If you ask some of the leaders of social change movements, they’re adamant that making a difference in the world comes down to individual efforts. Take Hugh Evans, whose business, Global Citizen, is built in part on the idea that individuals can earn points by doing good. “These problems aren’t going to be solved through black-tie gala dinners,” he says in a recent interview with Signal360, but through “a movement of individuals.” Wondering where to begin? We’ve got seven ideas for you:
1. Action: Donate blood. As it did with most of life’s normal functions, the COVID-19 quarantine had an impact on the world’s blood supply, forcing the cancelation of some 86,000 blood drives in early 2020 alone. The Red Cross is fighting back to meet its urgent need for blood products by making it easy to donate.
Outcome: Your single blood donation has the potential to save three lives. If you’ve had COVID, your plasma could be sent to researchers or patients to help fight the disease.
Go further: Launch a SleevesUp virtual drive, recruiting friends and family across the country to pledge a donation locally.
2. Action: Plant a tree. Visit a nearby family-owned nursery to pick the perfect tree for your garden, or contact your local parks association to volunteer on a tree-planting day.
Outcome: Researchers estimate that a single tree can offset one-third of your greenhouse gas emissions, fight erosion by intercepting 15,000 liters of water, and provide a home to thousands of biodiverse species.
Go further: Many U.S. municipalities are working to improve stands of native trees, while some developing countries are starting from scratch as part of the U.N’s Decade of Ecosystem Restoration. Support Vermont’s One Tree Planted or the U.K’s TreeSisters, two nonprofits focused on planting the right trees in the most-needed areas around the world.
3. Action: Support the elderly. COVID restrictions have curbed visits to senior centers, but there continue to be ways you can help. Contact your local retirement home and ask whether they’re offering virtual visits with seniors, or other things you can do to support local seniors who could use the company.
Outcome: Research shows you can improve a senior’s life expectancy with just a social call. One study recorded a decline in the cognitive function of older adults after four years of being socially isolated or lonely – and mental health correlates highly with physical health in the elderly. In the pandemic, supporting seniors with community and connection has even more impact.
Go further: Sign up with HelpfulVillages, a nonprofit that helps seniors stay in their own homes by matching them with neighbors who can help with errands, driving, and household chores.
4. Action: Pack out your trash. When you head out for a day outdoors, bring a garbage bag, fill it with your personal refuse and dispose of it back at home as if you were trekking in the backcountry.
Outcome: In early summer 2020, the California State Park collected more than 100,000 pounds of trash every week at their sites near west Lake Tahoe alone, costing taxpayers 44 percent more than two years ago. Taking your personal litter out of the equation – especially bulky to-go food containers – keeps overflow from entering waterways and damaging fragile ecosystems and marine life.
Go further: Volunteer for your local Coastal Cleanup every September.
5. Action: Help kids learn. Volunteer as a one-on-one tutor inside a local classroom or via Zoom.
Outcome: One study estimates that the U.S. underfunds its schools to the tune of $150 billion annually. Tutoring can help close that gap by improving not only student performance but the psyche of the tutor, too.
6. Action: Fund an entrepreneur. A donation to Kiva.org, one of the largest nonprofits delivering crowdsourced micro-loans, can go to a specific small business campaign or a category of ventures, such as female-owned operations, those in “under-banked” geographies, or a project in the arts, health or food production. When your money is paid back, you can reinvest it into another operation.
Outcome: Though this financing has solved the problem of global poverty overall, microloans give international entrepreneurs access to the first-world banking services we take for granted, providing funds to launch operations and survive during emergencies.
Go further: Contribute to Care.org’s umbrella fund to support Village Savings & Loan Associations in developing countries.
7. Action: Feed America’s hungry. Before donating to an overseas charity, target your resources to reduce hunger at home: 37 million Americans suffer from food insecurity and that figure could rise by 17 million due to the economic impact of COVID-19. Feeding America will connect you to your local food bank for donations of time and food, as well as accept contributions to combat food insecurity across all domestic regions.
Outcome: Every dollar donated to Feeding America provides 10 meals for people in need.