In 2009, Nancy Economou visited the Philippines, where she witnessed a young girl with her face burned by kerosene. She later learned that an overwhelming number of families do not have access to a safe and sustainable light source. Kerosene lamps serve as the only source of light after the sun goes down, making work, studying, and caring for children a challenging and often dangerous task. Furthermore, families worldwide spend up to a third of their income on toxic lighting sources, such as kerosene, paraffin, or batteries, which often get thrown into landfills, leeching toxic materials into local water sources. In 2013, she returned to the Philippines with innovative solar lighting units that could be carried with the users. Seeing that there was increased safety and health by removing kerosene from homes, and the financial freedom that comes with saving the money that would have been spent on lighting, Watts of Love was founded.
Watts of Love empowers those that we serve by helping them set goals and achieve their dreams while illuminating their paths with guiding light. Since 2013, we have distributed nearly 90,000 lights in 53 countries. In 2019, Watts of Love launched the Lighthouse model, our solution to scaling. Watts of Love intentionally seeks the most vulnerable people in the developing world, who live without access to sustainable light. We partner with in-country organizations and invest in local leaders to represent Watts of Love. Using a unique financial literacy curriculum, Watts of Love gently and compassionately instructs these recipients on how to save, invest and build for the future. We train entire communities on how to properly use the solar light and provide education on basic financial concepts such as compound savings and return on investment. We emphasize the significance of redirecting funds previously used to purchase kerosene or other dangerous light sources and investing their savings in livestock. We want our light recipients to be successful where they are, aiming for communities to create self-sufficiency and look to their community members for inspiration.
And it’s working. Across the world, families are irrevocably changing. We are hearing stories of children who would have been sold into child marriage excelling to the top of their class, stories of single mothers starting their own businesses and the elder continuing to care for their families. In Malawi, Stella’s daughter received a light in September 2021. She brought the light and her new financial literacy home to teach Stella that they already had the money – their former battery money. Her daughter explained that if they saved their money, they could use it to buy things that will only increase their income, such as livestock. Stella realized, however, that she wants her money to work for her. So, she started a rum distillery in her yard, and now, she has employees. Her life, and the lives of her children, have forever been changed through financial literacy.
Watts of Love has lights in 53 countries around the world, but focus countries are Malawi, Kenya, Uganda, and the Philippines.
As President of the Association of Friends and Sponsors of the German-American Fulbright Program e.V (VFF) and three-time Fulbrighter myself, I am committed to the future stability of the institution that changed my life and that of many others. In fact, in this position I work to increase financial and human resources that are essential to maintain and grow the programs that Fulbright offers, especially as government budgets are cut.
Simultaneously, the attention that is finally being paid to underrepresented groups in Fulbright means that more and different kinds of people should be applying than ever before. Unfortunately, this inclusivity, as necessary and desirable as it is, may burden the system whose very task it is to create a more diverse environment. Aside from the sheer numbers, in my opinion it is ethically and morally responsible to make it possible for all people to be Fulbrighters, no matter what gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, age, or disability.
While one would hope that the Fulbright experience – living and learning in another culture – would inspire “intercultural” awareness, more needs to be done to bring a “social conscience” into the mix. Fortunately, the self-reflexivity and self-awareness that comes with experiencing oneself as a “foreigner” provides a strong basis for triggering this kind of personal evolution.
But this is not always the case, and therefore, as someone dedicated to these goals, I found that encouraging beneficiaries to “give back” to such programs, such as Fulbright, or for that matter to other similar institutions from which one has benefitted academically, professionally or personally, is the right thing to do. Those on both sides of the equation – so to speak, the “givers” and the “receivers,” benefit substantially. A little can go a long way.
It is important to remember that the Fulbright experience only begins with the time abroad and continues long after, (some might say it even starts during the application and orientation process), hopefully for one’s entire lifetime. As a member of what we like to call the “one Fulbright Community” (the German-American Fulbright Commission, the German Fulbright Alumni Association e.V and the VFF), a “Fulbright family” of sorts, the experience can become a part of one’s own lifecycle extending and enriching in perpetuity. “Giving back” can actually be the essential structure of connecting and belonging to this one Fulbright Community. In short, being a Fulbrighter becomes the gift that keeps on giving!
For these reasons, I am now more than ever encouraging people to find an appropriate moment – often far after their actual stay abroad and later in their lifecycle – to give back to the institutions that have been instrumental in their lives. The most obvious way is financial, i.e. making a contribution of whatever amount that can be used to support other students, particularly in those groups who have been denied, hindered, or even not been aware of these possibilities. I think here of the VFF and Alumni Association that support short term programs in the United States for Germans with so-called “migration background” to meet other minorities for academic and personal exchange.
But money is not the only way. Contributing time and effort is another helping hand, such as is obvious with the German Fulbright Alumni Association that sponsors this publication. One should spread the word at workplaces, colleges, universities, schools and other institutions that promote learning of every kind. Encouraging friends, family or colleagues to apply is also an important way to be involved. Of course, the notion of “giving back” is imbedded more naturally in a voluntaristic culture like the United States. But it is a significant gesture also to educate German friends and colleagues that this practice contributes to a stronger and better civic community. Moreover, it helps foster a more interconnected and interdependent society that experiences the benefit of working together at multiple levels to enhance chances for others, particularly those less privileged.
I hope that these few thoughts on this topic, presented in this publication in particular, might stimulate a different kind of thinking about how one Fulbrighter can make a difference.
Find out more about the “Verein der Freunde und Förderer des deutsch-amerikanischen Fulbright Programms e.V.” and become a member at: https://www.fulbright-vff.de/
Prof. Dr Jeff Peck Aside from his current position mentioned above, was co-author of, “Moving from Individual Experience to Institutional Change. European Fulbright Diversity Initiative (EFDI). A Task Force Report,” 2019.
Our planet is on fire – literally and metaphorically. Natural disasters range from climate change, biodiversity loss, species and plant extinction to the degradation of natural ecosystems. Economic development, meant to lift millions if not billions of people out of poverty, leads to an increase in anthropogenic pressure. According to the Global Footprint Network, humans use as many ecological resources as if we lived on 1.75 earths. Consequently, measures need to be taken to reduce the overall footprint on our planet.
A lot has been written over the last years, and sometimes even decades, on topics such as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), Corporate Governance, Sustainable Development, Triple Bottom Line, Sustainable Finance, ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance), Impact Investing, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), or the European Green Deal.
What all of these terms and measures have in common, is the notion that economic activity and global development need to be more holistic in nature in order to protect natural resources and pay attention to social (including health) considerations – above and beyond a single focus on economic prosperity. Some of these terms focus on macroeconomic, others on microeconomic (including finance and accounting) considerations. One could also say that the perspective changes from the big picture (e.g., on a national or supranational level) to a more microscopic consideration (e.g., on an organizational level) in order to incentivize transactions – and action – that keep in mind people and planet, in addition to profit.
Let’s take a look at Corporate Social Responsibility (the term Corporate Governance is often used synonymously): As noted in HEC’s Executive Factsheet, the economists Howard R. Bowen1 and William C. Frederick2, looked into the social responsibilities of companies and their leadership in the 50s and 60s, respectively. However, it took almost 50 years for CSR to become mainstream: According to KPMG3, it took a while for CSR reporting rates to increase: at the turn of the century a third of the world’s 250 largest companies by revenue published a CSR report; this number rose to approx. 90% around 2010.
The Brundtland Commission’s report to the UN Our Common Future (WCED – World Commission on Environment and Development 1987), popularized the term sustainable development; it was preceded by a range of publications on topics such as development, economic growth (including its limits). The Brundtland Report expressed the belief that social equity, economic growth and environmental maintenance are simultaneously possible, thus highlighting the three fundamental components of sustainable development: the environment, the economy and society, which later became known as the triple bottom line.4 Moreover, the report emphasized the rights of future generations.
Along similar lines, different historic events created the basis for what is now known as impact investing. In 2006, the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment (UN PRI) was released with 63 signatories and $6.5 trillion in assets. Impact investors focus on advancing environmental or social considerations alongside the optimization of investment returns.
So far so good. All of these measures – embedded into regulatory frameworks – are important milestones toward a more equitable, socially and environmentally just transformation of our planet.
However, we simply don’t have enough time!
In 2015, the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme and Stockholm Resilience Centre published a dashboard of 24 indicators which depict the dramatic acceleration in human enterprise and the impacts on the Earth system over the last two centuries. Changes in human production and consumption, indicated by gross domestic product, direct foreign investment, energy consumption and telecommunications, are reflected in changes in the earth’s natural systems: climate (greenhouse gas levels, global temperature), ocean acidification, terrestrial biosphere degradation and fish capture.5
Having been part of the sustainability movement myself for over 15 years, I can safely say that there is certainly enough talk and also some action – but it may not be the right kind of action.
“ It cannot be emphasized enough how everything is interconnected. […] To seek only a technical remedy to each environmental problem which comes up is to separate what is in reality interconnected and to mask the true and deepest problems of the global system.” – Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’ (2015) chapter 4, paragraph 138/chapter 3, paragraph 111
There is a conundrum when leaving things up to fate and in the hands of technocrats, politicians or economists: the focus is likely to be short-term, as incentives are often equally short-term oriented. Stock markets put pressure on listed companies to boost quarterly profits, often at the cost of long-term research and development expenditures. Venture capital investors demand entrepreneurs to grow exponentially, which requires business models that put profits before impact-oriented considerations. So-called patient capital is not commonplace. Politicians with an average tenure of four years may be punished for long-term oriented decisions (e.g., to address global problems such as climate change) if they have negative short-term effects (such as higher energy prices). How to balance short- and long-term interests may be a tough decision to make, especially if they want to be reelected. Most economists naturally focus on the maximization of economic growth rather than the wellbeing of our societies and individuals at large (mostly, because adequate systems have not been set up yet to measure indicators other than GDP).
The other side of the coin are both consumers and producers who are less conscious than they may claim to be. Consumers may not always have all the information they require to make ethical purchasing decisions at their fingertips. But they can still choose to inform themselves to buy more sustainable goods – or simply consume less. Not least due to the current sustainability trend, greenwashing is omnipresent. Producers apply misguided marketing or PR campaigns or change the packaging of an existing product while continuing to use unsustainable ingredients. It is a way for companies to appear like they care while also increasing their profit margins.
From my perspective, we are facing both a systemic and a spiritual crisis that is deeply rooted.
Our western mindsets in particular tend to look for quick fixes when addressing global problems that have been in the making for decades if not centuries. However, Planet Earth – which has been in the making for millennia – doesn’t care if the systems of our own creation have to report quarterly earnings, plan exits after ten years with double-digit financial returns, optimize macroeconomic growth (or decline) figures, or care more about the next election cycle than the mandate that put them in power in the first place.
We need a broad-based debate on how to create equitable and sustainable societies able to live within the boundaries of our planet. Such a debate needs to incorporate not only specialists or bureaucrats, but also philosophers, anthropologists, artists, political scientists and others.
What is required is behavior change on a massive scale. We cannot propagate green growth or conscious consumption without taking a look at the whole picture, especially when the future of our children is at stake. Innovations, often driven by technology, notably when they address environmental concerns, may result in efficiency gains. While these can have a positive impact on the cost of products or services, they are also very likely to influence user behavior: increases in overall consumption partially cancel out the original savings. This effect is called “rebound.”6 As the COVID-19 pandemic has shown, it is indeed possible to change our behavior, even in the short term. It may be painful but it is necessary if we want to achieve visible results in line with goals set by international agreements such as the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The more I have dealt with sustainability issues, the more I have come to realize that the basis for transformation is not to look without but within ourselves. Lasting transformation starts by asking ourselves questions which may not always be easy: What am I compensating for? Who do I want to impress? What is it that I am hiding?
There are reasons why mental health and wellbeing are trends that are here to stay.7 More stress and noise in our environments have led to people of all ages – especially urban dwellers – to seek refuge in meditation retreats, monasteries or other refuges of silence. Anxieties about uncontrollable events may further take us on a journey inside ourselves. But will this trend also have an effect on our behavior? This remains to be seen; though there is hope given that more and more individuals, especially in the young generation, take the moral high ground: they choose to travel by train rather than by plane; they focus on second-hand products rather than the latest gadget or piece of clothing; they are happy to share consumer goods or their living environments.
Being more authentic about our decisions and intentions will go a long way.
“Changing is not just changing the things outside of us. First of all we need the right view that transcends all notions including of being and non-being, creator and creature, mind and spirit. That kind of insight is crucial for transformation and healing.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
Joerg Geier was a German Fulbrighter at Golden Gate University, San Francisco, where he completed his MBA 2001-03. With an internation- al background in the private sector, think tanks and academia, Joerg’s passion is the area of green startups, innovation ecosystems, and impact investing. He works as a consultant and has previ- ously focused on leadership development and capacity building. See also http://joerggeier.comfor additional information.
photo: Gesine Born
Bowen, H. R. (1953). Social responsibilities of the businessman. New York, Harper & Brothers.
Frederick, W. C. (1960). The growing concern over business responsibility. California Management Review, 2(4), pages 54-61.
The KPMG Survey of Corporate Responsibility Reporting 2017.
It’s already 11 pm. Ok, let’s wrap this up, says Zeynep. That’s enough. I am tired.
Aynur smiles. We need to finish tonight, she says, looking at Zeynep on the screen. Can’t we just cancel it? asks Zeynep.
Cancel? But we put in so much work already. We did the content for social media, we contacted different institutions and started announcements for the event. Not this conversation again. Again? Yes, you always want to quit right before the end of the project, thinking it’s not worth it. But once we finish you look back and you’re glad you pulled through.
Water is pouring from the tap. You fill your bottle. Close the tap. It is getting dark outside and you switch on the lights in the kitchen and the living room. You turn on the kettle for some tea while checking your phone: four new notifications, three on WhatsApp, one on TikTok. You remember the tote bag with groceries at the entrance. You get them and start preparing dinner.
Growing up in developed countries, day-to-day life is smooth: water, heating (though that is a big question in 2022), education, jobs, entertainment, health, transport, and travel. All of that is easily accessible for many of us, though, some still struggle. In general, however, life is comfortable here. Maybe too comfortable and often taken for granted, which can be seen in the diminishing interest in politics, society, or lack of responsibility by the younger generation. We think.
Over the past two decades, incredible young people have caught attention globally for their activism and work, like Greta Thunberg, Amanda Gorman, Luisa Neubauer, or Aminata Touré. But how and why did these young women develop a social, political or environmental conscience? How come these women keep to their work despite serious challenges and intense media attention waiting for them to make a “wrong” move?
It’s 2008. A 23-year old woman stands for election to the city council, but fails to get elected. She doesn’t give up on her aim to “build a society where every child can become anything and every person can live and grow in dignity.” Four years later, she again stood for election and this time she was successful. In the years following, she rose to become the world’s youngest prime minister. Her name: Sanna Marin.
But what drove Marin’s determination to have a more equal society in a country that is world-leading in equality both economically and socially? What made her not give up pursuing a political mandate? Her answer in 2020: “I’m in politics because I thought that the older generation wasn’t doing enough about the big issues of the future. I needed to act. I couldn’t just think, ‘It’s somebody else’s job’.” ”
Fast forward to 2022: A video circulates over all media platforms showing the young Finnish prime minister dancing with her friends apparently at a private event. The debate that followed showed and stressed that even in acclaimed equal societies, it doesn’t mean there’s nothing left to accomplish when it comes to equality. Maybe not materially, but morally.
The debates and comments on social media after the leaked private video showed there is still an immense gap between several groups, for instance between men and women. Otherwise, how is it possible that one politician is being judged by countless of her colleagues for doing the same as her male companions?
On a daily basis, women exhaustingly fight to break out of double standards and stereotypes created within societies. Double standards means the preferring or rejection of people on the basis of their gender, ethnicity, sexuality or other uncontrollable distinctions in which none are relevant or justifiable factors for this discrimination. In other words: your actions are being valued differently because of something you have almost no control over.
Double standards are seen in dozens of areas: the workplace, in politics and even at school. If a student with a migration background is acting poorly, mostly it is blamed on her cultural background while the mistakes of a native student are caused only by the playfulness of the child. Until recently, this multifaceted double standard that treats and judges actions of people according to their gender or ethnicity is common in our current society. Why does nobody talk about it, if it’s such a substantial issue?
If a lion is born in the zoo, is being fed the same meat every day and taken care of by the same people repeatedly, do you think he would recognize that the cage is not his original habitat? He may assume that something feels off due to his natural instincts. But if he never saw the savanna, never felt its wind on his skin nor spent his time hunting for a gazelle or a zebra, do you believe he would understand that there is something “wrong” with his life?
For centuries, people have lived and breathed with double standards. It is not until someone, somewhere tells us to break out of the circle, tells us that there is something not okay with our situation that we recognize these issues. Sanna Marin’s debate showed us clearly the unequal treatment – not financially but socially. Now, for our future generations we need to change and stop enduring unfair treatment and judgment.
Unfortunately, reality is not as simple as acknowledging that a lion does not belong in a cage. In our society there are still people who don’t understand or who simply don’t know that the way they are treated is unfair. And those who know or at least have a feel for unrightful treatment, often don’t realize how to defend themselves.
That is why we have been socially and politically active for the past couple of years. Not only because it is our responsibility but also our duty as citizens in the 21st century to create a society in which diversity is lived and not only talked about. Because diversity is not having a bunch of people who look different, diversity is giving everyone the same rights as well as the same justice and judgment. It might be tiring but it is worth it.
Until we break out of this cage of double standards we will not give up.
About the authors:
Aynur Durak, raised in Berlin, Germany, is a multilingual student of intercultural communications with a focus on diversity and equality in the workplace. As a Fulbright alumna, who participated in the Fulbright Diversity Initiative at Trinity University in San Antonio (TX) in 2019, she is the author of several publications, such as her debut poetry book: the universe in me. Currently, she is working as a Content Creator at Fulbright Germany while furthering her education in journalism and communication, to provide a larger range of topics such as race and racism in Western media. Purchase the universe in me or flowers of mercury on Amazon.
Zeynep Alraqeb is the Extended Board member for Diversity Alumni.
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