Monthly Archives: June 2008

The Obama Machine

What a year 2008 has been. What a year it has come to represent in the new millennium, not only in the challenges we face in issues like global warming, but also in its opportunities.

Not least of this are the dawning presidential elections this coming fall, which will perhaps be the most critical elections the United States has yet to see. With the field now cleared for Barack Obama and John McCain, where will the divisions be drawn, and the commonalities emphasized?

Especially with the story of the junior senator from Illinois, no matter what the outcome this November will be, Obama’s experiences and his campaign’s strategic decisions throughout this past year will be a remarkable blueprint and benchmark for future campaigns.

Perhaps what has impressed me most about his campaign, being the pseudo-techie that I am, is his team’s embracement and understanding of technology, and the power of social networking and the psychology behind it.

True, Obama has a charisma that resonates with his core base – young Americans – that is strongly reminiscent of the Kennedy campaign. True, his personal story is dynamic, engaging, and widely appealing, spanning not only racial chasms, but socioeconomic ones as well. True, he brings with him a breath of fresh air to a capitol that has long been perceived as rotting from within.

But no matter how much personality and personal charisma Obama has, his win and journey thus far would not have been possible without the monetization and mobilization of his empassioned supporters. He has astonished everyone with the tremendous amount of funding he has amassed from millions of Americans making five, ten dollar donations.

How?

Matching contributions + matching Obama lovin’.

In a stroke of sheer marketing genius, Obama’s campaign tapped into one of the fundamentals of mass fundraising. Especially in giving, we want to maximize our contributions (hence, sites like CharityNavigator that sort through non-profits according to their efficiency). By having someone else – another Obama supporter – match every donation through the Obama site, his campaign turned every dollar of contribution into two.

And when that happened, it connected two contributors today. For example, if Suzy Q from South Carolina donated $15, it was matched by $15 from Bobby G in Florida. An e-mail was sent to both parties, letting both contributors whose fund they had either matched or been matched by. Want to connect? No problem. The ability to send an e-mail was only a click away. It created a sense of community, allowed people to have a platform to engage, and created a snowball effect of the “I heart Obama” phenomena that has played a tremendous role in securing Obama’s place on the ticket for November.

Uniting a nation the size of the United States, across 50 states and generations, is no small task, and connecting them through this online platform nicely backs the Senator’s continual call of “Together, we can.”

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facebook profiles.

it’s kinda weird … when you write on someone’s wall, knowing that they’ll never write back …

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… to serve better thy country and thy kind

“Depart to serve better thy country and thy kind.”

These are the words that are etched above the Dexter Gate at Harvard University as one exits under its arch. How true these words ring, particularly at an institution like Harvard. After awhile, in whatever our pursuits may lead us to, many people may find that their appetite for success may not be equally matched by the fulfillment one’s experiences in life may bring. For many, this fulfillment may come from spirituality and religion. But even then, part of that fulfillment is through taking the greater community, and the greater good, into consideration, into fellowship.

When we enter institutions of higher learning around the country, how many of us have really heard the names McKinsey, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and the Boston Consulting Group? Yet for how many of us does this so often become the object of our ultimate pursuit within our undergraduate years? Harvard estimated that 20 percent of its recent graduates will be entering into a career of management consulting or banking upon graduation. 20 percent in just two professional routes that represent a fraction of that percent in the overall global picture.

While these two paths unarguably open up a number of doors and pathways that may not have been otherwise existent, are these two careers — and others like it — the only tried and true methods to reach whatever our end goals may be? Or are we, in our views that only seem myopic in hindsight, limiting our options by focusing so exclusively early on?

When we leave college, when we step into new beginnings, do we truly take to heart the cliched sentiments that often fill commencement speeches — the ones that call for us to follow our hearts, our dreams, our passions. Or perhaps we do remember these callings, but forget all too quickly as we once again fall in beat with the every day rhythm of schedules, and obligations.

In a world as globalized as the one we continue to venture into, where news from Darfur travels almost as instantaneously as whispers from our nation’s capital, where the possibility of eradicating poverty is just as attainable as sustaining a successful venture, where do our priorities lie?

Opposite to these words, at the entrance of the gate, is another calling: “Enter to grow in wisdom.” These words — both at the gate’s entrance and exit — are ones that perhaps should be inscribed over the gates of all institutions of higher education around the world. After all, what is the purpose of life if not to leave a better world for the next generation? We often enter colleges bearing with us the hopes of changing the world, of seeing life in a different light, in pursuit of a lifelong commitment to learning — and when we graduate, do we still, and to what extent, carry with us these same sentiments?

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“Foreigners are ruining America”

What can I say — Riding on Berkeley buses is like a box of chocolates, never know what you’re going to get.

Today, it would be a Democratic Party volunteer discussing with the bus driver how foreigners were the root cause of all problems in the United States. Essentially, to paraphrase, she blamed the bulk of the credit crisis on those who came to the United States, “took advantage of the laws here,” borrowed money to finance the high-roller life, claimed precious spots in the US higher education system, and then defaulted on their loans by leaving the country. Those who did stay, she claimed, showed only apathy for America, let alone the American political system and values.

Her solution?

Stop opening the doors of immigration. Saying that she had lived in London for 25 years, it was “clear” to her that places like the UK and France did not want any foreigners in their countries anymore. And that if the US went to Japan or China and started taking over the resources that were meant for people there, there would be immediate protests.

Hmmm … funny — I always thought that the US was the largest FDI, and Europe generally much more compassionate with immigrants. Starbucks in the Forbidden Palace? Higher refugee quotas in Europe despite less resources? Yeah, there are too many things about this argument that are flawed, but that is not the point I want to get at.

While I’m sure she doesn’t know all the facets about this issue she speaks so passionately about, what bothers me is that this is probably a generally held view among the public. And as politicians, do either members of the nation’s two leading parties ever truly make an attempt to shift this perception? I’m not saying that there is no shard of truth in it, but the extremes of these views may drive America to a state that is simply not sustainable.

Especially in an election year as critical as the one we are in now, where the economic future is uncertain to say the least, it is so easy to pass the blame from party to party, when what we really need is a more holistic and balanced understanding in striving for a global solution.

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Young and Restless in China

Young and Restless in China

I know I’ve written plenty about “change” and “China,” but there’s just always so many new aspects, and more importantly, so many new individual stories unfolding that it is a subject that is hard to avoid for long. For me at least.

Especially with the Olympics less than two months away (can you believe it? I still remember when the countdown clock in Tiananmen Square displayed more than two years away!),the spotlight will shine on a changing China. What will that China represent? Where will the pendulum settle in that on-going dichotomy between “tradition” and “modernity,” between “honor” and “self,” between “values” and “wealth”?

These were only some of the questions that the most recent PBS Frontline special, “Young and Restless in China” shed light on. Over a four year period, producer Sue Williams followed the lives of nine individuals from a multitude of backgrounds in their journeys to find their place within the ever-changing Chinese society.

As PBS Frontline generally does, the portrayal of these characters’ lives were intimate, full of raw emotion, and real, and at least from a surface level, represented journalism at its very best. What I particularly liked about this feature was that it spanned both a breadth of individuals — an up and coming rapper (really quite good actually), two migrant workers, a public interest lawyer, a Chinese-educated MBA, two foreign-educated entrepreneurs, and a divorcee — and depth. One theme that resonated continually throughout the film was the struggle to balance personal values with the “way that things have always been done.” A point that Lu Dong, an investment banker/consultant turned entrepreneur, repeatedly brought up was the growing need to fulfill the spiritual hunger in China. “China,” he says, “is now a society with no beliefs, and no role models.”

This is echoed in the words of Miranda Hong, a marketing executive for a local mutual funds company, when she talks about the government’s annual “happiness index.” “When Chinese talk about happiness, it’s about their ability to buy the things they like; it’s a practical happiness”

Definitely a must-watch for anyone interested in China today, especially in its social transformation.

Here is a preview:

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Failure Resumes

In school (or at least business-like type of schools), we are driven to write resumes. Resumes that are supposed to summarize our life accomplishments and aspirations in one 8.5 by 11″ piece of paper. While I’ve found the process to actually be helpful in assessing how much I’ve actually done, I think having failure resumes are even more helpful.

Why?

Because I think there is something to be said about being able to admit failure, reflect on past actions, and bounce back. We all make mistakes. To borrow the words of another famous person whose name slips my mind, what separates good from great is not our achievements but rather how we choose to deal with defeat (paraphrased — I also like to use quotes since people from the past have already affirmed what I believe, people who are infinitely more well-known than me as well. :)).

I never really thought about this before coming to the Bay Area, and used to struggle with the idea of failure.  If I was rejected from a scholarship/program, it was always uncomfortable for me to go back, because I felt that perhaps I wasn’t deemed to be “good enough.” But was I any more right when I was afraid of failing? No — I simply had less fun. That is one of the greatest gifts of the Silicon Valley, something that is embued within the DNA here — people look at you not for your achievements, but rather ask, what was your last big failure.

Use failure as a way to grow, use a failure resume to point out the areas that call for improvement, that gives you pause to think about whether or not you are doing what you want to be doing at any particular moment, or what you envisioned yourself to be doing at any particular time.

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四川的孩子们–我们支持您

昨天是六月儿童节。 我记得小时候,每次回国就想要体委儿童节的棋风。遗憾的, 每次都没有机会因为往往六月初还是只能有等待暑假的梦想时期而已。 现在也许不能算是“儿童”了……可是昨天想起儿童节就为在四川受灾韩影响的孩子们而觉得危难。 我想今年的儿童节是一个他们永远不会忘得节日……从Youtube上看到的照片,摄影,都更加表达这次地震的严重性。 可是我也相信孩子们有那种坚强的精神, 那种天真的心, 会再次的战起来, 会再次的往前走……

Children of Sichuan — We Support You

Yesterday was Children’s Day. I remember when I was a kid, I would always look forward to the time when I would be able to experience the festivities of this holiday. Unfortunately, I never had the chance because the beginning of June corresponded only with the ability to wishfully dream about summer vacation. While I may not be a “child” anymore, thinking about Children’s Day yesterday made me think about the kids affected by the Sichuan earthquake. I imagine this is one Children’s Day they will never forget … watching the slide shows and video clips on YouTube only drove the message further home about the widespread impact of this eqarthquake. But I believe that kids have a strong spirit, a strong will, a steady heart, and that they will stand up again, and that they will move forward …

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