social change

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118 articles in category social change / Subscribe

If I could advocate for one cause, it would be clean and portable water solutions.

For the past year, I’ve been wrestling with the notion of getting those around me to care about a social issue, any social issue. Over coffee dates, workshops, team meetings the night before a final exam, I’ve met and re-met with likeminded individuals trying to brainstorm ways in which to get Gen Y to take ownership of leadership for the sake of the world. Only recently have I realized the selfish motives in convincing others to be passionate about my passions.

I met (the very charming) Sol Guy at the 2008 Impact National Conference. With shaking knees and blushing cheeks, I asked him how to get people around me to care? And Sol, in all his wisdom, told me this, “You just keep doing what you’re doing. Don’t worry about everybody else, they’ll come later, but for now, just keep going.”

The truth is, what I’m passionate about may not be exactly what you are passionate about. In fact, you may never be passionate about the issues in which I am. And it’s taken awhile, but I think that’s ok. I’ve experienced the difficulty in getting people to care about any sort of social issue, so how much more the social issues that I’m passionate about? This does not mean I’ll stop advocating for the 1.1 billion citizens of the Earth that lack clean water (I will engage in that conversation given the most miniscule opportunity), but I’ve moved from over-zealously trying to convince, to trying to inspire.

I embarked on my ultimate graduation trip to Malawi this summer and met a well-educated 20-something Malawian. She told me that her sister was in Canada and when asked if she planned on joining her, she smiled softly and replied “No, because if I don’t help Malawi, who will?” And in the exchange of that simple sentence, I too was convinced that I should also help Malawi. Not because she gave me a comprehensive lesson outlining the economic hardships of the small nation, but because in the simple exchange of that sentence, I saw her passion and was inspired. I saw that whether people joined her along the way or not, she was going to continue to do what she was doing.

Alice Walker said “Activism is my rent for living on this planet”. Activism, like rent, is not optional. It should not depend on the person next door paying their rent as well. And so this is why I’m deciding to “Be the Change”, because I’ve been living for free my whole life. I’m going to be the change by inspiring, not convincing, and just doing what I’m doing in hopes that one day, my rent will be paid off.

The Changemaker

Kristina Lugo is 22-year-old new grad recently venturing into the corporate world. She just started a new blog and tweets @kristinalugo. She loves travelling, photography, sushi, and london fogs. One day she hopes to combine her passions for math and international development and start a social venture.

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When people asked me why I decided to join the Peace Corps, I always have a difficult time constructing a good answer. Truth be told, I didn’t join the Peace Corps to change the world. I joined because I wanted to continue living abroad but couldn’t decide where to begin finding a job. I liked the idea that the Peace Corps picks the country for me – throwing the dart so to speak.

For the first few months of my time in village, I had a hard time defining my role here. My French was terrible; how was I suppose to go change lives and “develop small enterprises”, when people can barely understand me when I am trying to buy food for dinner? After a while, I decided that these two years are really more of a self-discovery journey, and if I happen to impact someone along the way, great, if not, well at least I’ve somehow developed myself for the better.

Once the pressure was off, I found more confidence in my work. While the changes are still minute – saving envelopes for kids who fetch water for me, English lessons for school kids and neighborhood women’s group – I began to feel more comfortable in my language ability, and with that, things became smoother. My Books For Cameroon library project grew and somehow I found myself building 30 libraries in this country. To my surprise, I am actually advising entrepreneurs through business classes and someone is actually setting up a small business in the village.

Yet with the success, I realized that social change as I knew it before coming to Cameroon was a big idealized concept. In raising money for my project, I faced many obstacles. Foundations require complicated grant-requesting processes from non-profit organizations, and individuals were more willing to give their money to fancy campaigns dedicating to one great cause or another. So what is a young 20-something to do when she is trying to execute a project?

I am not alone. There are many other twenty-something volunteers and individuals out in the field, attempting to launch projects with what little resources they have. I meet them all the time, and we share similar struggles – not enough money, not enough power to find money, and a big will to achieve many things.

The truth is, people of our generation are out there making small changes, but they are small and thus often gone unnoticed. Yet what weighs more, I think, is the willingness to step out of one’s comfort zone and to attempt unveiling the source behind problems. By living with the people, understanding the culture context and that “our way is not always better”, significant relationships are formed and powerful changes are created.

The Changemaker

Wendy Lee is a second year Peace Corps Volunteer serving in a small village in Cameroon, West Africa. She documents her adventures through her blog Round II: Cameroon, where she draws connection between moving from Taiwan to the US and moving from US to Cameroon. Her goal in life is to live on every continent besides Antarctica and speak six languages. Her favorite foods in her care packages are Flavor-Blasted Goldfish and Peanut M&Ms.

Connect with her over at her blog, Round II: Cameroon, or on her Twitter @wendylee86!

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When Akhila asked me to write about a social cause I was passionate about I was eager to join in. I consider myself a philanthropist, but I often spread myself thin. I carry the weight of the world on my shoulders and am sometimes (too) empathetic to the point where it hurts every piece of my body.

I digress: I’m an animal rights activist and long-time horseback rider, so I’ve volunteered with Colorado Horse Rescue, United States Pony Club and with sea turtles in a science program in Costa Rica. I’ve volunteered at local soup kitchens, donated to cancer research, spent time weekly with children in an after-school program for African resettlement refugees, volunteer with Ladies Who Launch to help women entrepreneurs launch their business idea and worked at a non-profit for environmental studies and local sustainability.

Alas, when I try to focus my efforts and dive deep to find a beating pulse of my passion for social change it reverts to women and the lack of opportunity and inequality they’re faced with worldwide.

I see a large part of the solution toward empowering women through microfinance and socially responsible business.

The empowerment and combination of entrepreneurship is a piece of why it inspires me so much. Although I continually give time and effort toward a cause, I like the “teach them how to fish,” analogy and microfinance does just that.

What is Microfinance?

Microfinance is the “extension of very small loans to those in poverty designed to spur entrepreneurship.”

Non-Government organizations (NGOs), community-based development institutions, credit unions, commercial/state banks and microfinance institutions offer possibilities for financial services to the poor.

Bangladeshi banker and Grameen Bank founder and recent Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Muhammad Yunus is largely known as the pioneer of microfinance.

Poverty’s Greatest Victim: Women

Recently, at Clinton Global Initiative, Bill Clinton pronounced: “Women do 66% of world’s work, produce 50% of world’s food, earn 10% of world’s income & own 1% of the world’s property.”

More than 2/3 of the world’s unpaid work is done by women-the equivalent of $11 trillion or almost 50% of the world GDP, according to a global UNFP study.

Half the world’s population lives on less than $2 a day. 1.8 billion of these people live on less than $1 a day…70% of them are women. Around the world, 340 million women are not expected to live to the age of 40.

Microfinance As A Solution

Comprehensive impact studies have demonstrated that:

  • Microfinance helps very poor households meet basic needs and protect against risks;
  • The use of financial services by low-income households is associated with improvements in household economic welfare and enterprise stability or growth;
  • By supporting women’s economic participation, microfinance helps to empower women, thus promoting gender-equity and improving household well-being;
  • For almost all significant impacts, the magnitude of impact is positively related to the length of time that clients have been in the programe.” (UNCDF Microfinance)

My friend Ali worked at Pro Mujer (“for women,” in Spanish) for over two years at a Financial Analyst for the microfinance, Spanish nonprofit that supported women in Latin-America. I’ve written about microfinance a few times before on my blog, maybe now you can see why. Their historical loan repayment rate in 18 years was 99%. Women want to succeed and create a better life for the family; they just needed access to credit and a lending hand; someone to invest in their dreams.

Ali told me a story about Angela Narváez. She is pottery maker and a client with Pro Mujer Nicaragua. Angela’s first loan was $80. Today, almost nine years later, her loan is $670. Angela uses her loans to buy clay, pieces of wood, paint and cement and to travel to larger markets where she can get a better price for her pieces. Angela said her family has also benefited. Her daughters attend school, everyone is eating better, and they bought furniture and appliances that have raised their quality of life.

So my “teach them to fish” theory comes to rest. I like to think about paying it forward, but in this case, you’re investing in the future, that will benefit beyond the ‘one-time donation.’ It’s like you’re a social venture capitalist, helping women with their own startup, worldwide.

Action

If you’re interested in learning more or even donating a loan for a specific woman in a specific country here are some great organizations (I’ve donated with) to get started: Pro Mujer, Kiva, and The International Alliance For Women.

“Poverty is not created by the poor. It is created by the structures of society and the policies pursued by society. Change the structure as we are doing in Bangladesh, and you will see that the poor change their own lives. Grameen’s experience demonstrates that, given the support of financial capital, however small, the poor are fully capable of improving their lives.”– Banker to the Poor – Muhammad Yunus, Grameen Bank, Founder

The Changemaker

Grace Boyle is a 20-something adventurista. She lives in Boulder, CO and does Business Development for startup called Lijit. She blogs at Small Hands, Big Ideas where she writes about the startup world, technology and daily inspirations. She loves to travel, meet new people, laugh and she aspires to be an entrepreneur.

Connect with her over at her blog, Small Hands, Big Ideas, or on her Twitter at @Gracekboyle!

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I have a dream book. Not the kind where you put your sleepy, bleary-eyed memories of the night before under shut-eye, but the kind where you sprint to write down all the excitement in your chest before it escapes you forever. The kind where you write down how, exactly, you plan to change the world.

I’ve had this dream book since Christmas of 1998, a gift from my mother. I read it over the other day, and smiled at this entry –

“I want my generation, the time that I live, to be great and remarkable and groundbreaking. I want my generation to be the one with the first black and woman presidents.”

This was before Obama and Hillary declared their intention to run for President of course, and before I knew how close my dream would soon be a reality.  And as I read those words, I got goosebumps that something that I desired so badly had come true.

Most of the dreams laid forth in the book aren’t as grand though. They’re more to do with me, less to do with the world. And yet, for eleven years, the same themes keep popping up. Keep returning and haunting the page. For eleven years, I’ve wanted to change the world in the same ways, and for eleven years, I haven’t.

Now, to be fair, I’ve done quite a bit. And an outsider would probably say that my involvement in changing the world, while not extraordinary by any means, is passable for the average human. I’ve made a difference. And that’s good.

But in my dream book, the one where it’s quite visible that my mind is racing faster than my pen can keep up, I don’t want to be average. I want to inspire and empower and make change. Like in education. And equality in design. And the environment. And public art. Things that connect people and community and show our common humanity.

And at the end of my life, I hope it’s goosebump city from so many of my dreams coming true. Today though, I’m going to stop writing in my dream book, because there are enough words. Now it’s time for action.

The Changemaker

Rebecca hosts career and life conversations on her blog, http://modite.com/blog/, which is responsible for her current boyfriend and her current job at Alice.com, where she works in PR, social marketing and sells toilet paper. Her blog has been featured in the New York Times and her favorite brand of toilet paper is Cottonelle.

Connect with her over at her blog, Modite, or on her Twitter at @Modite!

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Do you call yourself an environmentalist? If so – or even if you care about the environment – perhaps one of the best things to do is become a vegetarian.

I’ve been a vegetarian for the majority of my life. Although my family is vegetarian, they felt that I should be allowed to eat meat after we moved to the U.S. – so at a young age, I did eat chicken for a couple of years, but soon after gave it up – mainly due to a love for animals and ethical reasoning on my part. But I’m not here to give you a radical left-wing tree-hugger lecture. Being vegetarian shouldn’t be simply the requisite of the hippie animal-lover and biological conservationist – it should be plausible for all those who love humanity itself. At the end of the day, the environmental implications of becoming vegetarian are so significant that by going veg – you contribute as much to the preservation of future generations, as to animal life itself.

The implications of eating meat are truly astounding. According to a 2006 UN Food & Agriculture Organization report, “The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.” Raising animals for food is one of the main causes of global warming, among other problems such as land degradation, air pollution and water pollution. The report states that the livestock sector contributes to 18% of greenhouse gas emissions – more emissions than all the world’s transportation combined, which make up about 13%!

What’s more, feeding animals for meat, dairy & egg production requires growing about ten times as much crops as it would take to simply…grow crops for direct consumption. There are significant costs that go into meat production to the extent that producing one calorie of meat protein means burning more than ten times as much fossil fuels as does a calorie of plant protein. At the end of the day, switching to a vegetarian diet has as much, or more impact on reducing global warming than switching to a hybrid car.

Moreover, animal agriculture takes up about 70% of all agricultural land – and growing these farm animals is a huge cause of burning the world’s forests. About 70% of former Amazon rainforest is now used for pastureland. Getting rid of the remaining forests on our planet not only reduces the rich biodiversity in these ecosystems, but also reduces vast areas where trees once used to absorb carbon dioxide. The reduction of forests contributes to carbon dioxide accumulation, as a result accelerating global warming.

And, furthermore — animals (especially animal waste) contribute greatly to other greenhouse gases, such as methane and nitrous oxide, which are even worse than CO2. In fact, nitrous oxide has 296 times the warming power of carbon dioxide! As a result, while animal agriculture results in about 9% of CO2 emissions, it results in 37% of methane and 65% of nitrous oxide emissions!

Another study, sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trust and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, finds that the costs of factory farming include — “human illnesses caused by drug-resistant bacteria associated with the rampant use of antibiotics on feedlots and the degradation of land, water and air quality caused by animal waste too intensely concentrated to be neutralized by natural processes.”

The environmental movement has made a flaw by ignoring vegetarianism. True – “going green” does involve everyday actions such as turning off the lights, walking and taking public transport when possible, and switching to hybrid cars that reduce vehicle emissions. But why is “going veg” – one of the most important everyday actions – ignored? Likely because campaigning to become vegetarian is fraught with ethical and moral concerns, and intrudes into one’s privacy. It’s not something we can regulate, really. Environmental & climate change advocates don’t necessarily want to get caught up in the mess of animal rights. But at the end of the day, people have to realize how important vegetarianism is going to be in the years to come. Not for animals, but for our own future generations.

When it comes down to it, I’m not talking about your compassion for chickens or trying to appeal to your inner hippie self. Instead I’m asking you to take a good hard look at global warming, and to look at these statistics. This is reality, not morality. Before any great movement, the status quo was accepted. Years ago, we all know that slavery was considered normal and that humans were treated like animals. Well, eating animals is now the status quo – and you might protest against it – but the truth is, the facts are arguing for a change. If history has taught us anything, it’s that the status quo can never be implicitly accepted. There is always something to question. So question it.

You can read more here.

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Recently, I’ve been reading a really great book — In Spite of the Gods: The Strange Rise of Modern India, by Edward Luce. I was born in India but moved to the U.S. at a young age – and yet, I recently felt that I didn’t know enough about my birthplace’s political scene. So I decided to pick up this book, and it has provided me with valuable insights into the country’s political and economic development since the time of Gandhi’s independence movement.

Strangely though – much of what it describes are things I’ve already known intuitively after my summer visits to the country. When you go to India, you see stark disparities. It’s a country of contradictions. You see bustling technological complexes and advanced software research coupled with beggars on the street, trash on the side of the road. It seems ridiculous that squalor can co-exist with incredible intelligence and innovation – India’s top government-funded colleges, like the IITs, churn out some of the world’s most intelligent minds. These men and women go on to become true leaders in science, technology, and business. And more recently, India has been achieving remarkable economic growth. From the 1980s to 2001, the percent of Indians living below the poverty line fell from 40% to about 26% – not an insignificant drop. The government clearly has more than enough money and resources to ensure basic living standards. The question is not one of its financial capacity. So why does a country that is a technological and intellectual leader, with a legacy of peace and a burgeoning economy – fail to meet so many of its’ citizens basic needs? The conditions seem ripe – yet the change isn’t coming fast enough.

To me, the biggest problem in India always struck me as corruption. Luce cites that an estimated 85% of all development spending is pocketed by bureaucrats. And in the state of Bihar, India’s second poorest, more than 80% of the food is “stolen” due to corruption. The state loses so much money in development and infrastructure projects that at the end of day, little actually gets done – even when it is done in the name of the poor. As more money comes in, officials are pocketing more while the poor are getting the same – or even less. I saw this with my own eyes in India. Bribes are a regular way of life, and often are necessary for daily activities to occur. People have accepted that corruption is ingrained into the country’s culture and politics. In the book, Luce writes how government jobs are coveted by so many in India. Working for the government means that one has generous “benefits” – and can make vast amounts of money on the side by taking bribes. This shocked me at the time, and saddens me now.

Secretary Clinton recently visited India, focusing on relations between the two countries and India’s leadership on environmental issues, defense, and nuclear energy. Yet, I believe that there are so many more underlying factors that she could have discussed. Corruption, economic development, inequality, discrimination – these are the issues that make daily life a challenge for the billion people in India. Why does the international community always look at India in terms of 1) it’s tenuous relationship with Pakistan, and 2) nuclear power? Sure, these issues are important, but they are not going to change the lives of the millions that live in poverty. I understand that Secretrary Clinton was there to focus on foreign policy. But like President Obama did in his Ghana speech, she could have done well to bring up issues like corruption.

India is also constantly praised for being a democracy. Yes, it’s a democracy, but one component of true democracy – I believe – is lack of corruption: transparency, accountability. Unfortunately, corruption is a daily reality for Indians, but international leaders rarely allude to it, instead willing to ignore the problem while covering it all up in the name of “democracy.” True, there are many wonderful aspects of Indian democracy which have endured to this day, such as Nehru’s intelligent legacies of secularism and equality under the law for all citizens (despite so many caste- and religion-based cleavages). Yet, there remains much to be desired. If corruption is implicitly accepted by Indians and passed over in international debates – how will things ever change?

(This is just a brief snapshot of one issue that matters to me. I strongly recommend the book, which also talks about caste politics, the legal system, and many other cultural and religious factors that impact India today.)

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