• 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.