How to Embrace Social Good in 2017

Happy New Year Everyone! 

Confession: I used to brush off the whole social good slogan of “think global, act local.”

First world problems — I thought at the time.

Relativity and perspective are crucial in grasping that there is in fact an abundance of potential energy just waiting to be harnessed for social good. Acute and long term socio-economic needs exist in our very own communities and our do-good attitudes shouldn’t only be swayed by what crosses our handheld screens.

Yes, as we flip through our digital devices we are constantly exposed to our world’s laundry list of issues and tragedies. Whether it be the sight of inexplicable atrocities in Aleppo, Syria or the story of a trafficked child, it is emotionally altering. While standing witness is extremely important, many of us also feel this overwhelming desire to do something. We want to be a part of the realm of social good.

I recently came across a phrase, from the gifted and brutally honest Cheryl Strayed, talking about how our minds are small, but our hearts are big. I really like this quote, feeling that it encapsulates people where they are today. Our minds are small in our minute-by-minute and day-by-day tunnel vision, but if we can harness the power of our big hearts there is potential for significant impact.

Throughout my years in humanitarian work, I worked on many projects involving human behavior change. It is one of the most difficult aspects of any project — public or private sector alike. Favorable outcomes come from making changes that affect people where they live — at the household and local community level. This is why grassroots movements are so successful. Positive socio-economic changes that improve people’s daily lives, things they can physically, mentally and emotionally experience and/or witness directly, light a fire within them.

I see/feel this change — therefore I find it valuable.

Our families are one of the most integral parts of our daily lives. Being part of a family unit enriches our lives, and for many, instills a sense of gratitude inside of us — a motivating kind of gratitude. We as individuals – and we as families – have the power to pay it forward, even through the smallest of gestures.

Think global, act local. 

Putting your time, energy, and/or money towards positive social change that you can see and experience happening in your community has serious transformative powers for your daily [emotional, physical, and mental] life and well-being. Rather than focusing wholly on one-off donations (though still important!) to global issues, what if you set your sights on increasing the impact of a local organization? 

Never did this sense of need to participate in the local landscape become more real for me then when Jasper came along. He altered my reality, creating an immediate shift away from my global work to focus on being with him in Asheville. 

Movements such as “support local” and “support small” have been forged to reinvigorate our local economies. Don’t our local nonprofits deserve the same kind of support? In today’s society so driven by the digital market, the more visible an organization (or business) can make itself will directly correlate to its bottom line. Unfortunately many quality nonprofit organizations cannot afford this, operating with “marketing” and “branding” budgets of almost nil [especially when compared with larger national and international organizations with larger operating budgets].

Here in Asheville, there is a strong commitment to “supporting small, independent businesses. Choosing to give our coin to these shops over the “big guys” keeps our favorite local institutions afloat – there is a strong need to apply these same principles to our nonprofit neighbors. Showing up to donate your time and directly experiencing the work being done offers a different kind of value for both you and the organization you are supporting. It also provides a wonderful opportunity to more deeply integrate yourself into your community and connect with likeminded individuals in your backyard.

Start simple and do what you can. 

Assess your resources; what are your strongest skills and assets? Perhaps you have the means to donate money to your favorite nonprofit. Remember that donating your time also has valuable social capital.

Always be realistic. To do this, we must face our internal and external strengths and struggles of time and money (etc.) and be honest with ourselves about our capabilities and limitations.

Make a list. Lists are great tools to force us to be honest with ourselves. 

Make simple, SMART goals (not resolutions). SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely. This is beneficial for tracking your progress as time progresses.

Align your support with your values.

This will make your efforts more meaningful and sustainable. What topic areas most affect you emotionally? Choose areas of activism that speaks to your emotions and set of values. If you value it there will be less activation energy required, especially on those days you feel depleted.

Make a list of some organizations that interest you. Further research their mission and activities and then narrow the list down to your top three organizations. Contact each organization to further orient yourself with how you could be involved (or attend an organized event). One suggestion is to start by choosing one of those organizations and volunteering one hour of your time, once per month. This will give you a feel for the work of that nonprofit and whether it is the right fit for you to partner with them in the long term.

Make it a family affair.

My family is embracing [and let’s be honest, resisting] all kinds of behavior change in our household. Participation in social good initiatives is one of them. We are seeking to integrate activism into our life rituals. By being more intentional and localizing our efforts here in Western North Carolina, we will be instilling important values in our kids from a young age, forging bonds through quality time together and creating a foundation for us to become more meaningfully engaged members of our community. Also, kids are great at holding you accountable…

How are you involved in social good within your own communities? 

Please share a comment below. 

*Stay tuned for a mini guide of Asheville nonprofits: where families can donate their time and resources

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