How to Communicate like Beto

In this skill-building video, learn from nonviolent communication trainer Erin Merrihew how to speak with compassion, authenticity, and truth, like Texas Senate candidate Beto O'Rourke.

To learn more about employing this powerful communication method to build bridges across difference:

  • Download Erin's One-Pager (PDF) on Nonviolence Communication
  • Download Erin's One-Pager (PDF) on Feelings and Needs
  • Read Marshall Rosenberg's iconic and accessible book, Nonviolent Communication.

Impact Design Keynote: Future of Filmmaking Conference

Impact Design Cycle 20180622.png

Today I had the opportunity to present a keynote at the Future of Filmmaking Virtual Conference

The presentation (below) describes how to use the impact design cycle (right) to create media for social change.

The presentation also includes the case study of VR Action Lab, a six-month virtual reality impact project I led for the organization Harmony Labs in 2017-2018.

For VR Action Lab, three filmmakers from diverse backgrounds were selected to create three original virtual reality (VR) films to address one social problem: teen bullying.  Co-designing the experiences with the young audience was a central part of the creative process.  

In the project trailer, below, the three filmmakers describe their experiences being part of VR Action Lab.

The project also resulted in the creation (L ro R) of an impact design guide, a classroom curriculum for teachers, and a briefing book used to present the larger social context of teen bullying to the filmmakers.  All these guides, which I wrote or co-wrote, are available for free download.

I am happy to answer questions about VR Action Lab or other elements of my impact design work.  Please contact me by using the link below.

Developing a Strategy for Media Advocacy


Jim Ambrose's tesimony video on the Interface Project's website

Jim Ambrose's tesimony video on the Interface Project's website

  • Service: Organizational Coaching
  • Intervention Method: Course Correction
  • Area of Work: Human Rights
  • Client:  The Interface Project is a media project that uses video to increase the visibility of intersex people. 
  • Challenge: Interface had existed since 2012 and had a small catalogue of video testimonials of intersex people.  Yet they were unsure how to use the videos they had created strategically to redress human rights abuses against intersex people.
  • Consultation:  Through a series of remote consultations via video conference, Mary and Jim Ambrose, Interface's curator, developed a media advocacy strategy (see slides below). The strategy aims to end the most egregious abuse of intersex people - traumatizing and unnecessary surgeries on newborns - by targeting expectant parents via parenting blogs.   
  • Result:  With this new strategic focus, Jim pitched three parenting blogs on the inresex story idea and two accepted.  The next step is to measure how many parents read the articles and to see if any of those readers' minds are changed as to the treatment of their intersex children.
  • Time (Consultation → Result):  20 days

Example Work Product

Media advocacy plan prepared by Mary Joyce for the Interface Project and shared with their permission:

Jim's Story

In his own words, here's Jim's video for the Interface Project:

Navigating a Leadership Transition


  • Service: Private Coaching
  • Intervention Method: Course Correction
  • Area of Work: Human Rights
  • Client:  Alix Dunn is the co-founder of the engine room, a nonprofit that helps human rights activists around the world use data.
  • Challenge: Alix was transitioning from working as co-director of her NGO to being a solo executive director.
  • Consultation:  Through a series of phone calls, I helped her work through the tactical and strategic challenges at play, regarding her organization’s stakeholders and financial health. I also helped her see her own ability to not only achieve a successful transition, but to thrive in her new solo leadership role.
  • Result:  Alix is now the solo executive director of her organization. Since she took on that role, her organization’s budget has increased by 45% to $1.1 million USD annually. Their services have never been more in demand.
  • Time (Consultation → Result):  18 months
Alix Dunn

Alix's Story

Alix Dunn gets a lot of offers.  When people meet her they want her to run their organizations, collaborate on high-profile research, lead programs at prestigious philanthropic foundations.

But Alix goes her own way. She finds a problem that moves and fascinates her and then finds a way to solve it.  If it hasn’t been done before, all the better: another chance for innovation.   

When the Arab Spring sprung in 2011, Alix was right there, working for the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.  Spurred on by her collaborator, Christopher Wilson, she decided to engage. The two coordinated a team of 15 surveyors to interview Tahrir Square protesters on their media use.  

Based on that study (and previous research conducted at the University of Oslo), she was encouraged to enter academia, but didn’t.  She wanted to support activists, not study them.

When she co-founded the engine room with Christopher in 2011, she wasn’t concerned that their hybrid organization – which does fee-for-service work and applies for grants – didn’t fit into any of the convenient civil society boxes.  She forged ahead anyway, diving into the complex worlds of design, code, digital security, open source software, and data analysis because she knew the activists she was working with needed support in these areas.    

Yet the leadership transition was a challenge.  It was deeply complex – involving concerns both interpersonal and legal, financial and structural.  

During that time, I gave her many pieces of advice.  This is the one that stuck with her most, which she mentions almost every time we meet:  “Six months from now,” I told her, “you will not only be a successful ED.  You will wonder how you ever doubted you would become one.”   This vision of not only surviving – but thriving – in her new role helped give Alix the confidence to make that vision a reality.  

Advising Alix also provided the first hint of my current profession as a coach for social change visionaries.  In many ways, she was my first coaching client.  And she is still one of my closest friends.

Finding the Right Audience


  • Service: Private Coaching
  • Intervention Method: Launch
  • Area of Work: Social Justice
  • Client:  Mike Amegashie is the co-creator of LANORA, a software tool that allows nonprofits to collect data and track outcomes. 
  • Challenge: Mike was having trouble recruiting users to test early versions of the software and give feedback.
  • Consultation:  Working with Mike through phone calls and email, I helped him develop profiles and tactics for the individuals most likely to test his software – early adopters with vision, commitment, and a desire for a better software solution.
  • Result:  Mike now has five organizations who have committed to test his software by the end of the summer.
  • Time (Consultation → Result):  five weeks
A mock-up of the LANORA interface

A mock-up of the LANORA interface

Mike's Story

Mike Amegashie envisions the right tools uplifting and empowering nonprofits.

“I believe nonprofits can be better positioned as leaders of change in their community and…society as a whole,” he wrote me, “if they are well equipped with the right technology/tool.  I believe with the right tool they can understand the root cause.”  They can “improv[e] outcomes and finally connect compelling success stories with data.”

For Mike, data is the key to both realizing impact and demonstrating it to stakeholders.

“If nonprofits are equipped with the right data collection tools and systems,” he writes, “they can easily prove their social impact to the community they serve and to their funders.”

Mike Amegashie

Mike Amegashie

This vision caused Mike, a native of Ghana, to work with friend Calvin Todd to co-found LANORA, which means compassion and light.  While Mike has a background in industrial engineering and business, other LANORA members bring complementary skills.   The team includes experts in data analysis, program evaluation, and user experience.

About working with me, Mike said, “The advice you gave us has served us in greater ways and made our path steady….  A simple email conversation with you clarified our approach and validated our thinking around the profile of our early adopters….  All the advice you gave us has been used and we find it all helpful.”

Mike and his team are now focused on the summer deployment.  They then plan to engage more organizations once they prove the software with the initial group of five.  He remains committed to his vision: building software that “helps nonprofits prove their impact to both their communities and funders.”


Launching "Disabled for a Day"


  • Service: Private Coaching
  • Intervention Method: Course Correction
  • Area of Work: Human Rights
  • Client: Crystal Liston is a disabilities activist who wants elected officials to spend a day with a disability to increase their empathy with disabled constituents.  The project is called "Disabled for a Day."
  • Challenge: Crystal wasn't sure how to make her vision a reality. 
  • Consultation:  Mary facilitated a 1-hour Vision-Roadmap-Action meeting (pictured below) and provided 2 hours of communications assistance on candidate outreach.
  • Result:  A local congressional candidate agreed to work with Crystal to launch Disabled for a Day.
  • Time (Consultation → Result):  13 days
Crystal Liston during her private coaching session

Crystal Liston during her private coaching session

Crystal's Story

Crystal Liston lost the use of her lower extremities in a 1990 car accident, but that hasn’t stopped her from living an extraordinary life.  “I have raised children, run for public office, kissed the Blarney Stone and swam with great white sharks, all from the confines of a wheelchair,” she says.  

Yet she still deals with daily annoyances and indignities able-bodied people aren’t even aware of.  “I have to scootch on my butt down the aisle of an airplane in order to access the bathroom as airplanes are not wheelchair accessible,” she writes.  

Navigating the streets of Seattle is scarcely easier than flying the friendly skies.  “My life is valuable,” she notes, “yet I am forced to put it at risk whenever I wheel down the side of a city street because there are not enough curb cuts available to access the sidewalk.”

These frustrations led her to start the Disabled for a Day initiative, which calls for anyone running for public office to spend a day with a disability in order to understand the disabled citizens they represent.  This could mean spending time in a wheelchair or with simulated blindness, deafness, or another disability of the candidate’s choice.  

Crystal is committed to working toward her vision: a future in which all candidates for public office in the US participate in Disabled for a Day. 

As Crystal states, “Public officials have the ability to make changes that would benefit my life and the life of other disabled people…. [Their] empathy will improve their representation of us.”