Tag Archives: environment

LAUNCH: Culture of Collaboration

My NASA colleague Diane Powell and I spoke to the DC campus of the Chicago School of Professional Psychology about the collaborative principles of LAUNCH. LAUNCH is a public/private partnership with USAID, State Department, and NIKE. The PhD students, including my daughter Steph, are exploring ways to collaborate with international organizations in culturally sensitive ways. They wanted to learn two things from the LAUNCH experience: how does collaboration work, and how do we address international and cultural differences to get the best results.

Diane gave an overview of LAUNCH as a program. I talked about the culture of collaboration, based on our experiences creating and managing LAUNCH.

Key takeaway: Collaboration is messy. 

But well worth it, in my estimation. Anyone interested in engaging in a collaborative enterprise, of any kind, should assume a bit of craziness. To expect otherwise might lead to disappointment. In other words, we should be realistic in our expectations of fellow collaborators. After all, we humans see the world differently. And that’s ok. That’s what makes the human experience so rich…and complicated. Here are a few observations about why collaboration may require us to step outside our comfort zone.

Barriers to Collaboration:

  • We don’t speak the same language — whether English, Russian, Afrikaans; rules-oriented vs. free-spirited; public sector, private industry, NGO or faith-based.
  • We don’t share the same work ethic — good enough vs. perfection…or somewhere in between.
  • We don’t look the same — clean cut or eclectic; round or square; purple, green, or polkadot.
  • We don’t share the same values or focus — public good or profit; community, state, national interest; childhood or adult issues; male or female-oriented.
  • We prefer different styles of authority — collegial, authoritarian, dictatorial.
  • We often assess motives of others based on our own assumptions or experiences.

You get the picture. We all approach issues, problems, solutions from our own unique perspective. Valuing different perspectives helps foster a collaborative frame of mind.

Western solutions to the world’s problems:

The PhD students are assessing how to appropriately apply western approaches to international professional psychology. From my perspective, the “do no harm” Star Trek Prime Directive may be relevant for the discussion.

Star Trek Enterprise

Star Trek Enterprise

Jean-Luc Picard

Jean-Luc Picard

“The Prime Directive is not just a set of rules. It is a philosophy, and a very correct one. History has proven again and again that whenever mankind interferes with a less developed civilization, no matter how well intentioned that interference may be, the results are invariably disastrous.”—Jean-Luc Picard, Symbiosis

At our LAUNCH: Big Think, I was chatting with Deborah Alvarez-Rodriguez, CEO, Goodwill Industries San Francisco. We talked about how “helping” organizations are accused of disrupting traditional cultures and communities. Her response:

“We live in an ever-evolving cultural eco-system.”

Her point is that we can’t stop helping less fortunate individuals and communities for fear we might introduce disruption. In fact, we want to interrupt the downward spiral. The good news: new businesses grow up around change. Those who don’t change with the needs of society die off. Just look at Kodak, for example. Digital film left the company in the past.

Any change we introduce into a cultural eco-system will alter the flow. We can’t expect the world to stay the same. LAUNCH is all about disruptive innovation to bring about solutions to the world’s most intractable sustainability problems. But, in order to avoid Sociologist Robert Merton’s Law of Unintended Consequences, we need to look at downstream consequences – not just point-of-disruption solutions — to understand the full impact of any change we introduce.

Here are a few tips on how to affect positive change in a culturally sensitive way.

  1. Askwhat are the issues, needs, barriers; how can we help.
  2. Absorb listen and hear objectively, remove personal filters from what we think the issues are.
  3. Adapt find creative ways to apply “our” solutions to their needs.
  4. Adopt success means the end user takes ownership, internalizes solutions.

End goal: Learn to be culturally relevant so that our innovative solutions take root in society. If we do it right, we can all…

Star Trek: Spock

Star Trek: Spock

…“Live Long and Prosper”
Spock

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Filed under culture, innovation, LAUNCH, social entrepreneurship

Shame Saga of Icy Kitty-Littered Paths

Many factors brought me to my “snow low” — a nasty intersection of frustration and shame. Yes shame. That’s a degree or two..or three…beLOW embarrassment.

Here’s how it all started:

  1. I enjoyed the Christmas season with family in New York City during Virginia’s historic snowfall; therefore, I wasn’t here to shovel every few inches of snow to keep the walking pathways clear.
  2. I live on a corner. By law or city regulation of some sort or simple humanity rules, I’m required to keep the sidewalks clear for my neighbors’s safety.
  3. I stopped getting salt and chemicals to treat the snow — to prevent harm to the environment and innocent dog’s paws (probably red fox paws too since I’ve seen one in my back yard).
  4. We came home to snow drifts of three-feet or more in strategic places where walking or car transport would normally occur.
  5. I happened to have a bag of old kitty litter in the garage.

So let me set the stage:

Piles and piles of beautiful snow held us hostage — preventing passage from my doorstep to the road that led to civilization.

We shoveled and shoveled. Whew. Finished? Not quite. Once we dug out, every surface froze — transforming the steps, driveway and sidewalks into a treacherous ice creature eager to gobble up solid footing and crunch unsuspecting human, bone by bone, limb by limb.

Frantic to battle the evil ice creature and save myself, my family, and my neighbors, I grabbed the only weapon I had in my arsenal — the old bag of kitty litter in the garage!

I sprinkled (ok, poured) kitty litter liberally along the walkways. I stamped it in, feeling quite proud of myself. Proud, that is, until I took one step back inside the house and left a clumped, gooey footprint on my cute little Christmas rug.

I realized, to my horror, clumping-technology infested what looked like an ordinary non-clumping bag of kitty litter, and was now at work clumping the snow and ice on every walking path outside my house. Now, not only was the ice creature out there treacherous, but messy to boot!

My unsuspecting neighbors’ dogs will now track kitty litter paw prints throughout their houses.

Now, in my defense, I want you to know I really, REALLY didn’t know the kitty litter was the “clumping” kind. The bag looked like the prehistoric kind…you know, way back when before the clumping-technology lightbulb lit up the minds of pet-industry scientists. Where does it say “clumping” on this bag (see pic below)?

Kitty Litter bag

Back to the story:

Ever resourceful, I grabbed my recycling bag of Washington Post newspapers — which I knew to be kind to the environment since newsprint decomposes quickly. (I use it often to smother summer weeds under mulch in my garden.) I laid a new pathway of newspaper-covered clumping kitty litter-covered ice. Ah, my work was complete. I was ready for a long winter’s nap.

Not so. My daughters’ informed me the wet newspaper turned to ice. That EVIL ice creature assimilated ALL in its path.

Yesterday, rain came to the rescue. I decided to leverage the 40-degree WET weather to clean up the kitty litter newspaper soup. OH MY GOSH!!! What a sloppy, goopy, slippery mess. Nightmare! I won’t go into the clean-up details. I prefer to wipe them from my memory (pun intended). ;)

The moral to this story: Buy salt…or move south!

(But IF you insist on staying put and care about the environment, read the kitty litter label before spreading over ice.)

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Filed under Earth, environment

Southern Africa: Story Behind the Eyes

Growing up as a kid in Texas, I remember trick-or-treating for UNICEF, an organization that helps at -risk children in developing countries. We collected donations instead of candy. Going to school in Nova Scotia following high school, I organized a 40-mile walk-a-thon to benefit UNICEF. Only three of us completed the forty miles. I only remember dehydration and an emergency room visit upon finishing. The rest is a blur. I have no recollection, what-so-ever, of how much we earned for our efforts. Probably not much.

All that seems so long ago. UNICEF never went away. At-risk children never went away.

Perhaps I lost sight of the cause once my own life got complicated.

I’m looking at it now though. My daughter’s passion for children orphaned by the AIDs pandemic focused my attention again.

Girls dressed in Sunday best.

Girls dressed in Sunday best.

According to UNICEF:

“About 29,000 children under the age of five –  21 each minute – die every day, mainly from preventable causes.”

Boys in the bush.

Boys in the bush.

The UNICEF website cites frightening statistics for the southern part of Africa:

“The number of children orphaned and made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS is projected to reach 25 million by the end of the decade, 18 million of them in sub-Saharan Africa. This, along with only modest progress fighting malaria, means the threats facing child survival are as grave as ever.”

I’m just now researching the United Nations Millennium Development Goals for 2015. Yes, I know. I haven’t been paying attention.

  1. End Poverty and Hunger
  2. Universal Education
  3. Gender Equality
  4. Child Health
  5. Maternal Health
  6. Combat HIV/AIDS
  7. Environmental Sustainability
  8. Global Partnership
Kids on street in Zambia

Kids on street in Zambia

Goal 6, combatting HIV/AIDS, directly relates to my daughter’s passion for the alarming number of children orphaned by the great killer.  Projections point to 18 million parentless children in Sub-Saharan Africa by next year. These children must assume the parental role of finding food and caring for their siblings, forcing many to drop out of school.

In South Africa, the statistics on the number of individuals, of all ages, living with HIV/AIDs — simply staggering.

This girl's got spunk!

This girl's got spunk!

Everywhere we went during our time in South Africa, the topic came up. Parents are dying. If family members aren’t available to care for the children, the social services steps in. But often, the children slip through the cracks because their parents never informed the schools of their illness. The children simply stop coming to school. As we learned from our interview with the school principal in Soweto Township, she often serves as a detective/social worker at times, trying to determine where the child is, once he disappears from class.

I really started this blogpost to show you the faces of the children we met. Somehow, I felt compelled to add a bit about their world. I don’t know their individual stories to share with you, only the aggregate.

Just look into their eyes. I’ll let the children speak for themselves.

Pretty in pink.

Pretty in pink.

Fighting for the shot

Fighting for the shot

South Africa school uniform

South Africa school uniform

Simply gorgeous

Simply gorgeous

I'm getting a HUGE hug!

I'm getting a HUGE hug!

Now THAT's a pose!

Now THAT's a pose!

Such a tiny one.

Such a tiny one.
He elbowed everyone to get near me.

He elbowed everyone to get near me.

Hopeful, yet measured

Hopeful, yet measured


My daughter is taking a pic of me taking a pic...

My daughter is taking a pic of me taking a pic...

Best friends

Best friends

Full of promise

Full of promise

Not sure of me...

What a dumplin'

She never once smiled

She never once smiled

Play buddies

Play buddies

Thumbs up

Thumbs up

He wanted a "sweetie."

He wanted a "sweetie."

She's not sure about me yet.

She's not sure about me yet.

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Filed under Africa, AIDs, poverty