Becoming a Global Catalyst!
Written by: Suki (Sukhpreet) Kaprese Kang
I created a career when someone created a community in which I could flourish. A group of young people had come together to host another one of our regular team meetings, yet this particular one was different. We had come together for a special announcement. Personally, I could not wait to see the look on everyone’s face. One of the best team celebrations came after this announcement as the leaders got together to make a group toast and then huddled into an intimate chat afterward. That night I did not sleep. I was glowing on the outside and experiencing a surge of energy, wildly firing off, on the inside. Eventually, I became paralyzed, as the emotion sent me into a deep reminiscence of the entire journey that had brought us to that point. In September of 2010, I had become a volunteer for a non-profit organization called SCHAP (Sustainability, Comprehensive, Humanitarian, Assistance and Planning), which was seeking to secure long-term funding and needed first to find an individual who would take on that challenge. With no background in grant writing (or formal writing in general), with neither knowledge of the organization nor any connections to the people working within it, and with absolutely no time in my day to add another commitment, I was entrusted with that responsibility. How could someone openly and willingly entrust a huge responsibility like this one to someone with no credentials? I did not know, but what I did know: I was ready. I was just happy that I was given that chance. The more I learned about the underlying philosophy and the principles of SCHAP, the more I became committed to the development of its growth and the beginnings of a greater purpose.
Fast-forward to April 21, 2011, the day of the big announcement. SCHAP CEO Cory Glazier shared the news with the rest of the team: the non-profit had just received its first big donor check in the amount of $10,000. When I first joined the non-profit seven months before I could not have imagined that it would be possible. Never in my life, prior to that moment, had I created success at that level after having been given the freedom to make my own choices. Finally, someone in my life had believed in me and had given me the chance to prove that I could do anything I set my mind and heart to. To my surprise, they were right. Seven months later, as the news of our first big donation came to light, I was officially a walking example in the dormant skills and abilities that live in each individual. Through this opportunity, I tapped into true freedom by becoming deeply empowered. There was no way I could predict what a miracle like this one would bring to my life externally, but more importantly, I had no way of knowing what it would awaken inside of me. The response to such news, as I personally experienced it, far exceeded my wildest dreams. When the sun finally came up over the horizon the next morning, a new vision had come into existence. This was when I knew that I was fully committed to this work. Since then, SCHAP closed its doors to ensure the sustainability of the work would continue as its founder moved toward a social business endeavor. However, even though I did not know it at the time, the vision of a brighter future lived on. I had found my life-long purpose: something more than a job; a career. In the process of working toward changing the lives of other people, I began to change my own.
This past April, I was honored to participate in a special event called “So We Think We’re Helping…?,” which was produced by an organization that is now dear to my heart, Ending Poverty Together (successor of SCHAP). It was hosted by Cory Glazier in partnership with members of Engineers Without Borders and the Global Ties student club at University of California San Diego. Glazier presented the audience with a complex array of information distilled into simple language, minimizing the use of technical jargon. The presentation was designed to provide each one of us with a prescription to change the world. That prescription comes in the shape of becoming a global changemaker, or what I like to call a “global catalyst.” During this event, Glazier explored what is currently working and what is broken within the international development industry. Applying the concepts of internal locus of control and external locus of control and their implications within the international development industry, this article will attempt to evaluate the importance of admitting and openly discussing failures in the development industry and the repercussions that emerge when we do not.
The integration of an internal locus of control is the prerequisite that is needed to become a Global Catalyst. Becoming a Global Catalyst has its roots in the belief that we can be the positive force in our own lives. At a philosophical level, we can act as a fork in the road for one another as we catalyze people to move in one direction or another in their lives through our interactions with them. A Global Catalyst can see beyond him or herself in order to determine what is best for the whole, perhaps making sacrifices in order to produce a stronger positive impact. The resulting energy, once it is sparked, becomes the fuel for the fight; an unstoppable force that comes into existence through a full embodiment of an internal locus of control.
In Cory Glazier’s presentation, the foundational principle was the concept of internal versus external locus of control. According to Glazier, “Locus of control is where you believe control and change come from.” Some people believe that change and control come from the circumstances and the environment that surround them, while others believe they come from the inside. Glazier explains:
“People with an external locus of control look toward parents, government, NGOs, church. They look to outside sources to help solve their problems. People with an internal locus of control believe that… if they want something different in their lives, in their communities, or in their world, then the buck stops at them; that there is something that they can do to be able to step (up) to the plate and be able to create positive change in their circumstances and their environment. In other words, those with external locus of control are waiting for change. Those with an internal locus of control are making change.”
Throughout his presentation, Glazier repeatedly brought the focus back onto this immediate spark, which is absolutely necessary in the mind and heart of a person before permanent change can occur. It is that shift, from an external locus of control to an internal one, that can produce a long-term, sustainable, positive impact in communities all over the world. In order to create change in one’s own life (or the lives of others) one must possess an internal locus of control. This shift is so crucial that without it, nothing else can be sustained.
When those exploring the humanitarian industry apply the locus of control concept to international development work, it becomes clear that a shift is still needed. We begin to tune into a level of awareness that community members in impoverished communities have developed an external locus of control. Due to the actions of NGOs and third-party organizations, community members have become dependent upon them. In his presentation, Glazier shared the story of a community we’ll call El Naranjo (name protected out of anonymity), a farming community in Colombia. The message within the story of this community clearly illustrated what led to the development of an external locus of control within the members of that rural community. A third-party organization saw a need: the desire to improve the farming methods of the community. Volunteers from the organization applied their own understanding of how farming was carried out in the developed world. With good intentions, they went to work. A tractor and other equipment were introduced to the community from external means. Those resources would have been highly inaccessible to the community on its own. The good news: the use of the new farming equipment led to a record-breaking production in rice and resulted in record-high profits. Eventually, the organization that had assisted in this rapid growth left the area and the community was on its own.
Six years later, the founder returned to El Naranjo to check on progress. He learned that a couple of months after he had left, the tractor had broken down due to a basic mechanical problem. Because the community did not have the basic skills and resources to fix the problem, the tractor was never used again. As we zoom out to reflect on the big picture, in the short-term and on the surface, great success was seen economically. However, in the long run, what was created was a disaster with no long-term positive impact. The worst part to this story was this: even after it was clear that the original project carried out by the third-party organization proved to provide no real long-term value, the community still asked the organization to come back and help them again. This completely boggled the mind of the organization’s founder. Why would they ask him to come back? Glazier stated that the founder realized something pivotal, “[The community] perceived the progress that they made dependent upon this foreign organization to come in and that as soon as they left, their success failed.” In the end, the members of the community developed an external locus of control, believing “that they weren’t able to enact positive change and… were waiting for another organization to come in and help to make change for them.”
After long and intensive work within the international development industry, spanning roughly four years, Glazier eventually began to see signs of the positive effects the shift to an internal locus of control can have within the leaders of a community. Glazier made a conscious effort to teach community members the differences between an external and internal locus of control. When community leaders realized how other NGOs and third-party organizations had impacted their communities and the minds of the community members, they initially became furious. In Glazier’s words, “They were pissed!” Their frustration was not directed at the organizations whose actions had ultimately led to the development of their external locus of control; instead the leaders were frustrated at themselves for letting it happen. Glazier recognized that this was the beginning of true empowerment within these communities. As he began to witness the shift in mindset among the community leaders, Glazier reinforced his own belief that this was the only responsible solution in poverty alleviation. As leaders took full ownership of their own communities, without depending on outside organizations, the members of those communities continued the process of building long-term sustainability even after Glazier had left the area. The shift from an external to an internal locus of control enabled the community as a whole to gain something that had once been lost to them: power and control over their own future; deep sense of freedom in the manifestation of empowerment!
Upon Glazier’s return to the United States, he continued the process of investigating and learning about the entire development industry as a whole. A speech hosted by TED: Ideas Worth Spreading, proved to Glazier the level of importance of the critical need that had to be addressed within the current system of humanitarian aid. David Damberger delivered a presentation that posed a question previously asked by economists and authors, “Has aid failed?” This question stems from controversy surrounding the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of international humanitarian aid. Both Glazier and Damberger have decided to look the industry in the eye and admit that while humanitarian aid may or may not have completely failed, the current system is definitely broken. Damberger illustrates the importance of facing what is broken as he shares the consequences that emerge when we do not: “How is it that a project that was built ten years ago was rebuilt, almost the same technology, same process, and had exactly the same failure ten years later? “ In this story, he discusses the impact broken down water faucets had on a community one to two years after they had been built via a third-party organization. Upon further investigation, identical water irrigation system faucets were found within that same community that had been built ten years prior by another organization based out of the United States. The same system with the same challenges and the same mistakes was built ten years later. There was a complete disconnect between the original project and the lessons learned, or lack thereof, and the next project that surfaced in the same community through a completely different organization. We see the same pattern of recreating the same mistakes all over the world. The need to connect the lessons not only within organizations, but around the world becomes greater and greater as more and more lives are affected by how the international development sector currently attempts to alleviate poverty.
Damberger is not alone in discussing failures. Daniela Papi, founder of PEPY (Protect the Earth, Protect Yourself) Tours, shares her realizations through her blog, Lessons I Learned. Papi envisions a world that employs responsible volunteer tourism so that the volunteers traveling and the local communities both benefit from the experience. Papi has developed a new concept of “learning service”, which is designed to reinforce the importance of “learning and engaging instead of merely observing and giving things away.” In that process, Papi created Lessons I Learned to share her own experiences through the years. At one point, Papi came across a story called, A Tale of Three Schools, by Alexia Netora, creator of Voluntourism Gal. Netora acts as a volunteer tourism industry consultant and her blog, Voluntourism Gal, documents her notes on the industry. In A Tale of Three Schools, Netora brings attention to the potential wasteful spending that occurs in the international development industry. During her travels to Kenya, Netora discovered a community which, over time, had three schools built within one acre of each other. The first school was 100% built by local community members using local resources. It was the community’s own school, and was running effectively. Later, as the story goes, an NGO funded by outside donors stumbled onto the community and decided to build another school because NGO members thought it needed to be bigger. Volunteers went to work putting the school together with expensive, imported materials. In the meantime, the original school, that had once run effectively sat vacant next to the new one and was used for storage. As the story continues, a third NGO eventually makes its way into the same community and decided that the community of only 500 needed another school. Once again, they go to work, but before they finish the project the funding ran out and the NGO was unable to complete the development of the third school. Netora summarizes, “This small community now has three schools – one that was functioning but now sits vacant, one that is smattered with foreign names that is used, one that is half built and probably will never be finished… A crowd of three schools, two out of the three brought about by foreigners.” All three schools sit within one acre of each other. On her blog, Papi reflects upon her own experience in the industry coming to the conclusion that the only answer to this wasteful spending problem is “having leadership with core values aligned with making an impact, rather than building half-built and unnecessary schools… We need to talk about these things – and stop them from happening in the future.” Damberger and Papi share the same future vision within the humanitarian industry. Papi supports the underlying message of admitting failure. “I believe in sharing what we learn to help others avoid our same mistakes and also exposing ourselves to the criticism and questions which might help us improve.,” she writes.
We, at Ending Poverty Together, are creating the means necessary to bring together the knowledge, intelligence, and capacity that exist within the development industry. We have come to realize the importance in sharing lessons, information, and resources in order to fully embrace effective methods of alleviating and possibly even eradicating poverty. Some have embraced this concept of “admitting failure” in order to tap into the power within those lessons learned. Ashley Good, Head of Failure at Engineers Without Borders, Canada, elaborates, “By admitting our failures, we end failure cycles and begin a linear progression of failing forward.“ The action of failing forward, according to Ashley, causes positive growth to flourish under five conditions: 1) operating in a safe environment for testing risky innovative ideas; 2) recognizing failures early; 3) admitting failures openly and honestly; 4) learning from these failures; 5) adapting actions based on the lessons learned in order to improve upon risky innovative ideas. At Ending Poverty Together, we have discovered the power that lies in sharing those lessons that currently lie buried in the humanitarian sector by facilitating a training program that takes into consideration those lessons and then turns it back around by providing them to our society at large.
This process of reflecting, admitting failure, developing, sharing and then re-training can only be taken on by fully embodying an internal locus of control. We may never know what we can create until we decide to create something. In the past, I relied on external means to assist me in making decisions, including parents, friends, boyfriends, authority figures, and even social media outlets. I was waiting for change to happen in my life. My experience, with the responsibility that was entrusted in me as I took on the challenge of locking in funding for SCHAP, would never have come to be if I still lived within that external locus of control. Rather, I would have come up with excuses for my own lack of performance. The external barriers would have superseded my own commitment and desire to learn and grow, ultimately leading to failure in my own ambitions. My faith in the possibilities of a better future came from my own desire to see through my own decisions. It was a learning process. As long as I made a decision, I knew I would learn something, and each time I learned exactly what I needed to do next to move my objective closer to its goal. This shift does not rely on external confirmations, but only on an internal one: the one that says, I choose it and I am open to embrace whatever happens next! The universe begins to work in our favor; life becomes a flow rather than a struggle upstream. For me, this was made evident when Cory Glazier made the announcement that we had the first donor in the amount of $10,000. In order to get to that external confirmation, I had to go through dozens of internal confirmations first. When we live through an external locus of control we see failure; when we live through an internal locus of control every moment becomes a lesson for the next step. Inverting failure into success becomes the path to achieving your dreams.
As we make the decision to become global catalysts, together we create a movement that is committed to shifting the entire humanitarian development industry from the development of things toward developing people. The willingness to change can only come from the inside and it can only come when we are ready. After experiencing “So We Think We’re Helping?”, my dear friend Janine Sotelo shared the following on Glazier’s personal Facebook page: “Your passion and depth of knowledge on the topic of alleviating and ultimately eliminating the effects of poverty in the world are incredibly powerful and inspiring. I feel very hopeful and very blessed… The world make(s) sense for me again.” Her reflection represents a foundation of community that builds on unity as we share our experiences with one another in support of a common goal. The goal is to educate ourselves, empower each other, leverage human capital, collaborate in our own endeavors and aspirations, and pool resources in pursuit of our mission: Ending Poverty Together.
 Glazier, Cory. Ending Poverty Together. N.p., 26 Apr. 2012. Web. 2012. http://www.endingpovertytogether.org/the-poverty-alleviation-industry/.
 Damberger, David. TED: Ideas Worth Spreading – What Happens When an NGO Admits Failure. N.p., Dec. Web. 2012. http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/david_damberger_what_happens_when_an_ngo_admits_failure.html.
 Netora, Alexia. Voluntourism Gal. N.p., Jan. 2011. Web. 2012.
 Papi, Daniela. Lessons I Learned. N.p., n.d. Web. 2012. .
Papi, Daniela. Pepy Tours. N.p., n.d. Web. 2012. http://www.pepytours.com/about-us/what-is-pepy-tours.
 Good, Ashley. Admitting Failure. Engineers Without Border, Canada. N.p., 14 Jan. 2011. Web. 2012. <http://www.admittingfailure.com/browse/>.