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All articles here are written by Melinda Briana Epler (that's me!) unless otherwise noted. I'm a documentary filmmaker, writer, and brand experience designer - I've dedicated my life to living a sustainable lifestyle and helping others do the same. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions or thoughts for articles. Welcome!

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How Is Your Local Government Doing During The Recession?

A few months ago, my husband and I created a video for Countywide Community Forums.  It’s a program that brings policy makers and citizens together to talk about local issues – a really fabulous idea, don’t you think??

We’re creating another film now – I can’t wait to tell you about it.  But in the meantime, I wanted to share the video we created about how local governments are suffering during the Recession – and how we all suffer as a result.

Most of these issues are not specific to our county, or our state.  Most of these issues are not even particular to our country during the Recession.

So if you have a few minutes to spare today…

Government in Challenging Economic Times on Vimeo.  (If you’re curious, you can see a few of my other videos here.)

Sadly, our local government budgets have only decreased since we made this video.

How is your local government doing?

 

Washington for Haiti Event - January 28th, 2010

haitiwa

I promised Rob and a few other local Seattleites that I would let you know when we’re having microfinance events.  I had no idea it would be so soon!

My company, Re-Vision Labs, is partnering with Seattle Greendrinks, SeaMo, and Global Washington to co-host “Washington for Haiti” in recognition of the urgent need for support.

Join Us

When: Thursday, 28 January 2010, 6pm-9pm

Where: Pike Brewery, 1415 First Ave Seattle WA

What: A Benefit to support the work of one of Haiti’s most well-established economic development organizations, as they play a key role in emergency relief and long term reconstruction efforts.

Who: Hear from speakers representing Fonkoze and other organizations working on the ground in Haiti, as well as live music from Sunday Evening Whiskey Club.

Cost: $20 suggested donation at the door, with all proceeds going directly to Fonkoze.

Learn More

  • Learn more about the event in the blog post I wrote here.
  • Learn more about microfinance in the blog post I wrote recently here.
  • Learn more about what you can do for the people of Haiti here.

Change The World By Changing The Way We Invest

Join The Movement: Changing the World by Changing the Way We Invest

That Is the slogan I created for a new movement. It starts today, physically in Seattle and remotely around the world.

Change The World

The economics of the past clearly haven’t worked, as we have seen over the past several years, but particularly in the last year. The economic norms don’t have humanity in mind, they are not for the good of the people, they are for the good of the few. The rich few. But as you all know from yesterday’s post, I believe individual actions make a difference. I believe each of our actions together can change the world.

Money is one of the things that makes the world go round, there’s no denying it – when the economy goes south, we all feel it.

So let’s redefine finance, change how money works or doesn’t in our world. Let’s put our money where our passion is and truly, completely, invest in our future.

What Is It?

If you’ve ever heard of microfinance or microcredit, that’s what this is. Briefly, here’s how it works: instead of investing your money in a money market fund, or keeping it in a savings account, you put it into an Oikocredit fund. That fund is used to provide loans and business services to people in the developing world who cannot obtain a bank loan for their business plan (because they are poor and have no collateral or previous credit history). These loans have a 95-99% success rate – much higher than typical small business loans. And in 35 years, Oikocredit has repaid every single lender with their money plus interest.

It is a strategy for bringing people out of poverty by helping them become self-sufficient.   And it is a strategy for changing the world by changing what we do with our investments: why give our savings to a big bank who cares nothing about you, your money, or the greater good of the world? You can do more with your money.

Who Does It Change?

Here is a bit I wrote on the Oikocredit website about a woman named Flora.

Flora

Flora lives in a region of Kenya where 90% of people in the area live below the poverty line on less than $2 a day. When Flora’s husband was killed and their cattle stolen in 2001, she cried, feeling helpless and hopeless. But with four young children to support, she desperately needed to rebuild her life. With a series of loans – and a lot of hard work – she was able to re-establish her herd and eventually open a small grocery store. Little by little Flora started thinking big again and taking control of her life.

Flora has never forgotten her own struggle and is devoted to helping others in her community. She offers fair credit in her shop to customers who need it. In addition to a home for her family, she has also built rooms to rent out. This housing means others can live affordably and benefit like she has from the town’s growth. Today, she not only feeds and clothes her family; she pays school fees for her two brothers and plans to send her own children to college. Her future dreams include opening another business. Not only does Flora have improved her own life, but she has also become the inspiration for other single women in her community. Photography: Samburu Teachers Sacco

If you’re still unsure, I encourage you to try investing $25 and see what happens, see how it feels to fuel someone else’s success as you keep you own money safe.

I wonder now why haven’t we done this long ago.  I only recently heard about microfinance, I don’t know about you.  My guess is that we weren’t thinking about how to help each other at the same time we help ourselves, and the big banks have much bigger marketing budgets than these organizations who are trying to change the world.

What amazing connections, impacts, true life changes we can create by changing the way we invest and focusing on putting our investment dollars to the same scrutiny that we put our food buying dollars.

Join Us, Learn More

If you want to learn more, and meet the CEO of this non- profit, come join us tonight:

Date: Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Time: 5:30pm – 9:00pm
Location: Evo
Street: 122 NW 36th St in Fremont; Seattle, WA; 98107
Cost: Free!  Includes drinks and snacks

If you aren’t in the area, don’t worry – we’ve created a fabulous site with lots of information here.  Or if you want a personal connection, just email me – I’m happy to let you know all I know about it.  Also, this is also just the kickoff event – we will be having more organizing events in the coming months around the United States.  If you are not in the US, you can learn more about Oikocredit investments in your country here.

And finally, while this is a client of my new mission-driven business, we picked this client for a reason. We set out to change the world as a business, so we don’t choose our clients lightly.  Oikocredit has been around for 35 years, with an amazing mission and truly selfless people working together. They also take huge strides to make sure their work is socially, environmentally, and economically sustainable.  They want to improve the world just as much as we do.

If you want to look around at other microfinance organizations to pick which one works best for you, there are several others.  Just make sure you investigate them as we did with Oikocredit – make sure they are offering loans at reasonable rates to people in the developing world, and that they offer services beyond loans – support services like courses in creating a business plan, accounting, marketing, etc – these things are what make the biggest difference.

Change the world by changing the way you invest. Join the movement.

Thoughts?

Have you thought about your investments in this way before?  Will you think about changing the way you invest?  Do you have questions, or other suggestions about ways to change the way we think about money?

Ten Holiday Traditions That Are Simple, Low-Cost, and Fun

Candle by firemedic58 on Flickr

 

Originally posted in 2008, I thought this would be a good reminder for all of us… please add your wonderful suggestions in the comments!

 

While Redefining The Holidays, I wrote that my family has some traditions that we’ve kept through the years, even as my sister and I have grown and moved across the country in opposite directions.


We eat creamed eggs (and ham for non-vegetarians) on Christmas Eve. Does that sound like a strange meal? It was once a Christmas morning tradition, where we’d have creamed eggs for breakfast after opening presents. But then the extended family changed our gathering from evening to morning, and we didn’t get a chance to have creamed eggs for breakfast. So we moved it to Christmas Eve.


When my sister and I were just entering our teens, we decided we needed a new tradition. Long after Santa was discovered, we made a tradition that after our creamed eggs and ham, we would all sit together in front of the fire and pass around ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas, each of us reading one stanza before we pass it to the next person. I remember once my grandmother called long distance while we were just beginning to read, and she joined us, reading stanzas from her copy in New Mexico.


The tradition continued long after my sister and I left the house for college. When significant others made it home with us, they joined in the tradition. Sometimes one or both of us didn’t make it for Christmas, so we conferenced in via telephone, I in New York or Los Angeles, my sister in St. Louis.


After we read ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas, we each open one present from beneath the tree. And then we either go off to bed, or – more likely – we spend some time getting our presents together for the next day’s celebration.


They are simple traditions, but there is comfort in tradition, isn’t there? Sure, sometimes we groan about reading ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas, but in truth it brings us all together in the present, as it reminds us of good times in the past.


Popcorn and Cranberry Garland by Gare and Kitty on Flickr


Ten Simple, Frugal, and Fun Holiday Traditions


1. Attend a Christmas Eve candlelight service at your church – children love this.  Or light a menorah or kinara each evening.  Or light a peace candle and place it in the window at sundown.  Remember that the ceremony is as important as the candle – make sure to infuse the lighting with meaning and significance.


2. Work on creating your family tree together.  Each year, get together and research another generation of your family tree.  You might create a scrapbook for this purpose.  Add stories and anecdotes if you have them or can find them.  Read favorite past stories to youngsters and new members of the family.


3. Make holiday gifts together:  eg, cookies, fudge, marmalade, jars of spices or seeds, calendars, salts, soap, bubble bath or bath salts, candles, sachets, knitting projects, sewing projects, dried soup mixes, coupons for experiences/services, your family’s traditional homemade foods (eg, frozen tamales, cannolis), and so on.


4. Make holiday decorations together:  trim the boughs with holly and cedar, create bread dough ornaments, string popcorn and raw cranberries, make a wreath from plants in the garden, make pine-scented candles or potpourri vessels, build a homemade gingerbread house.


5. Volunteer at your local homeless shelter, soup kitchen, or food bank. While this is a good tradition to have other times of the year as well, in the Northern Hemisphere the holidays are the coldest time of year – when more homeless people need the warmth and safety of shelter and good meals.  This experience leaves a lasting impression on many children – suddenly meals, shelter, and gifts are not taken so much for granted.


6. Decorate wrapping paper together.  Collect newspapers, magazines, used printer paper, paper bags, and other reusable paper. Then use holiday stamps, crayons, ink, scissors, and whatever else strikes your fancy – to personalize your wrapping paper together.


7. Redistribute the wealth together. If your family can afford to somehow help another family who is less well-off, get together and figure out the best way to help. Could you give the other family much-needed gifts? Invite them over for dinner? Make them some homemade frozen meals they can pop into the oven when they need them? Tutor their children in English? Help set up a scholarship fund for their children to go to school? Help parents get a job, or a better job with a livable wage? Babysit their children so the adults can have a night out together? Send the children of a parent who is serving overseas a care package? Be creative – it doesn’t have to be expensive, and it shouldn’t make anyone feel uncomfortable.


Northwest Native Americans have a tradition of potlatch ceremonies, where the more wealthy families throw a big feast and give gifts for those who are less well off.  There is no expectation for the gifts to return – the return is the feeling that you have given what you can to help others.  But even if you don’t feel wealthy right now, remember there is someone else out there who is less well-off than you.  Give what you can – even if it is time and/or experience, it can be very helpful to others more in need.


8. Play games together.  Dig out that old Scrabble board, Boggle, Pictionary, deck of cards, or whatever you have in your basement or closet.  If you don’t have any games, you can usually find them at local thrift stores and garage sales for cheap. Then spend the evening drinking eggnog and playing games!


9. Sit in front of the fire and take turns reading a book together.  It can be ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas, like my family (above). It can be a favorite family story, or a new book each year.  And if there are family members who can’t make it home for the holidays, call them on the phone and make them a part of this tradition.


10. Reflect on the past year and make plans for the new year together.  What would you have done differently if you could?  What will you chance about yourself and your work as you move forward into the new year?  What goals did you reach this past year, and what will you strive to reach in the coming year?  How can those around you help you with your new goals, your new journey?  How can you support one another to reach these new goals?


Luminaria 'Estrellas' by jared on Flickr


Please Share Your Own Traditions!


I find it incredibly useful to hear what others are doing to create traditions and consistency throughout the holidays.  So… please add to this list!


Lessons I’ve Learned From My Grandfather: #1

I know several of you are anxious to hear answers to your questions.  I apologize – our schedules haven’t synced up easily over the last week, and I haven’t made it to see my grandfather.  Totally a bummer, as I miss him and I can’t wait to ask him your questions.  But until I can get together with him, I thought you might be interested in some things I have learned from him.

 

Courtesy Henry Ford Museum


When he was young, my grandfather would go down to the corner of the road with his brother, and they’d wait.  Sooner or later they’d hear it:  chuck, chuck, clunk, clunk, getting closer….  Ah, there it was – a car!!  They’d cheer and whoop about, it was such a novelty.  There were several trains that passed by during that time, but the car was the thing.


A couple of months ago a friend of mine took his son down to the corner and they waited, and waited.  Sooner or later they heard it:  chugga, chugga, clank, clank, getting closer….  Ah, there it was – a train!!  They cheered and smiled, it was such a novelty.  There were hundreds of cars that passed by during that time, but the train was the thing.

 

“It’s about time they put the trains back in,” my grandfather said.  “I can’t believe they tore out all that track in the first place!  What a shame.  You know the technology isn’t really any different than it was?  It’s just more expensive now.”


Our great grandfathers often had the right answers.  Sometimes it seems like we should have spent more time fixing things that needed to be fixed, rather than things that didn’t need fixing.

 

Words That Define A Generation

 

A coworker sent me an email yesterday morning entitled, “Stop whatever you are doing right now and read this.”  I did stop and read it, and it is so close to how I feel that I wanted to share it with you.  It is also a good reminder to have around when we do feel overwhelmed.  Enjoy!

 

Commencement Address by Paul Hawken to the Class of 2009,

University of Portland, May 3, 2009


When I was invited to give this speech, I was asked if I could give a simple short talk that was “direct, naked, taut, honest, passionate, lean, shivering, startling, and graceful.” Boy, no pressure there.


But let’s begin with the startling part. Hey, Class of 2009: you are going to have to figure out what it means to be a human being on earth at a time when every living system is declining, and the rate of decline is accelerating. Kind of a mind-boggling situation… but not one peer-reviewed paper published in the last thirty years can refute that statement. Basically, the earth needs a new operating system, you are the programmers, and we need it within a few decades.

 

This planet came with a set of operating instructions, but we seem to have misplaced them. Important rules like don’t poison the water, soil, or air, and don’t let the earth get overcrowded, and don’t touch the thermostat have been broken. Buckminster Fuller said that spaceship earth was so ingeniously designed that no one has a clue that we are on one, flying through the universe at a million miles per hour, with no need for seatbelts, lots of room in coach, and really good food, but all that is changing.

 

There is invisible writing on the back of the diploma you will receive, and in case you didn’t bring lemon juice to decode it, I can tell you what it says: YOU ARE BRILLIANT, AND THE EARTH IS HIRING. The earth couldn’t afford to send any recruiters or limos to your school. It sent you rain, sunsets, ripe cherries, night blooming jasmine, and that unbelievably cute person you are dating. Take the hint. And here’s the deal: Forget that this task of planet-saving is not possible in the time required. Don’t be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do what needs to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after you are done.

 

When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse. What I see everywhere in the world are ordinary people willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in order to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world. The poet Adrienne Rich wrote, “So much has been destroyed I have cast my lot with those who, age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world.” There could be no better description. Humanity is coalescing. It is reconstituting the world, and the action is taking place in schoolrooms, farms, jungles, villages, campuses, companies, refuge camps, deserts, fisheries, and slums.

 

You join a multitude of caring people. No one knows how many groups and organizations are working on the most salient issues of our day: climate change, poverty, deforestation, peace, water, hunger, conservation, human rights, and more. This is the largest movement the world has ever seen. Rather than control, it seeks connection. Rather than dominance, it strives to disperse concentrations of power. Like Mercy Corps, it works behind the scenes and gets the job done. Large as it is, no one knows the true size of this movement. It provides hope, support, and meaning to billions of people in the world. Its clout resides in idea, not in force. It is made up of teachers, children, peasants, businesspeople, rappers, organic farmers, nuns, artists, government workers, fisherfolk, engineers, students, incorrigible writers, weeping Muslims, concerned mothers, poets, doctors without borders, grieving Christians, street musicians, the President of the United States of America, and as the writer David James Duncan would say, the Creator, the One who loves us all in such a huge way.

 

There is a rabbinical teaching that says if the world is ending and the Messiah arrives, first plant a tree, and then see if the story is true. Inspiration is not garnered from the litanies of what may befall us; it resides in humanity’s willingness to restore, redress, reform, rebuild, recover, reimagine, and reconsider. “One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began, though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice,” is Mary Oliver’s description of moving away from the profane toward a deep sense of connectedness to the living world.

 

Millions of people are working on behalf of strangers, even if the evening news is usually about the death of strangers. This kindness of strangers has religious, even mythic origins, and very specific eighteenth-century roots. Abolitionists were the first people to create a national and global movement to defend the rights of those they did not know. Until that time, no group had filed a grievance except on behalf of itself. The founders of this movement were largely unknown Granville Clark, Thomas Clarkson, Josiah Wedgwood and their goal was ridiculous on the face of it: at that time three out of four people in the world were enslaved. Enslaving each other was what human beings had done for ages. And the abolitionist movement was greeted with incredulity. Conservative spokesmen ridiculed the abolitionists as liberals, progressives, do-gooders, meddlers, and activists. They were told they would ruin the economy and drive England into poverty. But for the first time in history a group of people organized themselves to help people they would never know, from whom they would never receive direct or indirect benefit.. And today tens of millions of people do this every day. It is called the world of non-profits, civil society, schools, social entrepreneurship, and non-governmental organizations, of companies who place social and environmental justice at the top of their strategic goals. The scope and scale of this effort is unparalleled in history.

 

The living world is not “out there” somewhere, but in your heart. What do we know about life? In the words of biologist Janine Benyus, life creates the conditions that are conducive to life. I can think of no better motto for a future economy. We have tens of thousands of abandoned homes without people and tens of thousands of abandoned people without homes. We have failed bankers advising failed regulators on how to save failed assets. Think about this: we are the only species on this planet without full employment. Brilliant. We have an economy that tells us that it is cheaper to destroy earth in real time than to renew, restore, and sustain it. You can print money to bail out a bank but you can’t print life to bail out a planet. At present we are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it gross domestic product. We can just as easily have an economy that is based on healing the future instead of stealing it. We can either create assets for the future or take the assets of the future. One is called restoration and the other exploitation. And whenever we exploit the earth we exploit people and cause untold suffering. Working for the earth is not a way to get rich, it is a way to be rich.

 

The first living cell came into being nearly 40 million centuries ago, and its direct descendants are in all of our bloodstreams. Literally you are breathing molecules this very second that were inhaled by Moses, Mother Teresa, and Bono. We are vastly interconnected. Our fates are inseparable. We are here because the dream of every cell is to become two cells. In each of you are one quadrillion cells, 90 percent of which are not human cells. Your body is a community, and without those other microorganisms you would perish in hours. Each human cell has 400 billion molecules conducting millions of processes between trillions of atoms. The total cellular activity in one human body is staggering: one septillion actions at any one moment, a one with twenty-four zeros after it. In a millisecond, our body has undergone ten times more processes than there are stars in the universe exactly what Charles Darwin foretold when he said science would discover that each living creature was a “little universe, formed of a host of self-propagating organisms, inconceivably minute and as numerous as the stars of heaven.”

 

So I have two questions for you all: First, can you feel your body? Stop for a moment. Feel your body. One septillion activities going on simultaneously, and your body does this so well you are free to ignore it, and wonder instead when this speech will end. Second question: who is in charge of your body? Who is managing those molecules? Hopefully not a political party. Life is creating the conditions that are conducive to life inside you, just as in all of nature. What I want you to imagine is that collectively humanity is evincing a deep innate wisdom in coming together to heal the wounds and insults of the past.

 

Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course. The world would become religious overnight. We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God. Instead the stars come out every night, and we watch television.

 

This extraordinary time when we are globally aware of each other and the multiple dangers that threaten civilization has never happened, not in a thousand years, not in ten thousand years. Each of us is as complex and beautiful as all the stars in the universe. We have done great things and we have gone way off course in terms of honoring creation. You are graduating to the most amazing and stupefying challenge ever bequested to any generation. The generations before you failed. They didn’t stay up all night. They got distracted and lost sight of the fact that life is a miracle every moment of your existence. Nature beckons you to be on her side. You couldn’t ask for a better boss. The most unrealistic person in the world is the cynic, not the dreamer. Hopefulness only makes sense when it doesn’t make sense to be hopeful. This is your century. Take it and run as if your life depends on it.

 

You can read more about Paul Hawken at his website.  You may know him from his most recent publication Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being and Why No One Saw It Coming. According to Culture Change, he was presented with an honorary doctorate of humane letters by University president Father Bill Beauchamp, C.S.C., in May, when he delivered this speech.

 

Thanks, Dan, for sending the email. Have a wonderful day, everyone!

 

On Earth Day, I Worked To Create World Change


On Earth Day I went to a meeting.  An amazing meeting.  At our new company, we’re working hard to figure out ways to change the world while still making money to live on.  It has been a struggle all of my adult life.


Yesterday we met with a global microfinance leader, and for two hours discussed how we could change the world by changing our current investment system.  Instead of investing our money in companies that hurt the world just so that our money is “safe”, we can all be investing in helping others get out of poverty around the world.  Our money is even proven safer when we do this.


We’re still talking preliminarily, so I can’t divulge more, but suffice it to say that Earth Day for me was very meaningful.  I stayed up all night the night before working on the proposal for this meeting, and boy that was difficult (as I’m getting older!) but it was worth it more than almost any other all-night experiences I’ve ever had.


We live in difficult economic times, that is certain.  I wouldn’t encourage anyone to do what I did right now.  I left a lucrative career in film, and started a business during the worst financial crisis in my time!


But if you are thinking about how you can change the world with your work, I encourage you to think a little harder about it.  And to act on it.  How can you change your industry for the better, from within?  Can you make your workplace more green doing little things?  Can you help write a sustainability plan for your industry?  Can you even just bring like-minded people together at your workplace and talk about little changes you can make?  Think about it, and then do something.  Just start.


I will say it is not easy, and any change has roadblocks along the way.  But it will likely make you happier, our communities healthier, and our overall lifestyles more sustainable.  I can tell you first-hand, that it is incredibly rewarding.


Many of you wrote the other day that every day is Earth Day.  Your responses were wonderful – I love the meaningful things we all did on Earth Day.  Let’s do it every day.