Every week I gather my team and we go around the room and share our "Rose, Thorn, and Thanks" - giving everyone a chance to share what is going well for them, what is a struggle, and who on the team they want to appreciate for helping them in some way. This has been a wonderful way to mark the week, and build team cohesion. I highly recommend it to other group leaders who are looking for ways to develop empathy, cooperation, and appreciation on their teams.
This is reposted from a 10/19/17 article that originally appeared on Technical.ly
Earlier this month I had a milestone experience in my career: I was invited to speak at the largest women-in-computing conference in the world, the Grace Hopper Celebration, with a whopping 18,000 other women in technology jobs from around the world.
It was an incredible honor — from hearing Melinda Gates talk about her successes and failures at Microsoft to learning about incredible new assistive technology for the blind. I was in awe.
But this blog post is not about what happened at the Grace Hopper event. It’s actually about something that happened right before it, literally at the airport gate.
I found myself sitting in the airport, stressing about my flight: imagining what could go wrong, the inevitable delay, how tired I’d be getting in so late, looking bedraggled for my panel the following day.
But then I stopped to look to my right. I noticed a young woman writing on a strip of paper: “Google, Apple, Twitter, WordPress…”
You get the idea. Naturally I became curious. Why would this young woman need a handwritten note to remember the names of companies everyone knows by heart?
I turned my gaze to her other hand, holding her phone. On it, an app listed these same companies. OK. Looks like some sort of business-development research. Like when I scour LinkedIn for 2nd degree connections to Corporate Social Responsibility Directors at big companies as possible clients for MilkCrate, my company.
Finally I see the book on her lap holding all of this activity together: How To Interview For Coding. Aha! A Grace Hopper job hunter! And a young woman engineer. Gold! I quickly ask her if she is going to the same conference. She says she is.
I learn that she is a student at Penn in the computer science department. She spent her summer last year interning at Facebook “where they take really good care of you, financially.” But yet she tells me she doesn’t want to return. Apparently, despite being generously compensated, she found the experience less than ideal, culturally. She was eager to have “more of an impact, to create something herself and not be lost in a sea of engineers.”
Her greatest fear? Being a “code monkey.”
I say, glancing at her list, “So have you checked out any of the startups here in Philly?” She gently laughed, embarrassed by her own dismissiveness, worried she’d offended me. Her impression?
“I want my 20s to be exciting, to be an adventure” she said. “Philly is fine for college, but not after.”
I gently ask her, “Well, how often do you leave campus?”
“Oh, rarely,” she said, “not even every other week. And when I do I think, ‘I should do this more! This is great.’ I hate to sound stereotypical, but I want to go to New York or San Francisco.”
As she talked about her dreams and her past experiences at companies like Facebook, the message I got was loud and clear: She wants to matter. She wants her work to matter.
Well, Philly can offer that. We have a thriving startup scene, and even better, a thriving social-impact startup scene. Philly is ripe for young engineers to come, and make their mark, and use their talents for good. But we’ve failed if she, and others like her, haven’t gotten the message.
I told her of a CEO I know who is desperate for more engineers, a CEO who specifically hopes to hire more women to his team. She was clearly excited and surprised to learn that there were opportunities like this just a bike ride away from her dorm.
I started thinking about all the work groups like Campus Philly, Ben Franklin Tech Partners, the Commerce Department, Philly Startup Leaders, the Alliance of Women Entrepreneurs and others do to market the city to students just like her. And of course all the companies like mine that are seeking (desperately?) more (female) tech talent.
Clearly, at least in this young woman’s case, our message failed to hit the mark.
But sitting with her, talking with her about some of my experiences — how four years ago as a young grad student with no tech background of any significance other than a year of Apple retail, I managed to build a startup with the world’s largest media company as a customer, and now I get to sit with the biggest tech leaders in the area as peers and mentors.
The size of an ecosystem is not more important than its character. And in this case, a smaller, more close-knit, collaborative ecosystem can make dreams like hers come true. Just like it did for me. She just needed someone to show her the way.
So we board the same plane to Orlando and I work on my presentations for Grace Hopper and we go our separate ways. But I see “her” again on Monday, while guest-lecturing at Wharton about MilkCrate driving user engagement through gamification.
“How many of you want to stay in Philly after you graduate?” I ask the class, after highlighting some of the ways the Philly startup ecosystem has directly contributed to MilkCrate’s success.
Not one raised their hand. There were at least 60 Wharton undergrads in the room.
I have no way to measure if I made any of them think twice, but the hope is this: That more personal contact with these students — more opportunities for them to actually meet people whose work inspires them or whose career paths excite them — will improve our chances of bursting the University City bubble and having more recent grads join us in our growing Philly tech community.
And we will all be better for it.
A writer from The Philadelphia Citizen recently reached out and asked me to share an item for her story on a Civic Engagement New Year’s Resolution list. I wanted to share what I told her (and also encourage readers to make a resolution).
So, I told her that I'm going to be launching the second phase of my pilot project at Starr Garden Rec Center by expanding to more classes and hopefully new rec centers.
To give you some background - last year on MLK Day the MilkCrate team volunteered there, and I noticed a kiln in the corner. Fast forward to this fall and I built them a website, www.starrgarden.org, and use this site to recruit arts and crafts teachers and adult students who want to have an affordable maker space. This pilot started with a ceramics class that attracted 25 young Philadelphians who had never been in a rec center before and now have a creative outlet, new social network, and know where their local rec center is and are invested in it. This MLK Day my ceramics class students will be helping transform the classroom and provide some much needed cleaning, organization and decorating.
Next steps are to find more teachers, preferably folks in the community with skills to share and a need for extra income. Art school graduates, retired teachers - anyone who has a skill to share. We want this program to eventually grow to all Rec Centers, providing additional income to teachers, bringing in much needed revenue to the centers, and of course providing an essential service to adults throughout the city - the chance to unplug, connect, and create.
Interested in teaching an art/craft class? Sign up here. Students who want to take a class can register for our open classes here (classes make great gifts and there are more coming soon!).
And anyone should visit www.starrgarden.org and share. Hope to see you all at the Holiday Craft Party this Friday at 5:30pm at 600 Lombard Street.
My interview with 2820 Radio's Joe Taylor, our office mate and my former coworker/boss at Apple! What a small world. You'll hear about the role that the farm-to-table movement back in the 70's and 80's helped inspire our modern tech company's mission and values as well as a sneak peak at our new product!
And here's a picture of one of our Freedom Taxi's with our My MilkCrate ad on top, because I just can't get enough of these guys! Doesn't she look great in between those two boring cabs? Here's a link to the Technical.ly story about our strategic partnership with Freedom Taxi and our bootstrappy deal slinging!
City Council Testimony Delivered on 3/2/2016
Good afternoon, my name is Morgan Berman and I am the CEO of MilkCrate, a locally based tech company dedicated to making more sustainable communities.
My sustainability journey has in some ways spanned my whole life. Before I was even born my mother was a chef and part of the farm to table movement here in Philadelphia led by the great Judy Wicks, the woman who started the Sustainable Business Network and Fair Food. My mom then went on to create a written guide to thrift shopping in the Delaware Valley. These values were imbedded in me at an early age, yet the word ‘sustainable’ never left my lips until a few years ago.
My sustainability awakening began when I moved to West Philadelphia just off of Baltimore Ave at 48th and Pine. Over those two years I grew from a casual reader of grid magazine to the founder of a tiny but earnest community garden, joined Mariposa Food Co-op, learned to ride a bike in the city (in a skirt!), and even experimented with vermiculture in my kitchen.
I knew I had stumbled upon something special and it wasn’t long before I had enrolled full time in a master's program at Philadelphia University to study Sustainable Design. It was there that I learned about our city’s Greenworks Program and how far the city had come in sustainable practices. But I could also see first hand that there was much left to be done- all those individual choices I had been making for myself at home about living more sustainable were not necessarily the norm in the spaces I was visiting, either at school, work or at government offices. The individual consumer values that were driving me and others in the sustainability community had not been normalized enough to be easily tracked and reported. So I decided for my master’s thesis to design a tool that does just that. This was the beginning of MilkCrate.
Through the help of leaders in the sustainable business community like Jamie Gauthier, Ann Karlan and of course Judy Wicks, my early grad school project has become the largest and most accurate source of easily accessible sustainable choices in the city. By aggregating the databases of Fair Food, SBN, PACA, The Energy Co-op, B Corp, The Humane League, Fair Trade and others- we are proud to boast a ‘Green Yelp’ like tool that has over 1800 local and sustainable businesses in the Philadelphia area. I’m here today to offer our database and our technology to support the City in identifying and tracking these local sustainable businesses as part of an official sustainable procurement practice.
Through our free app, My MilkCrate, tens of thousands of Philadelphians have learned about how to switch to renewable energy, find a bike shop, or sign up for a CSA. These choices funnel more money into the local tax base, reduce carbon emissions, and strengthen our urban fabric.
When the City commits to making a similar lifestyle change, it will pave the way for hundreds of thousands of Philadelphians to follow that example.
I recently shared with a reporter when discussing the city’s opportunities that I think a lot of us feel hopeless about some of things that we cannot control, like gun violence or poverty. There’s this sense of 'I can’t do anything in my daily life to change it. But when it comes to the local economy, sustainability, pollution and urban life, that’s something that we can all take direct actions in everyday. As important as large scale changes like our transit system or energy reporting are, the every day choices we make establish our values and have the power to shift the needle. This is why we want to empower people to act on that sense of hope and optimism to make the kind of changes we need.
Thank you for including me today. It has been truly exhilarating to come of age while my own city experiences a rebirth in sustainable design thinking and practice.
To read the proposal by the City Council’s Committee on the Environment click here.
The plan was to walk straight to yoga class for some peace amidst #PopeinPHL when I found myself slowly stumbling down Spruce Street in awe of the spectacles, (miracles?) around me. All I could l think is "I didn't realize it was going to be like this, I can't stop staring at everyone, and I wish I was on my bike!"
I was having the same gleeful feeling in my chest that I get when I'm having one of those dreams where the candy store owner says "take it all!" and you (ok, I) do. And its amazing, all you ever wanted, until you wake up and realize you couldn't take all the candy with you into the real world. But today, the dream I've had for years of a carless city, it was real! I woke up and still had all the candy!
I saw things I'd never imagined: a couple riding next to each other holding hands down the street. Children children gleefully scaling down the streets on scooters and bikes without having to think about any car hitting them. Hordes of cyclists joyriding without the fear of dying. Serious cyclists in spandex spinning past indigo riders. A woman literally skiing around Rittenhouse without skiis. And of course a ten year old, splayed on the road making snow angel motions with his arms, because 'why not?' Still haven't gotten to yoga yet, and my breath is tight because I'm afraid this dream will end. I know it must. But what if it didn't? We haven't dared to ask to get rid of all the cars and somehow here we are- they are all gone, and life goes on. Even better than before in some ways.
I just want to sit and stare at every street, every intersection, at the total lack of cars. I'm still trying to get to yoga now but I'm moving slowly because all I want to do is meditate on the negative space the cars of left behind and the positive things filling it in.My city has been transformed overnight.
So I want to say thank you to Pope Francis. I've heard you are a bit of a reformer, more progressive than your predecessors in some important ways, I just never expected you to start an urban planning and transportation revolution in my city. So thanks for that. Come back any time.
Anyways, to conclude: we can have all the candy if we really want it #CarFreePHL
I can't figure out how I didn't post this until now, but here is the TEDx talk I did a few months ago with #WalnutStWomen. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Als0, it would be awesome if you enjoy it please use this form to let the TEDx folks know - might help me get picked for a TED Talk some day.
This is a big day for me and for My MilkCrate.
So much has been accomplished in the last year and all I can think about is how much more we have left to do. My promise to anyone reading this is that everyone here is dedicated to building the best possible tool to shift more spending into the local sustainable economy. SO! In order to do that and as a bday present could you share your thoughts with us about what we have built so far and what we plan to do next? This is how the best products are made.
SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS HERE: My MilkCrate USER FEEDBACK SURVEY
Last week I (along with 44 other sustainable business leaders organized by Business Forward) had the honor of visiting our nation's capital and meet with senior White House officials. I was there as a result of our relationship with the Sustainable Business Network of Philadelphia and had the pleasure of heading up the Philadelphia contingent with Steve Master's, chair of SBN's Policy Committee.
The first part of the day was spent navigating the most thorough security I've ever experienced and suddenly stumbling into the Eisenhower Building like Alice down the rabbit hole. One foot in front of the other, I eventually found the conference room along one of the most impressive corridors I've ever traversed.
The bulk of the agenda was reserved for discussing the President's still-in-the-works Clean Energy Plan. The White House folks shared the bare bones of the plan with us while encouraging feedback. I was happy when one of my fellow delegates made the observation that the White House is one of the most powerful brands in the world and that what they do has a profound impact on shifting public opinion. I took this as my opportunity to share what had been bugging me all day: throughout the morning dozens and dozens of plastic water bottles were being brought in and consumed, not one reusable container in sight. And then our meat heavy lunch was catered by a megachain with limp claims to any local or sustainable sourcing policies... So taking my moment I shot my hand up (we were raising hands like middle school, which I guess was fitting since the bulk of my knowledge of the White House was formed in that time of my life) - anyways I was called on by Diana Doukas the Director of the White House Business Council. I said "My app helps people live more sustainably across 24 lifestyle categories. Energy is just one of them. I understand today is about the Clean Energy Plan- but what about the other choices the White House is making around sourcing? Food? Transit?." I paused and then continued (after making sure the secret service was not closing in), "How can we help the White House make better choices to send a stronger sustainability message?" Holds breath.
To their great credit they actually were sincerely interested in what I was suggesting, and I was told we could take the conversation "off line" (was this whole meeting actually happening on skype?). After I publish this post, my next step will be following up with Ms. Doukas. I'll come back on line to share the results of our offline chat with you all.
I feel like Mr Rogers today, because it really is a beautiful day in my neighborhood.
The day began with working in bed (not that exciting) but then took a turn for the happy when I smeared locally made peanut butter on some toast with a healthy drizzling of local honey. Next up (and much needed) a trip to my local family-owner gym, Fairmount's Lifesport Fitness where I was the youngest but definitely not the most able-bodied in my pilates class.
After washing up and heading back out I stopped by Tela's Market to provide the second mini MilkCrate. The wonderful manager there, Erica (same name as my sister), had requested a second one since "we have two registers in the store"- love the enthusiasm folks! So I dropped one by and the two women I spoke with were genuinely excited to help promote the app to their customers. Now, this act doesn't directly benefit their store, in fact it is promoting other businesses to those customers- but its like that cheesy but true adage, a rising tide lifts all boats.
Now, when I pulled up to Tela's I had the unfortunate realization that I'd forgotten my bike lock at home. So I turned around disgruntled but determined to stay peppy. One block in and I thought, 'let's see how the stash at Fairmount Bicycle's is doing since I dropped off their mini a few weeks ago.' The folks there who affectionately refer to me as "The MilkCrate Girl" asked how I was doing and I mentioned that I had to head home for my lock- but neighborly goodness was in the air and Shelley, priorprietress and all around bicycle goddess handed me a lock on loan, because, you know, she's a good neighbor.
So in conclusion, people are (often) great. Fairmount is (often) great. And you should check out Lifesport to get the adrenaline and endorphins pumping (remember Legally Blonde?), grab a bite at Tela's because they are really good people who make great food, and of course visit Fairmount Bicycles to hang out, get your busted old cruiser fixed (or better yet get a new proper bike as they rightfully keep encouraging me to do. I will guys, I just need some more time to process my feelings...) and of course mention you found them using My MilkCrate. Because that's what good neighbors do.