Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Network for Peace and Human Rights

How would you like to be "friends" with Rigoberta Menchu, the Dalai Lama and Jimmy Carter? You might be able to if you join the newly launched social network,
From the home page:

"Our social network just launched! November 26, we have just launched our new social network, to put you in touch with Nobel Peace Prize winners and other peace builders around the globe. Our site is just launching in beta. New material is being added daily. So we're hoping you will be among the first to jump in and grow with us."

Ok, you probably won't get notices like, "Oscar Arias has asked a new question on TheCommunity," but you never know. Here is the description from their FAQ page:

"1. What is this network about?'s social network is a place where you can come and find out about, follow and in some cases even directly interact with people who are working on a grassroots level to build peace. It is also an opportunity to meet others around the world who, like you, are interested in improving conditions in the world."

Either way, the design and focus of the site are lovely. I joined the handful of people who have signed up to be members.

Their partner orgs include Amnesty International, Artists for Amnesty International, Equal Access, Fund for East Timor, Global Security Institute, PeaceJam and the Tibetan Students Project.

Using Photography to Change the World: An Interview with Paola Gianturco

"[T]hose of us who take pictures, even for our own personal trips, and share those pictures with friends, because we have that skill, also have an obligation to help people understand each other more completely. By sharing our photographs, by sharing our experiences, we alter the way people everywhere understand each other, and we might as well do it consciously and well."
Last month I posted about one of my favorite books this year, Women Who Light the Dark, by photojournalist, Paola Gianturco.

I had an opportunity to interview Paola for the Big Vision Podcast, and wanted to share the transcript with you. She is donating 100 percent of the royalties from the book to the Global Fund for Women.

Paola Gianturco: My name is Paola Gianturco. I am a photojournalist and have just published my fourth book, Women Who Light The Dark. I've now documented women's lives in 40 countries, over the past 10 or 12 years, and everywhere I went, I found women who were helping each other, local women. These are grassroots organizations, and they were helping each other with the most intractable problems that face women everywhere: domestic violence, sex trafficking, disease, discrimination.

Many of them had almost nothing by way of material resources, but they had imagination, and if you have imagination, you can, it turns out, light the dark with all kinds of creative arts. They were using music, dance, poetry, and storytelling, and they were succeeding.

I first began meeting them when I was photographing other things, but they were so present everywhere that I began thinking abut doing a book about them. I thought, in a world so full of bad news, maybe it would be heartening to have good news like this. And, at a time when the international women's movement is facing challenges, it would be great to have a reminder that good news is going on, that good work is being done, that progress is happening.

And, of course, because women's organizations always have too little money, I thought maybe a book would inspire other people to help. In 2001, I began photographing. I went to 15 countries on five continents, and interviewed and photographed 129 women.

Britt Bravo: In so many of the groups you profiled, the women were using the arts for education, empowerment, or healing. Can you talk a little bit about why they used arts, and why it was an effective tool?

PG: I actually didn't realize until I finished writing the book that that was a consistent thread throughout. I'll tell you a story about one instance in which the women were using poetry, actually. In this case, the girls were using poetry. A high school English teacher in Zimbabwe, whose name is Betty Makoni, began hearing stories from her students after school, that they had been raped.

That was happening as a result of a pernicious rumor, which is floated, essentially, by the traditional healers there, and in other places. I've also heard this rumor in Asia, that HIV positive men will be cured if they have sex with virgins. Betty and six of her high school English students founded an organization called the Girl Child Network.

Today, it includes some 20,000 girls - half of whom, she estimates, have been raped. Half. The children are ages 6-16, and they're making huge strides by leading a national movement against child rape in Zimbabwe. And, their weapon is poetry. Poetry! The little girls are part of a culture, the Shona culture in Zimbabwe, as maybe you know, uses poetry. People write poems, and stand and recite them in public meetings. And the little girls do exactly that.

They write poems about their experiences, and when they recite them in community meetings, their neighbors are outraged, and mobilized immediately to action. There are no men in Zimbabwe who are immune to these girls' attention. They have had arrested some very, very prominent people. The leader, for example, of a religious movement. They are making progress. They are gaining support from people in government, and politicians, and academicians, and business people, men, boys, women, girls.

BB: Why do you think the arts is such a powerful tool?

PG: In these different cultures, the women seem to know, in ways that outsiders might not, what can be effective. For example, this idea of using poetry, as the girls are in Zimbabwe, would probably not work in other cultures that don't have that predisposition towards poetry. The women are using those forms that are the most effective in their cultures.

BB: You've captured so many amazing images and stories in this book, what is the image that stands out the most for you?

PG: I think that the one that comes to mind first is a wonderful picture of women in Kenya who are growing corn. The reason that photograph seems to me to represent the spirit of the women in the book is that they are singing, and dancing, essentially, as they are hoeing the corn in their corn field. That seems to represent the indomitability of the spirit of these women for whom singing is a real celebration, on the one hand, and they told me, on the other hand, it helps them forget their troubles, which are huge.

BB: Can you talk a little bit about what path brought you to this work?

PG: Some 12 years ago, or so, I made a career change at then, age 55. I started a second career without even having planned to. I had spent some almost 35 years in advertising and marketing, and corporate communications, and public relations. Right at the end of that period, I also was teaching. I co-developed and co-taught a series of summer executive institutes at Stanford about women and leadership.

I taught that same workshop inside of large corporations, and at the end of having taught that 12 times, I had two affects. One was I had earned two years worth of money in one year. I thought, "My God, I've just bought myself a year!" And second, I was exhausted from having continued to do consulting and teaching at the same time. I thought, I have friends in academia who are taking sabbaticals, why can't I? I decided to spend, what I thought would be one year, doing only those things I loved most and wanted to learn next. For me, that meant photography, which I have done since I was eight, and traveling, which I love. What I wanted to learn next, because I had lived my working life inside of large corporations, was about woman entrepreneurs.

I sallied forth, not being a professional photographer, not being a professional writer. I had written many business reports, nothing else. And it didn't take a year, it took five to finish that first project, which combined those elements that I had hoped to pursue. It was a book called In Her Hands: Craftswomen Changing the World. It was about woman entrepreneurs who were sending their children to school with the money they earned, even though they were living themselves on a dollar a day. I just saw them as heroic.

I could have told that story through many different kinds of work, but the women whom I interviewed were all making crafts, traditional and tourist crafts, new crafts, modern crafts, but they all had in common the fact that they were selling their crafts to send their kids to school.

BB: And you just kept going after completing that book?

PG: Well, yes. I never went back to doing purely communications consulting. I did only enough of it to continue to fund this new addiction that I had, and also to keep up my frequent flier miles. I had almost a million, and my husband has now almost two million. Because he is wonderfully supportive of these projects, he shares those with me. But each of these books came about as a result of the previous book.

As I was traveling to 12 countries to interview women artisans, a woman in India said, "Come back in the fall and we'll teach you how to dance the dances that we perform all night to honor the mother god, Durga." And indeed I did go back and documented the Durga festival, and the Kali festival, and many other festivals all over the world that honored women for their spiritual lives, and accomplishments, and roles, and rights of passage. There had never been a book about festivals that honored women. Celebrating Women was book number two.

The third book I did was about the indomitable people in Guatemala [¡Viva Colores!]. I took the photographs for that book, but my husband wrote that book, his name is David Hill. We did it together.

The new book, of course, is the fourth book which came about as a result of all of those travels, and my observation that women, and organizations of women, are making a big difference all over the world.

BB: What do you enjoy the most about your work?

PG: Oh, easily the most interesting for me, and most compelling, and the reason I keep doing more, is an opportunity to talk with people all over the world who I may otherwise never meet. And also, I think I am driven by a compulsion to share those experiences because I am so conscious that other people don't have them. I really want to try to give those experiences to other people.

BB: What is the biggest challenge in your work?

PG: It depends on what day you ask me. When I first began doing this, of course, I knew nothing. This was the steepest learning curve in the world, possibly. I had to learn how to take pictures. I had to join a writing group to learn how to write. I never thought I was going to write a book. I thought I was going to do a picture book with maybe captions.

In order to get a book published, I was told I had to have a museum exhibit. I wasn't a photographer; I had never needed to have an exhibit of my work, ever. Fortunately, the Field Museum in Chicago mounted an exhibit of the photographs for In Her Hands. At each step, I have been learning. I felt as if I had just jumped into the swimming pool, with no water in there, with no expectation that I couldn't do all this, and in fact as it turned out I could. It, however, took every experience and every friend I have been able to gather in all of my life to do these projects.

BB: Can you talk a little bit about the relationship between the Global Fund for Women and this book?

PG: I began photographing, Women Who Light the Dark, in the year 2001, and I continued to work on that project and photograph organizations that I had identified in my research. By 2005, I had my eye on a little handful of organizations that I knew were grantees of the Global Fund for Women. I have long been a supporter of that organization, I think for the last 12 years or so.

I went to see Kavita Ramdas, who is the CEO and President, and asked if she would introduce me to these four or five groups that I knew I wanted to visit. She said, "Paola, we were to about to call you. Our 20th anniversary is in the year 2007, " this was 2005, and she said, "Do you think you could finish this book by 2007, and do you think that you would be willing to consider doing all the rest of the chapters on our grantees?" And I said, for reasons that you will understand, "Let me get back to you," because I couldn't be beholden to any single organization, I really needed to be able to write what was true and what I observed.

I did get back to her, and I said that I would consider doing the other chapters about their grantees with two stipulations. One was that I choose the grantees, and the other was that I would write the manuscript and give it to the publisher before anyone from the Global Fund read it. And because she is wise, and understood why I needed that kind of latitude, she agreed to that. I read hundreds of grantee profiles, and tried to balance the book according to the issues and the geographies that I wanted. Their staff was wonderful about helping to make the introductions, as I had hoped.

But I will tell you something, I need not have hedged my bets that completely because when I got into these organizations, and I stayed with each of them for at least a week, what I saw was really beautiful work, and so it wasn't necessary to be as critical as I thought I might need to be.

BB: What advice do you have for artists who want to use their art for social change?

PG: Actually, I was invited to teach a little course about exactly this at Book Passage Travel Writers Workshop. As I was thinking about what I wanted to say to people who used their photographs, it occurred to me that in fact those of us who take pictures, even for our own personal trips, and share those pictures with friends, because we have that skill, also have an obligation to help people understand each other more completely. By sharing our photographs, by sharing our experiences, we alter the way people everywhere understand each other, and we might as well do it consciously and well. That's one thing, be aware that every photograph you take and share has a real impact.

Another thing that I have tried very hard to do is to make my books, not mine, but the result of real collaboration with the people whom I am photographing, and whose work I am documenting. For example, before I go, I email ahead to my interpreters a very specific description of what I am hoping to do, of the kinds of benefits that I hope the groups might, in this case, receive. I tell them that I have negotiated with the publisher to give them each a copy of the book, that the book will list their contact information, that the project website will list their contact information, that my intention is to make their work more visible to potential donors, and to people who might support them in various ways.

When I get there, I show them my other books, so that they know the context and the kind of work I do. And then I tell them, "This is not my book, this is ours." I invite them to tell me where they would like to be photographed, and what kinds of photographs they think would best represent their story. I do lots more than that, but I always do that. I start by photographing them the way they would like to have their pictures taken. And I invite them to tell me things that I might not have thought to ask.

My last question is always, "What would you like to ask me?" I don't believe in doing interviews as the Spanish Inquisition. I really do hope that my interviews can be more like conversations, and in fact sometimes they tell me things I would never have dreamed of asking. Muslim women; for example, tell me about birth control methods that they are using. I would never ask that question. Often, the stories are very much enriched beyond what I would have known to ask as a result of this kind of collaboration.

BB: You said earlier that each book comes from another book, what book are you working on now?

PG: This has been so consuming, this project. It is easily the most difficult of the books that I have done. It is very different to interview sex workers who have been trafficked in Phnom Penh, than to interview women who are doing knitting in Bolivia. I have just been consumed by this project, and I always have a file with little notes to myself with ideas for the next project, but I probably won't open that file until the middle of next year, after I have recovered some energy.

BB: I know you have been doing a lot of interviews to promote this book, what is the question you wish you were asked, or the thing you would like to talk about that you don't often get to talk about?

PG: My website! It is a very rich website called It has not only the usual chapter excerpts, but a section that was almost like writing another book called, Shine Your Light. My dream about this book is that it will help readers understand each other more completely, and then, using that understanding, take action. So this Shine Your Light section on the website is divided into exactly those two kinds of segments.

One section is all about understanding women all over the world through their own creative work, their music, their movies, their books, their fashion, their food. It is a very rich portion of the site.

The other half of that section is all about what kind of action you can take to support women around the world. That is also a very rich section that ranges from ideas about how to take a volunteer vacation, to how to donate money to the Global Fund for Women, and other organizations that are working and doing effective work all over the world.

BB: Is there anything else that you would like to add that you didn't get to talk about?

PG: I want to talk a little bit about the Global Fund for Women. They are now the largest organization that gives money exclusively to women-run, grassroots organizations that are working on human rights. In the last 20 years, they have given grants in the amount of almost $60 million to women in 164 countries. But they are not resting on their laurels.

I mean, you would think that being that big, and that effective, that you would kind of sit back, and they are not. They are doing something that I like very much, which is to start seeding local and regional funds so that grassroots women can help each other locally. I like the idea of local philanthropy because women really can help each other if they have a mechanism that helps them do it.

There are other things about how the Global Fund behaves that I like, and I will just tell you quickly, a couple of other things. One is that women can apply for grants by writing a letter, one page, in their own language, in their own handwriting. I mean, what a wonderful idea. I have been, I am sure you have been, on nonprofit boards, and it never occurred to me that it should be the responsibility of the funding organization to vet the applicants; that people in other countries who don't speak our language should not be put through the trial by fire that is constituted by the kind of bureaucratic red tape applications that usually exist. A one page letter in a woman's handwriting in her own language is all you need to apply to the Global Fund.

The other thing is that they genuinely treat people as equals. In a just world, that is what it would look like, in my view. I heard a wonderful story about a woman from Bangladesh who just scrimped to save a dollar to contribute to them. Her name was listed in alphabetical order in the same size, and type, exactly as women in this country who had donated thousands and thousands of dollars. People on their staff, their executives, their donors, their beneficiaries, their grantees are always treated as equals. It is a wonderful way to experience the world.

BB: Is there any message for listeners that you would like to close with?

PG: I think it will take all of us working together; surely it will take all of us working together, to create hope and possibility for this world.

Interested in using photography to change the world? Check out these resources:

The Occasional Photo Blog recommends the photobloggers list on Lightstalkers: a social network for journalists, photographers, and other professional travelers.

50 Crows: Social Change Photography

Beth's Blog and Thriving Too recommend Collective Lens: Promoting Social Change Through Photography

Earth and Economy recommends Blue Earth Alliance: Photography Inspiring Social Change

Ghana Make You Move recommends Photovoice: Social Change Through Photography

The Exposure Project recommends Daylight Magazine. "Daylight Magazine is the biannual printed publication of Daylight Community Arts Foundation (DCAF), a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the use of photography as a tool for effecting social change."

June Cohen, on the TED blog
, posts about the TED Talk by James Nachtwey, a war photographer, who won a TED prize in 2007. She writes,
"A slideshow of his photos, beginning in 1981 in Northern Ireland, reveals two parallel themes in his work. First, as he says: "The frontlines of contemporary wars are right where people live." Street violence, famine, disease: he has photographed all these modern WMDs. Second, when a photo catches the world's attention, it can truly drive action and change."

Monday, November 26, 2007

Do You Have a Working Assets Cell Phone?

I'm thinking about switching over to a Working Assets cell phone plan, which they are now calling CREDO Mobile. I like the idea of supporting a socially conscious phone company, but ultimately your phone has to work, right? Nothing is more annoying than dropped calls and cell phone customer service.

If you've used Working Assets cell phone service/Credo Mobile, I'd like to hear about your experiences.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

In Search of Hope: The Global Diaries of Mariane Pearl

"[N]ow I have an answer for my son, who lost his father to blind hatred. Yes, there is hope in the world, and it isn't naive or even idealistic. It is real."--Mariane Pearl, In Search of Hope.
In 2006, journalist Mariane Pearl traveled the globe for Glamour magazine to profile women who are changing the world. She traveled over 100,000 miles and interviewed 12 women activists who are working on solutions to everything from sex trafficking, to global warming, to AIDS.

Glamour and powerHouseBooks have produced a collection of Pearl's interviews in, In Search of Hope: The Global Diaries of Mariane Pearl, which includes a Foreword by Angelina Jolie. This clothbound, limited edition book includes over 200 full color photos from Pearl's travels, as well as updates to some of the the interviews since they originally appeared in Glamour.

If you aren't familiar with Pearl's story, she is a pretty phenomenal person. She was 5 months pregnant when her husband, journalist Daniel Pearl, was murdered by extremists in Pakistan in February 2002. Rather than succumb to fear, she has made it her mission to fight terror with courage.

In A Mighty Heart, her account of the search for her husband, George W. Bush asks her, "How come you're not bitter?" She responds,
"I told him that if I let bitterness overcome me, I would lose my soul, and if I lost my soul, I also would lose Danny's.' This, I told the President of the United States, 'is my biggest battle.'"
In Search of Hope is part of that battle for herself, and for her son, Adam. She explains in the Introduction:
"More than a year ago, I embarked on a journey around the world--a physical trip with a spiritual motivation. It had to do with the meaning of life and the meaning of the deaths of those I have loved, but first and foremost, it had to do with my son. How could I inspire my boy, Adam, now five years old, to embrace the world and claim it as his own? It would be legitimate for him to be scared; aren't we all? But was there a way he could genuinely feel hopeful instead?"
The stories of women like Somaly Mam, a former child sex worker in Thailand who works to help girls in the sex trade; Sheila Watt-Cloutier, a global warming activist who is trying to preserve the Inuit way of life before it melts away; Dr. Julian Atim, a Ugandan doctor who lost her parents to AIDS and has fought to make ARVs more affordable; and Mariane's story itself, are models of human strength and perseverance in the face of extreme adversity. They each transformed their personal pain to create change for the greater good.

If you order In Search of Hope on, Glamour will donate 100 percent of the book's proceeds and royalties to charities (listed below) selected by the women who were profiled.

Cambodia: Somaly Mam
Acting for Women in Distressing Situations (AFESIP)

Canada: Sheila Watt-Cloutier
The Center for Environmental Law

Colombia: Mayerly Sanchez
World Vision

Hong Kong: Anson Chan
Hong Kong Committee for UNICEF

Liberia: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
The Liberian Education Trust (LET)

Mexico: Lydia Cacho

New York: Dr. Angela Diaz
The Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center

Uganda: Dr. Julian Atim
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR)

Cuba: Ladies in White
France: Fatima Elayoubi
Morocco: Aicha Ech-Chenna
Puerto Rico: Nilda Medina
Amnesty International

Photo Credit: Mariane Pearl and Cindi Leive, Glamour's Editor-in-Chief, at the launch party event Glamour hosted to celebrate Mariane and In Search of Hope. Glamour/Dimiritrous Kambouris.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Goodwill Fashion Blog - Brilliant!

How do you change consumers' associations that Goodwill clothes mean tacky clothes? Start a fashion blog! The DC Goodwill Fashion Blog is one of the most creative uses of a nonprofit blog I've seen in a while.

The DC Goodwill Fashionista posts about everything from how to wear winter accessories, to holiday dresses available on the DC Goodwill's eBay Store, to the DC Goodwill Goodnight Sale (happening tonight!).

They even have a blogroll full of local DC and fashion blogs.

The blog is part of the Fashion of Goodwill - Virtual Runway Show & Online Auction web site, which also links back to DC Goodwill eBay Store.

Their creativity got them a write up in the Washington Post last month in, "Goodwill's New Look: Cheap Can Also Be Chic - Nonprofit Uses Blog, YouTube to Recast Image."

I love it!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

10 Holiday Gifts That Give Back

According to the article, Splurges Will Be Scarce This Holiday Season:
"Americans will spend an average of $923.36 on holiday gifts, which includes $106.67 on me-too purchases, which are the impulse buys that people make for themselves while they're shopping for gifts. This is up a moderate 3.7 percent from last year, according to NRF's 2007 Holiday Consumer Intentions and Actions Survey."
Wouldn't be great if some of that $923.36 could go towards giving the people you love a gift, and making the world a better place? Here are a few ideas for those special someones.

1. Do Artisans a World of Good

For many people, art and craft-making is their livelihood. You can buy beautiful, handmade gifts made by artisans from companies and organizations like World of Good, Be Sweet, Global Girlfriend, The Amber Chand Collection and New Mexico Creates. For example, according to the Global Girlfriend site, the $28 Button Summer Tote
pictured above is, "Made by a fair trade organization based in Bali Indonesia that aims to help women create a market for their beautiful handicrafts in order to help them create sustainable incomes and encourage keeping traditional crafts and skills alive."

2. Buy Books from Your Local, Independent Bookstore.

When it comes to spending your holiday dollars, would you rather they went to Amazon and Borders, or to your local economy? Di's Book Blog recommends using the BookSense web site to find independent bookstores near you. You can also buy a BookSense gift card that can be used at hundreds of independent bookstores. The Jackson Street Book blog recently reported that the New York Times and NPR have added as an online book purchasing option, in addition to

3. Wake Them Up with a Fair Trade Organic Coffee Sampler

Fair Trade Certified coffee means that the coffee farmers who grew it are getting a fair price for their product, are working in fair labor conditions, and are farming in an environmentally sustainable way. Introduce the coffee lover in your life to the benefits and deliciousness of organic, Fair Trade coffee. For example, A Green Mountain Coffee Roasters sampler of Organic Breakfast Blend, Organic French Roast and Organic Sumatran Reserve is $26.95. Search on TransFair for Fair Trade Certified products, or Google, "Fair Trade coffee sampler" for more options.

4. Empower an Entrepreneur with a Kiva Loan. allows lenders to loan money to an aspiring social entrepreneur in a developing country using PayPal. The recipient of the loan commits to paying the lender back in a certain period of time. You can give a Kiva gift certificate for as little as $25. The recipient of the certificate can choose which entrepreneur they want to support. I bet former President Bill Clinton will be giving out a few of these this year. Check out what he had to say about Kiva on Countdown with Keith Olbermann.

5. Donate a Flock of Chickens, Share of Tree Seedlings, or Knitting Basket of Llamas and Sheep.

Heifer International gives poor families a sustainable source of food and income by buying them livestock with your donation. For example, for $20 you can give a family a flock of chicks that will provide them with eggs to eat, share or sell. One good hen can lay up to 200 eggs in a year. You can even create a Heifer International gift registry for yourself to send to your friends and family.

6. Plant a Tree, Restore a Rainforest.

For your vegetarian and vegan friends who might be uncomfortable with promoting animal consumption through a group like Heifer International, the Do Life Right blog recommends giving the gift of a donation to Sustainable Harvest International and
the Fruit Tree Planting Foundation. You could also give a donation to the Green Belt Movement started by Nobel Peace Prize winner, Wangari Maathai.

7. Have Organic Fruits and Veggies Delivered to Their Door

Buy a gift certificate for a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) to deliver fresh, organic, seasonal vegetables grown by local farmers. Help keep family farming in business, and your friends healthy. Go to to find a CSA near you.

8. Adopt a Dog or Cat

According to the Humane Society of the United States, as of October 2006, 6-8 million dogs and cats enter shelters, and 3-4 million dogs and cats are euthanized each year. Petfinder is a great resource for finding a furry companion for your family or friend while saving an animal's life.

9. Give a Child a Laptop, Get a Child a Laptop.

Starting November 12, One Laptop Per Child will be offering a Give 1 Get 1 Program for a short period of time. For $399 you can donate one XO laptop to a child in a developing country, and have one XO laptop sent to your child at home.

10. Plan a Volunteer Vacation Getaway Together

Give the gift of time together while also living and working with people on a service project. Lynn O'Rourke of Travel Talk went to the Peruvian Amazon with family and friends where they, "traveled 90 miles by speedboat deep within the jungle. There we delivered much needed school supplies to several communities along the river." Lynn suggests several places to search for trips including the American Hiking Society. The AHS offers trips for $130 where you, "visit stunning backcountry locations to construct or rebuild footpaths, cabins and shelters." You'll also find lots of trip ideas by Googling, "volunteer vacation" and "voluntourism."

Remember, expressions like, "It's the thought that counts," and, "You can't buy happiness," are true. Instead of spending $923.36 to buy stuff for your loved ones that they might use a couple of times, figure out how to spend more quality time together this year.
"Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. And today? Today is a gift. That's why we call it the present. ~Babatunde Olatunji"
Full disclosure: New Mexico Creates is related to the Museum of New Mexico Foundation, where my dad works.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Advice for the College Senior Who Wants to Make a Difference

My senior year of college I knew that I wanted to do work that made a difference, but I didn't know what kind of work that would be. I was a sociology major, but wasn't attracted to social work. I'd worked at a DC nonprofit the summer after my junior year that focused on policy work, but that wasn't a fit for me either. I also knew that a 9-5 work schedule wasn't the best fit for me.

A couple months before graduation I went to my religion professor's office hours to ask for advice. I can't remember the details of our conversation, except that he used a lot of words beginning with "C": courage, commitment, calling, creativity. For the first time, I didn't feel like a crazy person for wanting to have an alternative vision for my career.

If you are a college student, or someone in career transition, who wants to find work that fulfills your big vision for a better world, I have a few words of advice, and some books to recommend.

My advice:

1. Follow your curiosity. What are the things that excite you the most? What are the issues you follow in the media, or wish you could be involved with? What is the skill you say to yourself, " I would love to know how to _____________." Are there people whose work you envy? These are all good inklings of what you might want to do.

2. Do it, don't think about it. You'll never know if you enjoy doing something by thinking about it. You have to take action either by taking a class, doing an informational interview, volunteering, interning, going to an event, or taking a job in the field that interests you.

For example, at one point, I thought I wanted to be a massage therapist, but then I took a massage class, and realized I had to massage naked people I didn't know. Yuck. I never made the connection until I did it.

3. Take small steps. It can be overwhelming to have, "Find work I love that makes a difference in a the world," as a to-do. Once you've made a list of some of the fields and skills that interest you, make another list of small steps you can take to explore them such as:

* Send an email to my friends to see if they have connections in the fields that interest me.
* Look for a volunteer position on Volunteer Match.
* Find an event on Craigslist, Idealist or Upcoming about an issue that interests me. Go to it.
* Research classes/workshops in a skill I want to learn. Sign up for it.

4. Find support. Looking for a job can be a lonely, frustrating experience. Creating work you love that doesn't go automatically from A-Z (i.e. I get a degree in X, I get a job in X), can be extra challenging. Career counselors and coaches can be great support, but so can peers.

Find another person, or a group of people, who are also trying to find work that helps to create their big vision for the world. Get together. Talk about your big visions. Commit to taking three small actions towards your big visions by a certain date when you will meet/talk on the phone/connect by email again. Do your actions. Meet with your support system. Pick three more actions. Pick a date to meet. Repeat until you create your big vision!

A Few Book Suggestions:

Be Bold: Create a Career with Impact, a publication of Echoing Green. Boy, do I wish this book had been around when I was in college. This fantastic book is filled with profiles of social change visionaries like Priya Haji, CEO and Co-Founder of World of Good; Katie Redford Co-Founder and US Office Director of Earth Rights International; and Wendy Kopp, Founder of Teach for America. They were all Echoing Green Fellows who received up to $90,000 in seed funding and technical support to turn their ideas into sustainable organizations.

In addition to inspiring profiles, the back of the book has a series of questions to help you create your big vision like:
  • If your career (in its entirety--think long term) allowed you to tackle a few big problems in the world (e.g., educational inequity, poverty), what would they be?
  • If you were to take more risks in your educational or professional career, what types of things would you do?
  • If you had one word tattooed on your body, what would it be and why?
If you are going home for the holidays and are dreading the, "What are you going to do with your life?" question from your relatives, order a copy of Be Bold and read it on the plane.

If you've already got an idea for an organization you'd like to create, the deadline for Echoing Green's 2008 Fellowship applications is December 3, 2007.

Creating a Life Worth Living: A Practical Course in Career Design for Artists, Innovators, and Others Aspiring to a Creative Life by Carol Lloyd. I taught creative career workshops for six years based on this book. Even though some of the examples are dated (it was published in 1997) I still use the exercises when I work with individuals today.

We Make Change: Community Organizers Talk About What They Do--and Why by Kristin Layng Szakos and Joe Szakos. Do you love people, want to help others develop leadership skills, like to think strategically, and are able to transform your anger about a problem into action? You might have the makings of a community organizer. We Make Change is the product of 81 interviews with community organizers who answered questions like, what makes a good organizer? How did you start organizing? Why do you organize? What advice do you have for aspiring organizers?

Here's what one interviewee, Karen Waters, the Executive Director of the Quality Community Council in Charlottesville, VA, said about why she does organizing work:
"There's no other feeling like seeing people actually create change. It's amazing when people realize that they already have what they need to get what they want done. They realize how to make someone else change their mind. That's really cool. There's lots of autonomy. There's lots of opportunities for creativity. You have to be creative. It's fun, it really is. A the end of the day, it's a fun job."
If you've been wondering about what it would be like to be a community organizer, We Make Change will answer most of your questions.

A Beginner's Guide to Changing the World by Isabel Losada. As I mentioned in my book review in January 2006, what I liked about this book was that Losada doesn't make being an activist seem easy, in a normal way. So many autobiographies of activists either make the story of their life seem filled with such extreme and tragic obstacles you think, "I could never be as strong as them," or their life seem so easy and flowing you think, "I could never be as intelligent/talented/lucky as them." Losada's book describes the kind of obstacles to changing the world that everyone faces--lack of funds, apathy, bureaucracy, stressed out co-workers and bad weather--and how she overcomes them.

My final piece of advice is to have a long term, big vision for the change you want to create. Most of the challenges our world faces today aren't going to be solved by one piece of legislation, one change in consumer behavior, or one event, but by many pieces of legislation, many changes in consumer behavior and many events over a period of time.

On the other hand, your ideal work will be made up of many decisions, learning experiences and jobs over time that you can't even begin to imagine, so don't fret if you don't know exactly what you want to do for the rest of your life. Just figure out what you want to do now, and you'll figure out the rest as you go along.

Still wondering where to start? Follow the advice of one of the organizers interviewed for We Make Change, "Do what makes your heart beat faster."

Related blog posts for further reading:
Echoing Green: Taking Chances on What Really Matters by Rimmy Mahotra of Do Well & Do Good.
Great New Book on Organizing! by Steve Chase of the Well-Trained Activist.
Isabel Losada's Occasional Blog

Full disclosure: I was sent a review copy of We Make Change.
Image Credit: Changed Priorities Ahead by Christopher Whalen.

Help Me Redesign My Web Site

Hello Have Fun * Do Gooders!

I need to redesign my web site for my business, Big Vision Career and Project Consulting, at

I designed it myself over two years ago, and it is in serious need of an upgrade.

I would love your feedback and ideas about how to improve it. Sometimes it's hard to think objectively about something you are close to, so it would be nice to have feedback from other people.

**I already have a designer in mind, so please don't send me a pitch for your services**

Please post your ideas in the comments, or email me at britt AT brittbravo DOT com.


Thursday, November 01, 2007

Sudan Activist Conference Call: What You Can Do to Make a Difference in Darfur

When you hear about what is going in Darfur, do you feel like you want to do something, but you don't know what to do? I do. All the time.

In an effort to understand why the violence there is still happening, and what I can do to help, I've called in for two of the monthly conference calls for Sudan Activists produced by ENOUGH, the Genocide Intervention Network, STAND: A Student Anti-Genocide Coalition, and the Save Darfur Coalition. During the calls, speakers talk about what is going on in Sudan at the moment, and what actions people can take. You can find out when the next call is by signing up for alerts on the ENOUGH site.

I took notes on the call today to share with you, but I'm not much of a policy person, so forgive me if I simplify too much, and feel free to correct me if I make an error.

1. Roger Winter, a Sudan expert gave an update on the current situation in the Sudan, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and how the Darfur conflict is important in the larger context of Sudan.

Key Points:

  • The violence in Darfur is part of a history of violence in all of the Sudan.
  • Two million Sudanese civilians died in a 21-year civil war between the northern-based NCP and the southern-based Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM).
  • In 2004 a permanent ceasefire agreement brought the North-South war to an end.
  • In 2005, both sides agreed to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA)
  • Among the provisions of the CPA was that following a census, a midterm presidential and parliamentary elections would be held in 2009.
  • The solution to the violence in Darfur is to unseat the National Congress Party (NCP) though elections by the Sudanese people.
What You Can Do:
Advocate for a change in governance in the Sudan, and implementation of the CPA.
Pressure all political candidates (not just Presidential) with questions about what they are going to do about Darfur and the CPA.

2. Gayle Smith, the Co-Founder of ENOUGH talked about her trip with The Elders.

Smith went to Sudan this fall with The Elders, a group of leaders created by Nelson Mandela, Graça Machel and Desmond Tutu. She found the situation in Darfur to be much, much worse than a year ago as people enter their 5th year in the camps. Young people are forming gangs, traditional structures are breaking down, and the attacks haven't stopped. Humanitarian workers have to be very careful about what they say, what they do, and how they do it. She agreed with Winter that it is important to talk about governance as the crisis, to protect the CPA and to enforce the importance of elections.

What You Can Do:
Talk about Sudan as much as Darfur; make the connection between the CPA and Darfur.
Advocate for the protection of the CPA; enforce the importance of elections.

3. Sam Bell, the Director of Advocacy for the Genocide Intervention Network talked about the difference between the Sudan Accountability and Divestment Act (SADA) and the Darfur Accountability and Divestment Act (DADA), and where the legislation is now.
  • The House passed the Darfur Accountability and Divestment Act (DADA) in a 418-1 vote on July 31, 2007.
  • The Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee passed the Sudan Accountability and Divestment Act (SADA) by a vote of 21-0 on October 17, 2007.
  • SADA and DADA both include provisions that authorize state divestment, prohibit contracts with foreign companies fueling the genocide, and authorize asset managers to divest.
  • SADA does not require the Treasury Department to create a list of companies operating in Sudan like DADA does.
What You Can Do
Call your senators and ask them to support SADA (S.2771). Call 1-800-GENOCIDE, the Genocide Intervention Network's toll-free hotline, to be connected to the office of your Senator for free.

4. Micaela Hellman-Tincher, the Darfur Fast Coordinator for STAND talked about how to get involved in the December 5th Darfur Fast.

On December 5th, STAND, A Student Anti-Genocide Coalition will have its 4th annual Darfur Fast. Thousands of students and community members will give up one luxury item (i.e. latte, chocolate) for one day, and donate the money they would have spent to the Genocide Intervention Network's Civilian Protection program.

Women and children need protection from assault and rape when they go out to find firewood. GI-Net's Civilian Protection Program offers safer cooking options by providing alternative-fuel stoves, guarded firewood patrols, and income-generating projects for women, so that they can afford to buy firewood.

What You Can Do
Participate in the Darfur Fast on December 5. You can find more information about how to participate on your own, or how to organize an event at

5. Adam Sterling, the Sudan Divestment Task Force's Co-Founder talked about the opening of the film Darfur Now

Darfur Now is a new film produced by Participant Productions that explores the conflict in Darfur through the eyes of six people, including Sterling. The movie opens Friday, November 2nd in LA and NYC , and in more cities in the following weeks. For more information go to or Discount tickets for groups are available on both sites.

6. Coby Rudolph, the Save Darfur Coalition's National Outreach Coordinator, gave an update on Appropriations and Darfur Funding.

Congress is negotiating spending for next year. Make sure that if spending bills are cut, it doesn't affect Darfur funding.

What You Can Do:
Tell your members of Congress to support adequate funding for peacekeeping in Darfur, including funding for humanitarian aid and restoration.


Much of the information above is taken directly from the
ENOUGH, Genocide Intervention Network, STAND, and Save Darfur Coalition web sites. If you need more information, one or more of the sites will most likely be able to answer your questions.