Brave Leadership in the Beauty Industry: Stories of Two Women

The cosmetics and beauty product industry is notorious for its environmental and social impact at all points of its supply chain. When looking at the life cycle of mass-produced cosmetics, whether it be at the raw material procurement, employment processes, or packaging and distribution practices level, there are many challenging factors that amplify their ethical and carbon footprint. However, the sector is changing as consumers are growing concerned about the ethics of their purchasing power and choosing non-chemical product alternatives.

Lotta Kristiansen and Pernilla Rönnberg are two women who are changing the face of the beauty product industry, setting the example as industry leaders in Sweden. They have made ethical sourcing, organic and industry certification, and green waste management, pillars of their organizations.

Kristiansen is the CEO of Vasco AB, a chemical company that manufactures products for a variety of companies including hygiene and beauty care, in Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark. Their mission is to develop and produce environmentally adapted products with close cooperation with their customers. They are certified according to ISO 9001 since 1997 and ISO 14001 since 1999. Vasco AB is a family business and Kristiansen has been the CEO now for over ten years. It is her philosophy that there are no limits to sustainable growth. It was proven last year when they won the prize of Responsible Care.

What is something important to you that has made a big difference to Vasco AB?

Lotta Kristiansen: Orderliness is important to me and to the company. Long-term planning is crucial for long-term growth and to assure client satisfaction. We never let clients fall through the cracks.

Where do you get your personal energy?

LK: It is the result of knowing that we can generate happiness, clarity or profitability for our clients- tangible outcomes that they want.

Do you have advice for leaders who want to develop their leadership further?

LK: Believe in yourself and like what you are doing. Develop a good network with people outside of your organization- people you can trust and who can advise you. Don’t micromanage, people can achieve a lot in ways that might be different from your way of doing things. And finally, don’t forget to take vacation and time off.

And in terms of bravery?

LK: It is about maintaining openness with all stakeholders and using common sense. 

Pernilla Rönnberg founded Estelle & Thild in Stockholm, Sweden in 2007. The certified organic brand draws from cutting-edge scientific research and uses pure bioactive ingredients. Pernilla had become uncomfortably aware of the harmful chemicals and unnatural ingredients liberally used by many skin care brands. Pernilla began to reflect on the world in which her daughters, Estelle and Mathilde, would grow up. She wanted to develop an innovative beauty brand rooted in high impact results and organic ingredients. Shortly after launching, Estelle & Thild became an instant success throughout Scandinavia and received accolades in the international press.

“A typical morning routine can contain over 200 chemicals. Many chemicals are added to cosmetic formulas to create pleasing textures, scents and colors. These additives can also extend a product’s shelf life. I believe this is unnecessary and potentially harmful. Using synthetic and impure ingredients can be damaging to the skin and body.”

Pernilla Rönnberg: The idea to create the brand came to me when I had my children Estelle and Mathilde and I wanted to do something meaningful. I saw the amount of chemicals used to produce conventional beauty products, and grew painfully aware of the effect these have on our bodies and the environment. I wanted to make a difference, to do my bit to help the world become a better place. So I set about developing a sustainable business to produce organic innovative skin care without compromising on luxury or results.

Have you ever thought of yourself as a Brave Leader?

PR: No, I have never thought of it as being brave - never when it came to the sustainability of the products. I see it more as a duty. It was definitely a risk though to start a cosmetics company in an already saturated market with many big players. However, the implementation of sustainable practices in our operations differentiated us quickly.

Before that, I worked with a beauty company that was later bought out. I completed an MBA but still didn’t know what my next move would be. At the same time, I became a mother and was increasingly concerned about their future. They gave me the inspiration to develop Estelle & Thild. When I had my children, I was very focused on food. I wished to give them wholesome food but it was hard to find. Today it is different, you can buy it almost everywhere. Skin care products are improving too.

What gives you the energy to keep working today?

PR: I would like to influence the giants, the big players of the industry. If more and more small actors work together to grab a larger share of the market for sustainable beauty products, then the big companies will eventually have to open their minds and take a look at their due diligence.

Why do you think that some leaders are more prepared to stand up for their values and beliefs than others?

PR: To be alone pushing for a change in an organization is very difficult. You must have a group of people whom you can trust and who want to support you. Financial gain still is a larger priority for many leaders. However, today in Sweden, an increasing amount of companies have developed a sustainability strategy. But I don’t think it is yet the same globally.

What do you think about the young generations?

PR: I am very positive about the future. The young generations are very conscious and don’t buy into the traditional capitalist model and marketing schemes.

Do you have advice for future leaders wanting to develop their skills geared for bravery?

PR: To stand up for what you really want. It is much more rewarding for you and also for the others in the organization, if they can trust you. Leadership, after all, implies the responsibility of being fair and open.


This article was written and edited by Margareta Barchan and Jessica Newfield.



When you first hear about Haiti in the news, the first thing that usually comes to mind is the devastation of the Southwestern part of the country’s infrastructure from the 7.0 magnitude earthquake in 2010, especially in Port-au-Prince and surrounding towns, The country is still recovering even though $13 billion in foreign aid have been earmarked until 2020, making Haiti one of the 10 biggest recipients of foreign aid in the world. As a result, Haiti has become known as the “Republic of NGOs”, the island of donated foreign goods that more often than not, hurt the local economy.

Still, Haitians have found alternative solutions to a high unemployment rate: entrepreneurship. According to the National Center for Policy Analysis’ research, “The continuous experience of self-employment is the most effective strategy for economic mobility (...) higher average rates of entrepreneurship in a state correspond to bigger declines in poverty; in fact, every 1 percentage point increase in entrepreneurship corresponds to a 2 percent decrease in the poverty rate.” Innovative companies like Bridge Capital have helped revitalize the Haitian economy, by providing small loans to businesses that otherwise don't qualify. Bridge Capital has already helped create 10 000 jobs and plans to create 100 000 more by 2020 across public and private sectors.

Social entrepreneurship has become a growing field for Haitians to generate sustainable income and create for themselves work opportunities that help rebuild their communities. Diallo and Evadie suggest, “A well-established social entrepreneurship program in Haiti will help to enhance its sustainable development programs and create more jobs not only for the youth but also for other marginalized populations in the country.” As such, social entrepreneurship, with the right management system and stakeholder engagement, can produce leaders that are prepared to fight against poverty in Haiti.

For our spring edition of the Brave Leaders Project, we were able to interview two social enterprises that are doing incredible work, Solisyon Kominote Yo (SolKomYo) and SOIL Haiti.

Photo credit: SolKomYo

Photo credit: SolKomYo

SolKomYo is a social innovation organization that introduces entrepreneurial solutions to solve community development challenges in the North East department of Haiti. Their projects include financial literacy, communal savings groups, micro-entrepreneurship, and leadership programs for female merchants, agricultural workers and youth to empower them as community leaders and help their communities become more self-sufficient.

Photo credit: SOIL Haiti

Photo credit: SOIL Haiti

SOIL primarily focuses on promoting the use of ecological sanitation (EcoSan), a process by which human wastes are converted into valuable compost. EcoSan simultaneously tackles some of Haiti’s toughest challenges by providing sanitation to people who would otherwise have no access to a toilet and producing an endless supply of rich, organic compost critical for agriculture and reforestation. Working with communities to design and test ecologically and socially beneficial solutions, SOIL implements low-cost technologies that are simple, easy to replicate, require minimal water, and provide safe and dignified access to sanitation.

We had the opportunity to talk to the leaders who helped grow these organizations from idea to full-fledged viable businesses. Stay tuned for our interviews with them- we’ll be releasing them in the coming weeks!


"For Those Who Died Trying": A Photo Exhibit on Violence Against Human Rights Defenders in Thailand

It is an unfortunate fact that the livelihoods of human rights defenders, journalists and activists are threatened in some parts of the world for seeking to keep governments and companies accountable. To commemorate and honour the humanitarians and environmentalists who gave up their lives fighting for environmental and social justice for their local communities in Thailand, Protection International has partnered with photographer Luke Duggleby on his photo exhibition,"For Those Who Died Trying", at the Bangkok Art and Cultural Centre.

Thailand is known for being a country with one of the worst track records in terms of violence against Human Rights Defenders (HRD) according to Protection International. It includes a system of impunity putting HRDs at high risk of violence and unjust persecution.

Whether it be protesting against waste dumping, illegal deforestation, land grabbing, to opposing the construction of polluting coal plants, mines, and even opposing torture of a lawyer representing local communities, or a local leader who is fighting against the retribution from police officials, HRD are not safe from retribution.

Duggleby drove nearly 10,000km during his two trips, from Chiang Rai and Udon Thani to Satun province to build his project. Getting the families’ approval for the portraits and understanding how they had tried to preserve memory of the deceased relatives, was most important to him.

We were fortunate enough to visit the exhibition in Bangkok before it travelled around Thailand. In the exhibition are photographs of 59 human rights and environmental activists who have been murdered or abducted over the last 12 years. Their portraits are placed almost at the exact place where the crimes occurred.

Some examples:

Thai-Muslim Human Rights Defender Mr Chalor Khaochua, 38, was shot on his way home from prayer at a local mosque on Lanta Island, in Krabi province on 14 February 2003. He was shot 4 times. He was a local activist condemning the illicit drug trade and was killed after presenting proof of police participation in the drug trade.

Thai-Muslim Human Rights Defender Mr Chalor Khaochua, 38, was shot on his way home from prayer at a local mosque on Lanta Island, in Krabi province on 14 February 2003. He was shot 4 times. He was a local activist condemning the illicit drug trade and was killed after presenting proof of police participation in the drug trade.

Mr Samnao Srisongkhram, 38, was shot dead in a field near his village on 25 November 2003 in Lam Nam Phong village, Khon Kaen province. He was the President of the Lam Nam Phong Environmental Conservation Association in Ubonrat district of Khon Kaen Province, leading a fight against the dumping of waste by a paper factory.

Mr Samnao Srisongkhram, 38, was shot dead in a field near his village on 25 November 2003 in Lam Nam Phong village, Khon Kaen province. He was the President of the Lam Nam Phong Environmental Conservation Association in Ubonrat district of Khon Kaen Province, leading a fight against the dumping of waste by a paper factory.

Woman Human Rights Defender Ms Pakwipa Chalernklin, 49, was shot dead on the 14 October 2004 near to her house in Ba Mok District of Ang Thong province. She was a community member of Baan Hua Krabu group who were fighting against the construction of a container port on the nearby river.

Woman Human Rights Defender Ms Pakwipa Chalernklin, 49, was shot dead on the 14 October 2004 near to her house in Ba Mok District of Ang Thong province. She was a community member of Baan Hua Krabu group who were fighting against the construction of a container port on the nearby river.


Neuroleadership: A Field Moving Us Towards Sustainable Performance

Traditionally, leaders go down in history for their impressive list of accomplishments and contributions to society. When analysing the conditions that make leaders who they are, we talk about a leader’s specific upbringing, education and experiences. An even deeper analysis can also include a study of the psychology of leaders and their resilience in pursuing their goals. However, we often ignore the source of this resilience: neuroplasticity, in other words, the ability for the brain to change itself.

Neuroscience is the study of how the nervous system develops, its structure, and what it does. Neuroscience helps us understand the effect of the brain on our behaviour.  In this context, applied neuroscience can help improve workplace performance. Neuroleadership is a term coined by David Rock in 2006, summarising the concept of applying neuroscience to leadership development and management training.

Dr Tara Swart is a leadership coach with a PhD in neuroscience whose research is at the forefront of the application of neuroscience in different industry sectors for developing the next generation of business leaders. She started The Unlimited Mind consultancy that applies neuroscience to create innovative models of leadership and team coaching in diverse sectors (i.e. financial services, natural resource management, and media). She has been interviewed about whether leaders are born or made.  

She explains that applying neuroscience to leadership can help leverage diversity of thinking in teams, cultivate a culture of trust and creativity, and facilitate adaptability to change. Such observed positive applications enable sustainable behaviour change of leaders regardless of the organisation. Neuroscience provides a breadth of knowledge for managers that want to develop their non-technical skills. (i.e. creating a space for employees to do their best work and be proactive; self-regulation of emotions; managing different expectations within a diverse team). She speaks of 4 steps to create sustainable behaviour change:

  1. Raising awareness regarding behaviour that needs to change;

  2. Focusing attention on the new desired behaviour (the brain reroutes the blood supply to what we are focusing on);

  3. Deliberate practice (intensity of practice lays down a fully-formed pathway that is repeated to become the new default practice);

  4. Therapeutic relationship (i.e. with a coach, friend, therapist, or technological applications that can keep you accountable to change).

Dr Swart’s research shows that neuroplasticity manifests itself in different activities. For activities that we enjoy and do well, we have already acquired a repetitive neural pathway to complete this activity. For activities for which we have a large potential but still need to improve on, neuroplasticity is more intensive in that more neurons are connecting to accommodate the development of a skill. For activities that are completely new and don’t come naturally to us, this demands additional oxygen and glucose for the new neural pathways and the higher rate of neuroplasticity. These activities are very resource-intensive.

The brain is an organ of interconnection and the ability to connect neurons in more areas comes from repeated exposure to different experiences.  Exposing teams to new and different challenges while providing the support to withstand these new challenges and stresses, is key to increasing performance and providing strength-based learning.

An example of an activity that encourages neuroplasticity is a facilitated ideation-strategy session designed to promote creative thinking. Hitachi Data Systems executives tested this out. They were asked to think about repositioning their business while being given prompts by a classics professor about traditions in Ancient Athens. The executives ended up using the structure of a Greek agora to inspire how they would reorganise the company. They weren’t given specific instructions on how to do so, but their conversation with the professor inspired them to create a new and potentially better way to share information.

Hence, immersing themselves in a whole new vocabulary and wealth of knowledge thanks to the professor allowed them to develop news systems of thinking. The executives, as a result, demonstrated a willingness to step back from their existing beliefs and prejudices to cultivate new ideas and perspectives. Following this reasoning, leaders can be “made” if they make the conscious decision to change and are willing to adapt to new situations that stimulate their neuroplasticity.

Alan Watkins, founder and CEO of Complete Coherence Ltd., has also addressed the neurological conditioning for changing behaviour in his work.  He is recognised as an international expert on leadership and human performance, with a degree in psychology and PhD in immunology.

Watkins’ argument is that understanding what drives behaviour is the only way to change performance.  How we think determines what we do. Sustainable change or consistent performance isn’t possible without understanding how people think. And how people think is based on how they feel. And to change the feelings, we have to identify the raw emotions beneath them. To change behavioural habits, we have to change the biological context in which thoughts emerge.

What makes neuroleadership so innovative is that it provides solutions for professionals based on science to improve performance, manage diversity and facilitate better learning. These types of solutions are becoming more concretely formalised with research organisations like the NeuroLeadership Institute that offers educational programs utilising breakthroughs in neuroscience in order to transform leadership effectiveness. Their programs focus on problem-solving, emotional regulation, team collaboration and change management.

It is undeniable that neuroplasticity plays a key part in achieving sustainable behaviour change for employees, managers, and executives to grow into the leaders they want to be. It will be exciting to see how neuroleadership continues to grow as a field of applied learning and experimentation for organisations and individuals to excel beyond their previously perceived insurmountable limits.

Dr. Swart has authored and co-authored over 20 articles in journals of neuroscience and coaching. She speaks globally on the brain in business at international conferences, corporations and at top business schools including Oxford, Stanford and MIT.

Dr. Watkins has researched and published widely on psychology and immunology for over 18 years. He is currently an Honorary Senior Lecturer in Neuroscience and Psychological Medicine at Imperial College, London as well as an Affiliate Professor of Leadership at the European School of Management, London.

This article was written and edited by Jessica Newfield.


An Interview with Philip Eklöf: Your Office Can Make Better Environmental Choices

Reducing waste and promoting triple bottom line thinking has become increasingly integrated into companies’ operations around the world. In Sweden, Philip Eklöf, CEO of Office Recycling is largely responsible for stewarding better corporate practices around environmental impact in the country under the government’s “Fossil-Free Sweden” initiative, whether it be minimising transportation air emissions, developing sustainable procurement policies, or educating employees on environmental regulation and issues. Founded in 2011, Office Recycling grew quickly thanks to offering full life cycle environmental service packages to their clients. They now have over 1000 customers and were the first recycling company to obtain the Good Environmental Choice ecolabel. It takes very determined individuals to introduce new thinking into a traditional company and change the office culture. An individual like Philip Eklöf we had the chance to interview:

Eklöf: I am a very stubborn person. I never once thought about giving up. People have asked me often how it was that I could be so sure. And as I’ve been thinking about it, I’ve been remembering how I started to work early in life. My interest in the transportation industry started back when I was a 10-year-old working extra to keep the doors of removal men. And then when I started to run courier, I discovered what was needed there was for environmental recycling services.

Recycling started in the 1960s as part of the manufacturing supply chain and was later adopted by offices. But the office containers used were very ugly and not suited for being seen by clients. It was then that I came up with the idea of designing stylish containers for offices to throw papers for recycling. Bit by bit, we started offering more services.

Before I knew it, I had 70 customers. I started Office Recycling and left my job. I knew that where I was working, management wouldn’t approve of my ideas to promote environmental services because they didn’t understand how it could be profitable. But our environmental services offer a unique competitive advantage to our clients that keep them coming back.

Barchan: What drives you in your work?

Eklöf: What is driving me now is - freedom! To be able to do what I want and I think it is a reaction to my childhood in witnessing how businesses were run and realising how they could be improved. Also, protecting the environment is very important to me, so how we can operationalize it in practice is a big part of my passion.

Barchan: How determinant of a factor is the type of organisation for the success of your ideas?

Eklöf: The culture in an organisation makes all the difference. To change something demands support from others and for employees to be engaged. I believe that we all can want to learn something new, but the question is how well can it be done.

For example, we believe in environmental stewardship but don’t want to promote “greenwashing” in our clients’ behaviour.

Barchan: What do you think about the younger generations and their concern for the environment?

Eklöf: The younger generations are very engaged and understand the implications of our current consumer lifestyle. I am hopeful that they will encourage employers and suppliers to change for the better.

Our core value is to be entirely fossil- free and to push our competitors to become so as well. We have done it now successfully for five years and hope to continue and have an even greater impact in the future, especially in dense urban settings.

I decided from the start that the company will not be dependent on me. Our ego is overly dominant for many people that run companies. But I just want to generate a positive impact on society and to have the best people to do the different tasks in our company. And that is not always me. What is best for the company is more important than what is best for yourself.

Barchan:  Do you have any advice for our readers that want to become leaders?

Eklöf: Look at what already exist in a market and find its weak spots. Create a model for others to follow and that embodies your inner values. Be prepared to adjust to the circumstances. If you are under 40 and have a clear vision – just go. You have time to recover. What is needed for your vision to happen is a better question to ask than what you want from the vision.

We make a difference every day with people that can see the big picture. Everything we do affects the planet’s life cycle. It is up to us to make it a circular and positive one.

This article was written and edited by Jessica Newfield.

Let's Not Forget the Syrian Activists and Aid Workers

As the Syrian army gains control of East Aleppo, it is unclear if the most recent ceasefire deals will guarantee safe evacuation of the remaining residents, and what the future of the Syrian political state holds for them. In these bleak times, journalists and activists have risen as the bravest of leaders, continuing to document the lack of protection of Syrian civilians and their basic human rights.  

Over 100 journalists have been killed in Syria since the beginning of the conflict which makes Syria the most dangerous country in the world for news coverage. Freelance journalists and news reporters have continued to risk their lives since the political collapse, attempting to share the most accurate coverage of the situation for the rest of the world to wrap their heads around.

Syrian blogger and activist Marcell Shehwaro documented her life in Aleppo and in eventual exile outside of Syria in an award-winning online series for Global Voices called “Dispatches From Syria”.

Photo credit: Amer Sweidan

Photo credit: Amer Sweidan

Back in May 2014, she wrote: “The revolutionaries are hoping to reunite parts of the city, which has been divided for about two years. With some areas under government control, and others in the hands of the rebels, we residents of Aleppo have ourselves become a divided people, separated within ourselves.”

Marcell Shehwaro’s mother was killed at a Syrian regime forces’ checkpoint in June 2012. Her blog entries have captured her personal experience of the war, as well as the widespread suffering faced by polarized Syrians.

There are also activists and journalists still currently in Syria, braving conditions more dire by the hour. Bilal Abdul Kareem is the last international journalist, as part of On The Ground News, currently present in Aleppo continuing to write articles and make video interviews demanding that the international community stay engaged while a humanitarian corridor struggles to be made.

Photo credit: Bilal Abdul Kareem.

Photo credit: Bilal Abdul Kareem.

Nonprofits like the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) work to ensure the safety and needs of non-combatant journalists in conflict zones. Jason Stern, Senior Associate at the CPJ commented in an interview with Syria Deeply, “the main challenges that journalists face in Syria are not just for them alone to face, they’re for the world to face. As horrible as Syria has been, and as unique as it looks now, there will be another one somewhere else.”

Since March 2011, the Syrian conflict has displaced over 11 million people from their homes, with 4.8 million seeking refuge in neighbouring countries. There are an estimated 2 million injured and 450,000 killed from the conflict, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).

Photo credit: Karam Foundation Fact Sheet.

Photo credit: Karam Foundation Fact Sheet.

When we bear witness to complex international crises like the Syrian conflict, we can feel powerless in front of an ever-increasing death toll and unsuccessful international intervention. It has become one of the worst genocides the world has witnessed. The international community has been greatly divided in how to find a political solution to the conflict- journalists and activists come together to bridge that power gap.

Local activists have also organized to provide emergency relief as well as long-term sustainable education for Syrian refugees. Karam Foundation is a nonprofit that focuses on sustainable solutions for the future in Syria, and has demonstrated immense solidarity throughout the conflict. Lina Sergie Attar is the co-founder and CEO of Karam Foundation.

Lina Sergie Attar, Director of Karam Foundation. Photo credit: Karam Foundation.

Lina Sergie Attar, Director of Karam Foundation. Photo credit: Karam Foundation.

She is a Syrian-American architect and writer from Aleppo. She co-developed its Innovative Education initiatives which provide entrepreneurial and technological workshops as well as art therapy and holistic wellness programs for displaced Syrian children and youth.

Traveling often back and forth to the Syrian border in Southern Turkey, Sergie Attar runs the foundation’s Smart Aid programs that provide ambulances and emergency aid to the volunteer rescue workers called the White Helmets, and infant formula and school sponsorships to Syrian families.  

These programs highlight her true activist spirit in furthering grassroots collaboration and community organizing: “Over the past five years we’ve seen an outpouring of creativity, survival tactics and ingenuity from all different kinds of activists, whether in media, arts, music, local civil society governance, the White Helmets, the schools, the hospitals and the humanitarian efforts that defied the largest aid organizations in the world and were able to continue to function inside of Syria.”

These kinds of sustainable solutions are proof of the resilience of Syrian refugees and activists. Adapted and innovative education being one of those solutions echoed by 18-year-old Muzoon Almellehan at the United Nations: “We need education, because Syria needs us”. Allying with Nobel Peace Prize-winner Malala Yousafzai, and after advocating for girls' education at the Azraq camp in Jordan, Almellehan has become a voice for young Syrians striving for access to education and youth empowerment.

Girls' education advocates Malala Yousafzai, left, and Muzoon Almellehan, right. Photo credit: Darren Staples/Reuters

Girls' education advocates Malala Yousafzai, left, and Muzoon Almellehan, right. Photo credit: Darren Staples/Reuters

"I meet lots of refugees who think that it’s a bad thing, a bad name," Muzoon says. "For me? No. For me, a refugee name gives me strength to create a bright future from my hard situation. We are not weak people. We are strong people. We are not just refugees, we are not just children — we can make a change. I know the change is difficult, but not impossible." These refugees and activists aren’t just brave because of today’s circumstances- they are the leaders of tomorrow.

This article was written and edited by Jessica Newfield.

Additional resources for readers- here are just 2 easy actions you can take today:

  1. Petition your government directly.

In Canada, contact your local Member of Parliament and ask them to take action by talking to the foreign minister regarding Canadian efforts in humanitarian aid and negotiations with Russian and Iranian forces. Contact the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs (+1 (800) 267-8367) and ask them to support the ceasefire agreement. You can specifically contact the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Ottawa (+1 (613) 235-4341 or and ask them to tell their representatives to respect and abide by the ceasefire agreement.

Find your Member of Parliament by Postal Code:

Number of the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs: +1 (800) 267-8367

Number of the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Ottawa: +1 (613) 235-4341

Email of the Consul General of the Russian Federation in Ottawa:

(Thank you McGill Daily for their statement with this contact info!)


2) Donate to these and other reliable and effective organizations.

From my experience in the nonprofit sector, nonprofits that work closely with local partners or community organizations (community-led) on the ground usually are more efficient in tapping into existing relief networks. There is a big difference between emergency relief and long-term socially innovative solutions. Both are important, but require different considerations.

Otherwise, here are some ratings to help you to guide your donor decisions:



Rachel Biderman: A Steward of Rainforest Restoration in Brazil

Protecting a country’s biodiversity is not always an easy endeavor, especially when the country’s academia, government institutions, and corporations have a less progressive agenda or face global market roadblocks. Brazil has become a sustainability leader in recent years, but still faces huge social and environmental challenges such as a growing income gap, criminalization of the poor, and deforestation of some of the world’s most precious natural resources. Brazil is one of the world’s ten largest carbon emitters.

Working with civil society and local stakeholders to address such issues has become the undertaking of the nonprofit World Resources Institute (WRI) to lead Brazil into a sustainable, low-carbon economy. WRI focuses its research and advocacy on solutions oriented towards smart urban planning, responsible financing, and climate literacy. Their recent work includes such projects as Global Forest Watch, an open-sourced mapping platform to monitor forest protection and deforestation for the entire world to gather and share crucial data, and EMBARQ, a network to share design solutions and ideas around sustainable transport in dense cities and to address lack of mobility. WRI also supports Initiative 20x20 to facilitate a dialogue around land and forest restoration among governments, civil society and the private sector. The Initiative has committed these actors to bring 20 million hectares of land in Latin America and the Caribbean into restoration by 2020. 

Rachel Biderman has been the Country Director of WRI Brazil since 2011. Beyond her prestigious title, Biderman is a true environmental leader. Her expertise includes public policy around environmental law, stakeholder engagement and inter-institutional relations in nonprofit and private sectors. She has also done extensive academic research on climate phenomena, specifically on reforestation and water security.

Here is an excerpt from Margareta Barchan’s interview with Rachel Biderman in São Paulo:

Margareta Barchan: When thinking of your vision of a sustainable future, have you ever thought of it in terms of brave leadership? What does this look like for organizations?

Rachel Biderman: If you want to do it right, if sustainability is part of your life, it takes courage, because you have to face counter opinions, people who don’t believe in what you believe. It takes speaking up for your values, volunteering information, and it requires permanent advocacy for what you believe in. Most people want to stay in their comfort zone and achieve the minimum. To change the culture of an organization it takes courage for employees and managers to defy the status quo.

Barchan: Can you give an example of a time when you have gone against instructions?

Biderman: Back in 2008, I had a very upsetting conversation with the President of the University I worked at. I was called into his office to discuss my recent research on the investment trends of Brazilian banks and my findings that these banks were investing in companies that destroyed the rainforest.  He called me crazy and told me that I was naive and young, didn’t know what I was doing. He said that what I wanted to do was impossible.

I responded that someone had to do this and hold the banks accountable financially. He was so upset I thought I was going to lose my job. I didn’t lose my job but I was prevented from doing the research. You could really see the bureaucratic legacy of the military dictatorship in Brazil even in the university context.

Barchan: Nonetheless, you continued to fight to protect the rainforest through your work with various NGOs. How does this courage manifest itself with the World Resources Institute (WRI) where you work right now?

Biderman: I constantly stand up for the protection and restoration of the Brazilian rainforest, and more recently, I’ve focused my research and advocacy work on exploring how land is crucial for water security.  You can’t just protect land, you have to restore it.  That’s the angle I’ve been promoting at WRI and I’ve been able to fundraise a fair amount of funds for it.

Barchan: Have you ever have any doubts about your work?

Biderman: No, when I get to a point where I believe in something, I go all the way. I will take my time to form an opinion and make sure that I have all the information.  I don’t defend things that are not concrete or backed by facts. I am always concerned about how applicable things are; I’m not a blind idealist. So I don’t have doubts once I’ve made an informed decision.

Barchan: Have you ever considered the potential risks of your decisions in having an undesired outcome?

Biderman: Yes, in my restoration efforts, every ecosystem reacts differently. There are risks that projects are not as successful depending on the environment. That’s why I always make sure that we have the best scientists working with us before we make an intervention in the rainforest to mitigate the risks.

Rachel Biderman with colleagues and fellow restoration advocates.

Rachel Biderman with colleagues and fellow restoration advocates.

Barchan: Have you had these values since a young child?

Biderman: I’ve been thinking a lot recently about my childhood and my grandfather who would take me to the countryside. He would take my siblings and me all the time to spend vacation with them there to bathe in the river and swim in the waterfalls. For 10 years I did that every year. These are strong experiences from my childhood that have led me to where I am now and to defend the protection of the environment.

I also went to a strict Jesuit school. I was well-behaved but when the rules didn’t make sense I would question them. That character trait of mine is why I became a lawyer to stand up to injustice. I can’t be a bystander to someone being unintentionally or intentionally harmed. My childhood friends would request that I ask the teachers for things. I told them to stand up for themselves.

I also remember my grandmother telling me that I should make the bed for my brothers growing up (reminding me of sexist Brazilian traditions), and I would tell her that they could do it on their own. Why should they play soccer while I cleaned and made their beds? I think everyone should be treated equally.

Barchan: What’s the personal manifestation of this courage?

Biderman: I am a spiritual person and I’ve cultivated faith over the years. But it really comes down to values. I grew up doing social work in disfavored neighborhoods of São Paulo.

Spiritual connection is not necessary for all leaders. I think that the more you learn about human beings, the psychology of people, challenges, the less you fear people and are able to have a dialogue and build consensus. I have my beliefs and I will be aggressive to defend them when I need to, but ultimately, my bigger goal is to build consensus.

I had an experience with a nonprofit that works with indigenous people to defend their land and human rights. I worked with them as a lawyer. Their knowledge of sustainable livelihoods really opened my mind to long-term understanding of the environment.

Barchan: Are some people more prepared than others to be brave leaders?

Biderman: I think men are usually more prepared because they are still trained and valued more as leaders than women in organizations. But mostly, I think it’s about exposure to certain circumstances, like traveling and education that gives them chances to become excellent leaders. People that are put in the lucky position to travel the world have more opportunities for changing the world. They have seen so much. So some people are more prepared than others. And the mentors or coaches of these people are also crucial for investing in the right skills.

Barchan: Can you train people to become brave leaders?

Biderman: People can show you courage- and it is usually an inherent trait. But you can train people to find the leader within themselves. At the end of the day, a person has to believe in themselves and put the work in to become brave enough to act. In a sexist country like Brazil, making women aware of leadership opportunities is important for them to mature faster as leaders.

Barchan: Do you look for that “courage trait” in your employees?

Biderman: Yes, time is of the essence in our area of work. But we also need people to not just be brave leaders but honest and methodical organizers. You need both.

Barchan: What do you think of millennials and the “ social media” generation?

Biderman: My impression is that they are more horizontal in their decisions and don’t like hierarchies. They are also addicted to accessing information quickly but don’t always deep dive into understanding issues. Yet, they are problem-oriented and can synthesize complex situations quickly.

I keep telling my colleagues at different nonprofits and companies that we need to pass down the power and knowledge to the younger generations while speaking their technological languages. I think in the future, there will be fewer traditional NGOs and more self-led social movements and self-organized companies. In the current water crisis, seeing new leadership that is horizontal with collective decision-making power is encouraging. Social media here is key to this decentralized, democratic model.

Barchan: Where do you see Brazil be in 20 years?

Biderman: I am very optimistic. I think that Brazil will be more democratic. Media coverage will be more sophisticated and accurate to reflect a more decentralized power structure. We will transmit information and knowledge in a more innovative way. Twenty years from now, communication will be completely different.

However, it will be a bigger challenge for us to deal with the environment and the drought. We will have to stand together! We need people who are fast thinkers, solution-oriented, not bureaucratic, because we’ve run out of time to be inefficient. We have to assess the leaders that have guts to take difficult decisions.

We also have to think collectively in our leadership. Let go of our egos and be open to advice, and generous in how we manage and empower teams. There is no more time for egos, we have to trust each other to heal the planet.

Rachel has a PhD degree in Public Administration from Fundação Getulio Vargas, São Paulo, Brasil (2011), holds two masters degrees: Environmental Sciences (MSc), University of São Paulo (1999) and International Legal Studies, American University Washington College of Law, D.C. (1992). Rachel has a Law Degree from University of São Paulo (1990). She was fellow at the Science, Technology and Society Program at the Harvard JFK School of Government, Fall, 2009. She is the creator and coordinator of the course on "Low Carbon Management" at the Extension School of Fundação Getulio Vargas (as of 2010) and was a professor at FGV School of Business Administration on the Management of Sustainability (2006-2011).


This article was written and edited by Jessica Newfield.





The Future of the Retail Industry in Vietnam: Interview with LanVy Nguyen

The fashion retail and textile industry has been criticized for years because of its reputation for harsh work conditions in factory production, and its lack of due diligence in enforcing sustainable supply chain requirements, usually in China and South-East Asia. Nonetheless, new social enterprises have emerged in the sector recently, becoming a force for empowering artisans and textile workers through innovative production practices. Fashion4Freedom (F4F) is such an example of a company changing the sector.  F4F is a full production company created to serve as a responsible alternative to the current production and sourcing options for fashion retailers in Vietnam. F4F provides the first socially responsible, ethical and transparent supply chain in Asia created by designers for designers.  In 2015, Fashion4Freedom was recognized by the largest community of foreign and Vietnamese businesses—the Supply Chain Council in Vietnam—as SME of the year for Ethics and Innovation.  In 2016, the Prince Claus Fund recognized their work as the "future for Vietnamese craft" and funded their project to map artisans of Central Vietnam with the end goal of creating a version of Alibaba for artisans, paying particular attention to storytelling and design.

Here is our interview with LanVy Nguyen, the founder of F4F:

Margareta Barchan: Can you tell me about your professional background and how that evolved into Fashion4Freedom?

LanVy Nguyen: About 10 years ago, I left corporate finance to test my luck and my skills in an emerging market that was both endearing and ripe with opportunities for development and trade. There was plenty of growth in manufacturing in Vietnam and the US market was happy to balance trade with a partner comparable to China in terms of prices and ease of dealing. The business ventures were fabulous, but having witnessed a few too many underhanded business dealings and incidents of injustice, it was too hard for me to continue and accept the status quo. Yet, these events were too real to ignore. I did what most people who cared about issues of human exploitation do. I reached out to international NGOs in Vietnam whose specific goals were to end the type of exploitation I encountered.  To my horrible dismay, I found that some international NGOs in South East Asia pimped the poor better than the local mafias pushed their sex workers. I wanted to focus my energy on something that was less program-centric, and more solution-driven. While I believe wholeheartedly that capitalism can be compassionate, conversely humanitarian goals and entities should have expiration dates and exit strategies.  In 2010, we formalized that idea into what I call our "AID+TRADE" model.  We found that disenfranchised people put themselves in harm's way not because they lack skills, but because they are opportunity-poor and capital poor.  Too often, city-dwelling foreign NGOs attempt to create impact through some well-intended program to teach villagers how to fish when in reality what villagers needed were better rods, equipment, vehicles and basic infrastructure. Our AID-model looks at a village of artisans and asks how we can pump in the right kind of capital investment so that these highly skilled artisans would not have to migrate to a big city where both financial opportunities and exploitive risks occur.  What we do is absolutely oppositional to what’s happening in the Development Industry. We are taking an expensive risk with people purely based on their skills and potential. We take the position of a venture capitalist in the rural communities.  The payback is cultural preservation, economic justice, and in the long run, an alternative manufacturing option, a new kind of transparent and ethical supply-chain offered to the market that can also generate financial gains for us.  We work mostly with artisans and rural enterprises in Hue, Vietnam. We’ve worked with 69 artisans who have received funding for new equipment; in turn, our 69 incubatees have enriched over 41,000 people in their communities. We are not a traditional fashion company. We bring together manufacturers, designers, sponsors and philanthropists.

Barchan: Have you ever have thought of what you are doing as a brave initiative?

Nguyen: I’ve done nothing noble; I do what I think is responsible and I feel privileged to have the opportunity to put my principles in practice.  From the beginning, Fashion4Freedom has gone against the grain. Most retail suppliers and brands include Corporate Social Responsibility principles in their supply chain because they see it as their duty under new regulations to fulfill obligations rather than to make industry changes for the better.  Most investors think that we are doing things “wrong” by investing in low tech: artisans handmaking crafts rather than 3D printing as an example.  I see this however as an important investment in renewable materials and the preservation of culture.  So, all funding has to come from personal sources because other businesses don’t believe that what we offer is the right standard for quick profit.  We are not just producing fashion or garments. We are tapping into the massive fashion industry to create opportunities for economic justice for artisans marginalized and pushed outside the traditional boundary for trade, and this is why we are even so vastly different from the simplistic certification of fair trade products. I strongly believe that everybody wants to possess objects of beauty. Most of us would be very concerned if our egos were draped by products of unfair labor or other types of exploitation, but you can’t approach consumers through guilt. The first step in starting a serious conversation with consumers is to draw them in with an interesting and beautiful product. We lead with great designs and examples of best practices of our own. Once consumers are interested in the products, they are often persuaded by our purpose in hearing the stories of our artisans.  

More recently, ethical fashion has become trendy and the big fashion companies are turning to us for help because we have a solid reputation.  What we built goes far beyond a CSR initiative; that said, what we’ve built can certainly help someone improve their company’s CSR program and we can help impact their bottom line by tying it all back to their business operations.

Barchan: What was the turning point for you?

Nguyen: There are many incidents in our lives that inform and, sometimes, compel us towards decisions that would become pivotal. I was a boat refugee from Vietnam and my experience as both a Vietnamese and an American has truly shaped me. I grew up with the American Dream for wealth.  My husband and I started our career in finance: he as an investment banker on Wall Street and I did corporate finance, specializing in merger/acquisition negotiation. On the day of the tragic events of September 11th,  we missed our ferry into the World Trade Center by two minutes and, thus, saw the collapse of the Twin Towers from the Jersey riverfront side.  After 9/11, the US was clearly at war.  I was struck with the realization that I have never lived without the presence of war.  I was born during the time when America invaded Vietnam and as a result of 9/11, Americans called for another invasion.  

After being witnesses to something like 9/11, we both knew things would change.  As a consequence, my husband decided to pursue some personal hobbies and I decided to pursue my artistic and design orientation.  Opportunities brought me back to Vietnam, but I knew from the very beginning that given the option to start something new, I wanted to build “that something” responsibly and ethically.

Barchan: Can you give an example of a decision you made that was met with resistance?

Nguyen:  Everything about F4F was met with resistance because it called into question the conventions around retail.  At the time, we weren’t a formal NGO yet. Our way of managing philanthropic programs proved more effective than what NGOs were doing in Vietnam; many were simply band-aiding symptoms rather than finding solutions to the main and original problems. We wanted capitalism and thus, businesses to be a part of providing social solutions. We also understood that we needed to change the way production was done because unsustainable practices lead to conditions for social problems. For example, when marginalized producers leave their villages and migrate to a new city to work at factories they often incur huge debts that might lead to years of labor exploitation in order to pay back such obligations. We make investments at the village level to ensure systematic changes and provide economic choices.  We work directly with village artisans and share the profit of our collective labor. Marginalized producers and artisans need more than mere introductions to western retailers. A weaver from Laos might get an introduction to a brand, but the weaver probably doesn’t have the knowledge to assess and control quality or export in time to meet market needs. Small producers don’t need middlemen, they need partners who understand their needs for long-term sustainability.

Barchan: Can you give an example of a personal challenge you have been facing?

Nguyen: We set very high standards so the challenge is to consistently achieve and go beyond the last set of goals. Onward and upward is always my personal challenge but also what I continuously strive for.

Barchan: Do you have doubts about what you are doing?

Nguyen: All the time. We are challenging the system all the time and that is met with criticism from all sides.  

Barchan: What is your vision for the project in the future? Will it survive even after you stop leading it?

Nguyen: Definitely. Vietnam is only a test for us. We want to become much more global. When I engage people and seek future leaders for the project, I usually look for people from 22- 26 years old with aspirations to do meaningful work. I would rather have young people with hunger, drive, and courage than those who have experience and deflated ambition. I encourage both experiments and mistakes to happen because you cannot have moments of great discovery without failures. Young people need to understand and embrace failures so that they can meet the challenges of attempting to reach for success.

Barchan: Do you have advice for future leaders to become Brave Leaders?

Nguyen: Be honest with yourself about your own personal goals and abilities. Give up when you have to; it sounds very selfish but the only way to make others happy and drive success is if you’re happy and can truly contribute.  When you become unwilling or unable, you become deadweight.  When you acknowledge and accept your shortcomings, then you can grow and better understand your capabilities and what you can offer. Only then can you grow and blossom in ways you never thought possible.


This article was written and edited by Jessica Newfield.

The Contemporary Protest Song: Three Musicians Making Waves

“Music can change the world because it can change people.” - Bono

Music has always been a powerful tool for social commentary and galvanizing action over injustice, often without institutions’ approval. If there is any proof of the resilience of the protest song tradition, it’s “Mississippi Goddam”, written by Nina Simone, one of the mothers of jazz and the civil rights movement, whose music was banned in many US states in the 1960s for its activist nature. More recently, in the wake of Bob Dylan being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, the importance of protest music as a form of activism is increasingly undeniable in light of recent events with rampant police brutality in the United States and political tension in East Africa.

Here are three musicians who take on the themes of black resistance, women's empowerment, queer identity, and cultural diversity in their music. Their musical endeavors and public personas are true demonstrations of brave leadership.

Solange Knowles

Cover art of her new album, Seat at the Table. Photo source: Bitch Media

Cover art of her new album, Seat at the Table. Photo source: Bitch Media

Solange Knowles debuted her singing career in the early 2000s, with pop-infused R&B. She’s gained notoriety since the 2010s for breaking out of the commercial R&B mold, addressing political topics and collaborating with like-minded artists.

Her latest album released this year, A Seat at the Table, is an exploration of the shared history of oppression faced by African-Americans. Its content, curation and visual elaboration highlights the complex nature of the current cultural climate in the US; evoking issues of systemic racism and profiling, but also paying tribute to Black resistance and pride.

Her song “Rise” is a call to action against the police killings in Ferguson and Baltimore. With “Don’t Touch My Hair,” a collaboration with the artist Sampha, Solange addresses the “Other-ing” of many African-Americans in mainstream white culture. Trauma is a big theme in her album. But it is also accompanied by songs and interludes of empowerment and self-care. “F.U.B.U” is an homage to black heritage and Knowles’ personal ancestry.

When asked about black empowerment in an interview for The Fader, Knowles stated: “I don’t think everyone needs to be out here with pickets and signs and protesting; maybe their form of that is going into their office every day and standing firm as a person of color. We just have to be sensitive to each other and not criticize people as much as we do because their truth isn’t our truth, or they aren’t in the same place on the journey as we are.” She clearly has a strong sense of the importance of unifying people in a social movement regardless of protest strategy choices. Her lyricism transcends revolts and summons unity of cause and community of changemakers.

Meklit Hadero

Photo source: Speakerpedia.

Photo source: Speakerpedia.

Meklit Hadero is an Ethiopian-American singer-songwriter based in San Francisco, California, who uses everyday sounds to create and cultivate cultural diversity in politically-torn East Africa. Described by the San Francisco Chronicle as an an artistic giant in the making, she combines New York Jazz, Ethiopian sounds, and West Coast folk, and weaves a story of multiculturalism in her five albums. More recently, she worked with Eli Crews (best known for his work with tUnE-yArDs) and also explored more funky grooves with an Ethiopian tune "Kemekem" ("I Like Your Afro!").

Nature, language and silence are all cornerstones that Hadero plays with to express the synergy of music making and immersion in the world. Exemplifying how we are predisposed to co-creation, she samples birdsong, which is an integral part of music itself in Ethiopia.

In her TED talk, she adamantly encourages:  “Study music, trace your sonic lineages and enjoy that exploration. But there is a kind of sonic lineage to which we all belong. So the next time you are seeking percussion inspiration, look no further than your tires, as they roll over the unusual grooves of the freeway, or the top-right burner of your stove and that strange way that it clicks as it is preparing to light. When seeking melodic inspiration, look no further than dawn and dusk avian orchestras or to the natural lilt of emphatic language. We are the audience and we are the composers and we take from these pieces what we are given. We make, we make, we make, we make, knowing that when it comes to nature or language or soundscape, there is no end to the inspiration -- if we are listening.”

In 2011, she started the Nile Project, a residency project where eighteen musicians from seven Nile countries met to create a body of music together. She realized that it was easier for immigrant musicians to have access to a variety of cultures through music in the East African diaspora, than in their own countries in East Africa along the Nile. The project soon birthed questions of transforming cultural curiosity into political understanding, as musicians from the eleven Nile countries, sharing the same water source, started sharing and redefining their musical identities.

The Nile Project is now focusing on the theme of “Food Sustainability” with a program that supports Nile Basin university students in designing and implementing sustainable and community-driven solutions to food injustice. The program provides the students with skills-based training and collaboration opportunities with nonprofits and grassroots organizations.

Hurry for the Riff Raff

Photo source: Tour page.

Photo source: Tour page.

Hurry for the Riff Raff is a New Orleans blues-folk music collective that has carried on the Americana protest folk tradition, evolved from Woodie Guthrie’s iconic work. The lead singer is Puerto Rican Alynda Lee Segarra, who learned how to play the banjo in Louisiana after leaving the Bronx when she was a teenager. Her bandmate Yosi plays the fiddle. They claim protest music is in resurgence: "My musical heroes always were people who used their music as some form of political protest," Segarra told Mother Jones

But if protest music is back, they are bringing a new tone addressing LGBTQ rights in their collection of six albums: "You don't see a Puerto Rican girl play the banjo in a honky-tonk very often. You don't see a transgendered drummer/fiddle player very often. It's awesome. I think it's powerful that we'll play songs with the Tumbleweeds and show publicly that we accept and love each other as musicians and people. I hope that kind of acceptance and respect is contagious."

In 2016, American society is still not a fully safe space for LGBTQ communities. “Body Electric” is a song that reminds its listeners of violence experienced by these communities, people of color and women today, and serves as a protest anthem. The video for the song picks specific imagery to re-appropriate representations of classicism in a political context. Botticelli’s statue of Venus is replaced by the performance of transgender artist, Katey Red.

Songwriting and musical performance are forceful tools for political, cultural and sexual empowerment. They reveal musicians’ craft in the creation of one of the most effective weapons of resistance and display of bravery: art.


This article was written and edited by Jessica Newfield.

Rafael Legaria's Legacy: Designing Development Through Shared Responsibility

Our bravery is most tested when we are faced with hardship and times of severe pain.

Rafael Legaria, is a 72-year-old humanitarian worker, who after being diagnosed with a brain tumor, decided to create the “People’s Legacy Program”, an international network of people in more than 30 different countries that work together on development projects. A "human family” movement that allows people to connect, from poor rural communities to urban areas, whether from rich or poor backgrounds, to capitalize on resources and maximize what can be produced in collaboration. The Legacy involves professionals, fieldworkers, educators, farmers, investors, and students of all ages.

Rafael Legaria during visit to farms in Laos. Photo credit: Rafael Legaria. 

Rafael Legaria during visit to farms in Laos. Photo credit: Rafael Legaria. 

Margareta Barchan: You have done a great deal of humanitarian work. Have you ever thought of it from a bravery perspective?

Rafael Legaria: No I have never thought about it that way. I faced a very serious health problem 15 years ago when I got a brain tumor. When I overcame the tumor,  I thought I was given a second chance at life. The biggest question became what I should do with this second chance. What I already knew and what had been my interest since childhood was international development. That was the only realistic choice for me to focus on, and especially tackling poverty. I spent a lot of time in very isolated places around the world and always learned something from the people I met. My recovery became my drive and that is why I saw my implication in development work as a social duty rather than braveness.

Barchan: Have you ever had any doubts about your work?

Legaria: All the time. As these projects and ideas grow, I often feel the task is too big for me and I feel scared. But when I look at what people are going through around the world, losing hope and abandoning their communities, I feel an obligation to do what I can do. Furthermore, finding so many people in the same search for meaning and wanting to do something to make the world better, I can only but feel motivated and energized.

I am a strong believer that everything has to do with finding ways to do ethical development. The work of the poor touch us all in so many ways, every day of our lives, and we do not acknowledge their contributions to our lifestyle. We must respect them by improving their socio-economic conditions regardless of where they are. Take, for example, a small-scale farmer facing serious financial difficulties alone, with great odds against him yet he still continues to contribute to our standard of living. How could many unemployed young professionals gladly join hands in a process that would bring betterment and hope to both of them?

With group of farmers in Laos. RL (center back) and Mr. Virasane (extreme right) head of Legacy partner Foundation in Laos. Photo credit: Rafael Legaria.

With group of farmers in Laos. RL (center back) and Mr. Virasane (extreme right) head of Legacy partner Foundation in Laos. Photo credit: Rafael Legaria.

Barchan: Where do you get your personal energy from today?

Legaria: The energy comes from the response I get from the people I work with and from spiritual force that comes from knowing I am trying to do something right. We all seek meaning in our lives and want to have a sense of belonging. Doing meaningful work is therefore paramount to our energy and well-being. In everything we do,  what we eat, what dress we wear, what appliances we use, they all connect us to the poor; interdependence is ubiquitous. If in this relationship we only take and do not give, what will the end be? We all are energized from knowing we are doing the right thing. In particular, I feel energized by the young people I am in contact with, who no matter what, continue to work towards the building of a better world.

Barchan: Can you give an example?

Legaria: I was invited to do a presentation at a university here in Kuala Lumpur to a class of business students in their first year Master’s program. I shared with them the work we are doing with The People’s Legacy Program and how we are putting together business and entrepreneurial opportunities for exploited people. By their questions, I realized how unaware they were of our interdependence with the poor; and how much in their future in business or entrepreneurship, the poor did not figure as a factor. For how long can we continue with this mindset?

Barchan: Will the younger generations be more prepared?

Legaria: Only if we make them aware. It’s exciting to see that with social media, the younger generations can witness the threats and challenging realities of the world as well as share success stories within their cyber communities. I believe that as they face economic problems, they are also more engaged in the productivity process and become more responsible consumers as a result. Young people still dream and have positive visions towards the future. I firmly believe that when they have visions bigger than themselves, life becomes more meaningful.

Barchan: What kind of organization best allows this?

Legaria: There are many possible formats given the complexity of the problem. However, we believe The Legacy Program, working via a Foundation that provides direct support and inputs to the poor, together with the Legacy Corporation, working on behalf of the poor, with full support from top professionals and with certain resources can be very effective. At the moment, business and trade is pyramidal with the vast majority producing and getting very little from their work. The fact is that available margins can improve the welfare of the rural or factory poor at the same time that it can bring the professional poor into the equation to maximize the benefits for all. This can translate into many different business platforms and foundations.

Early origins of The Legacy- Meeting with leaders of the Credit Union Movement in Canada. From left to right: Tony Horrel - co-founder of The Legacy; Robby Tulus- International Cooperative Movement; Dr William Knight- Former Deputy Minister of Finance of Canada & Canadian Credit Unions; Ashraf Dimitri- Payment Industry Expert; Rafael Legaria- The legacy; Dr. Ian MacPherson- Canadian Credit Union Movement. Photo credit: Rafael Legaria. 

Early origins of The Legacy- Meeting with leaders of the Credit Union Movement in Canada. From left to right: Tony Horrel - co-founder of The Legacy; Robby Tulus- International Cooperative Movement; Dr William Knight- Former Deputy Minister of Finance of Canada & Canadian Credit Unions; Ashraf Dimitri- Payment Industry Expert; Rafael Legaria- The legacy; Dr. Ian MacPherson- Canadian Credit Union Movement. Photo credit: Rafael Legaria. 

Barchan: Does it mean that rich people have to invest in this as poor people can’t themselves?

Legaria: Initially the money must come from anywhere possible. However, it is fair to expect that within a certain period, the people working in The Legacy Program can generate sufficient funds to be stable financially. This requires an ethical type of management that will ensure the generated assets are used and shared properly and in a just manner. For example, in the garment industry, we know it can generate sufficient margins for all. Unfortunately today,  those who work 12-hour shifts per day receive miserable salaries while margins are accumulated at the other end. Why not simply share the profits justly? Enough research has been done to know that a win-win situation for everybody is more than possible.

Unfortunately,  many of us still dream of being rich to buy whatever we want.  But this should not happen by exploiting others. The system must be fair to everyone involved.

Barchan: What are your ideas about the Legacy Program five years from now?

Legaria: It is my hope that The Legacy will continue to be a huge part of my life. My mission is to motivate people to act differently and create structures for people to have a fulfilling and self-sufficient life. That can only come from making other people’s objectives your own. I am fascinated by innovation and how that comes into play with interpersonal dynamics. I hope that the Legacy will survive me and the thinking behind it will be accepted as a norm in ethical endeavors. My energy, plus your energy, and the energy of community leaders and people in general, are the only things that matter

Barchan: Do you have any advice for the next generation of leaders?

Legaria: Don’t only look inside yourself to estimate one's potential. It can be brought out and maximized by other people’s potential. The joy of life must come from the fun in creating win/win opportunities for as many people as we can. Other people are our allies in building a better world.


This article was written and edited by Margareta Barchan and Jessica Newfield.