Global Warming. Election Fraud. Genetically-Modified Food. Cancer. AIDS. Poverty. War.
Sometimes it's hard to get up in the morning and be fearless, to have courage, to care. That's why I started interviewing women (and men) for the Big Vision Podcast, and my BlogHer Solutionary Women series on women who get up in the morning and have a big vision for a better world as their alarm clock.
After talking with women like Mary Brune, who cofounded MOMS (Making Our Milk Safe); Alli Chagi-Starr, who cofounded Art in Action; Ilyse Hogue, the Campaign Director for MoveOn.org; and Anna Lappé, co-author of Grub: Ideas for an Urban Organic Kitchen and Hope's Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet, I have taken away six steps we can all take to make a difference.
1. Be passionate. What do you really care about? What would you really like to see change? It can be something big, like equal access to education, or small, like healthier lunches at the school down the street. What topics do you naturally want to learn more about? Mary Brune's daughter, Olivia, keeps her motivated to do her work: "As a nursing mother, I find it unbelievable that there are toxic chemicals in my breast milk. Even so, I know that breast milk is superior to any other choice. But will that always be true if chemicals are allowed to remain unchecked and unregulated in our marketplace? I'm motivated to make sure that Olivia and all children of the next generation continue to enjoy the benefits provided by mother's milk."
2. Educate yourself. Spend time learning about the issues you care about, volunteer at organizations related to your interest, and be sure to ask the people you want to help what their ideas are for solutions. In her book, Paradigm Found: Leading and Managing for Positive Change, Anne Firth Murray, the co-founder of the Global Fund for Women, said that when the Fund started, it was ahead of its time because, "We would listen to the women building these programs, and we would respond to them rather than set agendas for them to follow."
3. Take small steps. We can't all be Rosa Parks, Gloria Steinem, or Dr. Vandana Shiva. As Ilyse Hogue says, "Social change is about what you choose to do everyday, how you interact with your neighbors, where you buy your groceries, who you're voting for, where you keep your money in the bank, what kind of car you're driving. . . . I think that is where it starts. . . . It's not what action you take, but it's taking action that makes the difference."
4. Have a big vision. Many of today's problems are long-term problems with long-term solutions. As Alli Chagi-Starr, Events Director for the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights' Reclaim the Future Program wisely notes, we need to realize "that we are seed planters. We are going to probably die before we see all those seeds become trees, and it doesn't matter. You just have to keep planting and know that other people will come along and water those seeds and that those trees are for our children's children."
5. Find like-minded people to share your vision. Online services like VolunteerMatch, Idealist, Craigslist, and the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network make it easy to find volunteer opportunities and events near you. Giving circles like Dining for Women can help you combine having fun with doing good, and will allow you to raise more money for the causes you care about. Social networks like the Omidyar Network can connect you with folks who want to collaborate with you on your vision.
6. Believe that you can make a difference. Anna Lappé is often asked whether one person can really make a difference when the challenges we face are so huge. "People often say they feel like just a 'drop in the bucket,'" Lappé says, "with the sense of futileness that the idea conveys. But it's probably more accurate to say people feel they're a drop in the desert--their drop dissipates before even touching ground. If you think about the idea of a bucket as a container that holds all of our drops, you'd sense how fast a bucket can fill and that--you never know--you could even be the one drop that pushes the water over the edge."
It is easy these days to get discouraged and say that we are powerless to create change, but really, that kind of attitude is a luxury from a different time. Now is the time for all of us, in whatever small way, to get up in the morning with a big vision for a better world. Time's a wastin'.
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