• The Ultimate Challenge of the Perpetual Social Impact Machine

    November 30th, 2017. Second-time Global Citizen, JK Cho, writes about his experience on-field with Coaches Across Continents and ChildReach Nepal, along with the complexities of change.

    A perpetual motion machine is a hypothetical device that repeats a certain motion indefinitely without an energy source. You might have seen a windmill-looking device in a physics book, which has bearing balls rolling around inside of the wheel or bearing balls swinging attached to the outer side of the wheel. That is called a “mass leverage” device, one of the most famous failures in the effort of inventing a perpetual motion machine. Since the Middle Ages, out of a desire to achieve an everlasting engine without burning fuel, countless efforts made by scientists to create this self-sustaining closed system have failed. The idea is impossible because it violates a couple of the laws of physics – the first or second law of thermodynamics. In simple words, it cannot close the loop because it loses energy gradually due to gravity and friction. The machine will eventually stop.

    You can see CAC’s mission parallels to it in that the organization wants to help create social movements that sustain and evolve independently without a need for consistent help and influence from the western world. The organization refuses to do a one-time, feel-good “volun-tour” work and leave. Each visit is dedicated to design and install a perpetual social impact engine in a community’s needs and concerns, using its own assets. Once it picks up the pace, it is supposed to work free and creates their own organic results. Just like a perpetual motion device cannot ignore the physical laws, there is a natural drag as well as intentional resistance in the process of CAC’s work.

    This week’s partner, Child Reach Nepal is one of the most admirable charity partners that I have worked with through CAC. With transformational leaders like Prateek, Shamsher, and the rest of the team who truly care and devote their lives to their community, Child Reach Nepal has brought tremendous positive impact to its children. In spite of the notoriously wide daily temperature range and dusty air in the mountain, the program in Sindhupalchok went stellar. Everyone was sincerely participatory with an eager to learn and grow. We learned that female social inclusion in sports and outdoor activities had been one of the major issues in Sindupalchok based schools. The girls said they wanted to play sports with boys, but they were afraid and not invited. We had a great discussion on it with men and women together and separately. It was bought up that women were doing more physical work in the community such as carrying on their backs an A-frame carrier full of heavy items. Everyone agreed girls could be as strong, tough, and athletically intelligent as boys if they had an equal opportunity. Some even said it’s the society and tradition that boxes and limits roles and behaviors in gender.

    And then, one thing did not sit well with me happened. Immediately after the discussion, I heard there was going to be a friendly football match, and the bet was a 6kg of chicken meat. Guess what happened. All the talk that we just had evaporated instantly. People were recruiting the best players on their teams. As long as I witnessed, no one asked the girls to play for the match. One team even recruited these new faces who had never shown up in the program. I have to say we all were way into winning, playing a competitive, “real” match, or at least winning kilos of chicken meat. The school girls were automatically excluded and also seemed to not even want to play. They knew it would turn out an intense, heated battle. Everybody including me failed in walking the talk.

    Almost 20 years ago, the UN made a commitment to achieving gender parity in executive roles by the year 2000. In 2016, with a 16 year overdue, less than one in three director-level positions within the organization were women. Despite the former secretary general Ban Ki-moon’s regular assertions of progress in appointing women to high office, an 84% of his appointments to top posts in 2015 were male. The unconformable truth we have here is that, for chicken meat, natural competitiveness, or whatever reasons, our words don’t always translate into action. Even the world largest and most powerful intergovernmental organization cannot ignore the drag and friction.

    The ultimate challenge of creating a self-sustaining impact model is the action part. CAC brilliantly employs the Self-Directed Learning (SDL) principle and Community Impact Coaches (CIC) network to increase the propulsion and reduce the resistance of the motion. SDL style provides the sustainable nature, promoting the spirit of taking initiative in constant self-reflection and transformation. CICs are selected and trained local agent coaches who are capable of running a program locally on behalf of CAC without any cultural, language, physical, and distance barriers. Talking about the closed loop system! Another thing that I have faith in is CAC coaches’ rock-solid integrity. It’s the strong consistency and cohesiveness that are needed to make words straight into action and results. The coaches that I have worked with are special individuals living up to their belief and leading by examples, inspiring the communities to take action now and be the change.

    In recent years, big corporations also started creating a closed loop system to be more self-sustainable. One of the world largest fast fashion brands, H&M, has just adopted the closed loop garment production system – they collect unwanted and unsold items and give them a new life. Their goal is to eventually get to the point where it does not source new wools and cottons. The possibility to invent a perfect self-sustaining system seems still questionable, however, the efforts around it did make tangible and meaningful results. Turbines and engines have gotten more efficient than ever, recycling has become such big part of production in the manufacturing industry, and CAC started sending fewer western people and use more indigenous human resources for global social impact. We already have the keys in us to the ultimate challenge – forward/long-term thinking, pure intention, and cohesive character. We just have to live and die by them, and then changes will come as byproducts.

     

  • Changing Lives Through Sports

    November 24th, 2017. Community Impact Coach, Shamsher, writes about his experience working alongside Coaches Across Continents as a partner with ChildReach Nepal and a new member of the Community Impact Coach Initiative on-field with Go Sports Nepal

    There are many organization that works with CAC in partnership, among them Childreach Nepal is one of them who uses sports as a tool to educate children outside of classroom. In 2016 I attended CAC training as a participant with Mark Gabriel the Self-Directed Learning Coach on-field. I was an intern during that time and later on I was selected for the Training and Monitoring Officer position at ChildReach Nepal. Fortunately this year also I got a chance to work with Mark Gabriel again and learn from his coaching skills because I was inspired by them. In the two week program with Childreach Nepal at two different districts Dolakha and Sindhupalchowk Mark Gabriel and Ashlyn Hardie saw my coaching abilities and improvements. They offered me to join CAC team as Community Impact Coach to deliver training to the Go Sports Nepal program in Kathmandu. I was extremely happy when I heard that and I am also really grateful for the offer that was provided to me. Go Sports Nepal is also a partner of Coaches Across Continents who uses the sport for development methodology.

    Most of the participants were from different fields like NGO’s, local schools, football coaches, the Women’s National Team Rugby Coach, and local male and female football players. As the youngest participant, everyone was asking me how I became a coach at the age of just 23. I was little bit nervous on the first day but I tried to hide my nervousness and showed my confidence. When I was leading the game “Say No to Child Labor”, which I adapted from “Say No to Trafficking”, in the last round of the game I introduced a policeman to catch the broker and a player who represented a policeman came to me and he wanted to take picture with me in the middle of game. I told him to go and catch a tagger who represented a broker in the community….but he was said “No no please, one photo with you”. I was laughing at him, still he was ignoring me and wants to take a photo. That was one of the most unique parts for me.

    Since, I am from local organization there are lots of possibility to work together in the upcoming future thanks to the networking that CAC initiated. I also networked with some other local organizations and schools that will be fruitful in the coming days. For example, mid-week after the training I went to Football stadium ANFA with Mark and Ashlyn to watch live game between NEPAL and Philippines for the Asian Cup Qualifier game which was also one of the highlighted part of the week! On the next day after the training we visited Vajra Academy, a Green School in Kathmandu, which took 1.5 hours bus ride from field. The school is little bit far from the main city and it has been doing great work such as aware people on different issues that they are facing in the community and also provided opportunities for students and villagers to maintain quality of life in the future. We then also discussed the possibilities of collaborating and working together in the coming days. At the end of program I sang a song “Che Che Cooley” and dance with all participants which was superb ending!

    This was an amazing week for me. I got a chance to lead many sessions and give feedback to other coaches through coach-backs, which has made me a role-model for them. I am very thankful to Mark Gabriel, Ashlyn Hardie, Ian and JK for giving me a chance to become CIC and helping me to become better coach. Personally, I would like to thank especially Mark Gabriel for starting the opportunity and networking with Vajra Academy. I look forward to working with CAC again in the future.

     

     

     

  • Searching for Unideal “Ideal” Places

    July 26th 2017. Global Citizen JK Cho writes about his week on-field working with Mother Child Health Foundation in Kenya.

    “This Is Africa” (“TIA”). People come to Africa and often hear this remark, meaning don’t complain and just shrug off inconvenience or misfortune coming from the cultural or technological difference. As much as I have enjoyed the epic natural beauty and people’s kindness of Africa, I also had to overpass some TIA moments: Catching malaria and spending nights with neither power nor running water were somewhat predictable. It was mentally, physically, and spiritually challenging making a seven-hour-long minivan bus (“matatu”) trip on the bumpiest road I’ve ever been on with 20 people and a bunch of fish and dead animals crammed in. Wherever I go, I would get followed by dozens of kids and get yelled at endlessly, “mzungu (nomad or white man).” If I get lucky, they would call me “China.” Oh, I copped me my Ghanaian tattoo in Kumasi, that is a burn scar on my calf from the exhaust while I was riding a motorcycle taxi (“boda boda”). I was very close to losing it in Gomoa Benso when people full-blasted commercial messages in the streets (like outdoor concert style), from 2 am to 8 am every single night.

    Anyway, these all are unique, cute experiences. When this sort of event happens, I now tell myself it’s one more story to tell when I get back to the states. However, it becomes a nightmare for people working in Africa when their project is put in danger for a “TIA” reason, like this week’s program in Rusinga island in Kenya, for example. Mother Child Health Foundation (Mother Child) was founded by Mary Okech in 2016, with a mission of achieving “0” maternal mortality rate in Homa-Bay County. One day Mary found out that her fourteen-year-old cousin was unwantedly pregnant along with 24 more girls in her high school. The girls starved while they were attending classes, skipping breakfast and lunch. Most of them ended up dropping out of school to find a job to support themselves and their fetus. Mary was mad and devastated and started providing the girls 10 to 20 Kenya shillings (10 – 20 U.S. cents) a day so they could eat and keep going to school.

    In spite of her beautiful mind and passion, Mary had felt inadequate to pursue the task continuously, and Mother Child consistently had faced financial and organizational challenges. Mary found out about Coaches Across Continents (CAC) through her mentor, Joseph, who had had a partnership experience with CAC, and requested a partnership with CAC. Although the start-up charity for young pregnant women’s health was not directly related to training teachers to discuss Self-Directed Learning, CAC decided to work with it to promote sustainable changes in the community. When Team Kenya arrived at Rusinga island, however, things were a lot different from what we were expecting. We found out that Mary got a new job in Nairobi in the mean time and moved out of Rusinga island, so Mother Child had to stop operating tentatively. There was no program. On the first day of the program, a handful of participants from a boy football team showed up, hoping to move to the states, because they thought we were recruiters. T.I.A… Did I not learn that things are subject to get real (or unreal) at any moment? I later figured that there was a significant gap of the way people do things and the expectations between CAC and Mother Child. A lack of technological access in the island also limited communication.

    CAC takes a considerable amount of risk in designing and executing a training program in about 60 different developing countries. It runs 21 programs in Africa this year, and each program is expensive and extremely labor-intense. The nature of social development work in Africa let alone involves lots of uncertainty. Things and words could change quickly here. Language and cultural barriers and limited internet access make it tougher to coordinate a program with a partner in a small rural village. I believe the uniqueness in CAC’s partner selection adds even more risk. CAC choose to work with community’s need based, not based on charity partners’ qualifications and potentials. In other words, CAC seems to want to give an opportunity for any communities who need its help rather than limit it to successful and notable charities. That isn’t a logical decision for growth and security from the business stand point, but a brilliant move for choosing meaningful impact and keeping its integrity. CAC is a mission-driven organization that makes mission-integrated decisions. That is why CAC finds some of these unideal situations ideal. And that is also why CAC is a leading global social impact organization winning Most Impactful Companies and Beyond The Sports awards.

    And then, what happens is that CAC coaches do magic. These guys are working on the frontline of global social impact, playing multiple vital roles. A lot of CAC’s partners in developing countries have organizational and operational weaknesses. Those weaknesses are big obstacles for them to work with international NGOs like CAC hindering their functions and sustainable growth. Besides providing training, CAC coaches create shared value by consulting about a clear vision and mission, strategic directions, relevant impact measures, and functional networks. Helping partners constructing these essentials would consequently improve CAC’s program quality and impact progress in future years. Traveling about 4 to 7 months a year CAC coaches have to be an excellent coach, an international project manager with extensive sympathy, and a travel expert with high-stress tolerance. It really takes a special talent and personality to do the job.

    This week’s hero was coach Mark Gabriel. When we discovered the program was in danger of cancellation, Mark didn’t let that happen. He grabbed Mary, basically rebuilt Mother Child, and saved the program for the whole week. The flying squirrel (Mark’s nickname) first arranged a partnership with a boy health organization in the island and established a foundation to visit schools and provide proper sexual and maternal education. And then, he talked to a women’s vocational school and other women organizations in the island and got some of the teachers and students involved in Mother Child as volunteers. He customized and complicated female empowerment and sexual health related games for Mother Child. Additionally, Mark created surveys and matrix so Mother Child could record and monitor their activities in the future. Finally, he promised Mother Child that he would give a year-around support to Mother Child as an impact consultant. While Mark was beasting, I backed him up by breathing entrepreneurial fumes all over Mary.

    Mary now feels empowered and believes running Mother Child is her destiny. She believes CAC’s mind-training- using one’s own body helps make a habit of identifying one’s issues, taking actions, and make changes. Mother Child now has a structure, tasks, and people to work with. She said her long-term goal is to build a school for young pregnant women in Homa Bay. The training result also turned out pretty well. 27 Rusinga Islanders of local teachers, students, volunteers, and players participated the training. As a result, we estimated the program would potentially benefit 493 children. The size of this week’s program was nothing impressive, but the meaningfulness of the impact was tremendous and would be memorable. CAC finds another unideal ideal place and gets one-step closer to its mission.

  • Welcomed into the Warm Heart of Africa

    July 5th 2017. Global Citizen JK Cho writes about working with the Banda Bola Foundation in Chituka Village, Malawi.

    In case you have ever asked yourself what the world would look like if people just be nice to each other, I got an answer: it would look a lot like Malawi.  With a nickname of The Warm Heart of Africa, Malawi is a tiny country located in Southern Africa.  Living up to its “notorious” nickname, Malawians are so friendly and loving they are known for always being willing to help family, friends, and even a stranger.  In fact, the welcomes, the meals, and the human interactions that I got here were so warm and earthy, and I certainly have been spoiled by them.  I mean I was going to do my laundry at the community well for the first time in a month.  And then a neighborhood guy on a bicycle sees me, stops on the road, throws his bicycle off, and starts helping me like my house just caught  fire.  It’s just another lovely day in Chituka village in Malawi.

    Chituka village is the hometown of CAC’s Malawi partner, Keni Banda and the Banda Bola Foundation.  Keni moved to the States from Malawi when he was 14.  And, he played and coached soccer professionally.  After decades of a successful coaching career in U.S. NCAA women’s soccer teams, Keni founded  Banda Bola Foundation in 2010 and launched Chituka Village Project to bring social changes in his hometown area in Malawi.  As much as he has an inspiring and passionate personality, breaking into chants of “Solve Your Problem!” and “Let’s Figure It Out!” multiple times a day, he is also a funny and kind guy like your typical favorite uncle.  His family in Malawi are all deeply involved in social impact as well.  His sister, Sekani, is a board member of Banda Bola Foundation and an aspiring social worker.  Her two sons, Manyanda and Patici are also passionate about social entrepreneurship.  I thought it was very interesting that Manyanda is a social impact music producer going into rural villages with artists, listening to the village people’s issues, and turning them into beautiful songs (Check out Amplified Movement – Bring Them Back on YouTube).  The Banda family provided incredible cooperation, food, accommodation, and friendship during the two-week schedule in Malawi.

    Team Malawi was comprised of two amazing veteran coaches, Charlie C. and  Ashlyn, and two Global Citizens including Charlie O. and me.  Besides me, they all were collegiate soccer players.  After their athletic careers, they joined CAC to contribute to making the world a better place, using soccer as a messenger.  Although they sometimes made a fun of my soccer skill, I loved the team very much for making such good balance and harmonious vibes.  Charlie O. even suffered from Malaria in the first week, but he completed the schedule with a smile on his face the whole time.  When we arrived at Malawi, it didn’t take us more than two days to find out that corruption and power abuse are the major social issues that Malawi had been facing.  Radio and newspapers constantly reported about corrupted politicians and nonsensical policies.  People gave a sigh of resignation about losing precious natural resources to foreign corporations as well as jobs to those who got power and connections.  Limited access to education coming from poverty also seemed to be a serious and urgent issue.  The CAC team and Banda Bola Foundation agreed to focus on addressing those issues during the training sessions, with openness to listen to participants own social concerns.

    We spent the first week getting familiar with Chituka village and trying to get accepted by the people.  Chituka village is located right by the beautiful Lake Malawi, surrounded by majestic, evergreen mountains.  The area is very underdeveloped, and most of the people there walk around barefoot and live without electric power.  First, we met a grand chief lady who oversees about 60 local chiefs’ daily responsibilities.  The “zenness” emitted by her was truly amazing.  She warmly welcomed us, and it was one of the coolest moments of my life.  After that, we visited one of the primary schools where Chituka Village Project originated from.  We hung out with the current students who would be benefiting from our program for the next 3 years and got inspired by their innocence and simplicity.  Finally, we had a meeting with about 20 local chiefs to discuss what CAC and Banda Bola were trying to bring to the community.  It was interesting that some of the chiefs were having a hard time understanding the significance of adopting sustainable solutions.  They wanted an immediate help with food, clothes, and money rather than long-term solutions such as implementing Self-Directed Learning skill.  It was like we were trying to teach how to catch fish, dried them to save, and sell the rest at the market, but they just wanted fish.  After a long discussion, the meeting ended well, and the chiefs officially welcomed us.  I will never forget the moment when a prince said, “Now, you are one of us.  Don’t be afraid of exploring our village.  You are one of us, and we will take care of you.”

    The training week was fantastic.  We had 64 participants from 33 organizations, which was considerably more than I had expected.  Not only that, it was remarkable that 19 of them were female, marking about 30% of the total participants.  The participant mix consisted of local teachers, sports coaches, social workers, and volunteers.  We delivered lots of games related to gender equity as well as child rights and democratic conflict resolution style (anti-corruption).  The participants quickly understood the program and started using their voices to express their own colorful opinions.  Keni supported the participants not only by providing an amazing training venue, great snacks, and transportation money but also inspirational speeches.  At the end of the training week, I observed participants embracing the importance of Self-Directed Learning and looking to incorporate it into their teaching practices.  We estimated a total of 4346 children (2129 girls and 2217 boys) would benefit from the program immediately.  Moreover, we anticipated a lot of these girls and boys would become Bonda Bola Foundation volunteers after graduation and transfer the impact to younger children, multiplying our impact radically in future years.

    One of the random facts that I came across when I did research on Malawi was that, out of Madonna’s 6 children, four of them are adopted, and all of the singer’s adopted kids were from Malawi.  She also has put on many concerts and events to raise global awareness towards Malawi’s social issues.  After experiencing Malawi for 2 weeks, I now could understand why the singer has been so married to this tiny country: Malawians are incredibly loving and warm-hearted.  The capacity of their love is so big that I want to have them around me all the time.  Well, although I’m not a superstar singer, I now have a Malawian family in Chituka village.  Hoping to come back to this beautiful place some day, I said goodbye to the warm heart for now and departed for Kenya.