Posted by: bfelicetty82 | April 9, 2011

One Day Without Shoes (Part 1 of 2)

There’s been much ado in the Aid blogosphere regarding the annual event promoted by Tom’s Shoes, “One Day Without Shoes”. As many of you astute readers know, the popularity of Tom’s shoes hinges largely on their promise of 1:1, giving away a pair of shoes each time a pair is purchased.  Novel?  Yes.  Admirable?  Yes.  But bear in mind that this is, above all, a corporation whose underlying mandate is to make money— anything else they do is just gravy.

Similar to Tom’s Shoes in general, this annual event’s popularity is growing at a seemingly exponential rate.  People LOVE the idea of walking barefoot for a day to “raise awareness”… and also to look cool, socially conscious and ever-so-slightly counterculture (i.e. “didn’t you know?  This is ‘one day without shoes’, duh”).  I’m all about raising awareness for a legitimate need– heavens knows we have people suffering the world over who lack adequate footwear, clothing, clean water, housing, and human rights– I’m just not so sure about the “solution” that is being tagged onto this “awareness” event.

There seem to be two “solutions” that are being linked to this event.

1. For all those who find out about this event via Tom’s, the natural next step to “solve” the problem is– TADA!– purchasing a pair of Tom’s shoes!  Obligation to humanity at large?  Check.

2. The second “solution” is a jaunt down SWEDOW lane…. and this I fear more than purchasing a pair of Tom’s.  In response to hearing about the plight of the shoeless, people may begin a shoe drive, with the very altruistic motive of shoeing the developing world’s populace.  And if anyone you know has done/is considering this… please push them to think through the logistics of this feat, i.e. the gas, transport costs, and related expenses associated with shipping this junk, er shoes!, to the people who need them.  Binnu Jeyakumar does a thorough job of revealing the hidden costs of SWEDOW in a post on her site, untapped markets.  Please do take a peek.

My fear, which is unfortunately founded, is that the general populace fail to think critically about the problem at hand, and their first inclination is to engage in a simple transaction to solve it.  This rise of cause marketing has capitalized on the desire for people to transact a problem away, resulting in a negative impact on charitable giving at large. The transaction model works effectively for individuals in the Western World. Hungry?  Go purchase food.  But it doesn’t translate to solving the complex issue of basic human needs in the developing world.

And so,  I proffer to you the counterpart to One Day without Shoes– A Day without Dignity.  The blog “good intentions are not enough” is amazing in and of itself, but I ask you to take a peek to see how you can authentically engage in combatting the issues present in the developing world.

While not wearing shoes for a day is a great first step for the amateur advocate/activist/philanthropist, I would ask that you take the “next step” — with or without shoes on… but preferably in REBUILDERS– to dig deeper into what people’s needs are, and how you move beyond transactions to affect lasting change.

Stay tuned.  Part two of this post will focus on the question of how REBUILD Globally’s model is different from Tom’s Shoes so that I do not look like a total hypocrite.

B

 

Posted by: bfelicetty82 | April 2, 2011

Why NOT to Start a Nonprofit

What is it that keeps you up at night?  For many of you, I’m sure it’s something to do with money, relationships,  or your career.  For me, it’s money (or more accurately the lack thereof) and REBUILD.  The irony of what has become an all-consuming venture is that I never (thought I) wanted to start a nonprofit from the ground up.

I can’t count how many well-intentioned individuals I’ve met who have an undeniable passion for service, and who think they can best channel this passion by starting their own nonprofit.  My advice?  DON’T!  Now, you can call me a hypocrite, but hear me out for a paragraph or two.  Why would I dissuade someone from engaging in a life of service by starting a new nonprofit?  Well, particularly here in Central Florida… we are chock full of them.  Oftentimes, people think that starting a nonprofit is the answer, when there are already one (or more) organizations engaging in the same, or very similar, work.  In an environment characterized by shrinking resources and continued economic instability, my advice is to: 1. do your homework and see who is servicing the need you are passionate about, 2. shadow a nonprofit executive in this field, 3. make your service part of what you do, but not your career, 4. start fundraising for this nonprofit… come back to me in 6 months and let me know how’re your doing.

Furthermore, when people say that they want to start their own nonprofit, sometimes what it boils down to is that they want to start their own program.  Selling a program (with startup funds in hand) to an existing nonprofit that adds to their current menu of services while also helping them do their mission has a much higher likelihood for long term impact and success than starting your own nonprofit from scratch.  You get to serve the need you are passionate about, and you don’t have to worry about ALLL the other stuff that keeps people, like me, up at night.

You may ask, Bridget, if you didn’t want to help grow a nonprofit from the ground up, why the hell are you doing so right now?  1. Because Julie asked me to, 2. I wanted to learn everything that my graduate textbooks left out (you could call it nonprofit management “between the lines”), and 3. this is a model that WORKS– it has the promise of being sustainable, replicable and having a significant, sustained impact on people’s lives  (I loathe the traditional nonprofit paradigm that requires begging via grants to funders every single year in perpetuity).  The fact that this was an international nonprofit was an interesting monkey wrench that I found very attractive.

So… great model, great mission, great vision…. here’s what keeps me up at night:

  • MONEY
    • Yes, we need more of it, like alot (the textbooks say 3 months operating reserves… I think most agencies these days would laugh at that… I’m laughing too at it’s present improbability).
    • More so, it’s the accounting and cash management that’s troublesome.  The strength of our team is not financial management and accounting. Now is when both Julie and I have begun cursing ourselves for not getting an MBA.  Funders reading this post– yes we manage our money and account for every dollar spent and received!
    • While our cash flow in no way is up to the amount that would merit an audit, I’m already dreading the $5,000 outlay next year.
  • Operations
    • Phone and internet in Haiti are very pricey… while Julie will have a proper office at the new shop being constructed, it will be of little use if she hasn’t phone or internet.  The average cost in Haiti for these services is $300/month.
    • Travel- I am sickened by the amount of time and energy Julie loses each day walking versus driving.  Even if we had the money on hand to purchase a vehicle stateside and ship it to PAP, there is absolutely no guarantee we’d ever get it out of customs.  Quite honestly, we have to raise enough money for the vehicle, shipping and the bribe needed to retrieve the vehicle.  Buying a vehicle there means paying what I consider to be an astronomical amount for a lemon– indeed, Julie test drove a “car” that was priced at 3000 USD and lacked a steering wheel (that’s right! In its place was a metal bar).  More disturbing, this “car” was very tempting to Julie and was much better than anything else she had test driven.
  • Board, Volunteer and Donor Engagement
    • Presently, we are blessed with a cadre of supporters who want to help RG.  The trouble is engaging them in projects they have the time to fulfill.
    • Communicating the good work of RG and ongoing needs remains a challenge.  So too is the constant “begging” for support, time, and resources of our stakeholders.  I worry about burnout and disengagement.
    • Follow ups– there is SO MUCH good advice, leads and other related follow-ups coming our way.  This alone could fill the schedule of a .50FTE employee.  Julie and I are both playing a game of dodgeball, catching as many emails as we can and following up.
  • Sandal Sales
    • Our model is Haiti is operational and running smoothly…. but it is contingent upon selling what our craftsmen and women make  in the states.  The product isn’t the problem, getting our sandals to market is.  How best to arrange vendor agreements, marketing, shipping, ordering, etc. I do not yet know.

So there you have it.  The bulleted items above are what swirl before my closed eyes as I fall asleep, and rouse me before my alarm in the mornings.  If this isn’t reason enough to NOT start a nonprofit… then I’d say you are just as crazy and foolish and Julie and me.

Best,

B

Posted by: bfelicetty82 | March 31, 2011

Angry Philanthropy

The title of this blog may strike you, at first, as a misnomer.  You’d be more inclined to associate anger with a misanthrope, versus a philanthropist.  Angry giving?  What’s up with that?  Isn’t giving compelled by love for humanity, sympathy, and guilt?  Sure it is.  But it can also be motivated by an intense need for social justice, or a repugnance of the status quo and bureaucracy in all its ineffectual forms.  Philanthropy driven by anger– even rage–against humans is exactly what fuels actor Sean Penn’s surprisingly successful humanitarian efforts in Haiti at present. 

The New York Times recently made the jaunt down to the Petionville camp that is Sean Penn’s sometimes home –what otherwise is still a full time home to nearly 50,000 displaced Haitians living in JP/HRO supported tent camps.  He is a brooding, demanding actor-cum-aidworker.  And his perspective towards community building post-disaster doesn’t play by the norms established by the veteran NGOs  (they will remain unnamed in this blog, but you know who they are) or other celebrities engaging in this type of work. This rakish, cowboy approach can be risky, with disastrous consequences (I’m recalling a certain past President and ongoing wars on both Iraq and Afghanistan).  And yet, in a country that is still operating within a “no-holds-barred” paradigm, it’s precisely this mentality that is yielding results.

You may call me lofty for drawing parallels between Sean Penn’s multi-million dollar outfit, and the work of Julie and RG, but I’m going to do it anyways.  (I should note that Julie and Sean know one another –we have a lovely shot of them both that we featured at our February 4th Sandal Premiere Party– so it’s not THAT much of a stretch.)  In the early days of RG’s existence, Julie encountered similar resistance to doing things “a different way”.  She was told that RG’s model wouldn’t work…RG was too small… she didn’t know the “right” people… and that essentially, she should leave this work to the “professionals”.   

Talk about angry philanthropy—nothing steeled the reserve of both Julie and me more than this kind of feedback.    Unlike our community organizing days at an unnamed section 8 housing complex in Orlando, however, we knew that to some extent, she would need to work with those large, bureaucratic NGOs to engender support over the long term.  And so, Julie continues to attend the UN cluster group meetings referenced in the  Times article—even though it’s a 2 hour investment of travel time up to Petionville.  We continue to apply for UN Quick Impact Project (QIP) grant dollars.  We work alongside the “blue chip” NGOs with international name recognition.  Note- RG has no intention to assimilate into the sea of NGO acronyms, or become a supergiant NGO.  It is a deep need for social justice and anger with the current state of/ love for Haiti’s populace that drives Julie’s efforts via RG.

And so, I ask you… why do you give?  Is it a sense of benign obligation? A passion for a particular cause? Motivated by faith… a bit of guilt? Or, do you engage in Sean Penn’s brand of philanthropy? 

More importantly… how do choose who you give to?  Do you donate to the  nonprofit with the most aesthically appealing logo and sleekest website?  Are you trendy with your philanthropy, supporting a cause du-jour?  Or is your philanthropy informed by a different philosophy? 

Don’t get angry… I’m just leaving you with a few questions to consider :)

-B

Posted by: bfelicetty82 | March 25, 2011

SWEDOW for Your Birthday

My birthday was yesterday… so I figured it was a particularly appropriate time to talk about a concept I’m sure many of you can relate to—SWEDOW.  SWEDOW stands for Stuff WE DOn’t Want. You have likely not only received SWEDOW on your birthdays, but have also been guilty of giving it away via re-gifting or through “charitable donations”.  One epic birthday, I received a stained bathrobe and half burned candle from a relative who will remain nameless (and no, she didn’t hate me, it was just her way).  This year, I was lucky enough not to have received any SWEDOW on my birthday—thank you family and friends!

Unfortunately Haiti, like many developing countries, can’t avoid the unending influx of SWEDOW.  It is a veritable dumping ground for the Western world’s crap.  That’s right, crap.  I know—I’ve seen the SWEDOW first hand.  Merchants sell our “charitable donations” for a profit on the streets and in the market places of Haiti (this is not how it was intended to be!).  Our unwanted, stained, and stinky G.A.P. and Old Navy toss aways are clogging the marketplace.

But Bridget, you may say, the people of Haiti need these items!  They need old shoes and unwanted clothing, broken toys and winter wear!  In response, I would point out that there are textile factories in Haiti that can produce these wares (minus the winter wear) and provide life-saving jobs to people who desperately need them.  SWEDOW kills the job market, it kills production, and it perpetuates an unnecessary dependence on others.

Not only that… let’s talk about respect and dignity for a moment.  If you wouldn’t wear it… don’t make the assumption that it’s reasonable for someone else to want to wear it too.  The people of Haiti have A LOT of personal pride about their appearance (they are better dressed than any relief worker I encountered), so to assume that they would naturally want to wear something that was stained or dirty is beyond insulting.

We wonder why the Haitian people haven’t made more progress in the year + post-earthquake . . . we are in part to blame.  Our “charitable giving” of crap we don’t want makes us feel good about ourselves, but it is bad for the long term recovery of Haiti.  If you want to help, resist the urge to clean out your closet.  Instead, make an unrestricted donation of money to an organization you know and trust.

When it comes to SWEDOW, like drugs, just say no!

Posted by: bfelicetty82 | March 23, 2011

The Life You Could Save

Getting back home from Haiti was nearly as difficult as getting there.  Jules and I, however, were lucky enough to score a ride over to the airport in PAP– it would have been several changes via tap tap to get over to the airport, and you know how those drivers feel about extra luggage taking up the space of paying customers…

I did make it home several hours past my scheduled arrival of 11:30pm.  Prior to, Julie and I were able to accomplish 2 of the 3 items on our to-do list during my last day in town– a visit to the orphanage, and checking in on the construction going on at the new land.

Up to our visit to the orphanage, I hadn’t been truly bowled over by anything I had seen.   True, according to Jules I’d been uncharacteristically quiet, but this is because to me, this trip was all about listening and observing. I didn’t yet have the information necessary to offer feedback and advice to Julie about RG’s daily ops.  Well, I was completely uprooted at the orphanage…

The facility itself is beautiful, clean, and well-maintained.  The children there are in school on site.  There is a small garden, and a recycled tire playground– thanks again to the European Disaster Volunteers!

Julie and I stopped in while a mother was visiting her infant– whom she cannot take care of and has begged the orphanage to take in.  I was allowed to hold this infant, this very very small living being, who was terribly calm.  The baby couldn’t have been more than 10 lbs– I was shocked to learn that it was nearly 4 months old, and that it’s mother had begun feeding it rice and beans after it was only 3 days old.  (For those of you not up to date on the recommended feeding for infants, it’s exclusively breast milk until baby is at least 6 months old… up to that point the baby’s intestines aren’t developed enough to handle whole foods).  The orphanage personnel had been begging her to come feed the baby… which she has managed to do only sporadically– she lives in a tent camp and has other children to care for.

My heart just about broke.  Adults in Haiti are resilient– they will perservere in this changed environment.  It’s the children who are the fallout from the earthquake and ensuing humanitarian crisis.  While holding this very small living being in my arms, I was so sad, realizing what his probable life outcomes would be.

I’m going to sound like Sally Struthers, but I can see ever more clearly how our frivolous, small indulgences could, as Peter Singer espouses, save a life.  It’s not about Western guilt, it’s about balance, and being cognisant of how people live, love, and survive in a world sans Starbucks and Big Box Stores.

RG’s mission is to provide living wage employment and reduce pollution, not to save orphans.  However, we have a mandate to given back to the community we work in, and this means a relationship with this orphanage.  We provide children with custom-made REBUILDERS and connect volunteer groups who want to serve this orphanage.

Consider the life you could save– not with a hand out, but through the empowerment of employment.

-B

Posted by: bfelicetty82 | March 21, 2011

Bonjou!

Jules and I woke up this morning a little before 6am and listened.  What we didn’t want to hear was silence– this meant that we would likely not be going anywhere on my last day in Haiti.  What we did hear was the honk of horns and traffic rumbling along the streets outside the lodge.  Bonjou Haiti!  If people are back on the streets, we can be on the streets.  Why would be be listening for traffic at 6am? Everything here in Haiti starts early…. the streets are bustling at the crack of dawn, which is normally around 5 30am.  The sun glaring down at you by 6am.

We’ve got a big day ahead of us, as we are going to try and make up for lost time yesterday.  On tap:

  • a trip to the orphanage where Julie recently placed a restivik– aka street kid (nearly half of the orphans in Haiti have at least one parent alive.  This kind of orphan is known as a restavik– their parents have abandoned them for social or economic reasons… oftentimes they are given to the orphanage directly, as they see the quality of life there as being above what they could provide)
  • visit to the new land to see how the roofing job is getting on
  • if we have time, we’re headed into the heart of PAP to visit an ironworks shop that also does fantastic artwork

It looks as though the flights are on for today, but we’re going to have someone check on our behalf in the meantime.  Anything could change at a moment’s notice.  Should we get the green light, we’ll be at the airport by 2pm– Julie is headed over to the UK for a film premiere that is featuring REBUILDERS, and I’m headed back home– with a ton of follow ups in my head and just as heavy a load of REBUILDERS in my luggage.

I’ll let you know how the day goes.

B

Posted by: bfelicetty82 | March 21, 2011

A Fine Balance

With all of PAP holding it’s breath, Jules and I had to be careful of traveling the streets today.  There was little public transport to be had–  motos, tap taps or private cars.  In fact, there were very few people on foot.  Mind you, the streets are normally teeming with all of the above.  Given that it was broad daylight, we decided to make the short trek over to what we are calling “the new land”, as we had to do inventory of all the sandals we had there and prepare what we were going to bring back stateside.  The new land is a short 1/8 of a kilometre from the Carribbean Lodge– they have in fact donated a corner of “the new land” to RG— and it is the site of their 2nd hotel.

Getting anywhere on foot in Haiti isn’t a trouble– esp. wearing REBUILDERS— hello! they’re made of tires!  It’s getting back with anything bulky or heavy that’s the issue, as sidewalks are broken, uneven and clogged with random trash and rubble.  As an aside, there is no such thing as waste management in Haiti…. that’s right, thank our government for that!  Instead, the UN and other NGOs support cash for work programs that pay people to clear the sewers and thoroughfares, which are summarily filled with trash over the next few days.  Talk about a short term solution to a long term problem…

Anyway, we made our way to the new land.  This land, like all of Haiti, is raw– that’s the only word I have for it.  The land, the infrastructure, the living conditions– just raw.  But with the state, along with problems, comes promise.  On the new land we are in the process of constructing a permanent facility– much of the infrastructure is in place for this already.  In fact, a team tomorrow from the European Disaster Volunteers will be completing the roof on our 1st building.

Ody, our manager, lives on site at the new land.  He welcomed us this afternoon with a small meal.  Ody, like most people, did not vote today.  Jules and I packed as many sandals as we could into 2 large cardboard boxes.  How does one get these back without breaking their arms off?  Haitian style– right on the head they went.  And so, with REBUILDERS on our feet and atop our heads, we maintained a fine — and very precarious– balance as we walked gingerly back to the hotel.  Depending on what is going on, Julie will make this trip multiple times per day with loads on her head.

I can see now that an inordinate amount of Julie’s time is consumed by transit, and so much more could be easily moved about with the advent of reliable transportation.  I’ve lobbied for a small donkey or mule (my family will know I have ulterior motives in suggesting a horse-like animal), but Jules is set on a 4×4 diesel vehicle that runs, has four wheels and a steering wheel.  Clearly, this is both an immediate and long term need that will save time and improve operational efficiency.

Now that we’ve got them all here though, we’ve got the business of sorting out the next round of orders to go stateside.  I hope you’ve ordered yourself a pair via http://www.rebuildglobally.org.

I’ll keep you posted on how the roofing project goes– with pictures I promise.

Best,

B

Posted by: bfelicetty82 | March 20, 2011

Election Day

For a country with minimal infrastructure and media communications in place, news travels frighteningly fast NGOs, businesses and locals.  Today is election day– it is the runoff between Michel Martelly and Mirlande Manigat– and contrary what you would think to be the case, PAP is a veritable ghosttown, aside from the helicopters flying overhead at regular intervals.  Deaththreats were rumored to have been given out to people in Cite Soleil, specifically “write your name on your foot before you dare come out to vote tomorrow.”  Pretty heavy stuff.  This is apparently because local gangs run the polling stations, and can therefore quite successfully influence the outcome of elections.

This is unfortunate in several ways.  First, people cannot exercise their right to vote.  Second, fear tactics keep people off the streets, and brings any economic activity to a screaching halt– the last thing you need in a recovering country.  Third, it reinforces these tactics, such that they will continue to be employed by a very small, very powerful elite group who have their hands on anything of value in Haiti– political offices, large businesses, beautiful homes, and other associated resources.

Jules and I will ourselves not be traveling today.  We may take a walk down to the new land to survey it for additional landscaping plans– we have a team of horticultural students who have volunteered to landscape our new place!  Otherwise, we’re resigned to catching up on administrative items from within the hotel (which is surrounded by very high concrete walls and has a guard at the entrance).

Today, only the brave will vote.  No one will earn their sums selling foodstuffs or other wares on the roadside, and everyone will wait.

-B

Posted by: bfelicetty82 | March 19, 2011

A room with a view

This is the view from the patio of the Global Orphan Project’s Haiti facilities.  They house groups of volunteers who want to serve in Haiti.  RG loves them because they have just agreed to be a vendor of our REBUILDERS!  They just purchase 30 pairs of shoes!

Posted by: bfelicetty82 | March 19, 2011

Hello Moto

Mom and Dad… I do apologize in advance for this post.  Today I’ve experienced the full gamut of Haitian transportation. Jules and I started off via foot to visit Grassroots United so that I could see our original sandal shop, and to pick up Ian.  We then made our way via car to the airport to pick up my luggage (which arrived safe and sound!).  Julie, Ian and I were then off via private car to visit Sougecedes– the Haitian organization whom we purchase our handmade sandal straps from.

Afterwards, we connected with reps from the Global Orphan project, who took us our to La Plane via private car to visit their site– they’ve purchased a large order of REBUILDERS for their visitors shop.  Afterwards, we employed local transport, taking tap taps (local trucks that pack in passengers) back to Central PAP.

… this is where it gets interesting! To get up to Pechonville, the location of Sean Penn’s outfit, we then had to take motos– these are motorcycles driven by locals.  We were visiting a camp where women are making beads from recycled paper– these are going to be incorporated into the straps of our REBUILDERS sandals.  Fortunately, I was able to hop on Ian’s moto– he is RG’s fantastic volunteer carpenter.  Unfortunately for Jules, she had the equivalent of a Nascar driver with a deathwish.  Driving rules and regs don’t apply in Haiti… we wended our way up into the hills by all means necessary.   Keeping up with him was the challenge of the day.  After a productive meeting at JPHRO, Jules decided to take a tap tap back down the mountainside.  I, however, opted for the moto.

Lesson learned: RG’s immediate need– reliable transportation!!!

More to come,

B

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