The Genesis of the Morino Foundation
© 1995, The Morino Institute. All rights reserved.
- Birth of a Foundation
- The Discovery Process
- The Morino Foundation Today
Launching a private foundation requires more than just financial resources. To be
successful, a foundation must be grounded in a clear vision so that every grant it awards
reflects its goals and philosophy.
The foundation of today is moving away from the basic hands-off, check- writing model
of old. Like most organizations in todays tight economy, the foundation must
allocate its money wisely. Many donors are taking an active role in the grantmaking
process, putting a more personal face on their foundations.
Economic factors are not the only ones driving these changes. A wave of former business
executives from the baby boom generation, many from entrepreneurial high-technology
companies, are setting up nonprofit foundations to pursue dreams outside the business
world. These people have enough wealth to retire from business at a relatively young age
and to take on a second career. This trend has benefited the nonprofit world by bringing
to foundations the business acumen, management skills, and, most importantly, the contacts
of former executives.
What motivates these business leaders to shift gears so dramatically? One factor is the
wave of mergers and acquisitions during the past fifteen years, which has resulted in a
loss of job security and a new sense of uncertainty among white-collar professionals,
including many executives. The approach of a new millennium is also a factor, causing many
established men and women to pause and reflect on where they are today and where they want
to be tomorrow. Some have turned to a more spiritual life, while others are working to
contribute something meaningful to society through means other than business.
A few of the more fortunate men and women from the business world have turned to the
nonprofit sector out of a desire to give something back to the society that helped propel
their successful careers. One such former executive is Mario Morino, a computer software
Morino retired from the business world at age 49, after having co- founded and helped
to build one of the largest software companies in the world, Legent Corporation (now part
of Computer Associates International Inc.). Before the ink was dry on his retirement party
thank-you notes, Morino was already planning a new venture, the Morino Foundation. Today
the Morino Foundation is a private grantmaking entity that funds individuals and
organizations in the spirit of community learning. Its primary beneficiary is the Morino
Institute in Reston, Virginia, a nonprofit organization that helps individuals,
institutions, and communities come to terms with and find opportunity in what Morino calls
the Knowledge Age.
I. BIRTH OF A FOUNDATION
When I retired from the business world in late 1992, it was the first time in over two
decades that I could concentrate on my dream of giving something back to society and
helping others. It was then that I launched the Morino Foundation.
Previously, the hectic pace of the computer software industry had all but monopolized
my attention, especially during the late 1980s and early 1990s, when my associates and I
brought our company through a series of complicated acquisitions and mergers that resulted
in one of the worlds largest software companies, Legent Corporation. In 1992, the
company was in both a solid financial state and a strong market position, and was under
the leadership of a strong management team, so I was able to step down and begin a new
journey in the nonprofit realm.
My early vision for the Morino Foundation was simple: I wanted to play a supportive but
active role in the grant projects we would support. This role what I call a
"passive activist" would mean assisting grantees not only financially,
but also by serving as an advisor to them. It would entail providing appropriate contacts
who could help them financially or otherwise, and in some cases, even rolling up my
sleeves and working alongside them on the planning, development, and marketing of their
projects. The idea was not to take control of the projects but mainly to help the
grantseekers succeed by providing the expertise, assistance, and resources to which they
might not otherwise have ready access.
Much of this activist philosophy stems from my business roots. I had an active
management style, a desire to be involved in day-to-day work operations, and a commitment
to build and cultivate relationships with my co-workers. Over the years I was blessed with
many close friendships and relationships with people at Legent, its customers, and even
This personal approach is crucial to the Morino Foundations success. Our role is
to be involved and supportive, but not controlling. Take the process of awarding a grant.
The key is to look at the potential award from both a business perspective and a personal
one. Business sense helps me determine whether a project is technically or financially
feasible. My personal involvement enables me to judge whether the potential grantee is
committed to his or her mission, has the skills to accomplish his or her goals, and
whether the right chemistry exists for successful cooperation between us.
This kind of insight is crucial because the Morino Foundation attempts to award grants
that will make a concrete, long-term difference in peoples lives, such as keeping
disadvantaged youths off the streets by engaging them in computers or athletics, or by
uniting parents of mentally impaired children in support groups.
Although the Morino Foundation is not modeled on any particular nonprofit, it embodies
many of the characteristics of other organizations from which we have learned. One such
organization had a profound influence on our foundations vision: the Echoing Green
Foundation in New York, which offers fellowships for public service programs. What was
most impressive about Echoing Greens approach was its practice of selecting fellows
who have what they perceive to be a calling in their social or religious endeavors. I have
tried to follow this practice in the grants made by the Morino Foundation. Investing in
people who have a conviction in their beliefs and the drive to succeed is a fundamental
necessity of productive grantmaking.
The theme that resonates throughout the projects funded by the Morino Foundation is
learning. This is no coincidence. Learning has long been a passion of mine and is the goal
of much of the Foundations work.
When I started college in the 1960s, I had every intention of becoming a math teacher
and coaching baseball. While I was growing up in a poor section of Cleveland, several
teachers and coaches had played influential roles in my young life, and I wanted to follow
their example. But in college I soon became disillusioned with some of the administrative
aspects of teaching and the attitude of too many fellow education students who viewed
teaching as "just a job."
So midway through college, I changed career paths and instead became a computer
programmer and analyst, and I transferred from Ohio University to Kent State University.
During the years 1964 through 1967, I worked with what was then the Euclid Division of
General Motors Corporation in Ohio and with the Eaton Corporations
telecommunications group. All the while I was attending college Kent State for a
year, Cuyahoga Community College for a semester, and finally Case Western Reserve
University, from which I graduated.
Both General Motors and Eaton reimbursed my tuition during those years, providing me
the luxury of learning about computers then a hot new field in a
professional setting while carrying a full academic load in business, mathematics, and
In late 1967, I was fortunate enough to be able to enlist in a special program with the
U.S. Navy in which they were recruiting individuals with backgrounds in data processing.
Even more fortunately, I was detailed to Navy headquarters in Arlington, Virginia,
adjacent to the Pentagon for my time in the service. While in the Navy I organized a group
of others that were working at Navy headquarters into a small computer services firm, that
eventually became known as the "Morino Marauders." This small business was
folded into one of the countrys first time-sharing computer network businesses, U.S.
Time-Sharing. This led to yet another new business, where eventually I met my partner and
mentor, Bill Witzel. In 1973, Bill and I formed a software company, Morino Associates, in
which we were the two principals.
Knowledge as a Tool
I learned early in life that education and knowledge offer opportunity in the face of
adversity. This was instilled in me by my parents, neither of whom was able to complete
high school, but who inspired all of their children to devour their studies and follow
their dreams. We Morinos were all hard-working and driven. We never let a lack of money
stand in our way, nor did we use it as an excuse to give up or blame others. As a child, I
had watched my family provide food and lodging for those in need even while we struggled
to make ends meet ourselves. I never forgot that.
The community spirit and the hunger for knowledge that I grew up with live on in the
Morino Foundation today. Most of the Foundations grant money goes to innovative
programs to help those who are in need learn about such areas as community development,
education, and health.
The objective of our foundation is to help people use learning and knowledge to open
doors once closed to them, or doors they never even knew existed. This can mean helping a
retarded citizen find a job, or offering a single mother a scholarship to attend college.
The avenues for education have never been as exciting as they are today in the evolving
Knowledge Age. New and innovative ways of learning and communicating are constantly
emerging, including the ability to communicate with many people from afar using computer
networks. One aspect of our work is to help people learn about these new modes of
communication, knowledge, and information access. That in turn can help them seize the
opportunities that knowledge gives them, just as I was able to do.
Setting Up the Foundation
The Morino Foundation began to take shape in early 1990 when I first started to explore
options for estate planning. I had accumulated some wealth during my tenure in the
computer industry and wanted to ensure not only that my family was well provided for and
my finances allocated wisely, but also that we could contribute something meaningful to
society outside of my work in the business world.
In developing the estate plan, I was advised to liquidate some of my stock holdings in
order to release money for my immediate and extended families as well as for my nonprofit
interests. Our attorney proposed a comprehensive estate plan that included setting up a
nonprofit foundation. We spent the next two years exploring the concept of the private
foundation and hammering out details of a plan.
Ideally, I wanted the Foundation to serve as both a vehicle for the familys
estate upon my death and as a way for me to give something back to society during my
lifetime. I had no blueprint for the Foundation back then, I only knew that it should
somehow promote community learning. Community learning is the advancement of knowledge or
understanding through efforts within a community. It includes everything from mentoring
programs to local health clinics to adult education centers. In Boston, for example, the
nonprofit group Join Together has done a remarkable job in helping communities better
understand and deal with substance abuse.
In the past, community learning came out of the family, the church, and local groups.
The Foundations goal is to rekindle these types of shared learning in the hope that
we can help people improve their lives and communities.
Shortly after leaving Legent in 1992, I donated to the newly established Morino
Foundation 100,000 shares of the companys stock at a value of approximately $4.8
million. To ensure that the Foundation would remain viable and productive after my death,
we structured the family estate plan to provide additional funding. The plan guarantees
both that my family will be provided for and that the Foundation will be receive
additional support. We intend, as well, to supply further contributions to the Foundation
during my life-time as our net worth grows, mostly from venture investment activities in
the information and communications technology fields.
The Morino Foundation also was set up in such a way that my goals and visions for the
nonprofit will live on even when I am no longer actively involved. This was accomplished
by naming the four trustees of my estate to the Foundations board of directors: my
wife, Dana, and three of my closest friends, including our legal counsel and two former
business associates. In this way, the future of both the Foundation and the family is
secure, and the Foundation will be positioned to award grants in the spirit in which it
The logistics of setting up the Foundation were fairly straightforward we had to
submit the usual applications and legal documents. We first filed with the state of
Virginia to incorporate the Foundation and then applied with the Internal Revenue Service
for tax- exempt, private foundation status. This whole process took about six months,
including approval from the IRS.
In anticipation of our needing more funds for the Foundations nonprofit
activities, we recently moved an additional 110,000 shares valued at around $4.7 million
to a charitable investment fund. This will augment the Foundations future grants to
II. THE DISCOVERY PROCESS
During a drive to the Delaware shore in early 1993, my friend Patrick Arnone and I set
the wheels in motion for what was later to become the Morino Institute. The Institute
would eventually become an extension of the Morino Foundation, acting as its
project-support arm. Patrick, who was already a member of the board of directors of the
Foundation, was accompanying me one chilly winter morning to check on some maintenance
work on property we own.
En route, I discussed with Patrick ways in which the Morino Foundation could become
more than just a grantmaking entity. At the time I was kicking around several ideas for
how the Foundation could advance learning in communities, but did not have a specific plan
What was clear was that we would not simply write checks. Contributing our skills in
business as well as my perspective on the application of technology would be more valuable
than just providing money. I wanted to instill the personal touch that had characterized
my approach to business. The goal was to be an active player in the grant projects we
underwrote assisting, not controlling, them. We wanted to serve as a partner in
This piqued Patricks interest. He, too, had come to a crossroads in his business
career and was about to begin a year-long sabbatical from the computer software industry
so he could decide what his next step would be. He wanted to contribute something
meaningful to society, outside of business, and the idea of working on shaping the
Foundations activities intrigued him. Before we even reached the Delaware shore,
Patrick had offered to volunteer five to ten hours a week of his time to help nail down a
focus for the Foundations work.
That trip led Patrick and me on a wild journey that neither of us could ever have
imagined. We dedicated all of 1993 and part of 1994 to what we now refer to as the
"discovery." It was a period when we simply went out and met with many people in
all walks of life from business, government, education, and the nonprofit arena.
Our approach was to listen to their views on what was needed in communities and in the
nonprofit world, and to ask how we could help.
It was an exhilarating, rewarding, overwhelming and sometimes frustrating time for us.
Things were moving fast. Before he knew it, Patrick was logging somewhere between 50 to 80
hours a week with me. When it was all over a year and a half later, we had met with some
And what a journey it was.
The Serendipity Phase: January through August 1993
We began our journey without a road map, an agenda, or clear
expectations. This was a time to gather information, and we purposely kept our activities
unstructured and broad. Our main objective was to learn from people outside our corporate
cocoons. Any savvy businessman will agree that keeping an open mind is crucial to success.
Such a painstaking process was not the only alternative. We could have limited our
research period to six months and approached it with more of a focus or purpose. But the
low-pressure, casual approach led to a more comprehensive survey of our options, albeit a
less efficient one at times. It was like being a reporter with no deadline.
Our first step was to place a few cold calls from the office, which at the time was
located in the basement of my home in Great Falls, Virginia. There, with the help of
Cheryl Collins, who led our research and special projects activities, Patrick and I
started thumbing through our Rolodexes, tapping some of my close associates like Joe
Henson, the former chairman and CEO of Legent; Steve Denning, managing general partner of
General Atlantic; Ed Cohen, chairman of the Echoing Green Foundation; and, of course,
longtime friend Bill Witzel, co-founder of Morino Associates. We also turned to local
politicians and others we knew.
Sometimes we even consulted the phone book and other directories. Patrick, for example,
once scanned an educational catalog to find software designers specializing in education
to see if they were developing anything innovative or different about which we could
Even though we had no specific plan of attack, our legwork eventually generated a
regular slate of meetings. Most of the time we relied on referrals from previous sessions.
Although my status as a former business executive probably got us a foot in the door for
many of these meetings, I avoided relying too much on my contacts in the software industry
and the business world. This was a time for me to look beyond those parameters and to see
the big picture of society.
Following Many Paths
Fortunately, we were successfully able to venture beyond our safety net
in business and the software industry. We met with religious organizations, investment
bankers, university presidents, government officials, activist groups and a former
executive director of CBS News. Those who did not know us or what we were really trying to
do were at least intrigued by our comprehensive fact-finding mission. Their curiosity
helped us to get on their calendars more often than not.
We never entered a meeting with a specific agenda or plan. Our message was that we were
from the computer industry and were now devoting our lives to helping communities. We had
nothing to sell, we reassured people, we just wanted some advice about areas our
foundation could focus on and how to learn more about them.
Some people, especially in the nonprofit arena, were suspicious. How could two former
business executives not have a hidden agenda? Even some business people were wary.
Occasionally we met people who kept a cool distance because they were certain we were
Despite these occasional hurdles, our days were packed with meetings and phone calls. A
typical day began at dawn, answering electronic mail and drafting correspondence. By 8:00
or 9:00 a.m., Patrick and I were attending meetings, some days from seven in the morning
until late in the evening. On a single day, we might meet with a congressman, a nonprofit
director, a clergyman, a company president, and a community services representative.
Early on in the process, Patrick and I teamed up for most meetings and later on we
split up to squeeze more into our schedules. Patrick focused on learning the funding
process for private and corporate foundations, private donors, and government programs,
while I dedicated my time to formulating a vision of how we could help community
At the end of the day, we would either hold a staff meeting or Patrick and I would
discuss the days events on our way home or by phone.
The Maiden Voyage
I do not remember the first phone call we made, but I remember the very first meeting.
It was in January 1993 at my alma mater, Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland,
Ohio. It started out as a meeting about establishing a Morino Scholars grant program at
the university, but like many subsequent meetings, it opened new doors for us and was the
start of several important relationships.
A presentation taught me about Case Westerns campus-wide fiber-optic network and
the new digital library it was to support. I was intrigued by the forecasts that a digital
library concept could and would replace a physical library the catalog, the books,
and even the building itself. I discussed this with the director of the universitys
library, Kaye Gapen, who would later join us at the Morino Institute. She and I agreed
that the technology would change forever our concept of accessing library resources, but
we felt there were social aspects of the traditional library that could not and should not
be replaced, namely its role as a meeting place and center of community activity. Students
go to the library not only to study and check out books, but also to socialize and work
together. There would always be a need for such a gathering spot.
Many prophecies about the new digital age obviously did not take into account the basic
human need for face-to-face contact and socialization. This is one of the reasons we are
so conscientious about saying that, although the new medium of interactive communications
is a centerpiece of our work, we avoid a focus on the technology itself. We are interested
in the various ways people can use the new medium, not in prognostications about
technology for technologys sake.
Later, while digging through the stack of literature the university had given me, I
stumbled across another project at Case Western that shed a whole new light on this theme
of technology and social interaction. It was the universitys work on the Cleveland
Free-Net, a community-based computer network that allows residents of the greater
Cleveland area to communicate with others via electronic mail and make information
available through bulletin boards. The network also provides new twists on existing ideas,
such as electronic support groups for patients and their families.
What struck me most about the network was how it was being used by specific groups,
such as families of persons with Alzheimers disease, under an experiment run by the
Alzheimers Center of the University Hospitals of Cleveland and a local chapter of
the Alzheimers Association. We were fortunate to meet with Dr. Kathleen Smyth,
director of the Alzheimers Disease Support on the Free-Net, who showed us this
I read touching accounts from participating families. One man wrote a letter to his
online support group about how he turns to them for help when things get difficult with
his Alzheimers-stricken wife. The 24- hour online support had helped him share
information and his feelings about caring for her.
"Every time I do get on Free-Net, I need some kind of help, and when I leave I
have truly received the help I need," he wrote. "Sometimes I cant write,
or dont know how to express my feelings, so I just read the articles you have
Kathleen also told us about an elderly woman who previously would not have dreamed of
calling a family member or friend for help at 3:00 a.m. when her Alzheimers-stricken
husband would wander aimlessly around the house. But now with a computer in her living
room linked to the Free-Net, she could sit down and type in a message to see if anyone
else was awake. Often some other spouse or caregiver also was up and could help her
through the night.
This really hit home for me. The technology had a sociological
application that had not been apparent to me, since my experience with these networks was
mostly in the context of making information available. The magic of this very personal
form of communication was a refreshing and exciting discovery. I wondered whether Case
Western had considered exploring the Free-Nets impact on the people who used it.
But the university, like most others working with computer networks today, was
preoccupied with the network itself. The trouble with such a narrow focus is that it fails
to illuminate for people just how such a medium can trigger dramatic changes in society.
We had stumbled onto a social phenomenon of significance. This was my first
introduction to community networks but it would not be the last.
Atop the Hill and Into the Valley
One of the biggest dividends of these meetings was more contacts, which exposed us to
diverse views and broadened our thinking. Our meeting with U.S. Senator Robert Kerrey of
Nebraska in the spring of 1993 is a good example. Steve Denning of General Atlantic and Ed
Cohen of Echoing Green had introduced us to Billy Shore, director of Share Our Strength, a
nonprofit organization focusing on hunger programs.
Billy, whose insight, advice, and contacts were of great value to our discovery
process, suggested that we speak with Senator Kerrey, his former boss, to discuss
legislation the Senator was sponsoring to develop digital public libraries. The next thing
we knew, Billy made a phone call, and he, Patrick, and I were in a cab on our way to
The meeting with Senator Kerrey was supposed to be only a fifteen-minute session to get
acquainted, but ended up being a three-hour discussion in the Senate lunchroom. This was
highly unusual most people we met with gave us about 30 minutes of their time, some
a bit more once they understood our intentions. The conversation with Senator Kerrey
quickly expanded beyond digital libraries to other social and technological issues, such
as the trends in computer networks and the potential of network interactive communications
for social and economic change. The Senator later remarked that he had spent so much time
with us because the topic was of great interest to him and we did not have a hidden
agenda. He could tell we were not there to sell him anything.
Despite the fact that we were constantly being drawn into a discussion of technology in
our meetings, I still resisted (as I do today) embracing the technology itself as part of
our core mission. I could not shake my skepticism that technology alone was unable to
solve problems in communities and society as a whole. But as fate would have it, the
discovery period eventually led back to my technology roots. My previous work in helping
individuals assimilate and use computer systems and networks gave us an important frame of
reference from which to understand the communications revolution that was emerging out of
these technologies. I soon was focused on both the potential and the risks of the emerging
communications medium known as network interactive communications, the convergence of
computers, networks, broadcast television, and publishing. This was not a matter of
technology for its own sake it was a profound change in the way people communicate.
Another key meeting for us occurred via this new communications medium in August of
that year. I received an electronic mail message from Steve Cisler, a senior scientist
with Apple Computer Inc., who had seen my name on the Internet as an attendee at the
International Free-Net Conference, which he and I attended in August 1993. By electronic
mail, Steve and I learned about one another and exchanged ideas about how these community
computer networks could help those most in need. I convinced him to travel to Virginia for
a face-to-face meeting in October.
At the time, Steve was planning the first "Ties That Bind" conference, a
forum sponsored by Apple Computer on community networking. After our meeting, the Morino
Institute (as an extension of the Foundation) offered to work with Steve and Apple on the
conference. Steves encouragement and willingness to work with us led the Institute
to co-sponsor the conference our first official foray into community networking.
Apple and the Morino Institute co-sponsored the 1994 and 1995 events, which were aimed at
advancing these networks at the local level.
Ties that Bind was one of the projects in which the Morino Institute became actively
involved. We helped plan and promote the conference, and we worked with Steve to expand
its audience beyond community-network providers to include grantmakers, public officials,
and community leaders.
In November 1993, our journey took a spiritual turn. We were fortunate to be able to
meet with Robert Buford, a Christian philanthropist with several nonprofit organizations,
one of which is the Leadership Network. We previously had met with and benefited from the
insights of Fred Smith, the director of the Leadership Network.
Buford espoused the philosophy we were crafting for the Morino Foundation that
donors should make sure they choose grantees who have a calling in life. Although
Bufords philosophy emphasized more of a religious calling, it reinforced our earlier
discussions with Ed Cohen of Echoing Green. Grantees must be receptive to working closely
with you, Buford said, and remain open to new ideas and change. This was exactly the kind
of approach I was trying to take with the Morino Foundation, and Buford reassured us that
the time we were taking to meet with people to learn and plan our future was well-spent.
Back to School
We expanded on our learning theme later that year. Erich Bloch, a senior fellow of the
Council on Competitiveness, urged us to target adult education and career retraining
two of the biggest challenges in the Knowledge Age. We were witnessing their
importance in our own backyard in Northern Virginia, where federal government cutbacks
have eliminated white-collar jobs. While demand for many types of high-tech workers is on
the rise in the area, the computer networking boom also could result in more job
casualties. The difficulty lies in trying to capitalize on the opportunities of this
medium while stemming the potential risks, like job losses.
How do we meet that challenge? One way is by helping adults understand how to use the
new communications medium, such as the Internet, community networks, and online services,
to open up new avenues for them in both learning and in their careers. Offering adults the
tools to better themselves could give them a new lease on life. This would be possible for
a displaced white-collar worker starting a business from home with no more than a desktop
computer and a phone line, a mother ready to resume her education after having put it
aside to raise her family, or a youth from a low-income neighborhood given the chance to
learn to communicate over a network.
One of our first instances of promoting this lifelong learning theme is our Morino
Scholars Program with Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC). As part of this
relationship with the college, we meet the scholarship applicants. At one such meeting,
most of the applicants were working, single mothers returning to school to better their
career chances and improve the quality of life for themselves and their children. Having
also worked my way through college, I was amazed that these women could work and go to
school while at the same time caring for their children. It was especially inspirational
hearing them talk about redirecting their lives through education. This was one more
example of how people seeking to improve themselves will grab opportunities if given the
This scholarship program gives us a close look at what a chance at education can do to
help people better their lives. Take Kay White, for instance, a Morino Scholar who now at
age 56 is about to reach her dream of graduating from college. After nearly 20 years of
struggle, Kay basically started her life over again at age 50, following her divorce. She
juggled various part-time jobs, such as baby-sitting and cleaning houses, while at the
same time volunteering at a local adult detention center and attending classes at NVCC.
"My goal at the time was to be a substance- abuse counselor. But I was afraid it
would be years before that came to fruition given my financial constraints," she
Then one day three years ago, one of Kays instructors at NVCC handed out
applications for the Morino Scholars program. A few days later, Kay was being interviewed
for the full scholarship, which eventually was awarded to her.
"I am really proud to have received this scholarship. A lot of people view older
students as not having a real commitment to college," she says. "I never
considered how I would be able to keep going, I just took it one semester at a time and
this scholarship was a real blessing."
Now Kay is finishing her associates degree in substance-abuse counseling at NVCC
and also working full-time at the adult detention center, teaching classes on anger
management, domestic-violence prevention and other issues related to substance abuse. Her
next step is a bachelors degree in human services counseling from Old Dominion
"If someone had told me four years ago that I would be walking across that stage
to receive my college degree next May, I wouldnt have believed it," she said.
We have since modified the scholarship program to require the award winner to complete
a project that demonstrates the value of network interactive communications with regard to
their field of study. We have been fortunate to team with America Online and they provide
each scholarship winner with a one-year no cost subscription to their online services.
Networking the Community
One of the more defining moments in our efforts to understand the changes afoot and
what we could do in conjunction with them came in August 1993 when Patrick and I attended
the International Free-Net Conference in Ottawa. It was a relatively small conference,
with about 140 attendees. It was low on frills, but you could sense the excitement. Most
of the people there were technically adept, and everyone was keen on the prospect of
computer networks helping their communities in some way. Since my initial introductions to
the Cleveland Free-Net and Dr. Tom Grundner, known as the father of Free-Nets and a
prominent leader in community networking, this was our first real proof that there was
widespread interest in community networks.
An editor, Peter Calamai of the Ottawa Citizen, spoke at the conference and put
community networks and the Internet into perspective. In his keynote address, Peter said
that until users of these networks realized they were ushering in a whole new
communications medium with this technology, we would never realize its potential to make
positive and sustainable change in society.
He argued that those deploying this new communications medium from news
organizations to discussion-group leaders have the responsibility of identifying
and stimulating debate on the issues of the day, just as broadcast news and newspapers do.
Those debates should lead to a program for change, he said.
While many of the electronic discussion groups today do indeed provide a forum for
debate, not enough of them actually draw any conclusions or come up with answers. Peter
said that unless we understand this responsibility, networks would remain ineffective
sounding boards, with individuals merely pounding away, back and forth, at their
keyboards. In Peters view, only when we recognize the responsibility that goes along
with this technology will it be able to move beyond bits and wires and actually promote
Riding the Rollercoaster
Not all of our meetings during this period were so uplifting or helpful, however.
One especially disappointing meeting was with a large telecommunications provider. The
senior executives we met with never bothered to ask us any questions about why we were
there and what interested us. Instead they proceeded to give us a well-choreographed
presentation on the companys vision of the future of high-speed computer network
technology, video-on-demand, home shopping, and "smart" homes.
The bottom line was they sounded like a monopoly with no understanding of what was
really happening in the outside world. This company instead was mostly concerned with
touting how it could provide all of these services to everyone. Patrick and I walked out
exasperated the meeting had been no help whatsoever. Since then, the company still
has not delivered many of these new services because the markets for them have not yet
materialized as it had predicted.
We definitely rode a rollercoaster of emotions during this period. Some days it seemed
that our ideas and focus were beginning to gel, and we were euphoric. Then we would attend
another meeting where someone would shoot down our ideas or steer us in a completely
At the onset of the discovery process, for instance, we had considered adopting a
public school. What was especially attractive about this prospect was that it would offer
us the opportunity to help a school link to the world through network interactive
communications. Then the school could teach in a more open communication forum, with
interactive education augmenting the traditional one-way process. This could reach and
engage students by offering them resources from around the globe, rather than just from
their classroom. I envisioned us working directly with the teachers and students and
creating research projects for them to participate in online.
But this idea never got off the ground. Nonprofit, education, and local government
officials alike warned us that it was difficult for outsiders to break into the arena of
K-12 education, which is even more resistant to change than other fields. As it was, many
schools did not even have electrical outlets and phone jacks, let alone computers and
computer modems. So within the first couple of months of our journey, we decided to
abandon the notion of adopting a school.
We certainly did not desert the learning theme, however. That remained a constant
vision throughout the discovery process.
The Chase is On: September 1993 through June 1994
The fall of 1993 marked a breakthrough for us in the discovery process. We were now
chasing a specific topic the change in how people communicate with one another
using computer networks.
But the importance of this new medium, which we call network interactive
communications, goes beyond the technology that drives it. The key is how people will use
it to innovate new ways to empower themselves, transform institutions, and redefine
Our months of meetings had made it clear that this new medium was changing how people
interact with one another, not merely how they access information. The potential was
staggering: it could condense learning and research time by linking people together to
share their knowledge. And it could offer people most in need, like the family of an
Alzheimers patient or a rural family, a way to empower themselves with newfound
knowledge and new ways to reach others. In other words, it could give someone hope by
offering them a new horizon of access.
Steve Case, for example, the president and CEO of the popular America Online service,
offered us insights into the personal aspects of networking that reaffirmed our theory.
Steve pointed out that America Onlines target market was not only consumer services
like online publications and shopping, but also personal communications. America
Onlines electronic mail and chat rooms were ways to get people to interact in a
whole new way, in effect creating online communities where people with shared interests
come together without regard to their geographical location.
For an occasional reality check, we held focus groups. Some validated our thinking at
the time, and others revealed that we were sometimes heading down one wrong path or
The first such session was held in September 1993 on community networking. The focus
group confirmed the concept of such networks unanimously, but raised some other questions
about how to measure their success and how to keep them up and running for the long-haul.
This made us realize that we could not assume community networking would sweep the nation.
It would need plenty of care and nurturing before it could truly become a new way of
communicating and engaging people at the local level.
Most of our meetings in this latter period helped us fill holes in our understanding.
For instance, we were fortunate to meet Duane Webster, director of the Association of
Research Libraries, and Paul Peters, executive director of the Coalition for Networked
Information, as well as members of their staffs.
In the spring of 1994, they showed us the major role research universities were playing
in advancing computer networks and digitized information worldwide. To our surprise, we
learned that the research and academic community was, and still is, far ahead of the
business world in this realm, especially in understanding the paradigm shift triggered by
this communications revolution.
We were introduced to innovations that demonstrated this new mediums relevance to
the general public, with applications like telemedicine and distance learning classes. In
many ways, it already had moved to the mainstream in some aspects of academia, providing
valuable lessons for those outside that community.
But even some from the research and academic communities are not completely sold on
network interactive communications yet. In late 1993, we met with Vinton Cerf of MCI
Communications, who is known as the father of the Internet. Vint made a statement that
confirmed a fear I had about the new medium. He said that new "virtual
communities," groups of people splitting into their own networked circles, could
further fragment society.
Unlike many ardent network activists, Vint was not so sure that this new communications
medium could magically revitalize communities. This was a powerful insight from someone in
Vints respected position in the networking community and it served to solidify our
own theories. Vint felt that our role, as with that of the Internet Society he helped
launch, should be to help people use the new communications medium as a tool for
constructive social and economic change.
For some time I had been struggling to see how we could help to ensure that this new
capability would create opportunity and level the playing field rather than generating an
elite forum for only those with the political, financial, and social power to access and
use it. But the application of networks, like any technology, can only mirror the
societies it serves. People, not technology, must solve problems. And they need to
understand innovative ways to apply new communications technology to do so. We saw
firsthand a few examples of how this network interactive communications could easily
result in unequal access given the wide gulf between the world of technology and the world
as a whole.
Living in the Real World
At a defense conversion conference in Washington, D.C., for instance, representatives
from large defense contracting firms were discussing the information superhighway and how
it could benefit education. They concluded that all a classroom needed was to plug a
computer modem into a phone jack, and it was on its way.
Several teachers in attendance, however, gave them a dose of reality. One schoolteacher
from the District of Columbia stood up and said that her classroom had no computer, and
not even a phone jack. So after school her students drive to a Maryland library, where
they access the Internet and download materials for the next days lesson. In effect,
they are overcoming the schools limitations by gathering materials on their own.
When a senior Clinton administration official at yet another conference spoke of the
information superhighway someday reaching every school, a teacher there declared that her
classroom was in a garage and had no electrical outlet. How could the administration give
her students access to the information highway?
Such stories reinforced our interest in applying the learning theme to young people,
whom many of our most trusted new colleagues considered the key to solving social
One such person was Sister Kit Collins, who heads up the Center for Educational Design
and Communication in Washington, D.C. This nonprofit organization provides education and
communications support for groups working for social change. It is currently working with
the Bowen Trust, for example, to help restore the old Shaw neighborhood YMCA in
Washington. When the work is finished, the building will house an African-American
We met with Sister Collins in late 1993 and early 1994. We were struck by her vision
that helping disadvantaged youth is the only way to cure societys ills. She has
continued to inspire us to stay the course when it comes to providing things like computer
network access and training to inner-city youth. Her concerns echo those of Vint Cerf and
others: that unless computer networks reach disadvantaged groups such as the poor and
disabled, the societal gap in knowledge, opportunity, and wealth will only widen.
Another contact who influenced us greatly was Henry Fernandez, one of the founders and
the executive director of Leadership, Education and Athletics in Partnership (LEAP). Henry
at first just listened and nodded when we talked about the revolutionary potential of
technology. LEAP provided us yet another chilling reality check for this technology
theory. A typical day in the Hartford, New Haven, and New London, Connecticut,
neighborhoods where LEAP counselors work is focused on teaching young children how to read
or how to resolve gang disputes, not the razzle-dazzle of computers and networks. Most of
the kids do not have computers, nor have they ever touched one. Far too many have been
touched instead by violence and neglect.
Today we are working with LEAP to set up the National Youth Center Network (NYCN). NYCN
will help unite youth centers operating in low-income neighborhoods, child-advocacy
providers, and related services around the country by creating a learning network and a
process for sharing knowledge. It also will provide hands-on technology and information
training for youth. The goal is to have NYCN broaden the horizons of these kids, providing
a new means of expression that will instill in them a sense of hope and self-confidence.
Admittedly, the discovery process had its shortcomings. But even with roadblocks here
and there, I would definitely do it again. It was an ideal way for us to learn about the
needs of a great variety of people, organizations, and environments that previously we
could only theorize about. It also gave us vast exposure and the connections needed to get
our work off the ground. We now have a clear view of our future and a better understanding
of what we are doing and how we can help others.
If we could do it all again, what would we do differently? For one, we would meet with
more people in the trenches, teachers and people like Sister Kit Collins and Henry
Fernandez rather than so many of the high- level executives and government officials we
were typically able to reach. My background obviously drew me to these people, but I think
we may have gotten answers sooner had we met with more teachers, students, and caseworkers
out in the field to get their view on what we were thinking, especially since in essence
this was our target audience. If we had met more of these sorts of people sooner, we
probably would have defined our purpose more quickly.
Secondly, our free-form approach to the discovery process had some fallout. Midway
through 1994, our efforts with the Foundation (and the Institute) went into something of a
temporary tailspin. With all of the travel and meetings Patrick and I logged during the
previous 18 months, it had been difficult to keep the staff abreast of the latest thinking
on our mission and plans. We were gathering information and evolving our ideas so quickly
that we neglected taking time to debrief and digest it all. On a similar note, I did not
realize that the staff, which had grown to about nine people during that period, needed me
to be more accessible to them. The result was that we did not communicate as well as we
should have, and by the time the staff had caught up to my last meeting, I was already
immersed in the next issue.
I probably frustrated everyone because I resisted committing us to any specific mission
or project until we had ironed it all out. As a case in point, Patrick had lobbied for us
to go ahead and take on a small prototype project of some sort, in a school or community,
to give us something to sink our teeth into. This, he argued, would let us apply what we
had learned about the opportunities interactive communications offered. Only then would we
truly be able determine whether it could really help people.
But I resisted taking the plunge right away. I wanted to ensure that we did not start
something that we could not finish. I did not want to risk tackling a project that might
end up not truly relevant to our cause.
To remedy this internal turmoil, in early 1995 I asked each member of the staff to do
some soul-searching. Each examined just what value he or she felt the Institute offered
and what he or she wanted to contribute to it. As a result, we reorganized the staff and
officially launched what is now our official mission: to help individuals and communities
improve their economic and social well-being by empowering them with knowledge and access
to information and interactive communications the tools of the communications
revolution. Our effort was finally back on track. Today we draw people from both the
business and nonprofit communities to collaborate on solutions using network interactive
communications. A sterling example of this collaboration was a project in which we
participated to support the Children's Defense Funds annual conference. In that
project, LEAP, the National Youth Center Network, and the Morino Institute, teamed with
IBM, BellSouth and Charlottes Web to implement a demonstration center. The center
showed hundreds of child service workers the applicability and relevance of network
interactive communications to youth development and child advocacy, and how the medium is
III. THE MORINO FOUNDATION TODAY
People often ask where the Morino Foundation leaves off and the Morino Institute
begins. They are really two sides of the same coin with the former operating as a private
foundation, and the latter operating as a public charity, able to raise additional funds,
have more open and broader boards, and, in general, act as the public arm for the
Foundations philanthropic work. Technically, the Foundation is the grantmaking
entity and exists to protect the financial assets and administer grants. The Institute
operates as an extension of the Foundation and exists to support grant recipients and
partners of the Foundation. For example, in supporting the National Youth Center Network,
the grants provided to LEAP in support of this effort were made through the Morino
Foundation. Additionally, we have provided significant management, technical, and
marketing support that has come through the Morino Institute, which, in turn, is also
funded through the Foundation. To date, the funding is split between direct grants to
programs we deem consistent with our mission and funding the Institute to provide
managerial, technological, and marketing resources to help advance the programs we are
The mission of the Foundation, and the Institute as an extension of the Foundation, is
to help open doors of opportunity in four areas economic, civic, health, and
educational by helping people gain access to the information and interactive
communications tools of this new age, as well as the knowledge to apply them. With funding
from the Morino Foundation, the Institute assists individuals, institutions, and
- understanding how the communications revolution may affect their lives, careers,
families, and communities, for better or worse, and
- identifying, planning, and achieving new ways to use the tools of this revolution to
meet social or community goals.
In other words, our research efforts and communications projects focus on how
information and network interactive communications are causing or enabling change. Its aim
is to help community leaders, from elected officials to civic-minded business leaders to
citizen activists, create new solutions to social and economic challenges.
A New Communications Medium
We are living at the dawn of the communications revolution, a product of the
convergence of three trends of recent decades, all of which have transformed our society:
- Radical improvements in how we create and manipulate information with
computers. Some people dub the computer revolution the "information age,"
which actually began in the 1960s.
- Telecommunications advances that let people collaborate and exchange
knowledge in new ways. This has yielded incremental advances like the fax and cellular
phone. But more importantly, the networks linking computers that arose in the 1970s have
resulted in a quantum leap in the ways we communicate and learn.
- Increasing reliance throughout society on service industries,
intellectual capital, and lifelong learning. This third leg, combined with the tools
of computers and telecommunications, further advances knowledge as the greatest single
determinant of individual success.
The potential benefits of network interactive communications are boundless. It allows
users to reach people regardless of their geographic location. It brings information, from
news to research, nearly instantly to our fingertips. It helps us work with others
remotely, and even simultaneously, on common projects or to share ideas and experiences.
But only those people equipped for this new medium and the inevitable social changes it
engenders will realize these possibilities and benefits. That is why we work to help
communities learn not only the advantages of the technology, but also its consequences.
For some, it may mean losing jobs, and for others, another rung to scale on the social
ladder. Our challenge is to help prevent network interactive communications from widening
the gulf between those who have the means to deploy it and those without the skills or
finances necessary. We help people harness the power of information and the potential of
network interactive communications. through strategic projects ranging from increasing
educational opportunity for youth in low-income neighborhoods to promoting economic
opportunity and entrepreneurship. Most of all, our work helps people prepare for the
changes of a new millennium.
A Framework for Action
We have come to the conclusion that our primary purpose is to act as a catalyst for
change. All of our initiatives are intended to ensure that we make a long-term, sustaining
difference in community service activities, learning, and social change. To this end, we
work with other institutions to identify major issues which can be impacted positively by
the application of network interactive communications. We will work with and through an
existing institution or help incubate a new organization that can achieve the positive,
systemic change we believe is essential. This allows us to stay focused on our mission,
while leveraging both our funding (through the Foundation) and our know-how (through the
Institute) to maximize our contribution. Some of the key efforts we see today are to:
- explore how network interactive communications can contribute to invigorating physical
- ensure the public interest is being served through the advances and application of
network interactive communications.
- cultivate collaborative learning and innovation.
- support programs and leaders of compelling potential.
- advance the flow of funding in support of the application of network interactive
communications for economic, educational and social change.
Here are some examples of how we pursue these strategic initiatives.
Invigorate physical communities
What will the social, community, and economic landscape of the 21st century look like?
In Greater Washington, D.C., we have been a catalyst in helping that region respond to the
challenges, opportunities and risks that the communications revolution presents to its
communities, businesses, institutions and individuals. This effort has become the Potomac
The Project began evolving in the fall of 1994, just after we wrapped up our discovery
process. I had joined the Northern Virginia Roundtable, a group of community and business
leaders assembled to help shape a strategic direction for the region, and later co-chaired
a committee to explore just what the future held for the regions economy.
The region has a wealth of information and communication expertise from the many
government professionals whose work includes finding, analyzing, packaging, and
distributing information, to the hundreds of technology integration, software, and
telecommunications companies that have located or sprung up here. It is a center for trade
associations and nonprofit organizations. Several vastly different communities and
jurisdictions comprise the region, including rich, poor, and middle-class; urban, rural,
and suburban; and native, transient, and immigrant populations.
The challenge for the region and the main goal of the Potomac KnowledgeWay Project is
to help these groups come together to achieve economic, educational and social change. The
Project has approached this task by capitalizing on the opportunities of the
communications age and the regions unique strengths and assets. By establishing the
Greater Washington area as a world center for learning, technological innovation, and
community engagement, the Project will help everyone catch the next wave of growth and
Forging a strong educational public-private partnership with a compelling vision for
the future represents a microcosm of our framework for change. Many aspects of community
and economic life will be touched by the Project community health, civic
interaction, employment, entrepreneurship, delivery of government services, and life-long
learning opportunities, to name a few.
Scores of local corporations (including many of the largest employers in the region),
educators, social organizations, and government agencies already have made contributions
of funds and human resources. The Morino Institute is one of the founding partners, and
has served as a primary catalyst for the effort, supplying both financial and intellectual
capital as well as the technical and business know-how of our staff. We envision playing a
lead role in the community outreach and service development efforts and, hopefully,
focusing on expanding the awareness and proliferation of neighborhood learning centers as
a tie in with another program we are beginning.
The Potomac KnowledgeWay Project is an example of how we work to empower communities
with knowledge, communication, and learning tools. By helping regional businesses and
communities understand the changes and opportunities around them, we can help inspire
economic opportunity, civic engagement, more responsive government, and more effective
delivery of social services.
Ensure that the public interest is being served
The project that perhaps best illustrates our mission is the National Youth Center
Network (NYCN). NYCN is the brainchild of Henry Fernandez, the founder of Leadership,
Education and Athletics in Partnership (LEAP). LEAP trains high school and college
students to work with youth and families from low-income neighborhoods on reading, writing
and communications skills.
The two goals of NYCN are to improve the delivery of youth services across the country
and to offer youth and families an alternative to "life in the streets." One way
they are pursuing the first goal is to use a network and resource library that will enable
counselors to share information and ideas about issues they deal with every day, like
substance abuse or how to help kids resolve conflicts in a non-violent way. For instance,
LEAP is using NYCN to place online its own curriculum of after-school activities. The
network already links inner-city youth centers in New Haven, Connecticut; East Palo Alto,
Oakland, and Los Angeles, California and other cities around the country. NYCN recognizes
that as new communications media evolve to become powerful, promising forces in our
society, we must actively ensure that children in all communities can benefit from the
lifelong learning, civic involvement, health and economic opportunity they make possible.
NYCNs partners are developing facilities, programs and integrated curricula that not
only provide training for youth workers and child advocates, but also offer computer
access and education to youth in disadvantaged neighborhoods as well as.
In this second goal, NYCN is helping these kids discover new horizons. NYCN offers an
outlet for reaching out to children in other communities so that they can collaborate on
research and other projects. A third grade class in New Haven, for example, is using the
LEAP Computer Learning Center as part of NYCN to connect with kids and adults in other
parts of the world. It is riveting for these children, mostly African- American and
Hispanic, to discover that there are computers in Africa and that they can communicate
with people in those countries through the computers. In another project, two classes, one
in New Haven, the other in East Palo Alto, joined forces to take a virtual adventure
across the country. During the eight-week "trip" across the information
superhighways of America, the children visited cities including Atlanta, Washington,DC,
and Orlando to learn about art, geography, space technology, music, geology, and each
other. The two classes used email and Internet-based video and voice conferencing so that
students could meet each other and work together. They made decisions about their trip
along the way and created a collaborative, hypertext travel journal so that other children
could join them on the road.
NYCN is a partnership among a number of groups including LEAP, the Morino Institute,
Children's Defense Fund, Urban Strategies Council, Playing to Win Network, Southern
Coalition for Educational Equity, Alabama Council for Human Relations, Eagle Rock School,
Computer Clubhouse at the Computer Museum, Korean Youth and Community Center, Plugged In,
Lansing House Commission and youth centers in other parts of the country. In addition to
providing some $140,000 in grants from the Morino Foundation, the Morino Institute has
contributed an almost equal amount in the overall management of the NYCN initiative
through planning, technical assistance, project management, and some aspects of
From the Institutes perspective, NYCN is especially important because its work
involves two of the most crucial elements of our mission, social change and helping young
people. By assisting LEAP, we feel we can make a difference in even the most troubled
communities. Giving kids from low-income neighborhoods access and training in how to use
network interactive communications not only opens up new worlds for them online but, more
importantly, helps them instill a sense of self- respect and confidence in their
abilities. As Andrea Schorr, a program coordinator for LEAPs Computer Learning
Center observes, "I havent seen a single child who isnt excited about
talking to kids in faraway places, to see that they have things in common with others.
Its going to become increasingly important to kids lives and its an
equity issue. Without this experience they wont be prepared to function in the
workplace of tomorrow."
Our project with LEAP is one of the models we envision for working with others
supporting involved and committed leadership, assisting a community group in gathering the
right people, and tapping our business and technology expertise. While we leave the
particulars of youth center advocacy and counseling to LEAP and the other experts, our job
is to support LEAPs efforts in understanding and applying network interactive
communications as a learning tool and as a way to reach others.
Cultivate collaborative learning and innovation
Another major thrust is our strategy is to create an environment for stimulating these
kinds of new ideas and solutions. This is actually a fundamental component of all of our
efforts since one of our key strategic goals is to enhance the flow of knowledge. The key
element of this initiative is a concept we are currently exploring with a number of
partners to define and create what we call "neighborhood learning centers."
These community-based centers would provide access and facilities to people of all ages to
help them learn about and use the new medium of network interactive communications, but
even more importantly, to learn about the new ways of learning and the new techniques of
communication and collaboration that typify the networked world.
Another important project we are pursuing in this vein is a conference to explore and
demonstrate how network interactive communications can be used to support social and
community development. The conference will bring together leaders and practitioners from
many fields, including health, education, government, and business.
Ties That Bind, the community networking conference we co- sponsored with Apple
Computer in 1994 and 1995, has provided a valuable base of experience and contacts to help
us with these new programs. Yet the community networking sector is just one group of
potential contributors that collectively represent a much broader perspective in what we
term public interest networking . We seek to bring together established community
organizations and other groups making important contributions; efforts such as networks
for local government or health information, which emphasize the human and social issues.
Support programs of compelling potential
We balance our broad strategic initiatives with continued participation in grassroots
projects. Our involvement sometimes occurs through our connections and contacts and is
sometimes generated from within the Institute, but mostly it results from meeting one of
those unique people, like a Kit Collins or a Henry Fernandez, whose vision and energy all
but demand our attention. Today, we are involved in a number of such projects as leader,
advisor, or facilitator, and we constantly pursue our search for suitable ideas. It is
helpful when these projects complement our other strategic initiatives, but that is not
essential so long as they fit with our mission and guiding principles, and so long as we
can learn from them. Here is a sampling of these projects that illustrate the breadth of
our involvement and the many applications that interactive communications can have for
individuals, communities, and society.
- The Arc
The Northern Virginia Chapter of The Arc (formerly the Association for
Retarded Citizens), was in search of more effective ways to reach out to its member
families. One of the Arcs roles is to act as a referral service and to field phone
and mail requests for information on mental retardation, as well as local services like
healthcare, counseling, and special job programs.
We have assisted The Arc in establishing a central site for information on these topics
as well as a place for families with mentally impaired members to meet in support groups
all of this using network interactive communications. This will let their
constituency reach the kind of help they need, when they need it, and in a form they can
use. The ARC has placed their institutional knowledge online, so that parents of a
mentally retarded child just out of school, for instance, are able to search for services
applicable to a familys needs. Perhaps more importantly, these parents are able to
interact with other parents in the same situation, getting their input, advice, and
experience with the job-hunting stage. This effort has made great progress led by Elaine
Joyce the Executive Director of The Arc. Recently, Elaine conveyed to us that her work
with this new medium is helping her re-invent an organization that has endured funding
cuts and the need to downsize their staff. She sees enormous promise in the benefit the
new medium is bringing to her, the staff of the Arc, and, most importantly, those they
- Community Networking Institute
Today the so-called information superhighway does not
always stop in rural towns and regions, though these remote locations could benefit the
most from an onramp to this medium. The Community Networking Institute (CNI) in Kearney,
Nebraska, is building such onramps to rural communities in the state of Nebraska to help
them advance economic development and community projects, provide access to healthcare
information, and basically give families and citizens in these areas a way to communicate
with the rest of the world. For example, a woman in the tiny town of Wallace, Nebraska,
now teaches graduate students around the world from her home, and a rancher in Sand Hills
developed a system to manage his herds more productively in collaboration with a colleague
located over 500 miles away.
The Institute has provided CNI advisory services, technical advice, and funding for its
efforts to help these communities respond to the communications revolution. For example,
we helped CNI set up a business plan for laying the groundwork for its operations.
Our involvement with CNI also features a classic characteristic of our work the
support of a visionary individual with the energy and know-how to implement his dream. In
this case, it is Steve Buttress, executive director of CNI, who understands well the
importance of uniting citizens and leaders in communities.
- National Information Infrastructure Awards
Another key project for us is the National
Information Infrastructure (NII) Awards. With all of the excitement and hype surrounding
the information superhighway, it is no wonder that some of its most intriguing and
substantial applications are sometimes overlooked. Aside from the flashier uses such as
home shopping and video-on-demand, there are strikingly innovative and more meaningful
possibilities that the medium offers. The purpose of the NII awards is to bring those to
This is another example of the kind of programs that can cultivate learning and
innovation in the Knowledge Age. As a member of the NII Advisory Board, we have helped
sponsor the awards, provided advisory services, and served as judges in the community
The NII Awards program seeks out those organizations and projects that demonstrate the
real and relevant benefits of interactive communications in health, education, government,
business, arts, and entertainment. Key government, community, and business leaders took
part in the 1995 program, including Vice President Al Gore, former Surgeon General C.
Everett Koop, the late Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown, and other prominent figures who
gave speeches or presented awards. House Speaker Newt Gingrich voiced his support via a
letter. Over 50 corporations, organizations, and media groups supported the event,
including AT&T, Intel, IBM, the American Library Association, the National Education
Association, the American Film Institute, and the U.S. Postal Service.
Among last years winners were the National Materials Exchange Network in the
business category, DO-IT in education, the Utah Library Networks initiative in government,
the Information Network for Public Health Officials (INPHO) in health, HotWired in arts
and entertainment and the Alzheimers Disease Support Center in the community
category. Other winners included. This year we co-sponsored, along with the US Postal
Service, the first of a six-city introduction of the NII Awards 1996 program and are once
again actively involved in supporting what we believe to be an important awareness and
Increase the flow of funding
We cannot always do everything we would like for some of the compelling projects and
leaders we encounter. Today, aside from a handful of forward-looking foundations and
government agencies, many grantmakers often rule out projects with a technological
component. That is unfortunate, but not surprising given the concerns over technology and
ever-growing levels of awareness about the communications revolution. For that reason, we
are exploring how we can work with these institutions to increase the flow of funding to
projects that will spur innovation in applying network interactive communications to
social and economic challenges. As a by-product, we will advance programs to help
established grantmakers, especially smaller institutions, better understand the
implications of the new medium for their own missions, operations, and constituencies.
Together, these efforts will help support community projects on a scale broader than our
small size might otherwise allow, expanding the range of resources for new ideas, new
leaders, and new solutions.
Making Connections Between People
One of the more interesting, albeit unofficial, roles we have taken on is that of
matchmaker among nonprofits, individuals, and businesses. We receive numerous inquiries
each day from people or organizations looking for help or information, sometimes in areas
far outside of our scope. For instance, we recently referred a nonprofit group in search
of corporate sponsorship to a technology association, whose members are major figures and
businesses in the software industry. More recently, we have referred a newly formed group
in computer recycling and mentoring to firms that can provide them pro bono marketing,
public relations and technical support.
Although matchmaking is not our main function, it is a logical extension of our
objectives. My years in the computer industry yielded many contacts both within and
outside the business community, and we try carry these over to our work in the nonprofit
sector. Additionally, many of the connections we made during our period of discovery have
now evolved from simple contacts into meaningful relationships. One of our aims is to
build a base of resources and sponsors that we can call on when nonprofits in a number of
different areas need support.
Where do we go from here?
As we learn from the hundreds of people and organizations we encounter, we will
continue to refine and evolve our strategic framework to make it even more applicable and
relevant. It may be a result of our experience from the technology business, but an
implicit part of our operating philosophy is that we embrace the need for continuous
learning and adaptation. To make change a partner, not an enemy.
We will continue to provide significant support for the Potomac KnowledgeWay Project
and the National Youth Center Network projects. As two particularly advanced and
significant strategic initiatives, they are producing important models for how we can
apply network interactive communications to achieve economic, educational and social
change. These projects are now well beyond the prototype stage and are both moving into
the next stage of their evolution where there are clear experiences and results that can
We will continue in our role as educator, facilitator, and "passive
activist," focusing on the three strategic initiatives of increasing funding,
inspiring learning and bolstering compelling solutions to social problems. Work is
proceeding and we expect these programs to be joined by the new initiative to advance
neighborhood learning centers which is being defined and initiated within the year.
Our organization will remain at a skeleton size working as much as possible through
others. It will have but a few full-time individuals, supported by a diverse group of
advisors, consultants, specialists and friends who work on either a contract or pro bono
basis. Their areas of expertise range from technology and communications to education and
training. We will continue to rely mostly on adjunct staff to work on our broad scope of
projects and with our diverse range of collaborators.
Meanwhile, we continue to learn about the needs and potential of individual
organizations from the service projects we participate in, reminding us every day that the
discovery process we began two years ago has only just begun. As we continue to meet more
people, explore new ideas, and see the effects of change, we will adapt our work
accordingly. We do so confident that we have a created the foundation and strategic
framework we need to be a learning organization that will inspire other institutions and
communities. That may very well be the single greatest contribution we can make for the
What is Network Interactive Communications?
Network interactive communications is a new medium that links people throughout the
globe via networks of computers and telecommunications devices. This medium is sometimes
referred to as the information superhighway or the Internet, or among technologists,
computer-mediated communications. It ultimately can carry everything from text, sound,
pictures, and movies, all in digital form, through telecommunications "pipes"
such as phone lines, fiber-optic cables, satellites, and radio links.
This new medium fosters interaction among participants rather than one-way
communication with passive recipients. What is more, it supports all of our traditional
forms of communication one-on-one, group, and mass broadcasts and even a
wholly new form of communication, interactive group-to- group communications. With
store-and- forward methods of delivery such as electronic mail and, in the future, video
mail, the medium eliminates the barriers of time and distance as participants can
communicate at all hours of the day from anywhere around the globe.