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The Genesis of the Morino Foundation
1995, The Morino Institute. All rights reserved.


Contents

  1. Birth of a Foundation
  2. The Discovery Process
  3. 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 today’s 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 entrepreneur.

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 world’s 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 its competitors.

This personal approach is crucial to the Morino Foundation’s 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 people’s 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 foundation’s vision: the Echoing Green Foundation in New York, which offers fellowships for public service programs. What was most impressive about Echoing Green’s 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.

Personal Background

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 Foundation’s 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 Corporation’s 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 industrial sociology.

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 country’s 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 Foundation’s 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 family’s 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 Foundation’s 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 company’s 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 Foundation’s 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 was created.

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 Foundation’s 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 Foundation’s future grants to public charities.

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 in mind.

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 creating change.

This piqued Patrick’s 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 Foundation’s 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 Foundation’s 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 700 people.

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 learn.

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 selling something.

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 organizations.

At the end of the day, we would either hold a staff meeting or Patrick and I would discuss the day’s 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 Western’s 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 university’s 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 technology’s 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 university’s 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 Alzheimer’s disease, under an experiment run by the Alzheimer’s Center of the University Hospitals of Cleveland and a local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. We were fortunate to meet with Dr. Kathleen Smyth, director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Support on the Free-Net, who showed us this remarkable application.

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 Alzheimer’s-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 can’t write, or don’t know how to express my feelings, so I just read the articles you have posted."

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 Alzheimer’s-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-Net’s 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 Capitol Hill.

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. Steve’s 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 Buford’s 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 chance.

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 recalls.

Then one day three years ago, one of Kay’s 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 associate’s 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 bachelor’s degree in human services counseling from Old Dominion University.

"If someone had told me four years ago that I would be walking across that stage to receive my college degree next May, I wouldn’t 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 Peter’s 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 change.

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 company’s 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 different direction.

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 communities.

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 Alzheimer’s 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 Online’s target market was not only consumer services like online publications and shopping, but also personal communications. America Online’s 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.

Reality Check

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 another.

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 medium’s 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 Vint’s 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 day’s lesson. In effect, they are overcoming the school’s 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 problems.

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 cultural center.

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 society’s 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.

Lessons Learned

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 Fund’s annual conference. In that project, LEAP, the National Youth Center Network, and the Morino Institute, teamed with IBM, BellSouth and Charlotte’s 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 advancing both.

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 Foundation’s 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 funding.

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 communities in:

  • 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 communities.


  • 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 KnowledgeWay Project.

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 region’s 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 region’s 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 opportunity.

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. NYCN’s 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 implementation.

From the Institute’s 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 LEAP’s Computer Learning Center observes, "I haven’t seen a single child who isn’t excited about talking to kids in faraway places, to see that they have things in common with others. It’s going to become increasingly important to kids’ lives and it’s an equity issue. Without this experience they won’t 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 LEAP’s 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 Arc’s 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 family’s 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 serve.
  • 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 light.

    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 category.

    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 year’s 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 Alzheimer’s 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 education program.

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.

Looking Forward

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 be assessed.

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 next century.

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.

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