FirstEval-Melissa Kovacs


Best of 2018: Books, Women Business Owners, and Glamping

Hooray – it is time for my 3rd annual favorite things list! Here, in no particular order, is my Top Eleven list:

Two books tied in my heart this year for most impactful to me. The Book of Why, by Judea Pearl and Dana Mackenzie, caused my brain to expand on causality and inference and the philosophical side of statistics. This book is no breeze – I’ve consumed many a pastry and green tea latte trying to digest this masterpiece. If nothing else, it was a nice Bayesian refresher. The Book of Why’s co-winner is Pure Land, by Annette McGivney. After hiking Havasupai in the Grand Canyon this fall, I soaked up anything I could read about the Havasupai tribe. Her book weaves together solo female travel, adult effects of childhood trauma, religious diversity, and Arizona history in a riveting way.

Creating Afghan characters for Sesame Street. Credit: New York Times

On the positive side of trying to mitigate childhood trauma, about a year ago the MacArthur Foundation gave Sesame Workshop and the International Rescue Committee (a former volunteer home for me) a grant to create Sesame Street in Syria. Sesame Street deepened their work recently by teaming up with the Lego Foundation to work with Rohingya and Syrian child refugees. Isn’t this just brilliant? All children need Sesame Street – and Legos!

Speaking of Myanmar and refugees, I’m squeezing in one more book recommendation from 2018 – we should thank Francis Wade for writing Myanmar’s Enemy Within – a thorough account of the history and happenings of the crisis in Myanmar. If an entire book on this gut-wrenching topic isn’t your thing, a little education can be attained from this review.

Back in the U.S., one of my favorite things about the midterm elections was the gorgeous youth voter turnout. According to CIRCLE, the 31% turnout rate was off the charts. Literally – see chart.

Youth voter turnout – Midterms. From CIRCLE

Youth voter turnout – Midterms. From CIRCLE
And, as you know by now, my passion in and out of my work life is lessening the experience of homelessness. This year, Cisco gave an unprecedented $50 million to a Bay Area nonprofit to go towards solving homelessness in Silicon Valley. I was lucky to work with Cisco’s Corporate Social Responsibility team this year on affordable housing issues and Silicon Valley’s housing shortage. While most U.S. cities lack affordable housing, the Bay Area tops the charts, where the median home price is $935,000.

In other news, this year we saw the release of the Arizona Women Business Owners’ survey. I was grateful to lead this research so that our entrepreneurial community could learn more about what is going on with women business owners. Here’s a myth we busted: women business owners in AZ aren’t just hobbyists – they are major employers and earners. The amazing Deepanki Bhatia’s Tableau dashboard of the results can be found here.

One of the best things about 2018 for me has been my Hera Hub membership. Hera Hub is a co-working space for women entrepreneurs and community gathering space. Shatha Barbour opened the Phoenix space in early 2018, and has created a true hub for women business owners in the Phoenix area. Shatha likely regrets letting me join as I’ve personally increased her budget line item for office chocolate.

One state over, California is now requiring women on public company boards, following the lead of some nations, to correct gender representation among directors.

In big data news, GDPR happened this year, at least in Europe. Will the U.S. follow suit in protecting citizens’ data privacy? Stay tuned.

And, speaking of data usage, hey there runner and triathlete pals – you do know how much Strava is using your data, right? They partnered with Nike for an unprecedented data look at isolating the effects of a specific shoe (Nike’s Zoom Vaporfly) on running speed. I can’t think of a better dataset for that, but did we give Strava permission to use our data for Nike’s gain? Especially after Strava users accidentally revealed secret military sites earlier this year…

Bell tents at Wildflower in the morning fog. Credit: Melissa Korth
Finally, my big event this year was racing two days in a row at Wildflower, an historic camping and triathlon festival deep in California’s wine country. It was hard, hilly, exhausting, fun,

Bell tents at Wildflower in the morning fog. Credit: Melissa Korth

memorable, hard, and also hard. Camping near the Clif Bar tent saved the weekend with their free coffee, hot water, and Clif bars. And, by camping, I mean glamping.

Here’s to a happy and healthy 2019!

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