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 The mission of the "Your Mark on the World Center" is to solve the world's biggest problems before 2045 by identifying and championing the work of experts who have created credible plans and programs to end them once and for all.
Crowdfunding for Social Good
Devin D. Thorpe
Devin Thorpe

Nonprofit

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.

Social Entrepreneur Works To Put his Nonprofit Out Of Business

This post was originally produced for Forbes.

Eric Stowe saw a problem in the developing world and did something about it. He saw a need for clean water in the slums and created Splash, a nonprofit organization, to solve the problem.

“While working in orphanages internationally, I became aware of the crucial need for clean water for kids on the periphery in urban areas,” Stowe explains. “Hotels and restaurants had access to clean water, but across the street, children at poor schools and orphanages did not. It was, and continues to be, an easy problem to fix by leveraging economies and infrastructure that already exist rather than re-creating the wheel.”

Stowe’s Splash has some audacious goals: provide clean water to every orphanage in China, every public school in Kathmandu, Nepal and every “child-serving” institution in Kolkata, India.

“We want to put Splash out of business by 2030. Our ultimate goal is to ensure local success happens on its own time, on its own terms, through its own talent, and with its own funding. Charity is a means to that – it cannot be the end,” Stowe concludes.

On Thursday, August 13, 2015 at noon Eastern, Stowe will join me here for a live discussion about his efforts to provide clean water in Urban areas where it is desperately needed. 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 Splash:

Twitter: @splash_org

Splash is a field-leading WASH (Water, Sanitation & Hygiene) organization focused on urban environments and, specifically, the poorest children within them. Splash works with the public, private and social sectors in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Ethiopia, India, Nepal and Thailand to create lasting and local safe water solutions for orphanages, schools, clinics and shelters.

Eric Stowe

Eric Stowe

Stowe’s bio:

Twitter: @ericstowe

Eric Stowe is Founder & Executive Director of Splash. He has worked in the international NGO sector for the last 15 years and is much-watched for his leadership in international development, transparency practices, and business-approaches to solving conditions of poverty.

Wealthy Utah Businessman Hires Ex-Convicts To Lead Nonprofit; It’s Not What You Think!

In the heart of one of the country’s most conservative small towns, just a few miles from the notoriously dry Brigham Young University, ensconced in the safety of a gated community, our host for the evening introduced us to the four felons he’d chosen to run his new nonprofit, The Other Side Academy.

Sitting in the living room of Joseph Grenny’s 10,000 square-foot home with fifty other guests, I struggled to grasp the full message I was being presented. I kept tripping over the irony of the wealthy benefactor who had so successfully protected himself from ever having to think about—let alone fear—a criminal choosing to enter their world in hopes of redeeming them.

Having learned of Mimi Silbert’s Delancey Street Foundation in San Francisco, Grenny, the bestselling author, who has studied and written about influencers like Silbert, decided Utah needed something like Delancey Street.

The managing director of The Other Side Academy, which will be closely modeled on Delancey Street’s proven approach, is being built with an overarching goal: scale. Grenny, and his partner, Tim Stay, not only hope to create a successful program in Utah, but to roll it out nationwide—and then internationally.

The Other Side Academy Team: Dave Durocher,  Alan Fahringer, Lola Zagey and Martin Anderson.

The Other Side Academy Team: Dave Durocher, Alan Fahringer, Lola Zagey and Martin Anderson.

The pair have chosen David Durocher to serve as the managing director for the Utah Center. He’s the perfect choice. Before spending eight years at Delancey Street in Los Angeles, he spent 15 years in prison over four stays with very brief stints on the outside, once lasting only 59 days. His first arrest came at age 13. His last five years at Delancey Street he served as the managing director for a facility with 250 people.

The Delancey Street model has been proven successful over thirty-plus years. The system requires that those who choose to come and stay work hard, typically at low-skilled jobs that teach them how to become constructive members of society. Most participants never have been before. Delancey Street operates several small businesses run by rehabilitated ex-convicts, addicts and others who’ve hit bottom and are willing to do the hard work required to prepare themselves to lead productive lives.

Durocher will be joined by Alan Fahringer, Lola Zagey and Martin Anderson, also alumni of the Delancey Street program.

The Delancey Street program is described on the website as follows:

There is no official staff at Delancey Street. Everyone who comes in works his or her way up into some sort of position in which he/she is learning a new job from the person over them who has held that job before, and teaching the job he/she has now to the newer resident. In this way, everyone at Delancey Street is pulling together toward the same goals. No one is simply a receiver; everyone is a giver as well.

The potential harmony of the Utah Mormon leaders, Grenny and Stay, playing with the ex-cons from Southern California rings with potential. The proven business acumen combined with the necessary track record of the operational directors leads one to conclude that it is possible to relatively quickly scale up a facility in Utah and then grow the model nationally.

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!

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