09 April 2014

Play to Your Strengths

If there's one truth I've consistently encountered in all my jobs, it's that every person has a unique skill set they bring to the table. And while some people prefer to work alone, the great thing about being part of a team is that you have access to all these different skills rather than being confined to rely only on your individual strengths. You also have a place to lend your talents where they're needed.

For example, I'll openly admit that I'm not the best at being a visionary. I'm not the “ideas” person. But if you pair me up with the ideas person, I'm pretty good at figuring out the logical, feasible way of implementing the vision. You tell me the outcome you're hoping for and I'll work really hard to make that happen for you.

(c) Diane A. Curran
This concept also implies that no single person should try to do everything. That's the perfect way to get burned out but accomplish nothing. I'd be foolish to say that I'm going to establish a marketing company, and that I'm going to do it alone. Even if I'm the best marketing professional in the business, if I can't come up with the pitch to pursue I'll never get anything done. Not to mention nobody would actually hire me.

At Chab Dai, I'm fortunate to have people around me with a variety of strengths available to tap into. Our team has some great visionaries with really wonderful ideas on how to aid in counter-trafficking and encourage collaboration within the movement as a whole. We have people who are good at seeing the big picture, and others who are more detail-oriented. Each of us have different interests, educations and experiences that we contribute to the team. We all are very good at our individual jobs, and we're most efficient when we let others do what they do best instead of trying to take on everything at once.

So embrace the team. Offer up the best of your unique skill set and accept that there are some things others can do better than you. Let them, so you can focus on your own contribution, and then the whole group benefits. Working alone, we are ineffective. But together we can really get somewhere.

03 April 2014

The Economics of Freedom

By: Julia Smith-Blake

Speaking of heroes, I recently got to meet one of mine. At the beginning of March, a few of us from Chab Dai were lucky enough to recieve some coveted tickets to a Social Business Hub event to hear Professor Muhammad Yunus speak. Having had the opportunity (and squandered it!) a couple years ago to meet another development hero of mine, Amartya Sen, I was not going to chicken out this time!

The event was wonderful, it began with a panel discussion on the infrastructure of social businesses which included the different definitions of what a social business is, the biggest challenges that can arise and the kind of achievements you can expect in this sector. After a session of workshop presentations, Professor Yunus gave a thorough and superb talk emphasizing the concept of freedom within economics. At the end of the event, a Cambodian social business acrobatic group, Phare, gave an amazing performance (http://www.pharecambodiancircus.org/circus/).

What I love about leaders such as Mohammad Yunus and Amartya Sen is their ability to link, so eloquently and well-thought out, the connections of economics to freedom. Sen’s theoretical model is based on helping individuals and communities achieve freedom. This freedom can be economic freedom, personal freedom, societal freedom and/or the freedom to be who they want to be. Ultimately, all development should be viewed through the lens of freedom. Yunus’ foundational logic for lending money to the poor, which led to the creation of microfinance itself, is essentially, “If I lend money to the poor myself, they won’t have to go to a loan shark, and they will be free!” So many of the poor stay poor or sink even more into a cycle of debt and poverty because of predatory lending practices; and though there is no such thing as a silver bullet in poverty reduction, Yunus saw microfinance as a powerful tool to combat the violence of these practices.

As an aspiring economic sociologist engaged in counter-trafficking, this is music to my soul. It also, in my opinion, promotes the thought that communities have within themselves the potential to end exploitation and trafficking, and the counter-trafficking community’s job is to come alongside them to enable and support their journey to freedom.

Yunus is an inspiring person; after all the challenges he has faced, he remains so positive and hopeful for the future. He truly believes this generation’s youth has the most power and potential in history, and keeps pushing the boundaries of innovative business and economics. At the end of his address, he said (paraphrased), “Poor people are like bonsai trees, there is nothing wrong with the seed, society just didn’t give them room to grow. We need to fundamentally change the system to give them room to grow.”

I am a big believer in “doing with” in development, not “doing for,” and Yunus’ ending words inspire me. Fighting poverty and violence not only requires giving the poor and the oppressed space to grow and achieve their potential, but also working tirelessly to change a system that accepts the status quo and allows a continuous cycle of violence and poverty in the world.

24 March 2014

Knowledge in Action

By Christina Chan

When the topic of human trafficking was discussed in my upper division Human Rights class at UCSB, I was completely engaged. Learning about the different issues we face, the human rights violations that occur, and the detriment that poverty has on the human experience, a deep desire to actively engage and understand the issue of human trafficking was triggered.

Then I heard that my church, Reality Carpinteria, was offering a course called, “Renew”, which focused on the topic of local and international human trafficking and poverty. I took it as an opportunity to gain knowledge about the issue, and to find ways to become involved in the cause.

These opportunities to learn about anti-trafficking caused me to move beyond simply absorbing knowledge, it spurred a passion in me to do something. Chab Dai has provided me with an outlet to share knowledge on a large scale, and it has also served as a valuable resource in gaining practical skills in countering trafficking.

During my time with Chab Dai, I’ve gained skills in presenting the topic of human trafficking. I’ve also learned how to share about the work of Chab Dai in the U.S., framing it as an organization working to promote a collective database of resources for anti-trafficking groups. I’ve also learned methods of researching materials and resources related to counter-trafficking, as well as developing a correct and neutral language when discussing issues of trafficking.

As I input information into FC and research events and resources, I am exposed to the enormity of the issue and the growing network of the counter-trafficking collective. At the end of my internship, I know that I will carry with me the valuable insight I’ve gained regarding trafficking, the discussions I’ve had with staff, interns, as well as individuals outside of Chab Dai, and the community of compassionate, talented individuals who want to eradicate this very real, local/international, lucrative, unjust crime of the exploitation, coercion, and sale of human beings.

17 March 2014

The Learning Approach

By Luke Weatherson

My job did not exist 10 years ago and if it did when I applied for university, I was certainly unaware of it. In the most general sense, graduating with a degree in Social Work provided me with the skills to do a few things very well in the context in which they were needed. Equally as important, attaining a degree taught me the concept of a learning approach, which entails the mindset to always learn and gives you a perspective on how to learn and understand new concepts, operations and people. 

Currently, as the Freedom Registry’s Expansion Coordinator, I support the expansion of our interactive stakeholder database, our learning community and anti-human trafficking commons.  I am in situations I could not have anticipated back in my university days and the learning approach has accompanied me this entire journey, enabling me to articulate, digest and deeply understand my situations and experiences.

My experience in the anti-trafficking sector actually began on less of a learning curve within the theoretical construct of a learning approach but eventually I implemented the learning approach by questioning each new thing on the premise of how it functions without prior knowledge or skill set to handle and assess the situation. 

The quick international growth of Freedom Registry reinforced this learning approach, as we often have to jump between national contexts daily which requires a learning approach. For example, it is necessary to understand the nature of trafficking in Singapore or the role of a Nepali network in fightight against trafficking within their own cultural context and requires an open interpretation and essentially "beginner" eyes, to find the relations in between the static and (dis)connections.

Through our work at Chab Dai, we also see that we are on a learning curve as well, where the most important skill we use is this learning approach.  We see it in our organizational development, through adapting to new circumstances and being proactive to the changes we can anticipate. I’m confident that our members see themselves in a similar light as well.

The learning approach is simple, it’s an attitude that I do not have all the answers and I want to know as much as I can.  At the heart is problem solving, because when we discover the consequences or outcomes from our procedures and orientations, and through reflection on our past, we can construct our own understanding. Learning then becomes an active process that demands change within the learner.   This is then achieved through the activities that we engage in, the outcomes that are produced and finally, a reflection that brings a deep learning curve within ourselves. Applying it is even simpler and you are probably already using. It’s just a matter of focusing and being open to the myriad of possibilities that arise in a situation and taking action. 

09 March 2014

When Helping does not Hurt … (Paying it Forward)

By Kristina Novak

We have countless conversations in our office on what effective help looks like.  For me, it’s never an easy, clear-cut answer. I like to look at the long-term impact. Will this initiative be a sustainable grassroots-driven solution over time?  Is it based on a correct understanding of what the problem is?  Or is it just a quick fix – a plaster that covers the pain for a while, making one feel useful and helpful, but does not deal with the source of the problem. Does it have the purpose and infrastructure to empower individuals to live independently of the aid once it’s gone and become agents of change in their own communities?

Additionally, how do we measure the impact of aid correctly? Some indicators of change show up fast. To measure a long-term impact, we have to collect data over time and observe the shifts in the environment. Seeing a positive change on an individual and at the community level is not only rewarding, but to me, is truly motivating. This is part of the reason I really enjoy working with Chab Dai. I get to witness the impact both our Khmer and expat teams have in fighting exploitation and human trafficking. I see this impact in the lives of individuals that are empowered by education and in the increase of options that are made accessible to them. I also get to see the awareness that is created within a community and the shifts in policy towards better protection of the vulnerable.

A previous blog post talked about the unsung Khmer heroes that do pioneering work in their own communities. My colleagues, both expat and Khmer, are truly inspiring people in the way they live, work and how they deal with the challenges of either living cross-culturally or as nationals of a post conflict country. One of my Khmer colleagues, Sopharith, recently shared his thoughts on what motivates him to do the work he does. Because his story greatly inspired me, I would like to share it. It points to how long-term effects of good aid impact not only the individual but the community as well.   

Sopharith manages Chab Dai’s Doorsteps project and with his team, they work to build the capacity of local grassroots leaders. They offer training on project cycle management and grant acquisition, mentoring leaders and also training on counselling and social work skills.  Doorsteps’ work has significant impact in Cambodian communities. Sopharith shared with me that his inspiration to do the work of capacity building comes in part from his childhood experience. As thousands of other Cambodians did, he grew up in a refugee camp during the civil war that followed the collapse of Khmer Rouge. Conditions in the camp must not have been easy but Sopharith has fond memories of the aid workers who administered the aid. 

“These people worked very hard,” he said. “They also helped to build up our capacity by providing education to us. They inspired me to do the same, to help the people in my country. I love my job at Chab Dai because I too can now work to build capacity of Khmer people and see them become agents of change in their communities.”

Sopharith’s story inspires me. It shows that effective aid empowers not only independence, but a motivation and ability to empower others. Thank you Sopharith and everyone who works hard to contribute to positive, long term change.

Photo above are members of the Doorsteps Team - Soparith (on the right), Dara & Samedy.