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The Year of the Monkey

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“You can tell the people of the need to struggle, but when the powerless start to see that they really can make a difference, nothing can quench the fire.” – Leymah Gbowee

What a curious year.  Tomorrow, I’ll give my predictions for 2017, but for now, I’ll reminisce on my lowlights and highlights, with their applicable learnings.

2016 Lowlights

  • The passing of NEA General Partner Harry Weller.  He was one of my first mentors when I joined NEA in 2012, and his advice on venture capital (and life) is one of my guiding principles: “The goal in our business isn’t to be liked, it’s to be respected.”  To him, that meant prioritizing, and making, hard decisions, even though they may not be easy to swallow.
  • The questioning of our values.  The questioning of what makes America, America.  I thought we were a place whose fundament tenet can be summed up by “treat thy neighbor as thyself”.  A place where justice, equality, and liberty prevail.  But in a political season marked by brutality and disparagement, those ideals may not be as sacred as I had hoped.  And, unfortunately, this message seemed to have resonated globally.

2016 Highlights

  • President Obama’s historic Cuba trip, the first by a sitting US President since 1928, and being a part of the delegation.  Since then, direct flights have now started on most commercial airlines between Houston, Newark, Miami, and other cities to Havana and elsewhere in Cuba.  It isn’t a felony to spend US dollars, joint medical research partnership are beginning, bank accounts can be opened by certain Americans, Fidel Castro is dead, and we can now import Cuban cigars freely.  And to think that just 9 months ago, none of this had happened.  Change came, and it came quickly.
  • Visiting Georgia, Sri Lanka and Vietnam to help promote job creation and innovation policy.  Each country faces a radically different challenge: Russian influence and aggression (Georgia), IMF bailout and recently coming out of a civil war (Sri Lanka), and a communist government (Vietnam).  But each country is thriving and is eager to be a beacon for entrepreneurship, with the priority coming from the top.  It will be the difference between their future livelihood and descending into chaos, and I am optimistic on all three.
  • Getting to sit for 15 minutes with Leymah Gbowee, a Liberian peace activist who led movements that helped end the Second Liberian Civil War.  She’s rambunctious, motherly, and fiercely brilliant.  And although she has 10 kids of her own, she somehow adopted me as her 11th in those 15 minutes.  Auntie Leymah is the embodiment of a modern Gandhi, and in the depths of darkness she was able to prevail.

Looking back on 2016, I’m disheartened, invigorated, and inspired–all at the same time.  And looking forward to 2017, I’m ready to crow.  Bring on the rooster.