Take a Volunteer Trip in Thailand

The Little BIG Project_LogoUniversalGiving has recently been working with the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), who have launched a contest to promote voluntourism, The Little Big Project.  One winner will receive a two-week volunteer trip to Thailand.  But everyone is invited to volunteer: TAT is partnering with other organizations, including UniversalGiving, to share volunteer opportunities.

Sound appealing?  Looking for adventure?  Here are some top opportunities to volunteer in Thailand with UniversalGiving’s vetted NGO partners:

And if you can’t resist the lure of winning a free volunteer trip from TAT, here’s an excerpt from their recent press release, describing The Little Big Project:

The mission of The Little Big Project is to help others, but it is also a competition: one overseas visitor and one Thai will team up for 2 weeks to work on anything from helping Save the Elephants at a nature park in Chiang Mai, to a community development project for Hill Tribe Children, to Marine Conservation in Koh Talu.

And, they’ll have the chance to share their philanthropy efforts with a world‐wide audience by making blog posts, uploading photos and videos, and telling their story through social media.

Prizes will be awarded, too!

  • The team with the most votes for their blog will win $5,000 USD for donation to their project for continued funding, plus a hotel voucher valued at $500 USD for their personal enjoyment.
  • The visiting competitor whose video receives the most views will win an Apple gift card worth $1,000.

TAT believes The Little Big Project will give people looking to do something different on vacation an opportunity to have a life‐changing adventure, and anyone interested should visit http://www.thelittlebigprojectthailand.com for details on how to enter.

TAT Banner

The Stories That Change Our Lives – Inspiration from Tamora Pierce

“Girls are 50% of the population. We deserve to represent 50% of the heroes.”

- Tamora Pierce

Sometimes the people who inspire us never existed.  And sometimes it’s the people who created those fictional characters who furnish the inspiration.

Tamora Pierce is an author of young adult fantasy novels, and at the risk of sounding like I’m exaggerating, I can tell you that she changed my life.  Tamora Pierce writes books about strong women, or “sheroes.”

When Pierce was starting out in writing, there was (and to some extent, still is) a belief that books about boys were more marketable.  The theory goes that young adult girls will read stories about male heroes, but young adult boys won’t read about female leads—write about a boy and you have twice the market, meaning there weren’t as many stories about heroic girls, and not as many role-models for girls to read about.

Song of the Lioness Quartet

But almost thirty years ago, Pierce wrote Song of the Lioness.  It’s a fantasy quartet about Alanna, a girl who desperately wants to become a knight, even though it’s a profession not open to women.  So Alanna disguises herself as a boy, and sets about to do it anyway.  She’s brave and strong, knows who she is and what she wants, keeps up with the boys and earns their respect.  It’s a wonderful story.  I read the books at a young age, and they made a huge impression on me.  Since then, I’ve read many other books about strong girls, and Pierce certainly isn’t the only author writing those characters.  But she was at the beginning of a changing trend, and she was one of the first to make a big impact with me.

I’m a firm believer that a girl can do anything a boy can do, that women should have the same rights as men, and that we all ought to be equal, whether in pay rates or in who cleans the house.  I’m sure a lot of that belief comes from my parents, especially my mom, but I think reading about Alanna at a young age helped.

I also know I’m not unique in this—off the top of my head I can think of three friends who were deeply influenced by Tamora Pierce’s writing.  Two of them I became friends with because we bonded over our shared love for her books (another way she changed my life!)

When I was a kid, I wanted to be Alanna when I grew up.  Now, I think I want to “grow up” to be Tamora Pierce, at least as a writer.

The world needs stories like Alanna’s, and Pierce’s other books.  We need stories that tell girls they’re as good as boys, that they can be strong and make a difference, that they don’t have to stay with their pushy boyfriend, that they can be themselves, whoever that is, and that they can achieve their dreams and do great things.  Boys need to hear some of that too, and Tamora Pierce’s books provide excellent role models of both genders.

My Tamora Pierce Collection

To quote Pierce again: “It’s not just children who need heroes.”

We all need heroes who will inspire us to become heroes.  That may be the ultimate magic of Pierce’s books—she didn’t just tell me about a heroic girl.  She told me I could be one too.

We all can be—and we can help other girls achieve their goals too.  In one of her later adventures, Alanna joined a desert tribe, took two girls under her wing and helped them gain acceptance and respect—and learned from them too.  We can all help someone, a relative, a friend, or a stranger thousands of miles away.  Thanks to our increasingly global world, we can find opportunities to help all over the world.  We can send a girl to college, help a woman start a business, or volunteer with women in the developing world.

Or we can find a way to inspire someone else.  Has there been an Alanna or a Tamora Pierce in your life?  Have you gone on to help someone else?  I’d love to hear your story!

Cheryl Mahoney is a writer for Tales of the Marvelous, sharing book reviews and reflections on writing.  She has reviewed more than fifteen books by Tamora Pierce, and many others about strong and inspiring girls. She is the Senior Marketing Associate at UniversalGiving and a managing writer for PhilanthroPost.

UniversalGiving Partners with SOCAP

UniversalGiving is thrilled to be working with SOCAP!  They’re preparing for their conference this May in Sweden, and we’re happy to help spread the word.  Here’s information on this exciting event:

On May 8-10th, 2012 join the world’s leading social impact innovators for SOCAP: Designing the Future in Malmö, Sweden (a short 20 minute train ride from the Copenhagen airport). Designing the Future gathers the world’s pioneering impact investors, social entrepreneurs, philanthropists, government and civic leaders, and innovators to design a world that’s better for all.

What makes SOCAP different? SOCAP brings together more world-changing individuals than any other conference. SOCAP’s collaborative format includes keynotes, in-depth conversations, problem-solving sessions and explorations of new models mixed with practical lessons from the field on what’s working and what’s not.

Space is limited – Register Today!
>>> Register here

Participate in Our Writing Contest

By Cheryl Mahoney

We are excited to announce a writing contest: “Haiti’s Earthquake: Two Years After” in collaboration with Helium and GlobalPost.

In the spirit of citizen journalism, we’re asking you to dig in and learn what you can, then bring your knowledge back by writing articles on the topics we’ll provide–these will become available as soon as the contest launches.

The contest will begin at 12:01 am GMT on February 17th.  Submissions will be accepted for 10 days, until 11:59 pm GMT on February 26th. The contest will include five topics; these will be displayed on the contest page when the contest begins. After the 26th, they will be closed for submission for a one-week rating period. Winners of the Helium contest will be displayed on the leaderboard on March 5th, and winners of the best articles for each partnering organization will be announced on the contest page.

This unique collaboration offers numerous opportunities for you to win!  You could have your writing featured on UniversalGiving’s blog.  You could be published on GlobalPost’s Fault Line Special Reports page, with a payment of $250.  You could win a cash prize from Helium of up to $100.

Learn more details on Helium’s website.  Remember, the contest opens on February 17th, so come back to learn the article topics and start writing!

How You Can Support the People Who Make Your Gifts

By Cheryl Mahoney

Today, we’re excited to tell you about a UniversalGiving partner who’s doing great work for the world!  The Hoop Fund is located down the hall from us at the Hub SoMa, and they also share our international focus.

The Hoop’s mission is to create a more  connected marketplace, building links between consumers and the people who created the products they buy.  The Hoop partners with entrepreneurs, artisans, and farmers, and invites the people who buy their products to help fund their work.  The Hoop gives you two choices: you can directly fund a microloan to a project of your choice, or you can buy a bundle that combines a great product for you, and a microloan for the person who made it.

If you make a microloan, you get your money back when the loan is complete.  They have a 100% repayment rate so far, and loan recipients are charged zero interest!

The Hoop has recently launched gifting features for the holidays.  Every gift purchase also funds a microloan–or you can give a microloan on behalf of a loved one.  So you can buy a sweater that also supports women weavers, or give someone a beautiful necklace, and help build a daycare center.

This is a great opportunity to think about where the things you buy are coming from.  Contrary to the popular images, most gifts aren’t made by elves up at the North Pole.  :)  With the Hoop, you’ll know who made the gifts you’re wrapping up, and you’ll know that your gift also supported a great cause.  It’s an inspiring option for the holidays!

A Lesson on Water from The Jungle Book – Blog Action Day 2010

By Cheryl Mahoney

This year’s topic for Change.org’s Blog Action Day is water.  How often do we think about water?  And yet, how often does it touch our lives?  Maybe we don’t think about it because it’s so ubiquitous.  And because, for most of us who are likely to be online reading this, it seems so easily accessible.

But that isn’t true for a lot of the world.

I had a brief experience of my own recently that brought home how dependent we are on those ready-to-hand faucets.  The water in my apartment building had to be shut off unexpectedly for an hour or two one evening.  And I found myself confronted by all the things I needed water for.

It was time to cook dinner–but I didn’t have any water.  Pasta was out.  So was rice.  Vegetables–oh wait, can’t rinse them.  Can’t clean a pot if I do find something to cook, or rinse off my plate after I eat.  I could put the plate in the dishwasher, but I can’t run it.

It was a hot night–but a shower was out.  So was using the bathroom for any other purpose!

I couldn’t pour a glass of water to drink.  And if this had gone on long enough, I would have eventually encountered other problems–I couldn’t water my plant, couldn’t clean a counter, couldn’t do laundry or wash my hands.

Of course, I managed.  I have a freezer, so I could heat up frozen food that didn’t need any water.  I have a fridge, so I could drink a glass of juice.  And I have air conditioning, so my apartment was cool.  And because the water came on again after only an hour or two, no problem became all that big.

But a lot of the world doesn’t have those solutions.  And they don’t have easily accessible, clean water.

One billion people lack access to clean water.

From what I’ve read, the problem isn’t exactly that people don’t have water.  Everyone seems to find SOME way to get water.  But the problem is the diseases that result from lack of clean water, and the difficulties and hardships that have to be endured to fetch water.

Not to ruin any childhood memories, but do you remember that scene near the end of the Jungle Book cartoon?  (Disclaimer: I’m a big Disney fan, so don’t take this observation to be a sign of hostility against the Mouse!)  Mowgli sees the native girl for the first time, and what is she doing?  She’s fetching water.  And she’s singing about how she “must go to fetch the water, until the day that I am grown.”  A few lines later, she sings that someday she’ll have a daughter “and I’ll send her to fetch the water.”

That’s it in a nutshell, glossed over by Disney positivity.  To put a real world perspective on it…because the native girl is fetching water, she’s not going to school.  She’s not working, either in her home or in some position to earn money.  She’s spending her time fetching water.  She’s going out into the jungle, probably carrying a container that is too heavy to be healthy, and if Mowgli is the most dangerous thing she encounters, she’ll be doing better than many girls.  If nothing changes, her daughter will go on to repeat the cycle.

Here are some ways to take action, and share clean water with people who need it–so maybe Mowgli’s daughter can spend her time doing something better than fetching water.

Give $120 to give a family a water handpump

Give $25 to give one person clean water

Support community water committees in Central America

Give $140 to provide 300 families in Pakistan with water

Give $20 to give a classroom water

The Nonverbal Advantage: A Conversation with Carol Kinsey Goman

By Cheryl Mahoney

Did you know that people make initial judgments about each other in 7 seconds–or less?  Or that you can improve your mood by changing your posture?  Or that on some basic level, we all show emotion the same way?

These are just a few insights I gained from a conversation with Carol Kinsey Goman, the author of The Nonverbal Advantage.  Her book is all about body language, especially in a business setting.  I was curious about how body language relates to some of the topics we often discuss here and at UniversalGiving–like leadership, relationships across cultures, and happiness.  Carol kindly agreed to an interview, and I’m happy to share some of her wisdom with you!

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CM: I’ve read that people judge each other based on body language in only seven seconds.  Do you have any advice on how to make a positive impression in such a short time?

CKG: Seven seconds is probably the longest length of time estimated.  We can do it in a fraction of a second.  The first thing people pick up on is your attitude.  Project the attitude you want to—curious, friendly, happy, receptive, approachable…

Another thing is simply smiling.  We forget how powerful a smile is.  When you smile at someone, and it’s a genuine smile…it’s as if you’ve given them some kind of reward.  Make eye contact; that transmits energy, interest, openness.  Look in their eyes long enough to know what color they are.  It gives that extra connection. 

You can also lean in slightly, lean forward.  We lean towards things and people we like and are engaged in.  Just slightly!  Put out your hand to shake hands. Initiate it, it’s the quickest way to initiate rapport.  Even a touch that’s less than 1/40th of a second creates a human bond. 

CM: If body language actually changes our mood, any suggestions on how we can turn that to our advantage?

CKG: What does the body language look like of someone in your family who’s come back from a lousy day?  We know that your mood can affect your body, but interestingly enough, the way you carry yourself, even your facial expressions, send messages back to your brain.  You change your brain chemistry just by putting your face in that expression.

To use this for good, if you’ve had that bad day, understand that if you will take your shoulders out of the place they want to go, hold your shoulders back, hold your head high, change your body and that will change your brain.

Charles Garfield discovered that with weightlifters, if they would smile as they lifted, they could lift a heavier weight.  The brain is learning through the smile, this isn’t so bad, I can do it.

CM: Your new book is about body language and leadership.  Can you tell us a bit about body language and how it relates to leading?  What should leaders be aware of?

CKG: Most of the time, human behavior in the business world assumed that people were swayed by reason and logic.  What we’re finding now, from the human dynamics group at MIT and other research centers, is that people are more likely to be convinced not by what you say, but by the kinds of signals most leaders don’t pay attention to.  For example, the tone of your voice and your body language.  When in conflict, most people will believe the nonverbals, not your words. 

CM: Do you find that women have different challenges than men in the body language signals they send?

CKG: Let’s look at female leaders vs. male leaders.  The biggest mistakes that women make nonverbally are particularly related to projecting power and authority.  It’s a question of looking for warmth and likability signals, compared to looking for power, status, leadership signals.  Everyone is individual and has their own baseline behavior, but in general, women do better on the likability and warmth signals, and less well on power signals.

Status and power are projected two ways, basically—one is height, one is space.  Men have the advantage just walking in—they’re taller and broader.  But they also expand into that space.  Women tend to condense.  For instance, when men stand, they will have their feet wider.  Women will put their feet together—we’ve now contracted, condensed.  I would advise a woman to widen her stance slightly.  It will make her feel more powerful. 

When women pacify in girlish ways, play with their hair, bite a finger…it looks flirtatious and childish, and robs them of credibility.  Excessive head nodding can look like a bobble-head doll.  Women do a head tilt, which can be a very positive sign of listening, but also can give a submission signal.

There is no good or bad body language.  What is it that you want to get over?  What is your message?  It’s not bad body language to tilt your head, it simply sends a signal that you need to be aware of.

CM: Much of our focus at UniversalGiving is on building international connections and relationships.  Is body language the same across cultures?  Are there cultural differences to be aware of as we encounter people from another country?

CKG: If you take a look at the brain…the limbic system is the part that first gets information, before the conscious part gets any of it.  You have already decided if this is a friend or a foe.  That kicks in to the conscious mind.  Under stress, everyone’s heart will race, they’ll fight or flee…  If it’s a limbic-driven reaction, the body language will be the same.

What isn’t true are those culturally determined differences.  There are high context or low context cultures.  High context cultures look for meaning much more in body language, in how close someone is, in the use of pauses—examples are Japanese, Chinese, Arab, Greek, Spanish, Italian.  What occurred in the past, the relationship of people, the context has more meaning.

Low context cultures are more like us in the United States, or Scandinavians and Germans.  We’re more focused on the word; it’s the contract.  That, of course, isn’t at all what the relationship-building cultures are looking for.  We’re looking to close the deal and they’re looking to build the relationship.

There are differences in how close we stand to each other.  Women would stand a little bit closer than two men who were talking.  But because we’re American, we’d stand a little farther apart than if we were French or Spanish.  We think they’re in our face, they think we’re stand-offish.  We’re a very touch-phobic society.  In Venezuela, they hug, they touch all the time.  Many cultures are even more touch-averse than we are, like the Japanese.

Emblematic gestures are culturally determined—the culture has agreed upon their meaning.  The OK sign means great over here, in France it means worthless, in many cultures it’s an obscene gesture!

The place we’re the same is universal emotional expressions.  This was long ago thought to be true—Darwin said so, sociologists said so.  Paul Ekman did a study on this.  There are seven universal expressions: joy, surprise, sadness, anger, fear, disgust and contempt.

Anywhere you are, joy looks the same.  If you think of the Olympics, when people win the Olympics, it doesn’t matter where they’re from—it looks the same.

Learn more about Carol Kinsey Goman and The Nonverbal Advantage on her website.  Carol, thank you for the interview!