Big change starts with small steps

Have you ever heard someone speak who made you feel like you’ve done nothing with your life?

I have — twice in the span of about two hours, in fact.

Seeing the life-changing differences one activist can make in the world has this odd, two-pronged effect: It’s equal parts shame of your lack of activism and inspiration to create real change. Seeing two such activists back to back is like being bludgeoned over the head with guilt and motivation.

So went the final day of the 2016 ASAE Annual Meeting in Salt Lake City.

First up was Charles Best, founder of DonorsChoose.org. The site is a brilliant way to crowdfund classroom projects. Teachers post lists of resources they need in their classrooms, and donors can choose which projects they want to fund. Best founded DonorsChoose in 2000 when, as a Bronx public high school teacher, he needed a way to provide each of his students with a copy of Little House on the Prairie. Here’s the impact his organization has had since:

Best of all, no middlemen stood between those donors and teachers, waiting to take a cut.

“A change is under way. DonorsChoose has ushered in a new era in philanthropy,” Best said. “There are no more gatekeepers to great ideas.”

Best closed out his session by using his speaker’s fee to give DonorsChoose gift cards to everyone in the crowd so we could feel as though we’re making a difference, too.

Powerful stuff. And then Derreck Kayongo took the stage.

Kayongo, pictured above, is CEO of the Atlanta-based National Center for Civil and Human Rights. He’s also the founder of the Global Soap Project, whose massive worldwide impact on human health started in the most innocent of ways.

A native of Uganda, Kayongo first arrived in the United States in the early 1990s. One of his first stops was a hotel in Philadelphia, where he noticed that the soap in his bathroom was replaced each day with new bars, even though he had barely used the old ones.

He began asking questions: How much soap do American hotels waste every year? More importantly, where does that soap go? The answers were astounding: The U.S. hotel industry throws away 800 million bars of soap each year — that’s 2.6 million bars each day.

Meanwhile, hygiene-related illnesses kill more than 1.8 million children throughout the world each year … and “handwashing with soap is the single most effective way to prevent those deaths,” according to Global Soap.

Kayongo’s wheels started to turn. What if he could take that discarded soap, repurpose it into clean, sanitized, safe bars of soap, and distribute them to needy areas throughout the world?

That’s exactly what Global Soap has done.

So yeah, Charles Best and Derreck Kayongo have done amazing things that have changed the world, and to hear them speak, you might be thinking (as I was), “What can I possibly do that could come close to that?”

According to Kayongo, that’s the wrong question.

You don’t have to be DonorsChoose or Global Soap. You don’t have to change the world. You just have to change that really small part of the world that’s important to you … and perhaps convince someone else to do likewise. That’s how change spreads.

“Learning starts with observing. When is the last time you stepped back and really observed something?” Kayongo said. “When you see a problem, don’t complain. Solve.

According to Kayongo, service is all about SELF — service, education, leadership, and faith.

Finally, said Kayongo, “Never doubt the power and resilience of human beings.”

Those are the things that make change happen.

Changing the world is a pretty tall order. Narrow it down by focusing instead on serving others in ways that match your personal beliefs, by taking personal responsibility for those actions, and by showing others how to do so as well.

Big changes start with small steps.

What steps have you taken today?


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