More Than a Roof and Four Walls

As a young professional in DC, one of the first questions I usually get asked is, “Where do you work?” I’m lucky because almost everyone has heard of Habitat for Humanity. But most people I talk to have no idea that Habitat for Humanity is a global organization, operating in nearly 70 countries.

In the US, Habitat is best known for mobilizing large teams of volunteers to build homes for low-income families. Families contribute sweat equity during the construction process and commit to repaying the cost of their home through a no-interest mortgage. It is incredible what can be accomplished with many hands. Last summer, over the course of a week, volunteers built and renovated 150 homes for the Carter Work Project in Edmonton, Canada. Habitat volunteers are so efficient they make housing look easy! But in reality, housing issues are incredibly complex, bringing together a wide range of sectors and systems.

As a Davidson Impact Fellow, I support Habitat’s global programs in a number of areas, including WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene), energy efficiency, urban development, gender equity, and land tenure security. Housing is more than a roof and four walls. In order to realize Habitat for Humanity’s vision of a world where everyone has a decent place to live, we must address all aspects of housing that affect low-income families around the world.

Adequate housing was recognized as part of the right to an adequate standard of living in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the 1966 International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. According to these standards, for a particular form of shelter to be considered “adequate” it must meet a number of conditions, including security of tenure, availability of services and infrastructure (water, sanitation, energy for cooking, heating, lighting, etc), affordability, habitability, accessibly, location, and cultural adequacy. In many regions around the world the greatest housing challenge is the quality, not the quantity, of available housing units. Addressing the global housing deficit often requires creative incremental solutions, rather than building new housing units. I want to introduce you to two of Habitat’s international housing initiatives to give you a sense of both my role and Habitat’s role as a leader in the global housing sector.

Solid Ground – Access to land for Shelter
The biggest surprise of my fellowship came right at the beginning: on Friday of my first week I was asked to go to South Africa to help finalize preparation for a regional conference on land governance and tenure security. I left the next morning! I will admit, on my way to South Africa I was not 100 percent sure why Habitat for Humanity – a housing organization – would be organizing a conference on land. But the answer is clear: without land there can be no housing. Access to land and housing fosters strength, resilience, and lies at the heart of ending poverty. At the regional conference, I learned that only about only about 40 countries in the world have well-functioning land administration systems, and in most developing countries less than 10% of the land is formally registered. Globally, 75 percent of people lack proper documentation to the land on which they live. Housing currently accounts for more than 70 percent of land use in most cities, yet 1 billion people living in cities lack secure land rights. Without secure tenure, families live in fear of eviction, loss of livelihood, and are often unable to access basic services, including water, sanitation and electricity. In 2016, Habitat for Humanity launched Solid Ground, the organization’s global advocacy campaign that aims to increase access to land for shelter for 10 million people. Local Habitat for Humanity organizations and partners implementing the campaign in 37 countries, and have already improved policies and systems projected to increase access to land for shelter for 1.6 million people. Without the constant threat of eviction looming, families feel secure to invest in their homes, making incremental improvements that increase both their quality of life and disaster resilience. Helping convene an international conference on land with 98 participants from over 20 countries really reinforced for me the intersectional nature of housing issues. Visit the Solid Ground website to read more about the conference my experience.

REELIH – Energy efficiency retrofits and market systems
One of the most unique Habitat programs I have had the opportunity to support is REELIH – Residential Energy Efficiency for Low Income Households – a joint project with USAID, which aims to improve living standards in multi-unit apartment buildings in Eastern Europe by developing regional and national strategies and resources to address the impact of rising energy prices on collective housing. Basic services – including energy, water and sanitation – are vital to adequate housing. Over 50% of Armenians, and 20% of Bosnians live in multi-unit Soviet-era residential buildings. These buildings, which account for 75-80% of apartments in Armenia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, were constructed cheaply, and often without any insulation. Traditionally energy costs have been heavily subsidized by the state, but now, with energy costs rising, a considerable portion of the region’s population lives in energy poverty – defined as spending more than 10% of household income on energy in order to heat their homes to a minimum standard of warmth. In winter months, families in Armenia and Bosnia and Herzegovina can be forced to spend 30-40% of their disposable incomes on heating. To date, REELIH has completed pilot retrofits on over 1200 housing units in three countries, providing families up to 50% in energy savings. Results from these pilot projects fuel advocacy activities to influence public policy and the energy efficiency sector. I’m not the only one who thinks REELIH is an amazing and innovative program – it recently received a special mention for the World Habitat Awards, which “recognize and highlight innovative, outstanding and sometimes revolutionary housing ideas, projects and programmers from across the world.”

These are just two examples, but Habitat for Humanity International has programs that address all aspects of “adequate housing”. The programs, and the houses themselves, may look different in each of the 70+ countries where Habitat works, but they all align with Habitat’s commitment to building strength, stability and self-reliance through shelter.

 

Expecting the Unexpected

“Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It’s the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy for you too.” – Frederick Buechner

At some point during each of the six audit projects assignments during the span of my fellowship with Habitat for Humanity International’s Internal Audit department, there has been a moment, if not moments, which have taken my breath away. These moments take on many forms – joy, heartbreak, discomfort – as I learned about the context in which Habitat is working. They are those moments that, while I can anticipate them coming, I can never quite be mentally and emotionally prepared. After this past year of service, I have learned to expect the unexpected.

As an Internal Audit department, our role distills to asking the right questions and observing the operations of each Habitat entity either domestically or internationally. Often, this involves analyzing financial statements, probing staff for longer answers, and most importantly, developing trusting and confidential relationships with each staff member. In addition to providing information on the Habitat entity’s operations, each individual provides critical insight as to the culture and socioeconomic situation of the communities and families Habitat serves. Anecdotes of her or his personal life pepper conversations, preparing me mentally for the homeowner visits.

The excursion to visit partner families in Madagascar is one that, five months later, I continue to have the same reaction. As the team piled out of the Habitat truck and proceeded to follow the GPS coordinates to the reported location, we set off on foot to traverse ragged dirt pathways. We zigzagged between half-finished houses, outdoor latrines, and buckets of standing drinking water as well as passing by families, children, and the occasional barnyard animals in the scorching 90°F heat of the January summer. I was reminded of the world’s deep need for more solutions for whom the fundamentals of daily life are missing – food, water, and shelter. Peering around a corner, I knew we had reached our final destination as I saw a home that was complete with a roof overhead and panes in the windows. That was the model Habitat home – a decent place to live.

During our conversations with the homeowners, who spoke only French and Malagasy, we learned that the mother and father felt that the Habitat home had provided a stable and dry structure in which to raise their three elementary-aged children. In addition to the primary goal of stable housing, the homeowners had been welcomed into the Habitat network of their rural community which provides additional non-quantifiable opportunities for support and friendship. The community formed in that village has brought deep joy to the partners and kids alike, and owning a decent and simple home has brought peace to the parents.

Each individual home I have visited this past year across the world – ranging from Madagascar to Malaysia – has provided joy, but only temporarily. It reaffirms the necessity of organizations such as Habitat to be working in locations of extreme need and poverty in order to empower partner families and provide sustainable support to these communities. But each project further stirs my intellectual and personal discomfort not only in the moment but months later as well. As my fellowship with Habitat for Humanity International draws to a close, I know that I will carry these moments forward which will prevent my own real peace and joy until the world’s deep needs have been met.

A Touch of Program

A Touch of Program

2015 Cutler Fellows, Faculty and Staff gather for a group photo in the United States Institute of Peace atrium.

Over the course of my Fellowship with Salzburg Global Seminar, I have focused the majority of my time in fundraising. Juggling the many projects in support of both institutional and individual giving for Salzburg Global keeps me busy, to say the least. Solicitations, grant proposals and reports are constantly circulating among the members of our team. We are always looking ahead to what is next on our fundraising plates and rarely do we have the time to stop and reflect about the end product – yes, the actual seminars.  So, witnessing the development team’s fundraising efforts come to fruition in successful, dynamic programs has been one of the most rewarding parts of my Davidson Impact Fellowship – first through the Young Cultural Innovators Forum in Salzburg and, more recently, in the third annual Salzburg Cutler Law Fellows Program in Washington D.C.

Just a couple of weeks ago, the Cutler Salzburg Fellows Program brought together 45 law students from the ten of the top American law schools; University of Chicago, Columbia, Duke University, Georgetown University, Harvard, New York University, University of Pennsylvania, Stanford, University of Virginia, and Yale. This two-day session was built around a unique workshop opportunity for students writing papers on topics within international law and legal practice. Students circulated their papers among their working groups and Faculty members before arriving in Washington. The program provided a platform for every student to receive approximately 30 minutes of critique on his or her paper from a group of individuals with fresh eyes and ideas.

I served as the photographer for Cutler Fellows program, floating between the workshop groups to capture snapshots of new interactions and lively discussions. I also attended the lectures and panels dispersed throughout the program from law school Faculty and other leaders in international law, including John Bellinger III (former Legal Advisor to the US Department of State and National Security Council under the George W. Bush administration),  Jeffrey Rosen (President and CEO, National Constitution Center) and The Honorable Justice Richard Goldstone (former Chief Prosecutor to the UN International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda). The students seemed excited to network with each other and engage with the program’s special guests. Seeing the program from start to finish was not only a nice break from the typical day in the office but also a nice reminder for why I do the work I do with Salzburg Global.

A Touch of Program

International Investment & Trade Negotiations panel with law school faculty members Rachel Brewster (Duke), moderator William Burke-White (University of Pennsylvania), Mark Wu (Harvard) and Jose Alvarez (NYU).

A Touch of Program

Cutler Fellows discuss their own papers in break-out groups. Each paper received an estimated 30 minutes of critique from students and faculty of other law schools.

A Touch of Program

The Honorable Justice Richard Goldstone speaks on ‘Personal Reflections on Law and Public Service’ at NYU Washington DC.

Ecuador: Ama La Vida (Ecuador: Love Life)

At the beginning of August I moved to Quito, Ecuador to begin my fellowship with Timmy Global Health. Before I talk about my fellowship, here is some background information on the organization I am working with and how I became their fellow.

Ecuador: Ama La Vida (Ecuador: Love Life)

About the organization: Timmy Global Health is a non-profit organization that expands access to healthcare and empowers volunteers to confront today’s most pressing global health challenges. Medical service teams travel to support 7 project sites in 5 countries by providing financial, medical, and human resources to the communities within each site. If you would like to know more about the organization visit www.timmyglobalhealth.org

How I became involved: My first year at Davidson I joined the college’s chapter of Timmy Global Health and it quickly became an integral part of my collegiate experience. Throughout my four years at Davidson I became more involved and dedicated to the organization’s mission to expand access to healthcare, including being the Davidson chapter President my senior year. Over winter break my last year I traveled to Quito, Ecuador on our chapter’s annual medical brigade. During the trip I was able to learn about TimmyCare (an electronic medical record system created specifically for Timmy Global Health) through using it in clinics and talking to the director of TimmyCare, Muz Ahmed. I left Ecuador knowing I wanted to go back to help expand TimmyCare; I just did not know how it could happen.

Ecuador: Ama La Vida (Ecuador: Love Life)

How I became the TimmyCare Fellow: When I was looking for jobs senior year all I could think about doing was returning to Ecuador to work with Timmy Global Health to improve TimmyCare. However, I would have had to go as a volunteer and did not have the means to do so for a long period of time. The new “Build Your Own” fellowship through the Davidson Impact Fellows program provided me the perfect opportunity to pursue my dream job for the year after graduation. By receiving this fellowship through Davidson I was awarded the opportunity to give back to an organization that is important to me, to develop my skills as a computer programmer, to learn about another culture through living in Ecuador, and so much more.

What I do: As the TimmyCare Fellow I work with the director of TimmyCare, Muz Ahmed, to help update and improve the system based on its functionality during clinics and feedback from the clinic volunteers. Most days involve researching ways to improve the system as well as changing the code to update TimmyCare. My background in computer science is a basic foundation through two courses I took at Davidson. Thus, a majority of my time is learning how to make the changes in the system – either through research or with the guidance of Muz.

Ecuador: Ama La Vida (Ecuador: Love Life)

Although my fellowship focuses on my work with TimmyCare, it also entails getting to know a new environment. The move from a small town in North Carolina to a big city in Ecuador has been the hardest obstacle for me to overcome so far in the fellowship. For example, before I moved I had never taken any form of public transportation. Now I use the public buses, the trolley, or taxi services almost daily. I still get lost on occasion, but I have learned that being lost is not always a bad thing. The other day I got to explore a part of the city I would have never seen otherwise because I went the wrong way to a co-worker’s house. Another big adjustment is the language barrier. I am conversational in Spanish, but did not realize how nervous I get when I speak it until I arrived here and in most situations, speaking Spanish is my only option. I have become more comfortable in Spanish conversations and have improved since I have been here. I still have a lot to learn during my time here – both through my work with TimmyCare and culturally. I had a slow start adjusting to living in Quito, but as I get accustomed to living here I am looking forward to the rest of my time as the TimmyCare Fellow.

On Route to Munich

On Route to Munich

The Greek Fellows pose with our Arts & Culture Program Director, Susi Seidl-Fox (10/22/2014).

I am on route via train to Munich after a memorable, successful trip to Salzburg, Austria. My time in with the Salzburg Global Seminar staff in Salzburg was truly priceless on both professional and personal levels. Since my first week with Salzburg Global, I have consistently emailed, called, and Skyped with our staff “across the pond” to gather or provide information on program content and development progress. Many of our projects require collaboration between the Salzburg and Washington D.C. offices. Spending time in-person with my Salzburg colleagues allowed me place faces with names, learn more about how the organization works as a whole and move current projects forward after four months of electronic exchanges.

Before I dive into my time at Schloss Leopoldskron, let me first provide some background information on Salzburg Global Seminar and how I fit into the organization. And, since I am trying to kill time on this train, I will use a fictional conversation I had with a fictional stranger sitting across from me to explain. SCENE.

Stranger: So, why are you traveling from Salzburg to Munich?

Me: I am traveling for business. I work for Salzburg Global Seminar. Have you ever heard of it?

Stranger: No, I actually haven’t. What is Salzburg Global Seminar?

Me: Ah! This is a question I am more equipped to answer after spending a week in Salzburg. So, here goes. Salzburg Global Seminar is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that convenes “current and future leaders from around the world to solve issues of global concern.” I work in our Washington D.C. office location. With a few exceptions, all of our programs are held at Salzburg Global’s Schloss Leopoldskron in Salzburg. And, since our establishment in 1947, we have brought together 25,000+ Fellows to tackle important questions and international issues. Today, we categorize these programs into three crosscutting clusters: Imagination, Sustainability and Justice. My position with Salzburg Global is titled Davidson Impact Fellow. 

Stranger: Oh, I think I might have heard about that organization once before… What does it mean to be the Davidson Impact Fellow at Salzburg Global?

Me: My position is a product of a partnership between Salzburg Global and Davidson College. As the inaugural Davidson Impact Fellow, I work primarily with our Development team. “What is development?” you might ask. In the non-profit sector, development means fundraising. My position is unlike any other role with Salzburg Global, as I get to work on projects for both institutional and individual giving. This month, my typical day in the D.C. office consists of me juggling research for funding next year’s programs, spearheading the invitation lists for our annual Cutler Lecture, and supporting the design of Salzburg Global’s end-of-year email series to our fellowship network. But, my so-called normal day seems to change month-to-month with our added programs. On top of my development work, I also support the Office for the President with occasional projects.

Stranger: So, how long were you at the Salzburg office and what were you doing there? 

Me: I was working in the Salzburg office over the past nine days. The main purpose of my trip was to work, observe, and participate in the pilot session of Salzburg Global’s Forum for Young Cultural Innovators (YCI). The YCI Forum is a ten-year program that brings together 50+ arts and culture leaders from around the world to develop their vision, entrepreneurial skills, and global networks needed to advance their organizations, their causes and their communities. Simply put, the idea is to have small groups of Fellows from 10-15 “Hubs” convene in Salzburg with other Hub groups year after year. After each YCI Forum, the Fellows return to their respective Hubs with access to a stronger local and international network of cultural leaders and innovators. Our goal is to 1) provide Fellows 4 applicable skills-training workshops for professional development and 2) facilitate collaborative projects within and across the Hubs. I was involved with some of the development research for this program, so it was very exciting experience the session from beginning to end. I attended a few of the workshops and met Fellows from Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Cambodia, Slovakia, The Netherlands, Argentina, Austria, and the U.S. I am eager to see what collaborations evolve from the YCI Forum. Next month, I will join our Baltimore participants for a follow up meeting to hear their feedback on the program and thoughts for next year.

SCENE.

(And, the imaginary stranger was very blunt and uninterested in learning more). Until next time!

On Route to Munich

The YCI group gather in the Robinson Gallery to talk about the Hubs and projects in their local communities (10/19/2014).

On Route to Munich

Argentine Salzburg Global Fellows, Florencia Rivieri and Moira Rubio Brennan, during their visit into town (10/19/2014).

On Route to Munich

The view of Schloss Leopoldskron at night (10/20/2014).

Reflections at Schloss Leopoldskron

Since 1947, thousands of people have been invited to retreat at the Schloss Leopoldskron for Salzburg Global Seminar (SGS) programs. During their stay, our participants discuss large topics, forge new friendships with people around the world, and reflect on the work they have done and will do when they return home. Last week, I arrived in Salzburg, Austria to attend the pilot program of our ten-year long Forum for Young Cultural Innovators (YCI). The session came to a close today. And, from my five days working, observing, and participating in the YCI Forum I became more attuned to the importance of a shared understanding of vocabulary and definitions of the selected vocabulary before diving into lengthy conversation. The participants had to pause, rewind, and ask: Do buzzwords like innovation or entrepreneur mean the same thing in Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Cambodia, Austria, The Netherlands, Slovakia, England, Greece, and America? And, if not, what will those words mean in our discussion?

Reflections at Schloss Leopoldskron

Schloss Leopoldskron from across the lake (10/18/2014).

I apply this same logic to a word that has cause some confusion in my time working with SGS. The word is fellow. See the three relevant definitions below.

Fellow (fel-oʊ), n. 1. (informal) a man or a boy; 2. (usually fellows) A person in the same position, involved in the same activity, or otherwise associated with another; 3. (also research fellow) An elected graduate receiving a stipend for a period of research. Source: Oxford Dictionaries.

I have seen all three uses of fellow used in just one day in the office. Distinguishing the three from one another is important for my explaining what I do (and for the sake of my future blog posts). Definition 1 . is pretty straight forward and may be used from time to time though not often. Definition 2. is applied to the individuals who are participating or have participated in Salzburg Global programs. Our organization uses the word fellowship for our alumni network of 25,000+ fellows linked through the shared experience of the Seminar. Last, definition 3. is most applicable to me and my role with SGS. I stretch “period of research” to my one-year position in non-profit development supported by both Davidson College and SGS. Although, now that I have participated in the YCI Forum I could argue I fit both definitions 2. and 3.

More to come soon on the YCI Forum and my takeaways from the lectures, workshops, and conversations I joined.

Reflections at Schloss Leopoldskron

My view of Untersberg from the Schloss Leopoldskron (10/16/2014).

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