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All We Can Save – Team Reflections

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Earlier this year, the IDF team collectively read and discussed All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis, a collection of essays by women leading the climate movement, edited by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine K. Wilkinson. Here we share some of our personal thoughts, learnings, and reflections.

I like data. Data is important to measure issues and quantify problems. But more than data, the storyteller in me likes stories that remind us of our humanity  and how it’s affected by the challenges that we face. This book puts human/women’s faces on the climate change crisis…. As I kept thinking about it, I thought about (see photo) the leader of a women’s group in Haiti called Fanm Vanyan (which means Courageous Women). Her group grows citrus trees that have been dying because of increasing droughts. They spend hours at night trying to get water from a defective pump. She can tell us about the climate crisis though she doesn’t know the term. We, in the aid sector, have been building and we are still building fields around concepts brimming with ever growing terminology (climate change/crisis, social protection, localization, decolonization)… Sometimes, I just want to scale down the scaffolding and say: “Please, come. Let’s just meet and serve communities.” – Marie-Rose Romain Murphy, Project Director, The Girl Child & Her Long Walk to Freedom

In an age when temperatures are rising, climate-anxiety is filling the space on therapists’ couches, and we are bombarded by eco-disasters across the globe it is hard to find a sense of hope. More than a collection of essays, All We Can Save became a grounding experience for me to move out of a place of feeling hopeless, helpless, and powerless. Instead, seeing a common thread through the individual stories, I found a deep sense of community-driven change; helping me see that my role is part of a larger collective. All We Can Save has me shifting to a perspective of how to engage within a community to further the sacred work already in progress – and to see the climate crisis as an opportunity of communal spiritual practice. – Leah Questad, Project Manager

A dominant and recurring theme throughout the collection of essays and poems in All We Can Save is that of community. Building an inclusive community, one that centers marginalized communities, communities of color, and Indigenous peoples, is what we need to effectively address the climate crisis at hand. As Johnson and Wilkinson observe in the final essay of the book, “From the foundation of science and community . . . [k]now that we already have most of the solutions we need – from regenerative farming to renewable energy to restored ecosystems to redesigned mobility, materials, and structures . . . we just need to get to it.” We all have a role we can play if we’re willing to be part of a collective and collaborative solution. – Jen Oakley, Program Partner

We have been given the wonderful gift of this planet and it is difficult to see how we are continuing to destroy it. As it has been said many times over the years at my church, “it is very easy to ruin something and it can be done quickly, but it takes tremendous time and effort to build something.” (based on Matthew 7:13-14, the narrow and wide gates) All We Can Save is a powerful anthology that brings together many perspectives and voices about the topic of climate change. There is a glimmer of hope reading about the grassroots efforts of many women who are engaging in the effort to save this planet and to be challenged to think how decisions in daily life impact the health of the planet. What am I using or purchasing today? What can I do today to be part of this collective force to make a difference in the race to save this wonderful gift? – Sonya van der Meer, Project Coordinator, The Girl Child & Her Long Walk to Freedom

Following the release of the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, the United Nations’ Secretary-General António Guterres warned that the world is “sleepwalking to climate catastrophe.” For me, All We Can Save was another wake-up call, and perhaps more importantly an invitation to action, from women and girls across the globe. It lifted up the power that each of us holds to make change and offers insight into different pathways to engage with the climate movement. Taken together the stories and essays deepened my understanding of the frontline impacts that are happening now, while highlighting the extraordinary work that women and girls are doing to save what still can be saved. It helped me to see that while the issues are incredibly complex, if we listen to people working in frontline communities for climate justice, we will discover ways of moving forward and find reasons for hope. I believe that we need these stories to help shift the narrative around climate change and move us to action that is rooted in our shared love of the earth and our fellow human beings as well as in an understanding that while there is no one correct way to engage, there is urgency for each of us to act. – Sheila Leddy, Program Partner

I really enjoyed the breadth of voices this book brought forward on what has to be one of our most pressing existential risks as a species and planet. I especially appreciated reflecting on both community centered solutions and indigenous wisdom, Read More

It Takes a Network: The Global Learning Community

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Early on in my own philanthropic learning curve, I had the opportunity to travel to Cambodia and meet Helen Sworn and colleagues at Chab Dai, a network of local organizations working together to combat the scourge of human trafficking. Looking back, I can see how learning from and seeing in action the power of the “network effect” has shaped my own lens on social change and how we approach our work at the Imago Dei Fund. It is our pleasure to host this blog post sharing Chab Dai’s approach to cultivating an intentional ecosystem to combat the deeply entrenched global scourge of human trafficking and their pivot to taking this work global. As I read this, I am reminded of how small our world is, particularly as we are emerging out of this global pandemic, and how collective action can take each of our humble efforts and make them part of something larger than ourselves. – Emily Nielsen Jones, Founding Partner & Trustee

“None of us, including me, ever do great things. But we can all do small things, with great love, and together we can do something wonderful.” – Mother Teresa

The Global Learning Community (GLC), started by Chab Dai in 2012, was modelled on years of experience in building a coordinated and informed response to trafficking in and through the Cambodia coalition which has been operating since 2005. The GLC project continued to grow with an increasingly global focus and worked to provide support and services to grassroots organisations with a passion for professional and meaningful interventions and programmes in Asia, Africa and North America. With intentional relational growth, members cultivated a space for honest and safe conversations around the challenges, successes and growing pains of the movement. GLC members valued the opportunities to dig deep into how to build stronger programmes, organisational capacity, create monitoring and evaluation frameworks and work for equitable and ethical research.

Helen Sworn

The movement is truly building the movement. Almost 200 members from 42 countries are working together – devoting time and energy, outside their already busy work, to strengthen and foster a comprehensive, connected and competent anti-trafficking and modern slavery movement.

There have been many changes in the past two years that have led to this. The first few months of the pandemic brought global lockdowns and travel restrictions that appeared to grind the world to a halt. As the systematic fault lines of inequalities and vulnerabilities were deepened, victims of trafficking and vulnerable migrants were left with few options when considering migration or returning home.

Sharon Jacques

These mounting challenges called for further collaboration on a global level in an attempt to meet the complex challenges of disrupting human trafficking.

In 2020, an evaluation collected the experiences and thoughts of GLC members with the specific aim of understanding how the GLC could meet their needs, strengthen network and coalition building and generally, to determine what was needed to meaningfully help and connect grassroots anti-trafficking organisations.

The findings of the evaluation provided key insights into the priorities of the community, which were focused around:

  • a desire to work more closely together to improve systems and practises
  • elevate the collective voice of grassroots anti-trafficking organisations
  • push for rigorous research and monitoring, evaluation and learning

The evaluation highlighted community members’ interest in:

  • building stronger connections with fellow members
  • co-working on projects that would be accessible and beneficial to the broader grassroots anti-trafficking community.

Drawing from the findings of the evaluation and the rich process of taking a sabbatical, we began to work with the community to transition the GLC from a Chab Dai project to a cooperative community project.

Dr. Leah Edwards

This process began with open and dynamic conversations around the vision, mission and core values of the project, further clarifying a project focus on supporting, inspiring and growing one another as the anti-trafficking and modern slavery movement.

A year on from the GLC in its new form, the community has grown to include 192 members from 42 countries. The community has enthusiastically participated in shaping and leading more than half the monthly learning call topics and discussions and contributed subject matter expertise and collaboration to topical calls. GLC members have led Coffee Corner Calls on diverse topics ranging from the intersection of child begging and human trafficking, monitoring and evaluation, decolonising language, the LGBTQ+ community and the need for improved funding structures in the movement.

Beyond the interactive learning conversations, GLC members have connected and begun work on collaborative research and advocacy projects and assisted one another on cross border anti-trafficking cases and the reintegration of survivors of trafficking.

While international insecurity remains, the global grassroots anti-trafficking sector continues to advance leading practices and cultivate an honest community of practice and change.

A full summary of the GLC’s activities can be found in the 2021 Annual Report.

Helen Sworn, Sharon Jacques, and Dr Leah Edwards comprise the GLC Secretariat.

The Devastating Impact of Decriminalizing the Sex Trade

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The Imago Dei Fund is committed to advancing human rights, human dignity, and gender balance. Through our work and partnerships, we seek to mend a broken world where girls and women are too often devalued, oppressed, and denied basic human agency. We also believe that solutions lie in centering the voices of women and girls to direct and drive change. Our partner World Without Exploitation embodies this approach, as you’ll read in WorldWE National Director Lauren Hersh’s story below. ~ Katinka Hakuta, Grants Manager

Lauren Hersh

Bea was 15-years-old when she was first sold in the sex trade. For two years, Bea was passed between pimps and bought by more sex buyers than she could possibly count. I learned about Bea by accident. As a New York City prosecutor, I had been investigating a Brooklyn-based brothel and someone mentioned that there was a “girl being sold out of a neighborhood apartment.”

For weeks, detectives watched the location. Expensive vehicles lined the street. Throughout the day, they observed men going in and out of a brownstone. They witnessed young women exiting the location late at night. Neighbors confirmed the open secret– that the location was a known brothel and was run by a pimp.

Because pimping and sex buying were illegal, we were able to seek a search warrant. When police entered the location, they found a badly beaten Bea and clear signs of sex trafficking.

That was a decade ago.

But in the last few years, instead of paving the way toward progress, we’ve seen society take several steps backward.

Across the country, a well-funded movement to decriminalize the sex trade in its entirety has gained momentum. Proponents of these proposals seek to provide a free pass to sex buyers and make pimps legitimate business owners. In New York, New Hampshire, Vermont and Louisiana, legislation has been introduced to make pimping, sex buying, and brothel owning lawful. Right now in Oregon, there is a pending ballot initiative introduced by an uber-wealthy, self-admitted sex buyer to make the sex trade completely legal. If any of these dangerous measures were to pass, brothels, like the one we investigated in Brooklyn, would be businesses like any other, and search warrants would be nearly impossible to obtain.

If you are outraged, you are not alone. Sex trade survivors, anti-trafficking organizations, and child rights agencies all across America are joining forces and unequivocally opposing these dangerous proposals. Collectively, we are urging lawmakers to examine the devastating harms that plague the sex trade and the drastic racial, gender, and economic disparity between the buyers and those bought.

In jurisdictions throughout the country, research is shining a light on the inherent inequality in the sex trade. Both Seattle and Washington, DC, amassed data that demonstrate that women of color, children, and LGBTQ+ youth are disproportionately overrepresented in the sex trade and that their buyers tend to be men–many of whom are white–with privilege and disposable income. In countries where the sex trade is legal, the demand for commercial sex expands and the void is quickly filled by those in society with the least choices. Where there is a legal sex trade, violent crime flourishes nearby.

But a common-sense, survivor-supported solution exists. Known as “The Equality Model,” this solution seeks to hold accountable exploiters–pimps, sex buyers and brothel owners–for the damage they cause. However, this approach also provides exit services, not criminal penalties, for those sold in the sex trade. With survivors at the helm, World Without Exploitation and our two hundred partners are working to bring this human rights model to communities across America. With the support of the Imago Dei Fund, we are meeting with lawmakers, educating leaders, and inspiring the public to join our movement.

A legal sex trade can never be safe, no matter what protections are put in place. It is time to prevent trauma and reduce harm, not create systems that embolden exploitation. For Bea and so many others, it’s time to reject full decriminalization and make The Equality Model a reality.

Lauren Hersh is the National Director of World Without Exploitation and an internationally recognized lawyer, activist, educator and writer working to combat violence against women and girls in schools, online and in the legal arena.

Photos credit: World Without Exploitation

Remembering Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

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When people think of the work of “Truth and Reconciliation” we tend to think of the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the work of healing racial oppression and pain. We are pleased to share this piece honoring his legacy written by leaders of a global movement applying the same principles the Archbishop lived by and taught to the historic and global pain/struggles across the divide of gender. – Emily Nielsen Jones

My dear Brothers and Sisters, we are ONE human family. . . We can be human only together. ~
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

We pray for the peace of the soul of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, who passed away on the day after Christmas. Our sincere and deepest condolences and prayers go to Leah Tutu, Rev. Mpho Tutu van Furth, and the whole Tutu family, as well as our many South African friends, and all those around the world who love him so dearly.

Through our friends and colleagues Dr. Dorothea Hendricks and Rev. Mpho Tutu van Furth, we had the immense privilege and joy of meeting with Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu several times and receiving his blessing and endorsement for our Gender Equity and Reconciliation International (GERI) program, and for our Dawn of Interspirituality program.

“We are inaugurating and announcing this collaboration with an outstanding group [Gender Equity and Reconciliation International] that has done wonders in helping to recover the humanity of women,” said Archbishop Tutu.

Cynthia Brix (center) and Will Keepin (right) share a laugh with Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

The GERI program was inspired by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, led by Archbishop Tutu. The entire human family lives under the tyranny of a veritable ‘gender apartheid’ — a structural oppression that afflicts women and men and people of all gender identities, irrespective of sexual orientation. “We have undermined our humanity by the treatment that we have meted out to women,” said Archbishop Tutu, “just as much as racists undermine their humanity by treating others as less than human.”

“Gender Reconciliation is the logical next step for our country,” said Rev. Mpho Tutu van Furth, former Executive Director of the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation, and daughter of the Tutus. The GERI program applies principles of truth and reconciliation to transform gender injustice, cultivate equal rights and mutual respect, and foster healing and mutual reverence between the genders by bringing men and women together in safe places to discuss gender and sexuality and to share their own stories. “The work of racial reconciliation will never be complete without the work of gender reconciliation,” she said.

The blessings of Archbishop and Rev. Mpho Tutu van Furth help keep the flame of reconciliation and transformation ablaze within our hearts. “We are made for loving,” says Tutu, affectionately called the Arch. “If we don’t love, we will be like plants without water.”

“My dear Brothers and Sisters, we are ONE human family,” said the Arch in his blessing for our Dawn of Interspirituality conferences, convened to bridge the major religions. “As we approach the transcendent One, we all find Home.”

The Arch was deeply committed to interfaith harmony and collaboration across the world religions, as beautifully exemplified by his close personal and spiritual friendship with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Their wonderful dialogues, their book on Joy, and their lively playfulness and deep spiritual resonance at the intersection of Buddhism and Christianity is such a unique blessing to the world, and a remarkable symbolic brotherhood between the Buddha and the Christ. As the Arch proclaimed in the startling title of one his books, God is not a Christian. “All of God’s children and their different faiths help us to realize the immensity of God. No faith contains the whole truth about God. All of us belong to God.”

The Arch concluded his blessing with this prayer: “The God that I worship—which you worship in different kinds of ways — is smiling upon you,” and upon all who endeavor in earnest to unite the human family as one.

We have been so grateful and inspired to serve as supporters of the Girl Child project and advisors on the patriarchy explainer video created by Imago Dei Fund (IDF), which is such a unique and groundbreaking project. Imagine bringing astounding clarity and cross-cultural awakening to thousands of years of patriarchal oppression across the entire human race—in just four minutes! This video does just that, and it not only lays bare the painful origins and legacy of patriarchy, but also points the way forward toward a new and brighter future for the female half of humanity. We are also deeply inspired to collaborate with IDF’s visionary commitment to contemplative spirituality, which creates an urgently needed inter-religious platform and praxis for reconciling the world’s great spiritual traditions, shedding their patriarchal and narrow sectarian dogmas of the past — and as the Arch called for — celebrating the unique contribution that the major spiritual traditions make to the shared quest for and realization of the oneness and unity of the entire human family.

May we always remember the remarkable life and legacy of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. Few people in history have served humanity so profoundly and courageously as the Arch has done. He didn’t just speak spiritual truth to worldly power, he lived it. The Arch was instrumental in freeing an entire nation from one of the most tyrannical governments in modern history. And he didn’t stop there; he then led one of the most remarkable processes of reconciliation and forgiveness ever carried out on a national scale between the perpetrators and victims of the systematic violence of Apartheid.

How did one man accomplish so much? What was the Arch’s secret? It wasn’t actually him who did all these things; it was a higher divine power that worked through him. And we, too, are called onto this same path. There is no greater way to honor and celebrate the life of Archbishop Tutu, than for us, Read More

Holiday Wishes from IDF

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Dear partners and friends, holiday greetings from all of us at IDF! We hope this finds you healthy and safe as we turn the page on another year still in the grip of a global pandemic. Hopefully this time next year, Covid will be in our rearview mirror (or close anyway) but for the time being living with this unwanted guest for a bit longer is our shared project. As Arundhati Roy and others have described, the pandemic is indeed a portal revealing the deeper roots of many global crises that need our collective attention and urgency:

Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.

As we reflect back on 2021, we have felt the discomfort of being in this “portal” yet are grateful to be part of larger change happening in the world. We are filled with gratitude for the little bits of normalcy and human connection that have been slowly returning, eg. going back to our office and getting to meet in person with some grantee partners passing through Boston. We are grateful for all the ways we have been able to stay connected with partners near and far and continue to be in awe of the incredible steadfast care and resourcefulness of partners on the frontline who are working tirelessly in these very challenging times to alleviate human suffering and not give up when so much progress on so many fronts has been set back by this pandemic and other global challenges. 

Change is in the air everywhere, here too at IDF. We were sad to say goodbye to Lisa Jackson, who is moving onto another chapter in her incredible career. We are so grateful for all the ways she has left her imprint on IDF over the past four years and has spoken into the larger ecosystem of philanthropic and social change we operate in. We are adapting and settling in with a smaller team and are busily working on a new set of strategy conversations as we look forward to the next chapter ahead.

On behalf of all of us at IDF, may you experience the peace of this holiday season as you embrace the uncertainties of change around you.

May our hearts continue to expand and grow and remain open and kind as we look ahead to 2022 and discern ways to lean in and tend to the needs and crises around us asking something of each of us.

May you find some hidden joy this upcoming year conspiring together for the better world we all seek.

Warm wishes for a blessed holiday season,

Emily & Ross

PS: In the spirit of rest and rejuvenation, the IDF offices will be closed Dec 27 – Dec 31. If you need anything before the end of the year, please reach out to your program partner within the next two weeks. Otherwise, we’ll be back in touch on Jan 3.

Sustaining Leaders to Make the Impossible, Possible

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I am continually inspired by the work of our grantee partners and the impact they achieve in the world. These partners are diverse and work on a range of issues and in a range of settings and geographies. What unites them is that each relies on passionate and dedicated leaders who work tirelessly to serve their communities. Often these leaders are so focused on organizational and external priorities that they can overlook their own spiritual, emotional, and psychological wellbeing. Perennial reminds us that a core component of leadership development is a focus on a leader’s inner life. We are excited by the programming and fellowship opportunities they offer, all of which are designed to nurture leadership skills and focus on renewal or as we like to say, “keep the spark alive.” — Sheila Leddy, Program Partner

Some years ago, we chose to name our organization Perennial because of our experience that humans are remarkably sustainable and resilient beings who, like living soil, can generate magnificence. More specifically, the leaders who dream and inspire others to take action toward building a more inclusive, equitable and loving world regularly make the impossible, possible.

At Perennial our belief is that this capacity to generate hope and possibility is, again like living soil, something that can continue to produce if well tended. Therefore, our approach to leadership development has always been focused on those deeper, inner landscapes from where leaders access their resolve and capacity to renew themselves and their work.

After doing this well for two decades we have learned that ignoring or delaying these priorities inevitably leads to a depletion of inner resources that cannot be sustained. In short, our work has taught us that social leaders are capable of remarkable sustainability but tend to approach the inner landscape of their leadership in unsustainable ways. And when the depletion of inner resources hits critical levels of concern, and leaders cannot continue with their work, we are reminded that social leaders are not easily replaceable. More than anything—ideas, strategic plans, policies, funding—positive social change requires humans, leaders, to make the impossible, possible.

And over the past several months, we can see the world over that this proposition is under serious threat.

Leaders from all angles of social change—especially in health, education, environment, and human rights—have been called to be more resilient than ever and take actions while facing prolonged uncertainty. Communities are in crisis. People are displaced and under new threats. Organizational budgets are on the brink. More than ever we see widespread coverage of leadership burnout.

One anecdotal sign of how things have changed is that for many years our work at Perennial was not generally understood or, if it was, it was sometimes considered to be a “nice to have” leadership development training experience. But starting in 2020, it became less necessary for us to “make the case” for why our work and approach to leadership development is so important. Anyone who is involved with the social sector—whether it be at the local, national or global scale—knows leaders doing the work who have been working under crisis mode for what seems like forever.

Here we are reminded that while leadership may be sustainable, it is not easily replaceable.

Perennial is meeting this challenge by dramatically scaling our offerings to make our work more accessible to leaders around the world. With COVID protocols preventing us from conducting in-person trainings, we have adapted our work and expertise to be as powerful and transformational as a virtual offering. Since March 2020, we have trained hundreds of leaders throughout Africa, Asia-Pacific, Latin America, the Middle East, and North America through our Perennial Fellowship and other partnerships in our facilitated and asynchronous programs.

And perhaps as evidence that institutional philanthropy is beginning to recognize and prioritize leadership, wellbeing and sustainability, over the last two years we have worked closely with funders like the Obama Foundation, the Malala Fund, Wellspring Philanthropic Fund, the Issroff Family Foundation, and of course Imago Dei Fund, to elevate and amplify the Perennial approach to leadership development.

In January 2022 we are excited to be launching a new program in partnership with the University of Washington Department of Global Health called Wellbeing for Healthcare Professionals. This ten-week course will be built around our Perennial Wellbeing Practice and will enroll 2,500 participants throughout the world.

Additionally, in Spring and Summer 2022 we are offering our two-month Perennial Fellowship, which is a great opportunity for leaders to restore and renew themselves in a global cohort of remarkable people leading change throughout the world.

For more information on our work and what we are learning about leadership sustainability, wellbeing and burnout, please visit our website.

“Nothing can dim the light which shines from within.”
Maya Angelou