Posted by: ginalazenby | July 11, 2018

How to have “Making a Difference” as part of your life

Guest Facilitator Dr Phyllis SantaMaria (centre) joins our Conscious Cafe evening in June for a M.A.D. discussion !

We had an inspiring and informative evening exploring the concept of making a difference…. M.A.D. for short. What did that concept actually mean in our day to day lives? The surprising learning was how we might be doing so much already without realising .. and how we can do much more, with just a little extra awareness and attention.

For this evening we had a guest speaker from London. Dr Phyllis SantaMaria joined us to share her life’s work. Starting out in a family of ten children in the segregated south of the USA, Phyllis’ early upbringing and personal journey have very much informed her choice of career and work. Her entrepreneurial drive came from her parents who were enterprising in their quest to create a living that would care for a very large family and also give benefit to others. One of Phyllis’ most powerful early memories were of a local black resident who worked in a grocery store. Even though his neighbours were white, he still brought home leftover vegetables for Phyllis’ large family. She never forgot this kindness that crossed a massive chasm of separation by race and prejudice. 

Very much influenced by her family’s desire for social justice and their community work, Phyllis became a US Peace Corps Volunteer in remote Guatemala where she formed the first Guatemalan weaving group with Mayan women, resulting in socio-economic impact that she managed to track through five decades’ of friendship.  Similarly her work in Kenya, Germany and the UK has been in transformational education.  Twice a UK national coordinator, first for the BBC’s Domesday Project and secondly for the UN Year of Microcredit, winning UN and World Bank awards. Passionate about having helping people have their work and life create social impact, we were delighted to welcome Phyllis to our Conscious Cafe in Skipton. 

Phyllis is currently writing a book on this subject looking at what any of us might do that ends up creating a social impact. Very often people can feel that making a difference in the world involves doing something big or providing more of our energy and money than we feel we might be able to give.   

It is more effective and satisfying to direct our resources into an area that we are more certain needs what we have to give … and that what we offer, actually works.  Does anyone remember stories of western aid given to third world countries where containers of “aid” were left on the docks because they were the wrong kind of help or could not get through to where they were needed? Such a waste.

Personally, I recall being involved in a women’s leadership program in rural India spearheaded by the Hunger Project. Originally wanting to help villagers, cash was donated. This was primarily used by the men, and wasted on alcohol. So to circumvent this, the money was then given to the women for them to use but it was taken from them by the men and used for alcohol. Finally, it was resolved not to donate cash at all but to set up leadership training for the women so that they were empowered to create their own change in their villages. The investment was the same but it was spectacularly successful in creating the social impact needed.

 Phyllis led the discussion by stating that beyond what we might know we are doing with our time and money by donating to good causes, we are each likely doing many more things that are having an impact on people’s lives … or we could easily do more at relatively small cost to ourselves if we changed our awareness.

Skipton Conscious Cafe June resources worksheet

Shining a light on examples of the resources we have and how we might be using them, Phyllis gave eight ways that we can make a difference. 

  1. Eyes: Reacting to what we see – responding to a lonely neighbour, noticing workers paid too little for the service provided (The Church is getting behind a campaign to report on modern day slavery at places like car washes and nail bars), seeing products that are far too cheap and not buying them.
  2. Ears: Listening out for and reacting to talk about the increase in Food Banks, the disengagement or dissatisfaction of workers, doorstep lending at extortionate rates, hearing about the closure of an important facility.  When you see or hear something that is not right then you have information that you can pass on or react to. Once you know, then you know. You are no longer blind and deaf to injustice.
  3. Heart: when something touches your heart then you are able to decide what issues matter to you. You cannot take on everything. Some things might stir momentary compassion in you and you give a donation or a smile, while other issues tug at you and you feel called to take a step forward. This is something we each decide … what is it that touches my heart deeply that I cannot step aside from? Perhaps we then decide to empower ourselves or others to make a difference, respond to diversity, inequality or financial inclusion.
  4. Mouth: Once our heart engages, what is it that we feel passionate about enough to be a champion for and speak out about? Maybe start or get involved in grassroots action. Can we talk with special interest groups, maybe writing a letter to a newspaper or creating a blog post is a good step or putting together a Meet-Up group to bring others together. Our voices have power .. even ONE voice can make a massive difference in getting the ball rolling for change.
  5. Hands:  We each have a pair of hands. These can be used to join in cooking meals for the homeless, gardening for a neighbour, volunteering at a Food Bank or Litter Drive, visiting people in prison.  What could you be hands-on with? Even in your own street or neighbourhood?
  6. Pens & other Tools:  You have specialist skills… as a gardener, driver, artisan, carpenter, copywriter, accountant. A profession or trade has provided you with some kind of know-how that other people can get real benefit from and for which they might have no means to pay for. You could do accounting for a community interest group, mentor young people for social mobility in your field of expertise, advise on personal financial management, even create a PR campaign for a community group or cause.
  7. Home: You could share your resources of where you live to others by renting out a room to a lodger, car-pool with other travellers, loan out tools, hold community events or meetings in your home. Maybe a good declutter frees you of some excess and provides a charity shop with goods to sell.
  8. Money: Yes you can give some of your money away to a list of causes that you have chosen but beyond that you can decide to invest with more consciousness and wisdom.  Where is your pension invested, have you looked at ethical funds that give a return and also make a difference? What about social impact investing like social housing or green energy? Bulb is a new company that provides 100% of its electricity from renewable sources at very competitive rates. Doing good no longer has to cost more.  The web provides many opportunities for peer to peer lending and microfinance schemes internationally and closer to home.

When you review these eight areas against what you are already doing, you might find that you are engaged in providing a social impact much greater than you realised. Skipton Conscious Cafe make impact worksheet.

Phyllis talked about engaging your heart. There is a great deal of sorrow in the world, both in the news and down our own road, and we cannot take on everything. We can however, engage in what matters most to us so it’s important to take a moment and ask yourself what matters most to you?

Personal passions can be divided into ten areas with sub themes that might catch our attention because we have a personal history with them or simply feel moved by particular plights.  Your passion might be in health; helping children or elders; death & hospice care; mental health and addictions; improvement in employment; the environment; disability; financial inclusion; disaster relief; or perhaps mind body spirit well-being.  Take care to give to what matters most to you.

Some of the insights and ideas shared after our discussion:

  • Do something very simple .. take a bag out with you when you walk out in nature and collect any rubbish you see.  “I often forget to do this but now I will commit to making the effort”. 
  • Working in social care as a profession, people can sometimes feel overloaded with helping others all day in their workplace but you can still volunteer time if you choose to help others in nature, in a garden.  
  • Society should place more emphasis on volunteering as something that everybody does as a natural part of their existence. 
  • Beyond sponsoring charities and giving money, buying the Big Issue, some would like to volunteer to help people who are homeless but wonder how to get started.  If you are not sure where to start with volunteering, ask around. Do some research. 
  • Encourage more people to clear out their clutter and use Freecycle, a great and under-used resource where folks share unwanted items for free. Pass it on!
  • Next time you declutter, instead of bothering to sell on eBay why not give to a Charity Shop for them to sell.
  • Helping a neighbour rebuild a garden wall has become a fun community project.
  • Being a go-to person for problem-solving and listening for your community or family because you are resourceful and available is a massive contribution. Again boundaries are important about when and how you make yourself available.
  • Some people love to make others happy and go out of their way to help others feel good and be helpful. Again .. learn when to pull back and find ways that regenerate your energy.
  • Stepping forward and picking up a task nobody else has bothered to do but from which many in the community will benefit, is a way of making a difference. That leadership moment when you decide to take something on, unpaid, is a great act of service.  Like organising a recycling project.
  • Is the product too cheap? Think about who is paying the real cost for the cheapness. Be an ethical buyer and become more informed about what you spend your money on.
  • Take more responsibility for your own wellbeing and health so that you are less of a burden on the NHS.
  • Growing veg and sharing with others is both a joy and a contribution.
  • Even being unwell and researching ways to get better then sharing tips with other people is a way that can make a big difference in the lives of others who are similarly challenged.
  • Sometimes you don’t need to do any actions beyond the simple act of listening with respect. Providing an ear can really be a help to others. 
  • Volunteering in nature can kill two birds with one stone (please not literally!) by helping on nature projects in the wild you can regenerate yourself and be a resource to others, at the same time.
  • And your own family. Sometimes the resources and attention we give to needy people in the community can also be directed to our family members. Don’t forget what is so close to your own home.
  • “I do much more than I thought … now that I really look at all I do and contribute.”
  • “I feel very privileged to realise I have so many resources at my fingertips that I can make available to others.”

It all begins with us

How can we be constantly available to help and support others if we don’t support ourselves? This means drawing the line somewhere and taking time out for us. Selfish is a strange word in the English language. It never sits well with people but unless you do take care of yourself, you will run out of energy, resources and even patience. Everybody understands that we might have to pull back to regenerate ….. sometimes. Try not to get to the point where you actually feel totally drained. Learn to say “No”. I can’t help with this or I can’t do that right now as I need a rest. If you are not used to having boundaries then learn how to use them in your life. You matter. Do not feel guilty about prioritising self-care, whatever that looks like for you.

If you want to make a difference in the world then there are so many creative ways to do that. Yes you can have a big ambitious, grand vision … and you can also look over to your neighbours and closer to home to find an area where you can give and know that your contribution has impact. You do not need to go to Africa to fight poverty and disease and injustice … you can find that right under your feet in the UK. Just keep asking how you, along with others, can make this world a better place. You will get answers and shown what you can do. You will make an impact and you will feel a sense of renewal and purpose from your acts of generosity. 

Dr Phyllis SantaMaria, our facilitator for this evening, is based in London and is a Founder Director of the UK’s Financial Inclusion Forum since 2005 and Learning without Borders since 2007, Learning without Borders today provides coaching and consultancy for individuals and organisations in how to make a social impact with your work, combining experience in financial inclusion and career development.

Conscious Cafe Skipton next event: a social evening on Tuesday July 17th to network and discuss our next season of events starting again in September. More info here.

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