Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Power of One, the Ripple to Many

By Supriya Savkoor

During World War II, when the Allied powers wanted information about their enemies, they had to get creative about their research. After all, the Axis powers were savvy enough not to blare national headlines about the toll the war was taking on its resources or its troops. So the Allieds had to follow other clues. Instead of reading Germany’s big metro papers, for example, American intelligence workers read small-town, lower-circulation community papers. Buried below those big stories about war “triumphs” and patriotism, were the local obits and statistics such as how many factories were having to close down. Any tiny but instrumental indicators of what was really happening in the country. Neat way to spot a trend, right?

I’ve been thinking about that research strategy a lot lately, whenever I read or hear the news, in fact. If you follow the mainstream news, the world is a real mess, and getting worse by the second. As a former journalist, though, I know the worse the calamity, the bigger (and consequently the better) the story. And that’s why the news puts so many of us off. Our gut instinct might be to tune it out or turn it off. But when we do that, doesn’t what’s around us seem not quite so bad? At least, it does to me.

In fact, much seems to be moving in a positive direction these days. Wars ending, affluence growing, opportunities rising, innovation increasing. Most of all, individuals who are inspiring the rest of us by making a difference. I know it's not all good, but it's not all that bad, is it? Am I looking through rose-colored glasses, or perhaps basing it on where I live, perhaps anecdotal stuff from people around me?

In fact, everywhere I look these days, there's a lot of good stuff happening. There’s the couple who lives near me that organize community events around the country that gets entire neighborhoods to come together to package thousands of meals for the hungry—and in a matter of just hours. (We’ll be sharing their incredible story here on our blog later this month.) Another husband-and-wife team, both dentists, spend holidays in their native Vietnam, providing free dental care to those who need it most, including performing surgery on children born with birth defects such as cleft lips and palates. The woman in my community living with muscular dystrophy and who, despite having to wear leg braces to be able to get around, volunteers full time at our county’s only free clinic for the poor, mobilizing resources and other volunteers to keep the clinic going; she does all this with much humor and good cheer. Our friend and contributor, Lanice Jones, a physician who serves the refugee population in her own Canadian community then spends her vacations in rural outposts such as Laos, Sudan, and Pakistan, providing medical care to the underserved and teaching physicians at local hospitals.

These are some of the many heroes I’m so lucky to know.

I also keep stumbling across little news stories that keep me optimistic about the future. The high school kid who researched cancer in her spare time and may have come across a potential cure. The 14-year-old who came up with one of the most innovative new techniques to clean water. The young Stanford graduate who designed a cool series of toys and books to get girls interested in engineering. The teenager from Sierra Leone who created batteries to power his community using material he found from, no kidding, the garbage can. What about Uruguay’s president, the world’s “poorest” leader, designated as such because he gives most of his income to the poor and to small entrepreneurs?

Everywhere I look, things are looking up. Of course, I might have missed some of these “little” stories if it weren’t for folks cross-posting them on Facebook and social media outlets such as Upworthy or the Good News Network, sites that highlight positive, progressive news. So cool how the hard work and brilliant ideas of one individual today can ripple out to inspire the rest of us, isn’t it?

Keep the ripple going. Who inspires you in your community? Do share!


  1. A group that I really adore that is doing good halfway around the world is 40 Tribes - they are here in northern Colorado, but organize ski trips to my husband's country, where they house skiers in yurts - and provide a winter income for the traditional nomads who live mostly on subsistence herding. They figured out how to make money, get some good skiing in and do good all at the same time - they are an inspiration!

    You can find out more about 40 Tribes here -

  2. Thanks for this lovely post, Supriya. It is nice to think about the good, rather than all the doom and gloom we're spoonfed in the media. I don't remember their names, but I recently read about three young girls (between about 7-12) who make bracelets in their spare time and donate them to the hospital charity shop to make money for the kids' hospital. They also give bracelets to kids in the hospital.

    And then there was the family with four kids who took off with their parents for one year to travel the world. Their theme was "community" and they stayed in local villages and helped with projects such as building a school or medical clinic.

    Both those ideas have stuck with me and as soon as my kids are old enough, and if we have the resources, I would love to do something similar with our family.

    Nah, you don't have rose coloured glasses, I really do think there is a lot of good in the world.

  3. I agree with you both, Supriya and Alli - it's easy to focus on the bad things in the world and forget that there are plenty of people doing good as well. I keep thinking about our recent guest who wrote about native Alaskan traditions. Of course, I admire all the people with the heart and courage to make a difference in their communities and around the world. But for lasting change, we need to change the way we think about ourselves and how we relate to the rest of the planet, and that starts with teaching kids.

  4. Love collecting more positive inspirations from you gals---thanks!!

  5. I'm always interested in "voluntourism," when people take their vacations in order to help out in the communities they visit. There are plenty of opportunities with well-known groups like Habitat for Humanity, but also some smaller, local options. I've recently become acquainted with some of the volunteers at the Fair Trade Shop here in Cebu City, Philippines. Among other things, this shop helps local farmers and artisans find fair prices for their quality products. While at the shop a few months ago I met a group of Japanese tourists who had come to the Philippines specifically to help out the Fair Trade shops and other agricultural charities. Hats off to that group, who used their short vacations from high-pressure jobs to help others.