Thursday, August 1, 2013

Changing the world

 Katherine Stone and Cheryl Contee
My BlogHer'13 experience started out on Thursday as I attended a pre-conference workshop. With several from which to choose, it was a very hard decision to settle on attending My Blog as a Change Agent. I also wanted to attend My Blog as a Business and My Blog as a Media Company, but I couldn't figure out how to make the cloning app work! And clearly, since I've been working without pay forever, my motivation really is to change the world. And every now and again, I hope that Oprah is right when she says, "Do what you love; the money will follow."

It was great that the Changemaker sessions were led by two women who have become wildly successful following their passions. Cheryl Contee and Katherine Stone both started blogging simply because they were passionate about a topic and wanted to vent. They had no plan or strategy the day they sat down and wrote that first blog post.

Cheryl Contee is the co-founder of Jack and Jill Politics, one of the top black blogs online. Her conference bio says,
She is included in The Root 100 list of African-American leaders; Huffington Post lists her in the Top 27 Female Founders in Tech to Follow on Twitter in 2011; Fast Company named her one of their 2010 Most Influential Women in Tech. Cheryl has appeared in the Washington Post, NY Times, San Francisco Magazine, BBC, CNN, and others. She serves on several boards and advisory committees: Netroots Nation, BlogHer, Blogging While Brown, Applied Research Center, and Additionally, Cheryl is a partner at Fission Strategy where she helps non-profit organizations and foundations use social media to create social good.
After her own experience with postpartum depression, Katherine Stone began blogging at what is now the world's leading blog on the topic, Postpartum Progress. She also blogs at the Fierce Blog, Disney's, and Huffington Post Parents. She is the founder of Postpartum Progress Inc., a nonprofit focused on improving support for women with PPD. Her conference bio says,
In 2012, Katherine was named one of the fiercest women in America as part of More magazine's annual Fierce List. She also was listed among the most influential mom bloggers in 2011 and 2012 by Babble, and has been selected as a Health Hero by WedMD and also WEGO Health. Katherine has been featured by CNN, the Huffington Post, Yahoo, AOL, PBS, the Today Show, HLM, ABC News and the Washington Post among others. She often speaks publicly at such events as SXSW, BlogHer, the Mom 2.0 Summit, and many women's health events.
So, how did these women become change agents?

When Katherine had her first child in 2001, everything went perfectly and then she had a devastating bout of postpartum depressions. She was stunned. She didn't know where to get help, and thought she was a terrible person and that her son deserved a better mother. She worked at Coca Cola at the time and was angry that in 2001 she didn't know that it could happen or where to get help. She said, "You couldn't even find help where you thought you should be able to." It just kept gnawing at her that she couldn't find help.

So, Katherine's question to the audience was, "What keeps gnawing at you and won't let you go?"

She decided to devote her life to writing about postpartum depression and today her site gets a million page views a year. Of course, she is no longer a lone mom blogging. If you really want to change the world, you have to expect that your blog will grow bigger than what one person can handle. At some point you will have to bring on other team members and figure out how to let go of the reins a little bit while still remaining true to your mission and your vision. Katherine now has volunteers who do some of the posts on her blog, and although they are free to share their information and opinions, there are "guard rails" that provide guidelines for posts. For example, no one is supposed to include medication names and dosages because Katherine doesn't want people assuming that a particular drug or dosage will work for them without consulting their doctor.

Cheryl agreed that it is hard to let go and stop doing everything yourself, but when you have an online community you will see leaders emerge and you'll know who you want to become part of your leadership team.

After seven years of blogging, Katherine decided to start a non-profit because she felt she needed to do more than just blog. She was still hearing the same stories from women as when she started the blog. Starting the non-profit was not necessarily an easy thing. In fact, after she started it, she had a crisis in self-confidence and didn't do anything for months except cry and wonder why she did it!

"Just get out there and do it and forget about the reasons you are holding yourself back," Katherine said.

Cheryl initially started blogging after a politician used a racial slur. She felt that as a middle-class African American, she was not being seen. Everyone knows about the black celebrities and the men in prison, but it seemed that the middle-class, college-educated group was mostly ignored. She initially used a pseudonym because she was afraid she would risk her job and possibly her life if she used her own name. When she reached 700,000 unique page views per month, she was both terrified and thrilled. Like Katherine, she had to ask for help because the blog grew to be something bigger than what one person could handle. She began to look through the comments to find people who had good insight into the issues.


What is challenging as a change agent?
How do you overcome those challenges?
"Challenges are what make life interesting. Overcoming them is what makes it meaningful." -- Unknown
Not so sure you want to be a change agent? Cheryl said, "Whenever you ask, 'who am I to do this?' then ask, if not me, who else will do it?"

Katherine said, "Why do I throw myself on the fires? Because 1 in 7 women get postpartum depression. Only 15% of them ever get professinoal treatment. The 85% who don't get treatment can go on to have lifelong chronic mental illness and their children have cognitive issues, behavioral issues, and will grow up to have mental health issues as adults. I have a 7-year-old daughter. I have 20 years to fix this for her" before she gets pregnant and has a child.

"This isn't about me. I'm trying to help other people." Cheryl said, "Every woman in this room has more of a chance to change the world than any woman who ever lived before." And then she held up her cell phone, and said it has more computing power than what sent a man to the moon. "There is nothing to stop you except yourself."

Some of the attendees at the session were from India and China, so we also got a glimpse of how the rest of the world is moving towards technology -- or not. Rural India doesn't have the Internet, so the Indian bloggers are giving a voice to those people whose stories would not otherwise be heard. The woman from China writes about the work camps in that country. This also means that you can't rely on social media 100% to get the word out because not everyone is connected, although the number is steadily growing.

The morning half of this particular workshop was more inspiring than instructional, but I was so inspired that I didn't even realize the lack of nuts and bolts until I started going through my notes. The main instructional part of this workshop talked about how to grow your movement -- because if it is just one person, it can only get so big. If you really want to change the world, you will need help. So, how do you grow? Ask super-users what skills they have, what connections they have, and jump offline and start raising awareness of the situation in the real world. Even though you may not have started with a strategy, you will need a strategy to grow.
  • What is the change you want to see? 
  • Whose door needs to be knocked on so that the change will happen? 
  • Who will make a difference? 
  • Who knows them?
And one really good piece of advice from the ladies before we went to lunch -- it is okay to not do something, or to not share a particular story, if you are not ready to do it. "You can get story-sharing remorse like crazy." Procrastination is not a horrible thing all the time.

My take-away: I totally get it now! I know that people are most likely to stick around on your blog and be engaged when you are posting regularly. Yeah, every day is best, but who really has time to do that? There are a few really devoted people who do that, but most of us will fall short. When you are not able to post regularly, you need to partner with others to make that happen so that you can build a community with like-minded individuals.

Another very important take-away for me: Don't let self-doubt slow you down!

Coming up next: the afternoon half of the workshop where we do get into the nuts and bolts of changing the world.

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