How to Become a Hero c.j. hayden
   How to Become a Hero
   You Are the Champion the World Is Waiting For

   C.J. Hayden, MCC

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Optimism in bad times 

Historian Howard Zinn gave me a compelling take recently on the role of optimism in keeping a heroic outlook despite overwhelming odds. Zinn is the author of A People's History of the United States, which turns traditional history texts upside down by presenting the viewpoints of African Americans, women, Native Americans, war resisters, and poor laborers about historical events.

In his memoir, You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train, Zinn writes: "To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic... If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places -- and there are so many -- where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction."

Zinn reminds us that we cannot predict the future. There is no reason to expect that present conditions will continue. In fact: "...the struggle for justice should never be abandoned because of the apparent overwhelming power of those who have the guns and the money and who seem invincible in their determination to hold on to it. That apparent power has, again and again, proved vulnerable to human qualities less measurable than bombs and dollars: moral fervor, determination, unity, organization, sacrifice, wit, ingenuity, courage, patience -- whether by blacks in Alabama and South Africa, peasants in El Salvador, Nicaragua and Vietnam, or workers and intellectuals in Poland, Hungary and the Soviet Union." For more on this topic, read Zinn’s essay, The Optimism of Uncertainty.

It may seem that one person cannot make a difference, but this is where great ideas and unstoppable movements begin. By raising your voice, you give others the courage to raise theirs. By taking one small step, you make others believe it is possible to take steps of their own. If there is something about the world you wish to change -- no matter how permanent and immovable it may seem -- with enough people pulling in the same direction, change can occur.

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Beyond philanthropy 

In the July issue of Colorado Company, the cover article is The New Face of Philanthropy, featuring Jessica Biel's Make the Difference Network. Jessica's project is an innovative example of how to take action to solve social problems in a way that is self-sustaining. The concept of MTDN is to serve as a clearinghouse for nonprofits in need of support. Nonprofits become members and post "wishes" for projects in need of funding, each one categorized by an issue it addresses. When visitors come to the MTDN site, they can search for their favorite cause and locate nonprofits they can support to make a difference. They can contact the nonprofit directly about volunteering or contributing goods, or make a monetary donation via the MTDN site. MTDN takes no percentage of these donations.

A unique feature of MTDN is its use of celebrities. A celebrity member of MTDN can sponsor their favorite nonprofit causes. If you visit the site and search for wishes supporting entrepreneurship, you'll see that I am a celebrity sponsor of Global Inititative to Advance Entrepreneurship. The idea is that Jessica and the other celebrities involved will drive traffic to MTDN by including it in PR activities they are already engaged in to promote their work.

MTDN supports itself using an earned income model; it operates as a business. Instead of requiring grants and donations or taking a portion of the funds they collect, they charge a reasonable membership fee to the nonprofits who participate, and also sell fundraising items in their online store. (There is no charge for an individual to be a member.) In this way, the project can be self-sustaining without the need for fundraising.

This brand of social entrepreneurship is an answer to the high cost of fundraising for nonprofits trying to create positive change in the world. It is not at all unusual for a nonprofit to spend 50% or more of its budget on fundraising activities. Some organizations spend as much as 85% of their revenue on raising funds, leaving only 15% of what is collected going to help the intended beneficiaries. By forming an organization that pays its own way with membership fees, product sales and other sources of revenue, everyone involved can receive more direct benefit.

Forming a business like Jessica's can be an answer to the essential question would-be heroes often ask: "How can I make a living at changing the world?" If you have been contemplating this dilemma, think beyond working for a traditional nonprofit, or earning more at some other profession so you can spend more time volunteering. Is there instead a business model that might work to implement your idea of how the world most needs to be served?

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The fast track to finding your path 

In the current issue of Inquiring Mind, I ran across this powerful statement in an article by Susan Burggraf, titled "Ordinary Buddhas: That Means You, Babe." Writing about finding one's path, Susan says, "Here's the big trick: don't work with what you don't have, don't develop new skills. There are so many doors and so many openings, so there's one that's sized right for who you are right now."

This is one of the keys to setting out on a heroic path. True heroes take action; that's how they become heroes. They don't just think and talk about what needs to be done some day; they start doing something about it now. Instead of taking one more class, reading one more book, earning one more degree, or working one more year at the job that eats away at their soul, they find a place to begin today.

Bilbo Baggins left home without even his handkerchief. Why do you think you need to learn more, grow more, or acquire more before starting out on the path you were meant for? You will never be completely ready. Start from wherever you are.

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True grit 

Watching The New Heroes on PBS the past two weeks, I was struck by the incredible determination of the people featured on the series. Faced with overwhelming social problems, governmental inertia, political opposition, lack of funds, and even threats of violence, the social entrepreneurs who were profiled took action instead of waiting for help. All of the stories were striking, and if you didn't get a chance to watch the series, I would highly recommend buying the DVD for only $29.95.

One particularly compelling episode profiled Albina Ruiz, who is rescuing hundreds of people from an unimaginably miserable existence living in the garbage dumps of Peru. Poverty-stricken families from the countryside have built shacks in the middle of the city dumps in order to live off the garbage. The segment shows unforgettable footage of people crowding around a dump truck as it empties its contents, sorting through the garbage with their bare hands to find anything they can eat, use or sell.

Ruiz's brilliant idea was to form small businesses to process the garbage under controlled and sanitary conditions, and hire the people who were living in the dump to work there. The businesses earn enough to pay their workers by recycling usable items, making compost to use for fertilizer, and charging small service fees from local residents who never had garbage collection before and used to throw it in the river. Ruiz started doing this work alone nearly 20 years ago. Now she oversees projects in 20 cities across Peru, employs more than 150 people and serves over 3 million residents.

Beginning her work in an environment so unpleasant that most of us would never even go there, Ruiz has implemented a solution that simultaneously addresses poverty, unemployment, unhealthy living conditions, sustainable agriculture, and the quality of life for entire neighborhoods. It's an amazing story of dedication and commitment to finding a solution.

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