Monthly Archives: December 2016

On… Humanwire

Like you – like everyone – I’ve been deeply affected and shaken by the events in Syria, the millions of refugees fleeing death and destruction, the images of children drowning in the Med or covered in blood, and most recently the horrendous events in Aleppo. My friends and I were constantly talking about it – do we just keep giving money to Doctors Without Borders and UNICEF? What about the families that might fall through the cracks? How do you know you’re REALLY helping? How can I let these people know that the world cares about them, that they matter? How many more times can I start weeping uncontrollably while reading the news, and then go to Amazon and click-buy something for my children who have never known a single night of fear or hunger, before I go insane?

And then I found out about Humanwire, from a friend of a friend in Colorado.

Humanwire is a registered charity that establishes direct contact with the refugees you’re helping, so you can see the impact that your donation has (check out these Facebook stories) – and Humanwire itself takes 0% of the money you donate. There’s total transparency: it’s kind of cutting out the charity middleman.

You choose the refugee family that you want to help, read their stories, see their photos, decide how much money to raise (“leading a campaign”) and you see how the money you raise for them gets them food, clothes, school for their children, medical care, heating over the winter… It takes 60 seconds to sign up.

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My friends Anna, Joanna, Lucy, Alex and I have pledged to lead campaigns together. So we’ll work together and support each other while we raise money, and hopefully, help many more families this way than we could alone.

These are real people. These are some of the stories. Each story is heartbreaking and horrible. These people urgently need help. This is the campaign we chose, and as soon as we raise the target, we’re choosing another one. Sustained support on a case-by-case basis.

Anyway, I wanted to write about this, because it’s Christmas, and as much as we’re all complaining about 2016 being a terrible year, it’s much much worse for these families. So please, join us. Do it alone or with your family or with your friends, sign up, lead a campaign, and help a family who has no one and nothing else. The only way through this is together, and you can genuinely make a difference. The refugees are chosen on a case-by-case basis, and are extensively vetted beforehand. These are families, particularly women and children and babies, who need us.

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This is a letter from the founder of Humanwire:

Thank you for taking the time to visit Humanwire. My name is Andrew and this site is the result of my frustration with the war in Syria.

As of October 19, 2015, The United Nations has officially registered 4,180,631 Syrians with the greatest concentrations in Lebanon and Turkey. In order to support this large number of people, the UN requires $4.5B but has only raised $1.8B to date [1].

The UN’s World Food Program, the largest agency in the world for fighting hunger slashed its food allowances for each refugee in Jordan in August 2015 in half down to just $14 per month. Food allowances for refugees in Lebanon per person remain a steady $13.50 per month [2].

The UN Inter Agency noted in September of 2015 that “the spike in Syrian refugees arriving in Europe, including from Syria directly, is mainly due to the loss of hope that a political solution will soon be found to end the war as well as to steadily deteriorating living conditions in exile, triggered by the humanitarian funding shortfall, felt by refugees in the region” [3]

In Sept 2015, The UN High Commissioner for Refugees was quoted as saying: “Our income in 2015 will be around 10% less than in 2014. The global humanitarian community is not broken – as a whole they are more effective than ever before. But we are financially broke.” [4].

If you read between the lines, the funding is stretched too thin and the level of support on an individual basis has become too insignificant for any one person to sustain.

I first got interested in the Syrian crisis because my wife Rima is of Syrian descent and so now is our two-year-old son Freddy. Rima grew up in Lebanon which borders Syria to the west and every time we visit family in Beirut and around the country, the effects of the refugee crisis are impossible to miss.

We live in Boulder, Colorado, regularly voted as the top city in America for living standards and when I think about the conditions of people who are fleeing persecution and war, I can’t help but question my humanity.

Lebanon, the extra friendly and once small home to 4 million people, now has 5 million almost overnight. In Lebanon, there are no formal refugee camps. There are some makeshift camps and others simply roam the country.

The influx has effected everyone in Lebanon from the bottom-up. Opportunities for work for the Lebanese which were already scarce have evaporated while social resources have been overwhelmed beyond compare.

Most refugees from Syria do not want to go to America or Canada, and most don’t want to go to Europe, either. Given the opportunity to go safely, the vast majority would just prefer to go home.

People are being born into homeless lives due to other people’s wars and growing up knowing nothing else. Young adults once happily enrolled in quality education with big dreams of becoming engineers and astronauts are being deprived of the dreams so many others have freely.

Have you given any money? Maybe even $5? I hadn’t.

Why? Why?! I spent countless hours reading news stories about it. I saw UN advertisements on every page of the internet with children distressed in boats. My credit card details would autofill in the form with one touch and yet I didn’t.

There is something about sending money into the void that is disconnected, as if there was a missed opportunity when you want to do more than just give money. Even when you trust the organization you are giving to, and even when your contribution is effective, the relationship between the contributor and the charity has not evolved much, you just send in your money which goes into a pool, hope for the best, and basically that’s it for your part. By sending your money to the charity which acts as the intermediary, you never actually get a true connection. Not even a tangible smile is exchanged.

What would happen if you removed the intermediate, or reduced its role by setting the charity organization aside to facilitate a direct connection between the donor and the recipient? That is the purpose of Humanwire.

When I first traveled to Lebanon, it was not easy because I was unfamiliar with Arab culture. Even with Rima and her loving family, it took a few trips to begin to understand people’s intentions due to the culture being so different, I thought. Now when I look back on it, I think its funny because the Arab people are just as friendly and loving as anyone I’ve ever encountered. People in Lebanon in particular are a lot like Westerners. They have many of the same interests, the same concerns and the same ways of living.

There is a cultural gap that need not exist, I’m sure of it. With today’s ability to connect around the world, this is the time for people everywhere to come together.

More than 43 million people worldwide are now forcibly displaced as a result of conflict and persecution [5]. Half of all refugees in the world are children 17 and under, most of which have lost family, home, school and friends. Humanwire is your opportunity go beyond providing mere sustainability, this is the time to take a stand and bridge the culture gap.

 

On… stocking fillers

I still get a Christmas stocking. I know, it’s SO lame.

The year that I got married, my mother announced: ‘that’s it, you’re an adult, I’m not making you a Christmas stocking anymore’. I was outraged (“WHAT NEXT? YOU WON’T TAKE BITES OUT OF THE COOKIES FOR SANTA AND THE CARROTS FOR RUDOLPH EITHER? MY GOD, WOMAN”) but then Fox joyfully manfully reluctantly just took over.

So, to help Fox, and because if I want it, you might want it too and it might help your long-suffering stocking-maker, here are some ideas…

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A sample pack of scents from LuckyScent. I am a crazed perfume obsessive but in a cautious geeky way, which means I occasionally buy vintage formulations from eBay and Etsy, but I deep-dive research them for months first, on Fragrantica / Basenotes / Luca Turin’s A-Z of Perfumes (which is a GREAT book, by the way). I love vintage perfumes the way that my Dad loved vintage cars. He would read vintage car magazines as though he was studying for a test. These LuckyScent samples are all new scents from small perfume houses that seem to be interesting beyond the tiresome ‘oh, let’s throw some oud in a bottle’ standard. I am sure my sniffy glands (technical term) will be delighted.

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And to balance out all those newfangled smells, Michelle by Balenciaga. I’m deeply in love with two other old Balenciagas, Quadrille and Le Dix, and I am confident Michelle is just as special (despite the teenage-babysitter-in-the-80s name). Vintage Balenciaga scents smell good, just deeply interesting and sexy and female and more-ish, in a million ways I can’t even begin to compare to the average sugary-vanilla-sparkling-grapefruit monstrosity perfume companies try to make us buy these days. What’s that? I sound like a crochety old biddy? SPEAK LOUDER. TALK INTO MY EAR HORN. HAVE SOME DANISH BUTTER COOKIES FROM THE TIN.

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Shashi Tassel Earrings. I am terrible at wearing jewellery, but whenever I see a woman in great chandelier earrings I think ‘dash it, I must try harder’.

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Moonglow by Michael Chabon. His book The Amazing Adventures Of Kavalier and Clay was so breathtakingly good that it made my heart beat faster with joy that it existed.

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Cadbury’s Roses Chocolates. I am tres nostalgic for them lately. They’re British and cheap and delicious.

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Boggle, because I like it. A few years ago I went to a Female Boggle Night (we probably named it something snappier than that, I can’t remember), and one of said females – Anna – was so extraordinarily brilliant at it, I still think about it. She was seeing words like ‘pulchritude’ where all i could see was ‘put’. I’m not kidding. When she started playing, the ‘AH-HOOOOOO’ chorus to ‘Werewolves of London‘ came on, like Tom Cruise shooting pool in Color Of Money.

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And lastly, The Perfume Collector: A Novel, because it looks like lovely escapist fun. And right now, anything that makes me not think about the state of the world is pretty damn welcome.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On…. ugh

This is so interesting, and important, to read, that I’m just going to copy and paste here in full, so you don’t need to click.

Via The Atlantic, by Marianne Cooper.

In early December, Amazon Video announced that it would not be renewing its new series Good Girls Revolt for a second season. The show, inspired by veteran journalist Lynn Povich’s book, told the story of the landmark sex discrimination lawsuit she and 45 other women filed against Newsweek in 1970. Good Girls Revolt captures the cultural awakening of that time period and centers on a group of young women who, despite doing work similar to that of their male coworkers, are paid less and are relegated to the title “researchers,” while their male colleagues are “reporters,” getting all the credit and bylines. The first season chronicles the women organizing to sue their employer, “News of the Week,” to be treated fairly. The show received a lot of positive buzz, a 4.5 star rating from over 18,000 viewers, and was selected by Newsweek as one of the best of 2016, but that wasn’t enough for Amazon, apparently. Just five weeks after it premiered, Amazon Video cancelled it.

The show’s cancellation came on the heels of Hillary Clinton’s electoral defeat, an event that provided, one might have thought, a ready-made marketing opportunity for a show about women fighting for gender equality. Roy Price, who heads Amazon Video, seems not to have seen things that way. According to several reports, Price didn’t personally like the show and didn’t watch it himself. When asked how many women were involved in the decision not to renew the series, Dana Calvo, the creator of the show, publicly said that no women were involved in the decision. Another source close to the show, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, confirmed that no women were on the leadership team that decided not to renew.

When I asked Amazon about the decision and whether any women were involved in making it, Joe Lewis, the head of comedy and drama series development at Amazon Video, said in an email that the show was cancelled because it “wasn’t performing at the level we had hoped for—either in total viewership or completion rates.” He did not respond to my question about whether any women had been present when the decision was made. (According to reports, Sony Pictures Television is now shopping the show to other networks and fans are cheering them on via a hashtag, #SaveGoodGirlsRevolt.)

Of course, it’s possible that even with plenty of women in the room, the result could have been the same. If a show isn’t hitting pre-determined metrics, there are sound business reasons to cancel it. Yet, even if Good Girls Revolt missed expectations (which is disputed), when making decisions about shows it’s important “not to get lost in the weeds of the data,” as Roy Price himself has stated. Just as important is the ability to read the cultural tea leaves to be able to foresee which shows will map on to the national zeitgeist. And that’s where the homogeneity of the decision-makers becomes relevant, as a room full of men is going to read the culture differently than a group that looks more like all of America. As the cancellation of Good Girls Revolt shows, men-only decision-making committees can misread the cultural moment in spectacular fashion.

The failure of companies to put women consumers at the center of their R&D or business strategy is common. A classic example is that it wasn’t until a few years ago that carmakers began regularly testing female crash dummies in drivers’ seats. For 30 years, it was just assumed that using male crash test dummies would suffice, even though women are typically smaller than men and the smaller a person is the less force they can tolerate in a crash. That cars were not tested to be safe for female bodies helps to explain why women are killed and injured in car accidents at disproportionately higher rates than men. It’s because women were not included in the analysis—at all.

In a recent Merrill Lynch report on women’s growing economic and consumer power, Jackie VanderBurg, a managing director at U.S. Trust noted that including women could have been a big business win for a car company. She said, “A company that had taken the initiative to use female test dummies earlier could have differentiated itself by showing a concern for women’s safety.”

There are many other cases of companies missing an opportunity to think about women in their work, and missing out on business as a result. When men are the default consumer or patient, the results can range from annoying to life-threatening for women, from speech-recognition technology that more readilyunderstands male voices than female voices to pharmaceutical drugs that had to be pulled due to negative health impacts that hurt women significantly more than men.

One reason that women get left out of the equation is that very often there are few women in the rooms where plans are formulated, marketing campaigns created, technologies designed, and decisions made. This is especially true at the most senior levels. Sometimes, as with the decision by Roy Price at Amazon video, there are no women involved at all.

This is true even among companies that make and market products directly to women. An analysis of the 19 largest companies that focus on women (cosmetics, department stores, women’s clothing, certain consumer goods etc.) found that only one company has a senior leadership team that is majority women (J.C. Penny’s) and only one company has a board of directors that is majority women (Avon).

This was certainly the case for many years at Kimberly-Clark. In 2009, among employees at Kimberly-Clark who were director level or higher, only 17 percent were women. In contrast, 85 percent of their consumers were women. So it was up to a largely male-led team to figure out how to market tampons, maxi-pads, and diapers. According to Jillian Berman a business writer at the Huffington Post, “that translated into ads featuring blue liquids dumped on sanitary napkins, and portraying ecstatic women clad in all-white dancing and frolicking, apparently while menstruating. That’s a scenario approximately no woman has ever related to.”

In recent years, Kimberly-Clark has focused on hiring more women and has made tremendous progress. Sue Dodsworth, the company’s global diversity officer who drove the turnaround, reported that in 2014 women made up a third or more of senior-level managers (sadly, a relatively high percent, by corporate standards). Kimberly-Clark now has a different marketing campaign, U by Kotex, that makes fun of those old commercials. It has recently launched a new campaign called The Period Projects, which aims to change the way women talk about and experience their periods.

Hollywood studios should take notice. While women make up half the population, half of moviegoers, and half of graduates from top film schools, they only comprise 20 percent of the executive positions in large media companies. They are even less common behind the camera: Women make up only 3 percent of film directors and 12 percent of directors of streaming shows. For every one woman screenwriter, there are 2.5 male screenwriters. Other research has found that when women are in executive roles in film, they pull more women into work throughout a project. For example, on broadcast shows without any women executives, women made up only 6 percent of the writers. But on shows with at least one woman executive, women made up 32 percent of the writers.

All of this matters—for the stories that get told, the characters that get put on screen, the decisions that get made, and the profits that are earned or lost. It just may be the case that when a white male studio executive decides he doesn’t like a show, say one about a pivotal moment in women’s history, his sentiments might not be shared by women or people from other underrepresented groups. One has to wonder if Amazon video’s decision about Good Girls Revolt may have been different if even one woman was in the room.

It’s ironic that with no women in the room, Roy Price decided to axe a show about women who were fighting against just that—against men having complete ownership and control over the media. It has been many decades since Lynn Povich and her female colleagues sued Newsweek, and yet there is so little distance between the world in the show and the world that controlled the show’s fate.

This tendency for white men to disproportionately control editorial decision making—to use their particular experience and taste as a proxy for everyone else’s experience and taste—can have real consequences for brands and bottom lines. This is especially true as our society becomes increasingly diverse and multicultural.

In the words of advertising titan Cindy Gallop, “There’s a huge amount of money to be made out of taking women seriously.” But companies and brands will fail to do so if women aren’t taken seriously as employees first.