Are You Working for Free?

Are NGOs the new interns of the workforce?

Recently I had a discussion on this with a friend who leads a women empowerment NGO, and who’s been frustrated on the lack of financial support commitments from the private sector in honor of their work together. Companies are increasingly interested in hiring them to work together, but paying in pennies. As if an NGO didn’t deserve to be paid for the expertise work they do?

I’m a keen advocate and believer of NGO – private sector partnerships. There’s great potential for the private sector to make their operations more sustainable, to boost responsible and profit-creating business practices through partnerships with different NGOs, who have ground-level connections and expertise for example for sustainable supply chain development or community engagement. Interest and understanding for the opportunities have been growing steadily.

But do the partnerships create value for those doing the work? Are the NGOs benefiting from all the work they do for the private sector, fairly?

During my university years, one of the most common topics among students was unpaid internships. Great work experience, CV development, connections were often offered – but no paycheck. This applies from private sector to government bodies. Students, and worst even fresh graduates, have for longest time been expected to be working for free. And typically also without a hope of an employment within the said workplace, leaving them with nothing but experiences to pay their debts.

The internship problem has not faded away, but it has clearly escalated. Beyond recruiting young graduates to work for free, employers are now turning to NGOs with similar expectations. It seems common to engage an NGO for a partnership with potentially a nominal fee, to do work that otherwise would likely have been undertaken by a consultant charging a much higher amount.

NGOs or small businesses further face a dilemma of being expected to finish a major part of the job before getting a guarantee of any kind of payment. This applies to project funding applications which often require days, weeks, months even planning and preparation and have no guarantee of success. Service contracts, where half the work needs to be completed before agreement is even signed. Designers being asked for the design to prove the expected quality, before contracting or paying. Translators needing to do part of the translation to show their capacity. These are just a few samples I’ve come across, with huge risks and uncertain payments for individuals or small operators and full power for the bigger “partner” to determine the terms and whether agreement will be granted or honored.

Why do young fresh graduates work for free? Why do NGOs accept lowly paid partnership services? Why do individuals and small businesses do half the work without a formal appointment and hence without a security to get covered for the work done?

Big players nominate the field and create the rules. These can be companies just as well as governments. It’s modern exploitation. Big ones have the power over the small ones.

I’ve experienced this conduct even from typically ethical, responsible actors – such as multinational companies ranking high on sustainability indexes or embassies of western countries. Often I’ve in my mind questioned the practices but never been in the position to stand up for it – for the certainty of losing the job, the deal, the partner.

We talk a lot about responsible business, sustainability, environment protection, community engagement etc, even about looking after the own staff. But what about those who are giving a critical contribution, but being left hanging half-way in, half-way out? The interns, NGOs, small businesses – those whose services can be invaluable but not (adequately) paid for?

How can we break the circle of using free workforce?

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Women and Men, Be Bold for Change

I was about to send a Happy International Women’s Day post in Facebook and tag those women from my friends list who have had the greatest impact on me, or whom I admire the most. But the more women I tagged, the more names popped into my mind and I noticed I admire almost all the women I know!

The power of women to break through the glass ceilings, to keep pushing through and conquer countless obstacles in a world that is still vastly run and made for men, is astonishing. Women hold the power to change the world. For better, for all. And we need men to take our side on this.

I’m in love with an amazing man, have a great dad and brother for family role models and been blessed with many male friends throughout my life. Many male government and business leaders and celebrities have also proven worthy of admiration in their quests to use their power for the better of all. I firmly believe in the greatness of men – but equally to that of the women. And there’s definitely space for more men to take more action to support a more equal world.

Despite many positive developments, women are still being oppressed all around the world. I’m not just referring to the obvious human rights violations but to the oppression women generally face, everywhere. In EU, a Polish MEP recently said “Of course women must earn less than men because they are weaker, they are smaller, they are less intelligent”. That’s 2017 for you. And Hillary’s loss in the US elections was widely quoted as a perfect sample of a much more qualified woman losing a job to a much less qualified male. Simplified, but speaks the reality. In the company I work for, 75% of employees are women – but 75% of BOD men. Statistics that are actually on the positive side if compared globally, as most businesses are run by men, even if with a women-heavy workforce.

In our next forum, we will have a panel focusing on gender empowerment in food and agriculture sectors, where closing the gender gap would generate significant increase in yield and strengthen the socio-economic status of households of smallholder farmers. Typically we’ve found it difficult to find a man to speak about gender empowerment. I was pleased this year to be able to quickly find a business leader, a man, eager to speak about how they advance gender empowerment, along with the non-profits and women rights advocates to provide inputs and tools for the how to.

In social media a video is spreading about a girl on a bicycle, who rips off the side mirror of a van, after having had enough of the driver’s “cat-talk” – talking down on her and treating her as a sex-object. All the respect for her for having the balls to stand up for herself – many of us would be too shocked, scared or otherwise not ready to take action in such situation. Last week I also read a piece of news about a man who had harassed a woman in a bus by asking her to sit on his lap. She herself had been too overwhelmed in the situation to take action, but was lucky to find a supporter from among the other passengers. After hearing this man call for the woman repeatedly to take a seat on his lap, another guy stood up and “accepted” the invitation and sat on his lap, taking a humorous but protective action to help a woman in need.

It’s crucial for gender empowerment, to have more men advocating on women’s rights. That’s why UN Women are running their HeForShe campaign, and why all women rights’ organizations are looking for men advocates. Paul Polman from Unilever has tapped into an enormous business opportunity on the same, becoming in just a few years a world’s best known business leader speaking about women empowerment and showing how being a responsible business is good for the business.

The world is divided, not just between genders but between privileged and under-privileged. From transgender toilets, public mocking of disabled people, weakening of laws protecting women’s rights to their own bodies to the vast spread of hate-speeches, the world is increasingly forgetting why and how to love and appreciate differences.

The international women’s days theme for 2017, “Be bold for change”, reminds everyone to take action and stand up for those who need help and support, in which ever way they can. One doesn’t need to stand in front of a tank or take a bullet for someone else. Literally standing up, showing support begins with small everyday gestures. Whether a man or woman or other or a prefer-not-to-define – gender, be bold to support a positive change in the world.

 

 

Diving with Bull Sharks

“Envious to extremes!” “Eek! You are crazy, I will have nightmares for weeks thanks for this”, “You are one lucky scuba-girl!”, “Have you got all your limbs still intact?”

I got a great variety of comments from friends to my recently published video where I went diving with over 30 bull sharks in Fiji. No cage, mind you. It was a totally insane experience, and one very difficult to describe with words. Even the video doesn’t show the awesomeness of the dive but gives a glimpse into the world I just dived into. A world where I can mix and mingle with bull sharks in their own environment.

The reactions to my video were clearly divided by divers / non-divers; divers being green of envy and ready to book their flights to try it out themselves and non-divers thinking I’m insane at best and never wanting to set their foot into an ocean ever again. Sharks divide people, clearly. For some they are fearful, horrid predators, to others amazing, beautiful and gracious creatures that we get to observe underwater, when lucky enough.

I had read about this shark dive opportunity online so I had a faint idea of what to expect, but still the dive with so many bull sharks around me was even better than I could ever have imagined. You have to experience it to get that feeling, be in midst of 30 huge bull sharks to appreciate their awesomeness. We did 2 dives there, and saw probably a hundred different reef, black tip and white tip sharks as well, but the bull sharks were the stars of the day. Honestly, I felt no fear at any time, just enormous gratitude for the experience and breath-taking amazement.

The bull shark dive was organized by Beqa Adventure Divers (the acronym BAD might be cool but not descriptive) in Pacific Harbour, Fiji. When it comes to diving with the sharks, they know what they are doing.

The shark diving is organized in Shark Reef Marine Reserve, established in 2004, as a protected sanctuary for the sharks and to preserve the ecosystem where they live. They collaborate with the villages in the area,traditional “owners” of the reef, who have relinquished their respective fishing rights to the Shark Reef and get compensation from divers instead.

My major concern once first learning about this opportunity, was the fact that the sharks are being fed and hence guaranteed to be seen in such huge numbers. I’ve typically been wary about practices of feeding wild animals for enhanced sighting of them, but I observed or felt no harm being done to these amazing animals by them being fed. They are not caught, harmed by boat engines, touched by people or disturbed in any ways I could imagine even potentially harmful. Instead, it felt these guys truly cared for protection of the animals, of the reef ecosystem – and the villages and local communities who make their living out of the ocean (and us, their clients). They have extensive research material, blog posts and information on their website and collaborate with the government of Fiji.

I can’t express with words how amazing, eye-opening and wonderful this experience was, and I wouldn’t say that if I had any doubts about the activity being safe – both for the sharks and for us the divers. There are many ways to protect our oceans, reefs and their inhabitants – shark diving being an option when organized with benefits of all in mind.

I would like to encourage people to learn more about the oceans, about sharks and what their preservation means for us all. Set your foot in the ocean, don’t be afraid. I dived among 30 bull sharks and yes, still got all my limbs intact. And several cool videos and memories to last a lifetime!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Better Person

Philosophically it can be argued whether a person has a choice, whether life is predetermined or open for chances, environment and actions to shape it. Are we born to a certain role and personality, and how much is in our power to change our destiny, choose our own being and course of life?

Based on my life experiences and observations, many people seem more or less fixed in their beings, in their path in life. Many will fight for a better career development, aim at improved lifestyles, but it’s much rarer to see true willingness to improve oneself. That would require admitting that one is not the best self that one can be, that there is room for improvement. We develop our thinking, our skills and capacities, but less so our true being.

Having struggled with self-esteem issues most of my life, I’ve covered up my weakness by playing tough, by not allowing my hurts to show. That wall has also altered my behavior, and much to a direction away from the best me. I have allowed my fears to control my behavior. I haven’t trusted myself to be who I could be and who I would want to be.

In my grown-up years I have worked on my insecurities a lot, including admitting them out a loud, taking down the protective wall and letting my hurts and weaknesses show. I have intentionally focused on the good on me, trying to control the destructive tendencies, keeping at bay the negative by giving space for the positive.

The change comes from inside but outside forces and other people have played strong supporting roles. Becoming an aunt made me want to be worthy of my sweet niece, her adoration and to be able to be the best aunt possible. I want her to experience and sense the good in me; not flawless, but genuine.

Falling in love brought another change in me. Being loved, and being in love, has given me strength to be a better person. It has made it easier for me to be a better person, truth be told. Feeling relaxed, at ease, in peace with myself.

I believe people can impact who they are, how they are and become a better person at that. We can choose which sides, which traits in ourselves to develop and let them flourish. We can acknowledge the less desired traits and aim to improve them whilst focusing on nurturing and showing the good in us. It is a choice to take matters into our own hands, not give in to the external circumstances or let other people or the past to define us. I’m determined to be in charge of myself, of who I am and who I wish to be. In good and bad, I am me and I am in charge of who that me is. I want that me to be the best me I can be.

Meaningful Death

Death is something most people don’t like to or want to think about, until forced to. But we should. Not about dying itself, but about it being inevitable and to be prepared for it once the time comes – along with the loved ones.

Today my father brought this topic up in a conversation with my brother and I. He’s 70 years old, and although completely healthy and fit, is realistic about having most of his years behind him. He wanted to discuss a topic of importance to him, that’s what happens to his body after he’s gone. He’s done some extensive research on how to donate his body to science and medical research, as he wants to not just donate all organs that might be possible but to offer his dead body for medical students’ practicing. He had read in a newspaper how most medical students never see a dead body during their studies, as there just aren’t many donated for that kind of medical training – purposes.

Many years back I’ve already done an organ donor – testament and also mentioned to my family I’d prefer after my death that my body be fully utilised in which ever way possible. For me, my body is not me, and once I have no more need for it, I’d rather give it for meaningful use. I think it’s a beautiful thing to be able to help, even with death. When it’s my time to go, I could still be able to do some good; by donating organs, and giving medical students a chance to practice on a real body.

I was pleased my father had thought this through for himself and that he wanted me and my brother to be on the same page and accept it. I believe it will also be a comforting thought at a time of grievance, to know that other people are getting help through our loss. That’s the kind of death I want for myself one day as well. Death won’t feel so useless, and a complete end, when new life might come out of it.

It’s interesting though how difficult it is to donate your body for medical research. My father has made some 15 phone calls and still doesn’t have all the answers and proper paper work done, to guarantee authorities are aware of his decision and will and how it shall be organised when the time comes. It does provide quite a bit of bureaucracy to go through, and surely is better to be dealt with now and not at the moment of loss and grievance. Most people won’t be bothered to be proactive in planning how their eventual death could be made beneficial as well, so societies and especially university hospitals could and should be more active on raising this topic.

Our bodies are not us and we won’t have any need for the body once it stops living. Why not end our lives with a one last good action, then?

My godmother writes a Christmas letter every year, reflecting on the past year and thanking for having been part of it. In her letter this year, she used a great quote – “One day we all will die. But on every other day we will not.” The focus should be on all those days when we don’t die. Still, it’s good to be prepared and make sure our death won’t go to waste, either.

 

Singapore celebrations and traffic jams

Living in Singapore, one never knows what kind of celebration is awaiting behind the next corner. The country celebrates many of the christian, Hindu, Muslim, Malay, Chinese etc holidays, trying to do the impossible of pleasing everyone. Being a country of such cultural diversity, there is really no other option here though, rather than trying to give something to everyone. If every ethnic group would insist on keeping all their cultural holidays, the country would be at a constant stand-still.

Besides the official public holidays, of which each ethnic group has been credited 2 most important ones annually, people of course celebrate other important cultural milestones or sacred times on their own.

I live close to Little India where the importance of up-keeping own culture and traditions can be seen throughout the year. I’ve always admired Indians for their strong cultural identity and interest for staying through to their roots. Indians seem proud, and in a very positive way aware of who they are, integrating their roots and history and culture into their modern-day lives.

This morning I encountered yet another Indian celebration. Waking up to loud-speaker boosted speeches and cheerful celebration-music, I still wasn’t aware of the impact the ceremony would have on my morning. The near-by temple often gathers huge crowds and is celebrated with loud music, so I didn’t know to wonder. Until I ordered a taxi which needed 15 extra minutes to get to me, and another 20 minutes to get out of the neighborhood. 2 major streets had been closed from traffic causing enormous traffic jams, not unheard of but very uncommon in Singapore. Obviously being late from my meeting, I took the time in the taxi to google what my excuse should be.

What took place this morning was a consecration ceremony of the Hindu temple, organized to renew the purity of the temple. And even at 8 am,  the masses had taken to the streets to take part in the ceremony.

Luckily the client took my delay rather well and even found it amusing why I had got stuck in the traffic so badly. We both got a small cultural lesson and I even learned a new word, “consecration” – from a traffic signal. Morning spent well, after all.

 

All-Male Panels and the Gender goals

“Congratulations on an all-male panel”- is a satiric expression used in social media to bring attention to the lack of female speakers in international conferences. Having attended many and organized quite a few, I definitely acknowledge this problem and feel a pain in my chest every time I see one. Whether it’s one I just attend or one I’m organizing.

A colleague from a partner organization, a well-credited women’s right advocate, recently told me she attended a forum where all speakers were men. All. Mostly middle aged white men. When this was pointed out by an audience member in the Q&A, the facilitator’s response was to ask questions from only female members of the audience. “You are a woman, how do you think about the discussed issue”. You can imagine this made the already awkward and uncomfortable situation even worse. Ask a question from a woman just because of her gender?

Maybe the organizer of that event had just made an unintentional mistake, overlooked the gender balance or been extremely unlucky with last minute speaker changes. I don’t know.

Having organized events myself, I know just too well how difficult it is to achieve a gender balance in the speakers. I can’t speak for other organizations, but I know our team is 100% committed to aiming at full gender balance and that every member of the team is dedicated and eager to achieve it. We haven’t succeeded yet, but we try our very best. Every time we discuss a speaker, we discuss gender. There’s a huge cheer in the office each time we identify and confirm a female speaker, and we keep listing excellent women we hear of to add to our dream lists for speakers.

So why do we not achieve a 50-50 gender balance in the speaker line-up?

It should be obvious. There are relatively many more men in senior leadership and expert positions as there are women. Most (Asian) Ministers and senior government representatives are men. Even in the international developmental organizations a majority of leaders are men. And these are the people we target to speak in our forums. Decision makers, leaders, senior experts.

We try to tap into any and every opportunity to invite and confirm women speakers to all our panels. Sometimes we even need to be a little flexible with a level of seniority, or proven speaking skills, just to avoid an all-male panel. I can’t imagine any event organizer wanting an all-male panel and I know we work very hard to avoid them. That’s because we support gender equality. We support women rights and we believe women should have equal chances, equal pay, equal recognition. We want to do our part, but it isn’t easy. The world is still failing this, and so do we.

With our last forum, organized this week in Singapore, we pushed our team even harder than ever. Our internal ambition was to achieve a gender balance across the full forum, and at the minimum have at least 1 woman speaker in every panel. We organized 4 plenary level panels and 17 workshops, with over 100 speakers in the course of the 2 days, so it was a huge task to achieve. We also had to confirm a senior government representative for each workshop panel, and take notice of the balanced regional representation and level of seniority and speaking eloquence, in addition to the gender question.

We did not achieve a full gender balance, but 1/3 of our speakers were women. Two out of the 17 organized workshop panels were all-male – though in one of these, we had a brilliant woman confirmed but last minute the company made a change and sent a man instead due to her sudden unavailability. Still, we did not achieve our aim but we tried extremely hard and are proud of the efforts.

The issue of gender inequality has to be raised at every level, has to be fought with collaborative efforts at homes, in schools, in companies and organizations and in the governments. As Michelle Yeoh, actress and UN Goodwill Ambassador stated in her powerful speech at our forum, when gender equality is achieved, “everyone wins”. Gender equality doesn’t only bring benefits for women but it supports communities, boosts economic progress and improves company performance. These are proven facts yet we are far from achieving gender equality.

I don’t ever want to organize an all-male panel and neither does our team, but we need the governments, companies and organizations to appoint more women in senior positions and we need the women to agree and speak in our forums. We need collaboration to achieve full gender equality. Conferences give a good glimpse into the problems and level gender status, they can give a face to where the societies, governments and companies stand with achieving the gender goals. Hopefully in the near future the male-dominance turns into gender equality. Everywhere.