Author Archives: katiebergman

The Choice is Yours.

Three summers ago, while I was working as a tree planter in a remote area of northern British Columbia, I was faced with a choice.  Standing at the top of a precarious cliff on my twentieth birthday, I looked out at a piece of treacherous land that needed to be reforested.  It was raining, which meant the mosquitoes and black flies were temporarily restrained—but it also made the slippery slope as much of a hazard as the field of stinging nettle waiting for me at the bottom.  As I began my steep descent, clinging onto roots and shrubs growing out of the cliff with one hand and grasping my shovel in the other, the words of my foreman rang in my head:  you can choose the attitude you want to have for the day.
Tree Planting 2
It ended up being one of the best birthdays I’ve ever had.  The more adverse the day became, the more fun I had with it.  It was that summer I learned that our lives are a series of choices, and our world is a reflection of those choices.  What drives our choices is not wealth, nor education, nor circumstance—but our attitude.  So, three years later, when I found myself the foreman of my own crew of tree planters, I gave them the same speech:  you are in charge of your attitude.

At the start of my fellowship with Not For Sale, I was given the option of either having one of the best experiences I’ve ever had, or one of the hardest.  Over the course of six months, I’ve been pushed outside of my comfort zone, worked with people coming from backgrounds I can’t relate to, and been given responsibilities that I felt too inadequate to handle.  Certainly, there were times when I wasn’t sure whether it would be the best or most difficult experience—but the point is that it was well within my ability to decide which it would be.  And that is a powerful thing to realize.

Along the way, I’ve had the opportunity to learn firsthand how the decisions we make and attitudes we choose will ultimately determine the outcome—some of which I’ll now share:

1. Frustration can overwhelm us, or serve us. || After six months of working with Not For Sale, I’m not sure which I find more exasperating:  the millions of people in our world who are forced to work against their will, or the billions of people who don’t care.  It appalls me that we often get more outraged when our car breaks down or when our favourite sports team loses, than we do about the economic crises of human trafficking and poverty.

Perhaps it’s because of the overuse of statistics to express the severity (like “30 million slaves” or “1.1 billion living on less than $1 a day”) and that we end up removing the human element by perceiving these as “issues” that we must fix.  Or, to be slightly cynical, maybe it’s pure apathy.  Either way, we can let our frustration with the state of our world to be crippling—or it can be a launching point for action.  Our attitude determines whether we feel disempowered by our frustration, or we let “action to be the antidote to our despair” (Joan Baez).

2.  Change starts with you. || If our desire is a world that values community, we must put more value on our neighbours and co-workers; on strangers and those different from us.  If we want peace on a global scale, we need to be slow to anger, quick to listen, and cautious of how we speak to and treat those immediately around us.  If we want justice, we must practice it at every level of our everyday lives.  Confucious said it best:“To put the world right in order, we must first put the nation in order.  To put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order.  To put the family in order, we must first cultivate our personal life; we must first set our hearts right.”

3.  The means will be an expression of the end.  ||  On my first day of work at Not For Sale, Keturah—our fellowship director—sent us out on a highly-competitive scavenger hunt around the Half Moon Bay area.  Her final words to us were: “It’s about the journey—not the destination.” It was a message I had to remind myself numerous times during my fellowship experience, when I felt like I had let down my boss or failed at a project I believed in.  Maybe I did not achieve the results I wanted—but did I give up along the way?  Did I compromise my principles?  Was I focused on the collective goal rather than on selfish ambition?

A just and pure process will lead to a just and pure outcome.  Along the way, there will be many stumbling blocks—arrogance, materialism, gossip and slander, laziness, and self-serving intentions.  Falling into these traps on the journey will only taint the destination to which we’ll arrive.

 4.  Words are either medicine or poison.  || Words have the potential to raise people up as much as they can bring people down.  They have the power to inspire or destroy.  As Audrey Hepburn once declared, “It says a great deal more about a person by what he/she says about others, than what others say about him/her.”  In any setting—whether at a third world mission or a thriving NGO in the U.S.—we must choose to speak words that are encouraging, supportive, and life-giving.

5.  How we live our days is how we live our lives.  ||  Our habits comprise our character.  If we turn whining and complaining into a habit, it will consume us over the course of our life.  Instead, we can make it a habit to find joy in the most mundane tasks; humour in the most distressing situations; and strengths for every flaw we see in others.  In the end, it is our attitudes that will make or break a relationship, a church, or even a non-profit organization.

In this world, war and hatred is easier than peace and love.  It is far easier to destroy than to innovate; to be apathetic than to take action.  And it takes much less effort to be miserable than to sustain an irrepressibly positive attitude.  But the choices that we, as individuals, make every day will inevitably lead to the recovery or ruin of our world.  Every day is an opportunity to fight against an injustice; to fight for your principles or happiness or dignity; to fight to create a new alternative for a better world.  The choice is up to you.

It’s Not About You…

“The be-all and end-all of life should not be to get rich, but to enrich the world.”– Bertie Charles Forbes

 In sixth grade, I enrolled in a “Career Guidance” course.  The purpose of the class was to begin exploring our options after we graduated from high school.  Our term project required us to choose from a list of jobs that our teacher provided and to research the accompanying educational pre-requisites, potential income, and health care benefits.

As a somewhat idealist twelve-year-old, using such a logical and structured approach to planning my future did not bode well with me.  Alternatively, I compiled lists of more existential benefits to the jobs I aspired to have one day.  But as it turned out, ‘character building’ or ‘ending poverty’ were not the kinds of benefits my teacher had in mind.  I felt disappointed (and, quite frankly, even bored) having to present to my class about dental plans and paid sick leave—things that were only benefiting me, nobody else.

As I grew up, I came to realize my perception of a career was starkly different from the dominant definition.  Generally, careers are considered to be an enumeration of personal and professional accomplishments.  Education is often nothing more than a means; a mandatory pathway to generating a substantial income.  As such, universities tend to be structured to facilitate a direct transition from student life to obtaining a job.

Ultimately, we’re socialized to believe that it’s all about us and our own success. Volunteerism may have a role within one’s career, but it’s generally considered something a person does ‘on the side’ (and often, it’s something we do to make ourselves feel good).  But I prefer to see a career as a lifestyle that includes the accumulation of the activities we engage in that enhance the lives of others.  I refuse to perceive post-secondary education as just being a pre-requisite for earning an income, but choose to see it as a tool that can equip us to serve the world better.

I knew I was in the right place on one of my first days at Not For Sale, when I heard my fellowship director say to someone: “it’s not about you—it’s about the movement.”  I couldn’t have felt more relieved to discover that I was working with someone who could see beyond what they could get out of an experience and were focused on what they could give. 

At the end of our lifetime, the work we chose to engage in, the education we pursued, and the way we spent our time should not have been just about us.  As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “we haven’t started living until we have risen above the narrow confines of our individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”

It’s not about getting rich.  It’s about enriching the world.

Are we the problem?

When we talk about solutions to human rights breaches, we often think about what others can do.  How can government create stricter legislation?  What can NGOs do to become more effective in filling in the gaps?  How can businesses refrain from contributing to fuelling injustices?  Seldom do we consider what our role might be in fighting for human rights.  It is much easier to offload responsibility onto another entity, even though the true problem might lie with us.

Free2Work Last month, our fellowship program focused on studying curriculum based on Not For Sale’s Free2Work platform.  One central component involved a lengthy discussion about conflict minerals.  Much of the electronic devices we use on a regular basis contain tin, tantalum, and tungsten, which are frequently sourced from the killing fields of eastern Congo.    Armed government troops and militias are fighting for control of mines in order to trade these raw materials.  They earn hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, which is used to wage unjust war where civilians are murdered and raped as a method of fracturing communities.

For years, grassroots and non-profit organizations have been increasing pressure on electronics companies to refrain from using conflict minerals in their products.  Lobbying for increased transparency and more ethical practices in their supply chains is, of course, a vital step towards justice.  However, the amelioration of such complex issues as forced and child labour or government-sponsored warfare requires something deeper than external activist efforts.  It requires a shift in mentality.

Assuming an entitlement to electronic devices has become embedded in Western culture.  We have structured our society in a way that our workplaces and personal life revolve around technology almost entirely.  We ‘need’ to own a car to get to work (and thus, we also ‘need’ a GPS to efficiently navigate our way).  Laptops are required for most every work-related activity in an office.  Cell phones are no longer simply popular, but are practically mandatory—and not just with adults anymore, either.  In the U.S., about half of children between ages 12 and 14 are using mobile phones and sending a stunning average of 2,779 text messages per month.  We don’t just want to own electronic devices—we expect it.

There is a direct connection between the products we purchase and the person who was exploited or enslaved in order to make that product.  Perhaps, then, many of the social injustices in our world—such as the war being fuelled in the Congo—are actually a result of our own greed.  Is being able to film a concert on your digital camera or being able to play Tetris or Angry Birds on your iPhone worth compromising somebody’s freedom?  How do we validate our ‘need’ to own cell phones and iPads when we know they are fuelling sexual violence and forced labour in the Congo?

We need to demand more of corporations—more attention to fair labour practices in their supply chains, more environmentally sustainable practices… But while we demand more of others, we should also consider demanding less for ourselves.

Week 13: What is social impact?

Last week, our social ventures team at Not For Sale released our impact report for 2011.  After viewing the report, I felt inspired and thrilled about how it showcases Not For Sale’s exponential growth in the last year.  The metrics send a clear message:  our international projects are truly creating new futures for survivors of human trafficking and vulnerable communities throughout the globe.

In the wake of the report, I found myself wondering:  what is ‘impact’?  How do we define it, measure it, perceive it?  My mind began wandering back to a time in my life when my own definition of ‘impact’ changed forever: during my last three months as a university student.  I had spent the final semester of my Human Justice degree as a practicum student at a non-profit organization in rural Mexico, where I ended up learning far more than I bargained for…

When I first arrived in Mexico, I thought I was on the precipice of a momentous academic enterprise.  Hardwired to pursue academic success, I expected my three months as a practicum student to be one that would afford me the opportunity to build professionalism, engage in work of significant consequence, and achieve tangible, powerful results.

However, I was skeptical—and even slightly disappointed—when I found out that my supervisor had assigned me to work in a “learning centre” for children with special needs.  I always loved a challenge—which would certainly be the case here, given that I had no training in teaching, Spanish, or special needs.  Yet this wasn’t the sort of challenge I came to Mexico to pursue.  My intention was to make measurable contributions to justice that the academic community would embrace, respect, and value.

As I moved into my role as a teacher and caregiver, I wondered how working with these children would make me a better scholar.  I began stressing out about the thirty-page final paper I would have to write and present to my fellow practicum students and university faculty members back in Canada.  Basically, I had to return with my own impact report … but was I actually making any sort of impact?

Julia I can’t pinpoint the exact moment that everything changed, but I do know the cause of my shift in thinking—her name was Julia, a beautiful six-year-old girl with Down’s syndrome.  She completely captured my heart.

While the rest of my peers back in Canada were writing policy, gaining practical experience in victim services, or being trained to become a professional in the criminal justice system, I was teaching Julia how to ride a bicycle.  Every afternoon, the two of us would venture out into the macadamia nut orchard to practice.  But as my time in Mexico began running out, I began worrying that she would not learn how to ride her bike by the time I left.  (In her defense, though, learning how to pedal a bike through sand in the desert of Baja California would be a formidable task for any beginner bicyclist…)

JuliaAll her life, people had underestimated Julia.  Somehow, having Down’s syndrome equated to being ‘disabled’.  But on one of my last afternoons in Mexico, Julia suddenly took off on her bike all by herself, leaving me behind a cloud of dust.  And was she ever beaming.  With a face that radiated pure joy and pride, Julia proved her capability and independence to everyone.

As for myself—out of all the papers I had written, all the projects I had invested my time and energy into, nothing could compare to the overwhelming happiness I experienced that day.  Maybe it didn’t translate to another bullet point to add to my resumé … but seeing Julia shine that day was worth more than any satisfaction I could gain from an academic achievement.

I returned to Canada with a recalibrated perspective regarding social impact.  Unfortunately, though, I knew that teaching a child how to ride a bicycle didn’t quite meet my university’s criteria for my final paper, didn’t align with the sort of “academic impact” my peers had been engaged in during their practicum experience.  Quite frankly, there was no prestige in the work I did in Mexico.  But did that mean my work had no value, no impact?

Of course not.  As humans, it is in our nature to assign value to everything in the social, cultural, economic, and political sphere, but we don’t necessarily assign value in the best way.  For example, we pay higher salaries to plastic surgeons, professional athletes, and sales managers than to pastors, farmers, and those in the non-profit industry.  But is an anesthesiologist more important than an elementary school teacher, just because he/she earns a higher salary?  Is a parent whose child is attending an Ivey League school more successful than a parent whose child calls home every weekend from their community college to say “I love you”?  Is a country with a higher GDP better off than a country that treats its citizens with respect and dignity?

Non-profit organizations, too, tend to measure impact in terms of what is quantifiable, such as the number of donors or the size and popularity of their projects.  Of course, examining the return on investment, the metrics, the quantifiable data is necessary.  But it is only part of the story.  What about the college student struggling with student loans and cannot donate to Not For Sale, but instead chooses to promote ethical sourcing on his/her campus?  What about the pastor who encourages his/her congregation to seek social justice as a vocation?  What about the workplace that brews fair trade coffee at work, instead of purchasing coffee that was made by slaves?

Julia Social impact is more than what is tangible, what creates immediate results.  It is more than what looks impressive on paper.  It may mean creating large-scale, long-term change for an entire community in Thailand or giving hope to a marginalized child in Mexico.  Regardless, every effort made in the name of justice has worth.

We are Greater than the Sum of Our Parts

“Justice denied anywhere diminishes justice everywhere.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

During my university experience, I spent four years in a state of incessant wide-eyed wonder, completely bewildered at the plethora of opportunities to learn.  Electives were an academic smorgasbord, allowing me to register for classes on everything from the social impact of 9/11, to the art of motion pictures, to social justice movements in developing countries.

Gradually, gender became a focal point of my studies.  Being a slightly naïve first-year student, I expected to study nothing much beyond women’s rights.  But when my gender studies classes began discussing “other” justice issues like poverty and race, I started feeling as though these classes were getting off course.  Why were these considered distinctively “feminist issues”?  Nobody ever explained to me in a clear, explicit way why these topics had intrinsic relevance in the feminist dialogue.

Once I began working for Not For Sale, though, it began making sense.  I remember in my first week of orientation at Not For Sale, the social ventures team spoke to us about our international projects.  I was desperately trying to draw the connection between some of our projects and how they related to human trafficking.  Why are we working alongside seven indigenous communities in the Peruvian Amazon?  Why are we developing an agricultural business in Romania? Why are we bringing soup to women in the heart of the Red Light District in Amsterdam?  Why are we partnering with a for-profit manufacturing company in India?

Over the course of my next few weeks, I became further immersed in a culture of deeply holistic thinking.  It dawned on me that—especially as a non-profit organization—we cannot talk about justice for one group of people without discussing justice for another group.  Justice is intersectional.  Justice is multidimensional.  Justice denied anywhere diminishes justice everywhere.

It cannot be about emancipating people from slavery alone.  That is why Not For Sale aims to fulfill a broad spectrum of survivors’ needs beyond aftercare and safety, including opportunities to develop life skills and acquire job training, long-term employment, and viable incomes that create a sustainable future.  Moreover, Not For Sale has gone “upstream” to proactively mitigate susceptibility to forced labour through creating social enterprises that offer dignified employment, encourages ethical supply chains, and creates self-sustainable revenue flow.   For example, in order to prevent tribes in Peru from becoming trafficked, Not For Sale established a relationship with the leaders of seven communities to create a social enterprise where locals earn a living wage in a cooperative to craft jewelry made from seeds harvested from the Amazonian rainforest.

We, as a whole, are greater than the sum of our parts.  From the secular perspective, structural functionalists believe that society is a complex system of interrelated parts that must work together in solidarity to promote stability and cohesion.  In a more spiritual sense, some Christians believe that the church must behave like the body—if one part suffers, every part suffers; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices. There should be no division; instead, every part should have equal concern for each other.

Unification, therefore, is an avenue for achieving justice—through pooling our resources, relying on each others’ expertise, building cross-cultural relationships.  Not For Sale understands this, which is why we partner with communities and businesses across the globe, knowing that cross-sector collaboration contributes to the vitality of the abolitionist movement.

Justice is holistic.  When we talk about empowering women, we need to talk about race, poverty, economics, politics, religion—all of the connected issues.  When we talk about survivors of human trafficking, we must also discuss innovative, replicable, and sustainable solutions that mitigate the risk of vulnerable communities becoming enslaved.

Justice will prevail only when it is accessible to everyone—from the women behind the windows in Amsterdam, to stateless children in Thailand, to communities in the rainforests of Peru.  Every sector of society is needed in this quest for justice.  Everyone has a role, a skill to contribute—educators and students, musicians and athletes, Christians and Muslims, business leaders and grassroots activists.  We are all part of the solution.

Experiments are Imperative.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives; nor the most  intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” – Charles Darwin

Stability is a cultural legacy that we have built into the framework of our  society.  From our educational, corporate, and political institutions to
the way we organize our daily life, there is little room for flexibility.  We’re
rewarded for conformity—for colouring inside the lines, for following
instruction, for agreeing with whatever our authorities tell us.  Being
resistant to change is often seen as the epitome of personal strength; the
hallmark of a successful business; the foundation of a powerful country.

Often, those who embrace fluidity or think outside the box are met with
covert or direct punishment.  If an employee disagrees with his/her boss or
otherwise goes against the grain, the result is the loss of status or even
being taken off the payroll.  A teacher who encourages his/her students to think outside school policy may have to answer to angry parents and a distressed school board.  A pastor who preaches from a controversial new angle may be
discredited or reprimanded by the congregation or synod.

In my third year of studies as a student of Human Justice, one of my
professors assigned me a grade I thought was unfair.  When I went to
dispute the grade, my professor told me “Oh, your paper had plenty of great
ideas, Katie.  You just didn’t adhere to the format I wanted you to follow.”
Essentially, I was penalized for departing from a process that seemed
deficient in order to create a new, and perhaps better, alternative.

For the past few months, I have been immersed in the dynamic and rapidly-changing work environment that is fostered at Not For Sale.  Needless to say, it has been a refreshing and empowering experience for me.  Not For Sale, as an
incubator of innovative ideas and solution-based initiatives, follows its
own business model without subscribing to the confines of another.  At an
unprecedented pace, the national staff are ruthlessly executing ideas that
are not guaranteed to work.  Rarely do we end up with the results we
expected—but often, the product of our action is even better than
we could have fathomed.

Trial and error  can be a method of creating large-scale change.   Do you
realize that some of the greatest or most popular inventions came to us
fortuitously, or were born out of a mistake?  The popsicle, for example,
was accidentally invented by leaving a drink out in the cold overnight.  A
pharmacist in Atlanta was endeavouring to make a cure for headaches, mixed
together a bunch of ingredients, and ended up producing the universally
popular beverage, Coke.  Alexander Fleming’s study of bacteria causing food
poisoning led to his discovery of penicillin.

Experiments are imperative.  Attempting to replicate what worked yesterday
is archaic.  In fact, Albert Einstein defined “insanity” as “doing the same
thing over and over and expecting different results.”  What we need is
recalibration.  The tacit thoughts, behaviours, political structures, and
business models we’ve always assumed were infallible need to be questioned.
In some cases, we need to dismantle them completely.

Replacing order and caution with innovativeness and risks does leave us
vulnerable.  But it also creates greater potential to thrive.  Our mistakes
help us to develop and succeed.  Did Thomas Edison consider all of his
attempts to invent the light bulb to be a mark of failure?  Of course
not—rather, he brought a new slant to experimentation by remarking: “We now
know a thousand ways not to make a light bulb.”

Those who are most likely to succeed are those who are most adaptable to
change.  As if Darwin’s theory of evolution hasn’t been applied to enough
sociological and anthropological theories already, I now apply it to the
nonprofit sector … but because it works.  Just ask Not For Sale.

//

Week 6: Why I’m Fasting for Freedom

“A church that’s lost its voice for justice is a church that’s lost its relevance in the world.”   (Richard Stearns, author of The Hole in Our Gospel)

 As a young girl, I remember listening to missionaries speak to our church about their profound experiences while serving in developing countries around the world.  Their riveting presentations helped instill an irrepressible passion for justice in me, which I desired to turn into a vocation as I grew up.  Along the way, however, I began receiving the impression that people who gave up their income, sold their possessions, and left their countries to serve others were anomalies—they had some sort of special calling, while the rest of us were to be content with remaining in the pew.

Today, I consider this a fallacy.  It’s erroneous to believe that the extent of a Christian’s calling is to merely avoid the most serious of sins and to show up to church on Sunday morning.  Faith must have an element of action, an outward expression to some extent.  Unfortunately, many churches today find themselves immobilized and detached from effective methods of engagement.  Considering the total income of American churchgoers is $5.2 trillion, it is obvious that “a lack of money is not our problem” (Richard Stearns).  It’s a lack of will.

Retreating from the world’s problems is not an option for a person committed to following a God that calls for the “chains of injustice” to be untied (Isaiah 58).  Sacrificing comfort, stability, and security in order to actively serve others was Jesus’ mission statement.  With the Bible containing almost 2,000 passages pertaining to social justice, there is no rationalization for the Christian church’s apathy.

We can continue to pray for our missionaries, of course.  And naturally, we can send away a portion of the contents of the offering plate to them.  But what if a missionary didn’t have to be a person travelling thousands of miles across the ocean to foreign lands in order to ameliorate suffering?  What if we used the ground we are walking upon–right here, right now–as our own personal mission field?

In Luke 4:18, we are called to “proclaim freedom for the prisoners, to set the oppressed free.”  That is why I am choosing to stand in solidarity with thousands of others in the Abolitionist Faith Community who want to combine spirituality with direct, concrete, and meaningful action—by Fasting For Freedom.  During the 40 days of Lent, I am fasting from one meal a day and paying forward the amount of money I would’ve spent on that meal to Not For Sale.  The funds Not For Sale receives will be invested into creating and growing social enterprises that employ survivors of human trafficking and empower vulnerable communities.

Not For Sale is founded upon a clear, solution-based principle: we all have a role in the modern-day abolitionist movement.  We are all connected to the global slave trade, but we are also in the position to end it.  If you’re a person of faith, put it to action.  If you’re a student, then challenge your peers to become more educated and engaged.  If you’re a consumer, then make your purchase your advocacy.

Faith does not have to be legalistic.  Faith can transcend the rituals of attending church, studying scripture, and praying.  It can become a results-producing, world-changing, slavery-ending social revolution.