Achieving and Creating New Goals -- Lessons from GPS 2016

By: Grace
Grace participated in Allowance for Good's 2016 Global Philanthropy Summit in June. 

My overall experience with the Global Philanthropy Summit (GPS) was amazing! It was the first time that I had done anything with Allowance for Good. It was truly an eye opening experience that I will never forget. The amount of knowledge that I was able to obtain while attending GPS was unimaginable. The main focus was philanthropy. Before this Summit, I had never really thought about the meaning of philanthropy. To put it into my own words, I would define it as having a passion for mankind and giving back to the community. Philanthropy in no way means that you or someone else has to donate money. To be a philanthropist, I believe that you must feel some kind of internal reward and know that you have had a positive impact on a community.

One goal I had going into the Global Philanthropy Summit was to gain more knowledge on nonprofits and how they run/work. I currently volunteer at a museum in my hometown of Alpena, Michigan and even though I spend numerous hours there, I never thought about how they get the money to run multiple events throughout the year. To get an inside look at how they achieve this goal was my first priority when entering this program. I ended up achieving that goal when we met with Spark Ventures on the first day of GPS. Our presenter explained to us how they raised the money for the programs they run in other countries outside of the United States. I was inspired by Spark Ventures because it was a combination of my two passions: giving back and traveling.

One goal I had leaving the Global Philanthropy Summit was to think of new and innovative ways that I could give back to my community. That may be through school or just on my own time. Another goal I had was to keep in touch with presenters or representatives of the organizations or companies that we visited. At Groupon, one of the presenters, Parth, made it very clear that it was essential to stay in touch and make connections with people that you meet so that you can create future opportunities for yourself and your career. To achieve this goal, I made a LinkedIn and e-mailed multiple people that we met with during GPS. Since reaching out, I have gotten responses and feedback from all of them. You really have nothing to lose.

Overall, I couldn’t be more supportive of future students who decide to or have thought about being a part of Allowance for Good and the Global Philanthropy Summit. The vast amount of knowledge and connections you can make while attending GPS are never ending. It opens you up to a whole new world, and possible career field.

Multigenerational, International, Experiential Journey

By: Jeanne
Jeanne was a traveler on the Allowance for Good / Spark Ventures trip to Nicaragua this August. 

During one of our trip participant dinners in Leon, Nicaragua, Jeanne, a 43 year-old, mother of two shares, “I have done some reading and studying about Nicaragua since my last visit.” The unexpected reply, “I love to read about history. I read about Nicaragua too! It was a wonderful book, called The Jaguar Smile: A Nicaraguan Journey by Salman Rushdie,” says Nina, 14 year-old member of Allowance for Good. I, Jeanne, sat back, amazed that this young woman has read this book. Amazed that she has chosen to take the time to prepare herself for her first experience with global philanthropy.  This was just one piece of the tapestry of conversations that I would have, as we traveled with the youth group, Allowance for Good.

My husband, Jeff, and I have been Spark Ventures investors for many years.  In 2013, we travelled to León, Nicaragua to see and participate in the work that Spark has been doing at a grassroots level.  What we saw stunned and changed us in so many ways during that trip and for the months to come. Soon after our return, we decided that we would bring our boys, Luc (12) and Ben (9), back with us some day.

We were committed to the idea that we must raise global citizens. That we had to challenge our children to step away from their day to day lives, look up from the screens and frankly, out of their comfort zone.  How can we make the world better if don’t truly experience many of the cultures, people and perspectives that make up our mosaic called Earth? 

Early in 2014, we heard that Spark would be partnering with another philanthropy on the next trip to Nicaragua, a group that worked with teenagers in the areas of leadership and philanthropy. While 10 months was a bit faster than we had planned, we decided this was our opportunity and the group to share our family experience with, down in León. 

Being in a completely different country, with a different socioeconomic environment, speaking a different language, eating different food, hearing different music and doing it all in a very different climate, can be unsettling.  The closer it drew the more we went through our concerns.  We didn’t know how our children would react.  We weren’t sure how the other group would either.  Would we and/or our children be welcomed or simple tolerated?  Will they befriend our boys or think them too young to bother with on this trip?  As it turns out, everyone exceeded even our highest expectations.

You see, these are not your normal teenagers, enamored with Disney, Xbox and the multitude of burgeoning social media tools.  Remember that Rushdie novel Nina mentioned? It was just the first of many pleasant and impressive surprises they had up their sleeves. Spending time with Allowance for Good and the five youths that we had the honor to accompany on this trip was, frankly, an inspiration to us as parents with children just a few short years behind the AfG youths. 

There was Turner, age 15, he came with an open mind and heart to everything that was happening around him.  When matched up with children who couldn’t speak English, he kept smiling, made up a game and in no time had a shy little child at Las Tias laughing and happy.  And Turner, well, he has a plan.  A sophomore in high school already thinking about what he wants to be, where to go to college, what that means to his family and maybe win a few more diving medals in the process.  Turner participates, he is present, he wants to learn about everything and everyone.  And how was he with our boys?  Well let’s just say that our son Luc is begging us to let him head out to Africa with Turner next summer, so that they can continue their journey of friendship and immersing themselves in global philanthropy.  And there are so many other moments, memories and stories of how each of the teens made an impression that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.

It was very clear to Jeff and I how lucky we were to have our children spending time with and learning from our AfG companions.  They are not the teenagers who move quickly away from something new and uncomfortable, or find their friends to avoid being part of the community.  They engage, they learn, they teach and they are infinitely interested in growing.

Isn’t this what it’s all about?  Our world is getting smaller, true. But it can also be more isolating. Social media gives young people windows to the world in ways that were never before possible.  Yet, Nina, Turner, Nicky, Orleana and Sylvana, that just isn’t enough for them. They are not content watching from the sidelines, or watching a video of someone else creating an experience. They wanted to a part of every moment we had with the women and children of Las Tías. To learn and grow EVERY single day. It wouldn’t have been the same trip without them.  We are blessed for having spent that time with them, they were a part of OUR learning and growth experiences, as well as our children’s.

It’s a tradition on these trips to share your experience with the other participants at the final group dinner.  Well, AfG was already doing that in their daily Reflection sessions.  We were just blown away how deeply these teens were thinking about the experience, how to build on it, how to integrate these thoughts and feelings into their development.  And at that final dinner, their thoughtfulness, maturity and character was on full display.  We’d heard from our peers during the other trip and spoken with many that had visited Spark partners in Zambia and Nicaragua.  And these teens were just as self-aware, had grown just much, and were developing plans on how to continue on their philanthropic life journey.

Keep your eye on these kids, help them if you can and they will ‘help’ you in ways you hadn’t thought possible.  These are the youths that will help us evolve as a global community.  The kind that will lead their generation and others, into the future and do it for the betterment of ALL of us. 

Jeanne, right, presents Las Tías with educational materials for their students.

Reflections on Reciprocity

By: Karin Scott
Karin Scott is the Program Manager at Allowance for Good. She recently returned from traveling with Spark Ventures and Allowance for Good youth to Nicaragua. Karin wrote these reflections on day 3 of the trip, and agreed to share them here on our blog.

Together we can connect on a common human level by sharing simple words, smiles, high fives, and laughter.

As our Spark Ventures and Allowance for Good travelers reflected on their second day at Las Tías we were asked to finish the phrase “Together we…” My chosen phrase stems from my connection with my partner, Muriel. Muriel is a bright, big-hearted, eight-year-old girl who I have spent my mornings with at Las Tías.

My two mornings with Muriel have involved simple words, smiles, hugs, and lots of high fives. Through the exchange of “hola”, “que linda”, and “muy bien” we learned our ages, favorite school subject, preferred colors, and future aspirations. We drew pictures, played math flashcards, and tossed a frisbee countless times. In our few hours of interaction we have probably exchanged the same short phrases dozens of times. I point and say a word in English, and ask “en español?” She responds with the Spanish equivalent, and so it goes. But with each repeated phrase comes another smile, another high five, increased trust, and reciprocity.

Our interactions have been short and simple. But on the second day when Muriel greeted me with a hug, a smile, and a loud “Hola!” I felt like in some small way, we had reached reciprocity. We have exchanged languages, games, and laughs for our mutual benefit. My hope is that we have benefitted in equal ways, that Muriel week was brighter because I was a part of it, as I know my short time with her has opened my eyes and shifted my perspectives in new, challenging, and hopeful ways.

My connection with Muriel opened my eyes to the ways in which we can connect on a common human level, beyond the use of language. I was amazed by the way we were able to communicate with each other by only sharing a few words. During my second day with Muriel, I was pleasantly surprised by how much she wanted to spend time to me. The shyness of yesterday melted away into a budding friendship. As a fellow trip participant so accurately stated, “You are only a stranger once.” Muriel, and the other children of Las Tías, will forever remain in my heart.

Karin and Muriel at Las Tías.

Big Questions, Bright Future

By: Ellie
Ellie participated in Allowance for Good's spring 2014 Emerging Leaders in Philanthropy: Explorers program. 

My favorite part of the Emerging Leaders in Philanthropy program was without a doubt what we learned on the last day of class. We read online about the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. The goals were implemented at the turn of the millennium, with an end date of 2015. They were very ambitious; they included everything from eradicating extreme poverty (sadly, this probably won’t happen in the next year) to improving maternal health (the goal didn’t specify by how much, so this was almost a foregone conclusion).  They have also come up with some new ideas for their next set of goals. The plans aren’t set in stone, but they involve energy sustainability, food and water, a growing economy, good governance, and conflict resolution. Overall, the UN still has a long way to go. They have taken some important steps, however, which is a big deal.

193 nations (most of the world’s population) working together to solve all their problems and improve our futures? It may seem a bit unattainable, but the idealist part of me is really excited about all this. This sort of global problem-solving interests me. These issues are a lot more complicated than they may sound; solving them will rely on the cooperation of far more people than have ever cooperated before.  I will follow this progression closely.

For me, I know, I will probably be a scientist—and there is so much that science can do! There is water to be purified, disease to be combatted, and systems of agriculture could always use improvement. Every new piece of knowledge, even something as unrelated as space or esoteric as string theory, could help others.

In the short term, of course, I still have a lot to contribute. ETHS has a wonderful community service system—as do lots of other schools, I’m sure. And I’ve been dying to study abroad ever since I started high school, so maybe I could combine that with philanthropy. Many colleges have programs where you can travel to another country to help out with community projects (e.g. building a school in Guatemala). Even tiny actions, like recommending Half the Sky, can’t hurt. Seriously, watch that movie.

I would like to learn more about how all this selfless philanthropy is changing the world. Individual and group efforts are themselves inspiring, but that’s their ultimate goal: global change. The UN has achieved overwhelming success (by any reasonable definition). Two billion people gained access to clean water—see How does that affect everyone? What effects do these organizations have even beyond the intended ones? How will the world evolve in the rest of the century?

"I am a catalyst for good because good is waiting to happen." -- Ellie, 9th grade, ETHS

ELP: Explorers Highlights

By: Mary
Mary participated in Allowance for Good's winter 2014 Emerging Leaders in Philanthropy: Explorers program.

My favorite part about ELP was the speakers and learning from them. We got to see what exactly these philanthropists are doing to make the World a better place. Speakers like Sharmila, Bruce, and Charles showed us how their foundation(s) are making the world a better place. Before ELP, I was confused on how foundations obtained their funds. I thought that small foundations only ran on individual donors, and that puzzled me. I was informed that foundations get funds from large family and corporate foundations. I had many questions for Sharmila on how a family corporation is run and what the difficulties are while being on the board of a family foundation. With Bruce, I learned about how the smallest things can affect a developing community. I liked to see his personal pictures of The Adonai Child Development Centre. I was delighted to see how he was making a difference in that community and making an effort to do the most good. Finally, I was fascinated by Charles' foundation. I would never have thought that having a bicycle would make such a big difference to children in developing countries. It made me think more about how to help people in non-conventional ways. 

I will continue to be a young catalyst and philanthropist through travel. It's one of my passions. My ultimate goal as a philanthropist is to see others getting better. I want to go where I've already sent help through money or goods. I want to see an improvement and settle difficulties in an area. I want to talk to the people that I helped. In the future, I want to learn more about micro-loans and organizations like Kiva. I think its very conventional and a gift that can be re-used and sent to many people who need the money. I want to become a donor in the future and watch my money go to people who will profit the most from it. 
Mary, right, listens intently as Charles Coustan presents about his organization, World Bicycle Relief.