The White Helmets

Katie Nelson

Since 2011, Syria has been paralyzed by a gruesome civil war between the Assad regime, the Kurds, and rebel groups. The conflict has displaced more than 11 million (both internally and externally) as refugees, and killed nearly 500,000. In 2017 alone, the United Nations requested $8 billion in aid to put towards “the worst humanitarian crisis of our time.” As the fighting intensifies, it is Syrians themselves who feel its weight on their shoulders.

The Syrian Civil Defense (SCD) is at the forefront of the conflict. What started in 2012 as a makeshift series of rescue teams evolved into a more cohesive volunteer-based unit, now colloquially known as the “White Helmets.” The White Helmets come from all walks of life, from students and artisans, to doctors, engineers, and teachers. Their mission is simple: “To save the greatest number of lives in the shortest possible time and to minimize further injury to people and damage to property.” The group primarily deals with the aftermath of governmental airstrikes, but at its core, the SCD is wholly dedicated to providing nonpartisan aid to nearly seven million Syrians. In addition to operating as a first-response unit, the White Helmets’ work spans across a multitude of sectors in the public sphere including distributing information, rewiring electrical cables, and checking the safety of affected buildings. The volunteers’ pledges to the pillars of “Humanity, Solidarity, [and] Impartiality” aligns them with the courageous values of the group, with one another, and adheres them to the betterment of Syria herself in her darkest hour.

In 2016, the White Helmets were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and won the year’s Right Livelihood Award for their service to the international community. That same year, Netflix released its documentary “The White Helmets” featuring the group, produced by the Oscar-nominated team behind “Virunga.” While key players in the battle have continuously flirted with peace negotiations, fighting in its current state seems to be at best an inconsistent ceasefire. Yet organizations like the White Helmets keep hope alive for millions and epitomizes altruistic volunteering.

To learn more about the White Helmets, please check out these links:

https://www.whitehelmets.org/en 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W1NguKirQDg

 

 

Sources
1. Durando, Jessica. “Syria’s civil war: Disturbing facts show cost of conflict.” USA Today. Gannett Satellite Information Network, 14 Mar. 2017. Web. 06 July 2017.
2. “Syria: The worst humanitarian crisis of our time.” Amnesty International NZ. Amnesty International, 7 Apr. 2015. Web. 06 July 2017.
3. “Volunteers to Save Lives.” Volunteers to Save Lives | SCD. Web. 20 June 2017.
4. Campaign, The Syria. “Meet the heroes saving Syria.” Support the White Helmets. Web. 17 June 2017.
5. “Syria’s White Helmets win ‘alternative Nobel Prize’.” BBC News. BBC, 22 Sept. 2016. Web. 23 June 2017.

NGO Spotlight: BiblioWorks

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BiblioWorks: strengthening communities through literacy and education

BiblioWorks is a nonprofit that promotes literacy and education in Bolivia. Their mission is to provide communities in need with tools and resources to develop sustainable literacy and educational programs through schools, libraries, and cultural institutions.

BiblioWorks was created in 2005 by a former American Peace Corps volunteer in Bolivia, Megan Sherar, and her brother. They fell in love with the country and decided to address the inadequate infrastructure interfering with Bolivia’s access to some of the most critical things on earth: literacy and education. Literacy and education are the first steps towards progress for every community in every country around the world.

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Today, this non-profit organization is managed in Bolivia by a team of dedicated Bolivians who understand the needs of both the organization and each individual library. The local team also helps BiblioWorks stay connected with the various communities to make the libraries lively and useful; they work closely with the local authorities to focus on the needs that people express in every community in which they intervene. After more than ten years of dedication, BiblioWorks is proud to run a network of fourteen libraries in the city of Sucre and in the surrounding countryside.

BiblioWorks is convinced that literacy and education are best spread by a fruitful exchange among cultures, identities, and origins; and therefore welcome volunteers from all across the world to work with them in their varying libraries. It is a great way for people to share their differences and learn from one another. When a volunteer comes from another country, their stay in Bolivia is an opportunity to know more about a new culture and learn Spanish as well. It is also an amazing chance for the children to be confronted with diversity.

Volunteers play a great role and make a direct and personal impact on the libraries theyimage.do
work with. For example, if a volunteer has some dance skills, they can set up a dance workshop. Additionally, as most of the volunteers are fluent in English they can provide the kids with basic English lessons. Often, what is considered simple or usual for a volunteer can have a great value for a child and can genuinely impact their lives. When volunteers come from abroad to BiblioWorks’ libraries, everyone benefits from the experience.

The BiblioWorks libraries would not exist without the plurality of actors that participate in the life of their organization; from the board in the United States to the team in Bolivia, from the volunteers coming from across the globe to the kids attending the libraries.

If you are interested in donating to BiblioWorks or participating in a volunteer trip to Bolivia, search for them on UniversalGiving.

Five things that make for satisfying work

Here is a guest blog post by Mallen Baker about the things people need in a job in order to feel satisfied with their work. 

Many years ago, I made the acquaintance of Pete Brown who, I discovered after some time, was the author of a book called ‘Smallcreep’s Day’ published over 50 years ago in 1965.

It was the story of a man who works in a factory. And every day of his long existence he has been stuck in one place making one particular component for some unknown machinery.

One day he decides he wants to actually know what is the final product he’s to which he’s been contributing all these years. So he sets out on a journey into the depths of the factory to find out – a journey which becomes surreal and awful in equal measure.

It must have been one of the earliest reflections in popular culture of something that has become a widely understood truth. We seek meaning in what we do, and achieve much greater satisfaction if we find it.

For me at the time – well before I’d discovered the world of work for myself – it was an early influence that whatever I did needed to have a wider purpose. And that was long before it had become a buzzword in management circles, or even counted as a relevant factor at all.

But we’re now in a significantly changed world – and many people that are coming into the workforce say that they want satisfying, meaningful, work. It’s rather what the millennial generation – rightly or wrongly – has become famous for.

But largely they remain as unfulfilled as Smallcreep himself. The most recent Gallup global survey found that only 13% of workers worldwide are engaged in their work, committed to their jobs and making a positive contribution.

The best bosses give people the autonomy to fix the problems when they see them
So what have we learned in the intervening decades about what makes for meaningful, engaging work? How hard would it be to make it the norm, rather than the exception?

Here are a few things. You can probably think of others.

1. Sufficient challenge and complexity. Many of the jobs such as those carried out by the Smallcreep character that involved the pulling of a lever, over and over again – those jobs have been automated. But mindless work still exists. It may be more efficient to have different workers doing one action over and over, but you get more satisfied and motivated workers if they do a more complex range of actions to create something significant.

It was the movement for quality that created so many awful dreary jobs. Because it was intuitively easier to reduce defects if you got people to do one thing, before passing it on to the next person.

The other way to reduce defects – to make people into skilled craftsmen who take a pride in their work – that was considered to be less efficient. Increasingly, we’re seeing that assumption to have been a mistake on anything but the purely mechanistic level.

2. Growing skill and capacity over time. We always want to feel like we’re making progress. If we have a craft and we know that we’re getting better and better over time, then it gives a sense of momentum and mastery.

Interestingly, there may be some evidence that we’re kidding ourselves. Psychologist and author K. Anders Ericsson suggests that once people in most professions reach “acceptable performance and automaticity” they don’t improve further regardless of how many years they practice. Indeed, it can actually go the other way.

The key to getting better is to engage in proper ‘deliberate practice’ – pushing yourself to do things that are currently outside your comfort zone. Employers – for all that they will push you to do things faster – generally don’t give you work specifically to challenge and develop you. But if they did, the evidence suggests they would see real benefits.

3. The power to make decisions. If you know the mission and the intended end goal, then you’re empowered to make decisions along the way to help achieve that goal. If your job is the equivalent of ‘pull that lever’ then even if it turns out to be the wrong thing to do, you’ll keep doing it because you have no permission to take the initiative.

Good bosses have often found value in “going to the shop floor” to talk to people about how things really are. Because those are the people that see the things that go to waste, the things that aren’t working, the stages where mistakes are made.

The best bosses give people the autonomy to fix the problems when they see them. And to want to do so because they feel like they own the process and the outcome.

4. Recognition and reward. It is most satisfying when you see a direct link between the amount of effort you put in, and the amount of recognition and reward that comes your way as a result. It’s a delicate thing. Praise when you know it’s not been earned can be as demotivating as the absence of recognition when you’ve made a real difference.

And the ultimate killer is when you have ‘free riders’ – people that add to your burden because they don’t pull their weight and yet they share in the credit regardless.

5. Being part of a wider social purpose. Just about any product or service, if it helps real people to solve real problems, can be described in terms of the positive difference it makes to the world. And nothing is more motivating than if the achievement of that social purpose is an explicit part of the process.
On that last one, ‘maverick’ boss Ricardo Semler was once asked how you could identify such purpose for some of the humblest of service workers – such as school dinner ladies.

But you don’t get more important than that, he protested. These people have in their hands the health and wellbeing of some of the great people of tomorrow. And, he might have added, good nutrition has been shown to assist in how well young people are educated.

Smallcreep would surely have settled for that.

Check out the original blog post on Mallan Baker’s respectful business blog.

Seven Ways to Introduce Innovation Into Your Company

This is a guest post by Steven L. Blue about how to effectively make employees comfortable with innovation. 

The reason innovations fail is not because of technology. It’s never about the technology. Innovations fail because of people. The people who might employ a new technology may not be sold on it. Or they might be afraid of it. Or they might feel threatened by. Welcome to the dark side of innovation.

However, the biggest threat to a new innovation your company is trying to develop will be your own people. This threat comes in one of several forms, and sometimes in all of them. First, your people may want to cling to the old tried and true. As false as it is, tried and true gives people comfort. Or they may not want to cannibalize an existing product with a newer technology. Often your people will feel threatened by a new innovation because they think it will outdate their skills and therefore their jobs.

When you are introducing innovation into your company, you have to neutralize these threats. Here is seven ways to introduce innovation into your company:

1. Make innovation a top priority. Don’t let it be an activity that people should pay attention to “after they get the real work done.” Innovation is the real work.

2. Put your money where your mouth is. Promote people who champion your innovation efforts. Incentive people who support the effort. Make innovation a key component of performance evaluations. If people aren’t supporting the effort, make that a reason for possible termination. Create the time and physical space for people to gather and brainstorm ideas. Set key goals for the number of ideas to be generated. Support the best ideas with funding.

3. Be prepared to coach people who are against the effort. Be ready to make organization changes. That means moving people out of the organization or down in the organization if you feel they threaten the effort. Watch out especially for the “not invented here” syndrome.

4. Remember the 3 C’s of effective communications: Clear, compelling, and convincing. Be very clear in communicating your expectations. Paint a compelling picture of what happens to the company if you don’t innovate (read: bad things), and all the good things that will happen when the innovation efforts are successful. And be convincing as to why innovation is so important. You don’t have to look very far to find examples of companies that failed to innovate to use as examples. Just look at the case of Kodak. They knew long before it happened that digital was on the way in and print was on the way out. Kodak didn’t fail because they didn’t know how to innovate to meet that threat. They failed because they didn’t want to. And you can use a great example of an old line company that innovated its way out of death’s door. Encyclopedia Britannica also saw the digital revolution coming. But unlike Kodak they chose to innovate by going entirely digital. Now Britannica’s digital sales are better than their print sales ever were. And where are their print sales? Gone. And so would the company if it hadn’t innovated. You have to paint both sides of the “why are we doing this?” picture. I like to use what I call the El Dorado/El Chapo model. If we innovate we are on the road to El Dorado, if we don’t, we are on the road to El Chapo.

5. Hire or contract the resources needed to innovate. Remember, your own people won’t know what they don’t know. Fresh, new ideas from outside the organization will be needed.

6. Make the commitment to your people that they will be trained in the new innovations the organization chooses to adopt. Don’t let them think your plan is “in with the new and out with the old”; otherwise they are sure to be against it.

7. Regularly review progress in the innovations efforts. This needs to be done by the CEO so the organization knows this is a serious effort. Stay very close to the effort so you will know when it starts to break down. And when it does (not if, because it will from time to time), take action fast.

Always remember innovation never fails because of technology. It fails because of people. People who aren’t convinced it is necessary. People who are threatened by it. People who long for yesterday instead of tomorrow. Follow these seven steps and ensure your company’s innovations don’t fall flat.

Check out the original blog post on CSRwire!

NGO Spotlight: Avivara – Improving Education in Guatemala

Guatemala is one of the poorest countries in Latin America, ranking below its’ neighbors in terms of poverty levels, environmental degradation, economic opportunities and literacy rates.  

Guatemala suffers from ongoing discrimination against an indigenous Mayan population, lacks proper health care, nutrition, economic opportunity and overall, has little educational progress.  

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This is the unsettling reality of Guatemala’s 36 year long civil war, where over 200,000 people were murdered and nearly 1.5 million were displaced from their homes from 1960 and 1996 by an internal economic elite. 

While the civil war might be over, collateral damage from three decades of exploitation and oppression is continuing today, with over 60% of the population suffering from poverty and illiteracy.  As a result, Guatemala is faced with a vicious cycle that oppresses the poor, preventing them from better opportunities to escape these hardships.

Education in Guatemala-Avivara

However, the non-profit, Avivara, works to empower children through education and as means of escaping poverty.  Public education in Guatemala is free, but it is not mandatory, and incurs high costs of fees, books and uniforms.  These setbacks make widespread education a challenge, but Avivara works to foster a culture of goodwill and collaboration to rise above the systemic poverty and violence.  

The nonprofit mitigates expenses by providing accessible and affordable education, working closely with the local community, and collaborating with teachers, students and communities to ensure they are providing authentic support.

Avivara targets students from poor, rural families who wish to continue their education beyond 6th grade to junior high and beyond, developing and administering programs and providing funding to improve the quality of education. In addition, Avivara opens access to education by offering after school support for students whose parents are often uneducated and unable to support them.

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Avivara works to improve the quality and access of education in Guatemala, but their service doesn’t end here.

They foster a sense of global interconnectedness, partnering between students in the United States and in Guatemala through their School-to-School Partnership Program.  This program facilitates relationships between students in both countries by providing a channel to communicate with and learn from each other; gaining empathy and a global perspective.

Avivara is making an authentic impact, committing to their values of interconnectedness and empowerment by serving those in need, and connecting them to those with more privilege.
To learn more about Avivara, check out their page on the UniversalGiving Website.

Thinking About Volunteering Abroad? Here is Everything You Need to Know

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We had the chance to sit down with Mark Horoszowski, CEO and co-founders of MovingWorlds, to learn more about the “Experteering” movement, and share some best practice for anybody interested in volunteering overseas.

Mark Horoszowski

First… Why do people volunteer their skills abroad?

We see people go for any number of reasons. Graduate students looking for practical experience, young professionals looking to gain international exposure, career switchers looking for something new, and early retirees looking to give back are a few of the ones we hear the most common, but we’ve also seen people go Experteering in their country of origin to reconnect with their culture, and travelers do it as a way to gain a more immersive experience.

The common thing here is that there is shared value – people recognize that they can help, but that they can also benefit in the process. This is one of the reasons we encourage people to be a little selfish in their service.

 

What are the most common types of skills-based volunteer projects overseas that you call “Experteering”?

We typically see people enter one of the following project categories:

 

Training: Leading one-on-one and one-to-many sessions with an organization or group organizations to help teach a specific skill or tool. These are typically 1 – 4 weeks long.

 

Doing: Supporting an organization with a specific task that has a clear deliverable, like designing a new website, developing a marketing plan, creating an engineering schematic, or another skills-based project. These are typically 2 – 8 weeks.

 

Consulting: Immersing yourself in a specific opportunity or challenge area to propose a clear plan of action to the organization to help them grow, giving yourself enough time to learn community and cultural contexts. Typical length of 3 – 12 weeks.

 

Team member: Become a core team member for a specific length of time for a specific business area, like marketing, operations, engineering, etc. Typical length of 12 + weeks.

 

What kind of people can go Experteering?

Anybody, as long as they have demonstrable experience in a specific area. We’ve had videographers still in college go work on projects, and we’ve also helped place retired accountants.

 

What are 5 of the most popular do’s and dont’s of international volunteering?

  1. Do spend adequate time planning. We have an online training to help people prepare mentally for this type of trip.
  2. Do build a partnership with your hosting organization and team
  3. Do spend a lot of time trying to understand the cultural context of the country AND organization you’re going to support
  4. Do think about the LONG TERM impact. At MovingWorlds, we say that success happens one year after you leave… focus on developing the skills and competencies of others.
  5. Do take time to reflect on your experience. In fact, we recommend people engage a mentor or coach as part of their experience and take time to set goals, document their trip, and reflect on it once they return home.

 

  1. Don’t go in there and think you have the answers. If you want to help someone, shut-up and listen.
  2. Don’t ignore the importance of cultural differences, and how they affect communication.
  3. Don’t start without a plan. The number one reason trips don’t go well is because people don’t take adequate time to plan
  4. Don’t go before you know. If you haven’t talked to the people you’ll be volunteering abroad with, don’t buy a plane ticket
  5. Don’t rush it – this is an experience of a lifetime. Be picky about the organization you volunteer with and spend time planning to truly make sure it’s a transformative experience for all parties.

 

We have some other great tips in this article from Why Dev.

 

Why do many organizations charge you to volunteer overseas, and why is MovingWorlds different?

Many organizations charge you to volunteer because it’s how they make money. In other words, they’re not after your skills or know-how, they are after your dollars. In exchange, they can give you an interesting experience. But sometimes, this creates really bad incentives and major ethical dilemmas.

 

At MovingWorlds, we do things differently – our organizations never charge you to volunteer because they really need your skills. Often times, they even give you a free place to live while you’re overseas. One article about us said it best, “Voluntourism can’t solve real problems, that’s where Experteers come in”. Because of the care and attention we provide every match, we do charge a membership fee – fully guaranteed and refundable – so that we can support you in finding a project that matches your real skills. Beyond helping you find a project, we walk you through a complete process to help you make a real impact and provide plenty of resources to equip you for a life-enriching trip.

 

You spent a year traveling and volunteering around the world before MovingWorlds was even an idea… what’s one piece of more personal advice you would give to anybody volunteering overseas?

 

Be humble. Even if you’re going to volunteer your skills and think you’re an expert, be ridiculously humble. The cultural differences you’ll be working in are so vast that you’ll find it challenging to actually be impactful if you don’t embrace that. And not only that, but there is so much to learn from people you go Experteering with… provided you have an open mind.

Faith is a Living, Daring Confidence

“Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that a man could stake his life on it a thousand times” – Martin Luther 

Faith is a living, daring confidence.  Wow! What language from Martin Luther. And his life certainly had to thrive off of daring. It’s not often we think of someone having to take a stand, and in this case, he took a stand to create a new branch of Christianity, Lutheranism.

When the Roman Catholic church solicited more funds for building St. Peter’s Basilica, Luther wrote 95 Theses to protest and foment discussion. He felt it was using money to excess, and disagreed that the pope was the only liaison to God.  And due to the recent printing press, it spread all over Europe in two months, a communications miracle!

He meant it for discussion, but was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic church, and ostracized by thousands. But he kept going.

Still, Martin Luther’s life had challenges. He felt distanced from God, separated from inspiration and connection to life. He was always searching for the Truth, and it was a struggle.  He became a monk, a theologist, leader of a church, and always, a sincere seeker of Truth.

So what is the point for us? Well, it’s not really about being Roman Catholic or Protestant!  But it is about claiming rights for yourself and others where you can. And, using technology to spread the word!

What do you need to take a stand for today?   Join UniversalGiving and support one of our causes to make a difference today.  Click on I Want to Give my 100%! to see which special one we chose for you!

With Gratitude for the Truth,

Pamela

Martin Luther Biographymartin-luther-1076781_1280

Born in Germany in 1483, Martin Luther became one of the most influential figures in Christian history when he began the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. He called into question some of the basic tenets of Roman Catholicism, and his followers soon split from the Roman Catholic Church to begin the Protestant tradition.
Martin Luther was born on November 10, 1483, in Eisleben, Saxony, in modern southeast Germany.  In 1501, Martin Luther entered the University of Erfurt, where he received a Master of Arts degree (in grammar, logic, rhetoric and metaphysics). However, in July 1505, Luther had a life-changing experience that set him on a new course. Caught in a horrific thunderstorm where he feared for his life, Luther cried out to St. Anne, the patron saint of miners, “Save me, St. Anne, and I’ll become a monk!” The storm subsided and he was saved.
The first few years of monastery life were difficult for Martin Luther, as he did not find the religious enlightenment he was seeking. Upon his return to Germany, he enrolled in the University of Wittenberg in an attempt to suppress his spiritual turmoil. He excelled in his studies and received a doctorate, becoming a professor of theology at the university.Through his studies of scripture, Martin Luther finally gained religious enlightenment.
In 1517, Pope Leo X announced a new round of indulgences to help build St. Peter’s Basilica. On October 31, 1517, an angry Martin Luther nailed a sheet of paper with 95 theses on the university’s chapel door. Though he intended these to be discussion points, the Ninety-Five Theses laid out a devastating critique of the indulgences as corrupting people’s faith. Luther also sent a copy to Archbishop Albert Albrecht of Mainz, calling on him to end the sale of indulgences. Aided by the printing press, copies of the Ninety-Five Theses spread throughout Germany within two weeks and throughout Europe within two months.
Luther publicly declared that the Bible did not give the pope the exclusive right to interpret scripture.   In January 1521, Martin Luther was officially excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church.Miraculously, he was able to avoid capture and began organizing a new church, Lutheranism. He gained many followers and got support from German princes. In 1525, he married Katharina von Bora, a former nun who had abandoned the convent and taken refuge in Wittenberg. Together, over the next several years, they had six children.
Martin Luther is one of the most influential and controversial figures in the Reformation movement. His actions fractured the Roman Catholic Church into new sects of Christianity and set in motion reform within the Church. A prominent theologian, his desire for people to feel closer to God led him to translate the Bible into the language of the people, radically changing the relationship between church leaders and their followers.