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5 Ways to Put Your Time Toward Change

In just one month in 2012, Americans spent a combined 230,060 years on social media according to the annual Nielsen Report. That’s about 6.5 hours per person, if every American used social media, and a whopping 121 billion minutes total. That was two years ago, and social media platforms and usage continue to grow.

That we have managed to collectively squeeze thousands of years worth of time out of just one month is amazing, a true feat that proves the potential for impact when an entire society chooses to dedicate time to one purpose. That this feat was accomplished in the name of liking, posting, commenting and pinning is disheartening. We can do better.

Imagine the improvements to our world if every American spent even half that time, about three hours every month, addressing global poverty issues and working toward solutions. We can no longer claim we don’t have time to make the world a better place.

Here are five ways to put your time toward change:

1. Take a free class on global issues (1-5 hours per week)

Educate yourself on the problems and solutions of global poverty! There are many free courses offered online by prestigious universities that focus on issues like global health and development. Auditing or taking a class for credit is a great way to learn about the current landscape of global poverty issues, and what we can do about them.

Check out sites like coursera.com and openculture.com to access free classes from top universities around the world. Many universities now offer free classes through their websites as well.

Multiply your impact: Take it one step further and share what you’ve learned with your friends, family and community. Give a talk at a local school, write an op-ed for your newspaper or hold a fundraiser. Most importantly, spread the good news; although it sounds too big to conquer, we CAN (and have) reduced global poverty rates.

2. Send a care package (1-2 hours to a weekend project)

Basic supplies can make all the difference. Consider the fact that women and girls around the world miss days of school and work because they lack access to feminine hygiene products/menstrual pads. These collective days of missed income and education add up to real economic losses, keeping women in the cycle of poverty. Girls are forced to use whatever they can find — newspapers, leaves, rocks — as sanitary supplies, and are sometimes exploited in exchange for hygiene.

Days for Girls distributes sustainable feminine hygiene kits made by individuals and groups in the U.S. to women and girls around the world. The website includes patterns, instructions and videos so that you can get involved and sew reusable pads for the organization to send. There is also information about joining a kit-sewing chapter near you and tips for starting your own, as well as ways to help if you can’t sew.

Imagine trying to run a school without chalkboards, books or pencils. Check out organizations like Books for Africa, International Book Project and Kids to Kids International to learn more about how to send books and supplies to schools and kids around the world.

Multiply your impact: Enlist the help of your team, group or classroom to hold book and school supply drives, and make care packages together. Gather your crafty friends and have a hygiene kit sewing party.

3. Contact Congress to secure support for essential poverty-reducing legislation (30 seconds to 2 minutes)

Getting in touch with your congressional leaders is surprisingly easy and highly effective. Because congressional leaders want to track what issues are important to constituents, their staffers tally every issue and bill the office receives calls, letters and emails about. Every contact you make counts (literally) and even one email means your issue or bill is on the leader’s radar.

The Borgen Project’s Action Center page lists current bills relevant to global poverty and includes links to send a formal email to congressional leaders for each. Just fill out your contact info once, and then click to send emails urging support for crucial legislation. Use the link at the bottom of the page to read more about each bill.

Click here to search congressional phone numbers by your zip code, and here for tips on making the call. It’s as easy as saying, “I’m a constituent and a Borgen Project supporter, calling to ask (leader name) to support the (Water for the World Act).”

And if you have more than two minutes to spare, you can write your own letter or email to Congress. Click here for tips and samples to get started!

Multiply your impact: Call weekly, and enlist friends and family members to do the same. Forward a link to the Action Center to your address book. Host a letter and/or email-writing party on your campus, with your friends or in your community.

4. Volunteer your time and skills to the cause

There are plenty of ways to impact global poverty without leaving your city. A quick Google or GuideStar search will return many volunteer opportunities and ways to get involved with international aid organizations based in your area. These groups need volunteers for everything from packing boxes of supplies for relief efforts, to helping organize runs, fundraisers and other community events, to representing the organization by tabling events.

Hands-on volunteer projects abroad are also great — if you possess the skills necessary to be successful. Consider your skill sets when choosing a project, and avoid things like signing up to build a school if you know nothing about bricklaying. Taking part in projects in which you can’t actually be helpful can do more harm than good. Instead, focus on what skills you have to offer and choose volunteer opportunities accordingly.

Multiply your impact: Ask staff to stay in touch about upcoming activities, and volunteer regularly. Bring friends and family along. Use social media to advertise any organization events or upcoming volunteer opportunities.

5. Write a check (30 seconds!)

There are many deserving organizations working on a host of issues related to global poverty. GuideStar is a great place to search for nonprofits of interest to you, or start right here and give to The Borgen Project! Donating is a quick and easy way to make a difference.

Multiply your impact: Sign up to give monthly. Practice deferring — writing a small donation check instead of that cup of coffee, movie or dinner out you could do without. Ask the company you work for to consider donating to The Borgen Project and other global poverty organizations.

— Sarah Morrison

Sources: Nielsen, The Borgen Project, BooksForAfrica, CongressMerge
Photo: Wallpapers Craft