So, welcome to the ONE’s DC office. What brings you here today?
We’re working with the ONE Campaign to use “It Happened on the Way to War” to reach out to high schools and colleges to send the message about the power of participatory development, and how others can use this approach to spark change in other communities that they’re connected to.
The concept is really simple and not often embraced. It means that change has to happen within communities. You have to work with local leaders and take a long-term approach to systemic change. This came out of anthropology, which is what I studied in college. In the military, you wrestle with this a great deal, and part of that has to do with the difficulty of a short-term deployment.
It’s not often you see a Marine start their own development NGO. How did you balance both worlds? Don’t they oppose each other?
The key was that I wasn’t calling the shots for the organization [Carolina for Kibera]. I was a volunteer for it — I played a role in fund raising and leadership, but the organization itself was led by a team of Kenyans. The larger question is how to reconcile these two worlds when the experience is all about waging peace while fighting war. It’s not easy. The experience at times clashed in both my head and heart, and what I found was that at certain points, there were tremendous revelations where the two worlds intersected.
We read your op-ed in Military.com. In the midst of an economic crisis, you’re urging the government not to abandon our development and diplomatic commitments overseas. Is it hard to get your fellow men and women in uniform to adopt that viewpoint?
What’s striking is that all of my peers recognize the unbreakable connection between security and development. They’ve seen it firsthand. They realize that making errant cuts to our diplomacy efforts…long term efforts..undermines our national security.
After college, you spent some time in the slums of Kenya before joining the Marines with the mission to better understand ethnic violence. What was your personal approach in learning the local language, customs, politics and economics.
My mom was an anthropologist and she gave me the middle name Mead after after Margaret Mead. There’s a famous Margaret Mead quote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” This approach was what I learned from my mom. If you’re going to understand a culture or place, you’ve got to immerse yourself in it. I was nowhere near fluent and barely conversational by the time I first arrived in Kibera, but it was enough to make initial contacts, and folks were really welcoming in part because of my attempts to speak their language.
Were there any tactics from your time at the Marines you were able to apply to your nonprofit, Carolina for Kibera? And vice versa?
Tons. The book is largely about it, so you’ll have to read the book to find out!
Any last remarks for our ONE members?
Be a doer. Being a doer doesn’t mean starting a nonprofit or serving in the military. It’s also about building within organizations, too. Get out there and take a risk and plunge yourself in a community different from your own.