Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the category “People that are Making a Difference”

Take The Mensch Pledge

For Jews the 10 days between the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashana) and Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) is one of introspection. We examine how we act, what the consequences of our actions are, and we make vows for the coming year. 

While preparing for the High Holidays at Hillel (SF Jewish Student Center), I have been dwelling on how this painful and devastating recession has been the consequence of actions by very greedy and selfish people. I am aware that some of the worse perpetrators come from my own tribe. Though I lead my life very differently from them, there remains a sense of responsibility. As a Jewish educator, I feel the collective guilt (and we Jews are very good at guilt).

I would like to share and encourage you to join me in taking the Mensch pledge, or at least adopting the principles that Bruna Martinuzzi, the author of The Leader as a Mensch: Become the Kind of Person Others Want to Follow, advocates.

1.   Consistently act with honesty. Watch the small integrity slips. 

2.   When someone has wronged you, continue to treat them with civility.

3.   Are you in the habit of making hasty promises that you know, from experience, you are unable to keep? Think back on what promises you made, to whom, and see if you can fulfill some of these.

Bruna Martinuzzi

4.   Help someone who can be of absolutely no use to you.

5.   The next time something goes wrong on a project, suspend blame and ask: “What can we learn?”

6.   Hire people who are as smart or smarter than you are—whose talents surpass you—and give them opportunities for growth. Not only is it the smart thing to do but it is also a sign of high personal humility.

7.   Improve the way you communicate with people: don’t interrupt people; don’t dismiss their concerns offhand; don’t rush to give advice; don’t change the subject. Allow people their moment.

8.   Resolve to do no harm in anything you undertake. If you are certain that you don’t have the competence to take on something that is offered, consider that you might be doing harm to someone by accepting it anyway.

9.   Become aware of your stance at business meetings. Are you known as the devil’s advocate—the one who is quick to shoot down others’ ideas? Jumping in too quickly to negate an idea can derail the creative process for others. Often, valuable ideas are the result of the initial “crazy” thought.

10. Resolve to become a philanthropist of know-how. What knowledge, expertise or best practices can you share with colleagues, customers and other stakeholders as a way to enrich them?

11. At the end of each day, when you clear your desk before you head home, take a few minutes to mentally go over your day. Think about significant conversations you had, meetings you attended, emails you sent, and other actions you undertook. Are you proud? Could you have done better? Getting into this habit of introspection will pay dividends in the long run.

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Roshaneh Gets What Politicians Don’t

Roshaneh Zafar is helping to fight extremism and create a sustainable model that will discourage recruitment to terrorist organizations by giving people hope that they can live a prosperous and stable way of life. Tell me this does not make political sense whether you sit on the left or the right, or balance precariously in the middle.

On Monday, I talked about micro-lending as a model to help our domestic policy, This American-educated banker is focusing her efforts on micro-financing and while she has found a way to empower some of Pakistan’s poorest women by giving them the tools and educational opportunities to create businesses and income for themselves and their families, I want to propose that this as a sustainable solution to cutting back our huge financial burden in foreign policy.

“Charity is limited, but capitalism isn’t,” Roshaneh told Nicholas D. Kristof in an interview for the New York Times. “If you want to change the world, you need market-based solutions.”

Micro-financing lends a small amount of money to impoverished people that will enable them to set up a business and have a stable income. I wrote about the mechanics in a post last year,

Ms. Zafar grew up in Lahore and took the opportunity to study business at the Wharton School and economics at Yale. She worked for a while at the World Bank before returning to Pakistan in 1996 to start the Kashf Foundation.

Below is an interview with Ms. Zafar. Make yourself a cup of coffee, then sit down and spend 7 minutes with this inspiring woman.

Despite many setbacks, Kashf can now boast 152 branches throughout Pakistan and has loaned over  $200 million to more than 300,000 families. Ever thinking ahead, Ms. Zafar is now studying how to leverage this model to encourage the poor to build up savings and accrue assets.

Ms. Zafar is not only helping people start businesses, create jobs and support education that will enable people to break out of the vicious spiral of poverty, but will offer an option to living that is neither violent, nor exploitative.

She deserves a Nobel Prize, in economics and in peace. Micro-financing is a tool to ending the very conditions that create terrorism and extremism. Every Western and stable country has an interest in incorporating her model into their foreign policy.

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

 

Brad Pitt – Jon Stewart has a crush too

So I gushed about Brad Pitt. Guys can do that and, frankly he deserves it. Still, it is nice to know that I am not the only one. Jon Stewart had his say too. I couldn’t embed the clip, so please click here.

Interview 2 – this is the one regarding his work in New Orleans. The other is just cute and funny.

Both are worth it and you can donate to the work at Making It Right.

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

I Love Brad Pitt

Heralding from the olde countrye I am not amused with the whims and ways of actors and actresses. Living in California, I can’t help but note the amount of time people spend talking about them, and not necessarily their artistic achievements either.

We have family in SoCal which brings me, a few times a year, closer to Hollywood, duly noted by the fact that the stories often contain personal anecdotes: I met xxxx at the supermarket, I swam in yyyy’s pool.

But I do have a crush on Brad Pitt. I don’t think it is because of his devilish good looks and I am not even sure in what movies I have seen him. The crush was preceded by admiration. Upset with the failure of our government to come to the aid of those who lost their houses to Hurricane Katrina and the levee debacle, Pitt got some like-minded friends together and went to work, creating an organization called Make It Right.

But Pitt isn’t just about building houses. He wanted to make an environmental statement. People in the area talk about their houses being too cold in the winter and an oven in the summer. Heaters and air conditioners work around the clock for those who can, and often those who can’t afford them (I’m talking about the inhabitants and the environment).

Pitt’s houses are environmentally suited to the climate of New Orleans and some can even elevate in times of emergency to rise above the floodwater. Critics will tell you that it looks like these houses have landed from another planet and do not reflect the culture of New Orleans. This is correct, but not necessarily a bad thing. It is okay to move with the times, to acknowledge that we can improve on the past and to seize an opportunity when a visionary comes to town.

Finally, these houses are not donated. The residents receive help obtaining a mortgage and buy their homes. There is no charity involved. These are not Brad Pitt’s houses. They belong to the people who  live there.

Brad Pitt has not only helped restore a neighborhood, he has helped restore pride. You can’t put a price on that. And I hear he’s a pretty good actor too!

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Change The World

I love change.org. It is a website to help people with their political advocacy by providing a framework to build a petition. This is from a recent eNewsletter that they sent out to subscribers.
In the past three weeks, Apple revamped its policy to protect workers in China, Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp stood up to high school bullies, President Obama took action to protect Syrians living in America from potential torture and death, and a woman named Hope saved her husband from deportation.
Here’s the crazy thing — it’s possible none of this would have happened if people hadn’t started petitions on Change.org. But they did. Today we want to share stories with you of nine people who took a chance to try and change something, earned the support of thousands of signatures, got attention from major media outlets from the New York Times to The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and who ultimately won their campaigns.
These victories are amazing on their own. But we’re even more excited about the potential they represent: we’re living in a time where anyone, anywhere, can use the internet to change the world. (Seriously, you can start a petition right here.)
Keep reading — we hope you find these stories as inspiring as we do.
– Patrick and the Change.org team
 
 
Apple customer Mark sparks promised improvements for workers in China
“Like most Apple customers, I had no idea how appalling the working conditions were at Foxconn, where most iPhones and iPads are assembled. After hearing employees worked excessive hours, in some cases seven days a week, and stood so long their legs swelled until they couldn’t walk, I wanted to write a letter to Apple, but then I thought, why not start a petition instead? 250,000 signatures later, Foxconn has promised major changes, including making sure all employees work no more than 49 hours per week without having their salaries cut. I know great organizations continue to press for additional improvements, but I’m so grateful to have played a part in this amazing first step.-Mark Shields
 
 
Maha and Darakshan save countless Syrians from terror and violence
“Since Syria’s democratic uprising in 2011, the government there has killed thousands of people. Syrian nationals living in America were terrified of being deported and tortured or killed for supporting democracy. We started a petition asking President Obama to grant those Syrians “Temporary Protected Status” so they could stop living in fear, and after 12,000 people and several members of Congress supported our campaign, President Obama came through.-Maha Hilal & Darakshan Raja
 
 
Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp and Ellen DeGeneres support Katy’s fight against bullies
“I used to be bullied so badly that I was afraid to go to school. When I saw that a new documentary made to stop bullying was rated R, I started a petition asking the Motion Picture Association of America to change the rating to PG-13 so that the kids who most needed to see the film would be able to. A few weeks and almost half a million signatures later, I got to be on The Ellen Show. Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, and 35 members of Congress threw their support behind my campaign. Now the movie’s distributor, The Weinstein Company, is releasing the film as ‘unrated’ so that all kids can see the movie.” -Katy Butler
 
 
Mom and food blogger Bettina keeps “pink slime” out of school cafeterias
“I’m a parent who writes about children and food, especially school food reform. So I was upset to learn that USDA was arranging to offer school districts ground beef containing 7 million pounds of ‘lean, finely textured beef,’ more commonly known as ‘pink slime.’ LFTB is made from slaughterhouse scraps previously used only for pet food and cooking oil, and treated with ammonium hydroxide to kill pathogens. In just 9 days, nearly 250,000 signed people my petition, leading the USDA to change its policy and offer districts, for the first time ever, ground beef without this cheap filler.-Bettina Elias Siegel
 
 
Jason takes on an insurance company to help save his dad
“My dad, Henry, had a terrible heart attack last fall that left him with severely impaired cognitive and motor skills. His doctors said that rehab would help him get better, but his insurance provider — Blue Cross Blue Shield Massachusetts — refused to pay. I started a petition on Change.org and almost 200,000 people signed it. Now Blue Cross has agreed to pay for my dad’s care.” -Jason Warren
 
 
Craig — a straight Republican Marine — defends his gay brother’s right to marry
“I served in Iraq to defend freedom and liberty, but the legislature in my home state of New Hampshire wanted to take away my brother Calvin’s freedom to marry the person he loves just because he’s gay. I started a petition asking New Hampshire’s Republican legislature to do the conservative thing: stay out of people’s private lives. More than 125,000 people signed my petition, and the legislature voted to uphold marriage equality. I hope one day I get to be the best man in Calvin’s wedding.” -Craig Stowell
 
 
Cancer survivor mom Jane convinces Mattel to manufacture bald Barbies
I lost my hair when I went through chemo, and I know so many little girls go through the same thing — it can be sad and scary. I started a petition asking Mattel to manufacture a bald Barbie so that little cancer warriors will see that they are beautiful princesses, too. Almost 35,000 people signed my petition, and now Mattel says it will make bald dolls and donate them to children’s cancer wards around America.-Jane Bingham
 
 
Hope Mustakim uses petition to save her husband Naz from deportation
“With the outpouring of support from our community, numerous organizations, churches, Change.org, our incredible legal team, friends and family, and our loving God, my husband Nazry is back home in Waco. Thank you Change.org for believing in our cause and providing a way to gather the support that played a monumental part in winning Naz’s freedom back. We are so grateful.” -Hope Mustakim
——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Another Empowering Women’s Organization

I read almost every solicitation that I receive from a non-profit. I can’t help it. A lot of my time is spent raising funds for San Francisco Hillel, the Jewish Student Center, and I send out my fair share of letter campaigns. 

Women for Women caught my eye for their very personal letter. This is an organization that helps women who have lost everything, often both material and personal, through violence and war. Their primary focus is on women from the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Rwanda, Afghanistan, and others.

Women for Women are able to :

– offer direct financial support for medicine and food

– provide job training skills and business training

– teach an empowerment program about their rights as women and citizens

The Woman for Women website offers many stories and testimonies. Warning – they can be tough to read. One interesting set of facts that I read includes the following data:

– women reinvest 90% of their income into their family and community compared with 30-40% of men (World Bank study).

– women hire at least one person to help with their businesses and train or mentor on average 4 other women.

– women are 70% of the world’s farmers, produce 90% of the world’s staple food crops, but own less than 2% of the land.

Finally, in the words of one of Zainab Salbi, Founder of Women for Women: “…it’s the Butterfly Revolution in action.  You make a gift of $20 and the impact of your decision is felt thousands of miles away, by a woman whose life has been devastated by war and conflict…

“The Butterfly Revolution is a metaphor for the concept that even small actions…like the fluttering of a butterfly’s wings…can have far-reaching effects. I believe that by taking action, every one of us have a major impact on making the world a better place for women in need.”

Please consider joining me with a $20 gift. You can click here and don’t even need to leave your chair.

Thank you.

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Water or Tea Party

Allow me to assert my credentials as an Englishman: there is no tea without water.  It has always been thus, since the Earl of Grey accidentally dropped the rind of his bergamot orange into a cup of hot water he was sipping (I’ve no idea…don’t bother the Wiki Goddess).

Though it is the silly season of Republican debates and strange voting habits of the primaries (Ohio – yes I’m talking about you), there emerges a call for sanity, not to balance the Tea Party and Occupy Movement, but to create a framework that might actually work.

And so, with much aplomb, I wish to introduce The Water Party (here on Facebook if this is your preferred medium). Percentages seem to be the defining element these days, so the Water Party claim to represent the 70%, slightly less ambitious than Occupy (99%) or Tea Party (103%). This is not based upon some empirical equation, rather inspired by Mother Nature herself.

“70% of the earth is covered by water, but you don’t think of it, because the land is right in front of you most of the time. Likewise, 70% of Americans favor accuracy, fairness, civility and helping others, but it doesn’t seem that way with angry opinionated people dominating the news and airwaves spouting falsehoods to further their agendas and vendettas. The Water Party represents the 70% of Americans from all political spectrums who are the true majority in America. It’s time for us to stand up and be counted.”

What I like about The Water Party is that they welcome people of any political persuasion, from any party, as long as there is a commitment to “support truth and accuracy, reasonableness, kindness and sanity.”

Friends – this is a political landscape game changer right here. Close your eyes and try to imagine a Republican Presidential debate based on these principles. Admit it, you would be forced to channel surf to try and find those insipid, hate ads that the candidates are absolutely not putting out there against each other.

Back to The Water Party and I want to focus on their three principles. The first suggests that we all commit to being truthful in our political debates – I can go for that.  The third suggests that we emulate the founding fathers – I am really not sure about this but maybe I’ve been reading the wrong books and articles about them.

But the second principle really got my attention because it has very concrete actions that can impact the world.

“Justice: Nobody should have to “try to live” on less than $1 a day, as one billion people are. 8 million children a year (one every 4 seconds) should not die from lack of food and clean water. I will take less so children can have the basics to live. One option is the water pledge to drink more water, and less alchohol, coffee and soda, and give some or all the money to the poorest. If 100,000 people drink $5 less a month, that will create $6.7 million a year that will save tens of thousands of lives. We’ll also live longer, and save time and money not having to work out and diet as much.”

If you click on the water pledge you get to a page where you can actually translate the pledge into an individualized and measurable commitment.

Joking aside, I love the concept that the Water Party represents, that we could actually sit people from all political directions for a nice cup of te–water, and work on a way together to fix what ails this country. It would require a commitment to rational debate, to listening to the other side and being willing to compromise.

Perhaps we might even be surprised and discover that behind all the slogans we shout at each other, there just might be more consensus than we care to admit. Maybe the 70% can make a difference.

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

The Internet Cost Him His Freedom

My novel, The Accidental Activist, illustrates the empowerment of the Internet in the face of great power. Unfortunately, in the real world, it doesn’t always work that way. Though the two individuals who stood up to McDonald’s in England (the real story that The Accidental Activist is based upon) were able to use the Internet to defend themselves, it can be a double edged sword.

Shi Tao, a journalist in China discovered that and is still paying the price. Here is his story in 30 seconds.

In 2004, Shi Tao sent details of government plans to restrict the activities commemorating the 15th anniversary of the pro-democracy rally in Tienanmen Square. Apparently he sent the information through his Yahoo email account, and Yahoo gave the information to the Chinese security forces. Shi Tao is now in prison for 10 years.

In 2007 he received the Golden Pen of Freedom award by the World Association of Newspapers. Tao’s family is apparently suing Yahoo and they are not the first. While I wish to condemn Yahoo, we do need to focus our attention on China and freeing Shi Tao.

Suggestions of how to help can be found at Shi Tao’s Amnesty International page. I plan every year, during Chanukah, the Jewish festival of Freedom to blog about Shi Tao until he is released. I ask that you help because the only hope that Shi Tao has is that we do not forget him.

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Happy Birthday Kiva!

 Dealing with global issues can sometimes seem so overbearing because of the sheer size of the problems -world hunger, AIDS, population explosions, natural disasters…the list is endless, and it involves billions of dollars needed for billions of people. It can be daunting and lead to paralysis.

The solution is really on two levels. We need to lobby our governments to take on such issues. The United Nations, probably best suited for such a task, is in desperate need of an overhaul, but that isn’t going to happen soon.

On the personal level, we can get involved, in a proportion that we can identify with. I have written a number of times about microfinancing, where for just $25, you can help a father of four in Tanzania set up a coffee shop, or a woman in India establish a juice bar. It is truly inspiring.

This brings me to KIVA, a non-profit microfinance bank that raises money through small gifts to help people invest in family or community enterprises. KIVA has just celebrated its 6th birthday and is growing in both scope (different countries) and size. 

You peruse the list of individuals who have been approved and invest by donating small increments of money. These are essentially loans, and you will receive notice as the money is being repaid. When it does, your ‘account’ with KIVA is credited and you could take the money back, though donors often reinvest the money back into helping another person through KIVA. For more on microfinance, click here.

The Jewish teacher, Maimonides, taught of eight levels of giving. The highest level is to offer someone the opportunity to become financially independent. For the last six years, KIVA have been doing just that. With six very successful years behind them, I hope we can go on saving the world together, one person at a time.

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Learning From Steve Jobs

There has been a lot written about Steve Jobs since he passed away and while I read many articles at first, I seem to just flip through them now. But one article that I not only read, but returned to, was written by Carmine Gallo, I feel there is a lot in here for me to learn.

I want to give Carmine’s bio here as I do lean heavily on his article. The list is his, any comments are mine. Carmine is a communications coach, a popular keynote speaker and author of several books including The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs and The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs. His latest is The Power of Foursquare (McGraw-Hill, 2011).

1. Do what you love.  Carmine offers two quotes here from Jobs.

“People with passion can change the world for the better.”

“I’d get a job as a busboy or something until I figured out what I was really passionate about.”

I consider myself very lucky in this respect. The only time that I have ever held a position I didn’t enjoy was temporary and for a specific purpose (earning money quickly to fund travel in my younger days). But more importantly, I love writing novels that highlight social injustices and, yes, I hope that maybe my novels might just contribute to a better world.

2. Put a dent in the universe. I love the quote that Carmine provides. Apparently, Steve Jobs once asked then-Pepsi President, John Sculley, “Do you want to spend your life selling sugar water or do you want to change the world?”

This is all about having a vision that can make a difference. Is it really enough to have a solid product like Pepsi, a lucrative career that benefited no one but yourself?

A friend recently asked me why I don’t write thrillers or romance models. His hypothesis was if I kill more characters and add more sex, I would sell a lot more books. While he is probably correct and my bank account would appreciate the change, I love what I write. I truly get passionate about the social injustice issue or the characters that I create. I could write “Pepsi novels,” but it just wouldn’t be me.

Still Learning From The Master

3. Make connections. Jobs believed in a broad life experience: to travel, read, learn from everyone and everything. Then return to your vision and use these experiences to achieve what you are setting out to do. In Judaism we are taught that wherever we wander (and Jews sure wander) we should immediately seek out a teacher. Today, with the explosion of social media, we are all connected to everyone. But do we take the time to listen enough to learn from each other.

4. Say no to 1,000 things. Carmine recalls how when Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, he cut 340 products from the company, leaving them to focus on only 10. In doing this, he focused only on those products that could fulfill the vision that he had for Apple.

5. Create insanely different experiences. Everything about Apple is different. Everything is unique and clearly part of a carefully engineered brand. Just think of the experience, sensory and practical, of entering an Apple store. It is simply entering a different world. We look forward to going to the store in a way that we don’t experience with any other company.

6. Master the message. This is absolutely crucial. You must be able to communicate your message clearly, quickly and in a way that inspires the person/people who are listening to ask more questions, or to want to act/react in the way you want. If the response to my telling someone that I write political fiction is a request to pass the cheese, then I need to reconsider my message (though I might want to pass the cheese first).

7. Sell dreams, not products. I think this is an important concept and one that we are prone to forget in the hectic day-to-day. How often do we get bogged down in the small details of our books, or products, or political platforms, and forget why we are doing this.

Finally, Carmine leaves us with the pearl of Jobs’ ethos, and I will leave you with this.

“See genius in your craziness, believe in yourself, believe in your vision, and be constantly prepared to defend those ideas.”

Steve Jobs passed away last month, but his lessons will stay with us for many  years, and may well help us create a better world: one built on the concept of excellence.

Thank you Steve.

——————————————————————————————————

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: