Monday, April 9, 2018

Advocacy in the US and Kenya

My guest blogger today is Sarah Borgstede, a fellow mom and RESULTS activist living in the greater St. Louis area. She hasn't been an advocate for even two years, but her passion for learning and her empathetic, active listening style have helped her rocket into a leadership position. This year, RESULTS asked her to join a training program for leaders of groups doing deep advocacy. It happened to be in Nairobi. What an opportunity! I've asked her to share one of her many stories with us today to help us understand the similarities we share with mom-advocates in Kenya as well as how our actions impact lives of moms and kids all the way across the globe. Thank you, Sarah!


Advocacy in the US and Kenya
By Sarah Borgstede, RESULTS Greater St. Louis and Southern Illinois Group Co-leader

Sometimes when I try to explain what I do as a volunteer with RESULTS, I see people’s eyes glaze over. Advocacy can be really abstract. It’s hard to see how calling a Member of Congress does anything. But it really does! I just got back from Nairobi, Kenya, where I got to see just how real this work is, once you connect the dots.

Sarah Borgstede (left) learns from Irene Njoka (center) how
Kenyan mothers advocate in their own communities.
I was traveling with a group of advocates to visit other advocacy groups in villages in Kenya. In one village, a grassroots group took a break from Sunday morning church to come talk with us in the village center. The group there reminded me a lot of my group back home in St. Louis: both groups are made up of regular people, including a lot of moms and their kids. I didn’t notice the kids at first-- Kenyan toddlers, safely wrapped up in their mom’s arms and baby slings, are apparently quite a bit quieter than my three-year-old is at our advocacy meetings back home!

The water tank in the village. Women and girls used to spend all day every Monday walking to
the tap at the main road. The tap only runs every Monday because water is rationed.
Now the water runs to the tap in the village, right across the street from
this tank. Photo credit: Mikhail Zukhairi Chishti
The Kenyan women of the group told us about one of their success stories: they wrote letters to their elected officials to get water piped to the village. They said, “You promised us this water. Without it, our girls are missing school and our women are missing work to carry it. We will dig the trench: you lay the pipes.” It worked! They got water in the village, freeing many women of backbreaking, day-long trips to get water from a distant source. That’s amazing! 

The grassroots members also showed us letters they wrote to get their hospital’s maternity ward completed. They explained that women were having to go 15-20 kilometers to the next hospital to give birth. Being from the US, I was thinking “That’s not far, I drove a lot farther than that when I was in labor. Our U.S. hospitals are often farther apart than that.” Then, I realized that these women were talking about walking there, through hilly country on often unpaved roads. I checked google maps when I got home: at the least, in good road conditions (during the dry season), it’s a minimum of eight miles with a seven hundred foot elevation increase between the village and the nearest hospital. Can you imagine doing an eight-mile uphill hike while in labor?

This trip really made me think about what advocacy looks like in Kenya and here in the US. Our St. Louis RESULTS group is working on Senate “Dear Colleague” letters to support funding for global maternal and child health programs right now. It feels abstract: it doesn’t impact my life directly. Our work deeply impacts my heart and my sense of morality, but not whether or not I can get to a hospital. Compare that to the grassroots group in Kenya, for whom the stakes are much higher. They are seeing children born on the road on the way to the hospital. They know what needs to happen to prevent that and exactly who needs to be doing it. Now, I can connect the dots all the way from advocacy in St. Louis to mothers in Kenya. In the U.S., we lobby for funding to support global health through specific programs. Then, resources go from the U.S. and other countries into partnerships all over the world. In this example, a Kenyan partner organization uses some of that money to support their expertise in advocacy training and to provide basic supplies--I’m talking pens and paper here-- for grassroots groups. Then, the grassroots groups can pressure their local government to get what is needed. The Kenyan government is held accountable for delivering on their promises. In this example, they are held accountable for delivering babies.

You see? The abstract request we make here, “Senator, please sign this ‘Dear Colleague’ letter to support robust funding” comes all the way down to “let’s spare the cost of office supplies to prevent needless deaths of moms and babies.” Of course, this is only one example of the way that the programs we support work. When I think about how these efforts are multiplied in different communities and environments around the world, it makes my head spin with the complexity of it all. It also makes me feel motivated. I know that my few minutes of volunteering time, though small, can support mothers just like me who are fighting for better opportunities and access to life-saving medical care in their communities.

If YOU want to join in this effort, it’s easier than you think! Call both YOUR senators and urge them to sign onto this letter before April 20!

Images by Sarah Borgstede, Micha Chishti, and Deborah Lash (RESULTS)

Friday, March 23, 2018

Advocacy Made Easy: Outreach Events

For me, one of the most challenging advocacy actions is the Outreach Event. An in-person gathering to bring people to any group or cause is going to individually challenge everyone involved to step out of their comfort zones. Reaching out to like-minded others is inherently exciting, but it's important for us to also recognize that it isn't so easy for the average person. Every participant has to give up some personal time, go to a physical place that might be out of their way, and be open to new ideas and new personalities. As organizers, it's our job to remove as many barriers as possible, so that new folks find our events to be compelling enough to overcome hangups and hesitations.

In this post, I'll propose a few considerations to make your event more appealing to brand new prospective members and then give a sample agenda and tips that can be used for any organization!

Location: Who is your audience and where will they be most comfortable? Is your meeting place centrally located or easy to find? I just went to a school board candidate forum last night, mainly because it happened to be located at a place where my kids often have activities. I knew it was familiar and not too out of my way.  Even though our own homes and houses of worship are inexpensive and convenient for organizers, some people don't like going to private residences of strangers or feel out of place in churches, temples, and mosques. My favorite venues are restaurants that have back rooms that can be used for community events for free. When they have audio/visual hookups, that's even better! In St. Louis, that means Schafly's Bottleworks and "The Egg and I" restaurant chain. I'm always on the prowl for more venues. I've had feedback that some friends liked coming to my home because they were my friends who liked the familiar, relaxed atmosphere. I've also had feedback from strangers who joined my group that they liked our public library event because they felt it was safe, neutral territory for them. Consider your audience and pick the best place for them, not you!

Marketing: Let's face it. People don't really like to leave their houses anymore for something called an "Informational Meeting" My teenage daughter says, "I've been going to informational meetings for years, but I like them better when they're not called that." People DO like to go to a party, learn a new skill, or hear a speaker who they think is rare or special in some way. My events tend to have titles like "Action Workshop," "Celebration of Child Health Success," or "An Evening with ______." (fill in name of special speaker...or maybe "An Evening with Bundt Cakes" decide)

Child Friendliness: Are parents within your target audience? If yes, then you'd better think of some ways to keep those kids occupied and let parents know the kids are welcome. A coloring table in back with goldfish crackers? A separate room with a babysitter and a children's movie playing?

Once you've solidified your plan, you need to show up prepared. Here's my outreach meeting packing list. I've gotten to the point where I have a bag that's always packed with most of these things, so I don't have to scramble around every time.
  • Nametags
  • A/V equipment if necessary (laptop, speaker, projector, cables, microphone)
  • Extension cord
  • Snacks/coffee if needed
  • Sign-in sheet and pen for attendees
  • If writing letters to Congress: paper, pens, sample text for letters, clipboards if no tables
  • Camera for pictures to share on social media
  • Organization banner if you have one
  • Handouts
    • Overview of organization
    • Fact sheet about issue
    • Future ways to engage with your organization and contact info
    • Donation envelopes
Lastly, here's a very general sample agenda for the program portion of your event. Of course, you'll want to customize for your own organization and audience, but this will cover the basics!

Introduction: Who are you? What does your organization do?

Set Expectations: How long will your event presentation last? What are you going to cover? Any "norms" of the group to mention? For example: remaining non-partisan and not making jokes or disparaging remarks about other political parties.

Featured Speaker or Video: Show an inspirational video about what your organization does or highlighting the issue you are talking about. If you have one, it makes a nice break from just talking.

Small Group Discussion (if appropriate): Give small groups a question to tackle together and report back to the group. Consider: "Why is this issue personally important to you?" or "What kind of advocate would you like to be and what skills do you need to get there?"

Story from a Volunteer: Have one of your local volunteers share a story about what inspired them to take action and how it made them feel.

Explain Legislation: What is the specific piece of legislation that you are working to pass? How will it address your issue? How will real people benefit from it?

Action Training: Why does the type of action you are taking (phone call, letter to the editor, letter writing) matter? How do you do it? Demonstrate how to call Congress in front of people or show them written examples of letters to the editor. Allow time for them to complete the action and ask one person to call in front of everyone or to read what they have written.

Well, that's the bare bones of it. Now, go out and think about how to customize your event toward your audience and your organization. Feel free to share how it goes in the comment section. It's always great to learn from each other!

Friday, December 1, 2017

Anti-Poverty Mom's 2017 Gift Picks

Wow. This year has really been something else. It's true I haven't been blogging very much because I've been busy, like many of you, advocating to protect things like Medicaid, Social Security, children's health insurance, global health funding, global education programs, tax credits for Americans in poverty, women's rights, etc, etc, etc that have all been under attack in 2017. At this time of year, I like to suggest gifts that are good for the Earth or help people in poverty. This year, I think it's appropriate to look for those kinds of gifts even more. 

My general guidelines still stand: Buy local, shop small businesses, gift charity donations, think vintage, buy from places that support women who are survivors of trauma and/or poverty. This year, there is a heightened awareness that corporations are playing a bigger part in our politics than many of us previously realized. So, there's even more of a reason to make sure you spend your hard earned money on a responsible gift that helps people and will make your loved one happy, too. Here are my favorite new finds in 2017. For more ideas, search in this blog with the keywords "Gift Picks" to find my suggestions from past years that are likely still out there!

1. Lemon Chef's Soap from Ten Thousand Villages
I love this for host/hostess gifts for holiday dinners or parties. If someone has been cooking for you, this is especially appropriate! Made in India by people of the marginalized Harijan community, this soap has a lemon scent that rids hands of cooking odors. It's crafted from natural vegetable oils by traditional soap makers. The fragrance is unique and derived from herbs, roots, leaves, and flowers. It uses palm oil grown on local plantations. This oil provides work to local farmers and does not contribute to deforestation. 

2. Penzey's Hot Chocolate with a Hint of Mint
Great for kids and chocolate lovers! Penzey's may have headquarters in Wauwatosa, WI, but there is a local store here for me in St. Louis. Penzey's is well known for the owner's open stance against racism and the President's remarks against minority groups. So, if you want to give the give of a relaxing, sweet, delicious beverage that makes you feel good about supporting others willing to take a stand, check out their Hot Chocolate with a Hint of Mint ($10.55 for a 16 ox bag). They do also have a regular flavor and also a wide range of wonderful gift boxes.

3. A Warm Pink Hat for a January Women's March
Ok, I have no link for this. You need to do our own local homework to find a great knitter in your community willing to make you a pink hat. Pay a fair price for materials and labor, then ask if your knitter needs a ride to any of the Women's Marches taking place again on January 20. We didn't mean for this to be an annual thing, but now that sexual assault survivors are starting to be heard, it's fitting for us to keep the momentum going and show harassers and assaulters that we have not forgotten anything or anyone. Here's a list of scheduled marches around the country. Photo credit: Margo Chambers

Made for Freedom products are made by artisans in poverty who are in danger of becoming victims of human trafficking or have been victims already. By paying women a living wage, they remove the source of their vulnerability, and prevent them from turning to sex trafficking, exploitation or sweat shop labor as their only source of viable income. Some of their items are simply fun and pretty styles, but I rather like the "Speak Up" necklace and bracelet with a biblical verse from Proverbs that is a reminder to advocate: Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy. 
Okay, I've been testing this one for you all year. The description said, "Meet your new favorite bag!" and for me it was actually true. Noonday artisans are people in developing countries - mostly women - who work in partnership with Noonday to come up with designs together and sell them at a fair value to help artisans work out of poverty and to benefit adoptive families.  This bag is from India. At $178, it's a lot pricier than the other suggestions on my list, but it's a good value compared to similar bags you might buy from a regular retailer. Plus, if you find a local Noonday representative and host a party like I did, you can buy it for much, much less while helping even more people. It's huge size makes it my favorite lobby bag to take to Capitol Hill now because it easily holds standard folder sizes and I can use it as a show-and-tell piece to talk about partnership with entrepreneurs in developing countries in my meetings. Warning: Because of the unique vegetable tanning process used, over time the leather will transition from a light fawn to a rich caramel color...but in my opinion it just looks better and better!

6. Solar Powered Charger from Little Sun
Something techie that will help people in poverty AND be good for the earth! This solar power bank can harass the sun to fuel your phone, camera, or any USB-powered device. OR it can provide up to 150 hours of light. It is weather and UV-resistant for camping and other outdoor activities. Plus, for every charger sold (just like the Little Sun  lights I reviewed in 2014), the same exact product you buy is offered at a fair, locally-affordable price to someone in an underserved area. Pretty good deal for $99. On sale for $84.15 at