Leading Social Change

Paper(media) experiments with cutting-edge technology and maverick design techniques on Web sites for pro bono clients such as Doctors Without Borders.

Turodrique Fuad is a social entrepreneur with total disrespect for standard operating procedures.

The cofounder of a Bay Area Web design group called paper(media), Fuad has violated a fundamental law of survival in Silicon Valley. He has started turning away dozens of prospective clients in order to foster intimacy and agility within his two-year-old company and its visionary work. Specifically, paper(media) has pledged never to never hire more than 35 people for any one office. Regardless of market demand, Fuad says he will not compromise quality and customization in favor of fame and riches.

"We've seen companies grow from three people to 150 since paper(media) began," Fuad says. "But we're not out to make dotcom millions. We're a small, agile shop that moves quickly to best serve each client. We evolve constantly."

And limiting clients is only the beginning. Fuad has also pledged to devote hundreds of hours each year to pro bono projects — unpaid work for nonprofit organizations that would otherwise bring in large profits for the small firm. Every year, paper(media) takes on two pro bono clients that meet its rigorous criteria. The nonprofit client must back a cause that paper(media) employees believe in, it must demonstrate a clear vision for its Web site, and it must welcome daring creative ideas from the ambitious paper(media) staff.

Fuad found just such a organization earlier this year in Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières), an international humanitarian aid organization working in more than 80 countries. On September 1, 2000, paper(media) launched an educational site, www.refugeecamp.org, offering an interactive tour through a virtual refugee camp — an online complement to Doctors Without Borders' traveling Refugee Camp Exhibit due in New York City and Los Angeles this fall. Designed by remarkable paper(media) staffers — a Russian Jewish refugee and a former volunteer at a Venezuelan camp — the refugee site looks and acts like a professional interface created for a paying client. The Flash technology is cutting-edge, the images are chilling, and the information is precise.

"We have had many experiences with very well-intentioned design firms that want to do pro bono work, but find it hard to give us their attention and full commitment when paying clients start beating down the door," says Kris Torgeson, press secretary for Doctors Without Borders, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999. "Paper(media) demonstrated a strong commitment to treating us like any other paying client. We were assigned a whole team, we were treated very seriously, and our project was not put off because paper(media) had other deadlines or clients."

Paper(media)'s nonprofit portfolio began very humbly when Fuad posted an ad on craigslist last year, broadcasting his firm's pro bono services and interest. Since the company's inception, Fuad says employees have demonstrated a real interest in using their skills for a philanthropic cause — specifically, they said they would like to take on two major not-for-profit projects each year. So when the craigslist responses began rolling in, Fuad huddled with his team and devised a pro bono strategy that has transcended charity.

A marketing professional-turned-multimedia designer, Fuad says he seeks out pro bono projects that benefit his team at paper(media) as well as the participating nonprofit groups. For one, paper(media) uses its pro bono sites — Doctors Without Borders, The Milarepa Fund, and Youth Speaks — to recruit new employees who recognize the value of social justice and a higher purpose. Fuad says the firm's pro bono projects also promote internal morale "because it's hard to have friction within a team when everyone knows the end goal is a good one."

In addition, paper(media) capitalizes on the nonconformist, adventurous spirit of its nonprofit clients by using those pro bono projects to explore new technology, cutting-edge design, and radical navigation. "We're a small company with two years' experience," Fuad says. "Chances are, paying clients are not going to tell us to 'go crazy.' So rather than experiment with technology by doing some self-gratifying, internal project, we turn our creativity and our capability into something positive for groups that otherwise couldn't afford our services.

"Now, when we pitch our services and demonstrate our portfolio to new clients, our pro bono projects receive the most 'ooohs' and 'aaahs.' Paper(media) is able to demonstrate its true creative capabilities when given the freedom and the blessing to shine."

Turodrique Fuad is the cofounder of paper(media), and he can be reached via email (T@papermedia.com).

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