Disaster Relief in Haiti. Anti-human trafficking in Thailand. Social entrepreneurship in Honduras. One thing I’ve learned in my years working with 501(c)(3) organizations is that charity alone cannot resolve massive global problems like poverty, inequality and environmental degradation. This is why I’m a big fan of the social entrepreneurship framework. Generous donations may alleviate suffering but they rarely alter the underlying crisis. To create lasting social value society needs to replace good intentions with good ideas that spur systemic change. Of course, that’s easier said than done. Sometimes it feels like a drop in a bucket but trying to make a lasting difference is always rewarding. Here’s some projects I’ve worked on that help me focus my creativity on being an agent of change:
DISASTER RELIEF, HAITI:
January, 2010: The sunrise in Haiti was especially hot. Our team of 39 of doctors, nurses, EMTs, and humanitarians pitched our tents at the New Life Children’s home, an orphanage just a few minutes’ drive from the Port-au-Prince airport. The longtime director of the orphanage told me about the heartbreak of raising funds to educate the children, only to see the 7.0 earthquake that occurred on January 12 result in the cancellation of school for the year. The uniforms, books, buildings, and many of the teachers were gone.
As the saying goes, “With each sunrise we start anew.” How desperately that adage was needed here in post-quake Haiti. Fortunately, because my learning technologies degree is centered on concepts in philanthropy and social entrepreneurship, my professors allowed me to miss a week of schooling to join my church and use my skills as a videographer and paramedic to assist with crisis work such as distributing medical supplies and rebuilding. Just one month before the earthquake I had driven to Bakersfield in California to study one of my professor’s projects called Haitian Creations—an e-commerce site that empowers Haitian women by selling their handcrafted purses online. Now, unbelievably, here I was in Haiti taking my Action Research, part of my academic program, one step further.
The morning sun shed light on the magnitude of the horror. Though it was two weeks after the earthquake, devastation was everywhere. There were so many people who needed critical assistance. In the outlying communities we found patients with head trauma, broken bones, burns, lacerations, and severe infections. Many of the children were malnourished, dehydrated, and orphaned. The media footage of rioting and angry mobs that we watched before our departure was unseen once we were on the ground in Haiti. The reality was that everywhere our team went, whether we were dishing out prayer, medicine, or food, the communities responded with a heartfelt, “Merci.”
My goal in obtaining this degree is to research ways that we can harness technology to create a more compassionate society. The challenge in Haiti was an opportunity for me to make a difference. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed at the magnitude of the job and powerless to effect the change I envision. But, as Abraham Linclon once said, “The best thing about the future is that it comes only one day at a time.” With each new sunrise, my hope for a better tomorrow is renewed.
AUTISM AWARENESS: HAWAII:
When two surfing legends learned that their friend, famed underwater cinematographer Don King (RIDING GIANTS; LORDS OF DOGTOWN), was making a film to heighten awareness of autism, they pledged to help in a manner both memorable and unique. As recounted in this documentary by King, Laird Hamilton raised funds by embarking on a grueling bike and paddleboard journey from London to Paris, and later, joined by Dave Kalama, he undertook a paddle and pedal journey of more than 500 miles across the Hawaiian Island chain.”
PANDYTOWN YOUTH CENTER, HONDURAS:
Economically, it’s a tough time for grassroots philanthropy. But sustainable community development doesn’t happen overnight. That’s why I’m proud to have worked with Pastor Hank Stanley on Roatan for over a decade. Our collaboration seeks to equip at-risk youth, empower local women, protect the environment and expand social services on the Bay Islands of Honduras.
ANTI-HUMAN TRAFFICKING, THAILAND:
Visiting Thailand on behalf of Heart Ventures was a transformative experience. Afterwards, my good friend Matt Elam and I rode our bicycles across the USA to raise awareness and funds for an orphanage in Chiang Rai. The orphanage, called the House of Miracles, rescues children from poverty, drugs, and child prostitution. Below is an introspective video I posted on the subject.