How Christmas reminds me of the Capitol

It’s been awhile since I’ve read the Hunger Games though I’ve just recently watched the Mockingjay part 2.  Watching it right in the midst of the Christmas season, I can’t help but think of how close we come to the Capitol during the Christmas season.

Food

Christmas Christmas dinner

In the Capitol there’s an abundance of rich, delicous tasting and ornately decorated food, just like what we aim for during Christmas and other holidays.  There’s so much food that people take a drink to make themselves throw up, while we don’t have this many people probably wish they did as they pack on unwanted pounds during the Christmas season.

Clothing

People are so obsessed with fashion in the Capitol that their outfits and makeup appear outlandish. While maybe our normal fashion isn’t to that point, the fact that we spend hours or weeks searching for the ugliest Christmas sweater to wear for a couple hours is pretty similar. We also don’t hesitate to drop tons of money on dresses which are only culturally acceptable to wear once.

Christmas Cards and Wrapping Paper

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While we may not all be buying this Swarovski hand made wrapping, most people spend a substantial amount of money on gift wrap and cards which are ornately designed but are meant to be looked at and thrown away immediately, or at best recycled.

Christmas Lights

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When a large portion of the world’s population can’t afford safe or reliable lighting, it seems strange that we spend so much time and money on ornamental lighting.

 

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What people with chronic illnesses want for Christmas

Chornic Illness (1)

  • Health coverage/benefits While Canada has a health care system where most people could easily survive without health coverage or benefits, having health benefits are huge for those with chronic illnesses that require regular medication, physio or who need to use an ambulance periodically.
  • Drugs Many people with chronic illnesses take more medication in a day than typical people take in a year. Health plans at best only cover a percentage and sometimes medication isn’t covered at all. The cost of drugs quickly add up.
  • More sick days While everyone probably wishes that they had more sick days, people with chronic illnesses have to contend with the typical colds and flus as well as whatever condition(s) or disease(s) they have.
  • Massages Pain is a huge symptom for many people with chronic illnesses and oftentimes they can have days where everything hurts.
  • People to stay home when they are sick Unfortunately having a chronic illness or disease does not make you immune to catching colds and flus and in most cases makes it a lot easier. It also takes longer to recover and increases the chances of complications.
  • The first morning appointment Waiting in doctor’s offices is no fun. People with chronic illnesses often have to see doctors more frequently, which means more waiting. They also oftentimes have to see specialists who are usually especially backed up and will leave you waiting for hours. The coveted first morning appointment gives you hope that you may be able to get out while it’s still daylight and possibly go back to work or the rest of your life.
  • Delivery For those numerous days people with chronic illnesses don’t feel well, if everything could just come to us that would be great. This includes food, drugs and any other things we need to survive. Running errands and doing everyday tasks like cooking and laundry simply feel insurmountable at times.

I Expect Host Cities To Bring It

With the Sochi 2014 Olympics just days from starting the media is abuzz over Sochi’s inadequate accommodations, arrests, wild dogs killing and Russia’s homophobic and oppressive laws. The spotlight and pressure on Sochi, a small resort city in Russia has never been bigger and likely never will. The primarily negative media attention and scrutiny on Olympic host cities and countries prior othe the Olympics is unmatched. The world is examining Sochi with a microscope, leaving no non existent manhole, stray dog, nor dual toilet unturned. It’s likely a more thorough and widespread examination of Sochi than would ever be commissioned or conducted by a development, government, economic or real estate agency. And with Sochi putting in an Olympic bid and securing and agreeing to host the Olympics, it’s entirely warranted.

The Olympics have always been about competition and host cities have never failed to get in the spirit. Host cities have promised and usually delivered on bigger, more impressive venues and the most grandiose opening ceremonies. The public seems to have reached its maximum expectations for both insanely large sporting facilities that will never be used again and one time pyrotechnic 4D musical cultural circus extravaganzas and have now taken a broader humanitarian scope to examine and evaluate host cities. People are now looking at things like environmentalism, human rights, homeless and the economic situation to evaluate the Olympic cities. No longer is the Olympic facade and tourist commercial version of a city good enough for people, they want cities to be frontrunners in green energy, good governance, ending poverty and upholding human rights. Is this unrealistic? Most definitely but it’s the Olympics, where athletes are expected to push the boundaries of sport and their bodies to achieve new records. And despite multiple studies that show the human body may have reached it’s maximum, records continue to be broken. Just as athletes work meticulously for years to make and perform the best at the Olympics, I expect cities that apply and are chosen to host the Games to apply themselves similarly.
In the end I don’t think we are asking host cities for perfection, just for them to be better and to strive to be the best in these regards. Hopefully while we do this we are examining our home cities and countries and even our own actions with the same thoroughness.  After all while it might be easy to see a country’s mistakes from far away, it’s easier to enact change where you live.

The Double Standard and the Nonprofit Dilemma

Imagine a company that doesn’t outsource its work, supports local businesses, pays all its employees a living wage, throws Christmas parties and appreciation events for their staff, focuses heavily on staff training and education, pays its interns, provides benefits for its employees, pays proven and qualified staff that go well beyond their role to do a good job mid range salaries for their field and invests in research on an ongoing basis. Because of their ability to attract and retain top level staff and invest in research, the company is able to produce high quality, technologically advanced products. Even though the products may cost more people are more than willing to pay for the products because of the technology, innovation and reputation of the company. To most people this sounds like the ideal company with the one objectionable item being that qualified and extremely hardworking staff only get paid mid range salaries. When a company invests in their staff and community it is called a model company, socially responsible and a place that you should buy from and invest in. A nonprofit that fulfills any of the above though is demonized for being frivolous and spending too much on staff and administration.

Nonprofits, which cover the gap of needs and services that the government and business deem too difficult and not profitable enough to get involved in are expected to be chronically understaffed, extremely underpay the staff that they do employ and have some sort of system that allows them to be administration free while keeping track of both outcomes and every dollar that comes in and out. While fulfilling these 3 obligations organizations are expected to operate at amazing efficiency to solve problems of world hunger, homelessness and poverty.

Understaffing

While no one would ever expect a one person company to make much of an impact in the world, people expect a one person nonprofit to. While a nonprofit does have the benefit of being able to attract volunteers, the work that volunteers are able to do is vastly different than a paid employee would do and volunteers also require training and supervision. Expecting a nonprofit to predominantly run off of volunteers is the equivalent of getting multiple people to run a business in their spare time and not giving them any monetary compensation or any repercussions for not doing their job.

Underpaying

The fact that there are people in charities making millions of dollars gets thrown around a lot and yes, there are a few executives in large charities that make this much. Companies of an equivalent size are still likely paying at least 2 to 10 times more to their executives. It’s considered good business practice to go to great lengths and great paychecks to recruit top talent to manage large international companies, with the reasoning being that to manage companies of that size top level leadership, skills and ideas are crucial. Not surprisingly large charities benefit from having great leadership, skills and ideas at the top as well. While it might be true that no one in the world should be making a million, when nonprofits have the same needs of top quality experienced talent that companies have they have to be able to pay someone an amount that’s in the same ballpark.

While high monetary compensation of employees is cited by people as a reason why charities are bad and why they don’t donate, I am pretty sure the majority of people know that this is bullshit. I have never heard anyone say that they would switch to working in the nonprofit sector since the pay is so great, nor a parent that’s relieved when their kid wants to go into the nonprofit sector because they know that they’ll be making big money. The vast majority of staff in the nonprofit industry are underpaid. While people criticized Wal-Mart for underpaying it’s employees to the extent that Wal-Mart needs to set up donation bins in the store for its own employees, people praise charities that do the same thing. With the wages paid in many nonprofits, people either think that only the 1%, with enough built up wealth to sustain themselves without a well paying job should be working in nonprofits, or they expect those that work at nonprofits to be utilizing charities themselves  in order to survive. The age of young, idealistic skilled not rich people going to work in the nonprofit industry is over. While most people in the sector, me included are willing to take a paycut in order to do “good work and work that we believe in”, most people also aren’t content to live below the poverty line for long periods of time. The turnover at many nonprofits is high because of the low wages and lack of benefits. While a high turnover might be ok at jobs requiring little skill, because nonprofits are usually understaffed and have to do multiple roles, the turnover is extremely damaging to progress.

Administration costs/Overhead

“To this day, they make do with donated furniture and second-hand computers. Staff get multiple quotes on substantial purchases to make sure they’re getting the best price, and expenses are scrutinized by upper management.” http://www.moneysense.ca/spend/which-charities-use-your-money-most-efficiently

It has become common for companies to invest money into trying to create the best work environments for their staff hiring designers and investing in nap rooms, game rooms and art. Charities on the other hand are not expected in to invest any money on their office decor, instead they rely on donations. If a clearcut answer ever emerges to whether open offices or cubicles improves productivity, nonprofits will be doing the opposite, because after all they should be using the donated furniture. While office furniture likely wouldn’t drastically improve workplace performance, things like computers and internet speed definitely do. Many nonprofits are reluctant to spend money on technology, likely influenced by the public into thinking that frugality is the answer for everything. It is a common complaint that charities have not caught on to web and mobile technologies though and walking into the offices of nonprofits, it’s pretty easy to see the reason why. For some reason forcing nonprofits to use technology from 10 years ago has caused them to fall ten years back. Perhaps with the increasing school underfunding, students may end up graduating equipped with the knowledge to use computers that are as old them.

The quickest and easiest way to lower administration costs would be to donate large sums of cash anonymously with no strings attached. A large part of a charity’s administration that is unnecessary to the work they are doing is processing donations and providing tax receipts. While both donors and charities themselves would like to be able to better measure and track their successes and evaluate their programs, with donors unwilling to donate to administrative costs, this is simply not possible.

When looking at companies to invest in people look at the company’s past successes, current projects and the previous successes of the CEO. When evaluating a nonprofit people look at the amount of money going towards the cause, the pay of the executive director and other staff and the amount of money spent on administration. Measuring how much money goes towards a cause is the equivalent of measuring a company’s success on how much product they are able to produce, with no regard to what the quality of the product is and whether people are actually buying it. While my previous blog post goes into further detail, essentially when trying to evaluate or predict a charity’s success, you should be looking at similar things as a business. The current standards and expectations that we have in place for nonprofits are wrong and are moving organizations further and further away from their goals.

The Gift Giving Guide for the Selfish Philanthropist and Humanitarian

AKA How to get gifts for other people that don’t make you look like you care about the rest of the world exponentially more than your friends or How to slowly sucker your friends into becoming humanitarians and global citizens

You volunteer all the time, sponsor children and animals and collect donations instead of gifts. However your friends don’t do the same. And similarly to how obese people don’t want to be reminded that they are fat, it’s endangering their lives and they should be going on a diet and exercising during Christmas, people don’t want to be reminded that their shopping habits and consumption patterns are horrible for the environment, are contributing to global poverty and are increasing corporate power. They also may not really want a picture of a goat that’s been given to someone in a third world country. Here’s how to buy gifts that your friends will enjoy and will also be endearing to your humanitarian selfish self.

1)    Buy Fair Trade- By buying fair trade you ensure that the farmers and artisans that have made the product get paid a fair wage, money is put into a community fund for things like schools, there’s no child labor used and efforts are made so that the product is produced as environmentally sustainably as possible. Unlike a picture of a goat or a regular donation, the person also gets a concrete and usually well made, handcrafted and unique item out of it. Some good fair trade Christmas gifts include chocolate, jewelry, coffee, sports balls and bags. Fair trade also usually includes information about where they are from and how they benefit the community and the people that make it, so it’s a great way of getting people informed about other regions and how what they buy can help the world. Fair trade is also an easier sell with the many recent factory fires and deaths in the news with people being receptive to means of manufacturing that ensure that the people that make them are fairly treated.

2)      Buy products from charities- Large unisex shirts with the charity logo cheaply screenprinted on are no longer the only thing that charities sell. With the new focus on social enterprise, many charities have upped their product lines and online stores. Many charities have a good selection of nicely designed apparel, keychains and stuffed animals. This combined with charity products like Livestrong bracelets catching fire a few years ago mean that items from charities can be fashionable and trendy. As showcased on the movie 21 Jump Street, caring about the world is also in.

3)      Buy them tickets to a charity event- Food, drinks, movies music, art, sports, celebrities and more.  Charity events have it all these days. Fundraisers are fun, innovative and often the best party or event in town nowadays. Not only will the money go to a good cause, your friend will have a good time and end up learning more about the charity at the event.

4)      Charity Gift Cards- For the slightly more involved friends and family, get a charity gift card. Not one for a charity that you love but one where they can choose which charity they want to give to. They are sure to find something they are passionate about whether it be cancer, animals, the environments, kids, sports, art or music or anything in between. By letting them make the choice they are empowered and will become more knowledgeable about different charities. www.atbcares.com
http://www.canadahelps.org/GiftCards/

How to choose the perfect charity and donate effectively

Here’s how to find a charity that you will love and feel confident about.

1) Find a cause that you love and feel passionate about to donate to.

There are millions of charities out there and the sector continues to grow. While I’m not convinced that the sector’s volume and growth is a good thing, it does mean that there is guaranteed to be a charity for every interest that you have, and every interest that you can possibly have in the future. There must be something about animals, kids, the disabled, seniors, veterans, the environment, the arts, music, human rights, international development, local development, technology, medicine and sports that you feel strongly about and think can be improved. Once you’ve pinpointed what causes you are interested in, Google for charities working in the area or check out these sites if you are in Canada Charity Village, Canada Revenue Agency. If you are in Calgary feel free to msg me.

2) Find the right charity

After you have found some charities that match your interests, research them. Find out if they target areas of the cause that you are interested in and feel strongly about and that they align with your ethical and religious beliefs. This information should be easy enough to find on the organization’s website.

3) Find out if the organization is effective.

After you find a charity or a couple of charities that do something that you care deeply about, see if they are working towards the cause effectively. While information about an organization’s administrative costs and the pay of their top executives is readily available, Don’t bother looking it up. It’s a horrible barometer of how effective a charity is and while I’ll explain it further in another post, if this isn’t something that you would use to measure or predict the success of a company, why would you use it to measure the success of a charity? What you should be looking at is what the charity is currently doing, how the charity measures success, what it’s done in the past, how it addresses and adapts from failures, what it’s future plans are and how it collaborates with other nonprofits, businesses and government in the sector. Sadly, this information may not be that easy to find. It’s likely not available on an organizations website so your best bet would be to email or phone and ask. In all honesty if the charity is not organized or doesn’t care enough to get back to you I wouldn’t donate there.

4) Find Out How You Can Best Help the Charity

If everything checks out with the charity, find out how you can best help. It may not necessarily be monetary and it may not be now. While no organization would ever refuse a monetary donation, oftentimes organizations can benefit hugely from donations of time, space, expertise, technology, publicity, partnerships and objects. To find out I would ask the organization questions like what is impeding their progress or success the most, what would make it easier to focus and spend more time on their programs and initiatives and what do they feel like they waste their time doing the most.

The Amazing Race Canada: Jet and Dave Lose and Sexism Wins

Last night on Amazing Race Canada, not only did my favorite Amazing Race team Jet and Dave get eliminated, they got eliminated doing a roadblock that showed how prevalent sexism still is.

The roadblock was busking, something that could have been exciting as contestants showed off some secret skills that they hadn’t divulged. Unfortunately due to either restrictions on what the contestants could do, or a lack of busking talent the challenge and the footage of it fell a little flat. Tim Sr showed off some basic juggling, Dave sang Row Row Row Your Boat and played with some devil sticks and Celina waved a ribbon around and hula hooped. All oft these things were equally generic, unimpressive and not entertaining. Jody told war stories which, while not really street performance friendly was authentic and unique. Despite this, Celina excelled at the challenge, starting last finishing first and making more money than she actually needed to. The reason for this?
Because she’s female and not bad looking.

While her talent she was showcasing was no greater than that of Tim Sr and Dave and probably less than Jody,  Celina excelled at busking because she was female. The advantages of her gender were not lost on her, nor on anyone else.  At the beginning she explains that she picked a hula hoop so people could look at her hips move around and her sister Vanessa reminds her to “push out the boobs”. Jet and Dave look at her and remark that “I would donate to that” and “She is shaking that moneymaker”. This speaks volumes of how gender roles and sexism are still extremely prevalent in society. While men’s rights activists may claim that this is an unfair advantage women have since it eludes to the fact that women can use their looks more lucratively than men can, in reality the fact that women are judged and valued so much for their appearance instead of their talent or skills is extremely detrimental. It is the reason that women are so self conscious about their body image and why oftentimes they have to spend a lot of time on their appearance. Instead of judging women on their education, skills, talent or work ethic women are constantly and sometimes solely being judged by their appearance and they are conscious of that.

The Blackberry Aftershow added to this sexism dubbing the busking challenge the “hot chick challenge”, and congratulating them for their success in it. While it was pretty clear that the girls didn’t win off of talent, naming the challenge this made it crystal clear that the girls managed to do so well at busking because they are female and attractive. Unlike racism or other forms of sexism, there is no need to pretend that females are judged and rewarded for how they look.

As much as Miley Cyrus twerking at the VMAs was a surprise and something that no one wanted to see, when women are celebrated and rewarded solely for shaking their moneymakers, it is easy to see how Miley’s performance came to be. In truth I feel that watching this busking roadblock would be equally as damaging and hard to explain to an impressionable young child as Miley’s VMA performance.