PATHFINDER has been selected for the AMEX and Ashoka Emerging Innovators Bootcamp!

Ashoka

PATHFINDER has been selected for the prestigious Emerging Innovators Bootcamp, by Ashoka and the American Express Leadership Academy. 100 people are chosen to attend from around the world, 20 of whom are from North America. It’s still a bit hard to believe that we were chosen to participate in this incredible event!

This is big for us; just to put it in perspective, Ashoka Fellows become world leaders and win Nobel Peace Prizes. So for them to have even noticed us and chosen us for such a selective event is validation of our passion and work. We’re just so amazed and so excited! See here for the complete list of this year’s participants.

For more on what we’ve been up to check out our latest newsletter!

PATHFINDER is excited to announce we’ll be attending the Social Venture Institute in B.C.!

PATHFINDER has a very busy fall ahead, with engagements spanning across Canada and the US (stay tuned for more)!

One of the opportunities we’ll be involved with is the Social Venture Institute at Hollyhock, B.C. this September. SVI is a practical, problem-solving alternative “business school” within a confidential and supportive setting. This program is for CEOs, Executive Directors, Founders, key staff, social entrepreneurs, and emerging leaders of all kinds.

We look forward to joining other mission-based entrepreneurs from across sectors and generations for a five-day, dynamic gathering to share goals, challenges and successes.

Hollyhock exists to inspire, nourish and support people who are making the world better.

We can’t wait!

A Fight We Can Win: Eradicating Poverty by 2030

By Shivani Singh

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The human race has never been better off. We’re healthier, we’re smarter, we live longer, we’ve made immense progress in the sciences, and collectively, we’re more prosperous than we’ve ever been. Yet, we’re very aware that we’ve still got a long way to go. Turn on the news and it’s awash with reminders of our failings. As the Boomers hand over controls to the younger generations, great shifts are underway. The challenges humanity faces today are remnants of the most pervasive older ones, like hunger and poverty, combined with some newer ones, like climate change. There are renewed calls for commitments, fresh perspectives and creative solutions everywhere. Leading these, is the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Agenda, “a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity.”[*] And of these SDGs, Poverty is the foremost. The United Nations, the world’s premier governing body “recognize(s) that eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including extreme poverty, is the greatest global challenge and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development.”

 The first Sustainable Development Goal aims to “End poverty in all its forms everywhere”.

Poverty has been around for as long as we have governed ourselves. We aren’t the first few generations to have tried to fight it, either. So what makes poverty so difficult to overcome, especially where societies are successful and governments mean well? We reckon a key reason is that poverty is less a standalone issue in itself and more an amalgamation of other, incredibly complex issues. In fact, persistent poverty is usually an indicator of one or more other social issues that concern inadequate education, economic opportunity and good governance.  In effect, we’re saying that getting a handle on poverty requires, to some degree, getting a handle on education, healthcare, economics, equality and governance. The exact formula is delicate enough to have evaded us for centuries. And even then, it’s not all that’s required.

We chatted with RESULTS board member, Pankaj Agarwal, about ending extreme global poverty in our lifetime

He shares a Board of Directors seat with Nobel Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus and contributes 10% of his household income to the organization annually, but Pankaj Agarwal tends to introduce himself as a volunteer at RESULTS. A registered nonprofit organization, “RESULTS is a movement of passionate, committed everyday people. Together they use their voices to influence political decisions that will bring an end to poverty.” Pankaj began his work with RESULTS back in 2008, but that is not the beginning of his story as an advocate of poverty alleviation and eradication.

When he was a four or five year old boy growing up in New Delhi, Pankaj remembers walking with his mother, on a cold and foggy winter day, excited about having bought himself a new sweater. He recalls they “walked past a child my age shivering, hugging himself for warmth as he begged for food and money.” Pankaj asked his mother if he could give the boy his own sweater since he had many more, and as soon as his mum agreed, Pankaj peeled off his sweater and gave it to the cold child on the street. Immediately, several other children, also freezing and hungry, came running out for sweaters. This was Pankaj’s first understanding of not only the fact that there were so many who had so little but also, that he was so small and so powerless against a great big problem. He grew up, like many Indians, averting his eyes from poor people everywhere. And they were everywhere in India.

In 1983, Pankaj was invited by a friend to attend an event by The Hunger Project, where he learned that 35 million people were dying of hunger and poverty every year, and 28 million of them were children. He also learned that “according to the United Nations there was enough food in the world to feed everyone (this research was from the 1970s, more than 40 years earlier)! What was missing was the political will to get the job done.” He had spent his life until that point being aware of a greater problem and feeling guilty for being powerless against it. “Suddenly, I felt whole again – there was something that I could do to end the suffering that I had tried desperately to hide from.” And so, at the age of 17, Pankaj became a participant in the fight against poverty.

We wanted to learn from Pankaj about his experiences and his long commitment to a fight that – if we’re honest – can be so intimidating, difficult, and hopeless. The following is the conversation that ensued.

What distinguishes RESULTS from others in the field, especially those working towards eradicating poverty?

RESULTS is a key participant in the fight against poverty. And for several reasons, not the most important of which are…

  1. RESULTS is fully committed to the World Bank’s goal of ending extreme global poverty by 2030.
  2. As far back as 1977, research indicated that while we have the capacity to end extreme poverty, the political will is missing. RESULTS tackles this issue explicitly. The organization works with lawmakers across the political spectrum to drive policy change and increased investment in domestic and global health, education and economic opportunity.
  3. And finally – perhaps most importantly – RESULTS has a significant multiplier effect, something called the “RESULTS Leverage”.

With a modest budget and a relatively small number of dedicated volunteers, the organization encourages governments to spend billions towards the ultimate goal. This is done by lobbying government officials, building relationships, and writing op-eds and letters to editors in newspapers.

Every dollar invested in advocacy with RESULTS is raising millions more for the programs and policies that will change our world.

RESULTS’ 50 staff and (little army of) 2,000 volunteers are able to conduct primary and secondary research, analyze policy, advance legislation, and help steer government investment toward the highest-impact solutions to poverty. Like, for example, consider the racial wealth gap in America, which RESULTS has most recently been studying. Black Americans have 7 cents to the dollar in savings for white Americans. Latin Americans have 8 cents to the dollar. RESULTS champions the causes in scope to help level the playing field for greater equality and access to resources.

And there’s more still. RESULTS covers all the relevant bases. They work with the best private and public organizations, so that they can mobilize far greater resources for eradicating extreme global poverty by 2030, and for ending poverty in the USA.

What are some of RESULTS’ achievements?

Pankaj states that although it’s impossible to attribute 100% of government or economic actions to RESULTS’ work, the following have occurred after some campaigns that RESULTS and its partner organizations have undertaken:

1. The preventable deaths of children under 5 have fallen by well over half since 1990, from over 40,000 per day to about 16,000 per day. We now believe the end of these preventable deaths is within reach.

2. In 2017, both the US House and the Senate passed the READ Act, legislation that will improve the lives of millions of children around the world, who don’t have access to a quality education. Read More

3. The grassroots outcry this spring helped put a stop to proposals that would have gutted Medicaid and stripped health insurance from millions of low-income Americans.

4. RESULTS volunteers played a key role in Congress, finally making permanent crucial provisions of pro-work tax credits that raise roughly 16 million people, including up to 8 million children, above or closer to the poverty line.

5. The US Senate reintroduced legislation this month that will help pave the way toward the end of preventable child and maternal deaths around the world. The Reach Every Mother and Child (S. 1730) makes sure the U.S. does its part to support countries to reach this ambitious goal. Read More

6. 19 million people are now receiving lifesaving AIDS drugs, from a few hundred thousand people a few years ago.

7. Check out more of RESULTS’ historical achievements here.

So, what are the 3 biggest challenges RESULTS faces?
  1. Funding and staffing: There are many more countries, under-represented areas, and elected officials to work with still. More money means more staff, and therefore, more reach.
  2. Learning how to do deep advocacy takes time and energy – this is not something we all learn in civics class! But we see it has tremendous impact.
  3. Often, people don’t realize the power that they hold as constituents to truly shape what’s happening on Capitol Hill. Breaking through this skepticism is essential.
Ok… If you could change something unilaterally, what would it be?

I’d love to invite some of the most influential government leaders and philanthropists to support our cause! Having them work with us has the potential to unlock many more resources, inspire many more people, and ensure we meet our 2030 commitment. I’d love to see more people inspired to get involved and take action; we’ve seen the incredible influence a relatively small group of people can have. Now imagine if we multiplied that by hundreds or thousands!

You say we must all get involved. What is your top advice for others who are concerned about and interested in eradicating poverty?

Join the RESULTS Action Network to get weekly alerts to take actions like calling or writing an elected official! Attend a RESULTS orientation! Roll up your sleeves and get to work!

No, really. The World Bank, UNICEF and USAID are all in agreement that extreme poverty can be eradicated by 2030. This is not just a childhood dream anymore, it’s a very real and concrete possibility! But it’s only possible through our participation. No problems are solved by sitting on the sidelines. And we must stay committed too. This is a slow, steady and cumulative effort so we must stay the course.

“But in the end, I think to myself, our generation’s legacy to the future will be that we ended something terrible, something we have fought for thousands of years. Poverty will have ended on our watch and with our efforts. Come 2030, nobody will live on less than $1.90 a day.”

He finishes, “imagine how happy we will feel when our grand-kids visit a ‘Poverty Museum’ and ask us about what it was!”

So there it is. Poverty can, indeed must, end in our lifetime. But in order to get there, it’s imperative that we all get engaged. We must each do what we can. But do, we must.

[*] “Transforming Our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.” Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform, United Nations, sustainabledevelopment.un.org/post2015/transformingourworld.

 

 

An interview with entrepreneurs EcoEnclose: being the change they want to see

By Jessica van Thiel

Since we got started in 2015, we’ve come across all kinds of social enterprises, covering causes from humanitarian to environmental, and everything in between. Being firm believers in collaborative efforts, we’re always interested to learn about others and how we could potentially work together towards our common goal of making the planet a better place. That’s why, when we came across EcoEnclose, the leading supplier of eco-friendly shipping supplies in the United States, we couldn’t wait to interview them about their successful, innovative, and impactful initiative.

EcoEnclose, a Green America Certified Business, provides both small and large businesses with environmentally-friendly shipping solutions across the US. EcoEnclose aims to bring innovation, eco-solutions and beautiful designs to an otherwise archaic industry. Their earth friendly packaging has allowed them to work with pretty incredible group of companies. In 2016, EcoEnclose served over five thousand small-to-medium-sized businesses across the US in addition to 23 countries internationally, most of whom have stated a commitment to the environment. Many of them are true eco-innovators, finding new, more earth-conscious ways to make and sell their products.

PATHFINDER interviewed Saloni Doshi and Kyle Wente, co-owners of EcoEnclose to find out more about the growing industry

Searching to Make a Positive Economic Impact

Kyle and Saloni purchased EcoEnclose in September 2015, after three years of searching for an entrepreneurial opportunity that aligned with their moral compass, their commitment to the environment, and their desire to create a positive economic impact. Their decision as a couple, to acquire the business, meant leaving stable professions and lifestyles (as is the case for many entrepreneurs) at time when they were just starting a family. Still, that didn’t stop them from pursuing this exciting opportunity, on the contrary, they recall the past two years with fondness, “The past two years have been incredible. We’ve learned more than we ever thought possible about packaging, shipping, pros and cons of different materials as it relates to functionality and sustainability, and operating a small business. Every day we are inspired by yet another company we work with who pushes us and teaches us how we can be better. We’ve doubled the size of our team and our warehouse. We’ve added new products to our line, and have custom designed so many fun and eye-catching packages for our customers. And, the best part, we both feel like we have created real value for the environment and for many fantastic businesses.

How did you get your idea or concept for the business? What motivated you to do so?

We actually acquired EcoEnclose in September of 2015 after searching for a business opportunity for over three years. Our goal was to find a business that a) fit our values, and b) we could apply our skills to improve and grow. When we found EcoEnclose, it was love at first sight. It was almost a perfect a match given our strong commitment the environment and to supporting entrepreneurs and small businesses.

The interesting part – that we did not foresee – is that with each day we become more passionate about both, the environment and entrepreneurship. So just as our business grows, our motivation to do more grows as well.

What are your most valuable lessons learned since launching EcoEnclose?

Know and support your customers: Understand who they are, what they want, what makes them tick. What are they seeking when they come to you and how can you help solve their problems as easily as possible? Make the time to meet their needs, regardless of how big of a customer they are. We serve quite a few small businesses – individuals and artisans running an online shop out of their home. They are trying to run their businesses ethically and sustainably, but small business owners have no time to put in-depth research into shipping. So when they come to us, they need easy to digest advice (on packaging and sustainability), and the ability to order that packaging as quickly and seamlessly as possible. We actually often find ourselves spending more time with these folks, who ultimately may place much smaller orders than the resource-rich big companies we work with.

For us, this approach and ethos is a no-brainer. It strengthens our business, our mission and has helped build a pretty incredible community of eco minded companies we work with.

Delegate: Our operations aren’t necessarily simple. Early on, it was easy to get in the weeds and jump into the fray when shipments arrived, a machine was down or a warehouse team member was struggling with his or her role. Additionally, tasks like bookkeeping and payroll management could easily take up several hours per week. At the end of the week, we found ourselves wondering why we couldn’t execute so many of our strategic, growth and mission oriented priorities.

Almost two years later, it is still easy to get caught up, but a lot of progress has been made! Our warehouse manager does a stellar job managing the floor and our operations, and this gives us time to focus on strategy, sales and growth. Other similarly important positions have been created and filled, bookkeeping has been outsourced, and help has been secured for digital marketing.

Not only are we better focused on EcoEnclose’s vision, strategy, growth and sales now, but we also have discovered just how much better our business operates when the right people are in charge of the right things.

What was your mission at the outset, what are your major goals and where do you want EcoEnclose to be in 5 years-time?

Our mission is to enable e-commerce businesses to ship their goods with minimal impact on the environment. We work hard to make this an easy and fun choice for companies of all sizes.

Our major goals are to (1) be an innovator within shipping and packaging, and (2) help thoughtful, values-based businesses (our customers) grow and showcase their eco ways to the world.

1) To us, being an innovator means pushing the industry to go further, exploring new materials, and eventually overhauling the linear life-cycle of packaging and bringing the “cradle-to-cradle” concept to the industry. We work in partnership with our manufacturing partners, visiting their facilities, and verifying the claims being made with respect to recycled content.

2) Helping customers showcase their values is critical. Market research has shown that 77% of customers believe packaging should reflect a company’s eco practices and 48% would leave a company because of unsustainable packaging. Many of the companies we work with are so committed to the environment, but aren’t getting credit for their work. We are introducing new printed product lines, brochures and campaigns to help our customers gain the loyalty and admiration they deserve for thinking beyond dollars alone and considering the planet in all of their actions.

In five years, we hope EcoEnclose is the leading voice in eco-friendly packaging and an extremely valuable resource to e-commerce businesses looking to build an eco-minded and ethical company.

We hope we have brought innovations to the shipping world and have helped the entire industry adopt more earth-minded practices as a norm, not the exception.

And we hope we have helped spur a movement among consumers to demand green packaging, and to not take the “conventional” option.

Where, in your opinion, is the future of eco-friendly shipping headed? Is it a growing industry?

The shipping products industry is growing rapidly with the long term trend towards online purchasing. This demands a huge amount of packaging. Because boxes and bags sitting on your doorstep is such a visual reminder of packaging, more and more consumers are aware of and annoyed at wasteful packaging. With eco topping the major concerns for shipping within the rapidly growing e-commerce industry, we think the future of eco-friendly shipping is strong.

To us, the key is that this focus on eco within e-commerce packaging be grounded in what is truly better for the planet, and that we help encourage authentic and productive behavior.

We want to move beyond the green washing that is quite common, and help companies make the best decisions for the planet.

To what do you attribute your success?

• An honest and deep commitment to the core mission of sustainability and helping protect the planet.
• An honest and deep commitment to supporting businesses and entrepreneurs that want to make an positive impact on the environment.
• Recognition that the only way to achieve our mission is to also operate strategically, with sound business practices.
• An awesome team of diverse, passionate and quirky people.
• Amazing companies we work with who are so committed to the environment that they are eager to tell others about us.

What is unique about your Startup story?

The classic, inspiring entrepreneur is focused on creating and building their own idea in their own niche market or product. We were much more focused on finding an opportunity where our experience and skills in business could help move a great company forward.

Does your company give back to the community where it is located or in other communities, if so, then how?

Yes, recently we have volunteered in our community on several occasions: we volunteered with The Nature Conservancy / Greenway Fund on Earth Day (river cleanup), we volunteered with EcoCycle for our team holiday party, we have done an Earth Month campaign donating to The Arbor Day Foundation, and have done a Veterans Day donation campaign to Homes for Wounded Warriors. We also recently became an EcoCycle Green Star Business. Through this program, EcoEnclose supports EcoCycle and gains valuable advice on how to run a more sustainable business.

If you had one piece of advice to an entrepreneur just starting out, what would it be?

Live in the present and take in the moments – especially the messy, fraught, and challenging ones. It is easy to get caught up in envisioning the future, developing your strategy, and potentially selling an exit to an investor.

Becoming an entrepreneur is mainly a choice about how you are going to live your life (not just a focus on the end game). Be ready to live in the clutter and uncertainty!

The Rise of Social Enterprises in Europe: Just a Trend or Here to Stay?

By Jessica van Thiel

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“There are lots of injustices in the current economic model, but I think social enterprise and social investment offers a way forward. I don’t see whole-scale revolution as likely any time soon, so we need to change the system we have.” – Paula Woodman, Global Adviser on Social Enterprise, British Council

The European SocEnt Scene

We’re a social enterprise based in Canada and in France, with a predominant client and partner in the United Kingdom, so it’s imperative that we be closely connected to the social enterprise (or #SocEnt) scene in Europe. We understand the importance of knowing the European market and the impact it has in the larger picture. After all, social entrepreneurship is much about collaboration, as a great number of social enterprises maximize their impact through partnership and co-operation.

According to the Social Enterprise Council of Canada social enterprises are, “businesses owned by non-profit organizations that are directly involved in the production and/or selling of goods and services for the blended purpose of generating income and achieving social, cultural, and/or environmental aims[1]”. In short, a SocEnt is a business that has a greater purpose and in general aims to ‘do good’ while making a profit.

One common practice among social entrepreneurs is to share ideas with peers. For us, building relationships and networks across Europe and North America have been essential in maximizing our reach. Rather than compete with other social entrepreneurs, as common practice in other industries, we’ve adopted the strategy of sharing information and connecting with our peers in efforts to gain insight, explore best practices, and establish key contacts. This has been incredibly rewarding for us, and through trial and error, we’ve learned that it is one of the most effective ways of accomplishing our objectives.

As the SocEnt community thrives on other SocEnts and there is an increase in the general awareness of the industry, it is very encouraging to see signs that social enterprises are on the rise across the globe. The industry has been growing in North America for decades, having gained momentum since industry giant, Ashoka, was founded in 1978. Social Enterprises have also steadily risen in developing countries, with investors and governments increasingly recognizing the potential of the sector. Europe may well be the next hot spot for social entrepreneurs.

So why is Europe getting on board now? We believe it’s a result of varying factors. For one, an uncertain socio-economic time in Europe and perhaps a renewed pressure to find new solutions has created plenty of opportunities for SocEnts across Europe. The (2009) global economic crisis in particular, resulted in widespread public discontentment with the way the global economic system functions, and it fueled interest (from many sectors) in more inclusive economic systems. And perhaps most importantly, this lead to an increased recognition of the role social enterprises can play in tackling societal and environmental challenges and fostering inclusive growth[2].

While the importance of the opportunity and necessity SocEnts hold is becoming increasingly clear – and there are a few note worthy studies which have aimed to fill this gap in knowledge such as The European Commission’s Mapping Study (April 2016), The British Council’s study on what Social Enterprises will look like in Europe by 2020 – little research has been done regarding the scale and impact of the sector in Europe as a greater, dynamic whole. There’s certainly the opportunity and a growing market, with the possibility to change the current economic model, one where social enterprise and social investment offer a way forward.

However, much work is yet to be done to discover all of the benefits of running socially responsible and economically sustainable organizations. The bottom line is this: while there is plenty of interest in exploration, we are still far from where SocEnts are a new normal.

A SocEnt’s Map of Europe: Who and What to Watch For

Who are Europe’s most promising SocEnts and what is their focus? As Europe deals with possibly the largest refugee crisis of all time, it’s no surprise that a large number of young SocEnts have made the refugee cause a priority, and they are running organizations focused on migration, successful integration and economic independence.

For example, Josephine Goube, is the Director of Partnerships of Migreat, an enterprise that simplifies the complex process of migration in Europe; Paula Schwarz founded Startupboat which finds scalable solution for mass migration emergencies; and Nathanael Molle of Singa,  helps refugees entering France set up small businesses or re-enter the workforce with French language training. Others are addressing different issues such as SimPrints, creating medical record-keeping technologies in developing countries, InternsGoPro are finding students meaningful internships across Europe, Social Wolves is encouraging widespread social activism in Europe and around the world, and Make Sense is an international community that rallies ‘SenseMakers’ across the world to help social entrepreneurs solve their challenges.[3].

Across Europe we are seeing a surge in youth entrepreneurship and interest in social innovation, sustainable technologies and helping the world’s most vulnerable. We too, have had the opportunity to participate first-hand, through our work with universities in the UK and with networks such as the European Sustainable Development Network and the Unreasonable Institute in France. It’s pretty incredible the rate and pace at which these networks and communities are emerging, it only gives more momentum and enthusiasm to the industry.

With social entrepreneurship on the rise, social entrepreneurs will surely have a vital and central role to play in changing the world for the better, one business at a time[4]”.

How We See It

There are many amazing efforts underway, and by some incredible people, none-the-less. While this is all very promising, we are reminded constantly through our work, that there are still major gaps in the SocEnt industry in Europe and around the globe. But where there are gaps, there are opportunities, and we are optimistic that the future of SocEnts is vast and exciting; in Europe and elsewhere. And as more people get involved in such businesses, it is only a matter of time before there is greater impact where governments and ‘business as usual’ increasingly fail us. Simply put, the more people are inspired and informed of the potential of social entrepreneurship, the more likely they will recognize opportunities to change the current economic model to one where social enterprises offer a way forward.

[1] The Social Enterprise Council of Canada, 2017

[2] European Commission, 2017

[3] Forbes, 2016

[4] Lyon Business School, Global Entrepreneurship Program, 2016

People are recognizing the value in doing good while doing well

Photo UN MISC article

Social entrepreneurship is becoming a movement in its own right. Current major global players that are in place to ensure the security and human rights of citizens are failing us, leaving a gap in the industry – and an opportunity for emerging innovations and players. People are recognizing the value in doing good while doing well. Most importantly, it’s a chance for social entrepreneurs to right the wrongs and propose innovative and effective solutions for helping people. Social entrepreneurs are not simply trying to affect change; they are the change.

The original article was published in MISC Magazine’s “Women: Shattering Expectations issue and can be found here: What the Mighty United Nations can Learn from Local Social Entrepreneur

Enabling Local Social Entrepreneurs

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Jess was recently interviewed by Ogunte, Community Interest Company and a certified B Corp, where she spoke about working with local social entrepreneurs, PATHFINDER’s theory of change and her vision for 2030.

“My world in 2030 would be one of equality for all, more opportunities for women in positions of power, and access to education for all girls, resulting in a brighter future for women and girls everywhere.”

Check out the full interview, Enabling local Social Entrepreneurs!

 

We must reinvent an economy for a resilient civilization

“We must reinvent an economy for a resilient civilization” – Joel Solomon

The_Clean_Money_Revolution_Book_Cover

We are thrilled to share the news about pioneering impact investor Joel Solomon’s new book, The Clean Money Revolution.

#Clean Money Revolution, is set to launch on May 1st, 2017 on Amazon and is now available for pre order.

The book calls for the reinvention of power, purpose and capitalism that will generate the biggest money making opportunity in history. $50 trillion will change hands from Boomers to Millennials in North America alone by 2050.

Co-Founder and Chair of Renewal Funds, Canada’s largest mission venture capital firm, Mr. Solomon is a pioneer in his field and inspiring leader and human being. See here to learn more about Joel Solomon, the book, and his legacy.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world

Margaret Mead Quote.jpg

Every now and again we are struck by a quote or passage from a book that really resonates with us, that feels like it was written exactly for us. In a time where we feel powerless to affect change, we are reminded that through passion and perseverance, we can change the world.

Sir Richard Branson’s book, Screw Business as Usual, highlights this point; we (the little guys) can be the change. This is something we’ve seen to be true in our work and the inspiring work our fellow social entrepreneurs do everyday.

Branson sums it up perfectly in this passage:

Margaret Mead was one of the first great cultural anthropologists whose work on the people of Samoa is still a text book study. David Shepherd says her words inspired him: ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has’. He wrote to me, ‘Changing the world is no mean feat; but this quote reveals two of the great truths of the world. First, the world can be changed. Second, every great movement in the world starts with a tiny group of people who simply refuse to accept a situation. They gather their ideas and their passion and rive forward. If there is a problem they solve it or simply overcome it. They are not intimidated by the odds.’[i]

 

And we couldn’t agree more!

 

[i] Sir Richard Branson, 2011, Screw Business as Usual

Where is the Humanity?

By Shivani Singh

How PATHFINDER’s humanitarian aid mission went unexpectedly

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I had been traveling for almost an entire day when I landed in Beirut. I had secured the necessary approvals to enter Lebanon from General Security, their primary authority, but all my experience traveling had led me to expect at least a few questions at the border. There was of course, a tiny chance I’d get sent back to Canada, but it was an unlikely one at best. We had followed our instructions so we decided to proceed with the mission.

The Mission

Over a matter of weeks, we had raised several thousand dollars to run a humanitarian aid mission for the children in refugee camps along Syria’s western border. We wanted to bring them some holiday cheer but more importantly, we wanted to get them essential supplies amidst heavy fighting in Aleppo and an impending cold winter. Most of the supplies were to be arranged in Lebanon for fear of uncooperative customs. In Canada, we made 250 gift bags for smaller children, I loaded a suitcase full of these presents, and 75 lbs later, we were set!

Detention in Beirut

When I landed in Beirut, the men in charge were curt at best. I showed emails and identifications of individuals who had vouched for me, but these guys were not too convinced. After some pleading for reason in vain, I was detained in a small room with a few others. Over the next five hours, I got to know some of these people.

There was an older Libyan couple, professors both, and lovely company. They translated between the others and me, the only one not fluent in Arabic. And there was a young Syrian mother in her twenties. She had two small children with her. The three had recently fled for northern Europe, leaving behind the father and everyone else they ever knew. I was told she was visiting Lebanon to bring supplies to loved ones in camps, with whatever little money she had. But Lebanon detained her and threatened to send her back to Syria. She was once again, desperate, and her children terrified.

The room we were in had no internet access and no phone. I’d say it was designed to be intimidating but I doubt a moment’s thought went into its design at all. There was no access to water or toilets. People often ask what would’ve happened if we needed the facilities and I honestly answer that I don’t know. They didn’t stop us from using our own phones but we had little access given we had just gotten off international flights. We were told to wait indefinitely while they decided how best to get rid of us.

The Detained

Whatever little information I would get, I would share with the others. One of the officers had taken a liking to me and offered me few clues of what might be happening. They were working on getting us approved (the Libyans) or flown out (the Syrians and I). He acknowledged I had done everything right and that there was no reason to hold me but “it’s like a game of Russian Roulette.” He couldn’t help me because doing so would imply that I had bribed him and just like that, he’d be in serious trouble. It was times like these that he hated his job, he said, when he was confronted with their mess of a system. He was suggesting that while the authorities conflicted, the men in charge seemed to be on their own little prejudiced power trips. The kindly officer said that he’d “love to give (me) an explanation but unfortunately there was none.” So there I was, powerless, waiting to be tossed out in manner of criminal.

While I waited for news about my impending deportation, I had briefly turned on my Canadian phone. I needed to get a hold of the folks in Lebanon who had arranged my approvals. They tried so hard to reach their contacts in government, but alas, people were inaccessible for the holidays. Urgently though, I needed to let my friends know where I was last, should things have gotten worse.

I didn’t know my fellow detainees at that time. But the Syrian woman saw me using my phone and asked the professors to translate her most earnest request to use it briefly. That’s when I learned her story. I handed over my phone gladly, and asked her to do what she needed without concern. Meanwhile, I decided to play with her children who were actually scared stiff. They knew they were in trouble but probably had no idea why. They’d been through a lifetime of horror already. Wasn’t that enough? I pulled out some pages from my notebook and we made paper planes. Just like that, they were happy little children. We were goofing around until one of the nastier officers came by and yelled at them. I was incredulous.

About forty five minutes of phone calls later, the Syrian mother had notified the right people and made the necessary arrangements. She handed me back my phone and asked the professors to translate her deepest, most earnest gratitude. She was too strong to cry but she meant every word. If I hadn’t had helped her, she said, her children would have ended up badly in a way I could not comprehend. She wasn’t able to speak of returning to Syria, or even to let her mind explore the idea. I of course, was so embarrassed that she should be profusely grateful for nothing. But that’s when the professor explained how much such a gesture had meant to them. Everything they had experienced had made them question “where is the humanity?” Daesh had destroyed their entire region. Their own leaders were bombing them. Compassion was so long forsaken. I failed at holding back my tears while they were ever so graceful in managing their own.

There had been a few children in and out of detention that day. I offered them whatever little snack I had in my bag. All of them were petrified. And all of their parents were amazed at the generosity which, to me, was incredible. Truly, I had said, it was just a free airline cookie or a piece of gum. I had done nothing that required such a show of gratitude that day. And yet, it was more than these people had seen in a long time. The world has forgotten us, they had each said in those few hours. Millions of people in the Middle East have been discarded, by their own, by their worst, and by the rest of us. There was heartbreak in their voices, pain in their faces, and tears in their eyes when they had spoken of their world, destroyed.

What was my religion, the professor in hijab had asked me at one point. I had responded with the fact that I am not a religious person. I then followed with a cheesy quip about peace being my religion, along with love and humanity. Why? Because I like to diffuse tension with self-deprecation. But it wasn’t funny to them. They nodded in favor of my “religion”, perhaps even more so than their own, as the professor replied “that is the best; it is the only one that matters.”

Getting Deported

Five hours later, I was escorted to the plane I was to catch out of Beirut, to Toronto via Cairo. The kindly officer himself walked me to my flight, through the various checkpoints, all the while apologizing and expressing hope that I would consider visiting on a future passport. I would most certainly not, I assured him. I politely declined invitations to stay in touch on Facebook, wished him the best, and took my seat, only moments before the plane was to leave. They made damn sure I was gone.

As soon as I sat in my seat, I realized that I was dehydrated and badly needed to pee. It had been too many hours. I ran to the loos in the back of the plane. As I was washing my hands, I looked in the mirror. That was the first time I began to work out what had happened, and it was the only time I broke down, sobbing.

I slept the rest of my hour long flight, shaken and exhausted.

Plan C in Cairo

When I got to Cairo, I must’ve looked quite badly off. Everyone was immediately helpful. But then I found Egyptians to be so friendly in general. I decided to stay and coordinate my efforts from Egypt as best as we could. First though, I needed to inform my friends that I was safe and that I was in Cairo, Egypt. I needed to rearrange my flight home. And I needed a new place to stay. It must have been the adrenaline still, but I pushed through the shock and exhaustion to run around the airport finding a local phone, getting internet access, locating my luggage, arranging another flight, and booking a hotel. I badly needed a shower and a comfortable bed. More than anything though, I needed to feel safe. I needed to rest somewhere I knew I could lock myself in and hide until I was ready. About 36 hours from leaving Toronto, I was finally showered, I had reassured friends and family of my wellness, and I lay in bed, head spinning from the ordeal. I slept an entire day and a half before I woke again. There were moments in between, when I’d stir and remember where I was, and why, and there’d be this overwhelming urge to cry; I decided that I’d remain in bed and asleep until I was ready. I just slept it all off like a nightmare.

A couple of days after arriving (and hiding) in my hotel in Giza, I had regained my composure. We had a mission to complete. A lot of people were relying on me, some for their survival. I decided to “quit being a baby about it” as I said out loud to myself, and got back on my feet.

Shortly after that, we got our project back on track. After some impressive international coordination amongst inspiring people, several well explored options including access from Jordan or Turkey, we finally had the best plan: Plan C. Eventually, we were able to reach about 500 children, including the ones from the orphanage recently evacuated in Aleppo. I also had a 75 lb suitcase of goodies that I delivered to a local orphanage on New Year’s Day. We worked hard with our changing circumstances, we accepted no failure, helped each other out, and were able to do what we set out to do![1]

But Now

I’m not naive about the state of the Middle East. It is all but simple. While I do believe they have a responsibility to each other for the sake of regional peace and prosperity, and that they have to be able to see above their own superfluous differences, we must understand that these arguments apply only to those in power or hunting it. People like us – everyday citizens – they just want peace. And food. And shelter. And long lives for their children. And the dignity of work. And these are our fellow human beings we all fail, collectively.[2]

Looking Ahead

In spite of our collective progress, the world is currently facing formidable challenges. Education has failed far too many. Inequality is out of control. Demagogues are rising to fame by praying on the fears of the vulnerable. It is so easy to feel overwhelmed and powerless. But I echo the sentiments of our better leaders when I say that now more than ever, we must get involved. We must act, in whatever capacity we can. We must stand up for each other and for our children. Indeed, the greatest reason things have gotten as bad as they have in the Middle East, is because we have allowed them to. “All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent.”[3] We must remain silent no more. Every life we affect, in every little way, makes the world a better place; it really, truly does. Every child we reach with our compassion is a future citizen who will grow to appreciate the power of love over hate. Just over one hundred of us ‘Average Joes’ decided to act in our own little way, to help even a few far away children of war. Today, over five hundred of these children are a bit better because of this little act. And we’re all a bit happier for it.

I ask you to consider this for a second: if just over a hundred from our own personal network, in a short span of time, could have made such a respectable difference, can you even imagine the power of us all coming together?

A dear friend, quite upset at my potentially dangerous plans, recently said she hoped I had learned my lesson. I understood why. She was terribly scared for me, as I would surely have been if it were her instead. She asked that I recognize there are professionals out there better suited to the job than I. I wouldn’t dare disagree with that. But I am now more determined than ever. The systems we have in place are clearly no longer enough. More people should be involved in their world, not less. More people should commit to affecting change, not less. We need new ideas, better ones, ideas that have and will continue to evolve with the world. And this world we speak of is incredibly diverse. We need policies that are inclusive and harness the great power of our diversity. So we need to challenge the systems that fail us.

Our social enterprise, PATHFINDER, is often a tough sell. We’re at the start of a young industry, we’re selling innovation and we’re asking for faith in our abilities. We work all the time, relentlessly. And we’ve decided this is it for us, we’ve got to make this work because not only are we committed to change but also, change will never be easy. And our first attempt at a humanitarian aid project, and what we learned from it, has only reinforced our commitment to do what we do, and to get damn good at it.


[1] The most unfortunate thing is that I cannot use any names or identifiers in this article, for the safety of the people involved. It is imperative they remain anonymous, at least for now. But I can assure you, the only reason we succeeded was because there are some absolutely fantastic people out there, people who have dedicated themselves to working tirelessly for those the rest of the world seems to have abandoned.

[2] I came back to North America to be reminded of the racial injustices that plague the wealthy west, and I wondered to myself, would these people care a little more if they knew that the children I saw were pale skinned and blonde haired? Would they treat them like children instead of animals if they knew they weren’t some illiterate, dark little Arabs running around shouting Koranic phrases at each other while our own civilized children learn the alphabet?

[3] Edmund Burke