Reflection (10) – Are You Up to the Challenge?


It is not merely enough for us as change leaders to possess knowledge of problems affecting our lives, our community, and our world; as change leaders, it is our responsibility to move from just having this awareness and move toward using the knowledge and skill to enact changes.  And there is no act too large or too small, there is no one too young or old to accomplish change.   The question remains: are we up to the challenge?


Craig Kielburger was up to the challenge.  And for him, it started with just a single headline in the Toronto Star newspaper.  In 1995, Craig was reading through the newspaper before school one day when he came across an article about the murder of a 12-year-old Pakistani boy (Iqbal Masih) who was a liberated child factory worker; he was killed because he had been an outspoken voice against child labor.

Iqbal Masih, 1983-1995


Realizing it didn’t have to be this way, Craig became inspired to do something about it.  Craig gathered together a small group of his 7th grade classmates, and Free The Children was born.  Free the children from poverty. Free the children from exploitation. Free the children from the notion that they are powerless to effect change. These founding ideals are still in force today.  Today, Free The Children is an international charity and educational partner with more than 1.7 million youth involved in innovative education and development programs in 45 countries.  This is nothing short of amazing, particularly when you consider how the organization humbly began.   Their logo says is all…

Click below to watch a short video about Craig and Free the Children.

One of the biggest indicators of successful change lies in whether it is long-lasting.  According to Free the Children’s website, the organization has not only made positive changes, but those changes have lasted through the years and show no signs of slowing down.  Here are just some of the impacts of this organization:

  • 650+ schools and school rooms built, allowing for the education of 55,000 children everyday
  • $16,000,000 worth of medical supplies shipped around the world
  • 30,000 women with economic self-sufficiency
  • 1,000,000+ people provided with clean water, healthcare, and sanitation


As a teacher, I feel that it is a responsibility of mine to instill a sense of action in my students.  That is why I feel that it is important for us to partner with such worthwhile organizations, like Free the Children.  I firmly believe that youth can be the greatest problem-solvers if they are given the opportunity.  By partnering with Free the Children, my students are inspired to care about the world in ways never before imagined.  Their value systems are fundamentally impacted, producing transformative change in their lives and creating systemic change within our school’s learning environment.  My students have also learned they can have fun, even when they are changing the world.

So my challenge is this – what are you passionate about, and how are you going to use that passion to fuel change?


If you are interested in learning more, you may want to check out this book:


Reflection (9) – Solar Engineering Grandmas


This has to be one of the coolest concepts I’ve heard about in a long time.  Two weeks ago, in my reflection post “Fatou Bensouda, Trailblazer,” I mentioned how organizations help women in developing nations around the world to become entrepreneurs and solar engineers.  For this reflection post, I would like to elaborate more on “solar engineering grandmas,” as they are affectionately called, and the impact they have on their communities and societies.


Each year since 1989, Barefoot College in Tilonia, India, trains about 100 illiterate and semi-illiterate grandmothers from rural India and 80 more from around the world to be solar engineers.   When the women return from this UN Women-backed program to their villages, they are prepared to integrate solar technology—solar home units, water heaters, solar cookers, etc.—into their communities, to perform maintenance, to teach the skills to other village women, and to manage the finances for their own local solar workshops. To me, this is nothing short of amazing!  This is proof that by relying on innovative leaders to envision the future and adaptive leaders managing day-to-day tasks lead to great and positive changes.  The Barefoot College has helped some the world’s most impoverished communities harness solar energy not only to provide electricity (something most people in the U.S. take for granted) but also to create employment for the unemployable, to boost income for the poor, to save the environment by reducing carbon emission and not cutting trees, and most importantly, to provide self-reliant solutions within village life.

This program helps rural communities thrive through applying solar energy solutions in four critical areas of village life: (1) solar electrification of 1000+ villages, (2) hot water, (3) solar cookers, and (4) fresh drinking water through solar powered desalination.  Below is a short description of each area.

Solar Lighting

The methodology applied for rural solar electrification of villages in India and the world’s least developed countries is unique to Barefoot College. Only villages that are inaccessible, remote and non-electrified are considered for solar electrification.  In order to participate in this part of the program, the village must agree to build or donate a building for the rural electronic workshop, select Barefoot solar engineers and allow them to go to India for six months of training, as well as identify the individuals who will be responsible for punctually collecting the monthly (nominal) household fee. This ensures that the entire rural community can take part in solar electrification and control and manage it together.

Parabolic Solar Cooker

Building a 2.5 square meter (roughly 30 ft2) parabolic solar cooker demands high accuracy and skill in metal craftsmanship.  A craft that has traditionally been considered masculine is today being practiced by village women.  Parabolic solar cookers already produced have been installed in 9 villages and are meeting the eating needs of more than 400 people every day. They have been installed in Kadampura, Tikawda, Singla, Jawaja, Solavta, Nalu, and Tilonia in Rajasthan, India.


Solar Water Heater (SWH)

Solar water heaters, storing up to 300 liters (almost 80 gallons) of water, are eco-friendly products because they only partially depend on electricity to pump up water to the storage tank and use sunlight instead of wood or gas to heat water. They are ideal for communities that need large quantities of hot water. Solar water heaters provide continuous supply, and therefore are useful for people living cold places. They are available in two varieties – oil-based and non oil-based.  Oil-based solar water heaters do not allow the stored water to freeze, making them ideal for colder climates.  More than 70 solar water heaters have been manufactured and are benefiting hundreds of people living in rural, remote villages in 8 states of India.

Solar Powered Desalination Plant & Reverse Osmosis

India’s first ever solar-powered reverse osmosis plant installed by Barefoot College produces 600 litres (nearly 160 gallons) of water per hour, for 6 hours every day providing access to drinking water for over 1000 villagers.  Click here to watch a video about this amazing solar-powered reverse osmosis plant.  The plant meets the drinking water needs of more than 1,000 men, women and children from Kotri and its surrounding villages. Each family can take 40 liters (10.5 gallons) of water every day for a token amount per month.

I usually try to post a list of relevant books on the topic, but as such, that will not work with this reflection.  So I encourage you to read the story of how Barefoot College began.  Below are some inspiring videos about Barefoot College and the positive changes that have been made in the communities where they have a presence.


Reflection (8) – Using Social Media to be More Effective Change Leaders


What can happen in 60 seconds? Take a look at this graphic…it’s pretty astounding!

So how can we, as change leaders, use social media to our advantage?

Sure, we use social media to connect with others for personal reasons.  But as soon as the discussion turns to using social media in a professional context, the conversation suddenly becomes dicey.  Why is it that we are reluctant to use social media to be more effective change leaders?  It is perhaps that we fear some risk of public embarrassment or conflict that comes with online communications when all the world can see what we are saying?  Could it be that sometimes we harbor painful memories of previous tech problems we would rather not face again?  Or, is it that when it comes down to it, many of us prefer to interact face-to-face than keyboard-to-keyboard?  How about time?  How can we add another task or set of relationships to an already full plate?  While blogging, Twitter and Facebook have brought new opportunities for conversation, knowledge gathering, and relationship building, those opportunities certainly feel more daunting than fun to those of us in change leader roles.

I would challenge you that the solution is to stop looking at social media as another platform that must be learned—just another responsibility—and start seeing it for what it can be instead: a personal tool for improving one’s practice of leadership.  Sure, each tool and activity requires a certain investment of time to set up.  But once it’s part of the routine, it will repay many times over by providing insights into work and leadership.  Even if you start with one tool/activity, you should be able to see the payoff – then, you can decide if and when you want to start adding more to your busy agenda.  But the key is to start.


Here are a few ideas…

Create a Leadership Dashboard

Don’t just monitor the Web for information; mine it for ideas, news, and research that will help you develop as a leader.  If you have ever used iGoogle, Google Reader or Flipboard (an iPad aggregator), then you know what it is like to subscribe to a range of blogs, columnists, and news searches that offer insights into new leadership models, profiles of high-functioning change leaders, academic research on leadership, and summaries of the latest relevant books.  If you could set aside 15 to 30 minutes a day to read the articles that are of most interest to you, or make this your end-of-day reading for the homeward commute, that is time well spent.  And with these types of applications, the searching and scouring of the world wide web has already been done for you; all you have to do is read!  Even though Google Reader is being retired in July 2013 (click here to read about an alternative) and iGoogle is being retired in November 2013 (click here to read why), there are many apps and options available to you to, depending on your interface.  For example, if you have an Android phone, here are some apps that may be of use.


Stay Focused

Planning and visualization tools may help keep your focus sharp and creative juices flowing.  Mind-mapping tools like those at and can help you get and stay organized by making a diagram of your priorities for the month, quarter, or year.  If you are visual person, as I am, the diagram is extremely helpful in making areas of responsibility clear.  It is a constant reminder of who needs to do what in order to reach the goals, both short- and long-term. And the mind map is easy to share with others, which helps keep everyone motivated and on the same page.

A diagram, such as a mind map, is a good starting point, but what if you need to collaborate with others as part of an on-going project?  Collaboration tools like Google docs and Basecamp make it easy to track each team member’s tasks and progress.  Are you the kind of person who gets overwhelmed by a packed to-do list?  If you are, then I suggest trying a tool like OneTask, which shows you tasks one at a time.


It is very important that you don’t get so bogged down in details to where you lose sight of the vision.  Creating an online vision board may be the best way to do keep this from happening.  Pinterest gives users a way to create galleries of images that remind everyone, including the change leader, what they’re working to accomplish.  Your gallery might include a picture of a crowded auditorium (representing the hoped-for size of your growing company) or headshots of Fortune 500 CEOs (the ones you’re trying to acquire as clients).  If you are collaborating with others, it is important that everyone has the opportunity to add images.  With it being a collaborative effort, creating a visual guide motivates everyone.

Change Channels

I don’t know about you, but whenever I’m away from my computer for more than a day, I find that it’s very difficult to spot the urgent communications amid the accumulating CCs, FYIs, ASAPs, and LOLs.  One way to avoid this difficulty is to escape the inbox by switching to Twitter as your preferred channel for high-priority or time-sensitive communications.  You can set a Twitter account to follow all your direct reports, key stakeholders, and trusted colleagues.  If these key people know the best way to reach you is via Twitter Direct Message, and when you set your smartphone so that Twitter Direct Messages (but not other kinds of tweets) show up in real time, just like a text message, I think you’ll find that reading and replying will be a lot faster.  This means you can leave the job of clearing your email inbox to the beginning and/or end of the day, which will save considerable time.  Instead of Twitter adding to your communications burden, it’s now making the job easier.

Join a Professional Network

As a change leader, the demands of your work may require you to connect with a very large number of people on social networks like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook—sometimes, it is by far too many to sustain meaningful connections with all of them.  That’s why consciously building a network of 5 to 15 respected and trusted leaders and advisors whose knowledge, insight, and experiences will have a meaningful impact on your own professional capacity and performance.  If you decide to join a network, you should make a point of following that highly select group on all the social networks you use; create a separate private Twitter list, Google+ circle, and/or Facebook friend list that contains only these people to cement your personal, professional, and intellectual relationships with each of these key colleagues.  If you have a specific challenge, you’ll know who to reach out to, and you’ll be able to jump right into intense conversation because you are caught up on each other’s personal and professional lives.

Go to the Beach

If your mental regeneration requires a trip to the beach (as it does for me), then maybe it’s time to bring the beach to you.   Find or build a social-media space that is purely relaxing and restorative—it should be something you enjoy, even if it’s for five minutes between classes or meetings.  Not sure what to do?  You could create a gallery of your own personal photographs—(think of it as a personal version of the Pinterest vision board); you could blog until your fingers hurt where you review the latest wines or movies.  Your social-media escape (aka: mental beach trip) will be something you can do anywhere, anytime.  All that matters is that it be genuine downtime and an energy restorer rather than an energy drain.



I would love to hear feedback from you – do you use any of these tools? How effective are they? Do you utilize something not mentioned here?  Don’t be shy – let’s collaborate!  Comment below…

For more information, here are some books to check out:


Reflection (7) – Fatou Bensouda, Trailblazer


International Women’s Day was on March 8, and March is Women’s History Month.  This year’s theme is “Women Inspiring Innovation through Imagination.”  I thought it would be appropriate that my last blog post in March highlight an inspiring and innovative woman.  Did you know that in the U.S. alone one in four women has been a victim of severe physical violence by a partner?  Almost one in five has been raped.  And worldwide, one out of every three women will be a victim of abuse.  Those are staggering statistics (click here to read more).  But there are signs of big change, and that change is cause for excitement



I feel as if we are in the midst of a global awakening.  In Delhi, thousands of women, girls, men, and boys broke through cultural norms to publicly protest the December gang rape of a 23-year-old woman on a city bus.  By doing this, they very publicly rejected the atrocious prevalence of gender violence in their city and the police system that permits it.  More girls are going to school or demanding to. Organizations are helping women in developing nations become entrepreneurs and solar engineers.  There are more women in the U.S. Senate than ever before.  And the International Criminal Court recently swore in its first female chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda; she is, in fact, the focus of my reflection this week.  Indeed, I think it is a very exciting time to be a woman.

Fatou Bensouda is not only the first female chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court but also the first African to head a team of prosecutors at tribunal. She was sworn into the ICC in June 2012, when the Court was investigating 15 cases in seven countries, all of them in Africa.  Time Magazine named her as “one of the world’s 100 most influential people in 2012.”  In my opinion, this makes her a trailblazer.

Thoughtful and soft-spoken, yet determined and forceful, Bensouda has been a leading voice pressing governments to support the quest for justice, particularly in Africa.    Since her appointment was made public in December, Bensouda has set out new priorities for the court, including improving the quality and efficiency of investigations, ensuring that violence against children as well as sexual and gender crimes are reflected in future charges, and improving the court’s relationship with Africa.  Bensouda inherited two cases from her predecessor – violations by forces loyal to former president Laurent Gbagbo in Ivory Coast, and the prosecution of Uhuru Kenyatta for post-election violence in Kenya in 2007-2008.  Both cases are proceeding slowly and continue to attract controversy for their political ramifications.

 Laurent Gbagbo                                                                   Uhuru Kenyatta



Here is an update about Kenyatta’s upcoming trial.  Bensouda has amended charges against President-Elect Uhuru Kenyatta to add to the document containing Kenyatta’s charges, that “victims were killed by gunshot in Naivasha” during the 2007-2008 post election violence.  The decision to grant Bensouda her request has no impact on the schedule of the case and has no implication on other requests made by the defense for consideration following the withdrawal of one witness from the case list of evidence. Consequently, the withdrawal of this witness is what caused the dismissal of charges against former public servant ambassador Francis Muthaura. You can click here to watch a short video clip explaining this further.

Bensouda insists that for her, helping victims is at the center of what international criminal justice is really about.   Here are just some of her quotes:

Click below to watch an interview with Fatou Bensouda:

Bensouda’s identity as an African woman is positive for the ICC.  All of the current investigations are in Africa.  Bensouda also has extensive knowledge and interest in protecting the victims of violence in African nations. Based on her comments above, it is clear that she is interested in protecting the rights of the most vulnerable, in particular those victims in countries that would not otherwise be able to prosecute the criminals involved.

Her identity as a woman has not been as frequently addressed; however, it is just as notable, particularly in light of the documented use of gender-based violence and sexual violence in many of the conflicts currently under investigation. For example, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, sexual and gender based violence has emerged as a primary tool of war, and her commitment to this issue can only help to improve the prosecution of those responsible.  Given her attitude, focus and determination, there is nothing to indicate that her future with the ICC will be anything but stellar.  Check out this article, written by Bensouda herself.   Thank you, Fatou, for being such an inspirational trailblazer for us all.


Reflection (6) – Gender Roles


The topic of gender roles has garnered a lot of attention lately, from Danica Patrick’s historic pole position at the Daytona 500 last month to the prevalence of women directors being recognized in Hollywood.  But for the purposes of discussion, I would like to bring another change in gender roles to light that has just recently gained recognition.  The gender role change is that of the “Stay-at-Home Father” (or SAHF for short).

Historically, for most Americans, the picture of an “ideal family” included a career-minded father, a stay-at-home mother, 2.3 children, and a dog or two.  Personally, this is very similar to my personal experience (except for the 2.3 children bit – I was an only child).  Over the past several decades, the “ideal family” image changed again – where only one parent worked, now both parents had careers with the father still considered by many as the “breadwinner” and a distant, perhaps disengaged, parent (cue up Don Draper from Mad Men).  We also saw an emergence of single-parent households in which the single parent may have to work 2-3 jobs just to make ends meet.  Family gender roles are still evolving today, especially with more SAHFs now than ever before.


Don’t believe me?  Here are SAHFs, by the numbers (thank you U.S. Census!):

Percentage of dads who regularly cared for their children:

  • In 2002, it was 26%.
  • In 2011, the percentage had increased to 32%.

With preschool aged children:

  • 1 in 5 dads is the primary caregiver.
  • In households where moms work, this figure increases to nearly 1 in 3 dads.

So what exactly is leading to an increase of SAHFs?  While I think the tendency is to blame the current economic climate in our country, I feel that this is slightly disingenuous.  It is somewhat offensive to assume that dads would only stay home if there were an economic reason – as if no family would want a man caring for the children by choice.  At any rate, it is hard to argue economic downturns don’t  increase the number of SAHF households initially.  After all, isn’t “necessity of the mother of invention?”   However, based upon the numbers, it can be seen that once unemployment returns to pre-downturn levels, the proportion of SAHF households is still larger than pre-downturn. Also, there is a smooth small increase in the proportion of SAHF households over time that, to me, means a slow gradual change in perception about gendered roles.  Values and norms in society do change and evolve very slowly.

While researching this topic, I came across two theories that can be used to explain why more fathers may be staying at home to take care of their children.  The first is Exchange Theory, which provides explanations that are based in power relations, and, at the core, argues that the person with the more power in the relationship gets to make a majority of family-related decisions. Power in this theory can be determined by who earns more money, which is not surprising given the economic roots of the theory.  Exchange Theory would predict that gender plays little to no role in family decisions.  A second theory is Gender Role Theory, which combines both sociological and feminist thought.  According to this theory, gender roles come from the dominance of masculine and feminine norms that assign women to care-giving roles and men to paid roles. When norms are “violated” (for example, when a woman earns more than her spouse), the theory explains that women will overcompensate in the care-giving and housework roles to neutralize the “deviation” from the traditional social expectations.  What we’re seeing with SAHFs is that more men are beginning to do more at home and are taking on the care-giving role of their family.


Do you remember the movie, Mr. Mom?  Michael Keaton’s character, Jack, was a clueless, although well-meaning, SAHF when he lost his job.  Well, today, SAHFs aren’t trying to be “Mr. Moms”—instead, they are carving out their own unique roles as parents. “Many men are building this alternative model of home life that is outdoorsy, playful, and more technology-oriented,” Gokcen Coskuner-Balli, an assistant professor of marketing at Chapman University in Orange, California told the Wall Street Journal.   In addition, according to the WSJ, the growing numbers of stay-at-home dads are turning to each other for support by creating Meet Up groups, holding “Dads’ Nights Out,” and having discussions with other SAHFs online.   For some, this is a response to feeling snubbed by their female counterparts.  Click here to read the article, “Back Off, Stay at Home Dads” to get a feel for how SAHFs may feel shunned and out-of-place.

Any full-time parent will admit that it is a challenging but worthwhile adventure for both the parent and children.  Research shows that children bonding with their father offers many benefits that last for years. Children with caring, involved dads tend to have higher IQs, more confidence, and do better in school. They also are less likely to experience depression or get into trouble, and they usually have better social skills.

If you are interested in learning more about SAHFs, I would like to suggest these books.

Reflection (5) – Neurodiversity and Its Implications for Educational Innovation


Two weeks ago, I read a short article about Neurodiversity.  When I say it was a short article, I mean, it was a very short article.  Two sentences, one paragraph.  Here is a link to the original article.  The title is what grabbed my attention initially: “Neurodiversity: the next frontier for civil rights?”  Up to this point, I had never even heard of neurodiversity, so naturally, after reading such an attention-grabbing headline, I knew I needed to learn more about it and why it is the next frontier for civil rights.  And what I found is fascinating.

Neurodiversity – what does that even mean?  I did some digging, and here is what I found out.  Neurodiversity refers to the idea that people experience the world differently based on their neurological attributes. It is most commonly applied to people with autism-spectrum conditions such as Asperger’s Syndrome, but it can also be applied to describe certain mental illnesses, learning disabilities, and other neurological differences.  Interestingly the neurodiversity movement is not the same as the disability rights movement because it generally does not recognize neurological differences as disabilities, but rather as equally valid, unique, and socially beneficial neurological experiences that should be embraced and celebrated.

In the original article I read, the IDEAL School of Manhattan was the school embarking on the Neurodiversity journey.  IDEAL stands for Inclusion, Diversity, Excellence, Acceptance, and Leadership.  According to Angela Bergeson, IDEAL’s Director, “The IDEAL School is an independent K – 8th grade school that offers a rigorous, individualized academic program. Under the belief that children who learn together learn to live together, we have created a student community that reflects the rich diversity of New York City. Our philosophy of inclusion instills students with respect for differences and develops empathy, social responsibility, and world stewardship.”  Children with special needs learn beside gifted students.  The school utilizes a team-teaching model with small class sizes and low student-teacher ratios; this allow them to differentiate instruction based on the strengths, interests, and abilities of each individual. The curriculum challenges students by promoting high academic achievement and social and emotional growth. The school emphasizes creative arts and an elective program that offers enrichment.  And all of this is accomplished in a neurologically diverse and inclusive classroom environment.

Here is a link to another (much longer) article about the IDEAL School.  Also, click here to watch a video about the IDEAL School of Manhattan.  I found them both to be very inspiring.

So what does this mean for today’s educational system that tends to favor homogeneity over heterogeneity and adaptation over innovation?  When structures and systems become too adaptive, individuals may be inclined to continually use the current system even when it has run its course and is no longer effective.  The IDEAL School in Manhattan is innovative in its approach to education by embracing neurodiversity; by its principles, it recognizes that innovation is needed when addressing the students’ needs.  This school has provided multiple opportunities for their students that would not have been available in a typical educational setting, and that is to be commended.

The school has become such a success that educators from around the world are interested in learning how to adopt the same models for their schools. The founders of the IDEAL School in Manhattan want to extend their school to 12th grade and also replicate their neurodiversity model in other cities like Chicago and San Francisco.  I would argue that this model would be beneficial in rural areas as well.

Are you interested in reading more about Neurodiversity?  Dr. Thomas Armstrong has published three books on the subject – click below to learn more.

Reflection (4) – The River of Myths and How a Modern Day Myth Buster Is Shaping How We Look at Our World


How many of us learned about developed and developing countries prior to graduating high school? I bet we could all raise our hands.  Now, what if someone told you that what you were taught is probably no longer valid?  That pill is hard to swallow – it goes against what has been accepted as fact for decades.  How would we be able to check our facts?  There is so much data to comb through and not nearly enough hours in the day to do so.  Plus, combing through data isn’t all that exciting.  Or is it?

The “River of Myths” is a term coined by Hans Rosling, co-founder of the Gapminder Foundation.  In this video, Rosling is compelling in his rationale that the River of Myths exists because we tend to view the world as it was throughout the 20th century.  In less than 3 minutes, he shows the incredible progress of the “developing world” over the past half-century. Rosling argues that measuring progress will help us cross the River of Myths.  In short, he has learned from what has been done in the past; taking this information, he has changed the ways in which we look at the world.

Hans Rosling, in action

So, what is Gapminder?  Gapminder is a non-profit foundation based in Stockholm. The goal is to replace myths with a fact-based worldview. With interactive tools, they make data easy to understand. Plus, using Gapminder is fun (and slightly addicting… you’ve been warned).  Their mission is to create and spread new methods to make global development understandable; all this is done free of charge!  They want the information to be freely and easily accessible to all who may benefit from it.  Through Gapminder, Rosling is revolutionizing the ways at which we look and use data.

Check out this four minute video!  In it, Rosling visually traces the health of 200 countries over 200 years, using 120,000 data points.  I don’t know about you, but after watching this, I have some reasons for optimism.  It is simply amazing!

If you want to try your hand at Gapminder, click here.  You can change both X and Y axes to display the information you are most interested.  You can also label certain countries so you can track their progress over time.  Once you get your parameters set, drag the timeline back to the beginning and click play.  If you are interested in agricultural issues, click here to launch Gapminder Agriculture.

There is no doubt Rosling is an energetic and charismatic civic entrepreneur.  Here are some additional videos that show how amazing the Gapminder technology is.  I would be interested in what you think about Gapminder – please leave a comment on this post.  If you have used this technology prior to reading my blog post, I would enjoy learning about how you have used it.