Graduation Yet??!!

I was surprised when my colleague and housemate, Paul, informed me that we were graduating. Yes, graduating. I thought it was just the beginning. Three months have already gone so fast. So fast that I didn’t even feel the dates and the hours. I remember it was just yesterday when we all arrived cheerfully in DC. We were all new faces from four different continents. Oh yes, five. Sometimes I forget that India is not less than a continent. We all looked new, optimistic and young.  We were all young leaders from different fields of expertise, brought together by the passion and thirst to make a change and make the world a better place.

I still remember the first days when I first landed at Dulles International Airport. I was scared about the horrifying DC weather which I saw on the TV. Walking down the stairs of an Ethiopian airliner, I smiled behind the vast glass that covered the reception halls. I offered the customs officer a big smile while I was handing him my passport. I was happy because it was sunny outside. I thought the “American” sun works like the African one. Walking out of the arrival lounge, I was received by a cold breeze. Different smell and people walking steadily as if there was nothing wrong. I was literally horrified for the first time in my life. I whispered jokingly to Paul that I preferred the bullets in South Sudan than dying from cold in America.

But now, it is three months. I became a DC expert. I walk like others steadily as if there is nothing wrong. Yes, there is nothing wrong. There will be “something wrong” only when I board my flight back to Juba in three months. Thanks to Dr. Weaver that he scared us enough about the reverse cultural shock. I promise I am prepared for his “fight and flight” theory.

But after all, I can’t imagine myself graduating. Graduating means leaving behind all the nice and great people we have met here in DC. The great team and the smiling faces of Atlas Corps staff. We became a family after months of push and pull. I still remember the BIG question marks in the faces of fellow fellows when each and everyone stood up to tell the five facts. Every fact was unique and different. They resembled the different perspectives of the people who live in this world. Yes, we all have different experiences and beliefs, but yes, we are all linked together by our quest for a better world. A world where humanity comes first, then color, language, belief and creed comes next. I enjoyed the different cultures, the dress, the looks, and after all the different accents.

Graduation! Finally, we are set to go back to our countries to make a difference. It is only halfway through the fellowship period, and the graduation sounded as if we were being chased away (joking). Yet, we are linked together through this strong network, Atlas Corps. It’s a world and we are the navigators. We are set to spread the message all over the world. I am proud to meet young leaders who I believe will be the leaders of tomorrow. Please keep doing the awesome work. Yes, we are Atlas Corps graduates yet.

Nairobi hosts Pan Africa ILGA Conference

flagOn the background of mounting anti-LGBT ideologies and legislature in Africa, over 150 LGBT activists from across Africa converged in Nairobi, Kenya for the Pan Africa ILGA conference. The meeting aimed at discussions on a common regional strategy to address equality and nondiscrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

As one of the two Global Engagement Fellows at the Human Rights Campaign, I hosted a workshop on the role of allies in advocacy on LGBT issues across Africa. I highlighted HRC Global Engagement Program’s collaboration with dedicated advocates in furthering LGBT human rights efforts.

A collective concern was evangelical activists, mainly from the U.S. who have injected themselves in African politics, speaking against LGBT rights and cheering on anti-LGBT legislation. Besides calling out Americans for exporting this hate, HRC has stood in solidarity with activists from countries such as Russia, Uganda and Nigeria, to speak out against state-sponsored homophobia and draconian anti-LGBT legislature.

As a result of new anti-LGBT laws enacted in Nigeria and Uganda, other African countries like Kenya, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo and Ethiopia have threatened to enact similar laws. The bushfire of anti-LGBT legislation that is spreading across Africa is fuelling violence, incited by some African leaders seeking political popularity. Activists therefore felt that now more than ever, it is important to consolidate the movement and further progress in self-organizing on a regional level.

In Kenya, my affiliate organization – Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya (GALCK) – and the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (NGLHRC) have been dealing with an influx of LGBT refugees fleeing Uganda, the Congo basin, Eritrea and Ethiopia.  Activists from Nigeria, Uganda, Senegal and Egypt described arbitrary arrests, public humiliation and violence against LGBT people in their countries.

Through collective action, visibility and dedication to achievement of equality, activists expressed optimism that the regional body will strengthen advocacy to end all forms of discrimination against LGBT Africans. PAI is the Africa regional body of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA).

Take 2 on the #selfie trend

Just when we thought the Internet was over Ellen’s “best selfie ever”, NASA introduces the #globalselfie (Will the madness ever end? Does it have to end?).

Just for the sake of it, here is my bit for #EarthDay #GlobalSelfie

In celebration of earth day (April 22) NASA prompted us all to take a selfie and post it to social media using the hashtag #GlobalSelfie. The bonus? NASA* will use the individual pictures tagged to create a mosaic image of Earth built bit by bit with selfies (talk about taking the trend to the next level!).  There were selfies of people in landmarks and beautiful sunrises, but there were also people in bathroom stalls and other less than flattering pictures.  So why do we do it?  Has the need to have a social media imprint won over the need for privacy?

Is there any real value in promoting campaigns for social development using hashtags and selfies? Or are we exploiting the human narcissistic impulse to have more edgerank?

 

Take 1: The narcissistic approach

I have a love-hate relationship with selfies. For one thing, they are NOT easy to take. Second, I still want to hold on to some privacy on social media, so I limit my exposure; other people choose not to, which is just as valid. Earlier this month the Internet was all a buzz with an article allegedly quoting the American Psychologist Association (APA) on “selfitis” as an obsessive-compulsive disorder. The article on APA’s classification of selfies was only a viral social media hoax (however, if you are taking more than a couple selfies a day, you need to start asking yourself why).

Social media is full of teen’s selfies doing duckface, but Obama, the Pope and even my Mom are into it (the selfie, not the duckface), so there has to be more behind the trend than a desire to earn likes, retweets or push PR stunts.

Take 2:  The altruistic approach (form and content)

An article in the New York Magazine depicted selfies as a new artistic genre, just like portraiture or still-life painting. As a means of explaining the format, I believe this to be very valuable analysis, but in terms of content, or rather the symbolism of the selfie I believe “selfies are a metaphor for humanization” (Evan Kraus).

People jump to the occasion when a campaign requests selfies to promote a cause. As a communicator in development I think this is fantastic and hope the individuals are rising to the occasion because they believe in the cause rather than jumping in because it is one more excuse to post their picture. Nevertheless, there is something to be said about selfies that promote and bring back global issues to the human conversation level – self portraits that stand for something larger than the individual: This affects #me – I stand with #you as an individual – I care/support/fight.  After all, we are talking about people, not platforms or bits.

- MVD

*The nice folks at NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) are requesting your photo and location, not to be confused with the NSA people! 

Evan Kraus. Future of Diplomacy event April 22, 2014 #digitaldiplomacy @ekraus

 

Doubt 1: Impact investing is a fancy fantasy.

This article exactly accords with the dominant feedback I got when I announced my transition from mainstream to where I am right now.

The article is legitimate in most aspects, especially from the wealth management perspective. Yes, enterprises sacrificing their profit to generate more social value may not best serve its shareholders’ interests. Yes, delivering sub-par returns to replace nothing is a powerful marketing premise to attract more philanthropic capital. Although a bit extreme, yes, one may do better by going long a “vice” fund and shorting the “socially conscious” funds and giving the proceeds to charity.

Nonetheless, I view impact investing as a matter of choice. It’s like one more vegan menu added to bring more customers to the restaurant. While some people may enjoy traditional juicy medium-rare steak, some people may opt for chewy seitan instead.

When I was trying to convince my family that I had to get an expensive cat breed 3 years ago, I started sobbing, “Do you know how sick and tired I get just staring at the stock prices and flipping through financials to make money? This cat will be the goose that lays the golden egg for me. At least this investment is warm-blooded and amiable, so it’s worth enough to care for constantly.” I’m not sure if it was the tear or my compelling story per se, but soon afterwards I did adopt a wonderful cat. She did become pregnant and did deliver a one-and-only son, though I never managed to get to the point of selling him.

Desperate for an alternative investment option, I have been seeking for an option that would make me feel better even if my principal is at stake. Actually, especially when the principal is not protected. Because when people lose from wagering on complex derivatives, feeling restless to identify what went wrong, people end up blaming this intangible “finance” industry as a whole. While finance, in fact is nothing more than a platform of trading capital, it is heavily scrutinized for its unintended consequences.

Finance and restaurants both have long way to go to meet all the demands of diverse needs. That being said, no need for carnivores to discourage the chef to invent new menu for herbivores. I’m an omnivore so I am not taking any sides here to promote vegetarianism. I’m simply saying that the chef needs to make a living too after all! 

Pathway to Accountability; Accountapreneurs

In a representative democracy, people are the source of power, which is manifested as they choose their delegates through elections.  More often than not, however, the officials who receive an electoral mandate from the people then use the power they have been invested with against the interest of the electorate. This rightly angers and frustrates the people, and in the next election they vote out the current party and vote in another party.  The entire cycle then repeats itself, and party after party is voted in then out of power.  As an example of this process, the recent Constituent Assembly election in Nepal resulted from the failure of the first assembly.

Nepal not only tolerates corruption but actively welcomes it. The very culture of the country is centered around a religion that encourages people to bribe gods. Bribery, nepotism, favoritism, and embezzlement are common everywhere. The country is highly politicized, its social fabric is loosening, and trust is constantly undermined.  The Nepali people have lost their trust in public institutions. Interaction between citizens and government is very limited.  Financial aid intended to serve the people becomes easy money for politicians and other power-holders to divert, and essentially steal, for their own use.  In addition, aid provides incentives for civil society organizations to expand their organizations but gives no incentives for them to expand their vision.  Organizations providing funding for aid fail to encourage creativity or the pursuit of sustainable solutions through innovation and risk-taking.

In Nepal, we are still learning about democracy and do not yet have enough practice in making it work—the practice that would help us regulate the behaviors and relationships of individuals participating in a democratic society.  Without accountability, Nepal’s new democracy fails to achieve any sense of equality or morality. A simplistic idea of accountability portrays it as merely the presence of transparency and anti-corruption measures, but transparency and anti-corruption measures are not enough: they neither strengthen the democratic foundations of a society, nor do they inspire people to act responsibly.

The most visible result of the absence of accountability is corruption, which especially undermines the development of countries in transition. Many anti-corruption initiatives, however, only deal with the symptoms of problems, such as child mortality, poverty, and disease.  The true causes of corruption have gone largely unnoticed because they are deeply rooted in the systems, behaviors, and cultures that encourage individuals to engage in corruption. The European Union spends close to 120 million Euros every year fighting corruption globally, and according to the World Bank, corruption is one of the largest industries, with a scale equal to 3 trillion US dollars every year. Nepal remains the most corrupt country, according to Transparency International:  with a score of 31, it was ranked 116th in 2013 out of 176 countries. This statistic shows that Nepal has achieved remarkable improvement as compared to its rank the previous year.  Nevertheless, the situation of its governance today is ridiculous. Measuring corruption is useful, but it is not enough to combat it.

A change of perspective:  A collective approach to the problems

The only way to succeed in the fight against corruption is to trust the power of grassroots democracy—which we are striving to do at the Accountability Lab. We incubate innovative ideas to create tools that, first, empower ordinary citizens, and second, then build trust and interaction between citizens and people with power. These tools eventually empower citizens to hold government responsible for its actions. It is a two-way process also involving the demand side—that is, the receivers of aid. We need to understand why schools are not built, why the ratio of child mortality is increasing, and so on. These problems are only symptoms, and the causes must be tackled through sustainable action.

In addition, Accountability Lab is pioneering a new paradigm for development: we use collective approaches to the problems within the system, rather than focusing corrupt individuals as problems. These approaches harness the power of creativity, sustainability, cost-effectiveness and integrity and thereby redefine the development paradigms of the past.

Radical transformation is necessary to bring changes in accountability.  Collective solutions are needed to solve collective problems through (what we call) Accountapreneurshipthe combination of accountability and entrepreneurship. Accountrepreneurship focuses on changing mindsets about development from the top down—to make them creative and demand driven. Accountapreneurs have powerful ideas to attack accountability problems and make sustainable change through a variety of high-, low- and no-technology solutions. Each project does not always succeed in this difficult task, but the Accountapreneurship model embraces failure has an opportunity for learning and corrective action. Accountapreneurs also see youth as critically important agents of change, as they are typically more creative, flexible, and technologically savvy—and less entrenched in corrupt practices.

Globally, we have recently launched Honesty Oscars 2014, a week-long campaign to honor groundbreaking people and creativity that makes our world more transparent and holds our governments and corporations more accountable.

In Nepal, we are using innovation to shift citizens away from traditional aid models centered on risk-averse projects, towards projects that create real, practical change. We’ve helped organizations like Galli Galli develop a popular citizen-navigation portal called Nalibeli on how to access public services, for example; and we’ve created a tool called Speak Up (www.bolaun.org) to help citizens connect with communities of practice.  We are also supporting a young filmmaker to train youth to create films that document accountability in their communities, and then use those films to generate discussions on possible solutions. We have developed a tool kit for journalists to use the Right to Information law more effectively.  Soon, we are going to launch “Integrity Idol,” a first-of-its-kind television and radio series that highlights and honors   Nepali civil service and judiciary bureaucrats from across the country who demonstrate honesty and accountability. The show aims to show that bureaucrats can, and are in fact intended, to do good— to act as the gatekeepers of governance in Nepal.

In order to set a firm foundation of accountability, it really must be a collective effort. Beyond Accountapreneurship, Accountability Lab seeks to set an example to other NGOs of radical transparent in its own operations, as can be seen by reviewing all of our expenses on our website in real-time. After all, the first step to fighting corruption and building and accountability is through personal accountability. After all, the first step to fighting corruption and building transparency and accountability is with personal accountability.

The blog was published by  Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE)

Is Local Government in Libya the Solution?

As Libya faces numerous challenges with the existence of federalists and militia groups, the question of decentralization grows in urgency. Libyans need to bolster local government in an effort to leave their past behind and meet their everyday needs, but lacks the adequate legal and constitutional framework to ensure better governance. As Libya struggles to fill the remaining seats in the Constitutional Committee, it must also consider the language it plans to adopt to protect the decentralization process.

The move towards local governance emerged during the 2011 revolution when local councils arose to handle city affairs, an arrangement that continues today. Libyans welcomed the change. With the former regime centralized in Tripoli, citizens traveled inordinate distances from all over the country to complete tasks that they could have handled in their own cities, including basic bureaucratic services like stamps and signatures that could easily have been provided in other cities.

Believing that managing the country on the local level can be more effective than working on the national level, the General National Congress (GNC) passed the local administration law in 2012 to reorganize the distribution of authority by dividing the country into governorates (muhafazat) and districts (balidiyat). Now, under this law (59/2012), one hundred district councils tend to these everyday needs. By decentralizing administrative tasks, the Libyan government hopes the councils can ease the burden of maintaining safety and security and expand its capacity to deal with other priorities.

The law, however, has weaknesses that undermine the objective of creating local government structures. First, the new law does not specify the criteria necessary to classify a city as a district—whether in geographical, economic, historical terms, or otherwise. This ambiguity results in an arbitrary mechanism for creating districts, without taking into account the differences of size, capacities, and resources between these districts.

Second, the law does not consider how the currently designated one hundred districts undermine the central government by draining its resources. Today the state pays nearly 24 billion LYD in salaries alone, without accounting for possible additional districts. That figure represents nearly 40 percent of the public budget, according to a report released by the Planning and Finance Committee at the General National Congress (GNC) session on February 11, 2014. These hundred districts have already led to a dramatic increase in the budget following the Iraqi wage pattern, which currently follows for a federal system and pays nearly 80 percent of its budget in salaries despite an absence of services.

Given that Libya (a rentier state) depends almost entirely on oil revenue, these districts will rely on the central government to cover their expenses. This dependence occurs for a number of reasons:

The absence of a clear local support mechanism for these districts (tax collection) that allows them to pursue regional development initiatives without principally relying on the central government;
The lack of natural or industrial resources in some cities (rainfall or ports) due to geographical location; and
The absence of a clear mechanism to determine the budget for each district.

Lastly, these recently-formed districts suffer from a lack of experienced personnel who face serious challenges in planning, modernization, and administration. Considering Libya’s inefficient bureaucracy, in which both the government and the GNC determine the budget, inordinate delays in funding these districts can lead to greater inefficiencies in delivering basic services.

Local government is the key to success in Libya, but the government and its international partners must take measures to ensure this model’s success. Intelligent, well-trained, and effective decision makers must administer these local governments to maximize their ability to ensure the safety and control of Libya’s cities. Training programs sponsored by the government and international organization partnerships in cooperation with Libya’s nascent civil society can strengthen local state institutions such that citizens feel confident in officials’ capacity to help them. If local governments remain disorganized and poorly managed, unable to provide citizens with the services that they expect, Libyans will simply go straight to the central government, rendering local governance obsolete.

Local governments can and must fund themselves through tax collection. Budgetary dependence on Tripoli’s decision-making will mean that centralization will not be eliminated, nor can administrators make independent decisions based on local needs. The absence of other sources of funding will hold local governments hostage to the central government, as it could take months to determine the budget at the current GNC, or in any new legislature. Taxation would not only stir constructive competition and creativity between districts, it could build a healthy local political culture. It would also buffer local government from central government financial shocks that would otherwise hinder local capacity.

Establishing credible local governance structures will need a better defined legal and constitutional framework. Constitutions typically stipulate the limits of government, but currently, jurisdictions for the central and local governments remain undefined within a constitutional vacuum. Those calling for decentralization in Libya demand guarantees from the recently elected constitutional drafting committee. The body will have to address a range of questions, including how to clarify delineation of each district’s borders to resolve jurisdictional disputes.

Ultimately, local government can greatly improve the lives of ordinary Libyans and encourage conditions to drive the political process forward, but only if it receives the capacity, resources, and autonomy to operate effectively. A failure to provide for local government will lead to an inability to provide services and a reinforcement of public distrust in state institutions. This could spark a return to centralized government at best. In any case, a failure to decentralize would greatly damage the political transition as Libyans lose faith in the integrity of the state.

This article was originally published in the Atlantic Council. 

 

My graduation speech

Thanks everyone for your kind words about my speech. I am happy it was inpiring.

Here it is in its best version:

Good evening my Fellow fellows, Host Organization representatives, Atlas Corps Staff and honorable guests. My name is Eduardo Salazar, I’m an Atlas Corps Fellow from Peru serving at the Center for Social Value Creation at the University of Maryland.

I will start by telling you the reasons why I shouldn’t be giving this speech, please don’t take them too seriously. The first and most important one is that I am a crappy public speaker unless my audience is comprised by children or teenagers. Groups of people over 16 years of age scare me a bit. The second reason is that I didn’t even have a week to prepare this (thanks Younas). The third and last reason is because I’ve had a very hectic and anxious couple of weeks for many reasons that I won’t expand on.
But there are also reasons why I should be giving this speech. The first one is that, apparently, most of the Fellows graduating wanted me to do this. I thank you for this honor and I hope you have to do other uncomfortable things in the future. The second and most important reason is that this is going to be a challenge for me and challenges are always fun. If I can give an hour and a half class to 35 children that would rather be outside playing, I can speak for ten minutes to a group of adults that are forced to remain quiet and listen to me because it would be rude not to do so.
So, I don’t know if you’re going to like this speech and I don’t care because they made me do it. If I choke or talk too much, please bare with me.
So, there is something I’ve been thinking about lately and it’s the meaning of being an Atlas Corps Fellow. What does it mean to be an Atlas Corps Fellow? I’m sure everyone has their own answer to that question, I guess the official one will be Scott’s.
When I started thinking about this, the first thing that came to my mind was the word “Service”. It is the part of our name we use less, but never forget that we are Atlas Service Corps. Being a Fellow means a life of Service. Service to others, service to our home, planet earth, and service to ourselves by becoming people who love what they do.
What service have I done in my life? I’ll tell you the whole story. Please stand up quietly if you want to leave or I’ll get distracted, and make sure your yawning is not too loud.

I guess service started with the boy scouts. I got to go to awesome places where I didn’t have to take showers and it didn’t matter that my clothes were covered in mud. I learned many skills that I still use now, like sewing and tying knots; and I got to use a knife. But, most importantly, I began to understand and enjoy the meaning of collaborating with friends and strangers to help people and make the world a better place. Sadly, the scout troop at my school got cancelled after a couple of years.
I bottled up my need to serve for a long time until I got to participate in service projects in high school through the International Baccalaureate program. Me and my classmates periodically went to a very poor settlement called Pamplona Alta where I was impressed to see how much poverty there was in the same hill where one of the most affluent neighborhoods in the city was located. The eastern slope of the hill had beautiful houses with huge gardens, pools and awesome views of the city and the ocean, the other was covered in miserable shacks that had no running water and barely had makeshift connections to the energy grid. This reality convinced me that there was no time to play or fool around, to just be there to get school credit, it was either try to understand what was happening there or work, work, work. I was so concerned about this that I even went a few times after finishing school.
During college there was no time for anything but studying and partying. Studying economics and finance was fairly stressful for me and I wanted to get classes off my back and then just relax. I was fooled for a couple of semesters but I quickly started feeling out of place: most of the people in my major were concerned with macroeconomics, exports and financial return, i.e. making money. I was concerned with poverty, development and microfinance, and enjoyed the courses no one liked like history or economic philosophy. I had no idea what to do when I got out.
Enter nonprofits, which were a taboo for most of my college friends. The questions started coming: NON-profit? How can something work without making a profit? Who wants to work at a company that doesn’t make a profit? Are you a communist now?

I started working for Instituto Invertir, an organization that promoted business entrepreneurship as a way of ending poverty. I was appointed as main researcher, partial ghost writer and editor for a book about entrepreneurs defeating poverty through their businesses. I burst the bubble I was living in before and got to go around the real neighborhoods of Lima. I went to most of the huge developing areas in the city: to the center, south, east and north of the city, I didn’t go west because the ocean is there.
I finally saw reality, the vast expanse of poverty in the city and compared it with my own life and the life of those around me. How could I have ignored these places for all my life? Why is it that people don’t care about these areas? How can most people in the city I call home have such miserable lives? Why is it so hard for these people to be minimally successful? There was something that HAD to change.
After Invertir I had a one year hiatus working at the graduate school of the Universidad del Pacífico, one of the most prestigious business schools in Peru. I really don’t want to talk about it. It was a boring office job where I was surrounded by old ladies listening to crappy music and administrators that only wanted to sell education instead of educating. I met the big power players of Peruvian business, they surprised me by their utter disrespect towards our environment and people in need. An urgency to be useful to society started boiling inside me again, I wanted out.
I was lucky enough to find Enseña Perú somehow, I can’t remember really. What I do remember is that I wanted to be part of this Peruvian Teach for America chapter, to go into those towns I had seen and establish real relationships, create lasting change. I was lucky enough to get accepted and when I announced it at work my boss asked “What about your CAREER?”.
Now I really wanted to leave.
At Enseña I met an awesomely diverse group of people with the same aspirations as me, we wanted to change the future of the most vulnerable people in every region of my country. Those were the hardest two years of my life, 4 days a week of 16 hours of work plus working during the weekend. I lived and breathed the challenges of poverty. It was a roller-coaster of emotions: I felt the love of my students but also their frustrations, struggles and sometimes, there’s no way of denying it, their utter hatred. That was the most rewarding and motivating job I’ve ever had and I still feel those two years went by too fast.

When the end of my second year as a teacher was a few months away, my mother thought I had enough of this “service” thing. But, as any person who has gotten a tattoo before the age of 18, I had to do exactly the opposite of what she asked me to.
Atlas Corps was introduced to me by a friend of Enseña Perú who organized a conference call with Scott. I can only remember one of the things I said: “Don’t worry about the stipend Scott, we know how to be poor.” I was fascinated by the idea of broadening my horizons and having a new perspective towards working for a better world.
The application process was long and made me very anxious.
In the last few months some friends who are applying have asked me how it works. I have a long narration of how it was for me saved in a Word document, which I read or paste in chat windows for those people. I won’t put you through that.
I got my J1 visa approved less than a week before I came here. It was a big surprise for most of my friends who didn’t have enough time to force me to get drunk at a farewell party. I got to the US on April 29th, 2013.

Are you guys tired? I only have five pages left, it’s going to be over soon.

I considered myself lucky to have been placed at the Center for Social Value Creation, it had a great fit with my interests and I had had a very pleasant conversation with Melissa Carrier, my wonderful supervisor.
My experience as a Fellow has meant many things for me:
I’ve met the world for the first time, I have friends dedicated to service all around the globe. Each of my fellow Fellows has something I admire personally and professionally. (I’m not talking about the parties and stories we all share, those are not to be openly discussed.)
I have also discovered that I am able to work at an office without losing my mind. That is, as long as I have an honest group of friends to share that tiny space with. Even though I can’t manage to arrive at 9 am sharp, I have to admit that you guys have made me want to go to work.
This experience has given me a new understanding of business. It has made me believe that business can create positive social impact and wiped away the misconception that business doesn’t work without greed. Sorry Mr. Friedman.
Through my experience at CSVC I have again witnessed the great power that young people have to change the things around them and seen the beginning of a new generation that will work for ideas instead of large amounts of money they don’t really need.

Next on this life of service I have somehow managed to make for myself is the crees foundation. They work in the Manu Biosphere Reserve in the Peruvian Amazon helping the local community find new ways of making a living sustainably in the forest. They have given me my first fancy title: “Education and Entrepreneurship Officer”. I hope I get to use a machete.

I am very grateful to be part of this family and to have been a part of your experiences as Atlas Corps Fellows. I am also very proud of having Atlas Corps in my heart and mind (and in my right arm). I am also very sorry for putting you through my wordy sentences and baroque musings. This has been the story of one fellow. I encourage you to get to know the rest of the Fellows and to learn about their stories.

A Clean Sweep

We are so used to cleaning the outside house, but the most important house to clean is our self – our own house – which we never do.  I was able to learn a whole lot on cleaning up and thanks to the Social Enterprise Alliance Summit 14, never have I known that the business of dirt and imperfection can purify one’s heart.

I was thrilled to be selected to join the inaugural 50Under40 cohort by American Express at the Social Enterprise Alliance Summit 14 in Nashville, TN.  I thought this was a perfect way to spend the Holy Week and meditate on the meaning of my life’s purpose. I was feeling down for quite some time now actually, not knowing whether I am making a real difference in this world so the Music City’s upbeat landscape in social entrepreneurship provided a much-needed retreat to recharge my batteries.  With my mind bent on celebrating service for the benefit of others, I marched alongside several philanthropic champions on my way to interactive learning, problem solving, case studies, hard skills acquisition and entrepreneurial ways of rethinking age-old problems. Indeed, this was an affirmation of my commitment to do social good in the field and not just be contained in a palatial voluntary warehouse.

When the Summit’s plenary session opened with the theme, “Building an Economy on Love,” I was touched by the two speakers’ personal stories on how they started their respective social enterprises.  The first to speak was Becca Stevens, owner and founder of Nashville-based Thistle Farms and an Episcopal priest. She created Magdalene, a two-year residential program for women who have survived lives of prostitution, trafficking, addiction and life on the streets. Thistle Farms is a social enterprise run by the women of Magdalene. By hand, the women create natural bath and body products that are as good for the earth as they are for the body. Purchases of Thistle Farms products directly benefit the women by whom these were made.

The other speaker was Tolulope Ilesanmi, founder of Zenith Cleaners, a janitorial service provider in Montreal, Canada.  Tolulope shares,  ”The act of sweeping is not just the cleaning of dirt and dust.  It shows the willingness of the broom to become dirty and its ability to clean itself to fulfill its next task again and again.  Forgiveness is the act of clean sweeping—clearing bias, prejudice and hatred and making visible the inner layer of love and warmth.  We too can, and should sweep our own minds and hearts with the simple and valuable sweep of forgiveness again and again.  So pick up your broom.  With such sweeping thoughts, we humbly ask for forgiveness.”

For me, this was the biggest takeaway from the Summit – to keep our house (or office), our inner house clean.  It may seem like such a big headache at first but if we take little steps of scrubbing, brooming and vacuuming the dust away each day, more layers of deep-seated dirt will surface forth the natural way.  In this social business that we are all in, a single stroke of a rag may not work its magic to clean spot on.  For like the Magdalene program, it takes an awful lot of healing and cleaning the recesses of one’s heart before moving on and accepting a purpose-driven life. It takes continuous strides before we reach that level shine.  What is important is to stay on course and be patient in striving to take out the dirt marks.  What is important to us as social entrepreneurs is to stay true to our mission, to humbly transcend ourselves first before we can touch other people’s lives to change for the better.

The Sankofa Bird-moving the vision forward

During my first couple of weeks at Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota someone told me about the Sankofa bird. The Sankofa Bird is a symbol that is used to explain the Sankofa  a concept derived from the Akan people of West Africa. Simply put the concept of the Sankofa says that ‘one must return to the past in order to move forward.’ What I found interesting is the portrayal of the Sankofa Bird. The Sankofa bird is flying forward while looking backward with an egg in its mouth. It seems strange, if not impossible that a bird should fly forward while looking backward. And in everyday endeavors it is difficult to move forward while looking back because one must ‘look where they are going’. The concept of the Sankofa does not downplay the future while glorifying the past but challenges us to embrace the past and the future in a harmonious and balanced way. As growing leaders in development and social entrepreneurship we all have visions and dreams that we are pursuing every day and I believe the concept of the Sankofa bird offers very useful insight on how best we can move the vision forward. We should reach back and gather the best of what our past has to teach us, so that we can achieve our full potential as we move forward. We are a product of our past experiences and whatever we have learnt, enjoyed, achieved, lamented or initiated can all be harnessed and used to progress forward and make our visions a reality.

Gratitude

In everyone’s life, there are things that one is constantly thankful for because they either make life easier or more tolerable. It may seem cliché to say that there is reason to be thankful for the little things in life but the truth is without some of these little things, our lives would be an entire mess. Naturally when you are handed a piece of paper and told to write down a list of things you are thankful for, you might run out of paper before you even get started on the things that you think are a big deal. I personally have several things I know I am very thankful for and I always remind myself to thank God not just for these things, but for many more, including those I cannot remember or I am too embarrassed to thank God for. I know everyone does have a list of things they have gratitude, I won’t mention my list but just wanted all of you to know that one of the things I’m grateful for is coming for the Atlas Corps fellowship that has enabled me to meet and know you. If not for it, I wouldn’t  have met all you wonderful people who made life fun in the US. Let’s thank God for life and good health, all the great times and the knowledge we have gained and shared and for more forth-coming success!

Good luck to All!