Active Citizens engage the community in defining and solving problems.

Begin in your community… begin at your university, begin in your own little town…

The quotation is from former Secretary General to the United Nations, Kofi Annan. His words confirm the JCI believe that civil society must be part of the development. JCI define active citizens as people who identify challenges, engage the community and take action to create sustainable solutions.

Today I could read on my facebook page how one of the chapters in JCI Denmark was accepting the challenge and was having a meeting with local politicians analyzing the problems in their local communities. I was so happy to read that. It is important for us to remember that our projects only truly have impact if we have the support of those who benefit from our work. They need to be involved in defining the problems so we don’t end up solving issues that were never problems – or simply not a priority in our local communities.

I cannot wait to talk to the chapter president to ask how it went and what they expect to get out of their meeting in the long run. I bet there is a learning opportunity there for me and the rest of the organization.

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The story about the little cold feet

The purpose of this and the other posts this week is not to diminish the work that the JCI chapters and the JCI members do but to get us to enter into new projects with our eyes open. It is perfectly alright to do a project because it makes the chapter visible in the local community, creates team spirit in the chapter and develops the knowledge and competences of the members – or simply because it is fun. My thesis is that a project which stays within the framework of the Active Citizenship principles will result in at least one of those things but with a much larger effect and, because it is sustainable, make a significant difference. I hope that these articles will inspire and help the JCI local chapters think their projects through so they are aware of what they want to get out of their projects and thereby insuring maximum impact.

In JCI we sometimes talk about how we are not great at sharing our experiences with each other. That might be true between local chapters in JCI Denmark. But we do have a handful of talented storytellers who are very apt at communicating success stories not only from Denmark but from all over the JCI World. Stories that inspire us to dream, dare to act and strive to work harder to achieve our goals. I recommend contacting NP2011 who has a unique talent for story talent and a passion for JCI that makes his stories compelling and a huge network in JCI where he gets his stories.

I don’t remember when I heard the story for the first time but I think that it was NP2011 who told the story. I am sure I don’t tell the story right  – some details have been lost in translation (names ect.) – but I hope that the essence of the story is apparent and that the point is clear to everyone.

Well, how does a story begin? Right…!

In the United States of America there was a local chapter that for many years had been collecting money for shoes to the poorest children in town. The children’s feet were so cold in the winter so every year the JCI members collected money for shoes for the children. The chapter was running a smooth operation – the project almost ran itself and it was a great way to activate new members and to introduce them to the work and mindset of the organization.

But, one day one of the newest members asked a relevant question (take not – it is always the new members who ask the relevant questions!…but more on that some other time). What was the benefit of the project over time? The problem would persist next year, and the year after that, and the year after that. The challenges for the members were limited and wasn’t there something about JCI focusing on learning opportunities and personal development for the organization’s members? The chapter could abandon the project completely to focus on new projects and focus on the personal and professional development of the members, but then the children would not get the help that they had come to depend on.

And this is exactly the core of the problem. If the people we are trying to help are only passive receivers of our help then what we do is charity that, worst case scenario, keeps them in the situation we are trying to help them get away from. We need to ask ourselves if what we do is the right thing. How can we know what the right solution is if we don’t involve the afflicted parties in finding the solution to the problem? WE risk taking on the part of benefactor which does not result in constructive solutions nor the positive exposure of the local chapters in media and local communities as a serious partner in solving the problems facing the community.

But, what happened to the local American chapter? The member asked a follow-up question: Are we solving the real problem or are we just creating a temporary solution? Why doesn’t the children have any shoes on in the winter? The chapter went to the source and asked the parents why the children didn’t have any shoes. The children didn’t have any shoes because their parents didn’t have any money to buy shoes for. Why didn’t the parents have any money? Simple: They did not have a job. Now we are closing in on what is the heart of the problem. The cause of the problem in reality was socioeconomic issues that the JCI members could do something about. The members utilized their network and expertise and found new sustainable solutions by including the afflicted group in solving the core problem: That a group of people in the community did not have a job.

Of course there are more to this story than I have put on paper. The solution to warming up those cold children’s feet was much more complicated. Maybe the story is just something we made up. A feather can very fast become five hens as we say in Denmark. But the message is valid. We only achieve our goals if we corporate with the afflicted groups and relevant partners and stubbornly keep asking the questions until we have found the heart of the problem.

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There is no need to always be in the driver’s seat!

To make a sustainable difference is about identifying real problems in corporation with the local community and identify our own competencies and lack of same in order to enter into relevant partnerships.

Partnerships cannot be separated from Active Citizenship. It is a fundamental part of the framework for local JCI chapters to consider partnerships in order to create a bigger impact and promote the chapter, JCI and our work. Partnerships should always be based on common values. The partnerships themselves can never distract us from the main purpose of the project because the purpose of the project is more important than the potential partnership.

During the years the local chapters in JCI Denmark have entered into formal and informal partnerships with companies, individuals and other organisations. In 2013 Partnerships is a particular issue in the JCI Denmark strategy and both national and local initiatives have been launched. If you want to know more about Partnerships in JCI, please contact National Partnership Director 2013 Dennis Holm Christensen.

The local chapters are not always the primary driver in the projects, they engage in. The key here is that the chapters offer their expertise and become a valuable partner in projects that other organisations have initiated. The local JCI chapters can offer a unique combination of dedication, talent and a world wide network with important partners.

Among such partnerships is the corporation with the organization “Victim Aid”. The organization aims at making society and the system put victims of violence before the perpetrators on the agenda. The organization is touring Denmark with a photo exhibition where the victims are returning to the places of the crimes and are wearing make-up in order to recreate the moments right after the attacks.

JCI Denmark supports the project and has been visible with the Victim Aid organization at two music festivals in 2013. Local chapters have participated by organizing for the exhibition to be shown several places around the country.

The project is a great example of how local chapters in JCI with our expertise, network and dedication can help partners succeed in their endeavors.

As young leaders, JCI members hold the key to solving some of the most oppressing challenges of our times.

Ban Ki-moon, United Nations Secretary General

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Analysis in colour

I know that my original idea was to use projects in al of my seven blog posts this week but I will allow myself to stray from that principle and do things a little diffent today. When I planned my workshop for the JCI Denmark Great Development Day in the Spring, I suddently realised why the Impact principles are resonnating so beautifully with me: It is like a perfectly harmonic ensemble, a perfectly matched project group. If you are a jaycee you might recognize the colour codes 🙂

Colours in JCI

In JCI we talk about each other in colour a lot. For an example, I am very red/green/yellow and not really that blue – unless I am under pressure and turning blue. Not in the literal sense, of course! Bad joke, I know. The colour codes are representing four different persona archetypes – let’s call them the goal oriented persona, the social persona, the the encouraging persona and the inquisative persona, and I think that we all have all four colours represented in us. I am not an expert but on the Insights Denmark website you can do a test to see where you are place on the colour chart. It is a simple test and I recommend that you get a real profile done if you want to use it for something.

Applying the colours to the Active Citizenship Framework

A project by the ACF-principles must include the following: Need, engage, action and solution. Written in colour:

  • Green: We are making a positive difference together
  • Yellow: We are thinking outside the box and creating new relations
  • Red: We take action
  • Blue: We are asking questions until we are sure that we have selected the right solution (and problem for that matter)!

The different parts of the ACF-model will appeal to different personas. The Green persona will love to participate in a project that makes a positive difference for others – especially if the project is done in partnership with other committed people. The Yellow persona will thrive with thinking outside the box and make new relations. The action oriented Red will love the results driven point of action. The Blue persona will find comfort in the knowledge that the right solution has been carefully selected on the basis of a very well thought through proces.

The problem with monochromes

But, what if the project group consisted of people of only one colour? What if the ACF-model only embraced one of the points on the list? The Green persona might be able to make a positive difference by himself – but maybe lacking the necessary skills to take the leap and make a real difference. The Yellow persona is really good at thinking outside the box and to create new relations, but without a thorough analysis of interests, one risk blowing a lot of steam without getting much out of it. The Red persona risk acting the project to death – because if she doesn’t include the beneficiaries of the project and secure a sense of ownership, the project doesn’t stand a chance surviving beyond the pilot project. Finally, the Blue persona with er thorough methods can benefit from the support of other personas so new solutions and relations can help develop the solution.

The colourful conclusion

The analysis above is of course generalising the topic. I know a lot of “Blue people” who are perfectly capable of getting results and “Red people” who are great listeners, ect. My point is that it is important to include different personality types in the chapters’ projects just as it is important to remember all four steps in the ACF-model.

Perhaps you already identified yourself in the ensemble. Remember, that it is easy to play yourself – try to challenge yourself and take on one of the other personalities. I guarantee you that you will learn something new and maybe even discover that you actually have some red/green/yellow/blue in you 🙂

If you are curious to learn more you can contact Mats Schou, JCI Denmark Training Manager 2013. We have several Insights trainers in Denmark who will be happy to teach a course in the Insights principles and help you and your chapter to better understand yourselves and each other.

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“From Coast to Coast” – an environmental project with ambition

The purpose of this and the other posts this week is not to diminish the work that the JCI chapters and the JCI members do but to get us to enter into new projects with our eyes open. It is perfectly alright to do a project because it makes the chapter visible in the local community, creates team spirit in the chapter and develops the knowledge and competences of the members – or simply because it is fun. My thesis is that a project which stays within the framwork of the Active Citizenship principles will result in at least one of those things but with a much larger effect and, because it is sustainable, make a significant difference. I hope that these articles will inspire and help the JCI local chapters think their projects through so they are aware of what they want to get out of their projects and thereby insuring maximum impact.

In June this year several “jaycees” from around the country met in Aarhus for the JCI Denmark “Great Development Day”. Vi sat through a number of workshops on different themes, I was lucky to spend a couple of hours in the company of a small group of dedicated jaycees at my Active Citizenship workshop. We played “advisory board” for a national project which has been long in the making but slowly catching the attention of more and more members of JCI Denmark. I am referring to the environmental project “From Coast to Coast”.

The main purpose of the “From Coast to Coast” project is to make the Danish beaches clean. Other expected outcomes of the project are education for the younger generations to help them become more aware of environmental protection and to aide the local chapters in forming partnerships with other local agents.

It is hard to argue against the claim that the project will wolve a real problem. But what is the first step? The first move must be to identify if there really is a need (defined as a need that groups outside of JCI can comply with). The method here is to invite possible partners in fo ra chat on the framework for the project. To get the ball rolling, an analysis of interests must be done.

In an attempt to find possible partners for the project, the participants at the workshop discussed the effect (the impact) of a succesful project – economical impact, social impact and environmental impact.

Who benefits from clean beaches?

The possible partners are, possibly this is rather obvious for most readers, the ones who have a vested interest in the beaches being cleared of garbage. Some of us may think that this will benefit all of us. However, we live in a world where most of us juggle a busy life and not everyone has the health of our environment and the state of our beaches at the top of their lists of priorities.

The participants at the workshop worked by the principles from the Impact Training and the analysis ended up like this:

Economical impact: Tourism can get a much needed boost, the authorities can save on resources (which can be used on other projects and improvements), and the health bill could be lowered .

Social impact: The regulation of peoples habits could have a preventive effect on future visitors to the beach in general. School childrens education could benefit from the different subjects being used simultaniously on a practical problem (mathematics in practice, local history, social sciences).

Environmental impact: The birds will get better conditions. Life in the ocean and at the beach would improve for the animals that live there.

On the basis of the analysis of partners the participants arrived at the following possible partners for the project:

Schools – children are great at raising their parents to become better citizens!

Environmental and nature conservation groups – there is a common goal here, and the environmental and nature conservation groups possible have both the expertise and the connections to local govenment ect.

Camping sites / local tourist committees – could we sell the idea of Denmark as a green country? A.k.a. “eco-tourism”.

Why should they work with us?

But, if a local chapter needs to convince the city council/the schols/the environmental and nature conservation groups etc. to participate in the project they will need some very good arguments. Time is of the essense and the money (if there is any) is often ear marked well in advance. The key is to be an interesting partner ourselves.

A really good argument in environmental projects is that we are relevant as a partner with advisory status to the UN and therefore have a strong focus on the UN MDGs.

Another action, one that should always be considered, is to investigate if there already are other initiatives and decide if they should be integrated in the project. Could the chapter commit itself to a project which has already been initiated by the local government? If the local nature conservation organisation already a “Collect Rubbish Day” it might pay off to either join forces with them or to plan the event for a date not too close to the original “cleaning day”.

The most important conclusion from the workshop

The participants at the workshop agreed that it is very important to answer the question: For whom is this the biggest problem?

In the “From Coast to Coast” project the motivation for the schools to participate could be that they save money and maybe get a gift, i.e. a baseball net or something else for the school. A positive impact of the project could be that the original project turns into an annual event – maybe with at party at the end of the day 🙂

Advice for the project managers

The participants in the workshop came up with the advice listed below for the “From Coast to Coast” project – but in my opinion the advice is also valid for giving other Active Citizenship projects a head start (with the exception, of course, of “C”, which is specific for the ”From Coast to Coast”-project).

A)     Make a project plan that you can present to potential partners – the plan should be divided into different phases:

1)      Analysis of interests

2)      Find local partners and define their roles from phase 1 (in order for the partners to take ownership).

3)      Write a specified project plan.

4)      GO!

5)      Evaluate

6)      Pass the project on to an organisation or group that can continue running the project in the future, possibly a partner from the original project.

B)      When the project is a national project that involves local chapters, those chapters must commit to phase 1 so they can find out for themseves, who the potential partners could be in their local communities. The most important thing to remember is that there is a chance to create a sense of ownership for the project in the chapter when they define the project themselves.

C)     It has to be a town on the coast.

D)     The principles from Active Citizenship/Impact training should be applied throughout all four phases of the project.

What did the Active Citizenship Director 2013 learn?

What did I take with me from the workshop? The most important lesson was probably that we should be better at working with real problems in JCI. Some times the problems that we try to solve are only superficial symptoms of the real problem. Working with those problem exposes us to the risk of working on the same problems year after year without gaining any real learning experiences for the members and no real solutions for our local communities. Therefore it is important to keep asking questions until we are sure that we have found the core of the problem. Only then can we make a positive and sustainable difference in our local communities.

We will identify the challenges in our local communities and through projects of high quality generate sustainable solutions.

Quote from the JCI Denmarks Strategy 2013-2015

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The Nothing But Nets calendar – naughty Active Citizens?

The purpose of this and the other posts this week is not to diminish the work that the JCI chapters and the JCI members do but to get us to enter into new projects with our eyes open. It is perfectly alright to do a project because it makes the chapter visible in the local community, creates team spirit in the chapter and develops the knowledge and competences of the members – or simply because it is fun. My thesis is that a project which stays within the framwork of the Active Citizenship principles will result in at least one of those things but with a much larger effect and, because it is sustainable, make a significant difference. I hope that these articles will inspire and help the JCI local chapters think their projects through so they are aware of what they want to get out of their projects and thereby insuring maximum impact.

At the Danish National Conference 2012 the national Nothing But Nets team initiated a calendar project. Within five weeks from the congres, a calendar was presented with pictures of 12 members wearing only mosquito nets. The calendar project was a succes resulting in a donation of around 300 mosquito nets for the organisation Nothing But Nets and great exposure in and outside of JCI and our work against malaria nationally and internationally.

And the crowd goes wild…or?

I have been Jeg har discussing the project’s ”Active Citizenshipness” with several members of JCI Denmark. Is it Active Citizenship to make a calendar with the purpose of collecting money for a project which influences people living in communities thousands of kilometers from Denmark? The discussion is a little complicated and if the calendar project can be deemed “non-AC”, what about all our other Nothing But Nets projects? As a former national Nothing But Nets Director (2012) the fight against malaria and the MDGs[i] are close to my heart and I am so proud of the work that we did last year, both locally and nationally to reach our ambitious goals.

I think that it is worth a try to apply the principles of the Active Citizenship Framework to the Nothing But Nets projects – the framework from the Impact Training. It is not necessary to know these principles beforehand to understand the rest of this post.

Local challenges and sustainable solutions?

We want to identify the challenges in our local communities and through projects of high quality generate sustainable solutions.

The quotation above explains the essense of Active Citizenship the JCI way. The most important parts of it are “local challenges” and “sustainable solutions”.

The project description for the calendar project was to collect money for the fight against malaria by engaging members from a different parts of the organisation in the production in a Nothing But Nets kalender. Only voluntary work from members of JCI Denmark (printing excluded).

The project itself was done locally with JCI members alone. But the challenge of malaria is not a local challenge. It could become a local problem in Denmark if the mosquitos get ideal conditions for surviving further north than they do now but that horror story is too far out in the future to legitimize the criteria of the project being local. WE can make the argument that as members of JCI we are “global citizens” and kick that problem temporarily to the corner. So that is what we will do so we can concentrate on what in my opion is the heart of the matter: Is the “net calendar” a sustainable project that creates changes in society?

Most projects by far are crafted with the purpose to collect money. They are typically best described as band aids that are forever to be changed on a regular basis. The Nothing But Nets projects seem to fall into this category. We collect money that we send to troubled countries through an organisation so the citizens of those countries can protect themselves against the mosquitos with mosquito nets. However, that is not the whole story but lets return to that later in this post.

Impact Training i practice

The key in the tools in Impact Training is to ask relevant questions to the projects. Continue to ask why. Stop when the action either reduces the problem or eliminate the cause. Or when the local chapter has reached its limit for acting on the problem.

So, to start from the beginning:

Why do people die from malaria? Because they are being stung by mosquitos that carry the malaria infection.

Why are people being stung by malaria carrying mosquitos? People are stung by the mosquitos because they are not protecting themselves and because the mosquitos have ideal conditions for surviving and breeding in the afflicted geographical areas.

Why are the people not protecting themselves against the infection from the mosquitos? They don’t protect themselves from the mosquitos because they don’t have the means to do so.

Why don’t the people have the means to protect themselves? Because they donøt have the money to buy insecticide treated nets and other solutions to fight the mosquitos – or simply because they don’t know where the disease originates or what they can do to avoid it. There is also the issue that many people in the afflicted areas don’t know that there are simple things they can do to avoid creating environments for the mosquitos to breed. Still waters, for an example, is a huge problem. In this case an information campaign would be a necessary action.

So a solution to the malaria problem is to provide mosquito nets to the population, destroy the breeding options for the mosquitos and inform the people affected by the threat of malaria about concrete actions to fight infections and mosquitos.

The effects of a succesful project

A project proposal has been identified. The project is relevant for local communities several places in the world. And, it solves the problem. So…?

What would the effect be if the project was succesful?

Economic effects: A direct effect of the malaria fight will be an economical lift in the afflicted countries. Those countries spend far too much money on their health sectors, lose money because people are kept away from work and education, loss in profits on the tourist industry ect.

Social effects: The social effects of the malaria fight will be a generally higher level of education in the population, thereby ensuring a socioeconomic improvement in the country.

Environmental effect: The fight against malaria is very much depending on the changing of the environment in the afflicted areas. Therefore the environmental effect will be a part of the project itself.

Could we travel to the malaria troubled countries ourselves and inform people and distribute mosquito nets? We probably could but that makes little sense. A better solution is to leave that part of the project to professionals and organisations that already have a setup and a method to solve the problem.

In the Impact training we would usually use the analysis above to identify possible partnerships. Here the situation is reversed since organisations such as Nothing But Nets and United Nations already have done the analysis and are asking us, Junior Chamber International, to be a partner in this project. The competences of the local chapters is the ability to collect money through a good project.

Let me repeat the principles from the JCI Impact Training: Continue asking why. Stop when the action either reduces the problem or eliminates the cause. Or when the local chapter has reached its limit for its ability to act on the problem.

Is the calendar an Active Citizenship project?

Yes and no. The starting point for the Active Citizenship Framework is tha tthe local chapters in JCI create sustainable solutions in our local societies and find partners who can support our work and at the same time connect the projects to the local society. That is not the case with the calendar project.

But, as written earlier in this post, in the Nothing But Nets projects we honour our commitment as a partner to the United Nations. We do what we do best at the project at hand. Our share can be written off as “charity” but our partners in the project has analysed the scope of the project and thought up a plan where they delilver the best solution to the problem through a series of partnerships.

When it comes down to it, Active Citizenship is about making a real, sustainable difference. And we do that, in the end, with the  Nothing But Nets projects.

[i] United Nations’ Millenium Development Goals.

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A Philosopher becomes a Practician

When we collect fundings for single mothers for Christmas, when we offer our expertise by advicing local business, when we develop our own and each other’s competences, we are practicing Active Citizenship. When we engage ourselves in the world around us, when we listen to our  fellow human beings to figure out where the need is, when we use our competences and draw on our networks and societies in finding solutions, we are Active Citizens.

In the beginning of 2013 I introduced myself and Active Citizenship to JCI Denmark with the above-mentioned words. Now, eight months later, I have had time to reflext upon that philosophy on the basis of our practical experiences in the organisation. The result of those thoughts and a vast number of  talks with JCI members in Denmark and abroad is not a clear cut cementation of my original thoughts but a deeper and more diffuse approach which I am still working on. In other words, it has become more interesting and at the same time more complicated.

Luckily I am a “jaycee” so I accept the challenge! I am still responsible for the implementation of Active Citizenship in JCI Denmark for another 3-4 months. I have always been of the opinion that the smartest way of taming a philosophical problem was to make it concrete so that is what I will do in a series of posts on this blog over the next week. I will analyse some of the project that we are working on in JCI Denmark and work them over with JCI Active Citizenship Framework. If you are a member of JCI you might recognize the priciples as the tools from the JCI Impact Training.

My purpose with the articles is to discuss  how we approach our work in JCI. What is the purpose of the projects that we initiate? Should we aim to do a sustainable positive difference? – is it okay if it is simply a temporary positive difference? Do we want to be visible to the world around us? Do we want to create a sense of team spirit in the local chapter? Do we want to create a surge in our activities in the local chapter?

In my opinion, a chapter project doesn’t necessarily have to abide by the protocol of an Active Citizenship project. However, I do feel that it is important that we actively and honestly decide, project by project, what the purpose of the project is. Our time is precious and it should be used with care and good sense so we get maximum impact from our membership, our work and our network.

Active Citizenship is a philosophical and practical approach to our membership of Junior Chamber International. It is a tool that strengthens our projects and make us more visible in our local comunities. Our chances of making projects that actually make a positive difference will grow, when we analyse the society or the community for whom we want to make a difference and find out what they actually need. Sustainability occurs when we critically investigate the most urgent problems in our surroundings, involve partners and benificiaries and through that proces create a sense of ownership for the project. Not only ownership in the local chapter – but ownership in the local community and with relevant partners.

As a countdown to the Danish National Conference in the weekend October 4.-6. you can read about different projects that are currently occupying the minds of local chapters in JCI Denmark. The articles will be posted in Danish as well on the JCI Denmark news site over the next five weeks. I hope that you will read the articles here or on the Danish website and maybe be inspired to participate in a constructive debate in Denmark about Active Citizenship and our work in JCI now and in the future.

Happy readings!

Eva, Active Citizenship Director 2013, JCI Danmark

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It does not have to be big…

Young people ask me, “What can we do to become good global citizens?” And I always tell them: “Begin in your community, begin at your university, begin in your own little town. If you see something wrong that you want to do something about, organize with your friends and take it up. It doesn’t have to be something big”.

– Former UN Secretary Kofi Annan

I love that quote. If you want to hear Mr. Annan himself, the quote is roughly at 0.30 in the video here. Mr. Annan’s point is, that you should never let the size of your wallet, network or personal status discourage you from taking up a task that could potentially make a positive difference for others (and even for yourself). Anyone can make an impact on the world by focusing on the problems in their own communities, rounding up the local talent and taking the first step.

I truly believe that none of us were born only to follow. Everybody has a leader in herself or himself. Often, small steps make a very big impact on communities and the people in them. Maybe the first moves don’t make a big difference, but often the leadership of one person inspires others to take up their passions and really make a difference which then inspires others and so on.

The key is proactivity, good listening skills and taking the lead. In other words: Don’t hold back!, listen to the people effected by your work in order to identify problems that actually need solving and make sure that you are worth following.

Maybe you read this now and think: “What is she talking about? – ‘proactivity’, good listening skills’, …’worth following’?”.

If you have not already I will recommend that you read up on the concept of proactivity. One of the most famous sources is Stephen R. Covey’s “7 great habits” (the first habit is proactivity). Mr. Covey explains how it makes sense to stop being passive and start being proactive. Stop making excuses and start taking responsibility for yourself, your actions and your life. In order to be an active citizen, all you have to do is take this good personal habit and expand it to taking responsability for the community you live in. Stephan R. Covey explains it (roughly) like this: The word responsability is a word made of two words – “response” and “ability”. To be responsable is to have the ability to respond to the challenges that come our way.

“Good listening skills”…why? Because if we don’t listen to the people who are affected by the work we do we could end up spending a lot of energy on making very little impact. It makes sense to take the time to deduct the causes of a particular problem before embarking on a solution.

“Are you worth following?”…well, referring to what I wrote earlier in this post, you should be! In my experience. Proactive people with great listening skills are always worth following, so if you got the first two down all you have to do is take that essential first step to become a good global citizen.

Good luck!

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What I learned from a homeless guy one cold day in February

One very cold evening in February I passed a homeless man begging on the steps outside the Central Station in Copenhagen. At first I just registered his presence  but hurried past him vaguely considering his thin worn out clothes and the fact that his hands were gloveless at a time when everyone else was wearing at least one pair of gloves.

I made a pit stop at the 7-eleven to buy a bus ticket and as I walked past the coffee maker, I got to think about the cold, homeless man outside on the street. At first, I considered if it was a good idea at all. How did he take his coffee? What if he didn’t like coffee at all? What if he thought I was condescending to make the decision for him? What if he thought I was condescending to buy him anything at all and not just give him the coffee? And, frankly, I was afraid of him. I was afraid of him for no other reason than the fact that he was a homeless guy.

But then I pulled myself together and decided not to be so self-absorbed. It was oh so very cold outside and the man needed something to keep him warm. As it happened, I was in a place – financially and physically – where I could at least solve the problem for a little while. So I decided to buy a black coffee and, in an inspired moment, grabbed a handfull of sugar packs as well.

I went outside again and politely informed the guy, that I had bought him a coffee. And he smiled! He was so greatful that I almost blushed with shame for my thoughts just minutes earlier. All of a sudden he wasn’t scary anymore. He was just a guy. I smiled back and shyly handed him the sugar with a little excuse about the lack of milk. I don’t know how he prefers his coffee but as it turned out that day, he was very happy with the black coffee with sugar. I left him feeling slightly embarressed but happy that I at least acted on my whim.

My point is that I did so little and it made a big difference for him. It was not the coffee – it was the act of giving him the coffee. I actually saw him and acknowledged him as a person. And in return I got much more grattitude than I deserved.

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It takes a village…

In July of last year I attended the JCI Global Partnership Summit in New York. It was a last minute decision to go, and it only worked out because of a very nice colleague, my wonderful mother in law and a very persuasive new friend.

It was on that trip, that I caught the bug a.k.a. “The Active Citizen”. At the time I was attempting to inspire and coordinate efforts to collect money for the Nothing But Nets campaign in my capacity as Nothing But Nets Director 2012 for JCI Denmark – “Another bug?”, you might think, but then again there is never just one bug, is there?  Once you solve one bug problem, another one will rise…

This blog post, however, is not about the bug itself but about how it took the help and persuasion of several good people in my life to get me to New York.

The kind colleague

I had not planned to take time off that week. Fortunately a good colleague of mine was easily persuaded to change his own plans and we switched weeks accordingly. He had made plans with his daughter, and as a mother I understand the importance of not breaking an agreement with ones children. However, she was as flexible and understanding as her father and agreed to move their travelling plans a week back.

It still makes me smile to think about how he selflessly changed his schedule to make my dream come true. It was not the first, nor the last time, that he was there for me – even when we stopped working together.

The much cherished mother-in-law

My husband had been out of town, walking the Nijmegen March with a team of guys from the Danish Civil Protection League the week before I took off to New York. It is a passion of his and had been planned long ago. Originally I had taken the week off to take care of our son who was not yet in kindergarden. However, since I had switched weeks with my colleague, I no longer had time off that week and needed a babysitter.

My mother-in-law is a school head mistress and since it was in July, she had time off from work. She was happy to be asked to spend so much time with her grandson. So, every morning at 8 o’clock, she showed up at my doorstep, picked up an overjoyed baby boy from my arms, and told me to go do my own thing (i.e. “the little duckling and I have things to do and we can do it by ourselves!”).

While some mothers might be annoyed with this, it suited me very well. I could leave my son to my mother-in-law every morning, knowing that he would have a great time. They went to the park, they played, they went to museums. She had a plan every day, and some days I even got to meet them somewhere after work and join the fun. I felt so privileged to have her help me out and found a new respect for the parents – fathers and mothers – who are forced to make ends meet all by themselves.

Her impact did not stop here. When my husband returned from Nijmegen, fatigued and a little dazed on a Saturday afternoon (he did not even notice that I had painted several rooms in our apartment!), he was in no shape to take care of the housekeeping AND our son at the same time. He is usually a domestic god, but the march had taken its toll and he needed some serious down time. My sweet parents-in-law invited him to stay with them for the week until they all traveled to meet me in Marseilles the following Saturday.

The persuasive friend

I had made the case in June that three or four of the Team 2012 should go to New York for the JCI Global Partnership Summit. It had been a dream of mine for years, and now I felt that I finally had a legitimate reason to go, being the Nothing But Nets Director. Chris Helfrich from the Nothing But Nets organisation would be there as well as many other people who are really making a difference in the World.

Shortly after making my case, though, I had given up on the whole thing after convincing myself that leaving the little duckling behind for the main part of  a week would be impossible. Fortunately for me, a good friend, Charlotte, took the time to call me up and persuade me to go. I never stood a chance – 3-4 months later, she convinced the JCI Denmark General Assembly, that she was the ideal candidate for national presidency i 2013!

So very early on a Monday morning, I kissed my sleeping baby boy goodbye and left for the airport. I met up with Charlotte at the airport and embarked on the long trip to New York via Lisbon. Charlotte is famously aerophobic but spent a good deal of our time on the airplanes talking to me about her plans for 2013. She wanted me to take responsibility for our organisation’s work on Active Citizenship as director in 2013. It was impossible to resist, and our experiences at the JCI Global Partnership Summit sealed the deal. I had the bug and was eager to start presenting it to the rest of our JCI friends in Denmark.

The lesson learned

I enjoyed being on top of things those two weeks. Everything was meticulously planned out – even our bags for our family vacation in France the following three weeks were packed. It all worked out perfectly, although there was a short pang of panic after travelling from New York, to Lisbon, to Madrid and finally landing in Marseilles in an airport I did not recognize. It took me about ten minutes to realize, that it was simply a building next to the regular airport and that my family was landing on a plane five minutes away by foot.

I missed my son and husband immensely. However, knowing that they were taken such good care of helped a lot. I would not have been able to get anyway without the kind understanding of my colleague. I would not have considered going, if my friend had not taken the time to call me up and talk the scenario through. Sometimes it really takes a village to raise an active citizen!

I would probably be an active citizen anyway, but not as conscious an active citizen. The Summit helped answer a lot of questions and prepared me for the work I am doing in JCI Denmark this year.

If I go again, I am bringing my family, though…

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