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Monthly Archives: June 2015

Finding Your Passion and Living It

This is a guest post from Laurel Mintz, CEO of Elevate My Brand

Often I hear people say that they wish they could do more, they wish they can make a meaningful contribution to society. They might say something “Maybe I should quit and work for a nonprofit.” Another popular one is “I just want a job where I can make a difference.” If you find yourself agreeing then I have a little secret for you, a little secret that can change your whole perspective and help you make a difference. You might have not heard this before, or maybe you heard it a bunch of times but it didn’t stick. Either way, here is the secret: Your very existence is meaningful and a huge contribution to society. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist or invent an anti-pollution machine to help save the world. It’s the choices you make in everyday that are an inspiration to your personal network.

When I started my business, I didn’t have a goal of beating statistics (only 30% of private companies are women-owned). I wasn’t looking to be a role model or to help nonprofits with their goals. After graduating college, my father became ill and I stepped in to run the family business for two years. We had 40 employees across a handful of furniture stores. I didn’t have time to think about what I was doing, there were families depending on me, including my own. It was the quickest crash course in business management ever. I am happy to say my father made a full recovery after two years and I was able to go back to pursuing my dreams.

Laurel Mintz

Laurel Mintz

What I discovered is that my dreams changed and I decided to start my own business. I started networking and utilized my relationships with local retail shops to begin business and marketing consulting. A good portion of my clients are nonprofits with missions that I respect and admire. I didn’t specifically outreached to them but I have always been authentic to myself and expressive about my interests. I researched organizations I wanted to work with and started outreaching. I began working with organizations such as Girls in Tech Women Empowered because I was passionate about their causes. Things grew organically and in 2014 I received the Los Angeles Business Journal Women Making a Difference Award.

We all have unlimited potential in our lives, but often we get distracted by trying to fit ourselves into a certain mold. You don’t need to quit your job to make a difference, if you start acting on your passions, you’ll find that they will come to you. Sometimes we don’t realize how important it is to convey the type of energy and values that we want to attract in life. The world is your mirror and the energy you put out into the world is what you get back. Start by believing in yourself and you’ll be surprised to discover how infectious that energy is. You don’t become a role model by wanting to be one, you become one by doing what you’re truly passionate about.

About Laurel Mintz:

Laurel Mintz is CEO of Elevate My Brand, a digital marketing and live events firm. Visit www.elevatemybrand.com to learn more.

You Only Need To Collaborate If You Want To Have Impact

More and more, not only in social entrepreneurship circles, but more often there, we hear talk of collaboration. I’ve always had a sense that this is true as a matter of principle, but being here in Mexico working as a volunteer with Rotary this week, I’ve gained a much deeper appreciation for the value of genuine collaboration.

Rotary District 5420, which includes all of the clubs in Utah, has descended upon the small town of Puerto Peñasco, Mexico to complete about 50 discrete service projects. One of the biggest projects, or sets of projects, was the construction of homes that will be provided to needy families here.

Interactors work to build a home in Puerto Peñasco

Interactors work to build a home in Puerto Peñasco

Rotary didn’t just decide on a whim to pop down to Mexico and build some homes. Rather, a relationship has been in the works between Utah Rotary and a nonprofit based in Utah called Families Helping Families, which began building homes here nearly a decade ago.

The collaboration began when high-school-age young people who are members of Interact, a Rotary-sponsored service organization for youth, began providing funding and manual labor for the construction of homes. As that relationship solidified, it became the primary source of volunteer labor for Families Helping Families.

When Utah Rotary began thinking about bringing its membership down to Puerto Peñasco, the leadership quickly realized that they needed partners on the ground in Mexico. There was no active Rotary Club in Puerto Peñasco, so Utah Rotarians came down several times to recruit members here to form a new club and to provide the needed support for the projects.

Today, we saw the impact of the collaborations. While the Families Helping Families homes that were built this week, won’t be finished for months, other teams worked on homes that were started months ago to get them ready to present to their new residents. We toured the cute little homes today as the families were invited in for the first time. The Rotarians had decorated and furnished the homes and even put in some landscaping.

Elsewhere, we saw that the local Rotary Club, which discovered a previously unknown Rotary Elementary School in need of some Rotary love, got all that it needed, including 65 Apple iMac computers, fresh paint, dozens of broken window panes replaced and new air conditioners in each classroom.

Utah Rotary could not have pulled off these projects without the help of the local Rotary Club, an axiom so plainly true that Utah Rotary was effectively forced to create the local club in order to complete its mission. It also relied upon the expertise and experience of Families Helping Families.

Collaboration isn’t just a buzzword or a good management principle. It is the key to successful impact.

Anyone Can Volunteer; Everyone Makes A Difference

Today, as I was working alongside my Rotary friends volunteering here in Puerto Peñasco, Mexico, I realized that volunteers come in all shapes and sizes.

Rotary volunteers come in all shapes and sizes.

Rotary volunteers come in all shapes and sizes.

On the one hand, I was not surprised that the woman with the Harley Davidson t-shirt knew her way around power tools. She puts in a full eight hour volunteer shift every day and never slacks off.

Volunteer who engages day after day with skill and energy

Volunteer who engages day after day with skill and energy

On the other hand, I was was somewhat more surprised that the lawyer in the group, Russ Ferricks, was equally comfortable with tools and works just as hard. Today, he took charge of roofing the small piñata factory where our Rotary Club has been leading the project. Despite thinking that I knew his character and desire to serve, I was surprised at the energy and determination he showed for the technical and physically challenging aspects of the work.

Russ Ferricks, attorney who led roofing effort

Russ Ferricks, attorney who led roofing effort

As I migrated from project to project, functioning typically as a unskilled labor, I had the opportunity to spend several hours working side-by-side with one of the wealthier members of our club, Floyd Hatch. His $16.8 million ranch is currently up for sale–I suspect he’s looking to upgrade. Now in his sixties, he, too, gets down and dirty in the work. As the President Elect for the Club and the formal head of the project, he hasn’t organized himself as the leader, instead he delegated that responsibility to an experienced contractor and jumps in to help wherever needed.

Luke Hatch, one of the youngest volunteers

Luke Hatch, one of the youngest volunteers

The volunteer pool today ranged in age from about 5 to about 65. In fairness, our youngest volunteers were easily distracted and weren’t always on task, but they were fun to have around. The volunteers from the local community, participated as equals. I loved watching two volunteers on the roof carrying on a complete conversation, one speaking English exclusively and the other speaking Spanish exclusively, with some gesticulation thrown in for added clarity.

Today’s lesson: anyone can volunteer and everyone makes a difference!

When These 700 People Roll Into Town, You’ll Love What They Do

This week, Gail and I are in Puerto Peñasco, Mexico with Rotarians from around Utah doing service. There are several projects underway, including the construction of three homes, in partnership with a small nonprofit called Families Helping Families. Others are working on improvements to a school that is supported by Rotary. A group, led by my club, is working on the expansion of a small piñata factory that only employees special needs people.

A home rises out of the sand in Mexico, as if by magic, at the hands of dozens of Rotarians and their young counterparts, Rotoractors.

A home rises out of the sand in Mexico, as if by magic, at the hands of dozens of Rotarians and their young counterparts, Rotoractors.

It is exciting for me to see the tremendous impact that 700 people can have in just a few days. Homes are rising out of the sand almost by magic. Working on the construction of the piñata factory today, we laughed as the painting crew began painting the exterior within seconds of us putting up the exterior walls to be painted–no exaggeration.

Rotary Club 24 leads effort to expand piñata factor for special needs employees.

Rotary Club 24 leads effort to expand piñata factor for special needs employees.

It was also great to learn a bit about the little social enterprise that makes the piñatas and employs the developmentally challenged and otherwise disabled people. By giving their employees an opportunity to be productive and constructive adults they are redefining the lives they might have. By creating a social venture that is funded largely by the sale of their piñatas, they have created a financially sustainable organization that not only serve their employees indefinitely into the future, the organization can continue to grow.

Volunteers pose with one of the teachers from the piñata factory after a day of hard work.

Volunteers pose with one of the teachers from the piñata factory after a day of hard work.

Gail was among the volunteers who worked with the expert piñata crafters to create piles of piñatas that can be sold to the Rotarians–including the ones who made them–as souvenirs as they head back to Utah. The profit from the sales of piñatas this week could fund the organization for two years!

The first big take away from this week, for me, is the recognition that it takes serious organization to pull off something this big. Not just any organization can pull together 700 people to travel 1,000 miles at their own expense to volunteer to help people they’ve never met, may never meet and will likely never see again. Think about the value of belonging to such an organization. Think about the value of the opportunity to lead a club or a district full of clubs like that. You don’t have to start from scratch when the world is already rife with service organizations and faith-based organizations that you can leverage to accomplish your good goals!

‘Volunteers Are Playing A Vital Role In Making Governments More Accountable,’ Author Says

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

On Friday, June 5, 2015, the United Nations Volunteers program will issue a report on the effectiveness of volunteering programs around the world. I obtained an advance copy of the report.

The report suggests that volunteerism is a critical piece in moving forward to address global problems like the Millennium Development Goals and the post 2015 Sustainable Development Goals.

The report’s author, Amanda Mukwashi, the Chief of the Volunteer Knowledge and Innovation Section at United Nations Volunteers, says, “The Sustainable Development Goals will only succeed in tackling poverty and inequality if they take on board the needs of all citizens. Volunteers can be catalysts for a much fairer and more equal world – if they’re invited to the table.”

The report itself notes, “Volunteerism is a force for harnessing the power of peoples’ voice and participation to influence governance, and enhanced voice and participation are associated with more responsive and accountable governments.”

Mukwashi adds, “Volunteers are playing a vital role in making governments more accountable and responsive to their citizens – and helping women and marginalized groups have a say in decisions that affect their lives.”

“Too many governments are failing to acknowledge – and leverage – the immense potential of volunteers to help them chart a more successful development path,” Mukwashi adds.

On Friday, June 5, 2015 at 3:00 Eastern, Mukwashi will join me for a live discussion about the report. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

More about United Nations Volunteers:

The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme is the UN organization that contributes to peace and development through volunteerism worldwide.

Volunteerism is a powerful means of engaging people in tackling development challenges, and it can transform the pace and nature of development. Volunteerism benefits both society at large and the individual volunteer by strengthening trust, solidarity and reciprocity among citizens, and by purposefully creating opportunities for participation.

UNV contributes to peace and development by advocating for recognition of volunteers, working with partners to integrate volunteerism into development programming, and mobilizing an increasing number and diversity of volunteers, including experienced UN Volunteers, throughout the world. UNV embraces volunteerism as universal and inclusive, and recognizes volunteerism in its diversity as well as the values that sustain it: free will, commitment, engagement and solidarity.

Based in Bonn, Germany, UNV is active in around 130 countries every year. UNV, with Field Units in 86 countries, is represented worldwide through the offices of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and reports to the UNDP Executive Board.

Amanda Mukwashi, United Nations Volunteers

Amanda Mukwashi, United Nations Volunteers

Mukwashi’s bio:

Amanda Mukwashi joined the United Nations Volunteer (UNV) programme in December of 2012 where she currently works as Chief, of the Volunteer Knowledge and Innovation Section (VKIS). She holds a first degree in law from the University of Zambia and a postgraduate master’s degree in International Economic Law from the University of Warwick, UK. Ms. Mukwashi has pursued a career in International Development, working towards the eradication of poverty and combating inequalities and injustices, in both the public and voluntary sector. As Women in Business Coordinator, she worked for the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), leading the work on women’s rights and trade in the region. She was instrumental in setting up the department in COMESA that now works to further economic empowerment for women in trade in Eastern and Southern Africa region and the Federation of Women in Business in Eastern and Southern Africa which is now based in Malawi. Having gained significant experience on the policy level and on the need to develop women’s capacity in decision making, Ms. Mukwashi joined a UNFPA supported programme in Zambia on Gender, Population and Development. Moving to the United Kingdom in 1998, she continued her work on women’s rights addressing issues of relative poverty and the marginalization of women from ethnic minorities in the UK. This was important in building her understanding of inequalities and exclusion within communities and countries that are developed. In 2002, she joined Skillshare International, an international NGO working in Africa and South Asia on issues relating to social, economic and political justice. In her role as a member of the senior leadership team, Ms. Mukwashi championed the organization’s social change agenda leading on re-positioning the organization to engage with social transformation beyond individual and organizational capacity development. There she advocated for gender issues, which led to the adoption of gender as a key thematic area for all the work of the organization. In 2011, Ms. Mukwashi joined VSO as Director of Policy where she took on the responsibilities for (i) monitoring and evaluation; (ii) research and global advocacy; and (iii) programme effectiveness and innovation as well as partnerships for development. She has been an active member of the Akina Mama wa Afrika Board, a pan-African women’s rights organization that was set up by young African women in the diaspora, to be led by African women and for African women to advocate for and improve women’s capacities for leadership and decision. Ms. Mukwashi has in the past also contributed her time as a board member of Bond (British Overseas NGOs in Development Network) and several other boards that further the cause of gender justice. Lastly, it is worth mentioning that outside of her work life, Amanda has also contributed to training and building the capacity of young African women in leadership.

Ben Hecht: ‘Inequality Of Income Presents A Threat To Our Society, Our Economy And Our Democracy’

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

Ben Hecht, CEO of Living Cities, is an impact investor whose passion makes him more of a crusader than a financier. (Disclosure: a former client has an application for a loan pending with Living Cities.)

Consider his statement to me, “Unless we ferociously change course, the majority of our citizens in 2040 will be less educated, less prosperous, and less free than our current majority, due to decades of dysfunctional systems, disinvestment, mass incarceration, and disenfranchisement of people and communities of color.”

Advocating a wholistic, collective approach to addressing urban problems, Hecht says, “A new type of urban practice aimed at dramatically improving the economic well-being of low-income people faster will require all players – individuals, business, philanthropy, government, nonprofits, and academia – to focus on their part of the solution and build permanent capacity that can insure we get increasingly better results over time.”

Hecht is calling for an radical acceleration to problem solving, “For too long we have been satisfied with incremental change for society’s most pressing issues, but it is time to look at the denominator and face how much progress still has to be made for these problems to be eradicated.”

“There is increasingly a growing awareness that inequality of income, wealth and access to opportunity, accentuated along racial lines, is one of the key social issues of our time.If left unresolved it presents a serious threat to our society, our economy and our democracy,” Hecht notes.

Living Cities is striving to play a central role in accelerating change. Hecht said, “Living Cities is on a course to do more than just imagining what’s possible. We want to work with a coalition of the willing to make the possibilities reality. In May, we took the conversation offline, convening over 100 folks in our networks—from our member institutions, to grantees, to our staff, to our social media followers, to a diversity of other thought leaders, dreamers and doers in such diverse fields as civic tech, impact investing, philanthropy, business, the financial sector, social entrepreneurship, government, and philanthropy—to participate in an active process of co-design.”

Two key opportunities were identified at the summit.

“One challenge we discussed at the summit was the need to create urgency without catastrophes, such as the bankruptcy in Detroit or Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, to achieve systemic instead of episodic change,” Hecht said.

“Another was that public sector leadership, resources, and talent can and must be fostered, unlocked, and optimized in order to achieve dramatically better results for low income people. Along similar lines, it was clear that there is a need for an investment in talent across the social sector generally,” Hecht concluded.

On Friday, June 5, 2015 at noon Eastern, Hecht will join me for a live discussion about the programs that Living Cities is undertaking to make a difference in America’s inner cities. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

More about Living Cities:

Living Cities harnesses the collective power of 22 of the world’s largest foundations and financial institutions to develop and scale new approaches for creating opportunities for low-income people and improving the cities where they live. Its investments, research, networks, and convenings catalyze fresh thinking and combine support for innovative, local approaches with real-time sharing of learning to accelerate adoption in more places.

Hecht’s bio:

Mr. Hecht was appointed President & CEO of Living Cities in July, 2007. Since that time, the organization has adopted a broad, integrative agenda that harnesses the collective knowledge of its 22 member foundations and financial institutions to benefit low income people and the cities where they live. Living Cities deploys a unique blend of more than $140 million in grants, loans and influence to re-engineer obsolete public systems and connect low-income people and underinvested places to opportunity.

Prior to joining Living Cities, Mr. Hecht co-founded One Economy Corporation, a non-profit organization focused on connecting low-income people to the economic mainstream through innovative, online content and increased broadband access. Immediately before One Economy, Mr. Hecht was Senior Vice President at the Enterprise Foundation.

Mr. Hecht received his JD from Georgetown University Law Center and his CPA from the State of Maryland. For 10 years, he taught at Georgetown University Law Center and built the premier housing and community development clinical program in the country. Ben is currently Chairman of EveryoneOn, a national initiative founded by the Federal Communications Commission to connect low-income Americans to digital opportunity. He also sits on the National Advisory Board for StriveTogether and Duke University’s Center for Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship (CASE) Advisory Council.

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