29 April 2014

The Tragedy of Our Personal Gains

Humans are interesting species. We live in a world where we praise individuality. We rally for the underdog, cheer when they win. In many cultures, we sacrifice for the “greater good.” As a society we are enamored by these two ideas, almost every film or news story proves this. However, in the process of securing stability, we often lose empathy because we see the world as our own playground and only our own personal gain matters. Our own gains are how we monitor success and many consider this progress.

While attending a recent local human trafficking conference, speaker Melissa Farley mentioned the correlation between environmental degradation and woman exploitation. She spoke on how disposability of the environment and women parallel each other. As I sat there and listened, I started to reflect on what I had learned through my studies in environmental policy. The more I thought it over, the more I understood.

Through my numerous environmental classes, the common story is that the slightest disturbance, whether it is to the air, water, soil, etc... causes a chain reaction which can lead to long lasting negative effects. This can be analyzed by the theory, tragedy of the commons. It is the concept where a group of individuals will act rationally with only their own self interest in mind. But each person acting rationally for their own gains causes the depletion of the common good, therefore, it's the "tragedy of the common”. The often quoted example of this was presented by Garrett Hardin in 1968, he explains the scenario of a group of herdsmen all grazing their animals on a common open pasture. Initially, they all see the benefits of this pasture. But each person wants to maximize their own gain so they slowly add one additional animal. Slowly but surely, the collective group has each added more to their herd which in turn lead to the exhaustion of the pasture.

This same phenomenon can be translated into the human trafficking world. Traffickers believe that in order to survive in life, they have to make certain choices. They bypass their initial subconscious thought of the horrors of what they are doing and proceed. They do not deter from their actions because of their selfish own interests. In the process, the tragedy becomes those victims and survivors. Bill Gates once brought concern to this issue when he stated " if you're not fully utilizing half the talent in the country, you're not going to get too close to the top." By traffickers acting with only themselves in mind, they enable the depletion of women's potential. These very women that they are exploiting can be the answer to many world problems, such as poverty, the economy, and unemployment.

This self interest can actually also be seen ( in somewhat of the same light) in the case study of the Gray Wolves in the Yellowstone National Park. Western settlers would kill wolves to protect their cattle (again, with only their own interest in mind). Unknowingly, by killing the wolves, they were causing a downward spiral effect of the ecosystem. The elimination of the wolves caused an increase of the local elk, which caused overgrazing of local plants, which in turn affected the surrounding stream beds, soil, birds, and bugs. The Gray Wolves were a keystone species, a species that plays a significant role in keeping stability in that environment.

What if unknowingly to traffickers, those that they are exploiting are the keystone to society? We do not know that those being trafficked might be that integral part of the future.

Through the competitiveness of our society, we have become addicted to our own personal gains. Sometimes that means that this gain is accomplished through the violation of others. I am, however, not saying that we should not cherish ourselves and our own self worth. But we should be self conscious when our individuality becomes our only infatuation. Though all this sounds like a bleak future, we can do something. After the federal government realized what was occurring in Yellowstone, a plan was composed to protect the wolves. The results were miraculous. The restoration caused a return to a stable environment. We too can achieve a form of restoration in trafficking. We can do this through collaboration. Projects like Freedom Collaborative can be a step in the right direction. Will it solve the issue? No. But it sure is a good start.

21 April 2014

Graciously Authentic

The idea of authenticity is something I have been contemplating a lot this year. I often wonder how I can achieve being consistently faithful to the internal instead of the external. How I can undo any counterfeiting of my character and become more bona fide, genuine and trustworthy.

Last week in Amanda's blog, she talked about how every person is unique and not only do we have our own skill set, but we also have our own perspective on things. By acknowledging this, we can grow and collaborate together. But it must start with being authentic.

Struggling to find what you align and identify with and how to act with your innermost being can be difficult. Being authentic can also be painful at times, especially when others do not see the same perspective as you and consequently doors become shut. Authenticity encourages you to be brave and in the long run, it brings the greatest relief to the heart. 

Stephen Covey once said, “The more authentic you become, the more genuine in your expression, particularly regarding personal experiences and even self-doubts, the more people can relate to your expression and the safer it makes them feel to express themselves. That expression in turn feeds back on the other person’s spirit and genuine creative empathy takes place, producing new insights and learning and a sense of excitement and adventure that keeps the process going.”

In this sense, to be authentic is also to trust yourself, and when we can trust each other, we are open.  It forces you to face your fears, not run from them, and allows you to put fear into perspective. In remaining authentic, remind yourself that you can either judge yourself by your weakest moments or by your strongest, but ultimately it is your choice. Authenticity is also a choice. Have the courage to acknowledge your limitations and embrace your vulnerability. What it is that you want, admire, believe, dream and aspire to be? What is it that you cherish most? How do you want to connect with others? When we are loyal to our intentions we become bona fide. And when we align with our self image, stature and public image we are being authentic. So be graciously authentic and thrive in being you.

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.

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.