Gavin Clabaugh

C.S. Mott Foundation

Contact Details

C.S. Mott Foundation


I was born, as a very young child, in Canada, of a Texan father and Scottish mother. (They met and married in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, during the building of the Alaskan-Canadian highway.)

A soldier’s son, I lived most of my early life on military bases in various places around the world — or with my grandparents in Victoria, British Columbia (Canada). (Forever infected with the travel bug, I still love to travel and have, extensively, throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, Micronesia, Eastern and Western Europe, and Africa.)

Eventually we settled near Kansas City (Kansas) where I came of age, became aware, and became conscious of my limitations. With no real plan in mind — university then was something you aspired to drop out of — I followed my girlfriend to college — the University of Kansas, where I learned to stand up for what I believe in and to sit down when I was told to. She left. I stayed. While there I worked with the local crisis intervention center (drugs, suicide, and human sexuality) eventually becoming assistant director. (Skills I acquired there have proved most useful over the years.)

Although destined to be an engineer (I am a Scot, thru and thru), I instead followed my heart into, first, anthropology, then psychology, followed by sociology and history, with a smattering of Spanish thrown in so I could graduate (eventually) with a degree in sociology. Upon graduation — and after a brief stint in the Peace Corp in Micronesia — I turned a multiplicity of student jobs at the University Library into a full time job and began happily working as a quasi-librarian. I did that for several years.

Altered no doubt by the book mold and my near constant emersion in science fiction, I abandoned my comfortable existence after a few years and moved to Houston to go to graduate school. I was in search of a Master’s in “futures research” — a multidiscipline degree with elements of business, economics, sociology, psychology and fortunetelling.

Lured by fame and fortune (actually it was just a rather unexpected job offer) I moved to D.C. and took a consultancy with the Trend Analysis Program (TAP) of the American Council on Life Insurance (ACLI). There was no worse fit for the likes of me.

Nevertheless, there I worked for several months trying to educate the world of big insurance about holistic health (if you’re not scared of death, will you buy insurance?) and about the coming revolution in computers and communications (we called it the “compunications revolution” – argh, I should not be allowed to coin new words.)

Leaving the ACLI, I started working with John Naisbitt on his then only partially-baked ideas for a book that would be called Megatrends. For two years, I lived, breathed, researched, and wrote about changes in the U.S economy, the information economy, decentralization, globalization and the rest of what would become the meat of Megatrends.

Once the book came out, things went crazy. I went to work full-time for the Naisbitt Group as senior research associate, editing several sections of the Group’s quarterly, high-dollar “Trend Report, and helping start up a number of other products and services, including a newsletter called John Naisbitt’s Trend Letter, and a series of executive “Briefings” held for corporate clients around the world. Simultaneously, I hit the lecture circuit for about two years, and racked up a couple of hundred thousand airline miles filling in where John either wouldn’t or couldn’t.

Like all good things, the Naisbitt Group changed and I soon found myself working with Jeff Hallett, the former president of the Naisbitt Group, on a new startup called the Present/Futures Group (formerly TRAC, Inc.), a think-tank specializing in trend analysis, risk analysis, and issues management. Our clients read like a corporate bad-karma list.

To save our eternal souls, we refocused our work, seeking ways to digitize the tools and bring the power of trend analysis, issues management and the like to civil society. Along the way, we created a number of pretty innovative tools, including an automated online content analysis system that would track social issues across space and time using commercial online databases. We also helped design an innovative search front-end that would aggregate searching across multiple online systems, using a common language. This was pre-Internet, mind you. Google was still 15 years away. Machine intelligence was still an oxymoron.

As I became more involved in the technology — and in civil society — I left the Present/Futures Group to start up the Washington D.C. office for a non-profit technology services cooperative called TCN. TCN was the brainchild of a fellow named Bob Loeb, a brilliant man and true friend.

Still pre-Internet, TCN provided global communications systems, private online networks (read: intranets), email and the like to a whole host of International NGOs and U.S. nonprofits. Back then, like math, email was hard. TCN also did phone system consulting, sold long distance and conferencing calling and stuff like that. I was now living the compunications revolution I had forecasted a few years earlier.

The idea behind TCN was as simple as it was grand: bundle the purchasing power of all these nonprofits and you get better services at better rates; save the world at the same time. While at TCN I did a little bit of everything, from providing consulting to the membership, building the consulting business into a viable service, designing and implementing new communications and information management systems, vendor and proposal management, etc, etc.
While there, among other things, I helped develop and launch the first nonprofit “Circuit Rider” initiative. I’m quite proud of it, even if much of it was Bob’s idea. The model was successfully adopted by hundreds organizations around the world and out of it grew things like NTEN and their annual NTC (Nonprofit Technology Conference).

I left TCN in 1996 to take a job as chief information officer for a large private foundation. I’m still there today, and now working on the [insert count] third implementation of new ERP (grants management) system. In hindsight, I can safely say that all the issues are the same, but the screens have changed shape and size. Progress.

In addition to my internal responsibilities at the foundation, I help where I can to further the effective use of ICT throughout the NGO community. Over the years, I’ve served on a number of nonprofit boards including, NTEN (an organization I helped found), Aspiration, a 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to identifying, developing IT solutions that address strategic technological needs within the non-profit sector; TAG, a technology affinity group for foundation staff; the Innovation Funders Network, a funder’s collaborative that was focused on technology, innovation, and social change; and, the Legacy Land Conservancy, a regional land trust based in Washtenaw County, Michigan.

I live in a house styled after a Montana fish camp or a Buddhist temple (I can’t decide which) located somewhere outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan, with wife Margaret, and a cat who, for security reason, will remain anonymous.