Welcome to GSDM October 2012 Issue: Inspiration
Guest Introduction by Paula Fynboh
While watching the U.S. Presidential debates last week, a friend of mine asked me an interesting question: “If you became the First Lady, what would be your platform?” Beyond thinking about the issues I care most about, I found myself day-dreaming about what it would be like to have the power to influence an entire country, focus their collective will and really make a dent in improving the lives of people around the world. While this is a noble goal, it’s also a seductive trap. Very often we feel like we need to either know everything about an issue or be in a recognized high-profile position to enact change. However, real people everywhere are proving this wrong.
I think about the anger, apathy and confusion that Ioulia Fenton mentions feeling after reading countless environmental and economic books in her “Be the Change You Want to See” book challenge article this month. It’s easy to feel paralyzed by all the world’s problems and think that there is no way we, as everyday individuals, can begin to make an impact. This is a very real feeling and I hear it on a regular basis from the every-day citizens I work with on civil society campaigns across the globe. We tend to feel that if we can’t do it all or know all the answers, then it’s not worth trying.
This is the danger that we as NGO’s and civil society organizations create when we lift up and celebrate only the best of the best of us. People like Nget Thy from the Cambodian Center for the Protection of Children’s Rights in Gareth Mace’s article and Helena Lutege, the female entrepreneur from Tanzinia in Mary Namusoke’s piece certainly deserve our attention and recognition, but so do the many nameless and faceless among us, like the person who simply asked Chinese Graffiti Artist, Zhang Dali, “Who are you?” and sparked a nation-wide dialogue in Carolynn Look’s article: Graffiti on the Great Wall: The Hidden Street Art Culture of Beijing.
I remember bringing a woman with me to the U.S. Capitol to meet with her Senator on a Citizen’s Lobby Day I was working on several years ago. The woman was so nervous to have a conversation with her elected official that she was visibly shaking. I tried to re-assure her that she didn’t need to have all the answers; she just needed to tell her story. Her personal story was more compelling that any pie graph I had stuffed away in my brief case.
As we began the meeting, the volunteer advocate (I’ll call her Kris) forgot all her talking points, but proceeded to pull out her family photo album and showed the Senator the people in her life that lost their lives to cancer. A brother. A nephew. A mom. A best friend.
The bill that we were advocating for eventually passed. The piece of legislation and all the elected officials and influential advocacy groups that supported it were hailed in the press, but there was no mention of Kris, a regular, every-day person who did what she could in 15 minutes of her time to make the world a better place, simply by telling her story. No fancy degree, title or facts and figures necessary.
This month, as we hear about overwhelming social problems, let’s challenge ourselves to not feel paralyzed by our seemingly lack of power to affect these conditions or believe that we can’t affect change without an esteemed title or credentials. Let’s not forget that everyday people matter.
After all, if the rural women in Bangladesh, featured in Debora Di Dio’s article this month are transforming food security and nutrition for their entire community by fetching water for their families, planting crops and caring for children aren’t waiting to become First Lady to fulfill their platform, there’s no reason I need to wait either.
Paula Fynboh is an independent contractor and consultant who specializes in capacity building, story telling, civic engagement and grassroots participation. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.