“Gringa Abroad”: 1st Installment from Valle del Cauca, COLOMBIA
“¡Linda! “ I heard my name one hot day in Valle del Cauca, Colombia. “¿Me Recuerdas?” (Do you remember me?) – I turned to face a familiar girl in the street. After a pause her name crossed my lips… “¿Ángela, eres tú?” (Is that you, Angela?) “Sí, soy yo.” (Yes, it’s me).
Life is hard. We all suffer – poor, as well as entitled. Many lack fulfillment. Moments like my surprise 2012 encounter with Ángela are lifelines I cherish. They inspire me. Such moments can serve us all – if we’re present for them. Energy between individuals transcends borders, language, race and religion with incredible power. Great plans on paper have yet to eradicate poverty. On every continent all continue to suffer. I’m convinced that more profound human connections will solve the equation for sustainable solutions. Simple, personal engagement can lead to enhanced global relations, both social and economic. We who run businesses are, first and foremost, social beings. No one doubts the value of relationships in our networks close to home. Applying this approach should be a no-brainer when crossing borders outside our comfort zone. Yet this epiphany has taken quite some time. Today, I’m thrilled to say that for individuals, politicians and business executives, enrolling in “Empathy 101” is now more than a passing trend.
I first met Ángela in 2010. I’d decided to “give back” after a twenty-year New York media career. As a Volunteer I moved into an orphanage in Colombia. La policía delivered Ángela one evening. Just fourteen, she was beaten and bruised, a victim of domestic violence. Our friendship quickly developed. We shared our life stories. Surprisingly, we found more similarities than differences. After the ER we spent days discussing our pain as well as our dreams. I gave Ángela two gifts: one to help heal her past (a journal), the other to represent a future (my sunglasses from NYC). While grateful knowing she was off to a safe relative’s home, I found it difficult to say goodbye to my new friend two weeks later.
During my second stint in Colombia I received that gift of Ángela’s chance appearance. I was serving gratis as a Marketing Consultant and English Professor for NGOs serving the poor. Ángela and I were at ease immediately. We made dates for ice cream and the cinema. We laughed a lot. We also shared our challenges. In 2010 I offered Ángela my support while she grieved her father’s death. This time she provided authentic empathy with a shoulder I needed to lean on, having just lost my mother to cancer. Through my foundation, I arranged a scholarship for Ángela at an English language institute. She now had access to education that could change her life.
“Linda, everything in moderation!” said my mother often. Upon deciding to volunteer, I immediately booked a flight. This was, to me, the logical next step. No one agreed. “Crazy”, they said. Fortunately, moving to the Developing World isn’t a requisite for one wishing to contribute to alleviating global poverty. Today’s technologies provide platforms for visionaries to launch innovative Philanthropic and Social Business models that involve the public intimately. They facilitate “volunteer vacations” plus transfers of charitable donations and capital investments, while simultaneously nurturing a new dimension of human contact. All stakeholders are being brought together like never before. Collaboration on “Impact Investing”, “Patient Capital” , “Social Business”, “Human Capital” and “Social Entrepreneurship” is possible with an immediacy none of us predicted. Options to participate are just a few clicks away. Heart for Change offers Volunteer opportunities that fit your vacation itinerary. Via Kiva, individuals play an active role in the Microfinance industry without having to travel. Innovative, scalable private business ventures are launching while traditional multinational corporations invent new approaches to capitalism that prioritize social impact. Hoping to stay “out here” as a Marketing Executive, I can now solicit visionary companies applying business solutions to inequality. Acumen and Endeavor are investing in Emerging Market entrepreneurs while Unilever and Coca-Cola flex their enormous brand power and demonstrate the key to success: investing in local communities. With training, scholarships and Microfinance assistance these corporations benefit. Developing Markets are home to future employees and consumers.
New models in global connectivity add a wonderful human touch. While consulting for a Microfinance institute in India my most rewarding days were those “in the field” meeting our customers – women in extreme poverty taking advantage of capital to launch small businesses. Whether you call your activity “giving” or “investing” – “Philanthropy” or “Business”- the dynamic of true connection guarantees that all involved receive as much as they give. This helps increase the momentum of endeavors to alleviate poverty worldwide. Our planet faces incredible humanitarian challenges. I am confident we’ll succeed if we work together. It starts with me. It starts with you. It starts—and continues—with EMPATHY and the smallest of actions. We’re each a part of the greater global community. When we engage with each other, authentically, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” Our power is immense.