Monthly Archives: April 2008

Voluntourism Discussion Happening Now

An interesting discussion is happening on Social Edge about “Travel with a Conscience” and includes not only the more familiar eco-tourism/sustainable tourism, but also “voluntourism” and/or philanthropy tourism.  My positive experience with Solimar Marketing, which is eco/sustainable tourism-based, makes this discussion particularly interesting to me.

Software Testing – The Specialists Are Autistic

Going through the old e-mails again, and found this fascinating article in HBS Working Knowledge that was shocking and inspiring.  First off, I must admit that I’m a fan of the show Boston Legal and that most of my knowledge of Asperger Syndrome comes from that show (yes, i’m pitifully uninformed or misinformed).  However, I’ve worked with autistic children in after-school programs and have heard lots of scary statistics about the “autism epidemic.” This can be a debilitating condition and the success stories seem few and far between – the only one I can think of (disregarding the Hollywood savant examples) is Temple Grandin, who apparently also is in the Asperger Syndrome category on the autism spectrum disorder scale.

Usually, when I think of job training and opportunities for autistic people, I think back to working at the Volunteer Center of Durham 15 years ago, and how we used organizations like Good Work for low-skill labor opportunities such as stuffing and labeling envelopes for mailings.  The results were haphazard at times, and we often had our Board of Directors and Junior League volunteers come in instead to place mailing labels on fund-raising and development mailings to insure quality.  Granted, these were an entirely different population and spectrum of developmental disorders, but still, I never would have thought that anyone on the autism spectrum disorder would be not only well-suited for software testing.  Not to mention that it would actually be so well suited as to provide a competitive advantage.

Enter the shock and inspiration:

“But who is best suited to control and manage the tests? The surprising answer may be found in a group of people previously thought to have a crippling condition: autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

In a new case coauthored by Austin, “Specialisterne: Sense & Details,” an innovative consultancy in Denmark has turned testing into its own specialty. While its 50 or so part-time consultants are considered best-in-class—they are paid industry-competitive wages, and customers include LEGO, Microsoft, and Oracle—75 percent of them live with what others might consider a handicap: They have Asperger syndrome or some form of ASD.”

And later in the article:

Specialisterne now has two offices in Denmark, another under construction in Scotland, and branches being planned in Sweden and India. Its niche, according to the case, is testing when the cost of establishing automated testing is too expensive and complex. In March 2008 Sonne was honored with Denmark’s IT Award for outstanding contributions to IT development. In a statement read at the ceremony, the award was bestowed to Sonne of Specialisterne because “these highly gifted people require special support to get on in society—but via their particular logical skills and sense for precision, they can contribute massively.”

Social Entrepreneurship in the New York Times

New York Times editorial writer David Brooks devoted his March 21 column to social entrepreneurship. The column and Letter to the Editor “Here’s What Social Entrepreneurs Can Do” written by Andrew Wolk, Founder and President of Root Cause and SEA Member, is saved here as a PDF.

One excerpt that hit a bit close to home (something I hadn’t put my finger on but have definitely noticed) is this description of SE’s:

“These thoroughly modern do-gooders dress like venture capitalists. They talk like them. They even think like them. That means that aside from the occasional passion for heirloom vegetables, they are not particularly crunchy. They don’t wear ponytails, tattoos or Birkenstocks. They don’t devote any energy to countercultural personal style, unless you consider excessive niceness a subversive fashion statement.”

Although to be fair, one of my SE friends is actually more at home in his Birkenstocks listening to Grateful Dead DAT’s as he is in his business garb – you just wouldn’t know it if you ever met him while he’s “on the clock”. Fashion sense aside, however, the most salient point in the article to me was this snippet:

“Their problem now is scalability. How do the social entrepreneurs replicate successful programs so that they can be big enough to make a national difference”

To address this challenge, I still think that the research and tools produced by Greg Dees is the best place to start (although Jeff Bradach’s work with Bridgespan is a great follow-up, and I am still just starting to read Forces for Good: The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits, by Heather McLeod Grant and Leslie Crutchfield). However, Greg’s research on scaling social impact is easy for me to find and available free online (not to mention his status as an SE rockstar), so that’s where I’m pointing you right now. I’d particularly recommend the frameworks for thinking about scaling social impact section, which contains links to some free powerpoint presentations, practitioner’s toolkits, and links to articles and papers which go into greater depth about how to use these frameworks (including a couple of great articles by Greg co-authored by Beth Anderson and Jane Wei-Skillern, although the more recent one requires a subscription to the SSIR).