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This week, we reviewed a new inspiring read: More or Less: Choosing a Lifestyle of Excessive Generosity by Jeff Shinabarger, fearless social entrepreneur and founder of Plywood People and GiftCardGiver.com.
Jeff Shinabarger’s More or Less lays bare its purpose at the very beginning. It is an answer to the question, “How do you know when you have enough?” More or Less continues to be clear in that single, simple purpose throughout – although it reads much less like a formal answer than an empathetic guidebook.
For above all, Shinabarger has written a book about empathy. When he explains ways to be generous, he does so thinking about what it’s like to be in others’ shoes. Indeed, this is the spirit that opens the book. Shinabarger opens by painting a portrait of the Atlanta neighborhood he and his wife move into – and his picture hones right in on Clarence, a homeless neighbor who comes to welcome the couple and seek work opportunities. Shinabarger doesn’t just encounter Clarence – he builds a relationship with the man, and in so doing begins the laborious (though undoubtedly worthwhile) process of breaking down all of his assumptions and asking as many questions as possible.
This empathy extends to putting “enough” in the context of all one’s relationships. Shinabarger doesn’t envision his readers as people who are alone, forging forward on their journey of generosity without having to make shared decisions. For instance, Shinabarger talks about wants-versus-needs in the context of his wife: “Andre and I see the world from two very different perspectives,” he writes. “Choosing gifts for our new life together introduced an issue far more complicated than we realized, forcing us to work through our pasts to engage a future of purchasing together.”
In that way, More or Less is somewhat like realism at its finest: Generosity doesn’t exist in a vacuum. That’s the understanding that drives the book, including the vary way Shinabarger organizes his writing. One of the most innovative parts of More or Less is its structure. Every chapter has a short section at the end called “Enough Talk” where the author gives us concrete, practical exercises to learn more about our habits. One of my favorites is his idea to have an “excess bin” in addition to the typical recycling and trash bins. The excess bin is there for all the things you do not use on a regular basis: “By committing to a place to gather your extra stuff around the house, you will keep what you have learned from this book in front of you on a consistent basis and hopefully challenge how you live regularly,” he writes.
And so above all, every section of the book shows us that answering this question – “what is enough? How do we know?” – requires work. With More or Less, Shinabarger gives us the tools to complete that work – including specific suggestions, real life examples, and, most importantly, permission to always be thoughtful.
About the reviewer: Katy Gathright is the co-founder of Designed Good, a digital marketplace for socially-conscious products. They pair every product with the full story of its social impact, showing how thoughtful design can empower people everywhere.
Hi readers, I’m Anand, a new addition to the Designed Good team and will be running the blogs (with Katy) from out here in Washington D.C. I’m an aspiring policy wonk and love working on intersections — presently, I’m focusing on the intersection of policy and investment strategies in the energy space. At Designed Good, I’m working with Katy to write the stories that are a crucial aspect of the company’s USP.
Let me expand on the peculiar title of this post (it is peculiar, isn’t it?). Currently, Designed Good’s highlight sale is scarves distributed by Jawan Fashion.
These scarves are unique — look at their wide range of colors and design patterns, for instance. But Designed Good had something else to say about them; we shared the unique story behind these scarves. The story is of a young Afghan, his travels to East Asia and Northeastern United States and how his vision is changing the lives of teenagers in Afghanistan through the power of world-class education — and, of course, these scarves.
Qiammuddin Amiry has led a remarkable life. A decade ago, he was just another carpet weaver in Kabul. After taking on translation work for the British military, a life-changing opportunity unfolded: He got a scholarship to attend the United World College in Hong Kong as a high-schooler. Not only did he take it up, he, then, went on to matriculate at Colby College and Tufts University, both prestigious institutions in the USA. Today, as co-founder and president of the Afghan Scholars Initiative, he helps other Afghan students come to America to receive the world class education that he did. So far 14 such “scholars” have been given the opportunity to attend top schools through his initiative. This bottom-up approach to transforming civil society, based on the sturdy foundations of education and networks of internationalists, is what Qiam hopes will truly make a positive difference in Afghanistan.
That’s his story. Do you want to be a part of it? You can buy those scarves on the Designed Good website (at a 20% discount). My favorite scarf is the one with the blue shade.
“Between 1964 and 1973, the equivalent of one B-52 bomb shattered upon Laos every 8 minutes.” This fact makes Laos the most heavily bombed country per capita in the world, and also comprises the opening of a trailer about peaceBOMB bracelets. It’s a story that weaves together history, politics, development, rebuilding, and design.
We’re extra inspired by Article22 and the peaceBOMB bracelets because they don’t try to forget or erase the legacy of the bombings in Laos: They literally and tangibly incorporate the assault into the design by making the bracelets out of war scrap metal.
Their film points out facts such as these: the United States spent $145 million to build their new embassy in Laos, but only $7 million to clean up the bombs that are still on the ground and harming people who come across them. 30% of the bombs that were dropped from 1964-1973 did not detonate – bomb removal, therefore, is not a luxury item on a to-do list, but a critical part of an agenda for safety. That’s why each peaceBOMB bracelet funds the clearing of 1 to 15 square meters of land in Laos.
The bracelets themselves are made by farmer-artisans who have the opportunity to diversify their income by handcrafting bracelets from these war scraps. Article 22 was founded by Elizabeth Suda (also an alum of our alma mater, Williams College), who is passionate about using social business to link artisans with a sustainable market. Article22 and the peaceBOMB project is about creating opportunity – economic opportunity that immediately empowers these communities in Laos, but also the broader opportunity to rebuild a country devastated by war.
Hand in Hand founders Bill and Courtney are a husband-and-wife social entrepreneurship duo that had been thinking about ideas for a sustainable business for years when they came across an article in 2011. They read a story – unfortunately, the nonfiction kind – that said 5 million children die each year from water-related illnesses.
“We were aware of the water crisis, but we weren’t aware that a bar of soap could prevent half of those deaths,” said Bill when he described that moment of reading the article. Today, they have an enterprise that donates a bar of soap for every bar of soap purchased.
So he and his wife got started – and quickly. Learning as they went, within seven months of reading that article they had started Hand in Hand. By February of 2012, Bill and Courtney were in Haiti on their first soap drop. They had partnered with My Neighbor’s Children in Orlando, Florida because they knew the founder firsthand and, importantly, they were small enough to work with Hand in Hand to schedule soap distributions according to their purchases.
Bill explained, however, that he and Courtney thought hard about how to make donations that were sustainable: simply dumping products in developing countries or impoverished areas can often disrupt local economies – perhaps ultimately doing more harm than good.
In picking a specific community to work with in Haiti, Bill and Courtney also know that the orphanages simply don’t have budgets to go out and purchase soap. And they know firsthand who they are helping: “We don’t think of just ‘children,’” Bill explained about their concept of the project, “we have specific children that we’re thinking of.”
But disrupting local economies isn’t just something they’re trying to avoid: it’s something they’re actively addressing. Hand in Hand is partnering with Whole Planet, the nonprofit arm of Whole Foods, to fund micro-credit loans in the U.S. and abroad.
And finally, Hand in Hand has this amazing acknowledgment that it’s not only people, but also the places we all live in, that need help. Most soap companies use palm oil harvested from cleared rainforest. Through their partnership with SeaCology, they save 50 square feet of rainforest in Southeast Asia for every soap bar purchase.
Designed Good is an editorial-meets-store that curates products at the intersection of design and social good. We pair every product with the story of how it makes a difference (you just read one!).
Join the movement and purchase Hand in Hand soaps today at www.designedgood.com.