Deciding Who Qualifies

Whose Dollar Is It?We did it! And by “we” I mean all of us together: We raised $4,055 to help changemakers learn what it really takes to create the future of our world!

So first, thank you to everyone who donated, and thank you to Alex Budak and Tom Dawkins for including Creating the Future in the kick-off of the Start Some Good crowdfunding platform!

The question before us now is one we posed early in the scholarship campaign: How to decide who qualifies to receive a scholarship?

It was one thing to consider the question before we had funds. Now that we have $4,055 to distribute, how do we decide who qualifies?

Back in March, the following ideas were shared by readers here:

Christine Egger suggested (paraphrasing a bit):
1) Identify the characteristics that define a “kickbutt immersion course” participant

2) Craft a scholarship application that prompts the applicant to provide evidence of those characteristics

3) Determine whether all characteristics will be equally weighted, or whether some will be more important than others?

4) Be transparent about the decision-making process. Will it be “Everyone votes or Hildy and Dimitri get the final word or some combo of that?”

I would love to have some of our graduates share what they think makes for a “kickbutt” course participant. What characteristics might “kickbutt” include?

Jenny Hansell suggested the following, based on processes she had been part of (paraphrasing again):

1) Are we giving the scholarship to the person or the organization? Jenny’s group had decided it was the person – even if they left the organization, they would use their knowledge for good somewhere, making the world better.

2) Jenny’s group also favored people who weren’t looking to go into the program to solve an immediate crisis, but those with a bigger vision for the impact they wanted to have. (This will be huge for the Creating the Future courses, where changemakers actually learn to move beyond problem-solving.)

3) “Evidence that the applicant is both a learner and is able to apply their learning. What other courses or classes have they been to in recent times, and how has that changed their work?”

Again, it would be tremendously helpful to have ideas about all these topics as well.

And then we hope you will help us as we circle back to our initial questions:

  • What has been your experience with scholarships? How do they scholarships work (for individual workshops, classes, conferences, etc.)?
  • What information should we be seeking to learn about our applicants, to help us choose?
  • What questions fit with our values and our vision – a world operating from its highest potential for kindness and humanity?
  • And lastly, what criteria do you think are important, knowing us as you do?

As the September and February consultant classes are filling up, and as we are quietly registering Executive Directors and Social Entrepreneurs for our January class (VERY excited to officially launch that soon!), the scholarship issue will be a huge one.

Thank you for helping us figure it out!

10 Responses to Deciding Who Qualifies

  1. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest something that is probably not very popular and maybe even against some of what you’ve promised. I think that, for now, you and Dimitri should decide and you should decide from your gut. I’m not even sure you should make it widely known that the scholarship is available. Here’s why this is the conclusion I’ve come to so far:

    Even though you didn’t mean to, the whole application process is resting on a foundation based in competition and comparison. These kind of “contests” ask us to identify and prove something about ourselves that a person who might be most “ripe” to do, can’t really judge or see in themselves. I didn’t go into the course with the idea that I was change maker. I went in with a specific pain (a problem to solve, which was that I wasn’t content with my career), but I came out with a different way of being in the world that I’ve spent a good amount of energy disciplining myself to practice. No one can predict that. No one can foresee that. If I were to fill out a hypothetical application now in the way described above, I would write myself off the eligibility list and figure I was not a good candidate for the course altogether. Who am I to be as audacious as to think that I could change the world? I can think that way after the course, but I’m unlikely to believe it beforehand.

    Scholarships are “awarded,” and winners are “chosen.” We develop amazing criteria for which people have to prove their qualifications because we think the money raised is scarce and more precious than the people who could possibly receive it. Merit-based competitions as us to separate the deserving from the undeserving. Bleah. How do we really see the highest potential of a person if we approach it like this?

    Hold on to the money in a separate account, and draw from it as a gift account. If someone comes to you and says, “geez, I really want to take your course, and I have this dream, and I think this course can help me, and I’m trying to scrap together the dough to make it happen” and your gut says let’s help her (or him) out, then take a deep breath and give them a gift. A gift. A gift that is freely given with no pressure afterward to prove you made the right investment in that person by awarding a scholarship. Just a gift. Gifts often get returned, if not to the giver, then paid forward to another person in some form. And we won’t always know how or be able to predict and control it. That’s why, for me, the decision needs to come from the gut and done in the spirit of giving a gift that you know will be reciprocated somehow, someway, somewhere down the line. 

    I made a contribution to that fund, and I don’t need anyone to prove that it will be put to good use. I trust you and Dimitri to use it judiciously, and I don’t need a report back on the “impact” my gift had on the world or any change maker’s life. My donation was an act of reciprocity, a token of gratitude for what I received in the course and in knowing you and Dimitri. It was freely and happily given. So, in my opinion, just go forth and get on with putting on the courses, and if someone comes along who could really use the money to make it possible to attend the course, then give the gift. Simple as that.

  2. I love what Kim said. I appreciate your inviting me to chip in but I have nothing to add after that! (All my other thoughts were already in your original post quoting me.)
    I will be going off to Harvard for a weeklong program at the business school called “Strategic Perspectives in Nonprofit Management” on scholarship next month – I did go through the application process, but other times I’ve just begged my way into programs I didn’t qualify for for one reason or another. I wish I could go to yours too as I suspect it will be very different and complementary to what I’ll be learning at Harvard and what I already learned from the remarkable Simone Joyaux a couple of years ago. But will not ask for the scholarship, not this year, anyway – I want to fully immerse myself in what I’m learning now and give it time to cook after I come home before I add onto it!

  3. I love what Kim said, too (thank you, Kim). Love the idea of the scholarship evolving into a “scholar-gift”.

    Though not sure I agree that application processes indicate that “we think the money raised is scarce and more precious than the people who could possibly receive it.”

    The process of getting really clear about why we want to be a part of something can be incredibly powerful. At their highest potential, application processes serve that purpose. Hildy’s choice to include the “identify kick butt participant characteristics” idea in this post suggests that it struck a chord. Maybe digging into that exercise would be of value to Hildy and Dimitri, as much as to someone who wants to join the course.

    Kim’s right, though, we aren’t always the best witnesses to our own journey.

    And scholarship programs by design rely on a process of differentiation (which then looks like competition and comparison through certain lenses). At its essence, from what I’ve gleaned, the purpose of the scholarship fund idea is to make it possible for people to participate in the course who otherwise wouldn’t; for that possibility to be created collectively (we’re doing together what any one of us couldn’t do alone); and as much as possible for that possibility to be created in a way that’s aligned with what Creating the Future stands for. Hm, that gets me thinking about how that $4,055 could be — instead of the cap on what’s available in the “gift account” (which gives it that zero-sum feel) — seeds for much much more…

  4. Wow you guys do rock. GREAT stuff to chew on, and I have several thoughts I want to pursue before fully responding.

    I do, however, want to quickly respond to one point – and that is that what “Hildy and Dimitri” want to do / think is right / etc. is not germaine. Really.

    Creating the Future is not Dimitri and my corner store. It is a community benefit organization with a mission as large as the whole world. It is owned by everyone by both its legal status and by its core values, one of the most prominent of which is the value of transparently engaged decision-making.

    Simply put, it’s not up to us, we don’t want it to be, it shouldn’t be and can’t be if we are truly to model what is possible for social change efforts. We either believe the wisdom is in the room and act upon that, or we don’t.

    And then of course, there’s the reality: If Dimitri and I were hit by a meteor tomorrow, then what?

    The only way for systems to be sustainable is if they are rooted in just that – systems, not individuals. That then prompts the question, “What are the values at the core of those decisions? What is the thought process by which such decisions will be made?”

    And hence, our questions!

    More to come, focused on the cooperation / fund everyone question. It is not anathema to coming up with decision-making criteria. I’ll post in a bit (must prepare for our first-ever board meeting, which is tomorrow – so excited!).

  5. One more thing re: the Hildy and Dimitri focus. And that is in response to Christine’s mention that, “Hildy’s choice to include the “identify kick butt participant characteristics” idea in this post suggests that it struck a chord.”

    My including yours and Jenny’s comments was not because I agreed or disagreed with either, but because I thought they were both incredibly important things to consider as we look at all sides of this elephant.

    The amazing thing about engaging decision-making among everyone who is interested in engaging, is that it stretches our collective thinking so far beyond where each of us might instinctively go. It prompts all new thinking as we make decisions, and that is such a powerful gift I can’t begin to thank you all for it.

    More importantly, though, it keeps the work of Creating the Future powerfully aligned behind our core values, as this discussion is doing right now. The most powerful part then is not whether or not an idea resonates, but figuring out what values are determining whether or not it resonates. It is that questioning that allows us to turn “gut instinct” into systems.

    And isn’t that cool?

  6. Scholarships (which in the world of education, usually means merit-based) and financial aid (usually needs-based) are hugely complicated to administer. They create an inherent imbalance because someone judges whether you meet the criteria for them, and whether for personal or financial reasons you deserve it. It’s a huge amount of work for the administration, and it sets the recipient apart, since other attendees don’t need to have anyone measure how deserving they are.

    But another way to look at this is not in terms of who deserves a scholarship, since I personally think everyone deserves to have a chance to participate in Creating the Future courses, but thinking of it as offering a discount to those who would like to come but can’t manage the cost. Discounts are positive – we all love them. It’s a financial break. So perhaps we could consider just letting people know that if it is financial constraints keeping them from participating, then there is a reserve put aside that can offer a discount. People are honorable. Let them be the judges of what they themselves would need. Ask them in their wisdom what they’d need to make it possible for them to attend. Trust the room.

    I realize of course that Creating the Future might run out of this reserve fund fast, because we wouldn’t be deciding in advance how the discounts would be apportioned. But okay – how wonderful that it would have allowed some people to attend who might not otherwise have been able to.

  7. Right, I know, it’s not the Hildy and Dimitri show. So, maybe what I should have said was whoever it is that is teaching the class or something like that. I think I’m trying to drive at whoever it is that develops the relationships with participants or potential participants can be the ones to at least recommend giving the gift.

    A couple other random thoughts, and they are truly random because I don’t have the time to be coherent today. Yes, thinking about criteria is good because it clarifies who you want to take the course. I didn’t mean that we shouldn’t have any criteria. I’m just struggling with the idea that we have objective criteria that sits apart from the context of a real person’s life and the relationship that develops between the person and the instructor and the organization and the community being created. Ideally, we want all the participants to be kick-butt changemakers, don’t we? Otherwise, are we setting up the scholarship person as someone who has more potential than anyone else by virtue of the fact that other people paid for them to attend? And how can we really truly know or judge who should be there or not, paid for or not. It’s the “who is worthy of offering a scholarship to” that I struggle with. That for me leads me to all the icky feelings about “well, gee, we only have $4,000 so we better make this work” — none of which is said, but is often thought when we develop “criteria” or, in the case of government, “eligibility rules” for the distribution of scarce resources. What are you doing to say to the people who want to attend, need the funds, but don’t get a scholarship? What was intended as money to include those who might not otherwise be able to participate might also have a way of being turned around to exclude people when we get scared about the flow of money. But maybe I’m just extrapolating too much to the larger economy and not focused enough on the scholarship piece.

    Other random thought — what role does the potential recipient of the fund have in the say about this? Would knowing that there is a fund available make one more or less likely to ask for financial assistance? What leeway to we provide recipients in determining their own “need” and how that money can be best used to bring out their highest potential?

    So, I’m noodling all this, too, and I’m not wedded to what I’ve written here or earlier. In other writings, I’ve been playing around a lot with the notion of reciprocity, what exchanges of money can mean if we assume that it is never a zero-sum game but always an act of multiplication when we give with a different intention. So thanks for letting me try some stuff out on this scenario.

    On a side note, the foundation I chair got $ to administer scholarships this past school year. We received a handful of applications for a slightly smaller handful of scholarships. We only knew enough about these students based on what they told us in the application. On paper they all seemed “deserving.” Anything else we gleaned about their lives and what would make someone more deserving than another was a story we were telling ourselves about students we really didn’t know. So we dug around the budget and found the cash to give them each a scholarship. A few weeks later, I went to the graduation ceremony where two of the recipients learned of the gift. I saw their faces, their families, heard their voices and got to hear the crowds cheer at the announcement. It confirmed for me that we made the right choice — to act in a way that supported them all. And it was far more gratifying making a gift to a real live person than to an application. I know it’s not always possible to fund everybody, but I think it’s more often possible than we assume. This scholarship fund is not the only way to get someone to the class, but part of a network of supports for that person to reach their highest potential. And Creating the Future is working to provide many aspects of that support, including the scholarship fund. So thank you for setting it up.

    Okay, enough rambling from me. Had I more time, this would have been way shorter.

  8. Alexandra, our posts crossed. I like yours. Yes, what this “scholarship” makes possible is for someone to be able to afford to attend the class without resulting in a financial sacrifice for the organization to provide it. It is essentially a discount. Wish I could have been as brief.

  9. Thank you all, more than I can say. I’ve been thinking about your comments a lot, and it’s actually quite simple. It’s all about walking the talk of the values we want to see in others.

    If we believe cooperation builds communities more effectively than competition, we will walk that talk in this scholarship by not creating yet another competitive process ourselves. If we believe we need to trust the wisdom in the room, we will walk that talk in this scholarship, trusting those who apply to be prudent in what they request – as those are the people who are attracted to this work!

    The worst that can happen if we make scholarships available to whomever asks for them is that we run out of scholarship funds sooner than we might otherwise have done – and that next year we are motivated to raise a whole lot more.

    On the other hand, though, the worst that can happen if we create a competitive process is that we would go counter to everything we teach and everything we believe in and espouse.

    Seems like the decision is an easy one from there, no?

    (P.S. BIG huge thanks to Nick Perona for being an ongoing angel in my ear.)