How Ideal Impact is bridging the gap between journalism & social good
By Mike Wallberg
Even over 3,000 miles of phone lines, Olivier Kamanda’s passion was palpable, his pedigree as a speechwriter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton evident in the eloquence and clarity of his expressions.
We talked this day about his social profit project, Ideal Impact, and the ways it could revolutionize the way journalism can be harnessed for social good.
Still in its infancy, the software company seeks to capitalize on the personal momentum that good social journalism inspires by connecting readers with organizations that could use the help.
Take, for example, the issue of homelessness.
“You may have never thought about homelessness before, but our guess is at some point you’re going to read an article that moves you, that inspires you, and when that happens we want to be there to channel that energy,” Kamanda said, “to capture that moment of inspiration.”
In this case, pushing a button on your Web browser would take you to a collection of local organizations invested in helping to address homelessness and suggest ways to help.
“I haven’t found any not-for-profit that hopes to achieve its goals without getting community support – whether it’s volunteers, donors, advocacy help, or even staff help,” Kamanda said. “So we want to really bridge that gap and make sure that all of those who care are connected with folks who are supporting that work and addressing those social problems.”
Challenging the learn-earn-return model
Kamanda sees Ideal Impact as an answer to the outdated model of “giving back” – once the kids are in college and the mortgage is gone – that has prevailed historically.
“This speaks to a mindset that is no longer really applicable to the way that people think about the value that they add to society,” he said. “The learn-earn-return model worked for a very long time because the scope with which you could engage in the community was limited. Now, the opportunity to really change the world is within our reach and we’re no longer limited by our geographic or financial boundaries.”
Long fascinated by what motivates people – as a student activist at Princeton, a foreign policy journalist and publisher in law school, and a political speechwriter – Kamanda’s “aha moment” came when reading The New York Times’ award-winning “Invisible Child” series in 2013.
“Everyone read this article because it was so powerful, because it wasn’t written for the folks who naturally follow homelessness,” Kamanda said. As someone who already engaged with the homelessness problem in his community, the penny dropped for him.
“What made it click was if everyone read that article and thought about how to help knew about our campaign, we’d have more than enough support in volunteers to demonstrate to city council that this was an issue the people really cared about.”
And so in January of 2014, Kamanda quit his law practice and took up the project full-time – a decision that inspired incredulity among some of his peers and that has pushed him personally. Being a social entrepreneur, it seems, can be a test of mettle.
“It requires an emotional resilience but also … at some point, your significant others, friends, co-workers, other people wonder what you do all day and where you’re going. Because to them, the risk calculation is totally off. They can’t really understand why you would do something [like this] or why you’d take a complete leap of faith.”
Enter Halcyon Incubator, a benefactor to social entrepreneurs established by the S&R Foundation that selected Kamanda for its inaugural class of seven fellows. The group was invited to move into a tiny 18th century Georgetown mansion in September (Kamanda lives nearby with his family) and have access to a team of mentors and advisors who provide advice on everything from marketing to finance to legal issues.
Aside from the valuable strategic and hands-on direction, Halcyon also provided Kamanda with validation.
“Having a place like Halcyon is valuable because I can say, ‘Hey, I’m not just some guy with a laptop and an idea. There are people with years of experience in business and philanthropy and social entrepreneurship who find the value in what I’m doing and are willing to invest in helping me create a project.’”
Kamanda is six weeks into his 14-month time with Halcyon and already he has the browser button and a URL-shortener in production. Similar to a bit.ly shortener, his version will allow users to share content on Twitter but directs readers to a version that embeds targeted opportunities to help.
He is aiming for a late-2014 rollout of these applications, plus apps for mobile and ultimately integrations for Facebook and other social media platforms. Longterm, even digital television is not off-limits. He is also considering gamifying aspects of the experience.
“People have a need to engage as social beings. [They seek] not just the ability to have impact and purpose, but also to promote their own social value,” Kamanda said.
This wrinkle would allow a reader who shares a story to see not only how many followed his link to the story, but also how much engagement that then encouraged with local charities.
“Knowing that your classmates and your friends and your colleagues and your family members are all thinking about this … that’s when we see the real impact of this work because it creates a sort of echo chamber.”
More than technology – a repository for self
Kamanda’s vision is not bounded by the limits of technology and, in fact, is guided by something more profound than browser buttons and Twitter shares.
He sees Ideal Impact’s longterm role as a gathering place, repository, and reflection of people’s individual values. Think: LinkedIn meets Change.org meets something that frankly doesn’t exist yet.
“If I were to draw a Venn diagram of all the issues and communities that matter to me, at the intersection of all those circles and all those communities is who I am and what matters,” Kamanda said.
“When you get people to think about it that way, when they see themselves at the intersection of those communities, then it’s no longer about this extrinsic thing you have to do because of guilt; you’re doing it because you’re very much self-interested. And that’s the whole point of changing the way we think and talk about social impact and service is that it’s something you do because it’s inherent.
“We want to create the tools to show who you are, what matters to you, and what value you provide to society — apart from where you went to school, what jobs you know, and what your employer had to say about you. We want to be as ubiquitous as the resume.”