You may have missed it! Last Saturday was an important day — the World Day of Social Justice.
When you think of the term ‘Social Justice’, it’s possible to experience a little jittery feeling. The term can feel like a fight or a struggle for determining what’s right and wrong — to enforce moral values through legal channels.
And of course, that’s an important part of what’s needed in the world because still today, many people do experience extraordinary disadvantages just because they were born in certain circumstances or with rare qualities. For everyone to gain equal rights in today’s societies, they often need to ‘fight’ for those rights. The systems and status quo of the world don’t necessarily value and support everyone equally…. yet.
Here’s one interesting thought to ponder:
Will we ever see a world where equality and fairness are given to everyone? Or do we have to keep ‘fighting’ forever?
Sometimes, seeing a confronting story urges us to come together to fight the issue. But it often takes a long time until the frustration grows behind the scenes to drive a change. Protests and petitions are ways for the suppressed voices to be heard, to create greater awareness for important issues, sometimes forming powerful movements. And those movements can and do create new norms.
In the long run though, we cannot change everything through campaigning and protesting. This is because not every issue will attract enough people — enough ‘popularity’. And certain changes are harder to make through arguments. And that’s because judging and arguing each other’s point of view can make things even harder to change.
So, what’s the alternative?
In order to see new possibilities, we can look at some creative approaches for creating Social Justice in communities. Let’s quickly do that.
Free to Shine and Shade Tree – a simple question behind human trafficking
Human Trafficking is seen as one of the most confronting injustices that exist in our world.
How do we justify the fact there is such an industry making money by using children to work at factories or selling girls to work in the sex industry…?
Raising awareness, petitioning, or protesting may be ways to expose neglected issues. If more people know about it and act against the perpetrators, perhaps we can change this reality. Another approach I have seen is to start with the question “Why is this happening here? What is the root cause of this issue?”
Here’s an interesting example of that approach.
Free to Shine is an NGO in Cambodia that realized that if they rescue one girl from traffickers, the traffickers simply find another girl to replace the girl. They report and help prosecute traffickers too but this effort is often slow, costly, and very risky. Many more girls are trafficked while they pursue just one case of prosecution.
Free to Shine eventually came to understand that making sure every girl is in school is one of the most effective ways to minimize child trafficking in impoverished communities. But it also requires effort to ensure families are supported in the process. So, Free to Shine’s local team members go around village to village talking with families. The family members eventually learn to trust the social workers and learn about the risks and opportunities they are facing. These families also receive support so that they can afford their daughters’ education. And they start to value their girls as future assets rather than seeing them as liabilities or domestic help.
Another organization, Shade Tree, works with refugee families living near the Thai-Burma border areas where child-trafficking is prevalent. They understood the root cause — notably that these local families lacked in financial management understanding and financing opportunities. So, with that new insight, they started to help families open bank accounts with local micro-banks and start their own small businesses.
When families and communities gain access to the right information and opportunities, they have the ability to naturally act to resolve their own issues. The old way of thinking changes as the norms and standards in the local settings change.
The Mango Tree – a tree that binds the community
There are many other ways creative thinking can help create equal and just societies and communities.
When the HIV/AIDS crisis hit sub-Saharan Africa nations in the early 2000s, an organization called The Mango Tree was founded with a simple focus: to help save lives and take care of the thousands of orphans in the region. If vulnerable individuals like orphans are neglected, the situation can lead to many other serious social issues in the long run too.
Probably the most obvious way to help at that time was to put up orphanages to rescue and care for the orphans. But they actually saw one very important factor in overcoming the devastating effect of the epidemic: the importance of uniting families and communities to overcome the challenges together.
They asked this question, “How can we do more than fixing the issue at hand?”
Learning constantly from what’s happening, the Mango Tree established an innovative model that helps families who are taking care of orphans in the communities to establish various income generation opportunities.
One of my favorite projects they run is one that plants specially grafted mango trees. Two of these trees can bear enough fruits within 3-5 years of planting (which is a few years faster than normal mango trees) to start covering the cost of education for one child. And some of those families also receive goats to rear, bee-keeping kits to run honey production business, or even solar-powered fishponds for fish farming so that women in the village no longer need to trade their bodies to buy fish from itinerant fishermen.
And the fundamental idea of The Mango Tree is ‘to pay it forward’. When a family receives a goat and the goat gives birth, the first baby goat is given to another family so they can start their own goat farming. More experienced families support new families who are just starting with the program.
By enabling every family to gain greater income potential, working together as a community, everyone starts to understand the value of education and skills development. More families in the neighborhood now have their children completing higher education. So, other families want to follow the examples too. And educated children can grow up healthier and they understand how to protect themselves and their families from solvable issues and risks that surround them.
And today, Mango Tree supports well over 10,000 orphans in sub-Saharan Africa through these empowered families.
Combining multiple approaches – there is always more than one solution
What we learn from these examples is that there are many perspectives that can help to create longer-term solutions to some of the most complex issues in the world.
Creating fair and just societies takes more than one approach. In the shorter-term, we need to create clearer and fairer social contracts, governance, and laws. We need leaders who can stand up to protect those who are marginalized and create great societies where everyone is valued and supported.
At the same time, we also need ground-up approaches to transform things in the long run.
By believing in the power of people, the spirit of humanity, the magic of diversity, and the unique qualities people bring to the sustainable world, we can keep our eyes open for opportunities to ask these simple questions: “Why is this happening here?” “What is the root cause?” “How can we do more than fixing the issue at hand?”
Following the World Day of Social Justice, I hope we can start start asking new questions that open up new ideas to create just and fair societies together.
Masami Sato is the founder of the global giving initiative, B1G1. Thousands of businesses today work with B1G1 to help create a giving world where no one is left behind.
To see many of the B1G1 projects that are making a difference toward various Sustainable Development Goals, you can take a look at some of the projects below.
If you are inspired to take any action, you can also visit B1G1’s website and find out more.