I see GivingTuesday’s impact in a much broader and deeper sense. GivingTuesday, like almost all social movements, is a space of radical imagination, a place where we can come together to collectively imagine an entirely different world, one that we want but that doesn’t exist yet. It is the place to imagine a world where the value of generosity drives everything from the interactions we have with friends and strangers every day to the way we run our businesses to the civic spaces we build to inhabit together to the policies implemented by governments. It’s the place to imagine that world; it’s also a vehicle to get us there.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Asha Curran. Asha Curran is the CEO of GivingTuesday, the global generosity movement. She was formerly Chief Innovation Officer and director of the Belfer Center for Innovation & Social Impact at 92nd Street Y, which was named one of the 10 Most Innovative Nonprofits by Fast Company, and where she spearheaded initiatives including the Social Good Summit, the Ben Franklin Circles, and the Women in Power Fellowship. She is the recipient of the 2015 Social Capital Hero Award, was named a 2016 Woman of Influence by New York Business Journal, and was a 2017 40 Over 40 Women to Watch honoree. Asha serves on the board of directors of Guardian.org, a nonprofit dedicated to advancing civil discourse and issues-driven journalism at The Guardian; and the Scout Film Festival, which amplifies the work of teen filmmakers. She is a Fellow at Stanford University’s Digital Civil Society Lab within the Center for Philanthropy and Civil Society. She was included in the 2019 Power and Influence Top 50 released by the Non-Profit Times.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My career path has been entirely non-linear. I discover something that I find interesting and meaningful and I immerse myself deeply in it. Over the course of the years I’ve worked in book publishing, video marketing, childbirth education, and in the time I was at the 92nd St Y, I went from organizing on-stage lectures to running the institution’s first innovation lab. GivingTuesday was launched during that time, along with a portfolio of other programs, including the Women in Power Fellowship, the Seven Days of Genius Festival, and the Ben Franklin Circles. Each project played in different ways with the idea of a distributed model of programming that allowed people to engage in an idea on their own terms, but also collectively. We saw a community being built in really beautiful ways around civic engagement, imagination, leadership, and generosity.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
GivingTuesday began as a simple idea, but it has exploded into the world and is so endlessly creative and generative that it never gets boring. The stories come daily. I love that some of the best things about the movement arose organically: our community campaigns, the global spread, the endless variations like GivingZooDay and GivingShoesDay, this year’s GivingTuesdayKids and GivingTuesdayMilitary. The best stories happen when people take the idea and run with it. Back in 2013 during the Baltimore GivingTuesday campaign, an elderly woman was moved by what she was seeing, had no funds to donate, but had an old piano she could no longer play. She was connected to a nonprofit that provided music lessons to underserved children, and she donated the piano.
Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?
The most obvious answer is that GivingTuesday is catalyzing hundreds of millions of dollars in giving to civil society organizations that are working to stem the tides of a crisis on so many fronts. Those organizations are filling in where governments can’t or won’t take care of their citizens and communities, and they need resources to do that work, now more than ever. Its impact is felt in the work those organizations can do; it is also felt in how those organizations become more collaborative and more innovative as a result. Its impact is in communities that form stronger civic bonds by celebrating generosity in their own unique ways.
But I see GivingTuesday’s impact in a much broader and deeper sense. GivingTuesday, like almost all social movements, is a space of radical imagination, a place where we can come together to collectively imagine an entirely different world, one that we want but that doesn’t exist yet. It is the place to imagine a world where the value of generosity drives everything from the interactions we have with friends and strangers every day to the way we run our businesses to the civic spaces we build to inhabit together to the policies implemented by governments. It’s the place to imagine that world; it’s also a vehicle to get us there.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leadership requires different skills than it did a generation ago, perhaps even ten years ago. The nature of how we consume, communicate, and connect has changed radically, and so has what people expect from their workspaces and culture. The old command-and-control model no longer takes. The ability to articulate a powerful vision, to unite people in working toward a mission, to break down silos, to build inclusive teams, to honor the importance of so-called “soft skills” — these are all key in a good leader.
I don’t consider myself a good leader unless I am constantly working on supporting and cultivating other leaders. A great leader creates other leaders. Also, more women need to be running things. Period.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- If you’re bored, you’ll bring your worst self to work. Get another job, stat.
- Don’t choose your first place of employment based on whether you believe in the mission. Choose based on the people you’ll work for and with, the skills you’ll develop, the amount of professional development promised, the upward trajectory available to you. Then become a CEO and run an organization whose mission speaks directly to your passions.
- A peer can be just as good of a mentor as someone more senior. Approach someone you trust and admire and ask if they’d be interested in a peer mentorship relationship. Edit each other’s writing, go to each other with tough decisions.
- Don’t gossip.
- Bring your generosity to work. The way you treat people in even the most casual interactions can be driven by generosity. Be kind. Smile. Offer help. Generosity is part of setting a good culture.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
How can our readers follow you on social media?
@radiofreeasha on twitter
This was very meaningful, thank you so much!