Thrust onto the Public Stage, Being a Force For Good

The tension in our communities is palpable. I’m referring to the tension resulting from shootings, racial tensions and confrontations between citizens and the police. It is a sad state of affairs. It’s a tragedy to see the loss of life, the transformation of people’s lives and erosion of trust .

SybrinaFultonAt this week’s YWCA Inspire luncheon in Portland, Ore., Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s mother shared her story. Her son, Trayvon died after a violent confrontation in Florida in 2012. Today, Sybrina is a civil rights activist committed to positive change in the face of violence in society. She recalled the transformation from being a regular mother of two bright boys to becoming a voice of positive change by establishing the Trayvon Martin Foundation. Sybrina encouraged the audience to use her story to inspire change. Her loss and grief felt young, deep and tender.

Parents and victims of pain and loss often decide to channel their experience of loss and grief into advocacy. It is HOW the individuals choose to use their experience and WHAT they choose to do that is striking.

The story of Amy Biehl is illustrative of the power of forgiveness. In 1993, Amy was a graduate of Stanford University and an Anti-Apartheid activist in South Africa who was murdered by Cape Town residents. The four men convicted of her murder were released. Biehl’s family supported the release of the men, and according to Wikipedia her father shook their hands, stating: “the most important vehicle of reconciliation is open and honest dialogue … we are here to reconcile a human life which was taken without an opportunity for dialogue. When we are finished with this process we must move forward with linked arms

Listen to the StoryCorps episode with Oshea Israel and he Mary Johnson. One night at a party Oshea got into a fight, which ended when he shot and killed Laramiun Byrd. Today they are close neighbors and friends. Mary Johnson founded From Death to Life, an organization that supports mothers who have lost children to homicide, and encourages forgiveness between families of murderers and victims.

This depth of forgiveness in these stories is unfathomable for some people. I can’t help but wonder whether the depth of forgiveness is a source of hope towards building a more harmonious society. (Of course, this would not be in the absence of institutional changes too).

We’re often reminded that we can’t change people but we can control how we respond to a situation.

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General Mills’ Position on GMO

I’m an active consumer. I selectively engage with brands via email, social media, phone or by chatting directly with team leads or store managers when I have something to share – complaints and compliments alike, which has often resulted in action or positive changes. When I read this post on Linked In: General Mills speaks up about state GMO labeling laws; I was intrigued to read their position on this hot topic. The author, Debra Atlas provides the verbatim reply and concludes, “If they are in favor of a national labeling act, why assiduously fight every state – and with so much capital expense – to defeat any mandatory labeling? Do they truly want consumers to know what’s in their food, or are they simply blowing smoke? It has to make you wonder.”

I give credit to General Mills (GM) for providing a pretty thorough reply. Their position to support national legislation is pretty consistent. I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt that they support giving consumers the information that they want. After all, they’re a brand that generally has a good handle on transparency, they understand the power of consumers and their demand for greater clarity (likely born out of horror stories over the years about food supply chains).

I have read that the state by state GMO labelling will create a cost and could very likely create confusion in grocery stores (The Shelby Report posted an excellent summary on this topic here). I’m inferring that GM realizes that every stakeholder group will pay some price if the piecemeal approach continues. The state by state strategy is positively increasing awareness of GMO, however I’ve also read that the details in the state by state proposals are very vague and don’t serve consumers very well. The topic is complicated and not a topic that consumers deeply understand. Most of the legislation focuses on how the food is put together but not what it contains.

If GM doesn’t believe that piecemeal legislation addresses the core issues of GMO’s that matter to stakeholders then their strategy makes sense and it is likely cost efficient to fight states. I’m most interested in learning about GM’s proactive strategy for nationwide legislation if they believe this is the right road to transparency, this would provide a true-up picture of their desire to respond to consumers.

#Icebucketchallenge vs. #droughtshaming

The #icebucketchallenge has taken the world by storm as the ALS validated in their recent blog post. Celebrities, sports personalities and business leaders have stepped up to the challenge to raise awareness for Lou Gehrig’s disease (also known as Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – ALS) by pouring a bucket of ice water over his or her head and challenging others do the same and/or make a donation to fight ALS within twenty-four hours. The campaign has raised more than $15.5million dollars (as of mid-August). An interview with the ALS Association chief chapter relations officer Lance Slaughter provides more details. The bottom line is that there is no known cause for this disease (although they know that 10 percent of cases are hereditary). At least 30 percent of ALS Association’s expenses are invested in research, another larger proportion supports research at their 40+ certified centers and to mobilize communities in partnership with the federal projects. There’s an estimated 30,000 Americans who may have the disease at any given time. Knowing this and having read the stories about people with ALS, the need to find a cure is great and the millions of dollars from the #icebucketchallenge has the power to have a major impact on the lives of many people.

But what about all of the wasted water? The #droughtshaming conversation is gaining steam on Twitter.

Notice in the AirBnB, Willow Glen, CA.
Notice in the AirBnB, Willow Glen, CA.

In the course of producing 1 million+ videos, there has been a lot of water wasted. Period. It has often been said that water is the oil of this century. Credit to those people who have taken the #icebucketchallenge in a garden or a lake such as my company’s CEO Melissa Waggener Zorkin. I’m water-sensitive because of the drought conditions on the West Coast. After visiting California last weekend, I got an up close and personal look at the drought (blame game and policy discussions aside). It is sad and having a negative impact on people’s wellbeing, our nation’s food supplies and economies. According to the UN Water a person needs 20-50 liters of water a day for basic needs. At the same time, humans are over-consuming natural resources at an unsustainable rate. Water scarcity affects every continent. The UN predicts by 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world’s population could be living under water stressed conditions. Water.org reports that a child dies from a water-related illness every 21 seconds. The data and impact of the drought in the US, lack of access to water and sanitation in low and middle-income countries is a real problem. The solution requires systemic changes to our infrastructure, policies and innovation. It requires a lot more action than not dumping a bucket of water on someone’s head.

I’m really glad that people are raising the issue of water scarcity, I’m equally glad that ALS is higher on the social agenda. I’m unhappy that we’re facing water scarcity and we don’t have a cure for ALS. I know first-hand that everyone has a cause that they are very passionate about. I’ve also never come across a social or environmental cause or non-profit that does not deserve the level of support and attention that the #icebucketchallenge has created for ALS. Granted challengers could have taken the alternative #icebucketchallenge 🙂 but we have to be rational, put things in perspective, seize the moment and look at the big picture (with or without a challenge). The sun will go down on the #icebucketchallenge soon. ALS will still be fighting the good fight to find a cure, Charity Water will continue to find ways to deliver clean and safe drinking water, and Xylem will keep innovating to find global water solutions.