Monday, December 28, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Full-time Social Activist

Social activism has often been associated with people who work for nonprofits or for social enterprises, people who spend every waking moment on the front lines of generating social change. In actuality, social activism is everyone's profession. With our every purchase, we make a statement about about how we wish to live in the world and the way we want our world to be. All of our choices reveal a piece of our character, reflect our values, and tell the world about our priorities. We don't choose whether or not we are a social activist, we choose the social ideas that our mandatory activism represents.

On Christmas Day, I received one of my favorites gifts via email, and it clearly reflects my work as a social activist. A few months ago, I lent money through to a woman in Ghana who wanted to open a hair salon. On December 25th, notified me that the loan had been fully-repaid months ahead of schedule. I was shocked and thrilled by the news! Now I have the choice to withdraw the funds or lend them to another entrepreneur. Given my positive experience with Kiva, of course I will loan the funds again. I believe in the power of entrepreneurship to transform lives, and I want to support the desire for self-sufficiency among people around the world, a desire I share and deeply understand.

To further reflect these beliefs, I have also loaned money to Grameen America, a brand of Mohammad Yunus's incredible organization. It cost me $10 and about 30 seconds of my time, and gave me the opportunity to make a difference in the life of another New Yorker. There are plenty of opportunities for social activism around the world, but we should not lose sight of the opportunities for social activism that lie just outside our own doors.

Philanthropy is not the only way to choose the how of our activism. We can give time, raise awareness about organization we admire, purchase goods and services from respectable companies, and use our own personal talents in direct ways. For the past two years, I have spent the bulk of my volunteer time on public education. I've taught high school and middle school students in Lower Manhattan and the South Bronx, and I am a book buddy to a local third grade student. On this blog and through my column, I have highlighted organizations whose work inspires me. I try to support local, organic farmers through my grocery shopping. The project I am most excited about in 2010 is my participation with Citizen Schools; I will pilot an after-school program in East Harlem to teach 6th graders about entrepreneurship, product development, and innovation. These accomplishments are not at all extraordinary; they're just choices that reflect my core beliefs.

We have more influence over our world and on others than we realize. There are so many options that it can be difficult to know where to begin. We need only to pick a cause that lights a fire within us, get out there into the world, and let our voices be heard. Invariably, we will find other voices that echo our own.

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