Sunday, February 12, 2012

UPDATE - August 29, 2011

Has this ever happened to you?

You arrive at an event, and as one blogger said, you’re confused as you try to figure out which option you are:
omnivore, carnivore, locavore, flexitarian, pescatarian, pollotarian, raw foodist, vegetarian, ovo-vegetarian, lacto-vegetarian, lacto-ovo-vegetarian, lactating-ovulating vegetarian, lactose-intolerant vegetarian, vegan, bi-curious vegan (fantasizes about eggs and milk), gluten-free, glutton-free, or decline to state.

What about this?

You are thirsty and about to grab a Styrofoam cup and someone yells.

“I can’t believe you’re about to grab a Styrofoam cup. That is soooo bad for the environment.”

“Hmmm.” So you change your mind and you reach for a plastic cup.

“I can’t belieeeeve you’re about to grab a plastic cup. Don’t you know how long that
will stay in the environment?”


“And don’t you know that’s made from oil or fossil fuels?”

“Ok.” You put it down and you go for a paper cup.

“Are you serious? A paper cup? Do you know where that comes from?”


“From a tree, mister. You must be tired today. We’re not killing any trees today. We’re going to be hugging them. Put that thing down, hugger.”

“Ok.” You start hugging yourself but can’t get your arms around your body (or I can’t). So you put down the paper cup and reach for a glass thinking she won’t say anything now. But now her friend yells at you.

“So you’re going to use a glass knowing full well, someone has to waste water and soap on that when you don’t have to use any water to wash a paper cup?”

“But she sai—“

“I don’t care what she said. Why would you waste water like that?”

“I thought it was a renewable resou—“

“Renewable my beautiful thick lips! My lipstick is renewable; it’s called saliva. But water is not necessarily renewable. Are you going to use lukewarm water or cold water?”

“Uhhh, I usually wash with lukewarm water, so---“

“So, you’re going to use water and use the energy of the water heater to heat the water to wash the dish, and your dishwashing liquid isn’t even made from natural ingredients.”

You look around. “Where did your friend go? The anti-styrofoam, anti-plastic, anti-paper one?”

In this environmentally aware age, sometimes it’s confusing to decide which option uses the least amount of energy or contributes the least amount to carbon emissions. At my current job, we have four bins—food compost, recycling, landfill, and glass. We have napkins/serviettes that are made from 100% recyclable materials. When people finish eating, I have seen people throw the napkins into the landfill. I’ve seen some throw it into the recycling bin, and I’ve seen some throw it into the food composting bin. Which is it? And how can you recycle used napkin?

And how am I supposed to use cold water washing to get stains out of clothes that are white cotton? I mean isn’t that the purpose of warm wash and hot wash to get stains out of clothes that can undergo warmer water? I mean I’ve listened to the two women above who were complaining, and I’ve done cold wash, but people always look at me strange when I walk around with stains on my clothes cold-washed clothes or on my jacket. They think I don’t know.

“Hey, you’ve got a stain on your jacket.”

“Oh really?”

“Yeah, it’s right---hey, where are you going?”

I head out to find the anti-paper woman. I think she’s ok with warm water.

I’ve had a good past few months doing some education work from September through December while waiting for a visa for a new job in London. In the meantime I’ve done some writing for an online newspaper. I’ve listed a few of the articles below if you want to read them. The editor asked me to write about the intersection between science and faith so they are quite controversial and touch writings, but the point was to create conversation and the 2nd one below definitely did that. The first two articles were edited and came out a bit disjointed and poorly ended; I have a better joint version of the two blog entries together. If you want that, I can send it to you.

Role of Doubt in Science & Faith Part I
Role of Doubt in Science & Faith Part II
A Dinner Party
Does Science Make Belief in God Obsolete?
Adam & Eve and Mystery (this entry is pasted in an augmented form at the bottom of this update)

I think the biggest thing going on is that my fellowship is coming to a close at the moment (August 31, 2011). The funny thing about that is so many people still don’t know what I do. So I thought I would take some time in this update not to explain my program and why I moved to DC, but to at least explain what I do day-to-day.

It’s been a really exciting time, though, for me. I still live in quite a boring shell of a life with a superficially regular schedule, but I find ways to spice it up, mostly and usually through interpersonal encounters and relational living. I’ve been blessed to see Beth and Buddy (like 2nd parents to me), Efrat (really good friend from high school who is in the best place in life that I’ve seen her for a long time, though she still argues I’m certifiably crazy), Jose-Miguel (deeply close friend who I’m happy to say is wedding soon. ConGRATS!!). I’ve had some great trips to see different parts of the country and world experiencing the Grand Canyon for the first time and participating in the tornado relief efforts in Joplin, Missouri. And I’ve spent a great deal writing and editing. It always amazes me the vast variety of things I’m asked to write or review. I’ve been working on two chapters on fluid dynamics for a new book later this year, science education policy, the interaction and sociological interplay between drug use, gang violence, and HIV prevalence in South Africa, renewable energy policy and energy security, etc. I’m enjoying it and I hope this continues, but it reminds me of another point.

I had someone close to me, recently, openly criticize me saying that my problem is that I have no focus in my life. “By now, everyone in the world should have heard of the name Victor Udoewa.” This point was underscored when my PhD advisor came to DC because he was being awarded a National Medal of Science by President Obama. At one of the ceremonies, he took joy in introducing me, but he would always say “This guys is good at too many things; he’s good at everything.” This was something he normally said, but then he added, for the first time, “And his problem is that he can’t focus. He has no focus.” This was the first time I heard him say something like that. . . almost as a criticism. So I’ve thought about it a lot. I think the problem with such statements is that they are connected to what I said last time: too many people believe the only people doing real impacting work are famous. Regardless of my beliefs, I’m so happy to report that I have experienced this as untrue. That’s why I’m always overjoyed to see programs that try to highlight the efforts of unsung, unknown heroes because they exist everywhere. CNN has a program on heroes for instance, and I’m always glad to see more good news in the news instead of the biased turn it’s taken towards the negative and horrific.

In general, without men “who didn’t focus” we would lose the imaginative creations and inventions of men like Leonardo da Vinci and Benjamin Franklin (this guy did EVERYTHING). Yes, with the amount of knowledge we have today and the rate that knowledge currently doubles, it is highly improbable that someone can do as much as Renaissance men like Franklin and da Vinci; I know that just to get to the edge of knowledge today in even one field requires many years of focused study (believe me, I did the “pursuit of focused study”). Still, I say that you need not be focused on one thing or the other thing in order to make a difference. Not only does this ignore the many people, even today, who do it quite well, but it also reduces life our experience to s dualist one ignoring the interconnectedness of fields, studies, intelligences, and realms of work.

So as it gets colder and colder in the mid-Atlantic region and the beauty of changing leaves bursts through our foliage in its ever persistent southward march, I wanted to take a moment to remind of you what I’ve been doing during the day. . . for the most part. :-) Sometimes the oversized, gigantic acorns fall crashing down onto car windshields and distract me. Other times they lead me into a song or a frenzied march of creativity.


I have two roles. I am a Science and Technology Policy Advisor and a Development Engineer. If you remember, I’m in a fellowship program, I’ve decided to include a speech by the boss of my boss, so you can see her mention what it is we do. If you lack the interest or patience for the video, you can skip to the 10 minute mark to see her briefly mention the 23 of us who are doing such advising work.

Here are Secretary Clinton’s remarks. I would listen to the whole thing for context, but I and a few others are mentioned around 10:00.

In my dual role as Development Engineer and Science & Technology Policy Advisor, I have day-to-day activities, and I run two large projects. I advise on any type of infrastructure and construction projects in our international development work (roads, bridges, hospitals, schools, clinics, power plants, shelters/housing) including irrigation systems and water and sanitation projects. Since I’m in Washington, I work in a supportive role for work done overseas helping to give comments and review on proposed projects or the proposals of people seeking to win competitive grants, contracts, or cooperative agreements.

Because this work is often few and far between, I also run two large projects. I have been in charge of the agency’s carbon neutrality efforts with the hope of becoming carbon neutral sometime in the future and eventually broadening that into environmental neutrality. I’ve been working on setting up pilots for this around the world for both operational carbon neutrality (our own energy bills, commuting, flights, cars and buildings we own, etc.) and programmatic carbon neutrality (zeroing the carbon footprint of our development projects, activities, and programs in countries around the world, such as an anti-corruption campaign, building a school, a vaccination program, or training program on disaster risk reduction).

Also I head the agency’s post-disaster/post-conflict initiative, smoothening the transition between our emergency response (post-conflict and post-disaster) and long-term recovery and reconstruction. In this work, I build coalitions and run a network of 54 professionals from academia, private industry, NGOs, and other government agencies.

Play the Budget Game:

JOBS UPDATE (February 2012)

So I had a few close possibilities, none of which panned out. One non-profit architectural international development organization was interested in me. I never realized how much working for USAID (or any government agency) helps in getting jobs with NGOs who need to interact with the government especially if the interaction is for funding requests. And this is why the architecture international development firm, MASS Design, was potentially interested in me. In the end, they didn’t have the money, at the time, to bring me on full-time. But I do try to help them out if I can with small questions, scouting, and information mining.

The other hope for me was another science-acting gig. Many of you know the work I was blessed to be able to do in the first half of 2011 as the physics host for a science curriculum show. This time I was privileged to learn that National Geographic was starting a new show, and just like the producers of the K-12 science show, National Geographic decided “instead of hiring actors as we usually do, let’s hire scientists and engineers who actually know the material.” So I was again in the same situation, sending in my headshot, bio and resume. I again asked which resume they wanted—a science one or an acting one. I sent them both. Then a few days later the casting director asked if I had any links for any video/film work I’ve done. I was able to send him 3 things from 2011—a link to an episode of the science show, my DC 48-hour Film Project team entry, and my SPARKS video explaining the anatomy of a SPARK. A few days after that, he asked me to come in for an interview/audition. Strangely enough, though the interview/audition was supposed to consist of 1) a brief interview of myself by the casting director, 2) reading cue cards of outros and intros, and 3) a mock interview where I interview an actor playing a famous scientist (whose information was sent to me by email); it only lasted 5 minutes. I estimated at least 20 minutes for all of that. When telling about myself, the director interrupted me and asked me specifically what I was doing now. When I told him that, he interrupted and asked if I could read the cue card. Because I didn’t memorise the cue card words (though they sent several possible cue card readings by email) and they didn’t a teleprompter, I had to look at the cue card and away from the camera to read sections of the card at a time. A teleprompter would have kept my eye on the camera the entire time. After one reading, he stopped me and said to sit down and ask this actor a few mock interview questions. After my second question, as I started the third, he interrupted and said thank you. He was in a hurry!

Needless to say I never heard from them. There were probably at least 22 people who auditioned before me that day and I recognized a few of the names. A friend of mine showed up as I was about to go in so I was able to give her the tip that it’s really quick, and there’s no time to get warmed on the interview or to redo the cue card reading with direction from the casting director. None of the people I knew had heard anything from the casting director, and I started emailing him every 2-3 weeks asking if anything was announced. Each time he just said that the National Geographic producers were still reviewing the tapes. It was then that I realized he was not deciding who would be chosen. His job was simply to record everyone, but I’m sure it wasn’t my best work.

The job I decided to take is based in London with a technology company. It’s a job where I’m a (global education) training development specialist or an (global education) instructional designer. I help design/create/write training curricula/courses for engineering faculty/students/professionals and business owners and IT professionals across the developing world (Middle East, Asia, Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe). It was a long process that was delayed by several months. If it had been a US domestic job, I would have started the 1st of September with no break. Due to visa regulations, applications, and processes, I didn’t start until the January 2012. But it finally happened, and now I’m here.

Incidentally, there are two jobs I’m really interest me that are in the process of moving forward. First, I’ve always wanted to join the NASA Astronaut corps. I’ve only applied once. Since finally being eligible to apply in 2005, the biannual process has only actually had open applications once instead of 4 times (2005, 2007, 2009, and 2011). I applied (I believe it was 2007 but perhaps it was 2009) and did not get in which I expected (people say you don’t get in your first time; as well, you should something else you’re very passionate about because you may never get in; my plan is to apply every two years for the rest of my life as I do other things). Due to government budgetary problems, cutbacks to NASA, NASA layoffs, backlogs of astronauts who still haven’t flown, and the shutting down of the shuttle program, in 2009 I was told it would be another 4-5 years before they opened applications again. Well, for some reason they opened them for a brief 3-month window from November 2011 – January 2012. I was surprised because usually the applications are on a rolling basis; in other words, they take all the applications from 2 years ago up until the next deadline and evaluate them. But this time it was only 3 months. I applied, but it’s really hard because the entire first stage/step is computer-automated. You don’t even get to stage 2 unless the computer chooses you. Oh well. :-)

The other job that really excites me is a design fellowship with IDEO. First, I applied for a job with I never heard back from them, but I like them and have used them as an example in a professional development workshop I led for middle school science teachers on how to incorporate engineering into the middle school science curriculum. We used IDEO’s design process to learn about the engineering design process (as an analog to the scientific method). Well, a good friend told me that IDEO had a new .org side in which they worked only with non-profit clients toward poverty alleviation. Do you understand why this excited me? It excites me because this was what my USAID fellowship was supposed to be—using my engineering design skills toward poverty alleviation around the world. Instead, I spent most of the time doing communication, coordination, administration, training coordination, workshop organization, etc. So the fact that someone said I could directly do the design work (instead of working for the government managing people who manage contractors who manage subcontractors), I got very excited. Sadly, is only a fellows-run expansion of They have 3 teams of the 3, with one IDEO designer plus 8 fellows, 3 of which come from within the company, The other 5 are open to application to people outside of IDEO. It’s an amazing 11-month design fellowship, and I really wish I had known about it during the 2010-2011 year. The inaugural class started in August 2011. I applied for the 2nd class of 2012. And I was lucky enough to pass Phase 1 and get to the quarterfinal stage of Phase 2. I turned in those materials (including a recommendation letter), and we’ll see what happens. In the meantime, check out IDEO. (the company side) (the .org side) Careers Fellowships past projects current projects

LONDON UPDATE (February 2012)

So I’m here in Londra (Turkish), Londres (Spanish), or London, however you prefer it. Originally called Londinium during the Roman Empire, it is a huge city. Actually London proper is only actually 1 square mile. Since its founding, of course, as with most cities, it has blossomed and grown into its rural villages, surrounding hamlets, and suburbs. The actual part of London that is London is called “The City” by the people here. Outside that 1 square mile, you refer to your part of time by the borough (New York is another city with boroughs). I live in Westminster, the seat of the government. People in other countries refer to Great Britain’s government by “London” but here local papers will often call the government “Westminster.”

They’ve given me 3 months of temporary housing and put me up in a posh place (I think it’s posh). My flat rent is actual £770/week. I’ve since learned that this is only because it is short-term housing which leases at a higher rate than long-term housing. So my guess is that it’s probably between £350-450/week if it were long-term which is still expensive.

It’s a strange city and reminds me of a mix between Washington, D.C. and New York City. It’s the seat of government and full of non-profits and advocacy organizations just like D.C., and yet, it’s the largest city in the UK, the cultural capital, and the financial capital of the country. That part reminds me of New York City. New York is not the most diverse city in the U.S. when considering American minorities and the majority, but it is one of the most internationally diverse cities in the States. The same is true of London; the number of languages spoken here is ridiculous. London is big like New York; someone told me the population increases by 5 million every work day as people come into the city. London can be considered dangerous (for the UK) like New York crime. I’ve only been here a month and a third, and some youth beat up the husband of my co-worker (he has fractures on facial bones and will get surgery on Tuesday), someone stole the ipad of one of my flat neighbours right outside the front door for our flats, and I was sitting in the bank waiting to speak with a bank worker when a man ran out from the back of the bank through the open door with someone’s purse. London can be quite dirty like New York. And there is poverty. The interesting thing, though, is that there is less visible poverty here than in the States. I think this is because of government programs for the poor and homeless. In fact, there seems to be somewhat of a mixing of housing. Instead of getting poor sections of towns and rich sections of town exclusively (and there are sections like that), you can find a nice area of town with government housing mixed in more easily than you can find that in the States. It allows for greater possibility of inter-class relational living if people act upon the proximity.

I’m most amazed at the energy saving techniques and tactics which always found me considering the UK ahead of the States. My friend in the Department of Energy disagrees and thought the UK was quite wasteful. I think we both were going from our experiences. It’s possible that what I feel is only due to the places I had been before or the places that I live and work now in the UK. But I’m quite impressed. I’ve seen the switches on the outlet (take a moment and study how much energy is drawn from an appliance that stays plugged in while unused) which I use, washer-dryer machines (one machine that both acts as a washer and dryer), smaller cars, smaller roads, smaller refrigerators (my fridge is about ¼ to 1/3 the size of refrigerators) smaller freezers (I’ve seen some freezers that are a small shelf in the refrigerator; I have a tiny freezer that is ½ the size of average freezers in the States), smaller microwaves, two-choice buttons on the toilet (one button uses half the water, but if you done a really big stink, you can press the bigger flush button which will use more water to erase the memory of your sordid affair), etc. The list goes on. In fact, more common than washer-dryers are just plain washers. So, for instance, I only have a washer and must hang dry my clothes, just like in South Africa. That’s another energy saver. My shower has no ability to be hot (Dr. Oz would like this because he says you should only shower in lukewarm water to retain more of your natural oils). The hottest it gets is lukewarm (another energy saver). The washrooms are also interesting because they have these metal heating racks that stand against the wall. People hang their towels on them to dry (residences generally don’t have central heating though offices do). My bathroom is freezing (it’s on its own floor/level) so I generally close the door and hope the heating rack helps heat the entire room. In the early morning or late night, it’s hard to see because the fade-in-fade-out lights take a very long time to slowly brighten (slower than the ones I used in the States).

I’m somewhat familiar with different UK accents. Still sometimes words are said that I don’t recognise because I’m not familiar with the British pronunciation of the word. I didn’t realised they were pronounced differently. Here are a few below.

Basil – pronounced “bă’-zƏl”

Harassed – pronounced “hă’-rƏsd”

So I’m just enjoying myself in the city. I’ve seen a few sights, but my biggest priority is finding housing. I have temporary housing for 3 months and must find something by April. I found a few nice places but places in London go quite quickly so unless you’re ready to move within the next 3 weeks to immediately, you probably won’t get it. The sooner you can take the place the more negotiating power you have on the price, but if the owner must wait for you to move on, often they will charge you a higher price. The UK reminds me a bit of South Africa where an American must alter their aesthetic framework when looking for apartments. Don’t get me wrong; there are certainly places that are nice-looking and would be considered such in both countries. But there are places considered nice-looking here that would not be considered nice looking from the States. So I’m having to readjust my understanding, framework, and sensitivity once again. It’s ok to have plaid flooring leading to your door or stained glass windows on your door, for instance. ;-)

The prices here are a bit ridiculous. It’s as if someone said “I’m going to take your American salary amount, change the $ sign to a £, and then decrease the number amount. At the same time, I’m going to take rent prices, change the $ sign to a £, and then increase them. I’m also going to do the same with some food and clothing. At the very least, I’ll change the $ sign to a £ on a food item, and then leave the number amount the same. So here I spend a higher percentage of earnings on items like food or housing.

A lot of people have asked about the job, so I’ll say a few words about it. I work for a competitor to PayPal called Company. Yes, Company perks are nice. We get free food for all three meals. Luckily dinner is not served in any canteen/cafeteria in my building. So for me to eat dinner, I would have to go to a different building down the road. This is good because it encourages me to go home and cook and not work late. We can have visitors eat with us, we have a few free, but mostly subsidised massages (I heard they used to be free), free medical/health/life/dental insurance. I start with 5 weeks of vacation a year (I don’t have to build up to it; in other words, I don’t earn some of those days each month I work here), and my manager is in Switzerland. So larger team meetings mean we have to travel to meet up. My larger team works all over the world since we do outreach, so it appears we will have to do this once a quarter. We all get laptops, and people here don’t seem to write things on paper. When I do people say “Oh, Old school!” Every single part of the company thinks creatively and is into innovation. So the chefs are encouraged to be creative, HR is creative in their design of the HR tools, the facilities team is creative in all they offer. Our credit card uses is automatically tied into our expense report system so we don’t have to do anything. We just take a picture of the receipt and zappo, we’re mostly done. We have gyms, free exercise classes, free snacks and food in our numerous kitchens on various floors and corners, sleep pods, free laundry, in-house chefs, in-house massage therapists, in-house barbers, etc. The design of the place is quite crazy as well—lots of fun, nice colours, playful beanbags, indoor telephone boxes (booths), indoor parks, game rooms, music rooms, etc. It goes on and on. I was thinking if I ever open up a school in the future, I want to employ similar design techniques that Company uses. You can bring your dog to work or put your kids in daycare. And Company works on work-life balance as well. We’ll see how it is. I can see that people can easily have a tendency to value the perks over the actual day-to-day work which I think is more important (as well as for whom you work and your teammates). We’ll see how that work out for me.

I was told that people come here thinking it’s the same as the US and it’s not, so they experience culture shock. I don’t think it’s hit me at all. The UK is somewhat culturally different, but the (U.S.) American empire lives on even here. I don’t think the UK, in general, is as deep into excessive consumerism, non-stop entertainment, self-absorption, and the never-enough philosophy as in the US, but because I’m in London (the height of that culture in the UK) I get it full blast. I see all the American companies we know so well (KFC, McDonald’s, Burger King, Starbucks, Whole Foods, American Apparel, Urban Outfitters, etc.) as well as a few knockoffs (Burger Queen, TKMaxx, etc.). They struggle with terrorism and how to deal with it and react to it and whether they themselves engage in it. They deal with race issues (even though some English people will say they don’t) and youth unemployment issues. They face hardships from gangs and the same health issues (recently the silicon problem with implants has been looming large). It’s really quite similar. With socioeconomic class, they have an entire social class apart from the wealth one owns. In other words, a commoner can become rich and never been royalty, the highest social class. And a royal family member might lose all “his money,” and yet he will always be the highest class.

American TV, films, and music dominate here as around the world. In Britain, though, they have a large enough entertainment culture to balance it more so than many other countries. They have two knock-off shows that make me laugh. One is called “American Scousewives.” I thought scouse was a derogatory term, but it turns out that it just refers to an accent or a person from the area around Liverpool. The accent is so musical, lively, sing-songy, and strangely pronounced it’s hard to understand a person with a strong scouse accent. Another one is called Georgie Shore. It is cool to see shows like Idol and X-factor that were exported to the U.S. I think it’s interested how TV stations here will have times when there is no programming, dead-air. That would never happen in the U.S. It’s constant programming there. Not here. This includes big and important stations, as well. Censorship is different here. In other words, during prime time, anything goes. There is no censorship on TV at night. So if you watch a reality show, they will say what they want and you hear what they say.

Earlier I mentioned self-absorption but they are not as into their image as in the U.S. I feel like I can tell if a person is a white American or a white Brit. I’m not sure how I can tell, but the average US American seems to be more attractive for some reason than the average white Brit. I asked a friend about this, and she said it’s true. She said when she’s attracted to a white European, she finds out that the person is an Italian or Frenchman or someone from another European country, but the white Brits don’t seem to be as attractive on average. I asked her if it had to do with the fact that Americans get more plastic surgery. She said no. I asked if has to do with more cosmetic dental surgery and teeth fixing in the U.S. She admitted that it was true that that happened in the US and Brits don’t care but that it wasn’t that. The faces actually looked different. I noticed it in South Africa, too. Anyway, I could go on and on about the different observations here, but I’ll stop for now. There’s more time in the future.

RAGS TO RICHES - Arnel Pineda's Journey

He was just a small-town boy, as his favourite band once put it, working on the not-so-lonely cover band circuit in Quezon City, Manila, as lead singer for a band called Zoo. Arnel Pineda didn't reckon on achieving more or less fame than any of the zillion other Filipino cover band singers that keep the crowds entertained at bars and lounges of hotels from Bahrain to Beijing. One thing was for sure, though: Arnel Pineda could imitate the throaty wail of Journey lead singer Steve Perry like nobody's business.

In 2006 something happened that made few waves in the international rock scene, but would change Pineda's life forever. The aging rockers of Journey were forced to drop lead singer Steve Augeri, who was losing his voice but had never really sounded like Perry anyway. The next year, after another lead singer didn't work out, the band stumbled across some clips of Pineda on YouTube. Incredulous, they invited him to LA for an audition.

When Pineda applied for his visa, the story goes, nobody at the US Embassy believed his ostensible 'purpose for travel' - auditioning to be lead singer of Journey. So they asked him to sing a few bars of 'Wheels in the Sky.' He nailed it, they issued the visa, and he was on his way to rock n' roll infamy.

The band introduced Pineda as their new lead singer in early 2008, turning 90 million Filipinos into Journey fans overnight. Filipinos love a good rags-to-riches story to affirm their hope that things can always get better. Pineda, a one-time homeless kid on the streets of Manila, has done more than give Filipinos a good story-he has given them something to be proud of.


There are lots of exciting movements happening in education right. And I sometimes feel that perhaps I’m somehow supposed to be always working or connected to education. While writing a bio for introductions to my new team, I realised how I have always been doing educational work since being in elementary. In Fifth grade I helped tutor 3rd graders, and in the 5th grade, Jose-Miguel (a best friend) and I also helped tutor a student who was a few grade levels behind. From that moment on its been an exciting ride.

One thing I realised is that anytime you have a student in your class who has fully mastered all preceding, pre-requisite courses and has fully mastered all prior lessons leading up to today, that student never has problems understanding the lesson that day. The learning difficulties (that have no mental, emotional, social, behavior bases) are embedded in holes in prior knowledge, things the teacher assumes that the student does not assume. Now, normally it wouldn’t be a problem when someone misunderstands something because you just spend time to correct the understanding. The problem is that in our contemporary educational institutions around the world, you continue on when a student doesn’t understand.

For example, imagine I give an exam, and 80% of people pass the exam while 20% fail the exam. I continue on the next unit, even though the student obviously didn’t master the material. Normally a teacher has the license to stay on the current unit if enough (a considerable portion) of the students struggled. But the determination of enough is subjective. And even if it is not, any student in the minority who failed or who barely passed still needs help and should not be moving ahead.

While teaching, a former wife helped me with objective-based tracking. It was a brilliant idea in which you provided incentives for students to become competent at all the objectives for each unit. This was to help avoid the problem I’ve outlined. The problem with objective-tracking is that it still did not alter the pace of teaching in the classroom. In other words, it was extremely difficult for my students to continue to go back to prior lessons and units and work on old objectives while the class was moving forward. It’s hard to continue to motivate the children to do that.

So in all these things, I was challenged. And though I believed in every child’s ability to earn an A, I knew our system worked against the students. Moreover, I worked on department chairs and principals who didn’t believe that all of my children could succeed though they might profess it publicly. What I needed was help, and help. . . has come. There are a host of new educational movements that allow children to actually become competent in an area before moving on to the subsequent area.

New Classrooms - New Classrooms designs new models for instruction that reimagine the role of educators, the use of time, the configuration of physical space, and the use of data and technology so that students can learn in ways that are personalized to their particular academic needs and strengths. They then support the implementation of these models within traditional public, charter, and independent schools.

Online University with Sebastian Thrun – I’m going to be taking an artificial intelligence class from him. He’s been so touched by the power of teaching people across the world and not trying to weed out students from his class that he won’t go back. He’s left his Stanford University job. He now runs Udacity (and you can learn to create your own search engine with no prior programming experience)

Khan Academy – With over 2800 videos, you can learn entire courses here through videos. School districts are now using Khan Academy for some of their courses with their students.

Florida Virtual School – a statewide virtual e-district where teachers can “teach” students through this online material or students may do entire coursework and grade-level work through FVS alone

Stanford University Free Online Classes

Google Education – Read the about page, they have the largest online science fair in the world

Short video how Chromebooks helped one student

iTextbook Video – allows students to interact with the textbook like placing your finger on a picture of DNA and rotating it, tapping a paragraph and adding notes, creating electronic flashcards associated with certain portions of the text, etc.

Open Education Resources – Open Education Resources are resources created by one party that are licensed for free use by everyone. The author in this medium-length article advocates that materials whose production is paid for by government funds should be free to tax payers since it’s their money that facilitated the work. To pay for the textbooks is like paying twice. It says that education, at its core, is sharing, and that the internet should be leveraged to bring down the costs of textbooks and thereby education. One example is the $5 textbook.

Reverse Mentoring – where students who know more about technology than their teachers can be used to mentor teachers in the use of technology and incorporation into the subject matter. This helps builds confidence in the students and improves the educational process and delivery through technology.

SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP: The 4th Sector, The Citizens Sector

Something is in the air. Something’s changing, and this change is happening at a faster and faster rate. Every country I visit I can see it. Some days it’s difficult to see because I can see all the problems and issues around me. But most of the time I’m overwhelmed by an emerging field—no a movement, maybe even a tide-changing way of thinking that is taking the world by storm.

Looking at David Bornstein’s research (“How to Change the World,” 2004), former Rockefeller Foundation President Peter Goldmark was quoted as saying, “it’s got to strike you that a quarter of a century ago outside of the United States there were very few NGOs and now there are millions of them all over the glove.” For the moment, let me refer to these groups as citizen organizations. Let’s look at a few growth patterns of this citizen group sector as cited by David 2004.

Indonesia – 20 years ago only 1 independent environmental organization; now over 2,000

Bangladesh – all development work handled by 20,000 NGOs, almost all of which were started in the past 25 years

India – over a million citizen organizations

Slovakia – more than 12,000

Formerly Communist, Central European countries – between 1988 and 1995, 100,000 citizen groups opened

France – an average of 70,000 new groups started each year in the 1990s (quadruple the 1960s rate)

Canada – since 1987, the number of registered citizens groups has grown by more than 50% to about 200,000

Brazil – underwent a 60% increase in citizen groups from 250,000 to 400,000 in the 1990s

U.S. – saw a 60% increase in IRS-registered public service groups from 464,000 to 734,000 between 1989 and 1998; 70% of registered groups are less than 30 years old
According to Bernstein some groups estimate that Brazilian has over 1 million citizen groups and U.S. has over 2 million.

Globally – the number of registered international citizen organizations increased from 6,000 to 26,000 during the 1990’s

Something is happening. I repeat; something is happening. Historically, these groups were negatively defined and still are somewhat today. We know them as nongovernmental organizations, not-for-profits, or non-profits. But over the past 20 or so years they have gained positive names such as the “independent sector,” the “third sector” (a term Bornstein favors), the “fourth sector” (term I favor over the 3rd sector), the “citizens sector,” and more.

Bornstein lists 6 reasons they are new.

1. It’s happening on a scale never seen before.

2. This is global phenomenon; the organizations encompass more global diversity and dispersion than ever before.

3. There has been an increasing shift to systemic changes and approaches and not management approaches (an example would be addressing root causes of poverty instead of simply managing it so that it is always here).

4. Citizen organizations are less burdened by regulations than the church and state and have the power to exert great pressure on governments (International Campaign to Ban Landmines, creation of the Criminal Court, the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, etc.).

5. They are changing the nature of the game, forming many different types of nuanced hybrid social-impact organizations, and forming alliances with businesses, governments, and academia as they create new markets.

6. As with any new field in which competition and innovation are key, with the opening and emergence of a “new” citizens sector, these organizations are benefiting from entrepreneurialism, high levels of competition, massive collaboration, and increased focus on performance.

The last point cannot be underscored enough. It used to be the case that efficiency and excellent management were found only in the private sector. However, with increased focus on the citizens sector and the vying for position within the field, many of these socially entrepreneurial organizations are having to prove their efficacy and increase their effectiveness. (Social entrepreneur Dan Pallotta believes you should be able to get rich doing charity work). In this growing field, remaining sluggish and conducting business as usual is not a safe stance. This is because the field is awash with active, energetic and most importantly innovative social entrepreneurs looking to push further, affect more people, and challenge the status quo. So this introduction of competition and entrepreneurialism is creative a hot bed of social innovation within the citizen sector unlike we’ve ever seen before.

Now there are a number of reasoned and theorised causes for all of these changes, and if you like I can write about some of them and explain a few I’ve seen or experienced in another update. But at the moment, I want to talk about what it means to be a social entrepreneur. It can be a confusing term, and it’s not a very easily usable or definable label.

The word “entrepreneur” entered the English language from Jean-Baptise Say to charaterise a particular economic actor that doesn’t just start a businesses but shifts economic resources from an area of lower productivity to one of higher productivity. Joseph Schumpeter says the entrepreneur is the source of creative destruction necessary for major economic change.

A social entrepreneur is therefore a transformative force, a person who doesn’t take no as an answer as she moves toward disrupting the status quo to propagate a socially beneficial idea. Social entrepreneurs tend to deal with systemic change creating mass behavior change, not able to rest until they have fully attacked the problems they address. Let’s do a quiz. It should be easy, they are mostly yes-no. :-)


1. Was Steve Jobs a social entrepreneur? (Is Jobs the world’s greatest philanthropist?)
2. Was Leonardo da Vinci a social entrepreneur?
3. Was George Washington Carver a social entrepreneur?
4. Was Emily Dickinson a social entrepreneur?
5. Was Henry Ford a social entrepreneur?
6. Is Barbara Bush a social entrepreneur?
7. Was Benjamin Franklin a social entrepreneur?
8. Is J. K. Rowling a social entrepreneur?
9. Is Jeremy Lin a social entrepreneur?
10. Is Vandana Shiva a social entrepreneur?
11. Was St. Francis of Assisi a social entrepreneur?
12. Name 3 social entrepreneurs today.

This is a global phenomenon, and the most creative problem-solvers are outside the US, Canada, and the UK. This is often because more creativity is required when there are fewer resources. Hundreds of schools are now offering university programs and degrees in social entrepreneurship—some in business schools, others in medical schools, still others in engineering schools. Hundreds of organizations have arisen to nurture social entrepreneurs and incubate their organizations. There are social venture capitalist organizations now. Some consider the best thing we can do is to continue to create supports and bolster up a social climate conducive for the growth of social entrepreneurs because they are creating a base of energy with which we are slowly solving some of the world’s toughest challenges. By shifting the work and attitude of businesses and creating opportunities for the involvement of citizens, the emergence of the citizens sector is changing the way problems are solved all over the globe.


In 2008, Bill Gates stood up at the World Economic Forum and gave a speech essentially saying that charities and governments cannot solve the world’s problems alone. He called for a new creative capitalism and the entrance of the private sector (businesses and innovation) into the work of caring for others. These are exciting times.

Businesses are having to change ways and explore better ways of pursuing interests. The new fad is corporate social responsibility (CSR). I long for the day when companies have no CSR departments because social responsibilities and social aims are so interwoven into their mission and actions and operations and vision and strategy that it is every (by giving it no place, it occupies every space). Please take a moment and watch this 5 minute video called We First. Why is it that we make money in the first place? Is it just profit for profit’s sake? Watch the video.

Someone was criticizing me recently saying that I don’t believe in for-profit work or working for for-profit entities. They asked me “how do you think non-profits function?” “Where do you think non-profits get their funds from?” So I want to introduce the simultaneously ancient and emerging field of social enterprises.

So what is a social enterprise? A social enterprise is a socially-oriented business venture created to solve a social problem or market failure through entrepreneurial private-sector approaches that increase effectiveness and sustainability while ultimately creating social benefit or change. But that’s a somewhat technical and long definition.

In simple terms a social enterprise is an organization that uses business models (like a for-profit company) in order to achieve social aims (like a non-profit). For-profit companies deal with a bottom line. Social enterprises often deal with what’s called a double-bottom line (people and profits) or a triple-bottom line (people, environment, and profits) instead of the traditional bottom line of profits. Social enterprises can legally be classified as for-profits or even non-profits. The legal classification doesn’t actually matter. What matters is that they have some means of a revenue-generating streams to propel the organization towards its aim and mission.

Now there are many benefits to working as a social enterprise instead of a traditional non-profit. I’ll list a few below. This is not a comprehensive list.

1. Traditional non-profits often depend on grants, contracts, funds, and donations from the private sector, the public sector, and private individuals. Social enterprises have their own means of generating revenue so donations and grants and fund raising becomes supplementary or optional.

2. Social organisations working in community or international development often deal with the problem of people not valuing the service or product provided because it’s free. By charging a fee for it, it creates a sense of value and a sense of ownership by the person who worked hard for the money to purchase the service or product. This often leads to better care of the service or product and ownership over its maintenance. However, if the price is set too high, the business pricing model becomes a hindrance or prohibition to those who desperately need such services.

3. Social enterprises have the potential to be more sustainable than traditional non-profits. This does include financial sustainability (#1), but it goes beyond that. Especially in community and international development, this includes the sustainability that comes from building the capacity in the community’s people to do the work. Social enterprises provide opportunities for jobs due to the revenue generation. This gives opportunity for training, and if it goes well enough, possibly expansion in other locations.

So to review, social enterprises have social aims.
Social enterprises create value.
Social enterprises are agnostic about legal form.
The "S" (social) drives the "E" (enterprise).

Now there are many ways to be a social enterprise and many companies claim the title (because there are certain benefits if people view you as a social enterprise). The differences in types of social enterprises depend on a few criteria:

1) How good is the social good you are producing? (an organization can be socially neutral or socially evil)

2) Do you directly produce the social good or do use the profit from some other economic activity to then do social good? (social good from product/service or social good from use of profit)

3) Is your social aim placed on par with or ahead of your profit aim?

4) Do you generate all of your revenue alone or do you supplement it with donations and fundraising and grants?
Let’s look at how John Rougeux categorises the nuanced spectra of organizations. I’ve added italicised examples of organisations that fit into some of the more positive categories.


Above is the old school way of dividing organizations: for-profits and non-profits, or businesses an charities. Non-profits help social problems, for-profits make money. An easy categorization, but hardly accurate, and certainly outdated. It’s also makes a dangerous assumption, that the good created for society is most easily judged be assessing an organization’s tax status. This paradigm assumes that there is no overlap between the two (i.e. all non-profits create more good for society than all businesses). The world isn’t that simple, and below is a more accurate depiction of how organizations might be categorized (click the image for an enlarged version):

At the left hand side of the spectrum are entities that harm society, and to the right are organizations that seek social good for society. For the purposes of this illustration, “social good” is the generally positive intent of an organization’s product or service, or the positive outcome sought from the way the product or service is delivered. Favorable results that stem from job creation, economic growth, etc. are not represented here.

These categories don’t imply that a business or charity is either “all good” or “all bad”, either; there are bright and ugly sides to any organization, but these nuances can’t be included here. Instead, this spectrum ranks how actively each type of organization generally seeks to better (or worsen) society.

For-Profit (Active Social Ill) – these are companies that actively harm the world through their actions. Thankfully there are few of these, but Girls Gone Wild is a good example. Sorry, no link included here.

For-Profit (Social Ill from Company) – a business that harms society through the way it runs itself falls into this category. A shady mortgage company certainly fits the bill. A company that packaged, sold, and traded sub-prime mortgages would fall into this category as well.

For-Profit (Social Ill from Industry) – these are entities that operate in an industry in which unwanted social outcomes are generally unavoidable. Coal mining, for example, provides a needed product, but no matter how it’s done and no matter how coal is used, it harms nature.

For-Profit (Neutral) – a business that doesn’t actively harm society, but doesn’t go out of its way to improve it, could be defined as neutral. A large number of businesses would fall into this category, like a local car dealership or a hedge fund.

For-Profit (Social Good at Discretion) - it’s not uncommon for a large corporation to develop its own foundation to make grants to other non-profits, and that’s how these businesses would be categorized. This is ranked lower than other categories, because donations are not necessarily tied to sales or the behavior of customers. The Hewlett-Packard Company Foundation and the Dell Foundation are two examples.

For-Profit (Social Good from Revenue/Social Good from Profit) – companies like Patagonia and Newman’s Own pledge a minimum percentage of revenue or pre-tax income towards causes. These arrangements directly link the success of the company with donations to charities. Another example is my church’s coffee shop Ebenezers Coffeehouse in which 100% of the profits go towards fighting human trafficking, economic empowerment, housing, orphanage projects, etc. Ben & Jerry’s Partnership Program fits into this category. They allow non-profits to run fee-discounted/free franchises and employ youth in jobs through this effort.

For-Profit (Social Good from Product) – this is a gray area, but there are certainly some businesses whose products are genuinely designed to improve people’s lives. A medical device company, like Medtronic, fits this bill. A new friend, Kohl Gill, runs Labor Voices, a group that rates and reports on working conditions and factories overseas and then sells this information to companies like a Nike or a Sprite so that they don’t employ such factories and the employers have to shut down or change their ways.

B-Corp (Social Good Before Profit) – these are a more recent creation, but more and more business are created with the intention of a double- or triple-bottom line, in which social outcomes are placed on par or even before the pursuit of profits. Better World Books is a good example of this. The Body Shop’s environmental, pro-animal, and fair-trade work is another example. Ben & Jerry’s is another example.

Non-Profit (Advances Culture) – organizations like the art museums, opera houses, performance centers, and the like all seek to improve society, and in general, the more of these, the better.

Non-Profit (Corrects Social Problems) – these are charities that seek to feed the hungry, house the poor, heal the sick, and so on. It would be difficult to make an argument that these types of organizations don’t deserve their own place at the far right of the spectrum.

There are a number of social enterprise/entrepreneurship conferences, workshops, competitions, accelerators, and incubators. These events and groups are helpful to social enterprises at different stages of development. One of the most difficult developmental points is initial funding or seed funding. So there are groups like incubators or accelerators that were established to help aid the launching of social enterprises. They locate and work with social entrepreneurs and organizations, help formulate a business plan, provide seed funding, help form a board, create a long-term sustainability plan, help locate partners and networks, and then set the enterprise off on its own hopefully to succeed and thrive. A few incubators, accelerator programs, competitions, and conferences are listed below.

Socap (biggest social enterprise conference I know in the world)
Ashoka Changemakers (their competitions)
Acumen Fund
Skoll Foundation
Praxis Labs (accelerator program)
And the list goes on and on and on. . .


Some of you know I was reluctant to leave DC. This was due to the fact that I was helping to launch 3 initiatives with my partner Andy. I wanted to describe a bit of the three initiatives because I am now looking for someone to hire to carry them on.

First, within faith communities I became tired of the false dichotomy between secular and sacred. One manifestation of that is that many churches will spot out someone they think has “talent” or “spiritual” talent and ask them to help serve in a ministry. If they think the person is doing well, they ask them to help lead a ministry or program. If they think they are really impacting, they then invite them on staff because implicitly they are saying that’s where the impact is. But there is no understanding or recognition of the fact that if someone is good or doing good work, maybe they should continue working outside the church. This is exemplified in the fact that churches often expend financial resources and human resources (releasing part of their congregation) to go and plant another church elsewhere, a church that will be led by someone that is identified as a rising star or an impactful person within the parent church. At Redeemer Church in New York City, a group of church goers complained to Pastor Tim Keller and said it’s not fair how church members get all that money and are supported financial for a year or so to do a church plant, but if a church member wants to open a restaurant that employs ex-cons or start an orphanage or establish an urban garden they receive no funds. I don’t credit Pastor Keller and his staff for coming up with the idea, but I do credit them with being amenable to the suggestion and creating the Faith and Work Center. Part of the Faith and Work Center is an Entrepreneurship Initiative that holds a competition to award a grant to one for-profit, one non-profit, and one arts venture being started by a church member.

Andy and I wanted to do something similar in our church community. Imagine it. We had a sermon series called “All In” about being totally committed to the cause. Can you believe that other that 2 examples, every other example used throughout the sermon series was an example of a church clergy member or a missionary? And the two non-clergy examples were extremely wealthy people. The implicit message is that if you are going to be all-in, you need to work for the church or be rich. What we need are churches that have an understanding of the Divine everywhere in the every-day alongside every person. We need churches that see the sacred in extra-church work not just church work or parachurch work. We need to break the sacred-secular divide.

So we started two things. We started a quarterly event in which we came together to discuss such issues. Our first was in September 2011. We had a church member discuss this very issue as it is the topic of a book she is writing. She talked about the examples in the “All-In” series, and she spoke about growing up in church and only being taught how to be a good Christian wife or a good Christian mother. She was neither of those and often questioned “Does my faith have no relevance to my situation as a single businesswoman in the work place or to my job?” It was a good event. And we broke u pinto small groups based on different sectors—military government, non-military government, arts, non-profit, for-profit, other. We plan to do one every quarter, break into small groups, and those groups continue throughout the quarter inviting people to meet to talk about the work they do in the world and the relevance their faith has on such work. (I was not worried about this continuing without me. I knew, if I took the London job, it would be fine and continue.)

Second, we realised there was a need for seed funding for social entrepreneurs in our community. This need felt especially poignant when we considered all the people who took part in our second SPARKS series (hope you followed that series in the updates). We had 100 people in our group, and 30 regulars at the meeting; all were asking “What Next?” They felt empowered to challenge themselves weekly to take new positive timely risks, but what seemed most natural was to come together to do a communal risk for the community and city. So Andy and I began plans to create a community of people who came together and pooled their resources to solve problems local and endemic to D.C.

A good example of this is Plywood People. Plywood People is run by a friend named Jeff, an Atlanta social entrepreneur. Jeff doesn’t convene people in the same way we want to do; he convenes people who are already social entrepreneurs or who are working on ideas to talk and share and network and meet. But let me give you an example of the power of this and what Jeff has done. Jeff and his group were trying to figure out what to do about the refugee situation in the States and in their community. It was hard for refugees to find a viable livelihood and provide for their families. During that time, he was driving and noticed the billboards along the roads. He wondered what they did with billboard paper when the ad was over. He called and asked. They said they threw it away. He asked if he could have it to reuse. They told him yes. Since most billboards are owned by a few companies it wasn’t hard to get the billboard paper from other billboards. Jeff started an organization, subsequently, that employees refugee women to make bags from recycled paper. When Andy and I visited Jeff and his organization in August 2011, they had 10 women working for Billboard Bags and 2 women had already transitioned from Billboard bags to other jobs. Plywood people intends to be an incubating group that continues to launch further initiatives like Gift Card Giver.

So Andy and I set out to do the same thing, but the end of my fellowship and a London offer seemed to be complicating things. So I have been looking for someone to work for me and with Andy in DC to carry on the work. Because this was in the initial stages when I left, it has stalled somewhat, and I would love for someone to continue the work.

Third, and most importantly, Andy and I decided to start our own social enterprise/entrepreneurship incubator. We wanted to start something in between Redeemer Church’s Faith and Work Center’s Entrepreneurship Initiative (that hold an annual competition to give a small grant to one arts, one non-profit, and one for-profit venture from among church members) and the Awesome Project (that gets 10 investors to give $100/month for 1 year in order to offer monthly $1,000 cash prizes to the best idea that month to use the money). Instead of monthly prizes or yearly prizes we would do quarterly prizes. We would also have investors, some who give $100/month for 1 year, some who give more like $200/month. And we asked our church to be a much larger investor in the program (on the order of thousands per month). With this money we plan to offer prize ever quarter and to work on business plans with the finalist and provide mentoring.

The incubator had a second part. We also plan to open up a for-profit business, a shared workspace. If you were running start-up and preferred not to work from home or a coffeehouse, you could rent shared workspace from us for any number of hours a day and any number of days a week. You might also come to us if you had a small company (for instance 2 employees) and it was cheaper to rent shared workspace from us than to rent permanent office space. Social entrepreneurs would benefit from networking with other social entrepreneurs who used the space and they could speak with Andy and me for mentoring help. We would also offer workshops both to renters and outside people on topics such as “starting a business,” “creating a business plan,” “forming a board,” “creating a social pitch,” “finding seed funding,” etc.

This was in the initial stages though Andy and I had found a potential location. The initial location didn’t work (physically it was not the right size), so we were on the hunt for a better space, and then I had an offer and left to London. So I’m currently looking for someone to carry on this oh so important work in DC for me.

Additionally, I hired an intern this past summer 2011, one of my former students, to help do preparatory work in restarting the programme that sends high school kids abroad to do international summer service work for 1-2 months. We were restating it as its own stand-alone organisation. Both Houston schools and one D.C. school pulled out of the program and didn’t end up going on the trip for the summer of 2011, so my intern was helping to prep work for schools to go in the summer of 2012. We now have one school signed up to go but they will go in the summer of 2013. Many thanks to Audrey McKim who is doing hard work on the ground in Houston while I’m off doing other projects. If you would like to help or to take over any of the above 3 projects or this international summer service programme, please let me know. Thanks!


Food, food, food. Everywhere I turn there is a focus on food, with an emergence of so many food-related movements seeking to overturn the food industry both on the production and consumption side. When I was planning my 3rd wedding, I created a website for it and had to list different food types for all the special diets out there. Here are a few of the ones I remember having to list.

Carnivore – A person who eats meat (some people think of it as people who only or consciously eat meals with meats, hence the “need” or “impetus” for flexitarian)

Omnivore – A person who eats meat and non-meat foods

Vegetarian – Also known as a herbivore, a person who only eats plants, vegetables, and fruits. This person eats no meat. Some vegetarians do not eat eggs, some do. Some vegetarians will not eat from food cook in a pan or pot that was used to cook meat or from a plate that has meat on it or touched meat.

Flexitarian – A semi-vegetarian. This term has no one accepted definition. It’s a person who combines a vegetarian diet with occasional meat products. Some people say to me, “Is that what it is? Well, I do that naturally,” to which I say “I tend to think of it as a person who does this consciously. So because I consciously have days where I do not eat meat (vegetarian days) and days where I do, I would call myself flexitarian.”

Fruitarian – A person who diets on fruits, nuts, and seeds with no animal products, vegetables, and grains. Fruitarians are most known for being people who only eat fallen fruit. In other words, they do not want to do or eat anything that harms an animal or a plant, and picking fruit is considered harming the plant. Some think eating grans is unnatural. Some don’t eat seeds because it’s considered future fruit or plants. Some eat seeds after they have naturally fallen to the ground. It goes on and on. The first time I heard of the term was in the movie “Notting Hill.” Famous fruitarians include Gandhi and Idi Amin who both did it for a period in their life.

Pescetarian – A vegetarian who eats seafood, or a carnivore whose meat intake is only from seafood. Eggs are allowed in a pescetarian diet. The funniest thing about pescetarianism is listening to people pronounce the word.

Vegan – A person who eats no animals or products derived from animals. Technically speaking fish sauce, oyster sauce, animal milk, casein, lard, rennet, honey, and butter are not part of the vegan diet. Veganism is a larger category into which fruitarianism is a subset. One can be an ethical veganism which means you oppose the use of animal products for anything; this includes silk, fur, beeswax, etc. Or one can be a dietary vegan in which you oppose the use of animal products in one’s diet.

Freegan – This is my favorite. Ha ha! A person who eats anything free. Dumpster diving is a typical practice of freegans. Donald Miller lived a freegan lifestyle while working at a park for one summer, as noted in “Blue Like Jazz.”

Invasivore – A person who prefers to eat food from invasive plants and animals. This is a subset of the locavore movements since invasive species are local. Invasive species are species of plants or animals that are not native to a location, but have been introduced into a region and have a widespread, colonizing adverse effect on the habitat and life of other native species of plants or animals. They threaten biological diversity in the region they have been introduced. Good examples include some non-native harmful weeds, the yellow starthistle, and the kudzu vine.

Locavore – A person who prefers to eat locally grown and produced food. Hallmarks of this movement include the growing number of farmer’s markets in urban areas around Western Countries.
Slow Food Movement – the movement promoting good, clean, fair food through advocacy of traditional and regional cuisine local to each area. Such a movement would opposed the opening of a McDonald’s near the Spanish Steps in Rome, for instance.

The types continue with gluten-free, ovo-vegetarian, etc. There are even labels on the types of eggs you can buy.

Free-range – label that is unregulated by any regulating industry for all foods except poultry. In the poultry industry in the U.S., it’s regulated by the USDA to mean that at least one period a day the door to the coop or pen is open for the birds to go out. However, if the birds don’t see it or don’t go out, the company still qualifies for the “free-range” label. So it can mean vastly different things from different companies. Moreover, nothing regulates when you start giving this access nor for the open door to allow more than one hen to exit at a time. In “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” the author describes visiting a free-range establishment in which hens were allowed to exit once a day starting at 5 weeks and they were killed at 7 weeks. He saw no hens exit during his visit to this particular farm.

Cage-free – the hens are not kept in cages. It means nothing beyond that. For instance cage-free hens are often kept indoors. Its’ true that cage-free hens may roam in an open area outside, but usually if you can you will take the best description that most promotes your product. So why not say you’re selling eggs from pasture hens or pasture-raised hens? The hens usually roam in a barn or poultry house on some floor operations. Cage-free says nothing about how the hens are treated.

Organic eggs – the hens have received no commercial fertilizers or pesticides, and the hens and eggs have received no hormones or antibiotics. But this says nothing with how the hens are kept.

Humanely-raised eggs – no regulated definition. One of the organizations that has risen to help create a definition, Human Farm Animal Care, requires the exclusion of cages, the inclusion of at least 1.5 sq ft per hen, and (for free-range hens) the inclusion of doors to the outside allowing more than one hen to exit at one time. Forced-moulting (when hens at the end of their egg-laying are denied food, water, and light to produce an extra session of egg-laying) is not allowed, though debeaking is.

Pasture or Pasture-raised eggs – The USDA describes it as "birds are raised outdoors using movable enclosures located on grass and fed an organic diet (without hormones or non-organic additives) and/or raised without antibiotics (drugs that are intended to prevent or treat animal illnesses)". But I am unsure whether this is regulated. I believe this is just a guiding description.

There are so many diet types, movements, and food diets that it can get confusing. I hope I gave you a few you may not have heard like invasivore which is relatively new. I decided recently that I need to educate myself about the food I prepare and eat. So I looked for books and documentaries dealing with food. Here are a few I found.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma –This is a well-researched book by author Michael Pollan who simply asks the question “What should we eat for dinner.” Pollan explores 4 different food paths/industries: industrial food (McDonald’s and similar companies), organic (eating a meal from Whole Foods), hunting/gathering food which shows Pollen gathering mushrooms and hunting actual pig for dinner. It’s really insightful (for instance showing the huge dependence of our food on corn), funny, extremely well written and researched, and it’s one you will enjoy.

Food Inc. – Directed by Robert Kenner, this film builds off of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “Super-size Me,” it is co-produced by Participant Media as it explores how the goal of larger and fast production of food has resulted in enormous profits by a few companies while the health of consumers, the safety and health of animals, and the safety of workers in the assembly line is often overlooked. This documentary scared me because it showed how they were able to minimize the time it takes to grow a chicken to a suitable age and size to be killed for food. It also showed how they’ve increased the size of the chicken breast over the years and the horrible conditions in which the chickens are kept before killing them. It was quite sad. I’m sure there is some effect on the food you eat if the chickens undergo such stress in life. The worst part was showing how Monsanto has created a monopoly on seed supply especially through manipulative legal suits and revolving door policies in government. They have sadly pursued predatory litigious practices against farmers who happened to get Monsanto genetically modified seed blown into their field. It’s quite ridiculous. The documentary also shows how healthy food is more expensive than less healthy food which creates a dilemma for the poor. What freaked me out the most was showing how Monsanto uses viruses and bacteria to insert herbicide-resistant genes into our food.

Forks Over Knives – Written and directed by Lee Fulkerson, this documentary was the first time I understood of food as medicine. It attempts to show how many of the diseases (like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer) we face are due to animal-based and processed-food-based diets. The scientists in this film have done studies that point to the conclusion that such diseases are almost always prevented, and in many cases reversed, by a plant-based, whole-foods diet.

Food Matters – Directed by James Colquhoun and Laurentine ten Bosch, this documentary talks about the foods we eat, the importance of whole foods and organic foods. One topic I heard of was how cooked food causes some internal rejection due to the cooking process, and the body must overcome this. I had never heard this. According to the movie, in order to avoid the rejection effect within the body a person must eat a diet with at least 51% of uncooked food. Some cultures do this naturally like Thai cultures, for instance. I suppose this thinking has spawned the food movement that dehydrates food as an alternative to cooking. One of the biggest points of the film is the use of food as therapy—nutritional therapy. In the US, it is illegal to open a business advertising nutritional therapy as cancer treatment. So many people go to other countries to seek alternative nutritional therapy as a cancer treatment. What was new to me (but made sense when I thought about it) is that poisonous treatments like chemotherapy and radiation therapy really seem to treat symptoms of cancer and not the root since a majority of people who see no trace of cancer after such treatments get the cancer again in the future. I don’t know the percentage of times nutritional therapy works, and it doesn’t work in every case (according to my friend) but the results were dramatic. I would like to see a scientific study (similar to that done in Forks over Knives) to see of the effectiveness of such a treatment.

Food Beware: The Organic French Revolution – This was my favorite of the movies/books because it showed a mayor taking action in his city. In this small French town, it was decided that the school canteen (cafeteria) would use all organic food production. It was interesting to see the movement and awareness grow in the town, the meetings between the school leader and the parents to acquire support. It was even very interesting to see organic farmers sit down with farmers that were non-organic. One falsehood expressed in that meeting is that it’s impossible to feed the world’s population with organic food. I believe this is false. I think it’s been shown that you can feed the current world’s population with sustainable organic practices. In any case, it’s never been tried. What was super scary was seeing the health problems that have arisen from the use of pesticides and herbicides. I’d never seen a farmer spraying it on his crops. The one they showed looked like an astronaut. He had to protect himself from the material he was spraying on the food! He actually said he would not eat the food he was growing and family members had experienced health problems which he attributes to the herbicides and pesticides. Other families had similar health problems. It’s a nice film that weighs in on nutrition, sustainability, and what can possibly be done in one town.


I used to end my days in some sort of solitude and stillness, but I’ve learned these days that I actually benefit (and the world benefits through me) from some time like that in the morning to start my day. So I usually start my day with some sort of reading, journaling, contemplation, meditation, prayer, silence, stillness.

I grew up with people trying to explain to me what prayer was. I learned what it was for, what it does, why it works, how to do it, what makes it in/effective. None of that was full-proof (in terms of how or why it works, what makes it effective—there’s no formula I’ve learned). Here’s the 4-step prayer, the 7-part prayer, the 12-point prayer, etc. Everyone had their new theories and implications. Throughout it all it was described as something that was dialogue, but perhaps less than 1% of all the talks and books I had seen on it were about listening which in any normal dialogue should be at the very least, 51% (you like that?). In my opinion, it should comprise the bulk of a conversation, as I’m just trying to learn from the other and make the other one.

So these days I’ve dropped all the rules and definitions and let it be what it is. My definition of prayer has greatly widened even beyond the conversation. I see much action as prayer for instance. I first learned that from a freelance missionary woman I greatly admire. She’s a woman who completely, transparently is riddled with doubts in her work with the people among the people alongside the people. As she works with people living in the garbage dump she reminds me of what Bonhoeffer called living in the world before God and with God as if there is no God. And in that, I think, she’s able to experience a taste, a life of the Listening. A writer who I’ve met before described his idea of God as the Great Listening. Perhaps God has spoken all God shall speak and now is listening to us. He describes prayer as an opportunity to listen to the Great Listening and tap into the heart of what it means to be a part of this world.

I think in this way it is a much powerful testament to me to see a life thus engaged in the world then the other extreme of a life fully engaged in traditional prayer, partly because if prayer is anything, it is a hope, and the former person has incarnated that hope in tirelessly tiring life.

So today it’s quite possible for me to sit and listen for an entire prayer and say nothing. This is not out of abdication of any responsibility or role but rather the realization that there is no such requirement, the recognition that there is so much to learn, and the release of any answers. Moreover, I’ve learned how to keep that listening actively engaged throughout the day, every place I go, in every face I see, inside every conversation I engage, through every hand I touch. . . .always listening.

Who knows? There may be something still in that old adage: “Quick to listen, slow to speak.” Even slow to act. But when you do speak or act, you can be sure you are armed with the hopes, dreams, wishes, frustrations, aspirations, and struggles of all those you have come alongside with and have partnered in the communal circle of life. Stillness.


One contemplative practice I like and have never done is labyrinth walking. Now when I first heard of this I still was thinking of a labyrinth with life-sized walls where you could possibly become lost, like a maze. And I’ve been in one in Europe. These labyrinths, however, are normally associated with a cathedral or church and they are created with intent to engage the body, mind, and spirit in the act of prayer.

A labyrinth is a prescribed patter on the ground that you slowly and contemplatively walk. It leads to its center and then back out again engaging your body in prayer itself. My DC pastor would always talk about “your body mirroring the posture of your heart” in reference to lifting hands. But this has been an exploration for me into something generally called body prayer in which you do physical body postures or movements that mirror what you are talking about. For instance if you are praying forgiveness and mercy you might splash cold water on your face exemplifying the cleansing power of forgiveness and mercy. If you’re listening you might be in a child’s pose. If you’re praying defiantly in unbelief at a God who would allow the situation you see before yourself you might raise your hands in a fist or shake your head. Kneeling is also a common body posture some take.

Here in a labyrinth, the walking is type of posture as well. Some walk a labyrinth while thinking about a certain issue. Others simply walk as they meditate. Started in Algeria in 350 AD, it’s an act of deep reflection especially at the center of the labyrinth which is where people usually pause and stop to reflect, think, and pray. Many continue to sit and reflect after reaching the outside of the labyrinth and exiting.

National Cathedral Labyrinth

DC Labyrinths

Labyrinth Locator


I’m quite underwhelmed by myself and my response to the overwhelming issues facing the world, my country, my province/state/territory, my city, my neighbourhood, my community, my house, my family, my self. I’m overwhelmed sometimes just by the enormity of the problems and the energy required to care for victims of our day and age. And when you relate to all kinds of people you are put in touch with all kinds of problems. In these times, you are criticised often by the activists for being too reclusive or resigning to yourself too much. But then you are criticised by the contemplatives for being too activist and reaching out. When reaching out you’re criticised by those who work to address the systemic roots to the problem so that it never happens again. When you join in that work you’re criticised by those who simply care for the victims and manage the problem but don’t work towards eradication.

What I’ve learned is that a true life of contemplation leads to a true life of activism. And a true life of activism fuels a true life of contemplation. Is it not when a person truly contemplates the state of the world, the state of the environment, the poverty & equity crisis (the occupy movement), the annihilation precipice and security crisis, and the prosperity crisis that one is moved to action? They seemed to go hand-in-hand. In fact, this is what we find in the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.

I recently finished “Strength to Love” by MLK which included one essay about his contemplative translation into action. According to MLK, he first read all the theological liberalism he could and he thoroughly enjoyed it. But then he felt it was too overly optimistic about human nature and didn’t see how we could be darkened by wrongdoing or sin. He didn’t enjoy neo-orthodoxy (what was called neo-orthodoxy back then in the 50’s) because it was too pessimistic about human nature, stressing too much a hidden, wholly other, unknown God with a narrow, uncritical Biblicism.

Later, looking for some synthesis of the two, he began to read existential philosophers. He read Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Jaspers, Heidegger, and Sartre. What amazes me is that some of these men are famous “atheists,” and also read by one of my favorite contemporary activist, story-telling philosophers, Peter Rollins. After MLK did serious study of the 20th-century thinker Paul Tillich, he became convinced that regardless of its fashionableness, existentialism had grasped some important truths about the human condition including the concept of “finite freedom” and the various anxieties and conflicts man must navigate in life and our structure of existence. These anxieties threaten meaninglessness.

After starting in systematic theology and philosophy, MLK was more and more interested in social ethics. After experiencing segregation on the back of the bus or the segregated car on a train behind a curtain, the problem of racial injustice deeply concerned him. He saw it as morally unjustifiable and rationally inexplicable. He saw how the system exploited both blacks and poor whites (there are systems today that still do this).

As he continued to ponder these things, he entered theological seminary beginning a quest to find a method that would eliminate social evil. A huge influence upon him is a book by Walter Rauschenbusch whose great grandson is a colleague of mine. The book is called “Christianity and the Social Crisis.” This book is the book that gave rise to the social gospel movement or the involvement of Christians in a more systemic and organized way in social issues in the States. The anti-child labor movement and the worker rights movement are examples of two movements that came out of it. Through Rauschenbusch, MLK learned or became more convinced of the fact that the gospel deals with the whole man and not just his spiritual well-being. Any religion that professes a concern for a man’s spirit but doesn’t care about the slums that damn him, the economic conditions that cripple him, and the social conditions that harm him is an emasculated religion.

He then went on to study seriously social and ethical theories from philosophy. He saw love (turn-the-other-cheek and love-your-enemy) as a valid philosophy for individual contact but holding no power for group interactions. It wasn’t until MLK read the works of Gandhi that he saw the power of nonviolent love in group interactions. MLK became fascinated with the Gandhian concept of satyagraha [truth/love (satya) graha (force)]. He thought the Christian concept of love working through the Gandhian concept of non-violence could work to bring about change.

But it wasn’t until he was involved in the bus boycott of 1954 in Montgomery, Alabama that he had a situation in which nonviolent resistance could be applicable. Up till then he had only given nonviolent resistance intellectual assent. After being voted the spokesperson of the group and living through the days of the boycott, this idea to which he agreed became a committed way of life for him. Many of the intellectual issues which had not been cleared up for him were cleared up through the sphere of practical action. (At that time he saw love as practical for group relations, but still didn’t realize it could be used for international relations until later.)

Do you see how the contemplation and action wove together in his life? Moreover do you see how the contemplation of those he studied affected him? I often talk about the 4 M’s, but it’s quite important here because without Gandhi there really is no MLK. But without Jesus there is no Gandhi because Gandhi read the words of Jesus and studied his action. Gandhi was another contemplative. And Jesus, whom Gandhi studied, was another contemplative. But from the one called the Messiah to the one called the Mahatma to the one calk MLK, we move to another, a 4th contemplative, Mandela. From South Africa, Mandela studied the example and words of MLK in the States and appropriated such nonviolent resistance and love to help shape a new South Africa birthed from the struggling labour during apartheid.

I don’t know one major leader who doesn’t read, study, contemplate. Even more, the contemplative practice is more than just thinking and reading but truly sitting with a concept and thought, wrestling with what is good for people, and meditating upon these thoughts in silence, stillness, time away from others, time away from the daily grind.

It really isn’t either/or. It’s both.