Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Sustainable Development Goals: The Global Goals And What You Can Do

This image represents the world that is possible if we hit just ONE, of the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals.

Fifteen years ago, world leaders came together and set array of goals toward building a better world. Among the foremost in these goals was to cut in half the number of people living in extreme poverty by 2015. Any time an individual or group sets a goal, the initial goal setting is met with a mix of hope, expectation, cynicism, and critique, and justifiably so. People make commitments all of the time, but what is often lacking is follow through. At the same time when people make bold commitments, our imaginations are enlivened as we visualize a different world coming into being.

Last Friday, the United Nations came together to set an array of new goals for the year 2030. Again these Global Goals have been met with a mixture of cynicism and hope. Personally I choose the perspective of hope, and here's why. Without a bold goal and a vision of what is possible, we can get satisfied with the status quo. We can get caught up in "this is the way things have always been and this is the way they will always be." I believe we have been given our imaginations to dream of a different world, and we have been given our bodies and our wills to take steps toward making those dreams a reality.

There are 17 Sustainable Development Goals that were agreed upon. Want to learn more about what they are? My good friend Aerie Changala, Nuru's Director of International Operations, recently wrote a post listing these goals and how Nuru has already been working toward many of them. That's another part of the reason I'm hopeful. These aren't goals that have come out of nowhere. They are attainable, and if we increase the level of our commitment toward these goals, and more people choose action over apathy, these goals are well within reach. We, regular people like you and me, could be part of seeing these goals become reality. We each have a part to play.

So what can we do? To start, I recommend checking out the ONE Campaign's website. ONE is a movement of more than seven million members who are taking decisive action to see the end of extreme poverty in our lifetime. ONE advocates using your voice to keep these goals in front of our governments and on the minds of our neighbors.

In addition, I recommend looking into organizations that are doing great work toward hitting these seventeen goals. Commit yourself to getting involved in this worthwhile work. Join our efforts at Nuru and help raise funds and awareness for Nuru to take its model to even more households that are needlessly suffering in extreme poverty. (Ending extreme poverty by 2030 is one of the seventeen goals.)

Third, take decisive actions to lower your ecological footprint. I believe a large reason why we are seeing global injustice on the rise is because we seem to be focused on the pursuit of excess and ongoing self-indulgence. What if each of us chose to make do with a little less? What if we gave more of our time and resources to the betterment of others? What if we chose to walk or ride a bike instead of drive sometimes during our week? What if we made it a habit to turn off lights and appliances when not in use? Not only would these activities be good for our health and well-being and that of the planet, but they would also allow us to save money too.

One other thing you can do is nothing. You can choose to be a spectator, sit on the sidelines, and watch as the rest of the world takes action and sees these goals to their completion. But where is the joy in that? I believe each one of us is at our best when we not only make a commitment, but we take decisive actions toward improving the lives of others and choosing toward reflecting a little bit of the hope and light that comes from living with a diminished focus on ourselves.

So what are you waiting for? The clock is ticking,  and we have less than 5,480 days to see these goals become a reality. Let's do our part to hit these goals and build a better world for everyone!!!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Tune In To the Clinton Global Initiative Live

I'll keep this post brief and to the point. The annual gathering of the Clinton Global Initiative launches today. A litany of world-changers have come from around the globe to make commitments to action to improve the lives of others around the globe. Among those attending this year's gathering is Nuru International's CEO, Jake Harriman. Want to be inspired by some incredible people making a difference in this world? Tune in to the Livestream and follow the event on Twitter.

Hope you are able to tune in to a session or two and that you are inspired as you listen!

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Happy Birthday to Nuru International And Jake Harriman

Nuru CEO Jake Harriman and board chair John Hancox discuss Nuru during the summer of 2007
This week, as the world turns its focus to the United Nations, the Sustainable Development Goals, and the visit of Pope Francis, I thought it would be a great time to write a short reflection on the last seven years of Nuru and wish Jake and Nuru a Happy Birthday!

Although Jake and I have known each other for more than half of our lives, it was during the summer of 2007 that I first learned about and was able to discuss in detail the idea Jake had developed for creating a nonprofit that could sustainably, scalably, and holistically address the challenges of our global neighbors living in extreme poverty with a particular emphasis on addressing those challenges in remote, rural areas—the areas of the world where 85% of those in extreme poverty call home.

During the beginning of September 2008, a small team went through a two-week intensive training in northern California before a short period of saying goodbye to friends and family as they made their way to southwestern Kenya. This team represented the beginnings of Nuru’s work in Kuria West. The first day in Kuria also happened to be Jake’s birthday (and he was struck by lightning, but that’s another story).

I can remember so clearly how excited we were that this idea was launching and even early on we were seeing higher than anticipated participation levels in programs. I believe that is because from the beginning, we were building Nuru on the belief that we should be working with, working through, and building capacity with local leaders, and that they would be the ones best equipped to bring lasting change long-term to their communities and their country. That first year alone, 450 farmers joined Nuru’s efforts and saw incredible increases to crop yield, food security, and economic income.

Over these last seven years, more than 80,000 lives have been changed in Kenya and Ethiopia. Local Kenyan staff are now preparing to scale impact to neighboring communities, and the Western staff have exited—which was also a key ingredient to the plan all along. At the same time Jake has been able to share Nuru’s story and encourage thousands of other people to join the fight to end extreme poverty. He’s been honored by the Dalai Lama, received awards for Social Entrepreneurship, named a White House Champion of Change, and even addressed two former U.S. Presidents at a gathering in Texas. And in the next week, he will be among a small convergence of global leaders participating in the Clinton Global Initiative in NYC.

As Jake celebrates his birthday, I hope each of us can take a moment to reflect and celebrate with him the amazing journey he has given us the privilege of joining as together we work tenaciously toward being the generation that sees the end of extreme poverty. The United Nations just committed to the Sustainable Development Goals as an early birthday present. World leaders are rallying to the call to see the END of extreme poverty. And together, we will keep pressing onward toward our goal. These last seven years have been amazing, but today, as a birthday gift to Jake, and as a commitment to our global neighbors, may we each set our sights even higher for what we can accomplish together to see end of extreme poverty in our lifetime. Happy birthday Nuru! Happy birthday Jake Harriman! And, your death knell is near, extreme poverty!!!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Pope Francis and His Encouragement To Us All At The United Nations

This morning, as the Pope took time to address the United Nations during his visit to the United States, he seemed to be speaking to a number of issues that have been on mine and Jamie’s hearts and minds for quite some time. I’m personally very grateful that Pope Francis is using his position, popularity, and influence to entreat the consciences of the global community. To read his full speech, click here.

First let’s consider his remarks regarding care of our common home. There will be some who want to transform the Pope’s statement into a debate with regard to whether climate change is real. But maybe rather than debating climate change, we should each realize we have a sacred responsibility to care for and wisely steward the limited resources of this world. What would it look like for each of us to begin to live more simply, and take into account the impact of every decision from travel, to energy usage, to the very products we purchase? What would it look like for you to live more simply? Is there a step you can take to be a better steward?

Although I started this post talking about the Pope’s perspective on environmental care, I have long believed that care for this earth is directly connected to care for our neighbors. Not just our neighbors in the here and now, but those who have not yet been born. In many Native American traditions, including my own, we are encouraged to consider the impact of our decisions on future generations. There is very little in the way we are culturally encouraged to live that encourages long-term impact. We gravitate to the immediate because it is convenient. We have become a self-indulgent culture with little concern for how our actions and activities have an impact on others. We have become polluters, not only of the environment, but of the very essence of shalom in this world.

And what does it mean to care for our neighbor? If you live in America, by default you are in at least the 95% percentile of the wealthiest people in the world. You are one of the top five percent of the global rich. So what does it mean to care for our neighbors who are poor? I believe it means that we practice a discipline of generosity. We look for opportunities to serve and to invest in the lives of others. We resist the tendency to care for ourselves first.

We live in a complex and complicated world. But we can exercise self-discipline and choose to live lives of greater simplicity. We can choose to live lives that are unencumbered by excess material goods. We can choose to resist the almost fanatical devotion our culture has to collecting stuff, generating waste, and treating people and things as disposable resources. Every person on this earth was created by God for a unique purpose. Every thing on this earth has been entrusted to us by an abundantly generous Creator who encourages us to care for this world, and calls us to greater dedication to wise stewardship.

The Pope, through his words, is encouraging us to consider the great power and influence each one of us has in this world. Instead of our own indulgences, what if we were using that power and influence to facilitate the improvement of the lives of our global neighbors. What if we were dedicating time and energy to equipping others with the tools they need to improve their lives, to be able to make meaningful choices, choices most of us take for granted?

May we take decisive action to be better stewards of this earth that has been entrusted to our care by the Creator of the universe. May we take decisive action to lower our ecological footprints. May we be a people who are not just “concerned” for our neighbors living in extreme poverty, but may we be people who are actively engaged in recognizing the inherent dignity of every person on this earth and working toward a better world for all.  May we use the power and influence we have been entrusted with to build a better world for others, for future generations, and for those who, for a number of reasons, we will likely never meet. And, quite simply, as we go about our day, today may we consider others around us more important than ourselves.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Reflection: Arriving In Taper Town In Preparation For Our Third Marathon

For a variety of reasons, 99.5% of the population of the U.S. will never run a marathon. For a select few of that group, because of circumstances beyond their control, they cannot. For the majority, they either choose not to run, or they choose to believe it is something that they could "never" do. For the people who thought they could "never" do it, I would say that Jamie and I were somewhat in that camp. We were not sure we could do it, but one thing we were sure of--we were willing to put forth the effort to find out.

Three years ago, Jamie and I committed to run our first ever marathon, the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington D.C. to support Nuru. Jamie and I are constantly trying to think of ways that we can help raise funds and awareness for Nuru's work of ending extreme poverty and invite others to join the effort. Three years ago, a group of my friend Jake's classmates from the United States Naval Academy had committed to raise $98,000 for Nuru, and among the ways we brainstormed to get to that goal was having people run the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington D.C. Jamie and I figured we could train together, run it together, and know that the training was not only helping us become more fit and disciplined, but also it would be helping our global neighbors in Kenya and Ethiopia to have access to tools and knowledge that could change their lives for the better!

This is our third year of running the Marine Corps Marathon to raise funds and awareness for Nuru. (As a side note, if you want to help us toward our fundraising goal, you can click here.) Our training regimen over these last three years in conjunction with our travel schedule to share Nuru in various locations has given us some incredible quality time together without distractions and has enabled us to explore a number of cities, countrysides, and trails in this beautiful world. We have been motivators and encouragers for each other every step of the way and helped each other push through mental blocks and the distractions we all encounter to train appropriately.

And this weekend, we arrived in "Taper Town"--the phrase used to describe the period between your longest training run and the actual race. The photo above was taken when we were about eight miles into our run. Taper Town is an interesting concept. At this point it means that all of the training has been put in, the miles have been logged, the body and lungs are prepared, the mind is focused and knows that it can complete the race. It is the last major training exercise before we run the race.

It's an exciting point of arrival, but not just for the above reasons. It's exciting because of all that has come before it. One does not arrive in Taper Town without discipline, without planning, and without perseverance--those same tools will come in handy on race day too, but on race day, all most people will know is that we, hopefully, completed a marathon. During the six months leading to Taper Town, our training has consisted of incrementally adding miles and increasing effort to be ready. It has meant early morning runs and late evening runs to move toward a big goal.

And as I reflect on the training and the path we took to get ready, I'm filled with gratitude. I'm filled with gratitude because Jamie and I have the physical ability to run 26.2 miles. I'm filled with gratitude because I know that this is one of many tangible ways we can take action to help our neighbors living in extreme poverty. I'm filled with gratitude because not only are we physically able to do this, but we were willing to plan and discipline ourselves to discover that we had this ability. Three years ago, when we signed up to run the Marine Corps Marathon for Nuru, we did not know if we would be physically able. We trained smart in 2013, and because of that, we arrived at the finish line. Most of all, I have gratitude because the whole training regimen is a tangible physical reminder of a value we both have and strive to incorporate into every area of our life (though not always successfully), and that is to bring our best effort to whatever we do.

Now whether you ever decide to run a marathon, I think there is some real merit in testing your mettle and determining just how much you are capable of bringing into this world. In many ways the marathon is a metaphor for so much of life. Want to accomplish some massive goal? Do the little things to get there. Make a plan to get to your destination. Push your limits. Put in the effort, even on the days you might not feel like it. By putting in the effort and time incrementally and habitually, you can build your capacity and push the boundaries of what you can accomplish. And, if you put in the training, you will be ready for whatever your life's journey might bring your way.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Walking Along The Thames and Catching A Glimpse Of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre

I've been meaning to post some photos and share some stories from my recent trips to visit Nuru's work in Kenya and Ethiopia as well as from the long layovers I had in London but time waits for no one. So as I'm getting adjusted back to life in Morgantown, I thought I could start taking some time to reflect before the memories fade. There was a lot of travel back in August, and a lot more stories to share, but for a starter I thought I'd share this photo of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London.

During my layover on my return trip back to the US, I had enough time to leave the airport, take The Tube and walk along The Thames. I walked by a number of landmarks including the rebuilt London Bridge.

So as I walked along the Thames it was simply amazing to look around and see so many historic landmarks, and to just think about the history of this city. As some already know, among other degrees I received a BA and MA in English from WVU. My focus for my Master's was largely the literature of early America, but during undergrad I took a variety of survey courses--including a course that was entirely Shakespeare. In high school, I used to love it when we would go through sections of Shakespeare in English class as well.

The reason why I loved these classes and times was because we would always dig into the drama. Even in college, we would take time each week for people to read dramatically or act out parts from different plays. We would watch scenes from movies like Hamlet (with Mel Gibson) or Kenneth Branagh Shakespearean plays, or at WVU, we were encouraged to visit the Lansburgh Shakespeare Theatre--which was amazing. Plays always seemed to have a lesson at work, and they always seemed to lend themselves well to re-reading and experimenting with different ways of presenting the words--they were always fun. They were especially fun when people would read in-character.

A flood of memories from English classes and movies came to my mind as I saw this building--The Globe--a rebuilt replica of the place where Shakespeare's plays were performed (the original site was a few hundred feet from this site). In my mind I tried to picture what that world was like. The Theatre was built right around the time of multiple explorations to the New World, and it was estimated to have a capacity of 3,000 audience members.

Even though the building I saw was a re-creation of the original, it stood as a reminder of a different time in England's history, world history, and as a testimony to the power of a good story. Shakespeare's plays are still being read and performed--they have stood a four hundred year test of time--there are not many stories that have echoed down through the centuries like this--it seems like Shakespeare understood the intricacies of human experience--both the good and the bad of human nature and could help people see their own selves (or people they knew) in the lives of the characters of the play. Maybe that's why his plays have stood the test of time, and why people have chosen to resurrect a replica of what the original Shakespearean experience might have been like.

Everyone loves a good story, and as much as it's great to hear a good story or watch a good story on the big screen or in the media, I think the world would be the better if we chose to live a good story as well. So as each of us goes about our day, may we take time to reflect not only on the good stories we have heard or seen, but may we take time to create and live a good story through the events of our daily lives. We've each been given a story to live, and we have an opportunity to live it out in an incredible way that shapes not only ourselves, but also shapes this world to be a better place.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

My Standing Desk And Why I Made The Switch

Since sometime during the late summer 2012, I made the switch to a standing desk. I had read an article similar to this one that talked about all of the health threats created by the long periods of time Americans spend at their desks. It seems like more and more people are saying that "Your desk job is killing you" or "Sitting is the new smoking."

A few years ago, I read a tweet from Tony Caridi about the health dangers of a desk job, and after reading it, I thought, I need to work to make the change. So I went out the following weekend and bought an external monitor I could hook to my laptop, stacked some boxes and books, and created a makeshift standup desk. I've been using it ever since.

Now as you can see in the photo above, it isn't the prettiest standup desk, but it works. And, the fact that I can remove the boxes and books allows me to fairly easily convert it to a normal sitting desk. When I have video calls, I move from standing to sitting and take the calls while sitting. I haven't quite mastered a way to have good lighting from my desk lamp while standing, and the periodic times of sitting break up the day and keep me from being on my feet standing still the whole day too. I set my external monitor so it is at eye level, and an external keyboard and mouse so they are at elbow level and leave me in an ergonomically stable position (so I don't create other problems with my neck wrists, or arms). Periodically I try to take a 3-5 minute break to stretch my neck and shoulders and focus on standing with good form so I can fight the urge to lean or reinforce bad posture habits too.

So why stand? One of the parts of the article I read that really stuck out to me was that even being active at the beginning or end of your day does not undo the damage done by sitting all day. I thought to myself, "I have been moderately active most of my life, and I have been pretty committed to walking at least 30 minutes a day. And this article is saying that I am not reaping the benefit that I thought I was from that activity. Something needs to change."

I want to be fit and healthy. I exercise regularly. I strive to eat somewhat healthy. And, so I made the switch. There are studies that link sitting for long periods with cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes and cancer. In addition many of our larger muscles grow weak from not being used because we sit, or are chronically overstretched/overtightened.

A few weeks ago I read a blog that gave seven exercises that claimed to undo the damage of sitting. Chances are you are probably already exercising. If not, you should definitely start; maybe you can begin with those seven exercises, or just get out and walk for 30 minutes a day, like you are on your way somewhere, and you are late.

And I realize you can't get rid of all sitting from your life. You will probably drive to work, ride an airplane, train, or bus, or potentially attend a sporting event, watch a movie or tv, visit a coffee shop or restaurant, or some other activity, and you will likely do those things sitting. But, if you can, I highly recommend standing more in your workplace. Create a standing desk. If you can't build one like I built, set a timer to remind you to get up and move at least once per hour. And if you are watching TV, try to be active while you watch. Ride an exercise bike. Stretch. Do yoga. Hop on a treadmill.

Here's to sitting less, moving more, and getting going toward a healthier lifestyle. May you stand up strong for your health.