Posts by nandita


One thing I didn’t learn in school: How best to help

This week’s spotlight: all things education.

When I was in middle school, I had the annoying habit of giving my friends advice they didn’t ask for.

Eventually I learned that forcing my opinions on others was not the best way to help them. But then the question shifted from, “What’s the best advice I could give this person?” to “If I’m not going to give advice right now, how can I best help?”

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How should you help? Sometimes the answer is clear-cut; sometimes not.
(photo courtesy Shutterstock)

I pursued this question throughout college and thought I found some answers. After I graduated, about a year ago, I looked forward to further exploring the concept of help when I joined an intensive yearlong program that prepares recent college graduates for working in urban schools.

When I started the program, I knew three things: 1) I loved all my past teaching experiences, 2) my teachers had shown me how transformative education could be, and I wanted to pass that on, and 3) I believed every person should have access to the high-quality education I had been blessed to grow up with.

What I didn’t know was how I could best help if I became a part of the education system. I didn’t know all its rules, contours, and controversies, and how I could best help from within it. The program I found seemed like a great opportunity to work in the field, help while I learned, and learn how to help. But…

Maybe here you expect a “I was horribly wrong!” confession. And maybe I half-expected the same.

But actually, the surprise was more subtle. At first, I thought I had everything I needed to launch into a perfect, meaningful career. I had teachers who knew the field inside and out, with experience teaching in and managing public, private, and charter schools; I identified intellectually with the mission of the program, and really wanted to be there—I really wanted to fight the good education fight. And yet, even with all the pieces in place, something didn’t fit. It dawned on me that no teacher, no theory, no discourse, no trend could answer my question of “how best to help.”

It would always be a question I’d have to answer for myself, case by case.

So many factors come into play: what’s “best” depends on what my skills are and what type of work I find fulfilling, as well as what are perceived to be the best methods of affecting change with any given issue. Plus, there are so many noble, legitimate, necessary ways to help—there’s no need for us to force ourselves into one way or another because that’s what we’ve been convinced is the “best” role.

So right now, I am no closer to answering my “how best to help” question than I was a year ago. But now I know I’ll never answer it once and for all—and that’s the lesson I really learned in school.

That’s also what makes finding one’s niche in the world such a wonderful, confusing, soul-poking challenge. I didn’t discover that education is not, and will never be, for me. I didn’t even find out whether teaching might be my career true love—I still don’t know!

But I do know that no matter what I wind up pursuing, I’ll ask myself “is this how I can best help?”, instead of hoping for someone else to answer.

How do you determine how you can best help in any situation? Share your thinking in the comments.

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Do I Have the Charitable-Industrial Complex?

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As we strategize to do good, are we making the right moves?
(photo courtesy Shutterstock)

Last week, Idealist Careers posted an interview with Peter Buffett—composer, philanthropist, and son of Warren Buffett—about his debate-spurring New York Times op-ed “The Charitable-Industrial Complex.”

After reading both articles, my mind buzzed with questions ranging from defensive to simple follow-up, directed at everyone from Buffett to society to myself. An ongoing dialogue ensued between my friends, family, and inner devil’s advocate.

Considering that Buffett’s op-ed was very pertinent to the Idealist community, I wanted to bring some of the dialogue here. Following are some quotations that resonated with me, and the thoughts they sparked. Now, I’d love to hear your take: what do you think?

1) “I noticed that a donor had the urge to ‘save the day’ in some fashion. People (including me) who had very little knowledge of a particular place would think that they could solve a local problem.”

Buffett addresses an issue specific to philanthropy here, and as the article progresses, he directs most of his criticism toward the way we use foundation money, view charity, and run nonprofits; it’s all very big picture and big money.

But as I read, I saw his words as a wake-up call to all of us who work in small pictures, too. Whether we’re in the field, volunteering on weekends, or running grassroots organizations, I think we can also fall prey to the hero complex. With an urgent desire to help, do we proceed blindly? Do we adequately consider culture, geography, and societal norms before acting?

2) “As more lives and communities are destroyed by the system that creates vast wealth for the few, the more heroic it sounds to ‘give back’… But this just keeps the existing structure of inequality in place. The rich sleep better at night, while others get just enough to keep the pot from boiling over.”

Again, Buffett expands his wealth-targeted critique to society at large: people soothe their guilt-ridden consciences with charitable acts, but in doing so, solidify inequalities instead of fighting them. I’m not rich and I can’t donate thousands, but couldn’t the sandwich I give away to someone hungry wreak the same harmful effect? Am I enabling a needy person to stay on the street by giving him “just enough to keep the pot from boiling over”? Suddenly it feels like I’m not solving hunger; I’m solving my own guilt.

It has become too easy to “give back” in ways that, if we push ourselves to be honest, might not be helping much. Charity shouldn’t be something we check off on our weekend to-do list and “nonprofit” shouldn’t be a buzzword we abuse as a marketing term.

As Buffett says, “Is progress really Wi-Fi on every street corner? No. It’s when no 13-year-old girl on the planet gets sold for sex. But as long as most folks are patting themselves on the back for charitable acts, we’ve got a perpetual poverty machine.”

3) “I really think we need two kinds of philanthropy. One is to stop the bleeding: the food, the shelters, all of those are necessary. But there should also be a real appetite for building scaffolding around a new system of behavior, new economies, new ways of looking at markets.”

Here Buffett expresses a kinder attitude toward immediate action: giving away my sandwich doesn’t propagate inequality if there are also people working on solving hunger as a larger issue.

So he’s not actually questioning that we might give back out of guilt, he’s asking us to reconsider how we give back. Is our action informed by “culture, geography or societal norms,” and does it have the backing of big-picture action to get to the problem’s core?

4) “It’s purpose and a paycheck and who wouldn’t want both? Being able to do something meaningful and put food on the table. You can’t argue with that. But then how can you make sure your deepest purpose is to no longer have a job?”

Buffett has a way of calling us out on the most wince-inducing truths. He’s right: how can you make sure your deepest purpose is no longer to have a job at your nonprofit? That got me wondering whether the best way to create change is by volunteering or running a side project. That way, you can start from scratch when something isn’t working; your job security won’t crumble when you decide to dismantle an initiative and rebuild it more effectively.

And yet, how can one balance a full-time job, family and friends, and conduct well-informed, structure-shattering, revolutionary nonprofit work? We need a “new code” Buffett, says, “something built from the ground up.” And I agree. But who can write it?

The undertaking seems daunting, overwhelming, maybe unapproachably gigantic. And yet, I don’t read hopelessness in Buffett’s words. I read challenge, complex but palpable tasks, and a call for more honest, critical reflection.

Perhaps most importantly, I read a need for better communication—both within our organizations and between individuals worldwide. There are infinite ‘teams’ in our bodies that work to heal us when we bleed; I imagine we would do well to act in the same way when our world is bleeding, too.

Do these quotations resonate with you? What problems do you see with our current approach to charity? What solutions come to mind?

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Interested in fundraising, freelance design, nursing, or politics? Connect with your fellow Idealists!

You already know you can come to Idealist to find an awesome job, volunteer opportunity, or internship, but did you know that you can also find some awesome people here?

There are thousands of people on Idealist working for social change and they’re all right at your fingertips—ready to answer your questions, partner with you on a project, or help with an idea you’ve been developing.

In honor of Idealist’s upcoming campaigns in Ohio and Minnesota, two of this week’s Idealists live in these states. Don’t forget that in order to view their full profiles, you need to have a profile, too. It’s super easy to sign up.

a97011d8-27d0-44e1-b36a-d60a7400beef-mA man of many skills and interests, James currently works in Wisconsin as the associate director of grants at Moraine Park Technical College. Though he’s great with the grants, James actually has a master’s in social work. He’s worked as a counselor, outreach specialist, psychotherapist, social worker, program and executive director, and instructor. James also passionately pursues motorcycling, travel, and the performing arts. He attended the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music and has been to almost every American state, mostly by motorcycle, as well as Canada, Mexico, the British Virgin Islands, Scotland, and Ireland. If you want to talk about grants, diverse careers, sustaining your hobbies, or traveling, send James a message!

 

d93999bb-1e82-4ef7-a69c-4b5cf3a05b8a-mJeanne has oriented her career within two realms of endless importance to her: the world of nonprofits and the world of collaboration. A graphic designer and project coordinator, Jeanne started out as part of a theater group and grew to develop her own freelance design business. Jeanne nurtures and values the many professional relationships she made along the way, and continues to seek out collaborative environments. She’s especially looking for opportunities that combine her interests of photography, music, architecture, and sustainability, and where she can keep learning and growing. Contact Jeanne if you’d like to talk about design, project management in the nonprofit sector, Chicago, or any of her other interests!

 

eb94131a-8445-418d-8c13-595236e7a4dc-mEleven years ago, Doris made the move from Nigeria, her home country, to the U.S. Though her address may have changed, her daily work did not. She’s spent over 33 years doing what she enjoys most: caring for others and teaching them how to remain healthy and happy. Currently a school nurse in Minnesota, Doris is also a mother of four and grandmother of one. She loves meeting people from all cultures, and loves it even more when they understand how significant their health is to their physical, mental, and spiritual lives. Connect with Doris to talk about nursing, health, making that doable-but-scary international move, or what it’s like to work with people from so many different regions and cultures!

 

daab068b-44b9-4038-bff4-87e28b84054e-mSharon originally hails from Australia, but has gone onto live and work both in the U.K. and the U.S. She currently resides in Los Angeles, where she’s pursuing a career as a visual storyteller and photographer. She also teaches photography and digital media in colleges, art schools, and summer programs in L.A., and gives media lectures for the Notre Dame High School and Children Mending Hearts. Sharon is likewise a mentor with Pablove Shutterbugs Foundation and is on her way to directing and producing her first documentary film. If you’re interested in digital media, visual storytelling, photography, or if you share some of Sharon’s inspiration for visual style (1970s Bugs Bunny cartoons, Wim Wenders, and Atom Egoyan, to name a few), get in touch to talk more!

 

c8191f9c-2ab9-431e-aa01-7eb5c2760f3e-mAn Ohio native with a passion for politics and an eye for news, Abram pursues his love for U.S. and international government as a student at Ohio University. Eager to learn outside the classroom as well as within it, he ran a series of outreach projects as an organizing fellow for the president’s grassroots reelection campaign in 2012. Abram continues to seek out opportunities that will allow him to gain firsthand experience with politics, particularly international relations, so that he can keep expanding his knowledge base and connecting academia to practice. If you share Abram’s love for government, or if you want to discuss how to make a difference in the global community, message him to discuss!

 

Looking for more Idealists who want to connect and collaborate? Check out the previous installments of this series, and spiff up your profile to make sure people who want to connect with you can find you on the site. Happy connecting!

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If you don’t have one already, create an Idealist profile to offer your expertise to the community and find people who can answer your questions. Sign up here and include information about your past work and what you’re looking to get involved in. When you’re done, send a link to your profile to nandita@idealist.org, and you might see yourself on our blog!



What’s all the buzz about? Redefining creative collaboration with brainswarming

Could brainswarming...

Can brainswarming help you have the breakthrough you’ve been needing? (Photo via RioPatuca on Shutterstock.)

Brainstorming: it’s a tool we’ve come to know and love (or hate) as a default way to generate fresh ideas for our projects, programs, and more when we’re stuck or just starting out.

However, in a recent Fast Company post and in his new e-book, Kevin Maney suggests it might be time to think of this old-school method as old news.

He writes that brainstorming “relies on a thunderstorm metaphor–a sudden swirl of energy that gets everybody’s attention for a moment, then passes by, dissipates, and leaves nothing behind.”

So, out with the brainstorm, Maney says, and in with with brainswarm.

How does it work? Below is a short summary of the steps:

  1. Get the right swarmers. Cultivate a tight-knit core swarm and get them into a room with fresh recruits who will say something to shake up the familiar.
  2. Have a swarm room.  The worst place to jam on new ideas might just be the place where most companies today send people to jam on new ideas: the traditional conference room.
  3. Multiple writing and sketching surfaces are key. If everyone in the session has a pen and access to a writing surface, barriers to sharing ideas fall away.
  4. Herd the swarmers. Too many idea sessions start with a rule that there are no rules…if you have infinite choices, what do you choose?
  5. Be a critical swarm. Stop being so warm and fuzzy…Brainswarms need both a surfeit of ideas and constructive debate about those ideas. Bad ideas can lead to good debates that then lead to better ideas.
  6. Swarm success. There are lots of ways to make sure the ideas don’t get lost. Assign someone to synthesize and write up the swarm’s best ideas.
  7. Don’t stop. That’s the vital difference between brainswarms and brainstorms. Brainswarms never end.

How has brainstorming worked or not worked for you? Is it time for a new strategy?

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Interested in creative consulting, engineering, or art? Connect with your fellow Idealists!

You already know that you can come to Idealist.org to find an awesome job, volunteer opportunity, or internship, but did you know that you can also find some awesome people?

There are thousands of people working for social change on Idealist.org and they’re all right at your fingertips, ready to answer your questions, partner with you on a project, or help with an idea you’ve been developing.

Here are just a few of the many Idealists who want to connect with you. Don’t forget that in order to view their full profiles, you need to have a profile too. It’s super easy to sign up.

19872183-34bb-4340-8019-dd2a0913f238-mAfter studying political science and obtaining her Master of Public Affairs, Nikki worked as a crime analyst in Arizona, combining her love for design, analysis, research, and community service. She then transitioned into creative consulting, helping small businesses and nonprofits with branding, grant writing, and creative content. While working on one particular oral history project with a local community in Tempe, Nikki discovered a passion for storytelling, documentary photography, and the exploration of other cultures. If you’ve been bitten by the same community-oriented, creatively minded, storytelling, travel-hungry bug, send Nikki a message. She’d love to talk, learn, and connect with you!

 

7b96ffde-f57e-4fa3-b4a6-2d89d7fdffbb-mDhane currently resides in Kathmandu, Nepal where he volunteers in a small school and works with the Sahara Foundation. An American expat, Dhane has made his way to many corners of the world. He served in the Navy in the Philippines, South Korea, and the U.K. After returning and traveling throughout the U.S., Dhane attended college and graduate school for South Asian Studies and Community Health. Over the years, he’s taught in Thailand, China, Mongolia, Taiwan, South Korea, and Nepal. In Thailand, he founded a small home for children with the help of worldwide volunteers, and now he’s working on establishing a children’s shelter and education center in Kathmandu. Want to talk about setting up centers and nonprofits abroad? Or are you simply interested in travel, education, Asian studies, or what it’s like to find your home so far away from home? Contact Dhane to chat!

 

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Roberta has obtained degrees in Biomedical and Mechanical Engineering, Neuro-engineering, and Business Administration. Career-wise, this has translated into research for a Neuro-engineering lab, product development for medical devices, and advanced development concept work for commercial products. What diversity! As she continues onward, Roberta hopes to find a position that will allow her to use her multifaceted background to help people directly and indirectly with technology, engineering, and project management. Contact Roberta if you want to talk about one of her many interests! She would also love to hear from anyone with technology ideas for water sustainability, infectious disease, reduction, or science education.

 

fd6f7bd9-7d67-45a2-ab70-32e1fa831cba-mDedicated to news, journalism, and information, Avalon works in San Francisco as the Editor-in-Chief and Operations manager of Umano, a mobile application that turns compelling news articles into sound files users can listen to. Avalon’s commitment to journalism reaches further into, but also beyond, the field itself; leading up to Umano, she was a journalist and editor for Berkeley publications, worked as a research and PR coordinator for a documentary on civil rights issues, and served as a paralegal. Avalon also studied history and international development in college while competing on the Cal Women’s Varsity Rowing Team. Send Avalon a message to exchange thoughts on community development or how we discover and share information in the modern world.

 

083be541-45c7-4f3c-9c25-22c255451841-mA Londoner by origin, David moved further south to Lisbon, Portugal, where he lives and works as an artist and community arts organizer. David dabbles in many art forms: he illustrates, paints, draws, takes photos, and writes. He describes his art as having a quick, spontaneous style. You can see some of his work on his blog. In addition to making art, David sets up art workshops to bring people together. He founded a community art group Chill Out Community Arts (CHOCA) with the main goal of encouraging people to simply ‘do’ art. Write to David if you want to discuss making art, community organizing, or spreading the concept of ‘do’ art!

 

Looking for more Idealists who want to connect and collaborate? Check out the previous installments of this series, and spiff up your profile to make sure people can find you on the site. Happy connecting!

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If you don’t have one already, create a profile to offer your expertise to the community, and find people who can answer your questions. Sign up here and include information about your past work and what you’re looking to get involved in. When you’re done, send a link to your profile to nandita@idealist.org, and you might see yourself on our blog!

 

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It’s magic! It’s a subliminal trick! It’s… priming?

How subtle environmental cues can affect whether we make progress on our intentions or not.

It’s a well-established fact that the words in our immediate environment can make us particularly cognizant of the same or similar words in our larger surroundings (imagine: you’re strolling down the street listening to Rihanna’s “Umbrella,” and suddenly the words “rain” and “umbrella” pop out as you pass a sign for outdoor gear on sale).

But in 1996, New York University researchers John Bargh, Mark Chen, and Lara Burrows published an article that redefined just how influential words can be.

In the classic experiment, participants rearranged scrambled words to form sentences. In the control group, the sentences were random. In the experimental group, the sentences contained words relating to the elderly (“old, wise, wrinkle, bingo.”) After completing the task, the experimental group walked out of the testing room more slowly than those in the control set.

What?! The researchers had the same reaction. Could something so subtle really have such a significant effect? It did, and it sparked tons of research on just how much we might be unknowingly influenced by what’s around us.

This phenomenon is called priming: when something in the environment activates associations in the mind, influencing one’s perceptions, behaviors, and goals. Not to be confused with subliminal messaging, priming occurs due to direct, conscious interaction with something in your environment; there are no hidden words or images.

Subsequent studies found that it’s possible to prime using all kinds of stimuli (not just words) and for everything from behavior to goal-setting to judgement. In 2007, the New York Times cited an experiment that primed through touch.

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Priming can help you put your best foot forward. (Photo via Toby Bradbury on Flickr’s Creative Commons.)

Simply holding a cup of hot or iced coffee influenced the way subjects would later judge a person in a story: those who had held hot coffee rated the character as warm, friendly and social; those who had held iced coffee rated the same person as colder, more selfish, and less sociable. Wow.

Priming and you

These studies have a significant “whoa!” factor that alone makes them worth sharing, but they also have implications for the world of social impact.

It would be great to start plastering your world with primes to make yourself kinder or more productive. But, there’s a catch to all this—you can’t prime yourself. As soon as you become aware of a prime, it no longer works. In fact, even if you’re just a tiny bit suspicious that you’re being manipulated, primes have no effect. C’est la vie.

Unfortunately, priming others won’t fly either. As long as you know who’s in your own “prime” and “control” groups, you’re likely to subconsciously alter your behavior, which affects the results. Primes need to be facilitated by a “blind” third party in order to work.

So… is this really real?

If you’re raising your eyebrows in doubt, you’re not alone—there is much controversy about the validity of priming studies. The Chronicle of Higher Education has a great review on both sides of the debate, but the social psychology jury is still out.

Part of the reason primes are so hard to create (and replicate) is that they have to be delivered in an environment that convincingly simulates “real life”—a tall order in a lab setting. In addition, newer studies have uncovered many layers to priming. In a variation on the elderly-prime study, for example, researchers found that subjects who had good feelings in general about older folks walked more slowly, while those who didn’t actually walked faster.

What you can do

Why did you just read this whole article, then? Because, priming—even if it’s ultimately judged more fluke than phenomenon—still offers some worthwhile takeaways. Here are three tips on how to create a prime-friendly environment:

1. Be more visual.

Even though primes don’t work when we’re aware of them, embedding positive images into our environments can only help. Not only is “happy decor” a spirit-lifting sight for us, it can also work as a positive prime for newcomers to our space.

Is your nonprofit looking to hire? By creating a work environment that visually promotes cooperation instead of competitiveness, you’re more likely to bring out the best in your candidates and employees. Think, for example, about putting out some flowers, or hanging up happy pictures of people your organization works with.

2. Watch your talk.

Think about the way you speak. Do you use more negatives or positives? Instead of asking, “What didn’t work? Why did it fail? What problems do we need to fix?” Try asking, “What could we improve? What did we learn? What solutions can we try?”

Positive language can inspire people whether or not they’re conscious of its use. It also has the effect of bringing you up in the process, in the same way that smiling—even if you’re unhappy—can brighten your mood.

3. Take stock of your environment.

It might be a bummer that we can’t prime like some research pros, but the flipside is that we don’t have to let ourselves be primed, either. The next time you notice yourself losing patience or feeling feisty, take a moment to truly notice your surroundings.Would you feel the same way if you were surrounded by sunshine, ice cream, and puppies?

By becoming more conscious of our environments, we can help ward off that chilled-coffee effect, and see the strangers around us for their potential warmth instead.

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Interested in travel, design, or video storytelling? Connect with your fellow Idealists!

You already know that you can come to Idealist.org to find an awesome job, volunteer opportunity, or internship, but did you know that you can also find some awesome people?

There are thousands of people working for social change on Idealist.org and they’re all right at your fingertips, ready to answer your questions, partner with you on a project, or help with an idea you’ve been developing.

In honor of Idealist’s North Carolina campaign, here are just a few of the many Idealists in NC who want to connect with you. Don’t forget that in order to view their full profiles, you need to have a profile too. It’s super easy to sign up.

 

Lauren JenningsAfter studying fashion design at Parsons, Lauren worked as an associate designer in New York City. Two and a half years later, she “took the plunge out of the corporate design world into the creative idealist world”. She moved back to North Carolina and decided to travel to all the places she wanted to see but didn’t think she’d have a chance to. By working on farms, she made it to Hawaii, New Zealand, Australia, Bali, and Qatar, recording her journey with photos and words. Now she’s back in North Carolina, working as a creative consultant for a fashion start-up out of Africa and as an interior design consultant for local businesses. If you’d like to talk travel, design, writing, photography, or plunge-taking, send Lauren a message!

 

Pete Bell

Pete, an Emmy-award-winning documentary producer, director, videographer, and editor, has also done quite a bit of traveling. He went to Central America to shoot travel videos for National Geographic Expeditions and to remote parts of Alaska to work on a documentary project. His most recent feature project was the award-winning documentary “High Sierra – A Journey on the John Muir Trail.” Pete currently works as a broadcast videographer and editor for the North Carolina Center for Public Television. You can see some of his work on his vimeo channel. Are you a fellow storyteller, multimedia magician, or someone who wants to collaborate to create, in Pete’s words, “life enhancing multimedia projects”? Well then, Pete’s your guy–get in touch!

 

Megan BerryMegan currently studies Exercise Science, Nutrition, and Spanish at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC. Apart from her academics, Megan’s also a student of the outdoors; she loves to be outside (whether running, hiking, or exploring), and she recently served as student coordinator for Earth Week at ASU. After graduating, Megan hopes to get her degree in occupational therapy and to travel the world working with special needs children. If you share Megan’s passion for the outdoors, health, or meeting people and sharing stories, send her a message–she’d love to hear from you!

 

Kiran Sirah

A man of many trades, Kiran has made a career of the arts, human rights, teaching, social justice, culture and religion . . . and more! He focuses primarily on building peace and developing community, addressing the barriers that often keep people from connecting with one another. He has established award winning national and international arts, cultural, and human rights programs in the UK, and has led other arts projects to battle poverty, gang violence, and modern-day slavery. Currently, Kiran resides in North Carolina as a Rotary World Peace Fellow, where his work revolves around the folklore of the homeless and ways to foster international communities. Don’t hesitate to reach out to Kiran if you want to connect over the arts/culture, social justice, public folklore, or how to create peaceful, multicultural societies.

Looking for more Idealists who want to connect and collaborate? Check out the previous installments of this series, and spiff up your profile to make sure people can find you on the site. Happy connecting!
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If you don’t have one already, create a profile to offer your expertise to the community, and find people who can answer your questions. Sign up here and include information about your past work and what you’re looking to get involved in. When you’re done, send a link to your profile to nandita@idealist.org, and you might see yourself on our blog!

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You don’t have to be a hero to be a helper

superheromask

Photo via Chiot’s Run on Flickr’s Creative Commons.

Back in April, we posted about professor Adam Grant’s endless capacity for helping and his research on the positive effects of generosity. We also listed some ways to get ahead by giving from Grant’s new book “Give and Take.”

One thing we haven’t talked about, though, is the underlying feeling that may keep many of us from boarding the give-and-gain train.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when standing in the shadows of seemingly superhuman do-gooders. The doubtful thoughts pile up: “How can I possibly be that helpful? What if I’m just not wired that way? How can I be a superhuman, when some days I struggle to be an adequate human?”

Grant believes helpfulness works like a muscle we can all develop. If he’s right, maybe it’s possible we can find ways to get a little stronger every day, without worrying about becoming Spartan-esque triathletes.

In her recent article on Grant, NY Times reporter Susan Dominus tried the theory out and put herself to the test:

I like to think I am a typically helpful person, but after reading Grant’s book, I found myself experimenting with being more proactive about it. I started ending emails by encouraging people to let me know if I could help them in one way or another. I put more effort into answering random entreaties from students trying to place articles. I encouraged contacts seeking work or connections to see me as a resource.

And I did notice that simply avoiding the mental lag of deciding whether to help or not was helpful. At a minimum, Grant’s example presents a bright-line rule: Unless the person on the other end is a proven taker, just do it–collaborate, offer up, grant the favor.

The first time I exchanged those emails, I usually felt good; after the second exchange on a given topic, I thought perhaps I had done my duty. But I noticed that every offer of help I initiated or granted engendered four or five e-mails, at the end of which I sometimes felt surly and behind on my work — and then guilty for feeling that way.

Dominus’ mini-test doesn’t mean it’s unsustainable to be an everyday giver. But it does remind us to find ways to give that don’t trap us in an ever-expanding favor spiral.

How, then, do we find a balance? Learning from Dominus and from Grant, here are a few ways we can start:

1. Make it automatic
How much time do we waste debating whether to respond to an email or to offer a helping hand? The more automatic we make our helpful responses, the less effort and energy they require. What if we turned small things (like picking up litter and throwing it out) into reflexes?

2. Make it reasonable
You don’t have to be a hero to be a helper. Do what you can; know your limits. Instead of responding to every email with the tag “How else can I help?” perhaps only offer when you know you can continue to help.

3. Make it sustainable
Some things–like turning off unused lights or giving away your lunch to someone hungry–don’t require follow up. Those decisions can be automatic. For bigger acts of giving, make sure you take care of your own needs before jumping to attend to others.

4. Make it sustainable…for others, too!
One of Grant’s main findings is that productivity, happiness, and creativity flourish when people see the results of their giving. If you’re on the receiving end of someone else’s generosity, don’t be shy to send them an email or give them a hug to say thank you. It only takes one voice to say, “Hey! It mattered to me!” to keep the giving going.

What do you think? Can giving feel paralyzing? Or burn you out? What are some small (or big) ways of helping that work for you?

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Interested in design, social justice, or economic ethics? Connect with your fellow Idealists!

You already know that you can come to Idealist.org to find an awesome job, volunteer opportunity, or internship, but did you know that you can also find some awesome people?

There are thousands of people working for social change on Idealist.org and they’re all right at your fingertips, ready to answer your questions, partner with you on a project, or help with an idea you’ve been developing.

Here are just a few of the many Idealists who want to connect with you. Don’t forget that in order to view their full profiles, you need to have a profile too. It’s super easy to sign up.

 

Zoraida

 

Zoraida in San Francisco describes herself as “a maker of things visually tickling.” With skills in graphic design, illustration, and layout management, Zoraida wants to connect with other makers, designers, techies, and simply good people. Need some design help or want to discuss ideas for visual projects? Send Zoraida a message!

 

 

Susana After obtaining her Law Degree in Mexico City, Susana went on to study Environmental and Sustainable Development, all the while working as an investigator of alleged human rights violations. In 2008, she founded a law firm based in Mexico City and moved to Seattle to continue her legal work. Now Susana is a law clerk who also proudly serves as the President of the Board of the Seattle Latino Film Festival. If you’re a film-lovin’ Seattle resident, contact Susana about getting involved with the festival! Or, no matter where you live, send her a message if you’re intrigued by media, human rights, social justice, and connecting generations.

 

ChristianChristian studied social welfare and international public administration in New York, and  would like to contribute to any cause that helps create positive community environments. As an LGBTQ person of color, he is especially interested in working with others from similar backgrounds and using his past experiences to help and support disadvantaged youth. If you share Christian’s passion for building, nurturing, and strengthening community, start a conversation with him–he’d love to hear from you!

Raffaela

Raffaela is a photo editor who also works as a photographer and writer, specializing in alternative travel stories. Currently in Milan (though open to traveling), she’d love to volunteer her skills to help with interesting projects. Over the past 15 years, she’s worked with many different photographers, publications, photo agencies, nonprofits, and blogs, giving her quite the range of experiences! Raffaela’s favorite part about her job is finding the hidden and bringing it to light; contact Raffaela if you want to photo-talk or have an idea that could use a photographer’s eye!

 

Jason

Jason’s got a knack for combining the unexpected, evidenced by both his interests and experiences. He studied philosophy in Utah, then got a Masters of Public Administration, and has recently just submitted his dissertation on conceptions of poverty in Buddhist social and economic ethics. In addition to his studies, Jason has taught philosophy, business management, and ethics courses and worked for places ranging from adult literacy nonprofits to refugee resettlements to microcredit organizations. Interested in poverty relief, microfinance, religion and development, or interfaith . . . or more? This guy would love to connect with you!

 

Looking for more Idealists who want to connect and collaborate? Check out the previous installments of this series, and spiff up your profile to make sure people can find you on the site. Happy connecting!

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If you don’t have one already, create a profile to offer your expertise to the community, and find people who can answer your questions. Sign up here and include information about your past work and what you’re looking to get involved in. When you’re done, send a link to your profile to nandita@idealist.org, and you might see yourself on our blog!

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