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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It takes a girl to raise a village 

I mentioned in my last post that I had come to a decision to focus on just one cause for all of my personal volunteer efforts and donations. By funneling my charitable energy into a single channel, I believe I can make more of a difference. I'd like to share with you what that cause is, and why I picked it.

One of my criteria for supporting a charitable project has always been that it has an aspect of teaching people how to fish. Over the past few years, I've been drawn to support organizations like Heifer International, who gives farm animals to villagers instead of food, and requires that each recipient of an animal give its first offspring to another family. Or Kiva, where you can make microloans to entrepreneur in the developing world to them build a business to support their family and create local jobs.

I love this sort of social trim-tabbing. Trim tabs are the small surfaces on the rudders and ailerons of boats and planes that can steer the whole vehicle with tiny movements. Buckminster Fuller used the term to describe people who seek to achieve major social change with minimum effort, by choosing carefully where to apply pressure.

A second yardstick I've used to choose my causes has been that I must feel a visceral connection to the people being helped and the specific way in which help is being delivered. Entrepreneurship projects gain my attention because I'm an entrepreneur who had to struggle to be successful myself. I worked on several Katrina relief projects because I empathized so deeply with the feelings of abandonment experienced by hurricane survivors when the help they were counting on didn't arrive.

My third rule has been that I must be able to connect what I give to an impact I can measure. In looking for a place to make contributions after the Asian tsunami, I chose to donate to a group delivering buckets of supplies to the Indonesian coast in small boats, instead of giving my money to the Red Cross. The Indonesian group was able to tell me exactly how many people my contribution would help, and how it would get to them.

So here's the cause I've found that meets all three of these personal standards of mine, and more -- send girls to school.

In many countries in the developing world, education isn't free. Families must pay school fees to local governments, buy uniforms, books, and supplies, and do without the income of a child who isn't working. Faced with tough decisions about how to spend scarce resources, many families choose to send boys to school, but keep girls at home and put them to work.

However, when girls do get an education, the impact on the family, village, and entire nation can be dramatic. Consider these facts:
o For every year a girl remains in school, her wages increase by 20%, and she has 10% fewer children
o A child whose mother attends five years of school has a 40% lower mortality risk
o For every two years a girl stays in school, the children she raises stay in school another year
o You can send a girl to school for an entire year with a donation as small as $75

According to UNICEF, educating girls is the best vehicle available for eradicating global poverty. The World Bank says: "Educating girls yields a higher rate of return than any other investment in the developing world." If you're interested in learning more about this topic, I've set up a Squidoo lens about it at launched a project to support this cause at

I'm sure you can see how this cause passes my tests for trim-tabbing and measurability. And as for the personal connection test, well... I'm a high school dropout who eventually worked my way through college with no help from my family. Helping girls get an education feels pretty personal to me.

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Karma = action 

Watching a video course on Buddhism from The Teaching Company the other day, I learned something fascinating about the word "karma." I had always thought this term represented a sort of cosmic bank account where our good deeds counted as credits and our bad ones as debits. But it turns out what the word actually means is "action" or "the result of action."

The Wikipedia says "Karma is not about retribution, vengeance, punishment or reward. Karma simply deals with what is. The effects of all deeds actively create past, present and future experiences, thus making one responsible for one's own life, and the pain and joy brought to others." So, karma is simply what you do... or what you don't do.

I've been thinking and talking a lot about taking positive action over the past year. Ever since Hurricane Katrina struck last August, it has seemed more and more important to me that those who want to help others and make the world a better place need to go beyond conversation and good intentions, and do something about it. I've been taking action of my own in a few different ways -- working on several different Katrina relief projects, serving on the board of a nonprofit, starting work in earnest on the How to Become a Hero book, and hosting a discussion group for readers of this blog for the first eight months of this year. But I feel called to do more, and I want what I do to encourage others to do more, too.

To that end, I'm organizing a one-day retreat on Oct. 21st, called How to Become a Hero: Your Call to Action. I'm inviting a small group of like-minded people to gather in Marin County to explore their calling to serve others, deepen their commitment to this mission, and discover the course of action that will bring it to life. If you are in the Bay Area and this agenda speaks to you, please join us. I've kept the cost very low so it won't be a barrier to attending.

I've also decided that instead of spreading my volunteer efforts and donations among a variety of causes, I'm going to focus on just one cause. After much consideration, I believe I have found one that honors my values, satisfies my requirements, and that I feel a deep connection to. By choosing a solid anchor for my charitable work, I feel I can make more of an impact. I'll be sharing more about this cause in future posts.

So those are the actions I have chosen, or should I say, this is the karma I am choosing to create. What karma are you creating today?

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