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Five Truths of a Personal Journey

While in Sao Paulo, my hosts suggested we go to the movie Wild, a film that tells the story of Cheryl Strayed (played by Reese Witherspoon) who walked over 1,000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) to halt the downward spiral her life had become following her mother’s death. While I would never be capable of such a physical and solitude-filled feat, I was drawn by Cheryl’s commitment to the process of discovery that comes with embarking on a personal journey that will change the course of the rest her life.

In the midst of my own journey of discovery, I noticed parallels between Cheryl’s journey and that of mine with Big Shared World. While each person who sets out on a path of reflection is remarkably unique, there are overlapping themes that can be found throughout.

YOU ARE THE ONLY PERSON WHO CAN GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION
When I first shared the idea with my parents and asked for their approval, my mom said, “Colleen, you don’t need permission to do anything.” Wait, what?!? I can quit my jobs, move my stuff home, and just spend down my savings account while traveling the world for an indefinite period of time?! Her response, “It’s your life. Nobody can tell you what to do and not do. Plus, it makes a lot of sense. This is what you do. You travel the world, it’s always been part of who you are.” After this conversation with my mother, the woman I trust for advice on my most important life decisions, I knew it was entirely up to me to say yes to the journey of my dreams. At that time, it all felt like an ambiguous dream, even myself questioning how exactly it would come together.

In Wild, Cheryl sees a book about the PCT and immediately feels compelled to do it. She doesn’t ask anybody if they approve, she just started to plan for the experience. I can relate to the moment in her hotel room the night before she embarks on the trek. Arms full of supplies, a bag of brand new items from REI – she’s ready as much as she’ll ever be, and at the same time could never be fully ready for what is ahead until it presents itself.

Whether the journey ahead is 1,000 miles, or around the world, it has to be owned by the person who sets out to do it. And once one has decided to leave life as they know it behind and take on this personal endeavor, the rewarding experience is deeper than anything someone could ever give you permission to do.

YOU MUST HAVE SOME ELEMENT OF PERSONAL FREEDOM
Not too many people who are extremely satisfied with their job, perfectly settled into life, making regular payments on a house, car, and other expenses, would have the idea to just leave it all behind for a bit and go start a new course. This is what vacation is for – to get away from one’s regular life for a period of time. A life altering journey, however, requires an element of personal freedom, for better or worse, from the above mentioned.

In the film, Cheryl was at a point of no return and needed something completely different to change course. When I originally shared my idea, people said it reminded them of Eat, Pray, Love, a story about a woman who gets divorced, needs change of scenery to change her life, and spends equal time in Italy, India, Indonesia, eventually meeting the love of her life and writing a book about the experience. My initial response to that comparison was that I was not actually trying to eat, pray, love my way out of my real life. Instead, I was trying to take my reality and confront its relationship with the rest of the world. To evaluate myself and my life within the bigger issues of today’s global society. For me, it was a weird time. Working jobs from my couch in a tiny expensive apartment in Washington DC which I lovingly referred to as “my box.” When my sister’s world started to spiral out of control, I spent most days working from her couch in Minnesota. I’d fly back and forth, making my expensive box even less worth the price. With one job naturally coming to an end, the other not completely fulfilling me, and my back of mind desire to write a book, when this idea came up, I thought, YES. I’m going to go. It’s now or never and I’m definitely doing it now.

YOU WILL FEEL CRAZY AND QUESTION WHAT YOU’VE SET OUT TO DO
Cheryl starts the trek repeating with each step, “What the fuck am I doing?” Her friend’s voice in her head, “It’s okay to quit at any time.” She keeps going, she struggles immensely, and is rewarded immensely. She completed her journey and ultimately achieved her goal to discover herself in a new way and move forward in a positive direction when she was finished. And now, that story has been turned into a movie.

My own journey has definitely had moments where I wondered how on earth I thought of doing this thing. While 95% of the experience is full of the most amazing moments of my life, 5% is stressful. I have a friend who I call to vent so that my family doesn’t worry about me in these moments. It may be a long travel day or a confusing one where I took the wrong train or bus, it may be an awkward interaction with someone that has me feel uneasy, or sometimes it may be the ridiculous case of FOMO (fear of missing out) where I scroll through my Facebook newsfeed of friends back home and wonder why I am not wired to desire a more “normal” life. In these fortunately few and far between moments, I call this friend and say, “Ugh. This happened. And while I know I am so fortunate to be on the most incredible journey of my life, I had a bad day and need to tell someone about it.” He listens, lets me vent, then reminds me that it is a temporary situation, and tomorrow is a new day, where I will likely be in a new place, needing to be open and excited to take in all that entails. And then I get to that new place, or that new conversation, and it all feels right again.

YOU WILL BECOME FULLY AVAILABLE TO THE MOMENT YOU ARE IN
I’ve been traveling about three months – October in the United States, November in Western Europe, and since 2015 in Latin America. At first, I would get mad at myself if I didn’t do enough, talk to enough people, see enough of a place… but then, I’d have an amazing interaction with someone that would not have happened if anything leading up to that moment was different. So I started to find peace in whatever way things went and realized that there was no such thing as a perfectly planned day or checklist of how to spend my time wherever I was. I accepted that the best way to experience this journey was to become fully available to the moment I was in, whatever that entailed.

Near the end of the film, Cheryl passes a young boy and his grandmother on the trail. It felt intentional, whether it be God or whatever force that brought the two to each other, it was a spiritual moment. I have had those interactions with people that feel like the questions I ask have done more for them than for my own understanding of their answers. As people thank me for interrupting their day, my heart fills up with the ability to do what I am doing. These interactions are just the beginning of moments of confirmation that this journey is worthwhile and exactly where I need to be. I have no idea what next week will look like, where I will be, what I will do, who I will meet. For friends who wish to meet up with me along the journey, this is endlessly frustrating. But for me, and the journey, it’s a beautiful feeling to be free and open to wherever the road takes me.

YOU WILL INSPIRE PEOPLE
From the start of this whole endeavor, people have not only been supportive, but have encouraged me by telling my how inspired they are by the fact that I am even doing it. Everyone can relate to a journey because we all are on one – life. Some people are able to leave “normal life” behind more easily, or are more compelled to leave it behind. We all have struggles, desires, frustrations, and dreams. Everyone knows the value of experiences in their own life that changed their course forever, and people respect you for making a commitment to a new direction in a very big way.

Whether it be Wild, Eat Pray Love, The Motorcycle Diaries, An Idiot Abroad… the list is endless of people who, like myself, just went. They go, they come home, and they are likely to never regret the experience that compelled them to leave normal life behind for a bit and experience the world in a way they could never do without giving themselves permission to step outside their comfort zone and see what comes.


The beautiful sisters and voices of First Aid Kit singing the theme song from Wild:

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Beaten Paths: The Rick Steves Effect

You’ll see them in Paris cafes clutching their blue Rick Steves guidebooks. They’re wandering the trails of Cinque Terre with their matching ricksteves.com-bought backpacks and huddled over their Rick Steves phrasebooks. These are people so loyal to the Rick Steves brand that they are known in the travel world as Rickniks, and they are growing in numbers every year.

Rick Steves has been producing books about exploring the authentic Europe for more than 30 years. With the mission of broadening Americans’ perspectives through inexpensive travel, he has established himself as one of the most popular brands in the travel media industry, creating guides, producing television and radio series and organizing tours focused on cheap ways to experience Europe as a “temporary local”. By 2011, he had a business worth almost $50 million in revenue.

Steves is a kind of wanderlusting Mister Rogers, promoting travel with an unrelenting optimism. This earnest spirit has hooked an abundant American audience. According to Steves’ publisher, Avalon Travel, ricksteves.com attracts more than 1.2 million unique visitors each month! Most of the people who watch his shows or sign up for his tours are over the age of 50; many of whom have never left the United States before. His fans are not Lonely Planet backpackers in search of cool expat hangouts; nor are they socialites interested in 5-star hotels and Michelin-starred restaurants. Rick Steves targets people who, if not for Rick Steves, would have likely remained apprehensive travelers, not venturing outside the U.S.

His easy-to-follow itineraries, practically advice and light-hearted humor have attracted around 18,000 travelers annually to sign up for his european tour programs. The effect of these numbers is humorously highlighted in a story told by author Timothy Egan in the New York Times in 2008. He writes about dining in Vernazza, in the Italian Cinque Terre, “watching waves of people pour into the tiny village to look for their serendipitous Stevesian encounter while clutching his guidebook. A sudden outburst came from my 7-year-old son: “Rick Steves has got to be stopped!””

This sentiment is shared by many travelers, complaining about the Rick Steves Effect – the paradox in opening Europe’s ”backdoors” to the masses. His guidebooks and shows have turned once-quaint parts of Europe into highly trafficked tourist spots. Most travelers don’t want to rub elbows with other Americans when traveling across the world. But a mention in a Rick Steves guidebook can quickly increase the foot traffic of a sleepy Swiss town or hole-in-the-wall tapas joint. When Steves taped an episode about Paris that highlighted the rue Cler as one of his favorite neighborhoods, the American tourists quickly flocked to and congested the narrow Parisian lane. It’s now half-jokingly referred to as Rue Rick Steves by some of the locals.

Though there are those who wish for the end of the Ricknik revolution, far greater are the numbers of Steves’ supporters. Trip Advisor forums are full of thank you notes to the writer. User BarnumDallas of Rowlett, Texas wrote, “If it were not for [Rick Steves’] show my wife and I would have never traveled to Europe. We have been to France many times now, and plan our own trips based on many, many sources. If it had not been for him I suspect we would have remained timid travelers, never leaving the US.”

Whether these baby boomer backpackers will be the positive representatives Steves hopes them to be, or whether they’ll return home more politically and socially open-minded, is up for debate. But, as Sara Corbett wrote in the New York Times, it’s obvious that Rick Steves takes great pride and delight in the fact that he got these Americans out there travelling at all.

 

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Above: Taken from the audience in Cleveland, Ohio by Colleen on the BSW Journey. Rick was in town to talk about his new book Travel as a Political Act which tells stories and promotes travel, especially for Americans, as an opportunity to learn and better understand the interconnectedness of today’s world, and how exactly the United States fits in to all that.

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Ongoing Challenges – A reflection on MLK Jr. Day

Back in November, I woke up one morning in Copenhagen, Denmark to news of the Ferguson trial verdict in Missouri. My heart was heavy as it didn’t feel right what had happened. I read of the riots back home, as well as the peaceful protests. I felt proud of the solidarity no matter what race was standing up to the issue of unjust race relations in my home country. I must have drafted a Facebook post five times, each time carefully choosing my words and the appropriate link or civil rights activist quote, then each time deleting those same words. My mom’s prudent voice was in my head, “When in doubt, don’t.”

I walked into the living room of the Airbnb I was staying and spoke with Kirsten, a retired social anthropologist and my gracious host. She translated what the local radio was saying about the news from the United States, my home country. A young black man had been unarmed, and shot to death by a neighborhood watch man, he was not going to be punished for the life he had taken All sides of the story were being told in the news, but no matter how the story was situated, it never felt right.

Yet, I was in doubt for how to effectively communicate how it made me feel in a way that felt worth sharing. Instead, I “liked” the posts of friends and public figures who had words that helped guide the feelings of that day.


Today, my own social media news feeds have been full of references to the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., of which the day’s holiday is named. It has reminded me of the experiences I had learning about the Civil Rights Movement while traveling just a few months ago. Above is a photo of the final quote on the way out the door of the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, Alabama which was part of the BSW United States tour. After walking through a historical re-creation of sorts from the events of the bus boycott, I was in awe of the amount of creativity and perseverance that went into the desegregation and legal rights of black individuals in this circumstance and time.

Privilege is a word that I am drawn to as I explore global threats and the current outlook for humanity. Someone along the way told me that privilege affords people the ability to not think about their privilege. Whatever the privilege may be, it often seems to be the way it should be – it just is the way it is. From this perspective, Dr. King’s quote struck me.

As a white American young female born into a family and life where a rather vast set of opportunities are available to me, I only know that perspective of what it means to live my life. I only know what every day in my own two feet feels like to walk. I can think all day about others, try to empathize their realities, relate in ways that bring us together. But even someone who looks, talks, and walks similar to me is still different that me. And I must respect that, just as I must respect differences that are even further from what I recognize as my everyday life.

I will never know exactly what it is like to be anyone other than myself. What I do know is that I have a lot of respect and admiration for those who worked toward a reality where all individuals can stand along side each other and share in the privilege to have a future full of opportunities to become their best selves in a world which will embrace whatever that means. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is a wonderful example of a person who embodied these ideals and beliefs. On this day, I write this reflection with hope in my heart that the best is yet to come for all of humanity.

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It’s Not My Mother’s World Anymore: How apps and services have emerged to make international travel more simple, cost effective, and safe

When I initially had the idea to travel the world and ask people the same three questions everywhere I go, everyone I told had a positive reaction. I was expecting more than a few people to think I was crazy, but literally not one person did, or at least they didn’t tell me. Instead, people opened their international rolodexes, challenged the overall purpose in order to make sure the questions reflected it, and mainly people wished they could quit their job, adopt a mom who worked for the airlines, and come with me.

While nobody questioned the logistics of the travel or my ability to actually do it, there were many who cautioned me to be safe. Or several who asked outright, “Aren’t you scared to travel to all those places? Alone? In the world we live in?”

When my mom questioned me the other day on whether I really wanted to continue with Big Shared World, my immediate response was to be frustrated with her. I wished instead that she would ask me about my specific plans for Mexico City the next day. I’d have preferred to tell her about the friend I was grabbing dinner with, or the place I was staying, rather than defend my desire to continue the adventure. I grew up with the mentality that Diane (my mother) was always right, whether you liked it or not. In that moment when she questioned my desire to keep going, I transferred it as doubt in myself.

Immediately I elicited support from my friends to calm my nerves for what was ahead. I left a voicemail for my best friend and go to voice of reason, “Hey. Can you call me back and tell me that what I’m doing has value? And that I shouldn’t just give up? My mom just told me nobody would think less of me if I just stopped. I mean, I think I’m on to something really cool with this whole trip. I love what I’ve set out to do. But can you just tell me that it’s important I keep going, and that it really is a worthwhile journey and endeavor to undertake? Ok thanks, talk to you later.”

He called back and said, “I got your message. What year was your mom born?” I knew where this was going and was grateful for the reasonable response. “…Your mom couldn’t even dream of doing something like this when she grew up. Nobody in her time could. She’s just concerned about your safety because she’s your mom. But she supports you and this journey in a lot of other ways.”

He was right. And to be honest, I couldn’t even have fathomed this only a couple years ago.

The summer after my freshman year of college, a friend and I backpacked through Europe. While I had traveled to several international destinations before through choir trips and educational opportunities, this was my first unchaperoned, unguided trip abroad. My friend and I planned extensively. I had a mini purple binder with every detail of these plans, reservation codes, and the guidebook pages cut out from Lonely Planet so I didn’t have to lug around unnecessary weight of the pages of places we were not going to pass through. Even when my friend’s passport was stolen one unfortunate night, the passport copy I had printed in the binder, along with the addresses for U.S. Embassies everywhere we went, all made it rather easy to handle the situation and continue on our way with relative ease.

Our trip went amazingly until Barcelona when an airport worker strike had us miss our flight to London, and subsequently miss our flight back home. Long story short, I refer to the 36 hours we had to figure out an alternate plan as “The Amazing Race – and our team lost.” Defeated, we found ourselves at a London train station the night after we missed our flight back to Minneapolis. In attempts to figure out how we’d get home, we spent a lot of time on payphones calling home, calling the airlines, all trying to figure out our best options. We were out of cash and thanks to the fraud department putting a hold on our credit cards every five transactions due to all the random destinations and payphone charges in a short period of time, we were pretty much broke. My father who is about the most easy going man I know was so frustrated with the situation he actually swore over the phone. But in a way that only a man who doesn’t swear would say, “Well, then get your F-ing own self home if you think you know how to.” I waited a few minutes before I called him back to admit I needed his help.

Eventually, we decided the best case scenario for this situation was to have my mom fly and meet us in Amsterdam to fly me and my friend back as her companions (airline employee standby style). That’s right, after three weeks of newfound independence through our European adventure, my mother came to pick me up in Amsterdam. The irony was not lost. We asked special permission from the police to sleep under the escalator at the train station that night to take the first train to Amsterdam in the morning. With our passports tucked in our shirts, we snuggled our backpacks, and had what I’d say was one of the most awkward nights of sleep in my life. When I was in London again this past November, I swear I recognized the spot. It was like a magnet drew me to it as I thought, that spot of floor looks oddly familiar. I looked around and noticed the ticket booth, international departures, put it together, and smiled at the memory of our utter patheticness that night several years ago.


(Above: That time my mom picked me up in Amsterdam, summer 2006)

With this history, it’s a wonder my parents even let me leave the house again after that debacle. And it should be noted, the credit card bills from the payphone calls that day added to almost the same amount we had spent on our entire backpacking adventure. And when my parents once asked me to explain how exactly we missed our flight, even with my true and thorough story, they still believe it was because we were having fun with all the new friends we made. We have just agreed to not discuss it again.

But today, not even ten years later, the amount of tools and conveniences for travelers has increased exponentially, and I could never imagine a night full of payphone calls and stairwell sleeping arrangements. I believe this puts my parents at ease. It certainly makes me feel more comfortable traveling around the world.

Take for example my great experience with Mexico City, the past BSW destination. I have benefit completely from new apps and services that make global connections easier and traveling internationally a whole new experience. My Mexico City comfort started the day I messaged Ramses, a friend I had met at a conference just last year. While our interaction was brief, thanks to Facebook (founded 2004), we were able to keep in contact and after a quick message exchange about my upcoming time in his city, we arranged a time to Skype (founded 2003), a free video calling platform. After that conversation, I knew I was in good hands as we had arranged for dinner when I arrive. To be in touch, we exchanged phone numbers to become WhatsApp (founded 2009) contacts, a free app-based text messaging service.

As I was flying from Atlanta to Mexico City, I was able to access Gogo wireless internet while in flight (founded 2008). During this time I googled “must see attractions Mexico City” and came up with a short list of the places I thought would be good tourist activities. Instead of wasting time putzing around the city on my own, I found a website ToursByLocals.com (founded 2008) and was able to email tour guides for last minute availability. Thankfully Heiki, a lovely woman with global roots and perspective was able to accommodate and arrange for a great day while I was in town.

Upon arrival in Mexico City, I turned on my phone and texted my family that I had landed. Thanks to T-Mobile’s new international data coverage (founded 2013), this cost no additional charge than the monthly service fee.

I took a taxi to the apartment I was renting a room in thanks to Airbnb (founded 2008), which has the mission to have customers “belong anywhere” and does so by serving travelers around the world who prefer to get a more realistic feel for life in a certain destination. And for hosts, it offers a great additional income for an apartment that likely sat semi-empty prior to their listing. (Note: For any solo female travelers to Mexico City, I highly recommend staying with Judith at her fantastic apartment in an awesome, trendy neighborhood.)

While getting around the city, I was constantly informed that even locals prefer to fetch a ride through the car sharing app Uber (founded 2009) for both ease and safety. Thankfully, Mexico City has a robust Uber contingency of drivers, and I barely waited more than three minutes for a car to pick me up at my exact location for a fair price.

And I cannot fail to mention the amazingness that is Google Translate (founded 2007), but just recently updated to include image capture. Or Currency Exchange mobile app (founded 2010) which instantly allows for understanding the price of an item. Or Weather Channel apps (founded 2000s) that help to prepare for the day. Or TripAdvisor (founded 2000), and a host of other travel sites that help a newcomer orient themselves with a foreign place, with trustworthy, user-generated content to ensure up to date reviews on all things travel.

This all reminds me of a moment during BSW Europe in Amsterdam where I was sitting on a city train from my hotel into the downtown area. I had struck a conversation with the guy sitting across me and we were going through the BSW questions. On his thoughts for the world in 50 years, he imagined a borderless one. I challenged if this was actually possible. He quipped back, “Aren’t we kind of there already? I mean, I was born in Iran, raised in Canada, here for pilot training in Amsterdam. You were raised in the United States and are traveling the world to talk to strangers…”

He was right. While it’s easy to focus on the societal divisions and the walls people build around the world, at the same time, there is connectivity and ease of movement for both information and people more than ever before. We as individuals can choose to resist the connectedness, or even fight it off for as long as possible. Or, we can choose to immerse ourselves in it by exploring and appreciating the connectivity of everything around us. I choose the latter, it certainly is more fun! 🙂

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Millennial on a Mission: My deep dive into the world of social impact

If someone would have told me two years ago that I would be writing a blog introducing my family foundation and voicing my opinion on next generation philanthropy, I probably never would have believed them. See, two years ago, I was an eager UC Santa Barbara grad with a degree in communications ready to make my mark in the traditional fashion/publishing industry (which I had originally considered to be my ideal career path). After having many solid internships in New York City, I had scored my ideal “dream job” working at Self magazine within the Condé Nast group a month after graduating.

I had certainly always known about the family foundation my parents started back in 2006 when my dad sold his investment services company. I had attended some board meetings and participated in various events, but I was so laser focused on what I thought the fashion and media world had to offer, that I just figured I would take a greater involvement in the foundation later down the road. Never at my age, had I stopped to consider being more deeply involved now; I was under the misconception that philanthropy was for the older generation. Once I had become established in my career – that was when I was going to give back. Boy was I wrong…

It wasn’t until October 2013, that I had an experience that completely and totally blew my mind. Every year, my parents co-convene this really amazing five day retreat in Ixtapa, Mexico, called the Opportunity Collaboration. The retreat brings together world-class philanthropists, social entrepreneurs, non-profit leaders, and impact investors all around the intent to inspire people to discuss issues revolving around global poverty. I attended for my first time two years ago, not knowing at all what to expect, but was truly in awe by the incredible people that I met, the thought-provoking conversations that I had, and the exposure I gained to all of this amazing work that was being done in social entrepreneurship, poverty alleviation, impact investing, and other sectors that I was not very familiar with. Work not only being done by the “older generation” as I had previously thought, but important and impactful work being done by millennials just like myself. I didn’t know much about this new world yet – but I knew I wanted to be a part of it.

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Above: With my parents, Marty and Ron Cordes, during Opportunity Collaboration in 2013.

I came back to New York after the Collaboration that October with a slightly different outlook on life, more motivated, more inspired. All of the sudden, my “ever so exciting” day job, didn’t quite seem as fulfilling and rewarding as it once was. My goal to sell a $200k one-page advertisement, which I just heard that same amount could build eight schools in Africa, put things in perspective for me. That’s when things really started to change. When fetching my boss’ daily cup of coffee, I would question “Is this fair trade? How were the workers treated?” When running clothing samples back and forth between the showrooms I started wondering “Where did this come from? How was it made?” All questions I would have never even thought to ponder before that monumental week. Questions that went beyond the surface level of “What pop culture scandal is trending next?” and “Who wore what best?” That’s when I started asking the personal questions like “What gave me purpose, what had meaning? Had my dream career aspiration really changed?”

Though definitely a very confusing and transformational time, with the unconditional support of my family and friends, I made the tough decision to leave my “dream job” at Condé Nast and transition into working for my family foundation full-time as Vice Chair early last year. Though I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into or what exactly my role entailed, I rolled up my sleeves, dove in head first and never looked back. One year later, I can confidently say that this decision has completely changed my life trajectory for the better. Along with my parents, we have a small team of millennials who have really started to run and formalize the Foundation. This includes doing everything from reviewing grant applications and conducting our own site visits and due diligence trips for both our investment and grantee partners, to developing new key initiatives, a strategic plan and building the all-around greater vision for the family. A vision focused on empowering women and girls worldwide as well as connecting, equipping and catalyzing the next generation of social entrepreneurs.

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Above: What a difference a whirlwind year makes! This year I not only attended, but led a discussion session at Opportunity Collaboration.

We have this really unique opportunity to define where we want the foundation to go and how we really want to have impact. We have this motto of the 3C’s “connect, convene, catalyze” and for us it’s about more than just giving grants and in our case making impact investments as well, but we really look to engage with our partners and the sector at large in order to inspire others to join us in our philanthropic mission. Through this blog, I hope to inspire the next generation by not only sharing stories and examples of the work that I am involved with, but also by sharing insights into what is trending in philanthropy today.

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Above: The team of our Techo build and the incredible family who will call it home.

One example that I would like to share, which is appropriately aligned with Colleen’s most recent travel destination, is our post-OC house build trip in Mexico City. Last October, off the heels of an inspiring week of conversations and learnings in Ixtapa, a group of 10 of us highly motivated millennials decided to join Techo in their mission to overcome extreme poverty in slums through joint action, training and volunteering. For two full days, we spent time with a family and worked tirelessly building them a 162 square foot pre-fabricated module home. Through this process, there was an emphasis on not only the traditional construction of the home, but also on the construction of a link of trust between the volunteers and the community in creating a concrete, tangible, and achievable solution to poverty together. It wasn’t just about building the physical houses for people, but more geared towards empowering people to care and help others in an effort to build empathy. It was such a fulfilling and rewarding experience as I believe that empathy is extremely important, especially in the philanthropic sector, because it fosters a true sense of community and connection with the world around you and the people in it.

As my friend Colleen continues on the exciting journey of Big Shared World, I look forward to following her adventure, and sharing through these posts my voice on the changing face of philanthropy, the principles of impact investing, and everything else social good 🙂

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And off she goes again.

Every day since I got home from Europe on Thanksgiving, I have thought about writing the blog and uploading the photos from my time traveling through the region. I had semi written paragraphs, photos organized to be uploaded to an album, a spreadsheet for people’s responses ready to be filled in. And every day since I got home from Europe on Thanksgiving, I have thought of a perfectly good way to spend my time that did not allow the above items to get done. Half started, never completed.

Today, over a month since Thanksgiving, with clothes in piles on my bed and an open suitcase just waiting to be filled and taken on an adventure, the pressure of what isn’t done weighs.

My favorite excuse for not tackling the to-do list is my 16-month old niece, Gianna. My sister has been going through a divorce since Gianna was just 6 months old and now we’re all under the same roof at our childhood home with my parents in Minnesota. While it makes for some fun days, it’s quite easy to feel like a college break rather than a professional one. And the best part about college break outside of mom doing laundry and making dinner every night? No homework.

But even Gianna has been more cooperative these past few days, allowing our together time to be her watching YouTube cartoons while I type in BSW data, instead of the usual playing with trolls or something else hardly conducive to productivity…


This morning, as I was taking stock of the piles to pack and the things I still needed to get together, my mother asked, “Are you sure you want to keep doing this? I mean nobody would think less of you if you just stop.” This, from a woman who used to scold me if I wanted to bail on a play date growing up. “You committed to hanging out with her, I’m not going to call and cancel for you an hour before.”

But that’s the irony of it, my mother made me who I am. Despite her struggle to understand my intense desire to live an international life, it was her support that allowed me to grow into the person I am today. And my family continues to inspire and inform my life decisions, including the idea to go on this Big Shared World journey. This entire idea wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for being pulled out of the new life I was establishing in Washington DC the moment my sister called me to tell me of her husband’s indiscretions. That morning changed everything. Not only did it start the unraveling of the perfect life and family she had planned to have, but my own life as I flew back and forth to support her, and of course, Gianna. And in those days that life turned upside down, the idea to travel the world and talk to people about the meaning behind it all was born.

Over the past few months, Big Shared World has been the introduction to conversations about big issues in life. Sometimes these are global, sometimes they are personal. But one thing is for certain – every person, family, neighborhood, company, country… we all have issues. I’ve had incredible conversations with people about everything from worldly events to their own life-altering events. I’ve laughed and cried with strangers as they’ve shared their passions, their goals, and their fears. And with over 200 BSW interactions to date, I’ve learned that while sometimes life doesn’t make sense, it does go on, and that the ability to power through is a great one.

From now on, Big Shared World is going to be about just that, sharing. Here, for those who follow, it’ll be about the journey of a young woman trying to make sense of this imperfect world we live in. Asking questions, sharing perspectives, and learning about life through stories from people who live it around the world. With an open passport and mind, I can assure you, it’ll be an interesting and incredible journey ahead. Through the good days and the bad, I hope you’ll join me. It may not be perfect, but I promise it will be real.