For the last 5 weeks I have been taking an online class through Acumen and the Ariel Group, called “Storytelling for Change.” The main task of the course is to tell a brief 1-2 minute personal story that frames the context of your key message for a social change issue you are passionate about. Each week we get tips about refining our message, different ways of presenting, and using your personal presence, expressiveness, body language and eye contact to make a connection with an audience.
Lately, I had been feeling a little jaded about my writing and was thinking it could use some perking up. A friend told me about this course and we invited three other people to join our team. It’s been a little challenging keeping up with the coursework and getting assignments submitted on time, but all in all, I am really enjoying my group and the course is helping me fine tune my key message: Philanthropy can easily be incorporated into your daily life and exposure to it needs to start early in life.
Anyway, I wanted to share the personal story I’ve been crafting. Here’s the context: I would like to present simple and accessible tips about how people can incorporate philanthropy in their lives, particularly for families with children. In so doing, I hope to normalize the word “philanthropy”, which I have been told turns people off because it implies that you have to be wealthy in order to fit in this category. I will begin my presentation by sharing the four components of philanthropy: giving your time, talent, treasure, and also caring for others through compassionate and empathetic acts. At this point I will probably tell my personal story to engage the audience and help them understand how my interest in philanthropy evolved from the time I was a young adolescent.
I would love any feedback: Is it inspiring? Does it compel you to find out more? Why or why not? (Sorry, I don’t include the tips– you’ll just have to come to one of my presentations to find out more!)
I stood there by the large conveyor belt platform with the other workers, picking up packages of suppositories and putting them into groups of threes. We did this over and over again. The factory was dimly lit and the tasks were tedious and repetitive.
I was 16 years old and this was my first job. I felt empowered to be part of an operation that at the time, seemed important and worthwhile.
We all ate our lunches in a sparsely furnished room. There were large windows on one side of it so the light streamed in and gave the place a little more cheer to it. I have a fuzzy memory of one of the workers, a woman who had a colorful bandanna wrapped around her head to keep her hair out of her face as she worked. She acted on the young side, but the years of working here made her face look careworn and older beyond her years.
Everyone was kind to me. They were genuinely curious about my life and asked many questions. Where was I going to college? What did I want to do with my life?
I perceived their situation at the factory to be a dead end street as far as career advancement went. I felt incredibly humbled and privileged to work alongside these people.
Fast forward a few years to life in Malawi, Africa, where I was a Peace Corps Volunteer. Privilege hits me in the face once more as I am hitchhiking. It’s the easiest way to get around because busses were unreliable. I would often stand for hours in the relentless heat with many other African travelers who had been waiting much longer than me. And when the next transport came, despite my protestations, they insisted I board first even though there wasn’t room for others. It always left me feeling chastened and indignant about the inequity of it all.
These early experiences only served as fuel for unleashing those untapped reservoirs of my own compassion and empathy.
And these seeds, I believe, are essential to any kind of philanthropic action, and need to be sown early in the lives of young children.