More ways you can help the Philippines

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Survivors stand amidst debris in the city of Tacloban.
(photo via Erik de Castro/Reuters)

Over the weekend, Typhoon Haiyan ravaged the Philippines. The death toll is estimated at 10,000 in the Leyte province alone, and there is widespread infrastructure damage.

The Huffington Post and CNN have posted roundups of organizations that are sending supplies, people, and more. Here are some other ways to help:

  1. Donate. The all-veteran disaster relief organization Team Rubicon is raising funds to send its vets to help with search and rescue efforts and medical assistance.
  2. Donate. The National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON) is currently accepting donations for community aid.
  3. Tweet. Micromappers is asking people to be strategic about tagging typhoon tweets so the UN can gain a better understanding of the situation.
  4. Hack. Geeklist is looking for developers, designers, and other techies for good to get involved with a hackathon for various projects, including building a relief coordination and survivor check-in app.
  5. Report. The social news network Rappler needs help reporting critical information such as flooding, road or building damage, or those who need rescue or assistance.
  6. Work. Merlin, a UK-based disaster relief organization, is looking to recruit emergency staff who can help long-term (three-to-six months).

Check your local Filipino-American groups or associations and the Super Typhoon Haiyan – Yolanda Recovery Facebook group for more ways to help. Please also leave a comment if you know of more opportunities.

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This experimental brain stimulator won’t make you superhuman, but…

Changing the world is a real brain workout.

So what if you could “improve everything from working memory to long-term memory, math calculations, reading ability, solving difficult problems, piano playing, complex verbal thought, planning, visual memory, the ability to categorize, the capacity for insight, post-stroke paralysis and aphasia, chronic pain and even depression” at the touch of a button?

Transcranial direct-current stimulation (tDCS) may offer just that opportunity.

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tDCS: like “jumper cables for the mind”?
(image courtesy Shutterstock)

The experimental technique—which works by delivering extremely low dose electrical stimulation to the brain via electrodes—has been in development since 1981. It still can’t be found outside a lab, but research has lately made some big strides. Read this recent New York Times Magazine article about the past and future of tDCS.

“tDCS will not make you superhuman, but it may allow you to work at your maximum capacity,” says one doctor at Harvard’s Laboratory of Neuromodulation at the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, where tests are currently being performed.

“It helps you achieve your personal best level of functioning. Let’s say you didn’t sleep well the night before. Or perhaps you’re depressed, or you suffered a stroke. It helps your brain reach its peak performance.”

What would you do if your brain was running at peak performance?

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

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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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Roundup: LGBT community around the world

Each June, millions gather worldwide in parades, rallies, festivals, and more to celebrate LGBT pride. We end our weeklong spotlight by zooming out of the U.S. and onto firsts in the international sphere.

As LGBT rights become more prominent in the U.S., other countries are quickly catching on. Here’s a quick roundup of the latest happenings:

South Africa—

In April, South Africa (the first—and only—African country that’s legalized gay marriage) saw its first traditional gay marriage between Thoba Sithole and Cameron Modisane. From Zulu and Setswana outfits to a cow slaughter, the couple and their families spared nothing to stick to their ancestral roots.

“People are still ashamed because the vast majority of the black community is not accepting of being a homosexual. They see it as largely being a ‘Western trend’ that is in fashion lately,” Cameron told reporters at the ceremony. “[We want people to see that] being gay is as African as being black.”


Singapore—

Meanwhile, in Singapore, where sexual contact between men is still punishable with up to two years’ in jail, a less traditional movement has taken flight—in the form of an online magazine directed toward the country’s gay male community. Launched in February, Element has managed to bypass the government’s strict media laws with it’s solely online presence while still capturing the attention of readers across Asia, if not the world. Publisher Noel Ng told the Atlantic that he sees the magazine as a way ”to restore the dignity and worth of every gay man.”

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Ukraine—

Shortly after Amnesty International published an article urging the Ukrainian government to introduce anti-distcriminatory legislation (following a slew of anti-gay attacks in the country), the capital of Ukraine, Kiev, held its first gay pride parade on May 25. Told to dress in comfortable shoes (for running) and non-offensive clothing, the peaceful, un-dsirupted crowd was flanked by police support and public encouragement as they marched through downtown. “This can be considered a historic day,” said Elena Semyonova, one of the event’s organizers.

Photo credit: Associated Press

Photo credit: Associated Press

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Want to get involved in the LGBT cause? Search almost 6,000 nonprofit jobs, internships, volunteer opportunities, events, and like-minded people from around the world on Idealist

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Our staff picks of the TIME 100

TIME Magazine recently released its list of 100 of the world’s most influential people. Though the list includes people from a variety of sectors and industries, there are many who touched our lives in some way. See our staff picks in the slideshow below.

Have you checked out the TIME 100? Who’s influenced you?


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Are the happiest people changing the world?

Photo credit: photobank.kiev.ua, Shutterstock

Photo credit: photobank.kiev.ua, Shutterstock

Here’s a question for you: are you happy changing the world? Does that spur you on to do bigger and better things? In an article on Harvard Business Review, Rosabeth Moss Kanter talks about how people who have the toughest jobs tackling worldwide issues and causes are often the happiest, because they can see how their work has meaning.

The happiest people I know are dedicated to dealing with the most difficult problems. Turning around inner city schools. Finding solutions to homelessness or unsafe drinking water. Supporting children with terminal illnesses. They face the seemingly worst of the world with a conviction that they can do something about it and serve others.

For many social entrepreneurs, happiness comes from the feeling they are making a difference.

In research for my book Evolve!, I identified three primary sources of motivation in high-innovation companies: mastery, membership, and meaning. Another M, money, turned out to be a distant fourth. Money acted as a scorecard, but it did not get people up-and-at ‘em for the daily work, nor did it help people go home every day with a feeling of fulfillment.

I see that same spirit in business teams creating new initiatives that they believe in. Gillette’s Himalayan project team took on the challenge of changing the way men shave in India, where the common practice of barbers using rusty blades broken in two caused bloody infections. A team member who initially didn’t want to leave Boston for India found it his most inspiring assignment. Similarly, Procter & Gamble’s Pampers team in Nigeria find happiness facing the problem of infant mortality and devising solutions, such as mobile clinics that sent a physician and two nurses to areas lacking access to health care.

People can be inspired to meet stretch goals and tackle impossible challenges if they care about the outcome.

While obstacles will arise, working together on human issues can be emotional and bring people closer together. Additionally, Kanter said, such large issues can diminish day-to-day annoyances and issues.

What do you think? Does your work give you a purpose and make you happy even when faced with adversity?

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UNICEF takes a stand against ‘slacktivism’

UNICEF Sweden's Ad

UNICEF Sweden’s Ad

It’s almost impossible to avoid ‘slacktivism’ these days, with people changing their Twitter pictures to represent a cause or issue and liking nonprofit organizations on Facebook with the best of intentions. But how much does that really help? UNICEF Sweden put out an ad and video last week, admonishing those people who just post on social media about their support for a cause. In an article about the campaign, The Atlantic wrote:

Now, UNICEF Sweden is the first major international charity to come right out and say that people who actually want hungry, sick children saved need to donate money and supplies — not just virtual support.

“We like likes, and social media could be a good first step to get involved, but it cannot stop there,” said UNICEF Sweden Director of Communications Petra Hallebrant. “Likes don’t save children’s lives. We need money to buy vaccines for instance.”

UNICEF’s might be an extreme perspective, but it does raise interesting questions about how charity organizations should spread their messages online without allowing their potential donors to get stuck in slacktivist land, retweeting links and changing profile pictures without ever opening their wallets.

The article goes on to cite a study from Georgetown University and Ogilvy Worldwide, which found that “social promoters were just as likely as non-social-promoters to give money, but they were slightly more likely to volunteer their time (30 percent, versus 15 percent for non-social-promoters).”

Is ‘slacktivism’ really a problem or should organizations enjoy the awareness and buzz, and try to raise money another way?

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Respond and Rebuild: Community-led disaster relief in NYC

More than five months after Hurricane Sandy tore into the coasts of New York and New Jersey, many people are still feeling the effects. One neighborhood that suffered great losses and is still digging out is Rockaway, Queens, where the nonprofit organization Respond and Rebuild is working to repair damaged homes and get residents back inside.

The idea

Shanna Snider and Terri Bennett, two founders of the disaster response nonprofit Respond and Rebuild, met when they were volunteering with relief efforts in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. Neither woman had any prior field experience with disaster relief, but they both took an instant liking to it.

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Terri Bennett (all photos courtesy of Respond and Rebuild)

“It’s a weird kind of work to enjoy,” says Terri. “The world would be a better place if it wasn’t needed.”

After months spent helping in the Caribbean, Shanna, Terri, and three other good friends they’d made on the island scattered around the map. They watched from different vantage points in 2012 as Hurricane Sandy drew closer and closer, and then struck—hard.

The five friends, soon to be joined by another they’d meet in New York, dropped what they were doing and, in 24 hours, made tracks to the Rockaway Peninsula—11 miles of beach at the southern edge of Queens whose neighborhoods were devastated by the storm. Nearly 100 homes were completely destroyed and many more seriously damaged, over ten thousand residents were displaced, and the power was out for weeks.

“When we came out here, we just wanted to help,” says Shanna. “We didn’t intend for it to become an organization—we all had other plans.” When the hurricane struck, Shanna was weeks away from leaving the U.S. to serve with the Peace Corps in Jamaica, and Terri was halfway through a Ph.D. program in international development and humanitarian relief. “But this took off,” Shanna says. “So why would I leave? This is obviously where I’m supposed to be.”

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Shanna Snider

Respond and Rebuild is now the leading volunteer group working side-by-side with homeowners and community leaders in Rockaway to safely clean out and repair damaged homes so their owners can return to them. The water removal, mucking, and (their specialty) mold remediation they perform is funded by donations and comes at no cost to the residents.

“Organizationally, we wanted to do something different than we’d seen done before. We wanted to be community-led and centered—not to drop in and tell the community, ‘This is what you have’ and ‘This is what you need,’ Shanna says. “The community here has really shaped what we do; they’ve led us to be able to meet their needs very directly.”

Obstacles

Respond and Rebuild’s success has not come without challenges. Here are a few Shanna and Terri have come across:

Obstacle: Living conditions
Solution: For the first five weeks of their operation, the initial members of Respond and Rebuild all lived together in a one-bedroom apartment near the beach. At times, it was hard for the crew to keep the organization running without going crazy.

But when they reached out to the community for help, they quickly secured two larger apartments to live in rent-free. “Everyone is vulnerable to disaster. So it’s a cause that touches people in a different way: it’s very personal,” Shanna says. “When we asked for assistance, people really opened their hearts and homes.”

Obstacle: Narrowing focus and asserting expertise
Solution: Given that there are a lot of needs in disaster response, Shanna and Terri knew they needed to give a focus to what they were trying to do.

“One thing we identified early on was our signature ‘cause’,” says Terri. “Mold. We became ‘the mold people.’ We researched and outfitted volunteers, waged a public health campaign, reached out to experts and other city orgs who had experience… We were the most organized group you could speak to about it, and that gained us trust.”

Obstacle: The ebb and flow of a volunteer-led group
Solution: “Especially in the first few months after a disaster, people come and go,” says Shanna. “And that can be a very emotional experience. But the group that remains, the core that’s left behind, is the one that works best together. It can be hard to hang on and not burn out; to recognize when to step back and breathe and when to give 150 percent. The ones that are left are the ones who figured out the balance. And as things formalize and become more structured, it gets easier.”

Advice

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Volunteers pose in their ‘Mold Buster’ suits

Since the end of October 2012, Respond and Rebuild’s hundreds of volunteers have logged an average of 1,800 hours a week to bring more than 100 homes back to livability. And the work continues.

Currently, Shanna and Terri are developing a blueprint of their organizational model, which they plan to share with others. In the meantime, here’s their advice for people who want to coordinate their own disaster response effort:

  • Just do it. “Trust yourself and the people you work with,” says Shanna.
  • Share skills.“We all had different skill sets and experiences that complemented each other: logistics, construction, management, communications, fundraising. And we also worked to partner right away with other organizations, which was a great way to take what we all had and make it most effective.”
  • Ask for and accept help. “Never be so arrogant as to think you don’t need help,” says Shanna. “I make a lot of calls and ask for a lot of favors. No one has all the answers by themselves, but together, you can get close.”
  • Be open to advice. “If someone else has already learned the lesson, don’t waste time relearning it yourself,” says Shanna. “Take advice openly, then decide if it’s right for your mission.”
  • Maintain balance. “Initially, adrenaline pushes you forward in disaster relief,” says Terri. “But as the immediate relief period comes to a close, the pace changes. Now we’d like to focus on employing local people, moving forward with partnerships, and developing a case management system for homeowners.”

“In five years, I can see us doing this work around the world,” Terri says. “But having the patience to take on all these things can be difficult. We’ll have to balance focusing and growing.”

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Inspired to help with disaster relief in a community you’re close to? Read more about Respond and Rebuild’s successful model on their website, or contact them through Idealist. In the NYC area? They’re always looking for new volunteers and donations.

Respond and Rebuild is also always looking to make their nonprofit better. If you have experience with disaster relief, they would love your advice about what surprise obstacles they might expect to encounter down the road. Or if you have experience with volunteer management, they’d love to know your ideas on best practices to retain volunteers, and on the best volunteer and donor tracking solutions.

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Helping out after Hurricane Sandy – more support needed

As New Yorkers begin to assess the damage left by Hurricane Sandy, we are learning about various ways for our community to get involved. Below are a few opportunities to volunteer and to make donations. If you know of others, please add them in the comments and share with others who want to help out.

Volunteers and members of the US Army National Guard Unit 827 Engineers hand out MRE’s to residents at a staging area located at the Al Smith Playground on Catherine Street this morning. (Bryan Smith/for New York Daily News)

Donations

The New York Blood Center is hosting emergency blood drives in all five boroughs. Find one near you to donate blood.

If you would like to donate money, The Office of Emergency Management has a list of organizations working on disaster relief in New York City that would benefit from your support. If your company would like to make an in-kind donation, learn more about how to do so here.

Many shelters also need supplies for people affected by the hurricane, including batteries, flashlights, and more. Check out Occupy Sandy to learn where and how to donate these items and how you can volunteer as well.

Volunteering

New York Cares is looking for volunteers to help with disaster relief. Sign up to get involved.

If you have tech skills, New York Tech Meetup and New Work City are looking for volunteers to help businesses get back online.

And if you are a health care professional, learn more about what you can do in the Medical Reserve Corps.

Know other ways to get involved? Share them in the comments.

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