Thursday, June 19, 2008

New Blog

Visit my "new" blog:

I'm going to stop posting on this blog now. See you at the Savvy Capitalist!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Business/Enlightened Self-Interest

Since well before publishing my first book and turning from businessman into consultant, I've been preaching the gospel of Enlightened Self-Interest: that doing the right thing pays. With our language school, the pitch is that employers who pay for the English lessons of their workers benefit immensely through better-trained/more efficient workers whose morale and loyalty is unshakable; a greatly expanded pool of potential managers (no matter how talented you are, you can't manage if you don't speak the language), greater morale among the rest of the workers, who (a) don't feel their co-workers are talking about them in Spanish, Vietnamese, etc. and (b) love working for a company that actually cares about its people, even its lowest-wage workers; vastly-improved customer service; increased customer loyalty, because they too like buying for a company that shows it cares... The list of benefits goes on and on.

The trick here is, there's no trick. Our clients tell us these are the tangible results of our training. They pay a little (but not too little!), and benefit a lot.

That is the case with workplace ESL lessons, but the point carries over to the entire realm of enlightened management. A quick review of the companies out there that treat their people better than the market demands, that conduct themselves ethically even when no one is looking (the only legitimate test of ethics), that treat their suppliers and customers fairly rather than exploitively, that give to charities either directly or (better) through matching employee contributions - these companies perform better than their competitors.

Of all his points, the one I take most exception with is Milton Friedman's notion that there is a duality between doing the right thing for "pure" motives and doing the same exact right thing for selfish gain. Try as you might, you can't separate the two!

When I was in college studying philosophy, I came to understand the same thing regarding altruism: there is no such thing as a purely unselfish act. Even if no one else knows what you've done, and even if it harms you while helping strangers, it still benefits you in some way, at least through a feeling inside that you have done the right thing. So too with corporations: there is nothing "right" that a company can do that will not benefit that company in some way...

...although I must make clear that sometimes the right thing to do could cause the company's demise. Imagine if Phillip Morris simply stopped making cigarettes - didn't sell off its operations, just closed them. They'd go bankrupt the same day.

Some companies are inherently good; it's built into their DNA, part of their founding culture. I have to research this company better, but I think Johnson & Johnson is one such firm (either that or they've really done a great snow job!) Other companies are inherently evil and destructive, and that's also built into their DNA starting with their founders: Blackwater, Halliburton; all tobacco companies.

But the vast majority of companies are wandering around in the middle of the road, pursuing profits as best their leaders know how without bothering (or daring?) to stand for anything ethical or good. I really believe that such companies - and such leaders - need "permission" to do the right thing: that most would like to, but how can they do the right thing when they're just getting by?

One of the main functions of The Naples Institute, as I envisioned it from before I even approached Gene Landrum and Bernie Turner with the notion, is to create an authoritative, revered institution that gives business leaders that permission. An organization that teaches enlightened leadership, that publically recognizes enlightened management, and that plainly, undeniably illustrates how doing the right thing - being enlightened - serves the best interest of the individual, the leader, and the organization.

Reader, your thoughts are not only welcome, but sought after.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Education/Teach for America

Let me preface this article by the source - The Wall Street Journal - is suspect now that Rupert "Fox & Friends" Murdoch owns it. Still, it's brilliant: this is exactly what my Naples Institute colleagues and I have been discussing.


Amazing Teacher Facts
June 14, 2008; Page A10

This month 3,700 recent college grads will begin Teach for America's five-week boot camp, before heading off for two-year stints at the nation's worst public schools. These young men and women were chosen from almost 25,000 applicants, hailing from our most selective colleges. Eleven per cent of Yale's senior class, 9% of Harvard's and 10% of Georgetown's applied for a job whose salary ranges from $25,000 (in rural South Dakota) to $44,000 (in New York City).
Hang on a second.

Unions keep saying the best people won't go into teaching unless we pay them what doctors and lawyers and CEOs make. Not only are Teach for America salaries significantly lower than what J.P. Morgan might offer, but these individuals go to some very rough classrooms. What's going on?

It seems that Teach for America offers smart young people something even better than money – the chance to avoid the vast education bureaucracy. Participants need only pass academic muster and attend the summer training before entering a classroom. If they took the traditional route into teaching, they would have to endure years of "education" courses to be certified.
The American Federation of Teachers commonly derides Teach for America as a "band-aid." One of its arguments is that the program only lasts two years, barely enough time, they say, to get a handle on managing a classroom. However, it turns out that two-thirds of its grads stay in the education field, sometimes as teachers, but also as principals or policy makers.
More importantly, it doesn't matter that they are only in the classroom a short time, at least according to a recent Urban Institute study. Here's the gist: "On average, high school students taught by TFA corps members performed significantly better on state-required end-of-course exams, especially in math and science, than peers taught by far more experienced instructors. The TFA teachers' effect on student achievement in core classroom subjects was nearly three times the effect of teachers with three or more years of experience."

Jane Hannaway, one of the study's co-authors, says Teach for America participants may be more motivated than their traditional teacher peers. Second, they may receive better support during their experience. But, above all, Teach for America volunteers tend to have much better academic qualifications. They come from more competitive schools and they know more about the subjects they teach. Ms. Hannaway notes, "Students are better off being exposed to teachers with a high level of skill."

The strong performance in math and science seems to confirm that the more specialized the knowledge, the more important it is that teachers be well versed in it. (Imagine that.) No amount of time in front of a classroom will make you understand advanced algebra better.

Teach for America was pleased, but not exactly shocked, by these results. "We have always been a data-driven organization," says spokesman Amy Rabinowitz. "We have a selection model we've refined over the years." The organization figures out which teachers have been most successful in improving student performance and then seeks applicants with similar qualities. "It's mostly a record of high academic achievement and leadership in extracurricular activities."

Sounds like the way the private sector hires. Don't tell the teachers unions.

End note: While the Wall St. Journal has historically always been a knee-jerk union-basher, I am union-agnostic. Nothing is truer than the old saw, "A company (or school system) that goes union deserves a union." Workers choose to join a union when they feel they need protection from their employers. And American school teachers certainly need protection from most school systems.

Still, I am firmly opposed to the position of teachers' unions that seniority, and not skill, decide issues such as pay and job security. So while I won't join the gleeful abuse being heaped out by the WSJ, I abstain with that caveat.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Capitilism 2.0

A few days ago a colleague at The Naples Institute commented on the notion that the sole purpose of a business is to make money for its stockholders, who are then free to do what they like with it, including giving it to charity if they choose. That's not a new idea, of course; it is one of the tenets of Primitive Capitalism (my own term). Indeed, in a public corporation, stockholders have been known to sue management in order to compel them to maximize profits.

I don't think that choice will disappear anytime soon, and I don't think it necessarily should. I personally enjoy choice and variety in the world.

Here's the thing, though: that is becoming only one option of several in the modern economy. One thing I would really like to see happen with The Naples Institute is for us to establish ourselves as leaders in what many are calling Capitalism 2.0 - the more sophisticated view of businesses as potential instruments for positive social change as well as of profits.

Look at the "For-benefit corporation," such as Newman's Own, which is legally a for-profit company, but which gives 100% of those profits to charity. That's hundreds of millions of dollars so far. There is another for-benefit corporation, TMI, in Immokalee that I hope we get to tour at some point. Michael, Jane, and I are in the process of turning Naples Social into a for-benefit corporation. The model makes more sense to us, especially as we are not going to ask for donations to fund our operations.

Many profit-oriented companies are still agents of social responsibility. Starbucks and numerous other firms sell Fair-Trade Certified coffee. Whole Foods is very serious about its giving. And we already talked about Tithe and More (, the local real estate firm that gives 30% of its profits to charity.

Gene Landrum and I have just started a venture fund. 10% of our profits from that will go to charity. Also, the companies we create will give 10% to charity. Our first firm is already set up to do so.

The question came up at the last NI meeting, does Tithe and More benefit from its dedication to charity? Is this a marketing ploy? My answer is, (a) I'm certain it is useful to its marketing - I myself would prefer to give them my business than another realtor - but (b) it is not a ploy. I've met Bill Ventress, the broker/founder. He is a remarkable man who honestly, to his core intends to help others.

Capitalism 2.0 is all about companies doing more than just maximizing profits. It's about doing Good, with a capital G. It is also about Enlightened Self-Interest. Chew on this: overwhelmingly, the companies I am familiar with that are socially responsible are also much more competitive than their less generous competitors.

My argument for even the most Neolithic, primitive business person who wants to make money and nothing else: give. Behave ethically. It pays - in actual money.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

What is Social Justice?

As Dr. James R. Fisher, Jr. ( points out, the purpose of a think tank is to create and disseminate original thought. As The Naples Institute is a think tank dedicated to fighting for social justice, I sent this one-question survey out to our members. I'd love to hear from you as well.

Q - In your view, what is "Social Justice?"

My own thoughts, to get your juices flowing:

I think that social justice is present in a society where everyone shares legitimately equal opportunity. If we live in a society where any child, even those born poor to the most miserable, unfit parents, has the unfettered chance to gain a top-notch education and pursue any career she chooses, then we have passed the most important litmus test of a just society. Add to that the consistently-applied, unbiased rule of law; freedom from governmental corruption; a safety net that ensures every person will not starve or suffer malnutrition, be exposed to the elements, or lack adequate health care; and that those honestly incapable of work can live free from poverty (the elderly, the truly infirm, the mentally incapable).

If our society delivers on this promise, then I view it as just - not "generous," but "fair."

I think a "generous" society is one that stunts adversity. Adversity has, throughout history, been the prime motivator for people to excel. I wouldn't want to take that benefit away from anyone.

By the way - this is from Jim's website:

Dr. Fisher is also a chartered member of THE NAPLES INSTITUTE, a leadership think tank fighting for social justice by identifying leadership problems of the world, producing new leaders, and promoting leadership consistent with its aims of social justice for all people.

I couldn't have said it as well - or as succinctly - myself.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Laptops/What the kids are actually up to

Okay, so yesterday we gave laptops to a bunch of kids. What are they going to do with them, exactly?

What indeed? They are going to be tricked into learning critical reasoning skills, computer-code writing, high school math, graphic arts, coherent and interesting story-telling... we're teaching these little school kids how to actually think! Something that doesn't happen nearly often enough in today's schools.

Specifically, the kids are learning digital storytelling. The 30-hour/30-lesson Waveplace Foundation project is all focused on one end result: an animated story, created, designed, and executed entirely by the children. The teachers give them the guidance they need to manipulate the software, and they help the kids along the way if they forget something. If a child wants to try something even harder than what the course teaches - which has already happened, just in the first class - then that's great, and the teachers are there to lead them through it. The children also teach each other to a remarkable degree. I was shocked to see how helpful and kind they can be. My peers and I weren't exactly as nice to each other when I was a squirt.

Most of the learning takes the form of trial and error. For instance, my project is to take my dog Stubby surfing (she'll have a goal and some obstacles along the way, but I haven't gotten that far). I drew Stubby yesterday in Lesson 1, then learned how to make her move around the screen in Lesson 2. I wrote code, which made her complete a square, 90-degree angles included (yes, the kids are learning high school geometry!) To get Stubby to go in a triangle instead of a square, I'd have to remove one line of code (3 sides = 3 turns, not 4, of course), and I'd have to turn those 90-degree angles into 120-degree angles.

We actually did this very exercise when Tim Falconer, the founder and president of Waveplace, was here in February. 25 migrant kids from RCMA, 8- and 9-year-olds, were plugging in numbers, trying to get the cartoon to travel in a triangle. They made many mistakes, learning that it was not only okay to do so, but that it was actually a lot of fun. Then they hit upon the right numbers, and - voila! The cartoon moved the way they wanted it to.

Imagine if you will how powerful they felt at that moment! These are some of the most disenfranchised children in the entire country. But they had just learned a skill, worked diligently to figure out a problem, failed and tried and failed and tried, and finally made it - all on their own.

As I said, that's in lessons 2 and 3. They'll be doing that tomorrow. By next Monday, they'll be even further along. First, they'll learn to create art, move it, and make it look like it's actually moving - legs walking, head turning, mouth opening and closing (one project is a dinosaur eating stars, for some reason). All that's just warm-ups. Once they've mastered all that stuff, they'll outline their actual story and begin to craft it on the screen.

Can you tell I'm excited? Spend an hour with these kids, and you will be, too. You can't sufficiently express the magnitude of this project with the written word - though I dare members of the press to try!

Business & Economics/Unions

My CFI friends and I are discussing unions today. Here is my take on that. Please note that my father was the personnel negotiator for two companies during two very contentious strikes in the 50's and 60's. For one of them, at Florida plants of Virginia-Carolina Chemical, he and other executives had to be helicoptered into the plant for their own safety. When not at the negotiating table, they worked the lines in order to keep the plants open.

Unions helped our nation, starting around the '30's as they began to gain traction. Somewhere around the '50's, the scale began tipping the other way in many industries. The problem today is, we're stuck with the public distaste of excessive union abuse from the 50's-80's, but legitimate need for strong unions in some fields even today.

I think it would work out a lot better if more companies were run like Nucor (a steel manufacturer). Nucor managers had to intervene for the safety of outside union organizers at one of their plants - because the workers were on the verge of physical violence! Now THAT is a company that understands Enlightened Self-Interest. By treating their people well, the people feel no need for the protection of a union.

Southwest Airlines is another famous example. They actually have MORE unions than any other airline (little-known fact), but have better labor relations - and they are singularly profitable. My pal Dr. Jody Gitell wrote a great book on the 10 reasons for that, The Southwest Airlines Way.

Neither companies nor unions are inherently good or bad. They're all just collections of individuals. It is the leaders who are good, bad, or (sometimes) indifferent.

Management whose workers choose to go union deserve a union, bottom line. I think the technical term for such managers is "knuckle-head." Currently, a large local employer is a fascinating example of this brand of leadership.

Laptops/Profusion of low-cost options

This article in The Economist is very interesting.

We've been watching this issue closely. So far, the alternatives to OLPC's XO computer measure up on price or features. But that may very well change sooner, and probably will change later.

That's fine. The Waveplace courseware we're using in Immokalee and the Caribbean can be used with any computer, be it XO, Mac, or PC. So the device we use does not matter one bit.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Laptops/Tomorrow it starts!

I can't tell you how excited I am. Tomorrow, 43 fourth-grade migrant kids - the most at-risk children in our community - will each get his very own XO laptop computer, along with the first two-hour lesson in how to use it. Our Waveplace pilot will begin. (

I've been waiting four years for this. That's when I first read about the adorable little green-and-white XO, and the mission of One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), a nonprofit spin-off of the MIT Media Lab. (

For four years I've watched, waited; tried to help and been rebuffed ("We aren't set up to take donations at this point," I was told when I first reached out to OLPC all those years ago. How hard is it to open an envelope and deposit a check!?!?)

Now, it's actually going to happen. You may think I need a life, but tomorrow's event will mean more to me than my birthday. Of course, I caught the flu this year on my birthday and my family was away in Boston, but still....

Tim Falconer, the creator of Waveplace, is flying into town tonight with another of our board members and our documentarian.*

Tomorrow at 9:30, the teachers assemble to begin their training, which will cover 30 hours in the next five days. Two of the teachers are only 14 years old. The idea of teenagers stepping up to lead in this way - that's a whole new dimension that we hadn't even anticipated.

This project we're about to launch is transformative on multiple levels.

Joining us will be Valerie Alker of WGCU Radio. That is just the beginning of some outstanding media coverage which will include Wink TV, the Naples Daily News, and even National Public Radio.

This is a national news story.

At 1:00 the children will arrive for their first lesson. So will Bill Ventress, my new idol, who is funding one of the two pilots. His company,, is nothing short of inspirational. I'm sorry to gush like a school kid, but that's how I feel right now.

Of course, tomorrow is only day one of a week-long training with Tim, and a 10-week program with the kids and the teachers.

I promise to keep you posted as we go.

Oh, almost forgot: I guarantee you, we will stumble along the way. That's why this is called a pilot. It's the first time we'll have this many teachers involved, for one thing, and they have never worked as a team before. Jane, John Lawson, and I haven't worked in-person with Tim before - I hope we don't let him down, but we'll just have to see.

That's okay, though. Even with the occasional glitch, we will be learning and improving on the fly. We'll all be better for the experience.

*I'm pretty sure I made that word up, or at least that's what spell check wants me to believe. Go ahead and use it. Just give me credit if you would.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

One Terrific Triathlon

Congratulations to Linda Gregory, my pals at The Bike Route, Bikes for Tykes, the Zonta Club, and the Red Cross, and all those who helped for pulling off yet another excellent Naples Fitness Challenge Triathlon last Sunday. It was my first triathlon in 20 years, and it was absolutely the best-run tri I've ever participated in.

Man, am I out of shape! I've put on 50 pounds since starting our first company in 2001. As the saying goes, "All work and no play makes Ted a chubby boy." A friend took a picture of me as I emerged from the water, and... oh, boy. Let me apologize right now to everyone who had to see such a sight. A fat dude in a neon Speedo... it wasn't pretty. I wasn't pretty.

Let's use this as a starting point. I've been accused of being a motivational speaker: let's see if I can motivate myself to shed some lard.

Stay tuned.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Laptops/My $1 Wager

My friend Ken doubts we can do it - he isn't very positive about Laptop South Florida, Waveplace, or OLPC.

He has a good point. Ken argues that dedicated parents produce children who do well in school and in life, and that bad parents don't: those kids are screwed, and no laptop computer or creative, challenging courseware is going to change that.

I've heard this before, and it's true - to an extent. Studies show again and again the strong correlation between parental influence and the success or failure of a child. If we want the kids to make something of their lives, we have to change the parents. Period. Until we do that, we're wasting our time and resources.

I refuse to buckle in to this line of reasoning. If the odds are drastically stacked against many poor children because their parents each work three jobs and have ten kids, or because one is gone and the other is a crack-whore, or because they simply do not value education and have subterranean expectations for their progeny... so what? Are we going to just throw these young lives away?

Perhaps we should incarcerate them all now, before they turn ten. Think of all the crimes we'd prevent.

As a moral society, and as moral individuals, we cannot give up on these children. Not even the most hopeless among them.

My near-obsession is to help the worst of the worst-off children, the ones with the crappiest parents and worst prognoses, to make it anyway. I want to make sure that they get the education they deserve, are inculcated with the values they need to prosper educationally, economically, and morally.

I take Ken's pronouncement as a challenge. So I bet him $1 that he's wrong.* We each gave a third pal, Andy, our dollar. When these fourth-graders graduate from high school Andy will award that $2 to one of us. If our 42 kids in the pilots this summer graduate at 50% or worse, as is now the case in Immokalee, Ken is up two bucks. If we beat that by at least 10%, I win.

I will win this bet.

Here's why: because it isn't up to just me. We have a terrific core of believers assembled. All sorts of talented people are lining up to help us with this project. And the kids themselves are going to run with it, too. This is far bigger than any one of us.

*I always wager $1, never more. If you've seen the movie Trading Places, you'll know what inspires this.

A Tragic Loss

Mary Ann Durso, the driving force behind this nation's #1 local Habitat for Humanity organization (right here in Collier County) died yesterday.

I never met Mary Ann in person, though we've spoken on the phone several times. She was lively, gracious, and inspirational - just talking to her got me fired up to redouble my own efforts to help the community, a feeling that would stay with me for hours after I put down the phone.

I had meant to interview her, when I got around to it, as a Neapolitan of Note for our e-newsletter and for e Bella Magazine. Clearly, I'll never get around to it now. I blew my chance.

This community has lost a tremendous friend and servant to those in need. Mary Ann Durso will be sorely missed.

To read more about this remarkable lady:

My Friends

I relish the company of friends whose opinions differ from my own. I'm not being facetious. You see, I already know what I think and why. I'm much more interested in what other, possibly better-informed or more-intelligent, folks have to say.

When I'm with friends who are either more liberal or more conservative than I, or more pessimistic or cautious, for that matter, it gives me the chance to strengthen my arguments or to change my views - something I am happy to do (though that may surprise those of you who know how strongly I feel about... well, about most things.)

I had the unparallelled luck a while back to fall in with perhaps the most intelligent, informed, and delightfully quirky bunch of Friends I've ever had. These are the leaders of CFI Naples, my "philosopher's club." We break bread together once or twice a week, and talk about anything at all - many of my recent entries in this blog were inspired by live and online conversations with this crew. The discussions can range far and they can heat up pretty quickly. I enjoy every minute of each one!

If you do one thing next month, join us for the general CFI meeting/discussion on Tuesday, June 10th at 6:30 pm - more details can be found on the calendar at

CFI's monthly meetings provide arguably the most lively and interesting discussion in Greater Naples. Conservatives, liberals, believers and doubters, and all in between enjoy exploring some of the day's most controversial topics in a respectful, collegial atmosphere. Check your dogma at the door but please, bring your curiosity and zeal for reason!

Thursday, May 29, 2008


From Today's Boston Globe:

The One Laptop Per Child Foundation has landed an order for 65,000 of its low-cost XO laptop computers from the state of Caldas in Colombia. The state government will take delivery of at least 15,000 machines this year, with the rest to be shipped by the end of 2009. Each laptop costs $188, making the deal worth more than $12 million. The Cambridge-based foundation sells its XO laptops mainly to governments in developing countries where they are given free to children. (Hiawatha Bray)

We're part of something huge - and it's just beginning.


I hope I don't sound too much like a Pollyanna when I say that, looking back with the detachment of history, future generations may very well wonder what the American people were ever concerned about when we fretted over keeping our global prominence.

Japan scared the daylights out of us in the 80s and early 90s, but we don't utter a peep about them anymore. (Although it's interesting to note that they're still not far behind us at productivity, GDP, etc.).

Now we're just as fearful of China. On one hand, it's easy to see why, as they're growing at such a mind-boggling pace. But legions of their people still starve to death every day - starve, as in die of empty bellies! How can a nation in such straights maintain its self for long? China's competitive edge is propped up by an artificially-weakened currency and cheap labor, which is already rising in price and fueling transfer of jobs to less expensive nations such as Vietnam. And corruption is so endemic in China that it's hard to argue that they have the #1 guarantor of economic success, the rule of law.

Of course, we could also fret over the EU's new prominence if we choose. Maybe, if something happens in China's economy, that will be our next hobgoblin.

Here's the part I find fascinating about American culture, though: our entire history, about 400 years worth, is the story of simultaneous decline and rejuvenation. Yes, we have life-sapping American Idolatry, lazy, uneducated, pierced twenty-somethings, and rampant teen parenting. These factors are degenerating our society - they are, without a doubt in my mind!

But at the same time there are plenty of kids who are starting businesses, dedicating themselves to philanthropy; getting advanced degrees. I just met yesterday with a 30-year-old who, all by himself, is compensating for 20 slackers. It's hard to be a pessimist after an hour with a guy like that.

This country continually regenerates its self. America remains the most vibrant culture ever. And it will as long as enough of us care to ask the question, "Is this country in trouble?" I don't think that question will ever go away.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

More on Education Reform

The following is an elaboration of an entry from Tuesday, May 27th on this same topic.

My ideas for education reform are based strongly on personal experience, both as a former student and as the owner of a private language school. Here are some thoughts:

Teacher & School Quality

* As a nation, a state; a county, why would we ever even consider scrimping on education because of expense, as we do now? We don't do that with national defense! And isn't education national defense? It is our competitive edge. After our physical safety, what is more important to the life and prosperity of our republic?

* The quality of the teacher is the only thing that matters at all in education - assuming he/she isn't hobbled by arduous and bad curricula or working in an over-crowded classroom.

* Florida is ranked 35th in the nation -actually a big improvement over 48th just a few years ago. But here's my question: why aren't we copying the #1 (VA) and #2 (CT) states in every manner possible? Those states pay teachers much more than Florida, and it is very hard for even the most qualified candidates to land a position in either state.

* The PACE Center for Girls in Immokalee operates at about $10k/student, with tiny little classes, a very small student population, and kids who are admittedly the dregs of the Immokalee school system: these girls go to PACE because they have been kicked out of public school, have dropped out, or are in danger of one or both. Yet nearly all of them graduate, and most go on to college. Meanwhile, our county spends about $7,500/student, and look at the results. The drop-out rate in Immokalee is 50%. For an additional $2,500 per kid, we could have them all in PACE-like schools, county-wide.

Teacher Pay

* If you want the best teachers, you have to pay for them - same as any other career. Would you go to a surgeon who made $35,000 a year? Yes, there are some truly gifted teachers who perform their jobs despite the pay. But my ambition for our schools is to have the very-most talented graduates go first into teaching, if they can get the work; those left over will have to settle for law, medicine, business, etc. Then, two years later, 90% of these stars will go into the general work force, so those other fields will not have to suffer their absence for long.

* The going rate for ESL (English as a Second Language) teachers in Greater Boston is $15/hour (at Berlitz it's $8/hour). Coiné Language School pays $50/hour. Yes, Jane and I are do-gooders - I think that's pretty well-established. But Enlightened Self-Interest dictated this decision. It allows us to poach the very best teachers at will from the very best schools in the area (and thus in the world, as Boston is a global center for private ESL). Part of the reason we can recruit those teaching super-stars is the money, sure, but the other part is the respect that differential in pay shows these teachers. Good teachers get the results our corporate clients demand, and those clients then refer us to their peers. It's just savvy business.

Class Size

* There are courses in which knowledge can be passed down en masse, lecture-style. I honestly believe that a student will benefit more from a book and some spare time to read it. Indeed, at William & Mary a number of my professors were eminent scholars with acclaimed books and ground-breaking studies under their belts - and many of them were grossly incompetent at the art of teaching. I chose philosophy as my major because the professors taught better, plain and simple. The discipline fascinated me, sure, but so did a number of other subjects - English, history, sociology; psychology (my minor). (Side-note: W&M's philosophy department, with its talented teachers, is always ranked at or near the top nationally. Coincidence?)

* We guarantee our results at our language school - but only if the class has 8 students or fewer. This is based on my 12 years of experience with real, live classes: each time you add a student after 8, learning slows down perceptibly. So you can quote all the studies you like about class size and results, but... good luck convincing me. My opinion is based on experience and results.

Trimming Fat

* I think we have many-too-many administrators in our schools and our school systems. The money we could save by eliminating their jobs - most of which pay more than teaching posts, sadly - would make up part of the extra expenses you mention.

* One of my 11 points is on kids doing maintenance. That would save more money now paid to janitors (who, by the way, deserve thoughtful, dedicated out-placement: this is a current concern right here in our county, and I'm sympathetic to their situation).

Laptop Talk next Tuesday

The story on "60 Minutes:"

Join me next Tuesday, June 3 at 6:00 pm at the Naples YMCA (Pine Ridge just east of Airport Pulling Rd.). I will be leading an information session on "Laptop South Florida - What is it? and How you can get involved."

See ya there!

Ethical Investing

I find this article fascinating: This is Capitalism 2.0 in the flesh - something I didn't invent (sadly), but that I preach actively now as a business consultant. Our global economy is transforming, and I think it's a wonderful thing.

...Now let me play my own Devil's Advocate: (a) This is England. Those people still live in trees, from what I understand (never been there myself). London may be the new leader in international banking, but the rest of the UK economy has a lot to learn from ours. (b) These are teenagers. They'll out-grow it; this is just a phase. (c) They won't work for unethical companies? Good for those companies! Have you managed a person under 25 lately?

All of that is fair: the British economy doesn't exactly set our trends. Kids do indeed get more practical and less idealistic as they mature. And how much influence do you really think these kids will have on their parents' investments? But it still heartens me. It indicates a trend.

As top brass at Johnson & Johnson dubbed it in the '50s, this will motivate Enlightened Self-Interest: companies will start to cater to this trend, and the world will benefit.

Your thoughts on this matter are most appreciated.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Wow, that was a quick response! I shared my latest missive (below) with some friends, and one replied with the link to this editorial in The New York Times by Thomas Friedman, author of The World Is Flat (which I highly, highly recommend).

Prescription for Education

Here's my abbreviated prescription for our nation's public schools:

1. Teacher starting salary $80 k.
2. Teachers are hired with the expectation that they will serve only two years. Discharge them honorably with tuition to grad school.
3. The best 10% of teachers make it past those first 2 years. That will build in experience and mentoring.
4. No education classes recognized: content or nothing.
5. Maximum class size 12 students.
6. Standardized testing: AP exams, period.
7. Mandatory daily sports.
8. Mandatory daily chores (no maintenance staff).
9. Honor system strictly enforced.
10. Maximum school size 150 students.
11. 3 Rs + E: Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, and Entrepreneurialism. ...For EVERY kid!

As I said, that's just a start. As the saying goes, "If you think education is expensive, try ignorance!"

Some day soon, I'll get my hands on a charter school. Look out World!

PS - A link to the prep. school that literally changed my life. I can't stress that enough; it is impossible for me to exaggerate (try as I may). When the day comes for said charter school of my own, I plan to copy just as much as I possibly can from the Wooster School:

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Laptops/Give One, Get One is back!

Two important developments on the laptop story. Read the article below to learn more:;_hbguid=52e1c791-3db3-4f3d-a478-0f2eade2125e

Right to Bear Arms and Shoot Our Friends

Another spirited debate among the leaders of CFI Naples, which Jane calls my "Philosophy Club." Here I weigh in on the Second Amendment:

The Bill of Rights was written, it seems, with the intention of obscurity, perhaps to keep it a living document rather than a set of dictates that we genuflect to without thought. Still, the Second Amendment is particularly confounding to all of us.

There is "the right to bear arms" part, which seems clear enough until you consider which arms: all arms, including automatic weapons? Grenade launchers? Rocket launchers? Surface-to-air missiles?

Then there is the "in a well-regulated militia" phrase. Do we just ignore that part? If I buy a gun, can I declare myself a militia of one? Is a local gun club a militia? Or did the Founders perhaps mean something very well-regulated, like the National Guard? It seems that we have 50 very well-regulated militias.

Perhaps the ACLU considers the NRA to be doing a fine job of protecting our right to bear arms. As the second largest and best-funded lobby after AARP, I think that's the case.

I've got to weigh in as a moderate here, which is never very exciting. If I were the victim of a violent crime, I would want to carry a gun for my own sense of security. For that reason, I'm glad to have that right. On the other hand, if we regulated our gun position even a little bit better in this country, perhaps we'd be a lot safer. How many kids die fooling around with Dad's bed-side pistol each year? One is too many, but I think it's more than one. How many drunks kill friends with a .38-special every Saturday night at pool halls across the country?

I don't think guns are inherently dangerous. If you look at Switzerland, every single male aged 18 to about 60 is required to have a working military rifle in his home. The magazines are shrink-wrapped, though, and regular inspections ensure that anyone who opens their magazine's protective wrapping is sent to jail. Perhaps this is a closer definition of "well-regulated" than what we see in the US.

Have you seen Bowling for Columbine? The interview of Charlton Heston is... well, I'll never watch Planet of the Apes and The Ten Commandments in the same way again. It's hard to support the NRA after that scene, even if you aren't a big Michael Moore fan.

Friday, May 23, 2008


I see this as a possible way out of our current oil and global-warming woes without inviting economic ruin:

(a) We have the technology today to build fuel-efficient vehicles, the (ugly little) Prius being one of many. High gas prices are inspiring more consumers to purchase compact cars (25% of new sales last month) - let's hope that trend increases. This won't hurt any auto manufacturers one bit, and no one has to pass a law - as an ardent capitalist, I love it!

I think it's in our national interest to spur this along, though. Right now, today, we could close the small truck/SUV tax loophole and set minimum fuel standards that would be rewarded with tax breaks. Thus, if you want a Prius, you save money; if you still want a Navigator, good for you - please pay Uncle Sam a $5,000 fee for this luxury.

(b) Let's try nuclear power again on a large scale. I think it beats the alternative. Hopefully, we'll develop a way to "disarm" the toxic waste later.

(c) Let's give tax incentives to those who purchase green alternatives such as "Al Gore light bulbs" for the home and office, solar panels where they make sense weather-wise, etc. etc.

(d) Let's pour tax-money and private capital into R&D for green technology. If thousands of entrepreneurs across the country are encouraged to start small companies to solve some of these environmental problems... hey, isn't that fostering the ingenuity and drive that has kept this country great for 400 years?

Instead of coercion, let's try incentive. I'll bet we'll get much farther.

By the way: A few months ago, Jeanmarie Hendry (of The Naples Institute) took me to a building site in Bonita - poor folks buying their first homes, which were "green" houses. The technology was simple, available today, and in several cases (like the smaller air-conditioning units) LESS expensive than the typical alternatives - indeed, a number of the solutions were merely in design, not materials, like running the air ducts at chest-level instead of up high where the hot air of the room & roof heats the cooled air on its way into the room. There's no reason every private builder couldn't incorporate those ideas into their new homes without losing whatever price-advantage they enjoy today. They would be prompted to do this with tax incentives. Again, let's inspire through benefits, not penalties.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


The most important consideration is that we are actively working with the Sherriff's Dept. - their head of IT & cyber crimes now has one of the computers, which he is checking out - and NCMEC (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children) is actively engaged in this program. Amelia at NCMEC will be joining us the very first day of the program (June 9th) to certify the kids in an online safety program, and she will be back to work with us every time we have a new batch of children. Safety online comes through education, and (as a father of two young girls), that is of paramount importance.

...Along those lines, it is important to realize that many cell phones now enable Internet access. So the question isn't, "Will these children be going online?" but, "Will they know how to stay safe from predators and bullying when they do?"

Laptop Update

Tomorrow we will be meeting with the principal at Lake Trafford Elementary School. Hopefully, he'll match us with a teacher who will help us in the pilots this summer, and who will be the resident Immokalee laptop specialist, on hand to coach other teachers in Immokalee going forward.

So far, here is what we have:

* Classes will be held at Beth El Assembly of God. The kids will meet 3 times a week, one hour each time, throughout the summer. There will be 2 pilots running simultaneously, each with 21 kids - one group from RCMA, the other from Lake Trafford. All are going into 4th grade. There will be 3 teachers who will be certified teacher-trainers for this program by the time the pilot ends.

* The "XO" laptops are made by OLPC (One Laptop Per Child), a nonprofit started by professors at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab. They are child-sized, drop-proof, waterproof, dust-proof, have Wi-Fi that is four times better than anything we adults can buy for ourselves, and they have the only screen in existence that works well in direct sunlight. Again, we adults just can't buy that, no matter what we're willing to pay. They come with a still- and video-camera. They are theft-proof (they turn off when stolen), and even if they aren't connected to the Internet, they still instantly "mesh:" they recognize when another XO is within range, and hook up to it automatically, making collaboration a breeze. Because OLPC is a nonprofit, the computers themselves are only $220 each, including shipping. Including the training, this program costs $500 per child.

* The software (or "courseware," as it's called) that the kids will be using in class has been created by an organization out of Pennsylvania called Waveplace Foundation ( I am on the board of directors. The founder and president of Waveplace, Tim Falconer, will be leading the first week of teacher-training. That is 30+ intensive hours, most of which are the 3 teachers and Tim alone, going through the entire course that the kids will be taking this summer.

* Waveplace courseware is designed to teach the kids computer skills, including writing code, graphic design, animation, and digital story-telling, among other things. The children will even be using high school geometry - yes, these are 4th graders. Waveplace lets the kids explore and learn; the teachers help them along. Rather than "drill and kill" through rote memorization, kids have fun learning. They stay engaged this way. I've seen it in action. Let me tell you, it's amazing.

* We have had two previous pilots, one on St. John (US Virgin Islands), the other in Haiti. Results were great both times, though we're confident the kids in Immokalee will do even better with their projects because of the ground laid by those first two pilots.

* Once our two pilots are done, we're ready to roll out courses to as many students as we can raise funds for. Our first priority is to bring Waveplace training and OLPC computers to all of the 4th graders in Immokalee; ultimately, every kid from kindergarten through eighth grade will go through this program and have a computer of their own, but that is going to take some serious fund raising. We will also be bringing the same opportunity to the other Title I (poor) schools throughout South Florida, as funds permit.

* Our goal is to be done within ten years. Right now, no kids have this training and these computers. Ten years from now - 2018 - every single kid in South Florida will. That is what we are doing.

Here are the organizations and people involved:

* Waveplace Foundation/Tim Falconer.

* OLPC. The computer its self is called the XO.

* One-by-One Leadership Foundation of SWFL. This is a faith-based organization that has spearheaded our fundraising, brought key players to the table... John Lawson, the executive director, is one of the true heroes of this story.

* - that's my wife Jane and me, and our partner/technology guru Michael Junkroski, owner of on Marco. I'm on the board of Waveplace. I put Tim and John together. We are running the pilots. Jane is one of the three teacher-trainers, and will manage the other teacher-trainers.

* Laptop South Florida. This is the nonprofit that we are forming to run local efforts here in this region. One-by-One is "giving birth" to our 501(c)3, i.e. helping us get established with the state and the IRS. I am building the board.

* Redlands Christian Migrant Association (RCMA)'s Community School - the kids from our first pilot are coming from there.

* The Summer Migrant Program, headed up by Earl Wiggins - the kids from the second pilot are being funded through this project.

Other items of interest:

* There are hundreds of thousands of OLPC computers being used in third-world countries as we speak. Peru and Mexico are leading the movement with 600,000 in use or ordered.

* Our pilot begins Monday, June 9th. WGCU and NPR are both sending reporters to cover this story.

* We will have a presence at the Immokalee Kids Games on Saturday, June 14.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Venture Capitalist

A friend told me today, "You don't want to deal with venture capitalists. They're not nice - they're sharks. They'll take your company from you."

"But I'm not doing business with VCs," I said. "I am a VC. And I don't want to take anyone's business away. That's hardly the point. Then we'd have to run it ourselves, and who wants that?"

Okay, that last part was a bit flip. But the truth is in there: I don't want to take people's businesses from them. I want to help quality entrepreneurs raise money, build a board; perhaps serve on the board myself, and certainly advise regardless. I want the business visionaries we support to thrive. Call me an idealist, but I want everyone to win - except the competition, of course. I'm not much interested in their winning.

My test for myself and my colleagues is, can we be highly ethical and highly successful? My bet is that it is easier to succeed on a massive scale if we are ethical.

Wanna bet against us?

Laptops / Microsoft now involved

The following editorial on the computers we're using in Immokalee is from the Boston Globe.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this controversial move.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Background on Ted Coiné

People can never figure out who I am or what I do for a living. My first answer is, "I'm still trying to figure that one out myself." However, I decided to include it on my blog so that at least it's out there, if someone's interested. So, for the two of you who actually read this blog:

Born in Bethlehem, PA. Grew up in sleepy, affluent Westport, CT. It’s a good place to be from. …“From” being the operative word. Just to be clear: my family was never affluent, not even in the best of times.

BA William & Mary, 1991 – Philosophy major, Psychology minor. I actually had a double major in girls and drinking, with a swimming minor.

1990-91 – Surfed full-time, bartended & waited tables part-time in CA. (It was a paperwork snafu that had me graduating a year after I left campus. I was surfing in Spain when I got the news that I might not graduate at all! We’ll save that story for another time).

1991-92 – Sales, recruiting, & management Equinox International (multi-level marketing). Developed downline of over 100 members. Thank God I didn’t make enough to keep at it!

1993-94 – Other sales positions, calling mostly on large, really, really wealthy real estate developers, institutional investors, and property management firms. From all this, I thought I hated sales; turns out, I merely hate selling the wrong things. Selling the right product can be an absolute blast!

1994-96 – Returned to bartending & waiting to pay the bills until I figured out my next step. Took numerous writing courses, wrote a few bad books and one, Powder Burn, that I’m very proud of – someday I’ll get around to publishing it. Married Jane 1996. This remains the wisest decision I’ve ever made. Jane rocks.

1997-2001 – Taught English as a Second Language (ESL) at a world-class private language school (4 years), then worked 6 months as director of a new school started by a former colleague (now defunct - the school, that is. Tim is doing well). Boston, London, and Malta are the three global centers for the private ESL industry. What luck that I fell into this career in Boston!

2001 – Started “Ted’s English School” (now Coiné Language School) in our living room. Made $10 the first month. About 2 years ago, we valued the school at $10 million. On a bad day, I might sell it for $100, but those are few now that I’m 900 miles away from daily operations. I’ve backed off selling it 3 times and counting. As an aside: this company has billion-dollar potential. EF, a privately owned competitor with an inferior product, is a $1 billion company and growing fast. I needed some time off, though. One of my mottos is, “If it isn’t fun, you’re doing it wrong.” Well, I wasn’t having fun. Meanwhile, my speaking career was taking off…

2005 – Wrote my first published book, Five-Star Customer Service. Began traveling extensively, giving one-day workshops and keynote speeches, primarily to small-medium business owners ($5-20 million) and C-level executives of larger enterprises (targeting the Fortune 100). Well-paid speakers are treated somewhat like rock-stars, which is addictive. Traveling from my family? I’m not as crazy about that, so I’ve cut back dramatically in the last year. There are many things in this life more important than money.

2006 – Moved to Naples. Unquestionably the second-best decision I have ever made. Established the Coiné Foundation ( two weeks later, while still living in Mom’s condo.

2007 – Wrote Spoil ’Em Rotten! with Jane, also about customer service, corporate culture, and leadership. Doubled one-day fee to $10,000.

2007 – established with Jane and Michael Junkroski, who has since become a close personal friend. Jane’s take? “Ted, this is the best thing you’ve ever done.” Also gathered the nucleus to create The Naples Institute (“Fighting for social justice!”, a think tank that I see as our legacy – 100 years from now, that is what we will all be remembered for. What a talented group we’ve gathered: Rita & Bernie Turner, Jim Fisher, Gene Landrum, Jeanmarie Hendry, Michael, Ilene Leff, and me! (5 of the 8 principals are professional business consultants, so we’ve also formed NI Access, the for-profit consulting sister entity of The Naples Institute.)

2007/08 – Joined the board of Waveplace Foundation (, based in PA, to help bring OLPC laptop computers ( and education to the poorest children in the world, starting in South Florida and the Caribbean.

2008 – Still forming Laptop South Florida (LSF) with the help of my friend John Lawson at the One-by-One Leadership Foundation. LSF will be the local face of Waveplace. We’re off to a great start, with two pilots starting up in Immokalee on June 9th.

2008 – Co-founded NIA Venture Group, LLC with partner Gene Landrum (filed with the state & IRS today, May 13). Banyana/WHS is our first project – Gene is chairman of the board, I also serve on the board; Skip Muller is the CEO and founder. Mum’s the word right now, but it is destined to be a household name in a year or two.

Nonprofit Boards:
Coiné Foundation (in sleep mode at present)
Naples Social Action (More of less my full-time job for the past year)
Volunteer Collier
Cancer Alliance of Naples
Waveplace Foundation
Laptop South Florida

Committees – I can’t even remember! Let’s just say, I’ve been pretty busy in the past year or so.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Laptops / What a Week!

Today's editorial in the Naples Daily News (NDN) said it better than I have been:

We've had a banner week. Some highlights:

* Last Saturday, Laptop South Florida made the front page of NDN (see below).

* Waveplace Foundation got funding for a pilot in Nicaragua.

* Wednesday, I met with two stellar elementary school teachers to interview them for our pilot in Immokalee, which will certify them to be teacher-trainers for the future: "Other Ted" and Susan. I hope to be sharing a lot more about them with you as things progress - but I don't want to get ahead of myself.

* Thursday John Lawson and I met with Earl Wiggins, who heads up the summer migrant program for the public schools in Immokalee. His boss has to sign off, but it looks like we will be doing a second, simultaneous pilot with 21 more kids this summer.

* Also Thursday, I met with John Lawson's boss, Reid Carpenter. Reid heads up the One-by-One Leadership Foundation locally and also the Leadership Foundation internationally. We had a great meeting, signed a contract of sorts spelling out our relationship, and now we can move forward with a relationship based on mutual trust and esteem. I'll admit, I was apprehensive before now about what John's board might want viz-a-viz control of Laptop South Florida. I am no longer worried in the least.

* ...And at that same meeting we added a member to the board I'm forming for LSF, Dave Hailer, a truly remarkable man who, among other endeavors, led the Peace Corps!

There's more - I haven't even mentioned Efrain until now - but I'll save it for my next posting. Here is how I'd like to finish this entry:

I am amazed and grateful that we have attracted the caliber of people we have to LSF. It's the stuff of dreams, to be able to put a team together such as ours.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

We made the news!

Today, Naples Daily News. Tomorrow, the New York Times!

All kidding aside, I think you'll agree, writer Tracy Miguel once again wrote a very good story about NSA and our endeavors.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Join us for talk on Laptops!

On Wednesday, April 30, I will be giving a presentation on Laptop South Florida. This is open to the public - no charge for admission.

5:30-6:30 PM at the Naples Regional branch of the public library (this is the one downtown).

Here is the feature on "60 Minutes" to wet your whistle:

A quick synopsis:

MIT computers. Waveplace Foundation teacher-training. Local implementation.

That's it! Bring your questions April 30th!

Videos of kids with their laptops

The following is from Tim Falconer, president of the board of the Waveplace Foundation, which provides the educational content for the children's laptops we're bringing to Immokalee. I'm on the Waveplace board, too.

Hi everyone,

We've just posted two new videos from the St John Waveplace pilot, which concluded three weeks ago. The first shows mentoring during the pilot. The second shows students presenting their Etoys storybooks that they created during the pilot.

1) Scenes from the St John pilot (4 minutes)

2) The St John Storybook Awards (8 minutes)

We will be posting the actual storybooks to our website soon so you can see them for yourself.
In other news, the Haiti pilot will resume next week, since things have calmed down in Port-Au-Prince. The kids and teachers are well.

Take care,

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

"What are your real motives, Ted?"

About a year ago, I met with a man who is very active in the area nonprofit realm; he has founded a number of very successful nonprofits; his wife has run just one, a really, really important one, for 18 years now. These are people I admire deeply.

There was only one problem: as has sometimes happened to me since our move to Naples, he didn't know what to make of me. I get this question quite a bit: "What's in it for you?" Well, this man didn't ask me, but today I learned what I had long suspected, that he thought it. I learned that from a talk with his wife. She was kind enough to ask me outright, "Ted, what do you get out of your nonprofit work?"

I have to say, that's a really sad question to have to ask. I thought the point of charity was to benefit others, not yourself. She told me that's rare. So I wrote her an email, which you can read below.

GNL refers to Greater Naples Leadership, a group that her husband presided over and (I believe) helped found that trains affluent older folks to be active on social-sector boards. As you can read, it's a Who's Who of the nonprofit community here in Naples.

It occurred to me that perhaps I don't explain myself enough - despite my business background, I still may not toot my own horn sufficiently, so that people have no idea how I put food on the table. Oh, well. I'm a work in progress.

Dear _______,

Bob Juster's partner is Walt Burdick, also a GNL-er. We were featured in the same issue of Naples Illustrated Magazine (January); Bob's write-up said that their company in Immokalee, TMI, is a "for-benefit corporation," so I called Bob up to find out what that is. If you look at my think tank's web site ( you'll see where we've come up with something we called a "for-profit charity." We're going to change the term to "for-benefit corporation," because it turns out that is a phrase being used on the forefront of the social sector now.

Ilene Leff, who I think you know from GNL, introduced me to a remarkable international organization she works with, out of DC. They help social entrepreneurs create organizations that are hybrid for-profit/non-profit. I didn't realize it until I studied up on Ashoka, but I guess I'm a social entrepreneur, too.

I understand your and your husband's skepticism of my motives. I'm a bleeding-heart capitalist, that's all. I think a lot of people who are good at making money find that rewarding in and of itself. They are often also motivated by the fear of not having enough. Not I. I see money as a means to two ends: financial security for my family, which doesn't require all that much cash, and charity. I'm sure I'd be Port-Royal rich by now if I cared about it more. But we're only a short walk to the beach, so we have nothing to complain about.

You folks are bleeding heart capitalists, too. Maybe you should give others more credit for being inspired as you are.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

A concern: will giving laptops for free = no value for the children?

The following is my reply to some concerns about Laptop South Florida raised by NI co-Founder Jim Fisher's agent, which Jim shared with me. You can pick up his points in the context of my reply.


I agree with every word your agent says.

Another legitimate social justice advocate, the executive director of the Immokalee Foundation, had the exact same suggestion when it came to earning the computers. My partner in crime on this project, John Lawson, and I agreed immediately, and now service-for-computers is part of our strategy going forward. One project we are going to engage the children in is packaging dried meals for the hungry in Collier County and poor countries like Haiti, Nicaragua, and others. These kids will be the beneficiaries of charity, which has got to be disspiriting; but because they are going to help out others who are even less fortunate, they will feel better about themselves. This type of model is already at work with this and that program in Immokalee, and it has done wonders - I've spoken with a number of these children.

I agree with your thoughts on the lack of gumption of American kids. I was one, remember, so I know first-hand: I felt entitled. Our affluence has spoiled us, and our parents have been on a child-spoiling, character-undermining kick for two generations now. I can't imagine why it's happening, but we as a society need to start tilting the balance the other way. This same kind of thing is plaguing Japan and more recently Korea, and their kids are showing the same malaise as ours. I don't think there's an easy way around this when a society is experiencing unabated plenty. It's one reason I enjoy immigrants so much: they're the go-getters that many of us natives no longer are.

As for people making money off of charities... That sickens me. There are roughly 500 nonprofits in the Greater Naples area (too many, but at least it shows that people care). Through Naples Social Action (NSA -, which exists to support them all, I've met all manner of people in the charity realm. There are some groups composed of all volunteers, with literally no overhead, such as NSA and First Book. There are many thatunder-payy their skeleton-crew of a staff, supplement the staff with hardy volunteerism, and are very efficient at serving their clients, such as the Cancer Alliance of Naples and the Immokalee Foundation. There are others, many of them governmental agencies and others branches of large national or international nonprofits, where the workers seem to think, "Well, if we don't save people today, we can get to it next Monday. What's the rush?" Then there are others, such as what one person has dubbed "The Predatory Foundation," that seem to be in business to fleece well-meaning donors of their dollars without particularly serving any constituents at all. Fortunately, these are the rarest, but they're there.

When we started NSA, we decided right away that we would never charge a nonprofit for our services, because we want the money these groups raise to go to helping needy people, not us.

After operating for a year completely out of pocket, we've decided that a budget, a staff, a marketing plan, etc., could be beneficial in our efforts to help those 500 nonprofits. We have made a couple of thousand dollars so far from corporate advertising on our website. Now, we are going to throw some energy behind that, and actually raise funds that way. We are also going to break NSA off from the Coine Foundation and turn it into its own "for-benefit corporation." A for-benefit is a for-profit business that directs its profits to charity, along the lines of Newman's Own. An associate of The Naples Institute, Ilene Leff, turned me on to the idea through an international nonprofit she advises based out of DC called Ashoka ( This hybrid idea will help me marry my business acumen with my urge to serve others. I'm very excited by the prospect.

Bottom line? I think that helping the poor, as with parenting or any other endeavor, requires relentless diligence. The urge will always be there for people to stray, to get comfortable; to give up hope of ever making fundamental change. When nonprofit leaders lose their idealism and hope, that is when they need to retire. Please watch me carefully, and warn me if I ever start to look complacent.

Friday, March 21, 2008

OLPC - will it work?

The following is from an e-conversation between me and another Founder of The Naples Institute ( The colleague in question does not think my passion for the $200 laptop (the XO for the children of Immokalee is a good use of my efforts. I disagree. Below is my reply to his concerns.

Background: I hope this changes, but at present the makers of the XO, OLPC, will only allow one group to buy XOs for the children of America. The lucky nonprofit is the Waveplace Foundation ( I agreed to join the board of Waveplace only if we could bring XOs to the children of Immokalee.

Dear Founder,

Another Founder of The Napples Institute is dead-set against the XO as well (especially for the Third World). His pet cause is to bring basics such as wells and can openers to the poor of Nicaragua, for instance, so that they don't have to disfigure themselves using axes to open cans donated by Dole. He says the truly poor need food, clean water, inoculation, and protection from mosquitoes, not comparatively prohibitively expensive computers.

This is my take: I want him to keep on with his can openers and wells, because he's right, those folks need that. That is giving them a fish, and they're starving today, so they need a fish right away. But they also need to be taught how to fish. That's where the laptops come in.

One day every poor child in the world will have some version of the laptop that we're bringing to Immokalee - be it the "XO" made by One Laptop Per Child (, an offshoot of the MIT Media Lab), or something made by a competitor. That's over 2 billion kids, so yes, it will take quite some doing. But it is happening already. It's only a matter of time, because the will is there in spades. There are currently a few hundred thousand XOs out there, almost all in the Third World. The problem is of manufacturing output, not funding, at least at this point: there is a months-long wait list. So this is going to happen whether we like it or not.

I'm focused on Immokalee in particular, and South Florida in general, because someone has to be and no one else was before I started it. We can't have kids that poor right in our midst like that - we simply cannot tolerate it, not if we want to call ourselves civilized.

I'll let someone else argue for the poor in the Caribbean and elsewhere. Our pilots in St. John and Haiti are going well, but let me focus on Immokalee. You bring up an outstanding point: the kids we're trying to help out there are a world away from my daughters here "West of (Route) 41." Our girls, like the affluent kids your wife works with, are growing up in an environment where learning, reading, challenging discussion, and - most importantly by far - expectations all lead them to a life of intellectual pursuit and achievement. Jane and I joke that if our two budding geniuses don't grow up to be professors at MIT (ironically), it's all our fault - they're headed there now, and only very bad parenting can budge them off that course.

The vast majority of kids in Immokalee have no such benefits of environment. Their parents are likely illegal immigrants, and worse, they are likely either illiterate in their first language or under-educated - I know this because we have been teaching just this type of person English and literacy for years at Coine Language School. In many cases, they don't value education; they may not even have a single book or even magazine in their home. At present, half of the kids in that town drop out of high school before they graduate; the other half don't exactly "make it," either. The expectation for any of the kids out there is so low that adults think it's praiseworthy if they merely stay out of a gang, don't get pregnant, and go into a trade - any trade, including landscaping.

These computers, coupled with the courseware and teacher-training that we will provide along with them, will work to nullify all of that negative influence in this one generation. That is what is so exciting to me. For one thing, the lessons are interactive and thrilling. Have you ever seen a 4th grader, even a nice middle-class one, sit still for 90 minutes? I've been a teacher for a dozen years now, and two weeks ago was my first time. I saw 25 migrant children sit still for that long while the Waveplace founder, Tim Falconer, led them through a fun - very fun - lesson where they learned artistic design on the computer, basic code-writing, and high school geometry. This is not exaggeration. I was right there.

You know me a bit by now: I wouldn't bother with this project were it not going to absolutely, fundamentally disrupt the status quo - in this case my favorite ax to grind, education. It is. We are destroying and rebuilding simultaneously. I thought this would happen when I first learned about the XO 4 years ago; in the past few months, with our pilots in the Islands, I heard about its actually coming to pass; in the past two weeks, I have seen it in action.

Within a very short time, beginning June first, there will be no reason left for the poorest children in America to be less well-educated than the wealthiest. Of course there will be problems and disappointments - maybe even scandal; no, certainly even scandal. But we'll trudge on regardless.

110 years ago, in 1898, children were working in mines for pennies a day. 60 years ago, in 1948, black children in one third of our nation were not allowed to use the same restrooms and water fountains or go to the same schools as whites. Today, in 2008, there are poor children across our country who have no reasonable hope of attending college if they so choose.

What will we say in 2048? In 2098? I'm incredibly optimistic.

Friday, March 7, 2008

One Laptop Per Child on 60 Minutes

This week, my friend Tim Falconer, Founder and President of the Waveplace Foundation(, joined us in Naples, Bonita, and Immokalee to help me get the ball rolling on Waveplace South Florida.

Before you continue, I suggest you watch this segment from "60 Minutes" featuring the laptops that we're bringing to our part of the state:

Now, some more details:

  • I'm on the board of the Waveplace Foundation. Its founder, Tim, is owner of a software design firm in Pennsylvania. I'm the only board member in Florida.

  • Waveplace has created curriculum and software to go with the XO laptops they feature on "60 Minutes." We provide teachers with that software and curriculum for their students, and we train teachers in how to use that software and curriculum.

  • We have a 10-week pilot almost wrapped-up in St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands. Another has been underway for two weeks in Haiti. #3 will be in St. Vincent, U.S. Virgin Islands. The fourth and final pilot class will be in Immokalee, from June 1st through August 10th.

  • Waveplace's area of focus is the Caribbean. Tim explains the whys of that very well on the Waveplace site. When he asked me to join the board, I said, "Well, I really appreciate what you're doing, but I want to brings those computers to the kids of South Florida, particularly Immokalee, and I can't afford to be distracted from that goal. If Waveplace could include our region in its scope of endeavor, then sure, I'm in!" I made my pitch - that our economy is blighted by tourism just as are Jamaica, St. John, etc., and that Immokalee is a land-locked island. I'll share more on that at a later time.

  • In any event, Tim agreed, and his visit here this week confirmed his decision. We are talking about making Southwest Florida the "Caribbean" base of operations for the Waveplace Foundation. A number of factors make that attractive.

  • John Lawson of the One-by-One Leadership Foundation ( has been instrumental in connecting us to the right people to discuss funding and implementation locally. He is an integral part of our leadership here in South Florida.

  • John is a good friend and a very good guy. (I don't share his religious agenda, however.) We featured him as a Neapolitan of Note in an early issue of our e-newsletter for Naples Social Action. You can read that issue here:

  • We're days away from officially establishing Waveplace South Florida (which we'll tie in some way to The Naples Institute) - an independent group closely-affiliated with Tim's Waveplace Foundation. We're going to hold our first organizational meeting next week. If you're interested in participating, please contact me:

Friday, February 29, 2008

Forbes Mag. on Capitalism 2.0

Okay, okay, I know: Forbes Magazine doesn't even accept that Global Warming is a scientific fact; how can you take anything they say seriously? Kooky, that's how I'd have to describe Steve Forbes and his magazine. (More's the pitty: I'm a HUGE proponent of the flat tax!)

Well, that may be so. But you still may find this article on ethical companies interesting:

(The last paragraph is a big let-down, sadly.)

Neapolitans of Note Earl & Thelma Hodges (Part I)

The italicised portion of this entry was published in our e-newsletter, NSA Issue 14. Where the italics end, the unpublished portion of the story begins.

If you would like to subscribe to the NSA e-newsletter, email us at

Originally From: Earl - Tennessee / Thelma – Massachusetts
Neapolitans Since: 1955
Careers: Funeral Home Director / Nurse

The first thing you have to know about Earl and Thelma Hodges is, they’re good people.

They didn’t inherit a fortune or make it to the big time with an IPO. They don’t live in a castle in Port Royal, although their house is very nice. They drive a Dodge Caravan (Earl: “The stow-and-go seat sold me”), not a Rolls Royce. Themla works the cash registers most Thursdays in the White Elephant, NCH’s thrift shop (as do Ted’s Mom and stepfather). It’s Earl’s favorite place to shop. He loves the $1 name-brand shirts he often finds there.

Oh, and they have a university named after them: Hodges University, known as International College before their $12 million endowment last summer.

If any of this doesn’t add up, you haven’t been paying attention. Here’s a news flash: good things happen to good people. Specifically, if you spend your life giving more to your neighbors and community than you could ever get back, and if you build a business based on genuine relationships and personal integrity, then you, too, can give your fortune away some day.

Thelma and Earl met when they were introduced by Les and Betty Johnson in 1956 – Les was president of the Chamber of Commerce at the time. Earl was one of the few bachelors in the sleepy little fishing village of Naples; Thelma was one of the founding nurses at Naples Community Hospital. She had moved to Naples the year before from Massachusetts with her younger sister and a friend. They were staying right across an alley from Earl’s aunt and uncle. Thelma, no wilting flower, invited Earl to the Junior Women’s Club ball. There were plenty of single women in Naples at that time, but talking to Earl, it’s clear that wasn’t a distraction. “I was a bumpkin,” he says, still clearly grateful that Thelma took a liking to him 52 years ago. “I didn’t even own a watch.”

That bumpkin, mind you, had begun his business career at thirteen. Attending the funeral of a friend’s father, Earl was smitten by the hearse, and ended up talking to the undertaker through the entire service. He began working for that funeral director without pay until his one-year anniversary, when the owner handed him an envelope. Inside was one dollar. “It was okay that they didn’t pay me; I was getting an education. I was thrilled to get that dollar!”

Earl held numerous other jobs, served in the Maritime Service (the Merchant Marine) in World War II, joined the Army Reserve after the war, and served in grave registration for the Army in the Korean War.

Nothing Earl has ever done was simple, but nothing kept him from achieving his goals, either. For instance, he tried to sign up for military service during WWII, but he failed the physicals for the Marines, the Navy, the Army, and the Coast Guard, each time because he had too much protein in his urine. Undaunted, he befriended a nurse who advised him to drink lots of water before his physical, because that would dilute the protein in his system. He did, and passed the exam for the Maritime Service. He wanted to serve his country in the War, and he did. Earl Hodges doesn’t make excuses; he makes things happen.

Here’s another one. He moved to Naples, began work at Pitman’s Funeral Home, and married Thelma. It was supposed to take him four years to qualify for his own funeral director’s license, but Pitman didn’t have enough customers to qualify in one of those years (that’s how small Naples was back then), so it took him five years instead. During all that time, Earl built up a reputation around town as a man of honor, a good man who thought nothing of going the extra mile – or several extra miles – for his customers and his friends.

Finally, a funeral home operator from the Keys came to Naples with an eye toward opening a spot to compete with Pitman’s. Earl out-maneuvered the out-of-towner for the lot he was going to buy for his funeral home; he started his own business instead. “It was time,” he said. “The town was growing, and someone was going to enter the market anyway.”

Well, Mr. Pitman didn’t see it that way, so he badmouthed Earl around town – which blew up in his face, because everyone knew what a stand-up guy Earl was. Then, Pitman bought the lot south of the Hodges’ funeral home, and erected a mammoth billboard there to advertise his own business, blocking much of Earl’s visibility from the street. Again, it backfired.

“I would have gladly paid rent on that sign,” he laughs. “Folks in town thought that was unfair, so it helped us a lot.”

Says Earl, “I don’t believe in cut-throat business practices. Pitman did, and it hurt his business. A lot.”

Things got better from there. Naples grew, and with it, the Hodges’ fortunes. They ended up with a number of funeral homes, including some in other parts of the state, a memorial garden, and two crematoriums. A look at Earl’s resume shows he founded or served on the boards of a few local banks, and he and Thelma invested a bit in property, as well.

Things didn’t happen overnight for these two. They lived over their funeral home from 1960 to 1976, when they bought their current home for $156,000. (It’s worth a bit more today.) Thelma continued working up until their move. In other words, Thelma and Earl Hodges are the spitting image of Stanley and Danko’s Millionaire Next Door.

More than the business success, though, when you talk to the Hodges, you hear again and again about their involvement in philanthropy. Thelma has been active in thirteen area nonprofits; Earl, twenty-nine.

A very partial list for Thelma: she seems to have served in every officer position of the NCH Auxiliary. She has been president of the Junior Women’s Club and Visiting Nurse’s Council, and she was chairman of Bazaar Luncheons. She is presently Chairman of the Old Timers’ Association (yes, there really is an Old Timers’ Association in Naples). Every month, she and her friends still meet at the Women’s Club downtown.

Earl has served as Past President of the Naples Area Chamber of Commerce, Naples Shrine Club, United Way of Collier County (where he was also Campaign Chairman), and Collier County Junior Deputies’ League, which works with forth and fifth graders – he remains a director of this organization. He also served as Chairman of the Collier County Red Cross for ten years, and spent another ten years as president of Swamp Buggy Days, where he is Chairman Emeritus.
And there’s more… and more… for each of them. The bottom line? The Hodges aren’t just people who decided to have a university named after them. More accurately, their incredibly active civic engagement over the past fifty-plus years is why the university now bears their name. The horse came before the cart, you could say.

But we had one question that really needed answering: Why the university? With all of these great causes, why donate such a large sum to one particular organization, and why that one in particular?

“Because Terry (President Terry McMahan) broke Earl down,” Thelma quips with a sparkle in her eye that reminds us of a much, much younger version of Ted’s Grandma.
She continues, “People are very impressed with the money, but I have two jobs now because Earl gave all our money away.”

…And that about sums it up for this feature. To read more about Earl and Thelma – and there is a lot more that we mean to share about these two wonderful Neapolitans – keep opening your email from Naples Social Action. We’ll be running another feature on the Hodges soon, focusing next time on their passionate interest in their namesake, Hodges University.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

"The Predatory Foundation"

The following is from an email I sent to an acquaintance, in reply to her sensing I'm not fond of an organization here in Naples. I feel compelled to share this, even though I should just go for a run and burn off my bad thoughts instead. Yes, I suppose I can delight in being petty, just like anyone.

I've blocked out the name of the organization and people to which I refer, because I'm not comfortable saying bad things about others.

Hi Pal,

As for the XXXXXXX Foundation.... I try to bite my tongue and not badmouth anyone - it's been a successful strategy of mine and useful in my career, even if it's not always easy. I'll tell you, though, I genuinely believe that I'm being intentionally snubbed by __________ (their executive director) and her colleagues. Jane and I met with xxxxxxx ( a pleasant guy) and _____'s #2 (whose name escapes me) when we were first starting the Coiné Foundation about 18 months ago. Our temperaments couldn't be more different, and I think this lady decided not to be engaged with us on any level at that point. We were clearly like oil and water. I act quickly and decisively, which is how I've built the Coiné Companies and NSA in such a short time: why plod when you can gallop? Some people admire that, others don't get it - or me. I don't worry too much about the latter.

Maybe part of the problem is that we don't want to accept charity from them - NSA is completely out of pocket, and we haven't even bothered completing our 501(c)3 application, because the three of us involved don't know how to ask others for donations in any event - it would just be a waste of money and a lot of rigmarole at this point, though we're open to changing our minds at a later date. All we would want from the XXXXXXX Foundation, actually, is to help them by promoting their events through our calendar and by helping the organizations they serve. As you know from your nonprofit, we try to be useful friends to have.

I have a few friends at some of the more influential foundations and nonprofits who find them arrogant and difficult to deal with. They seem to be good at attracting affluent donors, though. Perhaps that's why one such friend has dubbed them "The Predatory Foundation," although I haven't had enough experience with them to know about that myself. All I know is that I have a strong distaste in my mouth, based on, as I said, this cold-shoulder treatment. It's gotten to the point that I find _____________ unprofessional, and I'd tell her so to her face (thus I'll write it in this email) if we ever met.

Wow, what a lot of bile! I'm sorry for sharing such poison with you.

Maybe I've just insulted your friends. If so, I apologize. And to be fair, I do have other friends who regard them highly. I think my opinion is biased by my personal experience - or should I say, lack of experience? - with them.

Enough of that! I'll be pleasant now, I promise.