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This category includes articles about nonprofit organizations and NGOs that are actively working to accomplish a social mission. The work of foundations that primarily work as grantors to other nonprofits is covered in Philanthropy.

Number Of Polio Cases Globally Drops To 1 Per Week; How Do We Get To Zero?

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

The polio virus is in its death throes.

While it has been infinitely more difficult than the optimists hoped it would be 30 years ago, those who said polio couldn’t be eradicated will soon be proven wrong.

In the mid 1980s, there were about 350,000 to 400,000 cases of polio each year around the world, despite the disease having been effectively eradicated throughout the developed world.

In 2014, there were just 359 cases of polio, reflecting a 99.9 percent reduction over 30 years. On average, that number reflected a rate of about seven cases per week. So far, in 2015, the average number of cases per week has dropped to just barely above 1.

We are, however, now in the heat of summer in much of the world, including in Pakistan and Afghanistan where the disease remains active. Polio thrives in the summer months and the Global Polio Eradication Initiative, led by Rotary International and its partners the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, the Centers for Disease Control with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is working feverishly to prevent any spread of the disease.

Dr. Hamid Jafari of the WHO praises Rotary’s leadership in the effort to end polio, “The world is closer than ever before to eradicating polio, thanks to the tremendous efforts of Rotarians worldwide. A lasting polio-free world will be Rotary’s gift to all future generations. No child need ever be paralysed by this terrible disease.”

Jafari notes that the work is not yet done, adding, “But to achieve ultimate success, we need the ongoing support of all Rotarians, to push the effort across the finish line.”

Despite the progress, there are a variety of important questions that remain in trying to understand how this virus will be eradicated once and for all.

A recent outbreak of circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus in Madagascar with eight reported cases so far, demonstrates the challenge. As immunization rates fall in countries where the disease has not been a threat in years, rare cases of vaccine-derived polio can spread. A shift away from the oral polio vaccine to the injected inactivated vaccine used in the developed world for more than a generation appears to be key. Making the switch isn’t going to be easy.

On Wednesday, July 15, 2015 at 11:00 AM Eastern, Dr. Jafari and his colleague Dr. John Sever, the Vice Chair of Rotary International’s PolioPlus Program, will join me for a live discussion about the efforts to finally put an end to polio in 2015. 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 the World Health Organization:

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) is spearheaded by national governments, Rotary International, the World Health Organization (WHO), the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and UNICEF, and supported by partners such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. Since its launch in 1988, the GPEI has reduced the number of polio cases by 99%, from 350,000 annual cases in more than 125 endemic countries. to 3 endemic countries in 2015.

More about Rotary International:

Rotary brings together a global network of volunteer leaders dedicated to tackling the world’s most pressing humanitarian challenges. Rotary connects 1.2 million members of more than 34,000 Rotary clubs in over 200 countries and geographical areas. Their work improves lives at both the local and international levels, from helping families in need in their own communities to working toward a polio-free world. In 1988, Rotary was joined by the WHO, UNICEF and the CDC to launch the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

Hamid Jafari, WHO

Hamid Jafari, WHO

Jafari’s bio:

Dr. Jafari is currently the Director, Global Polio Eradication Operations and Research at WHO, Headquarters, Geneva. Before this appointment in March 2012, Dr. Jafari served as the Project Manager of World Health Organization’s National Polio Surveillance Project in India (2007-2012). As Project Manager of NPSP, he was the main technical advisor to the Government of India in the implementation of the nation’s large scale polio eradication, measles control and routine immunization activities and directed WHO’s extensive network of more than 2000 field staff.

Before his assignment in India, Dr. Jafari served as Director of the Global Immunization Division at the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), Atlanta, USA. He has also served as the Medical Officer for Polio Eradication in the Regional Office of WHO for Eastern Mediterranean on assignment from CDC.

Dr. Jafari obtained his MBBS degree from Sind Medical College, Karachi University. He completed his residency training in Pediatrics at Dartmouth Medical School and his Pediatric Infectious Disease fellowship training at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas. He has been certified by the American Board of Pediatrics in the sub-specialty of Pediatric Infectious Diseases. Dr. Jafari also completed a research fellowship at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Jafari has published over 80 scientific papers and book chapters on polio eradication and other vaccine-preventable diseases.

John Sever

John Sever

Sever’s bio:

Dr. John L. Sever is Professor Emeritus of Pediatrics, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Immunology, Microbiology and Tropical Medicine at the George Washington University, Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Previously he served as Chief of Infectious Diseases Research, National Institute of Neurological and Communicative Diseases and Stroke at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. He now serves on the Institutional Review Boards of the Pediatric Central IRB of the National Cancer Institute, NIH, The HQ US Army Medical Research and Materiel Command IRB and the Chesapeake IRB.

He received a B.A. degree from the University of Chicago, and B.S., M.S., M.D. and Ph.D. degrees from Northwestern University. Dr. Sever has taught at the medical schools of Northwestern, Georgetown, and the George Washington Universities. He has been a medical advisor or consultant for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, the March of Dimes, and Boy Scouts and has published over 600 scientific papers. He has been president of several medical research societies and has served on the editorial boards of several medical research journals.

A Rotarian since 1964, he has served Rotary as Club President, District Governor, Assembly Instructor, Legislative Council Member, Committee Member and Chairman. A long-term member of the 3-H and Programs Committee of The Rotary Foundation, Dr. Sever has monitored and advised on the development of Rotary’s PolioPlus Program, and has visited numerous projects to help assess the impact of Rotary’s support. As the Vice Chair of the International PolioPlus Committee, Dr. Sever not only helps to develop implementation policies but also articulates Rotary’s support for global polio eradication. As a member of the United States Rotary Polio Eradication Advocacy Task Force he has testified before the U.S. Congress in support of funding for polio eradication. He has also met with many Senators and Representatives to support international polio immunization programs. He has represented Rotary at meetings of WHO, UNICEF and the CDC. He is actively involved in Rotary Programs for Safe Blood and HIV/AIDS in India and Africa.

Nurse Seeks End To Infant And Maternal Mortality

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

When Arlene Samen was invited to meet with the Dalai Lama, she couldn’t imagine how it would change her life. Ultimately, she left her position as a nurse as the University of Utah School of Medicine to found One Heart World Wide, an organization that works to end infant and maternal mortality.

One Heart World Wide is making remarkable progress. After a temporary effort with great success in Tibet, Samen moved the organization to Mexico and now Nepal.

Samen says she’s learned a few lessons over the years and summarizes them as follows:

  1. I believe it is “relationships that save lives”, that by working together with others we can serve so many more.
  2. No matter what you face in life, never give up.
  3. The ripple effect knows no boundaries.

On Wednesday, July 15, 2015 at 2:00 Eastern, Samen will join me for a live discussion about her remarkable work to end maternal deaths. 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 One Heart World Wide:

Twitter : @oneheartww

One Heart World Wide is a non profit organization empowering communities to save the lives of mothers and newborns during childbirth in the most remote areas of the world. We work within existing health infrastructures to prevent maternal and newborn deaths by promoting safe clean deliveries, training community health workers, and upgrading existing health posts to meet national standards of care for birthing centers.Through an elegantly simple approach of training and equipping the right people in the right way, One Heart saves lives efficiently, sustainably, and cost effectively. As the “Network of Safety” is culturally adapted for the people by the people, these systemic changes have a ripple affect, that saves lives now and into future. We deliver scalable solutions, safe pregnancies, and we deliver results.

Arlene Samen

Arlene Samen

Samen’s bio:

Twitter: @arlenesamen

Arlene Samen, has been a Nurse Practitioner in Maternal Fetal Medicine for over 33 years. In 2004, she left behind her clinical practice at the University of Utah School of Medicine to dedicate her life to serving pregnant women living int he most vulnerable conditions int he most remote places of the world. In her travels she learned about the plight of pregnant women and newborns in Tibet, where one out of ten newborn babies died due to preventable causes. She organized a fact-finding mission to understand the local traditions, religious and cultural beliefs of women giving birth. Arlene spent over ten years in Tibet working and living side by side with the local government to bring a safe motherhood project to women who were poor, uneducated, and living in the most remote areas on the roof of the world. She brought the “Network of Safety” model to women who face death in order to give life. In 2009, One Heart World-Wide brought its life saving model to remote villages in Nepal, the Copper Canyon in Mexico, and deep into the amazon jungle in Ecuador where few dared to go. To date over 60,000 women have been touched by the “Network of Safety”. She has endured political uprisings, being held at gunpoint, the SARS epidemic,and earthquakes to make sure women had a safe clean delivery. No matter what the challenges she faced, she followed the Dalai Lama’s advise to never give up. Arlene has received many awards, including Unsung Heroes for Acts of Compassion in 2001, the Soroptpmist Women Making a Difference Award, CNN Hero, and the Stevie Awards “Women helping Women.” She has been a presenter at TEDxSF, BIF10, and Catalyst Creativ amongst being a guest lecturer at Standford and UCSF.

Deloitte’s RightStep Innovation Prize Goes To Social Venture Reasoning Mind

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

Deloitte recently announced the winner of its RightStep Innovation Prize, Reasoning Mind, a nonprofit social enterprise that implements an interactive online math curriculum in public school districts.

Reasoning Mind CEO Alex Khachatryan explained, “Our mission is to provide a first-rate math education for every child. Over the last five years, we’ve seen not only tremendous growth but also tremendous impact on student mathematical achievement. With Deloitte’s support, we know that we’ll be able to provide the benefits of our program to more students than ever.”

Co-founder and Senior Vice President George Khachatryan said, “Reasoning Mind studies and reverse-engineers the teaching practices of some of the world’s best mathematics teachers. We design online lessons that reproduce some internationally-successful instructional methods—but you can’t deliver a full educational experience online. That’s why we train and support classroom teachers in these practices, too; so they will be empowered to use the program in the most beneficial way possible.”

On Thursday, July 25, 2015 at 4:00 Eastern, Alex and George will join me for live discussion about the RightStep award from Deloitte and the work they are doing in schools. 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 Reasoning Mind:

Twitter: @reasoningmind

Reasoning Mind is an educational nonprofit with a mission of providing a first-rate math education for every child. The organization studies and reverse-engineers the instructional practices of some of the world’s most effective math teachers, and then reproduces these practices in online lessons. Reasoning Mind also trains and supports teachers in using these instructional materials in their classrooms. The result is a blended learning program that has increased classroom engagement, teacher effectiveness, and student achievement in mathematics.

Alex Khachatryan’s bio:

Alex began his career as a researcher in artificial intelligence and expert systems, before serving as President of Russian Petroleum Consultants Corporation, a consultancy he founded and managed together with his wife, Julia. Alex, Julia, and their son, George, started the work that would eventually lead to the founding of Reasoning Mind in 1999, and in 2003 they launched the organization’s first pilot project. Twelve years later, Alex runs an organization of over 200 employees that has dramatically improved math achievement—and enjoyment—for teachers and students alike. Alex holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in applied mathematics from the Moscow Oil and Gas Institute, along with a doctorate in physics and mathematics from Moscow State University, Russia’s leading research university. Alex enjoys reading, theater, and long walks in the mountains.

George Khachatryan’s bio:

George began working for Reasoning Mind as a high school student, assisting in content development, recruiting volunteer editors, and writing informational materials. He continued working for the non-profit throughout college and graduate school, before completing his studies and officially joining the company full-time in 2011. All of George’s degrees are in pure mathematics—a bachelor’s degree from the University of Chicago, a master’s from the University of Cambridge, and a doctorate from Cornell University. George enjoys literature and traveling with his wife, Marcela.

Academic Focuses On Building Peace, International Development

I met Craig Zelizer in the airport in Mexico City where we were both en route to Opportunity Collaboration and was immediately drawn to his good nature. He did his doctoral research on arts and peacebuilding and has made that his career focus at Peace and Collaborative Development Network.

Craig recently shared his favorite quote with me, “A journalist asked Mirsad Puritva, director  of the 1992 International Festival of Film and Theater in Sarajevo how can they have a film fest in the middle of the war? He replied, ‘how can they have a war in the middle of the film festival?'”

Craig summarizes his passion for peace, “Violent conflict is one of the greatest challenges preventing the achievment of the MDGs and more stable, peaceful societies”

Craig also notes, “Higher education in the US is in a period of crisis, given the increasing costs of pursuing graduate education and the mismatch between what many academic programs are providing students and what employers seek in candidates.”

craig_zellizer2

Showing his pragmatic side, Craig adds, “In order to better engage businesses in peacebuilding, it is necessary not only to make the moral case, but to show how peace is good for business in concrete terms.”

On Thursday, June 25, 2015 at 2:00 Eastern, Craig will join me for a live discussion about is efforts to advance peace and the study of peacebuilding. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.

You can download an audio podcast here or subscribe via iTunes.

More about Peace and Collaborative Development Network:

Twitter: @pcdnetwork

PCDN is the go to hub for the global changemaking community connecting over 35,000 individuals/organizations engaged in social change, peacebuilding, social entrepreneurship, development and related fields. We provide a one-stop shop to inspire, connect, inform and provide the tools and resources to scale social change. The network has over 250,000 hits per month and 75,000 + unique visitors and has helped thousands of individuals and organizations worldwide network, obtain funding, jobs, and be inspired.

Craig Zelizer

Craig Zelizer

Craig’s bio:

Twitter: @CraigZelizer

Craig is the Founder and CEO of PCDN. In addition, he is the Associate Director for the Conflict Resolution program at Georgetown University. Craig has dedicated his life to being an entrepreneur and to creating a more peaceful world.

Since its founding in 2007, Craig has grown PCDN to over 35,000 members representing more than 180 countries. At the same time, Craig has also assisted in a 300% growth of students and faculty in Georgetown’s conflict resolution program. Before creating PCDN, Craig also helped to found two NG0s – the Alliance for Conflict Transformation and the TEAM foundation in Hungary.

Craig serves on a number of boards and advisory boards including the Alliance for Peacebuilding, the Inzone Project, Tech Change, Move this World, Amani Institute, and several others. He spent two years in Hungary as Fulbright Scholar and was a Boren Fellow in Bosnia. He has led trainings, workshops and consultancies in over 20 countries organizations including USIP, USAID, CRS, Rotary International and others.

Craig is a recognized leader in the social sector field. He has received several awards including George Mason’s School of Conflict Analysis and Resolution’s alumni of the year award and an alumni career achievement award from Central European University.

He has published widely on peacebuilding, entrepreneurship, and innovation in higher education. His most recent edited book is Integrated Peacebuilding (2013, Westview Press).

Remember to “join the cavalry” by subscribing to our content here.

Devin D. Thorpe

NonProfit Helps Students From Being Dropout

This is a guest post from Ruth Lande Shuman, Founder/President of Publicolor

I’ve been thinking a lot about what’s happening in Baltimore and other cities around our country. The perils of poverty and marginalization are clearly exacting a heavy price, one we have to confront with innovation. At Publicolor, the New York City-based non-profit I founded in 1996, our long-term continuum of programs addresses many of the effects of poverty and dis-empowerment: single-parent households, neglect, and physical and emotional abuse, as well as an absence of after-school programs, role models, belief in education and effective goal-setting. Publicolor empowers struggling students by developing their focus and determination, thereby eliminating hopelessness and anger. Our unique applied-learning model gives students ownership over their projects from beginning to end, fostering a sense of agency and the ability to become their own best advocates. Having witnessed the success of Publicolor over the past 19 years, I can’t help but wonder what cities like Baltimore would be like if Publicolor existed in them. Only by leveling the playing field and encouraging education will we ensure that everyone in our country has a chance to thrive. This is what our country needs most.

As one of the few industrial designers today using design for social change, I am especially interested in the psychological effects of color and environment. Publicolor’s work is grounded in research, and confirms that when one changes an environment, one changes attitudes and behavior. Even in New York City’s outer boroughs, home to some of New York City’s most at-risk communities, anyone walking into a typical public school will notice the oppressive, prison-like interiors: the walls are peeling, cracked, and often littered with graffiti, and the hallways are lifeless with their gray, beige, and off-white tones.

Ruth Lande Shuman

Ruth Lande Shuman

I founded Publicolor to combat the alarmingly high dropout rates in New York City’s poorest neighborhoods. Last year, more than 26,000 students failed to graduate on time, and more than 8,000 dropped out of school. Publicolor focuses on the most disconnected and lowest-performing students in our city’s struggling middle and high schools, and engages them in their education by empowering them to transform their dreary schools with warm colors. The result is a student-centric environment where design underscores the importance of education, and where all feel welcomed and energized.

Our programs distinguish themselves by being long-term intensive interventions, a reflection of my belief that meaningful change only happens over a number of years. Typically, Publicolor students begin with our organization in middle school, and progress through the continuum of design-based programs until they graduate high school. Many students stay involved with Publicolor through college; some return to the organization as volunteers and even employees . Currently, 14 of 41 staff members are Publicolor alumni.

This process begins with Paint Club, where middle-school grade students are taught to think critically and creatively about the relationship between color and their environment. Paint Club is just the beginning of these students’ journey with Publicolor. We stay with them long after their initiation into the program, offering an opportunity for training and tutoring at least three days a week over multiple years. One of the most impactful programs is Summer Design Studio – deliberately held at Pratt Institute to help our students feel comfortable in a college setting – a seven-week math and literacy immersion program taught through the scaffold of product design, and an effective antidote to summer learning loss.

Publicolor’s innovative applied learning model works with spectacular results: despite a focus on high-risk students from struggling schools, 100% of Publicolor’s students stayed in school, 100% of Publicolor’s students matriculated on time from 8th to 9th grade and 9th to 10th grade, 97% of our high school seniors graduated on time vs. 68% citywide, and 94% of our high school graduates enrolled in college vs. 51% of their peers from the same schools. Publicolor was recognized with the 2014 National Arts + Humanities Youth Program Award at The White House, and won a 4-star rating from Charity Navigator. Since 1996, we’ve transformed 172 inner-city schools and 205 under-resourced community facilities. We’ve impacted 969,000 students and their parents, and affected almost one million community residents. More importantly, we stay with our students through college. Over a period of 7 to 10 years, Publicolor’s average investment per student is $31,542. This investment ensures that our students, who were once at risk of dropping out, graduate high school on time and matriculate in college or a post-secondary accreditation program. Publicolor’s investment helps students secure the maximum financial aid support and scholarships they deserve as well as catalyzes the investment that colleges will make in them totaling an average of $320,000 per student by the time they graduate. Furthermore, in 2014, MIT economists found that college graduates will earn approximately $500,000 more over their lifetime than a high school graduate. This means that Publicolor’s initial investment of $31,542 yields a return of $820,000 in the form of support from other federal and private agencies and future wages that would be forfeited but for our original support. This is an astounding return on investment of 2600%.

Even with our success, we still have needs. We need more corporate volunteers to paint alongside and mentor our students. We need contributions to help with staff and materials , and business partners to help us reach greater audiences. I invite you to visit us at www.publicolor.org, learn about the many ways you can leave your mark on Publicolor’s world.

About Ruth Lande Shuman

Ruth Lande Shuman is an award-winning industrial designer and the Founder/President of Publicolor.

8 Lessons That May Change The Way You Think About Summer Vacation

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

Last week, I took my wife to a small resort town called Puerto Peñasco or Rocky Point at the north end of the Gulf of California or Sea of Cortez in Mexico. Before this year, I’d never heard of this place and had frankly never been curious about it. We weren’t there to relax on the beach sipping umbrella drinks. Instead, we were there with 750 other people affiliated with Rotary Clubs in Utah to spend a week doing service and holding a conference.

The planning and execution of the 55 service projects completed last week was 100 percent volunteer. It is difficult even to communicate the scope of what was accomplished; I’m sure that despite being there and seeking to learn all that went on during the week, I can’t begin to report on all that was done.

Here’s a quick sampling of what we did:

  • Built three two bedroom, two bath homes from the stage of empty pads to having all of the block walls constructed and roofs installed.
  • Finished and decorated four other homes that had been similarly constructed last December
  • Expanded a piñata factory that employs young people with a wide range of disabilities, from blindness to cerebral palsy
  • Worked with those employees to build 200 piñatas that were then sold to the volunteers to help fund the programs at the piñata factory
  • Organized a pop-up dental office for people who can’t afford dental care; treated 293 people in four days
  • Equipped a dialysis clinic, the first and only one in this part of Mexico
  • Donated an ambulance to the dialysis clinic
  • Landscaped the dialysis clinic to reduce dust and improve air quality inside the clinic to maintain a sanitary environment
  • Replaced a secondary school typing lab with a computer lab with 65 iMac computers, networked them, obtained internet access and set up a projector for instruction
  • Created a library for an elementary school
  • Set up a learning lab in the elementary school with 30 tablet computers, a hub, charging station and internet access for one year
  • Painted and fenced an elementary school
  • Donated two buses
  • Donated 1,500 pairs of glasses, including 800 pairs of sunglasses to people who work outside all day, including construction workers, oyster farmers and fisherfolk.
  • Provided dresses to over 100 little school girls
  • Refurbished 50 school desks
  • Donated 200 toy cars to students, one of whom reportedly asked, with tears in his eyes, “Did we get these because we were good?”
Utah Rotarians and their families and friend build one of three homes in Puerto Peñasco

Utah Rotarians and their families and friend build one of three homes in Puerto Peñasco

The event was led by Michael Wells, a dentist from Tooele, Utah who serves as the volunteer “District Governor” for the Rotary District that encompasses Utah. Wells said repeatedly in the days leading up to the event, “I get chills just thinking about it.” Clearly, his passion was vital in creating an unprecedented district event.

Jerry Summerhays, a past district governor, was charged with organizing the service projects. He made several trips to Puerto Peñasco in preparation for the big week—all on his own dime. After the event, he noted, “The many project sites were picked because of needs identified by Puerto Penasco Rotarians. Each of the project sites was delegated to a club or family. The needs were so overwhelming that we know how much good we did. What was more than expected was the satisfaction, the emotion expressed by those performing the service. Whether eight years old or 18, or 80 those performing the service felt like they owned their project, and were so delighted.”

Floyd Hatch is the President Elect for the Salt Lake Club; he was tasked with organizing the construction of the piñata factory expansion. He recruited his children and grandchildren along with other members of the club to help with the project.

Chris Hatch, Floyd Hatch, Ryan Wathan, Russ Ferricks and Gary Yocum work on the roof of the piñata factory

Chris Hatch, Floyd Hatch, Ryan Wathan, Russ Ferricks and Gary Yocum work on the roof of the piñata factory

Hatch said, “I still cannot believe our progress. In 4 short days, we doubled the floor space of the factory, roofed it with a much better roof that its existing [roof], rolled out insulation, and initiated dry wall. One of my daughters [Courtney Hatch], a high school art teacher chose colors that I wouldn’t dream of and we painted the structure pink with turquoise highlights. It stands out, even in Mexico!”

“We left behind additional drywall, interior painting, electrical, and flooring, but we gave those beautiful kids and young adults a place to go and be creative while they earn some money on their own. What a feeling we had as a bunch of professionals left that little structure for the last time. We did it! We took what seemed like an enormous challenge and finished it on time,” Hatch concluded.

Marcus Wathen, the general contractor who was recruited to volunteer to lead the piñata factory construction project, explained how he felt after completing the project, “What I enjoyed most about helping with the project was letting others have a hands on experience and in some cases doing a lot of different skills for the first time and working outside their comfort zone. Like when Courtney said she didn’t know how to drill the bottom plate and when the last hole was drilled, she was wanting to drill more. And when I measured for the roof sheeting and sent the measurement down for Russ to cut the plywood. Then, the next day, Russ was doing the measuring on the other side of the roof and you and Floyd were the masters of the saw. Seriously, we all contributed our own talents, sweat, leadership and time to build something that will benefit others.”

A wide range of volunteers served in Puerto Peñasco.

A wide range of volunteers served in Puerto Peñasco.

There are eight lessons I learned or was reminded of last week as I participated in this effort. Here they are:

  1. A rising tide doesn’t lift all the boats.  Puerto Peñasco is a rapidly growing tourist destination with massive construction projects underway. There is a lot of investment money being poured into that economy. That said, when Rotarians began looking for people to serve, the needs were “overwhelming.”
  2. Anyone can volunteer.  The volunteers in Puerto Peñasco ranged in age from the youngest children who can swing a hammer, paint a wall or life a brick to the oldest willing to make piñatas. If you want to volunteer, you can find something that you can do and almost certainly you can find something you’ll enjoy doing.
  3. Everyone makes a difference.  It is easy to believe that you can’t make a difference with a few hours or a few days. If you believe that, you’re wrong. After seeing what can be done in just a few days, I will never again doubt the value of a small contribution of time. You do make a difference; your time does matter to those you serve.
  4. There is real power in being a follower.  Lots of type A people like me feel like they need to be the leader in order to make a difference. What I saw in Mexico was the value of 750 people working together. Given the number of projects, about 55, that were separately organized, there were a lot of leaders in the group. That said, without the help of the followers the work could not have been accomplished. To those who are tempted to create a new organization to deploy volunteers, let me suggest instead that you join a service organization like Rotary or the Lions Club or a faith based group where volunteers stand at the ready today. You’ll get more done!
  5. You only need to collaborate if you want to have impact.  One of the biggest projects undertaken last week was the construction of homes. As noted above, we built three and finished four. This work was completed in partnership with Families Helping Families, a Utah-based nonprofit that has been building homes in Puerto Peñasco for 10 years. The founder, Jared Parker, notes, “I read a great book a while back by Paul Godfrey titled “More than Money”. He talked a lot about how to help those in need. One thing his book addressed is, poverty is a systemic problem. And it takes an entire system to solve it. One person or one foundation is not enough. It takes complementing groups, forming partnerships, to really make a difference. Rotary and FHFMexico make excellent partners. Especially with the Interactors and Rotaractors. There is no way that either of our groups could accomplish independently, or alone, a fraction of what they can accomplish together. We are on the ground in Mexico. We have done the necessary legal work and created the proper entities to maximize their donations and man power. We magnify each other’s entities and efforts.  And we will be there long after the volunteers are on their way home.”
  6. Ask volunteers to do something that matters.  Last year, the District had about 150 people attend its annual conference held in Logan, Utah near the Idaho border. It is difficult to conceive that five times as many people would be willing to go to Mexico for a week to do volunteer work, given that the trip would be about five times as costly for each person, but that’s what happened. Ask people to attend yet another conference and those most committed to the organization will go. Ask people to do something that matters and in droves they will travel via planes, trains and automobiles to break their backs in the Mexican desert.
  7. “If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.” District Governor Wells repeated that like a mantra throughout his tenure. Everyone lived it last week. Volunteers worked most of the day and then relaxed and partied in the evenings. At the end of the week, we all came together for a conference that was more celebration than education. Creating the right balance of work and play is imperative for mobilizing your volunteers.
  8. Dream big.  If I hadn’t been there myself, I’m not sure I would believe all that was accomplished. This scale of impact in a single week by Utah Rotary is unprecedented. We’ve never done this before. Imagine the audacity of a leader who says, I know we only had 150 people at our conference last year, but what if we planned a week-long event for 750 people across a national border almost 1,000 miles from the northern reaches of our state? No one really believed this would work, but they wanted it to work. There is magic and power in a vision that people want to see achieved.

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!

Some Stocks Go Down, Some Fruit Goes Bad, Some Charities Are Better Than Others

This week’s announcement from the FTC that it, along with
all 50 states and the District of Columbia, was filing a complaint against four
nonprofits that had reportedly used virtually none of the $187 million raised
for charitable purposes, has sent shudders through the nonprofit community.
Organizations are afraid what this news will do to fundraising.

Here’s why you should continue to give to charity enthusiastically.

When you buy fruit at the grocery store, you know there is a
chance, in fact a near certainty, that some of the fruit you buy will get
thrown out. Some will be bad when you get it home, either because it was
already overripe or under ripe when it left the store or because it was damaged
in transit. Most fruit is sold by the pound, but there is hardly a fruit on the
market that you can eat entirely. Have you ever eaten a banana peel or an apple
core? Then there is the risk that the fruit is prepared for someone who doesn’t
eat it and finally the risk that no one happens to eat it before it goes bad.
How much of the fruit you buy actually ends up in someone’s tummy? You still
buy fruit because it is healthy and delicious.

When smart investors buy stocks, they buy lots of them. Most
mutual funds have many dozens of different stock positions in their portfolios
because they understand that some will go up and others will go down. Some may
even go to zero. In the middle some will be parked money, after decades still
worth only what was paid for them. Some stocks, however, will grow dramatically
and may after just a few years be worth 10 times or more than what was paid for
them. Smart investors buy stocks even though they know with certainty that some
of the money invested in stocks will be lost.

Venture capitalists and angel investors who invest in
startup companies know that it is so hard to predict which companies will
thrive and which will tank that they make sure to diversify their portfolios,
too. They know that when investing in early stage companies, easily a third of
the companies will flame out completely, a few will struggle on endlessly and
only a few will thrive, providing all of the return in their portfolios. Think
about that; early-stage investors give entrepreneurs knowing that there is a
very good chance they will never see a dime in return.

So, here’s the question for you? Is it reasonable for you to
expect that every dollar you give to charity will go directly to a noble
purpose and that none will ever be wasted? The frank answer is simple.
Absolutely not. Some nonprofits will use your money to create fantastic social
impacts. Some will not. How many millions of dollars for cancer research have
yielded only another compound that doesn’t work? Does that mean we shouldn’t
fund cancer research? Of course not! A cure will only come from more funding.

Sometimes I hear people say, “I will only give to this one
nonprofit because…” I have news for you. There isn’t a perfect nonprofit out
there. While some may use volunteers to allow 100% of donations to go directly
to programs, those organizations may not have the same impact as other
organizations using professional staff to do more with the same donation, even
after paying the staff.

Does this mean that you should give
indiscriminately? No, of course not. See my tips for smart giving here. But it
does mean that you should keep giving!

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