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How to Make a Difference Abroad: A Review of Kate Otto’s “Everyday Ambassador”

Foreign Policy Blogs - Mon, 01/06/2015 - 21:18

Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Gabriel Zisk scrubs the walls of a local school during a Community Assistance Volunteer project in which servicemembers and civilians assigned to Camp Lemonnier began preparing the school for painting. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Austin M. May)

By Oren Litwin

In March 2006, President George W. Bush gave a speech in Cleveland, Ohio, about his foreign policy. During the question and answer section he was asked, “[F]rom the grassroots level, how can we… promote the cause of freedom and liberty for all peoples throughout the world?” That is, how can ordinary citizens work to make the world a better place? Bush answered, “[T]he best way you can help is to support our troops,” thus totally missing the point of the question. There is a growing sense that true change in the world needs to come from the drive and energy of ordinary people, working in ways large and small to solve the problems around them. The question is, what is the right way to do so?

In her new book Everyday Ambassador (Atria Paperback), Kate Otto lays out a program for young people seeking to make a difference. Otto wrote the book after a decade of volunteer work in places like Indonesia, Ghana and Tanzania, building off of her own experience and her observations of other young Americans engaged in volunteer work or study abroad.

She herself, and the legions of college volunteers whom she observed later, ventured out into the world filled with visions of all the good they could do for the disadvantaged, but did not start by listening to the people they ostensibly wanted to help. As a result, Otto writes, “foreign volunteers often create more problems than we solve.… [They are] supremely socially conscious citizens who have everything it takes to change the world—except a strong capacity for relationship development, which is the foundation that all social change is enacted upon.”

Why do young people find it so hard to do real good? For Otto, part of the answer is in what she calls a “disconnectivity paradox.” Our increasing use of powerful technology and social media is causing our social skills to atrophy. This is not an anti-tech jeremiad; much of Everyday Ambassador is spent discussing how social media can be used for social change.

However, Otto argues that our use of tech is teaching us four specific bad habits that breed social isolation. First, the urge to multitask harms our ability to focus on a single problem or conversation. Second, social media and adaptive web-search ends up creating an informational echo chamber that leads to polarized opinions, in politics and culture. Third, the convenience of technology and social media especially lead to self-centeredness. Fourth, our powerful tools inadvertently teach us impatience with the delays and complications of real life.

In response, Otto identifies four social skills that together can make someone an “everyday ambassador” — someone who can “transform good intentions into positive actions through strong relationships.” These skills are focus, empathy, humility, and patience. If you can master these skills, you can bring about powerful changes by communicating with other people, being receptive to what they actually need and to what you are capable of providing them.

“Rather than crossing borders of nation-states, everyday ambassadors cross borders of comfort zones, amending the communication lapses that are so prevalent in our environments, both online and offline,” she writes. Importantly, Otto emphasizes that one can be an ambassador not merely between different countries, but also between different social groups in your own community or even individuals. The skills of communication and listening are powerful in a multitude of settings, and most of us can do the most good in the places that we live.

Each of the four skills is given its own chapter, discussing the powerful trends in our society working against its development and then providing a gentle program for its cultivation. For example, Chapter 3, on focus, begins by describing the “Fear of Missing Out” that leads to distraction. Otto then lists strategies such as shutting off your internet during periods of sustained work, or at least “keep[ing] the number of tabs you have open to a smaller number than usual.” Then she discusses the idea of “presence” in interactions with real people, and the importance of focusing on specific concrete tasks rather than vast objectives such as “equal education for girls.” Each chapter ends off with a series of “inner reflections,” “outer reflections” and “action steps” meant to help train the skill in question.

Throughout the book, Otto provides case studies of social activists who have done exceptional work by building deep relationships with the people they seek to help. (In many cases, the reader is directed to the companion website, which has a staff of writers and is clearly trying to become a community for activists.) The case studies show the power of listening and building relationships, rather than charging onto the scene with assumptions of what the right answer is. The last forty pages of the book are made up of profiles of allied activist organizations written by the activists themselves, which range from the self-congratulatory to the genuinely moving.

Reading the book, I was struck by the contrast between the inspiring achievements of the highlighted activists, and how seemingly basic some of Otto’s prescriptions were. For example, her advice includes such things as minimizing the number of active screens on one’s smartphone, reading over an email carefully before sending it, and reading “at least one full news article per week” rather than skimming. Are things so bad at colleges today that even bright people who want to change the world have to be told these things? If so, Otto is providing a desperately-needed service; still, I wonder if her expectations aren’t set too low, perhaps to broaden her potential audience.

Because Otto’s program of personal development is geared to such a basic level, the advice she gives is elementary. I was hoping for a reading list for readers who wanted to learn more about topics discussed in the book like mindfulness, meditation, or conflict resolution; unfortunately, Everyday Ambassador does not provide such a reading list, nor does the accompanying website. Having a list of resources would be a great help for the well-intentioned young people Otto seeks to reach. In particular, I think that Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson et al., is invaluable for anyone seeking to develop the negotiation and conflict-resolution skills discussed in Chapter 5.

It is worth noting that of the activist programs featured in the book, all those with political implications tend to the left; politicians such as Cory Booker and volunteers for the Obama campaign are highlighted. Similarly, in the few places where Otto speaks of conservatives in passing, they are portrayed as bigots at worst (as when “socially conservative parents embracing their child’s interracial marriage” apparently merits special praise), and at best as essentially passive actors subject to the vagaries of their information sources. For example, in Chapter 1 Otto parallels “a Democratic leader following Republican constituents on Twitter for the purpose of staying in tune with a wide variety of perspectives” with “a conservative voter not defriending liberal friends on Facebook to incorporate a constant infusion of different perspectives.”

The one exception is a passage in Chapter 7, where Otto describes encountering cogent gun-rights arguments from social activists who were unexpectedly pro-gun. Her unconscious stereotypes of gun owners were challenged, and she was left with greater understanding of the subject even if her convictions remained the same. Yet the brief narrative only serves to highlight the lack of such political dialogue in the rest of the presentation. In a book about understanding different points of view, this unconscious slant is ironic and will turn off some readers. Since Otto repeatedly states and clearly believes that our growing political polarization and resulting habit of “othering” is harmful, perhaps she can encourage more acts of everyday ambassadorship across political divides as well as material ones.

In spite of these caveats, Everyday Ambassador delivers an important message and provides a beginner’s roadmap for those who want to train themselves in the skills needed to cross the world’s divisions. College students driven to change the world but with no clue where to start would benefit from reading this book. I hope that for Kate Otto, Everyday Ambassador and its accompanying web community represent only the beginning of a richer project.

Oren Litwin is a Political Risk Fellow at Young Professionals in Foreign Policy. He is an expert in non-state actors and just war theory, and he has extensive professional experience in financial advising, investing and alternative finance such as crowdfunding.

Stuttgarter Nachrichten: zu Muttersprachkursen für Migranten: - Mon, 01/06/2015 - 21:15
Stuttgarter Nachrichten: Stuttgart (ots) - "Es geht also nicht mehr um das Ob, sondern um das Wie dieses Angebots. Da wäre es natürlich wünschenswert, wenn das Land den Daumen auf den pädagogische Standards hätte und die Inhalte im Türkisch- oder Italienischunterricht ...

Hatezer embert bocsát el a Malaysia Airlines

Magyar Szó (Szerbia/Vajdaság) - Mon, 01/06/2015 - 21:13

Megválik dolgozói mintegy harmadától, hatezer embertől a tavaly két légi katasztrófával sújtott malajziai légitársaság a vezérigazgató hétfői bejelentése szerint.

A pozícióra a múlt hónapban kinevezett német Christoph Müller, akinek feladata a légitársaság átszervezésének vezetése, azt is közölte, hogy "technikailag csődbe ment" a vállalat, amely már jóval a 2014-es légi katasztrófák előtt veszteséges volt az erős versenyhelyzet miatt.

A döntés várható volt, mivel a Malaysia Airlines állami tulajdonosa, az állami vagyonalap (Khazanah Nasional Berhad) már tavaly bejelentette a várható átszervezést és elbocsátásokat annak érdekében, hogy a vállalat három éven belül nyereséges legyen.

Christoph Müller korábban az Aer Lingus ír légitársaság vezérigazgatója volt, ahol átvitt egy, számos dolgozó elbocsátásával járó átszervezést.

A légitársaság a technikai csőd mellett folyamatosan üzemel, de az átszervezés érinti a járathálózatot, illetve a flottát is, két Airbus A380-as gépüktől is megválnának. A munkavállalók száma 6 ezerrel 14 ezerre csökken, őket egy új társaság foglalkoztatja majd tovább, amelyik a légitársaságot üzemeltetni fogja.

A vezérigazgató elmondása szerint struktúraváltás után 2018-tól lehet ismét nyereséges a Malaysia Airlines.

Fél éven belül a Malaysia Airlines két Boeing 777-200-as repülőgépével történt légi szerencsétlenség 2014-ben, összesen 537-en haltak meg. Március 8-án a Dél-kínai-tenger felett tűnt el a 370-es járatuk, míg július 17-én a 17-es járatot teljesítő gépet lelőtték Kelet-Ukrajna felett. A 370-es járatot azóta sem találták meg.

A Malaysia Airlines Malajzia nemzeti légitársasága, 1947 óta működik, több mint 80 célállomásra repülnek 88 repülőgéppel.

CMA CGM améliore sa desserte ouest-africaine et lance le service WAZZAN - Mon, 01/06/2015 - 21:13

Le Groupe CMA CGM, un des leaders mondiaux du transport maritime par conteneurs, a le plaisir d’annoncer le lancement de son nouveau service WAZZAN, reliant le Maroc au Nord-Ouest de l’Afrique, et améliorant sa couverture Intra Afrique.

Afin de satisfaire au mieux les besoins de ses clients, le Groupe CMA CGM :

- Améliore les temps de transit entre la Mauritanie, le Sénégal et le Maroc de 8 jours, les dessertes auparavant effectuées par transbordement devenant désormais directes

Categories: Défense

Video from U.S. destroyer in the Black Sea as Russian Su-24 Fencer flies by

The Aviationist Blog - Mon, 01/06/2015 - 21:10
Here’s the video of  a Russian Su-24 flying close to USS Ross in international waters in the Black Sea.

Few days ago, Russian media reported that Russian Navy Su-24 Fencer jets scrambled from an airbase in Crimea “forced” a U.S. Navy destroyer in the Black Sea to leave for neutral waters while approaching Russia’s territorial waters.

Russian outlets claimed that USS Ross turned around because it was scared by the sight of the Su-24, a type of aircraft involved in a similar incident with USS Donald Cook, an American destroyer allegedly “blinded” by a Fencer in the Black Sea in April 2014.

Although, Russian flybys performed by Su-30s and Su-24s aircraft from Russia’s Black Sea Fleet launched from Crimea, have been reported by NATO warships operating in the Black Sea previously, the whole story of USS Ross deviating from its planned operations because of a Fencer immediately appeared to be unlikely and quite hard to believe.

Then came the official statement by U.S. Navy.

According to the U.S. 6th Fleet: “USS Ross continued on her mission after observing the aircraft return to base. At no time did Ross act aggressively nor did she deviate from her planned operations. The conduct of her crew has been and continues to be professional. Ross’ Sailors observed that the SU 24 carried no weapons – wings were “clean.”

And here’s the video that proves this version.


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Ilyen lesz a Népszínház

Magyar Szó (Szerbia/Vajdaság) - Mon, 01/06/2015 - 20:33

A szabadkaiak hosszú évek óta először kaphattak képet a majdani Népszínház arculatáról, legalábbis annak egy részéről, vasárnap délelőtt ugyanis az épület Korzóra néző régi, védelem alatt álló részéről lekerültek a védőhálók, eltűntek az állványok, helyette pedig a járókelők végre megcsodálhatták a homlokzatot. Ha az időjárás engedi, a tervek szerint két héten belül a főtérre néző részt is felfedik a nagyközönség előtt, vagyis a főbejárat a hat oszlopával is teljes pompájában megcsodálható lesz majd.

A Népszínház felújításának munkálatait 2007-ben kezdték meg, a befejezést pedig 2018-ra ígérik, szeretnék azonban, ha az épület egyes részeit már korábban használatba lehetne venni. Az építkezés évekig döcögősen haladt, néha hónapokra leálltak a munkálatok, a szabadkaiak pedig már kezdték elveszíteni a reményt, hogy valaha is eltűnik a város szívéből a csúfság, mely egykor a kultúrának adott otthont, és bár jó ideje szemtanúi lehetünk annak, hogy a védőhálók mögött folyamatosan dolgoznak az épületen, a homlokzat felfedése talán az első biztató jel a város polgárai számára, hogy lassan, de biztosan valóban felépül a színházuk, és újra Szabadka egyik büszkesége lesz majd.

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As UN marks Buddhist holiday, Ban pays tribute to the victims of Nepal earthquake

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Somaliland's slavery of refugees in their own homeland?

Sudan Tribune - Mon, 01/06/2015 - 20:29

By Abdirahman Mohamed Dirye

From the onset, Aminos had had always pondered escape route from Yemen which was falling apart at the seams. She wished to flee to Somaliland, a place she imagined has a better human rights record than Somalia that once inserted radio batteries in her vagina and offer safe space to live. “Somalia is too dangerous to live despite having thousand foreign peacemakers,” she said. She safely arrived after precarious voyage, but she wasn't allowed to disembark. Because Sadly, rather than rescuing fleeing Somalis from Yemen's civil war, Somaliland openly denied her debarkation at Berbera, closest safe haven by escaping folks of approximately a quarter million Somalis who already fled from Mogadishu's insecurity and sought safety earlier on. But they caught up in Yemen's intensifying deadly war again. The inhuman decision terrified them. They come can't return to Yemen's inferno nor land at the Berbera—it's catch-22 situation. Aminos, (not her real name) called out in agony. Somaliland's ruling party Kulmiye's leadership values are tested and they miserably failed us all by sending her back to the sea to die. But we're not that bad.

Financial quarrel with Mogadishu over the share of the UN repatriation funds assigned for the refugees once they arrive at Somalia's entries including Somaliland. This squabble led Kulmiye's government to reship and bar refugees away.

The ruling party, not the public, victimized and exploited the vulnerability of their fellow Somalis; but it's the height of immorality. The mishandling of refugees is more akin to the mistreatment of Rohingya Muslims refugees driven to the seas by Buddhists' Osama while their unreliable boats running out of water.

Somalilanders, however, ghastly watched Somali woman, one of their own flesh and blood as she was denied landing at of what once used to be of “her own country's port” because her ethnicity was different from the dominant tribe there. “I rather die at “my” sea than going back to Saudi's massacre!” she sobbed convulsively.

On the other hand, some fringe minority says that any non-Somalilanders should be sent back taking no notice of the world outcry. Saudi Kingdom, the holy land for our religion did the same thing to us. Why Somaliland be an exception? But they tend to forget that Somaliland is a sort of democracy where human rights are for all while Saudi Kingdom's “ Sharia law” considers non-westerners inferior therefore are a fair game.

Did it morally wrong to return refugees—technically nationals - coming back to their “homeland”? Some say it wasn't. Hosting countries everywhere are paid by the UN agencies, so likewise Somaliland. Nevertheless, can Kulmiye the ruling party's love for money from the UN and the following transfer of the cash to Mogadishu warrant the refusal of the disembarkment? Still there's a hope as the overruling decision emerging day in and day out. Hirsi and Warana'ade ministers categorically denied entry for refugees, those belong to them in terms of tribe, and ideology are the exception, unless UN funds are equally shared between Hargeisa and Mogadishu, they greedily argued.

The port authority officers yelling at the hapless woman who narrowly managed to escape from naked death forcibly deporting her to Yemen's all-out war while Yemenis were allowed in unchecked. If Kulmiye was true to Somaliland democracy and the rule of law, the officers were persecuted and found guilty of homicide. Somalilanders shocked the misconduct and the ongoing criminality. This dangerous move by the unpopular ruling party stained Somaliland's reputation as “welcoming democracy” for all victims” because Somalilanders witnessed a war and asylum. Back in the days, even Somaliland's withered president Silanyo was an asylum seeker in some point in his lives.

Abdirahman known as “Irro” of Wadani party leader refused to gloss over ongoing abuses of fundamental principles of human rights by the myopic ruling party and sympathized with the plight of refugees stranded at the Berbera. It's naked violation of human rights to slam the door in the face of danger by fleeing refugees, he stated. Wadani party protested to repudiate the politicization; commercialization of humanitarian disaster.

Somaliland born out of social injustice and supposedly believed to stand by justice regardless of tribe or faith, but the tragedy created the stark fault lines within the system. But this unique phenomenon has far-reaching impact. Although Wadani party stated this case is extreme case unrepresented of the nation's traditional values and against our decorum. It's Kulmiye's moral turpitude and lack of conscience.

Dirye is Somaliland Activist, Political Commentator, and Senior Editor at Democracy Chronicles,

Categories: Africa

At first-ever conference, UN takes aim at cyber-threats against nuclear safety

UN News Centre - Mon, 01/06/2015 - 20:23
The international community must intensify efforts to protect the world’s nuclear facilities from cyberattacks, the head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog declared today as he opened the Organization’s first-ever conference on the issue at the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) headquarters in Vienna.