. We could discuss who should make those calls, where those lines are and if putting in some hard regulations can have a chilling effect on an entire industry. And how on the other end preventing people from identifying and jumping on an opportunity can shut down not only the stream of fresh capital, but also ideas and energy into it. Here's what I do know: most of us want to do business, succeed and prosper, but also feel good about ourselves and what we do at the end of the day. What's fascinating to me about Martin Shkreli- as I try not to have an opinion about the man himself or what he does as I never met him nor am I his priest- is how little he seems to care about what people think of him. So here's the big question: Is the media interest in him fueled by the fact that he has done something so outrageous that there's no return from it, or is it that he refuses to play by the rules? He draws attention to himself of course and he doesn't help his case by being defiant. He's dismissive, he's making faces.

 But is the reason for his overnight celebrity status the actual, underlying controversy or how he goes about it. Has business men never done worse? Have we just not heard about it? Or do we really want to start looking under the hood of every business in America? Because then I think we should brace ourselves for what we might find and that won't be pretty. The thing about Martin Shkreli is that he hasn't launched his big media apology tour, and I don't think he will anytime soon. He hasn't cried on Oprah's couch yet or danced with Ellen, nor told us a moving tale from his childhood. He hasn't planted a tree, shook hands with Al Sharpton, nor no A-list celebrity came out to say that at his core, he's a great guy. There's no scholarship in his name. And I think the most important aspect of this story is the media portrayal of him rather than what he has actually done. And how refuses to follow a well established path to redemption. Because everybody does it. And note, we never know what the content of their character is, if they are ever sincere, but we do expect that they keep up appearances and they make appearances, because at the very least we want them to at least act like they care. To appease the media, that will then put their stamp of approval. The thing about Shkreli that pops up to me transcends the ideas of good or bad. He's defiant. He chooses to go overboard to make a point. I think he might be making a mistake, because he will need those people as he makes his way up again. But he's story really made me think- that if he wanted to- he could have cut the prices of his drug in half the day after, and although it still would have been prohibitively more expensive then three days before, he would have still been introduced as a great humanitarian.

 And I don't think any of the outrage would have actually happened had he been quieter, more responsive and respectful. Even if all the substantial facts were still the same. So then, I thought the controversy is not really about his actions, the actual pricing story or the SEC controversy, but his defiance. I really believe that but for his defiance, not of this circus would happen. He might be an awful person, I don't know and I don't care- but I don't think it's the reason for the interest in him. It's that refuses to play along and exposes something about the 24 hour news cycle.

And if he wants to, he can donate to my nonprofit, Florida Disability Access and Awareness Foundation  (http://fdaaf.org) and I'll shake hands with him. But I don't think he will .

Monday, February 8, 2016

The Push forward :Small nonprofits have a lot to offer, too!

Over Christmas I've sent about 65 emails. I reached out to fraternities and sororities, to heads of departments at the local university with majors relevant to my nonprofit's needs and mission in order to generate some volunteer interest. And it worked: Today we have about 18 interns between our three core projects, with new inquiries every other day. You won't find people to help you unless you look. You won't get people involved, unless you ask. We were short staffed and unfocused this past semester, and we didn't really do a good job communicating our needs and our vision, and that's our fault. But if we were going to break the pattern, something needed to change. I took communications into my own hands. I've decided that I would give this concept just one more shot before I gave  it up. Hey, if something doesn't work it doesn't work, and maybe it wasn't meant to be. But it wouldn't be from the lack of trying.


 Hindsight is 20/20 and I don't want to dwell too much on whether we could have gotten here sooner. We did some of our own growing, some of our retooling, reshaping, refocusing of projects of ideas. If we had ten, eighteen, twenty interns six months ago I don't think we would have had much for them to do. I needed to reach that make it or break it point in order to move on from it. So, as other people were sitting down to their Christmas dinner I locked myself up in my apartment and sent out emails for three days straight. We needed help with Public Relations. For that we wanted to find communications students. We needed to develop our project ideas into sponsorship offers and presentations; you do that with marketing and business majors. Our three major projects were in the areas of architecture, filming and computing. So, I've started looking for architecture, journalism, game development and computer science students. I knew that if I created a framework, a roadmap and attracted young people to it, often with their own ideas, motivation and equipment, those projects will take a life of their own, often with very little input from me.

 And here's the interesting bit: I have students in business attire eager to meet me, wanting to make the best impression, hoping I'd take a chance on them. Sometimes I wonder if they are certain we are not paying them and why it matters so much to them. But here's what it is: They like the mission. They like that we are local, that you can reach out and touch us and that we are doing something outside of the box. We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, so we can do internships, community work, coursework credit just like the big boys. But with us there's no sharpening pencils, answering the phone or making coffee. Our students can get actual, hands on experience in areas relevant to their interest. And they can leave their own mark on the shape of their programs. I'd say the smaller the nonprofit, the greater the challenge to make it, the biggest impact one person can make. They learn from us, we learn from them and we build something together. LinkedIn is a great tool. But I was so focused on recruiting through it that I forgot I had other options. Here's what happened: As I emailed the departments, they sent out mass emails to their students or included a write up in their weekly newsletters. Some put information on their website- which some students later complained was difficult to find. Later, I used the University job posting system to look for more volunteers. We still used LinkedIn, to recruit mostly team leaders or people with particular skills (and from as far as Canada), but our emphasis was somewhere else. Let talented students , eager to get some hands on experience lend those talents. Build teams and let professionals guide them. At first I thought I was uniquely positioned because I live in a college town. But that's not it. Most of our volunteers don't need to be local at all and we're working on creating teams in a number of remote places. Here's the bottom line: nonprofits need volunteers, students need the opportunity. You don't need to be a big charity to have an attractive cause and you may even pose an attractive challenge because of your smaller size.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Is this what charity is about?

There's a commercial on American TV airing mostly at night encouraging viewers to support a nonprofit dealing with abandoned animals. A worthy cause no doubt. The announcer, an actor I presume reads the copy in a shaky if not crying voice, over images of dogs in cages. The message is simple: give, give, give- and I guess- there's merit to it. All nonprofits need money and they need to stake their case. I must say, as someone who is also in the charity sector- although with a different cause- I don't like that ad. And I reach for the remote as soon as it comes on. I understand the need to make a passionate appeal- and having only thirty seconds to get the pony- but to me that presentation crosses the line. I would have felt differently if one of the founders or volunteers got on camera and made such an emotional presentation spontaneously speaking from the heart. But to me- with the tone and direction intentionally hitting that one note- it felt, well, I dare say it, calculating and emotionally manipulative. And then it kept on, when I think the message has landed. A different ad but for a similar cause uses the song called "In the Arms of the Angel". I have a friend who can't even listen to it as it as it comes on on the radio because it makes him cry. And it really got me thinking- is it what the nonprofit sector is, at least to some people? Making people feel bad? Playing on emotions? If so, we've been approaching this business all wrong. Is it really about making people feel guilty for what they have and for the fact that others have less? Is the message of charity really:"You must give, otherwise you're a heartless human being"? On the other hand it allows some to feel better than others because they have the resources and the ability to share them. With one gesture they raise above it all and get to quiet their guilty conscience. Or worse: they seek validation through charity work. I'm not sure I like that either. That's not the reason why I got into this sector. Maybe I'm naive and perhaps I'll never build a great international institution. But I'm not sure I'd want to.  For me a nonprofit's role is not to boost anyone's ego or to tear anyone down for being successful. It's a platform to talk about interesting things in interesting ways. To introduce you to the causes that I care about. For me- it's disability. And I'm tempted to say that I care about making you think more than I care about that check. We do need that check though, but I'd rather it go with a message of how we can do something amazing together.

 I started a nonprofit to focus on the positive- not to make people cry. To talk about some project ideas we have to change how people feel about disability, accessibility and mobility. I guess we could show sad and depressed people in wheelchairs crying and abandoned- and we know there are individuals like that. But that's not I wanted to show, not what I wanted to dwell on. I want to build on excitement - on how the world could be, even if we have long way to go. I want to focus on change, on empowerment, on inclusion on empathy. For me Florida Disability Access and Awareness Foundation is a dream and a goal. I'll continue talking about addressing these points with energy and positivity.  Perhaps one day you'll join us- visit http://fdaaf.org, see our vision and drop us a note. And I'd like to see more nonprofits talking about how they want to change the world rather than describing it the way it is today. I'd like for all of us to work towards a grand vision that can inspire us all.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Winterland, Florida

I have a lot of exciting things to write about. I'm doing plenty of work for other people and our Foundation seems to be finally going places. But please- let me use this Monday to talk about the weather. I know, I've used it for sentimental reasons in the past- to talk about missing my home and family, to vent or to just fill the empty space. But the American weather has been making headlines lately. There are snow storms in New York and DC, curfews and travel bans. Nothing that severe in Florida, but there was a tornado warning a few days ago. And it's been cold. Really cold and for a few weeks now. I'm a bit to the north, so we might get a bit cooler up here than Miami, but I've never seen anything that severe. We've had days where (excuse me for using Celsius as Fahrenheit still means nothing to me) where the temperature would be as low as 6 during the day and -3 at night- and it happens now day after day. Usually, we go up into the low/mid 20's during the day (maybe a bit lower in the winter days like 16?) and 13 in the evening is a cold night. At first I was glad.  It's going to kill the mosquitoes, I thought. They're quite a problem in my warm and wet part f the State that is called "Swamp" for a reason. It's been cold every day for a while and I seem to have only a pair of thicker pants and a winter jacket. I know I'm Polish and I'm supposed to not mind the cold, and it's not the temperatures really, but this Arctic wind that chills you to the bone. Snow was spotted in Gainesville this week, not much, just flurries, but for some of my friends it was the first time in their lifetime. It's not a nice winter. It's just not pleasant. The one thing I've always loved about Florida- the bright sunlight that illuminates everything, giving all colors this amazing clarity and hue like a 3D rendering that I never could describe is gone. Trees wither. Leaves turn to shades you don't see here. I've discovered my apartment is not well isolated. It really feels like the end of the world these days. At first it seemed like fun to switch up the routine a bit - stay at home- finish work, give my Tassimo the run for its money, watch some Netflix. Order pizza. But now I'm ready for Spring. It's 21C Monday before it gets cold again.Welcome to Florida, 2016.

Monday, January 18, 2016

A "one page", quick Contract...

Here's what I've been seeing more and more lately: legal work requests popping up on freelancer websites like Upwork and Outsource. A lot of those online "jobs" are picked up by people who are most often not even lawyers, but writers and content editors. Some are legal professionals from remote locations like India or the Middle East who are not licensed and therefore not permitted to give legal advice in American jurisdictions. But they are cheap and they work quickly. In the age of the internet, Clients have their own idea of what a lawyer should provide, what it should look like and how fast. Quality is almost secondary. They order a contract the same way they order a logo and expect results. Of course, the consequences of getting a contact wrong are far more dire than a logo or a website you don't like. At the end of the day it's lawyers like me who deal with contracts where the drafter missed an issue or left an ambiguously phrased term. And that costs a lot more than spending a few more dollars on a properly written document that is clear, thought out, anticipates many of the concerns  that would otherwise have to be figured out in litigation. Not to long ago I saw a contract that used a phrase "arrange for transport". Both parties were happy with it. One thought they have fully performed by presenting the thing in question to the transportation company. The other believed they were contracting to have the thing transported from A to B. But it was short- it was only one page and some people find that appealing.  An issue like this would be resolved by looking at the history of the parties' communication, to figure out what their intention was. And that takes time and money. A better phrased sentence would have taken care of that and everyone would have known where they are. But a lawyer didn't write it. And you know that one will   get involved and have it sorted out eventually.

Let's take the issue of non licensed lawyers or non-lawyers practicing law, which many if not all American jurisdictions criminalize, out of it for a minute. Or that if something goes wrong- they'll be nowhere to be found.   What I find concerning is how those clients make specific requests as to the length and structure of a Contract - because I guess they're used to control anything else. There are ads like "One-page contract in 36 hours" - as if its purpose and function are completely secondary - and a Contract was a completely generic, interchangeable piece of writing- like a form.  I was trained to write clear, easy to follow documents understandable to  a lay person. They need to be well edited and structured, with issues properly grouped. And a contract needs to be reasonably short. But I advise against one page contracts. It needs to be as long as it takes to flesh out all the issues. My rules of construction typically take 3/4 of a page. And those are things you shouldn't really go without. Does your contract have a severability clause? Governing law? Jurisdiction? Attorney's fees? The truth about Contracts is that what you don't put in- can hurt you. You can do it fast and short and pray it will stick or you can do it well and be proud of your work. My law school started a mandatory drafting course because there was so much bad writing in the nation they had to address it. And it made us think about words. How they have power and meaning. Drafting all of the sudden became a responsibility. We live in the age of the internet. Expect a lot more bad drafting and a lot more litigation.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

If I won the PowerBall....

Many people don't believe it when I say it. I really don't have big dreams for myself. There's no gadget that I really must have, I never wanted a mansion and fast cars don't really impress me. I just want to be comfortable. For me that means being in a place where I don't have to wonder if I see enough clients this month to pay my rent. And quite frankly I'm not there yet. I have my moments of stress and my moments of doubt. But for me life is about being able to make it. And having a life doing what you know well and love. Helping people. Being surrounded by friends. Searching for and finding happiness. Perhaps it's because I devoted so much time and energy to the non profit that I started, Florida Disability Access and Awareness Foundation - but making it work, making a difference in how people see disabilities is my one big dream. And I know that if I can finally   have that rolling, everything else will fall into place. And it just has to happen. If I won a million dollars- I'd donate it back to the Foundation. In my mind I can see all the great programs we could launch with money like that and people that it would have touched. The vision that is so clear to me I can picture my future team and it's office. excited to get started. Sometimes I just don't communicate it well. We can get America to care about disabilities, to notice, we can push, we can inspire and listen. For me it starts in Florida, but that's just the beginning. Yes, if I won the billion plus this coming Wednesday I'd take care of my family a little more ( my dad does have a heart condition) but the closest I've come to thinking about spending money on myself is moving to a bigger apartment, only across the street.  My fantasy is not retiring by 40 or a cruise on the Nile, but leaving this world a little better than it was when I found it. Perhaps it's because  being in a wheelchair all my life meant that proving my worth was always a goal in the back of my mind- but what I want to do can help a lot of people. A lot of people like me. And you can help to, by visiting. http://fdaaf.org and donating what you can. And I did win Saturday, and not metaphorically. I got 8 dollars!  And I get to tell the tale how I participated in this historic lottery with the biggest jackpot ever. I was there even if I don't win the 1.3 billion. And hey, it's for education.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Disability, safety, wheelchairs and guns

Here's one aspect of the gun laws debate I admit I never thought of. After the San Bernardino shooting, one of my directors pointed out that the place that the terrorist couple opened fire was a center for people with disabilities. I don't remember this fact being particularly advertised in the media. "They're like sitting ducks"- she said, pointing out that nobody there had any means to defend themselves and everyone was at the mercy of the killers. Wow, I thought- if there was ever a better illustration of how powerless your disability can render you. I've said time and time again that people should have guns if it makes them feel safer, that I feel safer if a trained and qualified gun user is around me, but that I would personally never get a gun because I'd fear I hurt myself. I tense up easily and I practically have only one functioning hand. I know guns are not a popular subject for a lot of people and I debated even bringing this topic up in my writings.   My Board Member then told me that she would take me to a shooting range and that I needed to learn. I don't need to buy a gun- or have one she said, but I need to learn how to use it. In an emergency, if a gun or a clip fell to the ground would I know how to pick it up and use it, reload it if I needed to, switch the safety off. This is a touchy subject for a lot of people, but I do see the value of knowing how to handle something that people use and handle for their safety, that is broadly available even if I don't have one myself. Educating myself can save my life and ignorance can surely kill me.

 So I did try to contact someone at the NRA with only one question: Do they offer any training courses for people with physical disabilities or know someone who does. Not to promote gun use, but to promote knowledge. And the more we talked about it - with that co-worker of mine, the more I realized that people with disabilities would not only require special holsters or other ways to carry it, but a host of specialized accessories. I thought about whether it would be appropriate to approach this problem as a the Foundation. I'm sure such work would alienate a lot of potential donors. But I really want to know what is out there. And what is being done to keep people with disabilities  safe.  I know I might take some heat for this, but I can even see some therapeutic value to owning and having a gun. We're talking about people who often feel deprived of something or limited. Getting the power to defend themselves back seems like confidence booster, reclaiming some control and normalcy. But it's not for everyone. Most likely it's not for me. But I'd like to now more. And everyone likes to have options. But that's the point: I created the Florida Disability Access and Awareness Foundation to talk about issues and aspects relating to mobility and disability perception that no one has before. And I look forward to work with a broad rage of partners, varying from issue to issue to push the discussions further. For now visit http://fdaaf.org and get to know our vision.