Helping Yourself Help the World

I recently returned from a trip to Washington, D.C. for the Shot@Life 2018 Champion Summit. It was a 2 and a half day training on how to be an advocate, or Champion, for Shot@Life. Speakers at the conference included pediatricians, Nageeb Sumar from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the editor-in-chief of Real Simple Magazine, retired members of Congress, and others. Other than listening to speakers and in-classroom training, we also got the chance to visit Capitol Hill and speak to members of our state’s congressional office about the importance of supporting global health funding and campaigns such as Shot@Life.

During the conference, I met a number of people who came from different backgrounds. Two of them were bloggers also from Minnesota, pediatricians, a psychologist, a geographer, college students, a blogger who writes in Spanish, book authors, and many others. Meeting them made me even prouder to be considered as part of this group of amazing people, although getting involved in tackling global issues can be a challenge.

Some people may be overwhelmed by all the problems of the world and the large number of different organizations that are out there that they end up giving up. Others might want to solve every problem and join every movement, making them less effective supporters of their causes. The problems of the world are many, but so are we, which is why no one should feel that it is their obligation to solve everything. So I want to share a few things I learned during my travels that will hopefully help you be more effective global agents of change, especially those who are just about to start or have just started getting involved.

  • Focus – What am I interested in? What made me want to be more involved in global conversations? What skills, knowledge, or talents do I have that I think I can use to convey my message of support? I asked myself all these questions in order to figure out exactly what I wanted to do, what cause/s I wanted to support, and/or which organizations I wanted to get involved in. Mind mapping is a great tool to use for this.
  • Educate myself – I realized that it is very important for me to know who/what I’m supporting. There are a lot of organizations that support clean water, education, women’s rights, global health, ending poverty, and many other global issues. Of course, I didn’t learn about all of them in one day. I actually still have a lot more to learn. It takes time, and I have already done a lot of reading, online searching (from credible sources), talking to others, and other forms of research. Doing so helped me determine the differences between organizations and the importance of each issue. This allowed me to make educated decisions when it came down to choosing what cause/s I really wanted to support and/or what organization/s I wanted to be involved in. Also, by educating myself, I became a better advocate of my cause/s, and a more effective supporter of the organizations I’m involved in.
  • Network – There are many people out there who, like myself, want to make a difference in this world. They come from different backgrounds, both professionally and personally. I also found out that building relationships with leaders in my community, from high school student government officers to state Senators, is essential. Not only did I gain a mountain of knowledge from them about policies, public speaking, and the concerns that people in my community have, I also know that I will be a louder voice in their ears, and they will most likely remember what I’m advocating for despite their busy schedules
  • Use social media to my advantage – Twitter was a great way to find out about organizations and individuals that I didn’t know about before. I started following those that I already knew, then checked who they followed. (See articles here for great tips on using Twitter for social good.) I use Instagram to post photos of my travels, whether to conferences or restaurants that give back. I find that photos posted on Instagram get more attention than Twitter because the photos are easily viewable. For both Twitter and Instagram, I’ve been tagging my posts (e.g. #posts) so people can easily follow the thread of conversations or photos I’ve posted. Facebook is also very useful whenever I want to post longer messages, and it also lets me connect with family and friends on a more personal level. There are many other outlets out there that we all could use (e.g. Google+) to get our messages to more people and to learn more about global issues and organizations. A good advice I received, too, is to only create as many accounts as I can handle effectively, and know that everything I post online is never private.
  • Be realistic – Again, it’s great to dream big, but it’s really difficult to do everything all at the same time. I try not to think that I can/have to solve all of the world’s problems at once, although it’s really difficult especially when I hear about all of it on the news. I don’t want to feel overwhelmed and get discouraged to go on. I try to focus on what I can contribute, then work with others who have skills, talents, knowledge, and resources that I might not have. Also, time management is very important for me. Planning events can be fun, but stressful, too. Creating timelines, using calendars, and giving myself some breathing room in between events have been very effective.

Be honest with yourself. Do what you can do, and know that every little thing you do counts.

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