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Facing Disaster After Disaster, the American Red Cross C.E.O. Stays Optimistic

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When Gail McGovern took over the American Red Cross in 2008, the organization was running a deficit and tarnished by scandal. Annual budget shortfalls ran into the hundreds of millions, and her predecessor was ousted after having an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate.

“We were in deep financial trouble,” she said.

Ms. McGovern, who held executive roles at AT&T and Fidelity before taking a teaching position at Harvard Business School, brought an executive’s eye to the problems she faced.

Bureaucracy was slashed, decision-making was centralized and layoffs thinned the organization’s ranks. The cuts were painful at times, and Ms. McGovern was criticized for putting public relations ahead of relief work.

But after more than a decade on the job, Ms. McGovern is still C.E.O., and the Red Cross is busier than ever.

While the organization is best known for its large-scale relief efforts after natural disasters, it responds to some 60,000 events a year, including mud slides and house fires. This year, wildfires in the West and a succession of hurricanes has strained the organization, which has had to reinvent its disaster-response protocols during the pandemic.

The organization also supplies about 40 percent of the nation’s blood. But those efforts were complicated early on when schools and businesses — where most blood drives take place — were closed.

Ms. McGovern said that despite the enormity of the disasters her organization was confronting, she still had hope. “I am the eternal optimist,” she said.

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This interview was condensed and edited for clarity.


You were part of the first class of women to attend Johns Hopkins University. What did you take with you from that experience?

It helped me in my career. There were 50 women and 1,900 men. I had a great education there, but what it really also taught me was what it felt like to be the only woman in the room. I don’t remember taking any classes where there were other women. So you learn how to hold your own, because you have no choice.

What did you learn from the corporate world that you’ve been able to apply to your work at the Red Cross?

What is really profoundly different at a nonprofit is that you really have to not only lead with your head, you have to lead with your heart. If you explain the changes you are making through the lens of the mission, people will do anything for you. But they need to know, and understand, how their actions are going to impact the mission.

At AT&T I’d tell people to calm down. “It’s only telecommunications,” I’d say. “We’re not saving lives here. Let’s not panic.” I always was unflappable at Fidelity. “We’re just managing money here,” I’d say. “We’re not saving lives here.” That schtick does not work at the American Red Cross.

But you had to make some painful cuts when you took over.

Part of the reason we had a deficit is there was a lot of duplication. When I walked in the door, there were 720 different chapters, and each chapter had a C.E.O., a local board, their own marketing, their own email platform, their own finances, their own bank accounts, their own treasury, their own purchasing. I had 69 different contracts for T-shirts. So a lot of it was just consolidation and turning to a classic headquarters model. The first year we were able to save $15 million just by managing our purchasing function.

I didn’t hear a lot of complaints about taking all that back-office stuff and centralizing it. We withheld merit increases for a year, and I didn’t hear a peep. We had to do layoffs and I didn’t even hear much squawking about that.

How has the pandemic impacted your ability to operate?

We’re delivering our mission exactly as we should, but the way we’re doing service delivery is different. The first place where we saw the impact of this was in our biomedical organization, which provides 40 percent of the nation’s blood supply. It was kind of stunning how fast that occurred. We watched blood drives start to get canceled rapidly. Schools were closed, businesses were closed. But the team stood up new blood drives in sports arenas and parking lots.

The thing that we needed to do was tell elected officials, “Hey, you’re creating a different health crisis. You need to tell people it’s safe to donate blood.” We went to Larry Hogan, who runs the National Governors Association. He got the word out and boom, people started showing up. But then many hospitals started postponing elective surgery, so now we’re seeing we have a surplus.

And what about when it comes to responding to disasters?

The way in which we are responding to disasters has radically changed. Without a pandemic, we open up large congregate shelters and we provide cots and blankets and three square meals a day and mental health counseling and comfort. We’re face to face, giving hugs, wrapping people in blankets.

Now we’re putting people in hotels. There was one point where we had about 25,000 people in hotel rooms, and this creates some challenges. They’re spread out all over the place, so our volunteers have to travel to be where they are. We’re giving them boxed meals.

With the wildfires and hurricanes, this has been the busiest disaster year that I have experienced here.

Do you believe that is in part because of climate change?

Well, I’m not a climatologist or, or a scientist in this area, but what I can tell you is the water temperature is going up. And our modeling is not as predictable as it used to be at all.

I know you’re not a climatologist, but you’re highly educated. Are you studiously avoiding a political lightning-rod issue, or is your mind truly not made up about the scientific consensus that human activity is changing the climate and making weather more severe?

Well, I’m not trying to be coy, but I can tell you that since Covid, when everybody stopped driving around and taking airplanes, the carbon footprint is improving. So we’re definitely playing some kind of role here. But to what extent is that the only element? I mean, what I’m studiously focused on is what is the impact of the American Red Cross.

Am I trying to avoid politics? I want to tell you that one of our fundamental principles is neutrality. So I studiously avoid politics because that’s part of our psyche. And I have to tell you, it’s liberating. It is liberating. I have taken it outside of the Red Cross and into my personal life.

We’re still very much in the middle of this pandemic; we’re still in the middle of a hurricane season. What are your biggest concerns looking out for the rest of the year and into next year?

I worry about the fatigue of my volunteers. And I would be worried with or without the pandemic, because there’s just so many back-to-back-to-back-to-back disasters. It’s not healthy to keep absorbing that much sadness. I worry about them running themselves into the ground. This is going to sound cheesy, but it’s really a fact: Humanitarianism is like an addiction. You see a need, you jump in and fill it, and you just want to keep doing it. But I worry that they’re running themselves into the ground.

This is a tough time for our country, and the other thing I worry about is the need. We can give people financial assistance if their home is severely damaged or destroyed. But I worry about the mental health of the people that are impacted by these disasters. Imagine that you’re in Louisiana, you were evacuated, you’re living in a hotel room. You finally get the green light, get to go home and miracle of all miracles, your house is still standing. And now you’re getting evacuated again because of the next hurricane.

People want to help. They’re helping virtually, they’re helping in person and they are donating blood. So I have great faith. We’re going to get through this. I think this time next year, you and I will be going, “Wow, what the heck was that?” I really believe when we’re all set free from captivity, we are going to be so happy and kind to each other. It’s going to be glorious.

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Activists Turn Facial Recognition Tools Against the Police

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In early September, the City Council in Portland, Ore., met virtually to consider sweeping legislation outlawing the use of facial recognition technology. The bills would not only bar the police from using it to unmask protesters and individuals captured in surveillance imagery; they would also prevent companies and a variety of other organizations from using the software to identify an unknown person.

During the time for public comments, a local man, Christopher Howell, said he had concerns about a blanket ban. He gave a surprising reason.

“I am involved with developing facial recognition to in fact use on Portland police officers, since they are not identifying themselves to the public,” Mr. Howell said. Over the summer, with the city seized by demonstrations against police violence, leaders of the department had told uniformed officers that they could tape over their name. Mr. Howell wanted to know: Would his use of facial recognition technology become illegal?

Portland’s mayor, Ted Wheeler, told Mr. Howell that his project was “a little creepy,” but a lawyer for the city clarified that the bills would not apply to individuals. The Council then passed the legislation in a unanimous vote.

Mr. Howell was offended by Mr. Wheeler’s characterization of his project but relieved he could keep working on it. “There’s a lot of excessive force here in Portland,” he said in a phone interview. “Knowing who the officers are seems like a baseline.”

Mr. Howell, 42, is a lifelong protester and self-taught coder; in graduate school, he started working with neural net technology, an artificial intelligence that learns to make decisions from data it is fed, such as images. He said that the police had tear-gassed him during a midday protest in June, and that he had begun researching how to build a facial recognition product that could defeat officers’ attempts to shield their identity.

“This was, you know, kind of a ‘shower thought’ moment for me, and just kind of an intersection of what I know how to do and what my current interests are,” he said. “Accountability is important. We need to know who is doing what, so we can deal with it.”

Mr. Howell is not alone in his pursuit. Law enforcement has used facial recognition to identify criminals, using photos from government databases or, through a company called Clearview AI, from the public internet. But now activists around the world are turning the process around and developing tools that can unmask law enforcement in cases of misconduct.

“It doesn’t surprise me in the least,” said Clare Garvie, a lawyer at Georgetown University’s Center on Privacy and Technology. “I think some folks will say, ‘All’s fair in love and war,’ but it highlights the risk of developing this technology without thinking about its use in the hands of all possible actors.”

The authorities targeted so far have not been pleased. The New York Times reported in July 2019 that Colin Cheung, a protester in Hong Kong, had developed a tool to identify police officers using online photos of them. After he posted a video about the project on Facebook, he was arrested. Mr. Cheung ultimately abandoned the work.

ImagePaolo Cirio is a French artist. “It’s childish to try to stop me,” he said.
Credit…Ana Brigida for The New York Times

This month, the artist Paolo Cirio published photos of 4,000 faces of French police officers online for an exhibit called “Capture,” which he described as the first step in developing a facial recognition app. He collected the faces from 1,000 photos he had gathered from the internet and from photographers who attended protests in France. Mr. Cirio, 41, took the photos down after France’s interior minister threatened legal action but said he hoped to republish them.

“It’s about the privacy of everyone,” said Mr. Cirio, who believes facial recognition should be banned. “It’s childish to try to stop me, as an artist who is trying to raise the problem, instead of addressing the problem itself.”

Many police officers around the world cover their faces, in whole or in part, as captured in recent videos of police violence in Belarus. Last month, Andrew Maximov, a technologist from the country who is now based in Los Angeles, uploaded a video to YouTube that demonstrated how facial recognition technology could be used to digitally strip away the masks.

In the simulated footage, software matches masked officers to full images of officers taken from social media channels. The two images are then merged so the officers are shown in uniform, with their faces on display. It’s unclear if the matches are accurate. The video, which was reported earlier by a news site about Russia called Meduza, has been viewed more than one million times.

“For a while now, everyone was aware the big guys could use this to identify and oppress the little guys, but we’re now approaching the technological threshold where the little guys can do it to the big guys,” Mr. Maximov, 30, said. “It’s not just the loss of anonymity. It’s the threat of infamy.”

These activists say it has become relatively easy to build facial recognition tools thanks to off-the-shelf image recognition software that has been made available in recent years. In Portland, Mr. Howell used a Google-provided platform, TensorFlow, which helps people build machine-learning models.

“The technical process — I’m not inventing anything new,” he said. “The big problem here is getting quality images.”

Mr. Howell gathered thousands of images of Portland police officers from news articles and social media after finding their names on city websites. He also made a public records request for a roster of police officers, with their names and personnel numbers, but it was denied.

Facebook has been a particularly helpful source of images. “Here they all are at a barbecue or whatever, in uniform sometimes,” Mr. Howell said. “It’s few enough people that I can reasonably do it as an individual.”

Mr. Howell said his tool remained a work in progress and could recognize only about 20 percent of Portland’s police force. He hasn’t made it publicly available, but he said it had already helped a friend confirm an officer’s identity. He declined to provide more details.

Credit…Paolo Cirio

Derek Carmon, a public information officer at the Portland Police Bureau, said that “name tags were changed to personnel numbers during protests to help eliminate the doxxing of officers,” but that officers are required to wear name tags for “non-protest-related duties.” Mr. Carmon said people could file complaints using an officer’s personnel number. He declined to comment on Mr. Howell’s software.

Older attempts to identify police officers have relied on crowdsourcing. The news service ProPublica asks readers to identify officers in a series of videos of police violence. In 2016, an anti-surveillance group in Chicago, the Lucy Parsons Lab, started OpenOversight, a “public searchable database of law enforcement officers.” It asks people to upload photos of uniformed officers and match them to the officers’ names or badge numbers.

“We were careful about what information we were soliciting. We don’t want to encourage people to follow officers to playgrounds with their kids,” said Jennifer Helsby, OpenOversight’s lead developer. “It has resulted in officers being identified.”

For example, the database helped journalists at the Invisible Institute, a local news organization, identify Chicago officers who struck protesters with batons this summer, according to the institute’s director of public strategy, Maira Khwaja.

Photos of more than 1,000 officers have been uploaded to the site, Ms. Helsby said, adding that versions of the open-source database have been started in other cities, including Portland. That version is called Cops.Photo, and is one of the places from which Mr. Howell obtained identified photos of police officers.

Mr. Howell originally wanted to make his work publicly available, but is now concerned that distributing his tool to others would be illegal under the city’s new facial recognition laws, he said.

“I have sought some legal advice and will seek more,” Mr. Howell said. He described it as “unwise” to release an illegal facial recognition app because the police “are not going to appreciate it to begin with.”

“I’d be naïve not to be a little concerned about it,” he added. “But I think it’s worth doing.”

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Do you have a heroin company? Participate in this ranking that recognizes all companies with purpose and heart

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October 21, 2020 5 min read

This article was translated from our Spanish edition using AI technologies. Errors may exist due to this process.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Without a doubt, this 2020 is a challenging year and it is testing everyone in all areas. In business, the leaders who have been challenged to keep their organization healthy and strong.

Unfortunately, not a few companies have been left behind. In Mexico, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) estimates that 500,000 formal companies will permanently close as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, which implies the loss of 1,573,000 jobs.

However, there are those organizations that, despite adverse circumstances, managed to reinvent themselves, maintained their operations, productivity and, above all, protected the most valuable thing: the well-being and happiness of their employees.

Happy and productive companies

Why do people’s happiness and well-being matter? Mercer’s annual report, Global Talent Trends 2020, shows that companies that are paying attention to protecting the health, financial well-being and career aspirations of their employees are up to four times more productive.

“A company that has in its DNA to take care of its employees is a company with a heart, with a purpose, that by applying strategies of well-being and happiness manages to be resilient, positive and productive. Therefore, it is a company that deserves to be recognized as a Heroin company, ”says Nancy Martínez, CEO of LIVE 13.5 °.

In the search to help organizations build more positive, happy and productive workplaces and to recognize those organizations that are already taking the steps to achieve it, this is why this organizational happiness consultancy decided to create the Heroine Companies Ranking .

“It will be different from all those that exist so far,” says the founder of LIVE 13.5º. “It will be developed under a more human vision, inspired by Organizational Happiness and reinforcing universal values in the world of work.”


Photo: LIVE 13.5

goals

What is sought in the Heroine Companies Ranking is to recognize the organizations that seek the emotional, mental, physical, spiritual and financial balance of their collaborators; promote well-being and happiness as a strategic value of productivity and promote the existence of more healthy, positive and resilient companies.

Who can participate in this ranking? Those companies that implement strategies to take care of the well-being of their employees and keep their organization strong; that positively impact society with different initiatives to contribute to a better world; those who adapt quickly, positively and creatively to change; and also, employer brands that continue to be a benchmark for those who are looking for work.

Mexico, Colombia, Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama, Guatemala, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Argentina, Peru and Chile are the countries where this ranking will be present.

The award

The company that manages to be ranked with the first place will be able to attend the HR Day at Harvard 2021 . In addition, she will be the recipient of a scholarship for two in the Gross Global Happiness at the United Nations University for Peace in Costa Rica; and the World Happiness Foundation will award him the World Happiness Award. This award will be in addition to the physical recognition and seal of “Heroine Company” that is also awarded to companies that are ranked.

How to take part

Unlike other business rankings, in Empresas Heroinas any company can participate (regardless of the number of employees it has, the amount they invoice per year, the country of origin and the line of business they represent).

Something important, says Nancy, is that, “this ranking is designed so that LIVE 13.5 is not judge and party.” For this reason, there will be auditors during the evaluation process and top-level juries that are globally recognized. Likewise, all participating companies will receive a diagnosis.

The evaluation process

It will be carried out through four phases:

  1. Poll
  2. Evidence
  3. Pitch
  4. Validation of results by the Jury (Hero Hunters)

The evaluation will be carried out by the Happy Work Foundation , who are an international benchmark in research on organizational well-being, they will be in charge of ensuring the scientific and methodological rigor of the measurement.

A total of 18 categories related to organizational demands and labor resources will be evaluated to determine the vulnerability index to psychosocial risk and the Organizational Happiness index of each company that decides to enroll in the ranking.

In Mexico, Entrepreneur will be the revealing medium of the Ranking of Heroine Companies.

Key dates

  • November 30, 2020 is the closing date for registrations.
  • The following months the analysis process will take place.
  • April 2021 , the final results and the names of the hero companies will be announced.

To register for the Ranking, nominate a company or learn more about this great initiative, visit: www.empresasheroinas.com

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Carrie Fisher’s Most Hilarious and Inspiring Quotes

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The brilliant writer and iconic actor died on December 27, 2016 at the age of 60.

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December 27, 2016 5 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Carrie Frances Fisher died on December 27, 2016 to complications following a heart attack during a London to Los Angeles flight. The sensationally sarcastic 60-year-old, most known for her role as Princess Leia in the Star Wars movies, was daughter to actress Debbie Reynolds and pop star Eddie Fischer and ex-wife of singer songwriter Paul Simon, as well as being a prolific author, much-called-upon screenwriter/doctor and highly-acclaimed stage performer.  

Yes, this space princess was all of those things, but to paraphrase Max von Sydow’s line on “General” Leia’s title change in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, “she’ll always be royalty to us.”  

Related: The Entrepreneurial Genius of ‘Star Wars’

Here are some painfully funny and moving quotes straight from the mouth of the most badass princess and wittiest wookie lover this side of a planet formerly known as Alderaan.

Leia’s Wardrobe Wars: Episode I

“I weighed about 105 pounds at the time [during the first Star Wars film]. But I carried about 50 of those pounds in my face. So you know what a good idea would be? Give me a hairstyle that further widens my already wide face!” 

On her problems with pills

“One of the side effects of Percodan is feelings of euphoria — and I always felt that was a side effect I could deal with.” 

On a higher power

“You know how they say that religion is the opiate of the masses? Well, I took masses of opiates religiously.”  

Related: Inspiring Quotes From ’80s and ’90s Movies

On her recently revealed “method acting” affair with Harrison Ford

“It was so intense. It was Han and Leia during the week, and Carrie and Harrison during the weekend.” 

Leia’s Wardrobe Wars: Episode II 

“Who wears this much lip gloss into battle?” 

On her many travels 

“Sometimes you can only find Heaven by slowly backing away from Hell.”  

Related: Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Quotes of All Time

On her struggles with mental illness

“I thought I would inaugurate a Bipolar Pride Day. You know, with floats and parades and stuff! On the floats we would get the depressives, and they wouldn’t even have to leave their beds — we’d just roll their beds out of their houses, and they could continue staring off miserably into space. And then for the manics, we’d have the manic marching band, with manics laughing and talking and shopping and fucking and making bad judgment calls.”  

On her struggles with mom

“Not that it matters, but my mother is not a lesbian! She’s just a really, really bad heterosexual.”  

Leia’s Wardrobe Wars: Episode III

“George comes up to me the first day of filming and he takes a look at the dress and says, ‘You can’t wear a bra under that dress.’ So, I say, ‘OK, I’ll bite. Why?’ And he says, ‘Because … there’s no underwear in space.’ I promise you this is true, and he says it with such conviction too! Like he had been to space and looked around and he didn’t see any bras or panties or briefs anywhere.” 

On Hollywood hardware

“Having waited my entire life to get an award for something, anything … I now get awards all the time for being mentally ill. It’s better than being bad at being insane, right? How tragic would it be to be runner-up for Bipolar Woman of the Year?”  

On the happiness myth

“If you have the expectation that you’re going to be happy throughout your life — more to the point, if you have a need to be comfortable all the time — well, among other things, you have the makings of a classic drug addict or alcoholic.”  

On shallow reviews

“Please stop debating about whether or not [I’ve] aged well — unfortunately it hurts all three of my feelings. My body hasn’t aged as well as I have.” 

Leia’s Wardrobe Wars: Episode IV

“It was like steel, not steel, but hard plastic, and if you stood behind me you could see straight to Florida. You’ll have to ask Boba Fett about that.” 

On quoting others

“I quote fictional characters, because I’m a fictional character myself!”  

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