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Our one-page summary provides an overview of our core services—and what sets us apart in the world's most challenging areas.

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Engaging for Enduring Outcomes

Our outcomes are enduring because they are culturally tailored and acceptable from the outset. This approach is effective whether the cultural divide is due to unfamiliarity in the international community or just between domestic regions or business sectors.

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Our Unique Approach

Strategic Social brings a unique, industry-best approach to achieving success in complex environments. Our robust efforts are guided by a simple process: Understand, Empathize, Engage, and Transact.

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Communities in Conflict

During my recent visit to to the 37th Telluride Film Festival, three films in particular captured my attention with their exploration of the the subject of community, family and religion in the context of war and survival. Each narrates a compelling story told from a different perspective and set in different historical moments, yet the theme of individual conflicts within the social support structure is clear.

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The most compelling of these is Denis Villeneuve’s Incendies (adapted from Wajdi Mouawad’s award-winning play), which tells the story of Nawal Marwan, a woman with a heroic and traumatic past, one so horrible she was tormented by it even unto death, insisting that she be buried face down, naked, in an unmarked grave until her children had fulfilled the promises she made in an earlier life on her behalf.

And thus began her unsuspecting children’s journey into their mother’s painful history that takes them into war torn Lebanon during the Civil war of 1975-1991 nominally between Christian and Muslim forces in the country. The movie places Nawal on a bus attacked by the Phalangists, alluding to an event on 13 April 1975 that killed about 26 PFLP members, and sparked a war that lasted 16 years and is estimated to have killed 7% of the country’s population.  Nawal narrowly escapes death by virtue of her Christian background.

Narwal’s life is recounted in fragments and flashbacks, as her history is unraveled and the details of a Greek Tragedy emerge bit by bit. In parallel, Nawal’s Canadian-raised daughter, Jeanne, explores her mother’s background, discovering that the cultural stigma of her mother’s accidental pregnancy persists a lifetime later.  She learns piece by piece and ever deeper the horror and trauma of her mother’s early adulthood, first forced into exile in the city, then being swept up in the war, hardened into partisan action on behalf of the Lebanese National Movement after pursuing her missing son to Damour, and ultimately paying a horrible price.

Jeanne’s twin brother, first dismissive of his mother’s past and uninterested in discovering anything more, finally makes the journey to Lebanon himself and continues the investigation into their mother’s past as it leads to the still-living and still powerful leaders of the Lebanese National Movement.

The audience is dragged step by step through the hell of sectarian civil war. Nawal’s tragic life is a metaphor for the tragedy of a war that pits neighbor against neighbor in brutal reprisals, creating wounds that fester to this day, even 20 years after the end of open hostilities.

The cast is very strong, the acting superb.  The footage of Lebanon is beautiful and stark. Lubna Azabal as Nawal and Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin as Jeanne are particularly excellent, though so close in appearance that it is sometimes difficult to keep straight the jumps from wartime Lebanon of the 70s and 80s to the present, especially in the areas outside of Beirut where it seems little, if anything has changed.

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A close second in the narrative category is Of Gods and Men, directed by Xavier Beauvois, recounting the story of a Cistercian monastery in Algeria. It was an unexpected pleasure from a slow, deliberately paced film that built tension scene by scene, word by word, look by look to the point where one expected and would have entirely forgiven the characters for simply dying in peace from old age before meeting their historical ends.

The movie is a dramatization of the 1996 kidnapping and assassination of the monks of Tibhirine, a French Trappist monastery in the Atlas Mountains of Algeria during the Algerian civil war. The conflict between Islamic fundamentalists in Algeria and more moderate Muslims started to boil over, and foreign corporate entities and remnants of French colonial rule became targets.

News of atrocities committed against foreigners reached the monks and forced them to decide between staying true to their mission and facing likely death or fleeing the country. The government of Algeria, the Algerian military, and people aware of their plight urged them to leave, but the local population they had served for decades urged the to stay. The monks ran a small infirmary, the only medical care in the region, which made them essential to the locals and soon nonjudgmental if not apparently willing allies of the local insurgents — an uneasy alliance that turned the military against them as well.

Historically, we know 6 of 8 monks in the monastery and a visitor from the Trappist order were kidnapped, held for two months, and then beheaded. The movie takes us through the almost unbearable tension that built between 14 December 1993, when 12 Christian Croatian construction workers were murdered near the Monastery and the abduction of the monks on the night of 26 March 1996.

The movie leaves ambiguous the final fate of the monks in deference to the controversy surrounding their actual fates. While it is clear that they were abducted by the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), and they were beheaded, there is some controversy as to whether the Algerian army may have killed them by mistake in a rescue attempt, and then covered the story up with the beheading.

Each of the actors put in a powerful and compelling performance, but Michael Lonsdale stood out as Luc Dochier, the doctor who had, in real life, lived in the monastery for 50 years, and was 82 at the time of the abduction. Lonsdale and some of the other actors went on retreats to prepare for their roles, learning the routines and liturgies of the order first hand.

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Among the documentaries, Shlomi Eldar, a prominent Israeli journalist, follows the story of a Palestinian baby’s treatment for a rare genetic disease in Precious Life (Chaim Yakarim). Since there is no hospital in Gaza that could help, the family brought their baby to the nearest hospital in Israel.

At first the reporter is queasy about the assignment, making it clear that he does not like hospitals. Once engaged, the objective reporter provides thorough coverage of the search for a patron to pay for the surgery, the search for donors for a bone-marrow transplant, and the follow up care. Each phase has its struggles, as one would expect in such volatile territory. As various details emerge, the perspective changes, ranging from sympathy to anger. Questions arise as to the necessity and implications of this surgery, funded by an Anonymous Jewish man, and how this ostracizes the Gaza family from their friends, as well as the ethics of deed when the mother lets slip that she would be proud if her son became a suicide bomber.

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These powerful films demonstrate the gamut of human existence, playing on emotion, history, culture and ethics in situations that broaden our understanding of current events and struggles. I would recommend all of them for anyone who wants to gain more perspectives on the conflicts engulfing our world today.

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Social Networking can be an Antidote for Siloed Organizations

Is anyone else old enough to remember that classic TV advertisement Cher did for Jack LaLanne Fitness Centers?  The provocatively clad Cher remarks, “If it came in a bottle, everyone would have a great body.”

Jack LaLanne Health Spa Commercial with CHER

It’s interesting to note that Jack LaLanne is no longer around but Cher sure is.  She’s still out there working it at sixty-four!

The point of the ad—anything worth having takes effort—is appropriate to many common challenges in the more mundane world of business.  Recently I’ve been thinking about the pervasiveness of siloed or stove-piped organizations and how challenging it is to get teams of people working across functional lines and outside of established frameworks.  Of course, many see the benefits of this but breaking old habits is hard work and takes committed, concerted effort.

Social Networking and the tools that enable it can be an effective solution to the problem of siloed organizations.    Information and resource siloes occur for many reasons but the principle reason is they are just plain easier to manage.  Functional heads act as gatekeepers of information, employees are instructed to “stay in their lane”, information flows up and down the line or is made accessible on a “need to know” basis.  For organizations that are geographically dispersed, the effect is more pronounced and the flow of information or the availability of shared resources poses an even greater challenge. More often than not the effort of cross-functional teamwork just doesn’t happen, because it is just “too hard.”

So, yes, matrix-style,  non-siloed organizations can be more difficult to manage and introduce new layers of complexity and perhaps a certain measure of uncertainty and risk.  But in my experience there are a few steps companies can take to “ease the pain” of breaking down established organizational hierarchies and tap into the creative power of the organization at large:

1)     Organize key initiatives around cross-functional project teams.  Most big projects require the efforts of staff across the entire organization, but too often, results are tracked and evaluated within the functional framework and priorities.  But when project teams are established, with goals and milestones clearly understood, collaboration and problem solving can happen more seamlessly.

2)     Reward employees thinking and working outside of information silos. Breaking the habit of siloed thinking requires a cultural shift in some companies.  Everyone throughout the organization needs to see that cross-functional effort is valued and rewarded.  Lessons learned—both positive and negative need to be captured and shared.

3)     Set boundaries & define roles.  A matrixed organization is not a license for anarchy.   Team members still need to have clearly defined roles everyone needs to know who is in the role of decision-maker, and who is mainly in the assist role.  If everyone thinks they are merely contributing to the project, but not ultimately accountable for anything, chaos can ensue.

4)     If there is friction, or if toes get stepped on, try not to sweat it.  Business can be a contact sport and there is bound to be a little body-checking from time-to-time.  Things can get heated at times but learn to accept that this is part of progress.

5)     Cross-train as many people in your organization as possible.   I am a huge proponent of cross-training.  It can have the profound effect of breaking people out of siloed thinking.  It broadens employees skill sets, creates a more resilient organization and promotes a more stimulating work environment.  It’s hard, and even disruptive, but it pays big dividends.

6)     Make sure your organization has the right tools to enable Social Networking and cross-functional  teamwork.    Here at Strategic Social, we understand the importance of technology for streamlining and enabling a cross-functional culture. For example, MediaMAS is a robust web-accessible, permission-based database is essential for getting far-flung teams “on the same page.”  Likewise the Strategic Social Platform is communication and collaboration portal, designed to facilitate information dissemination, and speed-up decision-making. It features a customizable dashboard that provides access to shared files, discussion boards, and feeds to external sources such as RSS, Flicker, Twitter and YouTube.

None of these steps is a guarantee for success.  There are organizations out there that succeed at some level with the same structured, siloed habits they’ve had for decades.  But they will find it increasingly difficult to compete with matrix organizations that are learning and refining the art of working across clearly defined verticals.  It can be hard work.  Not everyone is going to do it.  But the organizations that perfect the skills will be better equipped for the long-haul.

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Persistent Knowledge

Failure to learn from history dooms us to repeat our mistakes and failing to capitalize on our successes.  Over my years in business I have had both failures and successes.   Learning from my mistakes has been valuable.  Learning from the mistakes of those who have gone before me has been even more valuable.  In the past year I have logged enough frequent flier miles to make an airline executive blush.  My travels have been to Iraq, Afghanistan and many other locations considered strategically important to the United States.  During these travels, I have heard a similar refrain: we have fought eight one-year wars rather than one eight-year war.  The challenge is that troops rotate in and out of assignments, preventing the development of persistent knowledge.  At the tactical level, leaders have attempted to mitigate this issue by passing lessons learned from one company or field grade leader to the next.  However, at the operational and strategic level it is more complex.  In the area of Strategic Communication and Public Diplomacy, Strategic Social has been hard at work using technology to capture knowledge and make it persistent.  Key advances in the area of data accessibility, analysis and portals have enabled a more intelligent ability to retain and utilize persistent knowledge.

The software tools available today enable a new level of information accessibility.  Accessibility is facilitated by the internet, specialized search tools and structured acquisition tools.  With most of the world’s news and media available online, it is possible to acquire data relevant to user needs with unprecedented ease and automation.  Users can also take advantage of tools to simplify the acquisition of internal reporting and data collection efforts.  The use of web forms rather than MS Word documents allows users to easily ingest information into a common database with open source information.  The use of web forms decreases the manual labor associated with emailing MS Word documents and facilitates analysis.

On the analysis side, key developments over the past decade, such as data portability, ubiquitous APIs and the ability to blend open source information with proprietary data, present new and powerful analytical opportunities.  Data portability is the ability to use one or more data sets in different application settings.  With data portability users can acquire data from a variety of sources and run analysis, taking advantage of a data set that combines key internal data with relevant external data.  The automated nature of this process decreases the amount of time that analysts must spend manually assembling data, increasing the amount of time they can spend analyzing the data.  Ubiquitous Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) enable applications to exchange data to create new functionality and more powerful analysis.  For instance, by using an API to permit CIDNE to interface with other applications, CENTCOM can generate new and powerful analysis to provide leaders with better information for use in decision making.  APIs allow users to blend open source information with proprietary data sets.  As a result, users would be able to compare internally acquired data from polling or focus groups with information available from local, regional or global media reports.

Portals allow users to have a repository for information that is relevant to them.  Examples of portals range from MyYahoo and iGoogle to enterprise portals, such as the one offered by Strategic Social.  Portals provide an aggregation point for information from other applications.  For instance, users of our MediaMAS media monitoring application are able to access MediaMAS through the Strategic Social Platform (SSP).  Using this platform coupled with MediaMAS, analysts are able to access media monitoring data for the past five years and compare it to relevant external data.  The result is superior analysis and high impact customer deliverables.  Multiple applications can run on a platform, with each application having the ability to access data from other applications.  The value of having multiple applications riding on one platform is that users can interact through the platform to provide comments, share analysis with other users and generate novel insights.  Imagine a world in which power point slides can be updated in real time when a leader asks for a slight tweak in the variables used to generate the analysis.

While the use of technology does not offer a 100% solution to the persistent knowledge challenges faced by US and coalition involvement in Afghanistan, it would be a step in the right direction.  By ingesting media monitoring data, demographic data and other related information leaders from ISAF and the Department of State would have superior access to the information they need to make decisions.  Information access will enable leaders to more rapidly capitalize on success and avoid making the mistakes of the past.

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