Wednesday, March 25, 2015


Every industry has its fair share of buzzwords. From social impact investing to emotional intelligence, it feels as though more and more industry terms are being inserted into everyday jargon with each passing year. The "new" term being passed around every board room in my non-profit industry last year was "collective impact." What does it mean? Well, it means exactly what it sounds like; a group (the collective) working strategically together can create a deeper impact. In other words, it's a shared vision for change. This is not a new idea. So why all the buzz surrounding this buzzword?

The difference between Collaboration (old concept) and 
Collective Impact (new, slightly different, concept)

We are all guilty of using these terms. We buy in to the buzz. From level five leadership to leaning in, no one is immune from throwing these terms around in conversation. But do these words really matter all that much? They sound like great concepts and will most likely help a lot of people. But I still believe that actions speak louder than words. Even louder than the most popular words of the year.

Because I still believe in actual sustainability. Good old sustainability, the biggest buzzword of them all (in my industry). I'm no stranger to the term; I've been working toward sustainability for the majority of my life. It's the very basis of why I do what I do. I am constantly asking myself, "why am I working so hard for change if it doesn't turn out to be long lasting? What will my program's impact really turn out be?" Despite all the new buzzwords, these are still the main things I care about thinking through and discussing.

Every day I find myself still relying heavily on measuring the "sustainability." But what is sustainability? And why do I care so much about it? Because sustainability is still the mother of all end results; it is meant to signify success. It's meant to move the needle. It's meant to bring about change in the world.

But how does one buzzword accomplish so much? Because it's not about the word itself nor its definition. It's about the thought process. That's what all these ideas and phrases have in common. They remind us to remember to act collectively. To remember to lean in (only if you want to). To remember to measure your ROI and to present your company as a social impact investment.

I recently heard the following quote, "if you want creativity, take a zero off your budget. If you want sustainability, take off two zeros."1 This quote makes me smile every time I come across it. It's a pretty honest reminder to stay focused. To stay cheap and stick to your grassroots. But also don't forget about your sustainability plan. 

Keep sustainability in mind all the time. Even if it becomes your mantra. Even if you can't stand hearing the word even one more time. Let it guide every action you take. Don't throw a dart at a board, grab some money and run off to a place you know nothing about. Be smart. Be thoughtful. Be long-lasting. In other words, be sustainable. Be willing to change. And if you're like me, become a part of this change. Pick your passions. Start small if you have to. But don't be afraid to get big. 

I can see my big picture. I know what I want for the next generation. I want all high school seniors to graduate this year. I want every mother and daughter across the globe to get an education; the highest they can possibly find. I don't want women's rights or gay rights or minority rights to exist; can we please just eliminate the qualifiers already and look at the "rights" of all? 

Ten years later, my Honduran host brother is still studying. 
However my host sisters are not.

I can't do everything I want to and I don't plan to. If I do my piece well, then I've truly achieved something. Because perhaps through the course of my existence I'll have helped one or two or hopefully even ten people out of a vicious cycle of poverty. Because that's what is important to me. And I certainly don't work at it alone. I choose to surround myself with like-minded people; people who also want to be a part of the change. People who also thrive on this change, as tough as it may be. People who also want to watch change pass on through a few generations before calling it a success. People who want to see this change become truly sustainable. Because it means we're not needed anymore; our jobs are done. And it's an incredible feeling. One I very much look forward to experiencing one day.

For even more fun, check out this sustainability buzzword generator game.

For sustainable grassroots development, join the Peace Corps. Just kidding (maybe). 

And check out Proyecto Itzaes. The most sustainable education program I've ever come across (and that's saying a lot).


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

the killers

I find myself going through phases. Sometimes I'm a hobby person, other times I'm not. I find I have a wide variety of rapidly passing interests. Except for one. Most of my life I have stuck to one very specific interest. It's the same interest I've had since I was in high school; it has never wavered. I'm interested in true crime.

What do I mean by interested? Well, I spend my free time learning about different types of killers. Before you call the police and then go running for the hills, let me clarify what I mean by learning about killers. First, I'm not learning about killing. I'm not really interested in the gory part. It's just so...gory. I usually look away during a horror movie. I'm not into seeing nor reading about any of the blood and guts. That's not what I mean by learning about killers.

I mean learning about the people behind the killing. The individuals who have gone off the straight and narrow. Because, well, I simply find all people interesting. Everyone has a story and if you tell me yours, I'll gladly listen. I'll be all yours while you fill me in. I just find stories of murder and mayhem to be more interesting than other types of stories.  Because when it comes to the real serial murderers, they are by far the most compelling. Because they are real. And they all have some of the most incredible stories.

And in this regard I know I am not alone. The number of books about murder, the number of movies about crime, the number of TV shows investigating murders and murderers is never ending.

Ann Rule, a prolific true crime author, worked as a police detective alongside Ted Bundy in Seattle. 
She also had the privilege of figuring out just what Bundy was up to.

So why has this life-long hobby of mine become so incredibly popular lately? Looking at the prime-time TV guide lineup, there are no less than 20 shows centered specifically around serial killers (real and fictional alike). So why the massive number of serial killer shows? Your guess is as good as mine. According to the whole of the internet, audiences love sexy killers who can let loose and act out our own violent fantasies. I do not agree. I have no interest in the good looking TV killers; most real life US serial killers are white middle aged men and they're the ones I read about. I just love a good mystery. With a little psychology thrown in for fun.

My interest in serial killers began one week back in 1994. I watched one specific TV program every day: the Biography Channel's "serial killer series." It had all the greats; Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, Gary Ridgway, Ed Gein, Albert DeSalvo. Five hours of the real lives of the most prolific American serial killers in history was just enough to solidify my interest for life. These men were, in a word, fascinating. What makes someone kill like this; without conscience? Without remorse, and, for a while at least, without getting caught? I had to know more.

Twenty years later I know a lot more. I know that serial killers kill for one or more of the following reasons; greed, power, need for intimacy, fear of rejection, and perfectionism. Serial killers act with a high amount of control and a lack of morals. I find these individuals (mostly men, but there are a few women) utterly reprehensible. I do not like what they do. But I strive to understand why they do it. And I always want to know more. 

And I do know more. Through the years I've also learned that serial killers wet the bed until a very late age, experiment with killing and torturing animals, hide their victims in secret, keep trophies from the victims and never express remorse. These things only an avid serial killer profiler knows. Just watch an episode of Criminal Minds.

Except that I'm not a real profiler. I'm not even a psychologist. So what am I doing playing amateur detective/therapist? What are millions of people just like me also doing? We're all trying to understand the murderer behind the Fall or the Following. The mystery behind True Detective or the the hundreds of other shows just like it.

Last year I went to a documentary about Jeffrey Dahmer. It was real footage taken from inside Dahmer's apartment when it was raided by police. They found no less than 17 skulls of young boys, all with differing holes in them. That's when I learned that Dahmer was trying to make a young boy zombie sex slave. He'd grab a boy and perform his own version of a frontal lobe lobotomy. The boy would be a zombie for a few hours, then die. So Dahmer would repeat the whole process again, the next time slightly altering the location of the brain hole. He knew he would eventually get it right. This is insanity at its very core. And yet it is totally, completely fascinating.

My own copy of a graphic novel created by a former High School classmate of Dahmer's. 
It tells a compelling, if not super graphic, story. It has also become incredibly popular. 

Perhaps I take my interest in killers a bit further than the average American TV watcher. But still I know there are millions of us; sitting at home, watching scary movies and reading true crime books. While serial killers aren't nearly as prolific as TV would lead us to believe, their stories are out there. And they're real. And captivating. And completely entertaining. If you like that sort of thing. Which I most definitely do.

Huffington Post recently recommended ten true crime documentaries currently on Netflix. While I've seen most of these movies, I still prefer reading about true crimes.

A few of my favorite true crime novels include:
Devil in the White City
In Cold Blood
Green River Running Red
The Stranger Beside Me
Death in the City of Light