Humanitarian Rafael Legaria: A Call to Social Duty Trumps Fear
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.
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?
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.
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.