With the run-up to the recent launches of ASAE & The Centerâ€™s new International and Social Responsibility initiatives, I wondered how much we as a nation and an association sector can truly contribute to the elimination of major world problems when only about one in four Americans possesses a passportâ€”hardly the â€œglobal perspectiveâ€ likely needed to build consensus and identify practical resolution strategies.
I turned to a rather unlikely source with this question: actress-turned-activist Jane Seymour, one of the last participants in the long-running Nationâ€™s Distinguished Speaker Series hosted by ASAE & The Center.
Seymour serves as a hands-on ambassador for numerous nonprofits, including ChildhelpUSA, and works on social problems ranging from child abuse to preventable disease control. Her philanthropic efforts routinely take her to different continents, giving her unique insight into topics such as whether U.S. professionals and their representative groups should be doing more to strengthen their â€œworld perspectiveâ€ and recognize the power of possible involvement in social responsibility.
â€œAbsolutely,â€ said Seymour, who speaks several languages and often takes some of her six children on her philanthropic trips abroad. â€œI think that Americans are very Ameriocentric. They believe the whole world is what they see on television and what they know about their city usually, not even the whole country. When you travel and see the perception of other countries [toward] America or perceive how other countries [feel toward different] countries, you see that we are a global society now.â€¦ With the Internet, with air travel, with everything thatâ€™s going on in every country in every group of people in every race, we are all interrelatedâ€¦, so I think itâ€™s incredibly important to send as many Americans abroad as we can, so they can see how fortunate they are and how different life is elsewhere.â€
I asked Seymour to be more specific about the types of international experiences she would recommend that trade and professional associations offer their members. She suggested that they could raise and earmark money to send their members overseas, to start with, and shared a story about her involvement in a post-9/11 experiment conducted by the American Red Cross, on whose Celebrity Cabinet she serves.
Seymour and her husband, film director James Keach, agreed to take eight, inner-city, racially diverse 12-year-old children from a Los Angeles school to Africa and film their reactions to what they saw while they helped Seymour and Red Cross volunteers vaccinate 7 million children in one week. The results became a documentary.
â€œIt was just an amazing experience,â€ enthused Seymour. â€œEvery one of those children came back realizing things that they never understood, which is first of all, how important education is and how they took it for granted. Even though these were kids in an inner-city school who were obviously straight A [students], they saw that all these kids in Africa wanted more than anything in the world was an education. â€¦ They wanted to be able to learn, and this was just stunning to [the kids we took].â€
She noted that both the children and participating adults were likely â€œchanged forever. â€¦ They spread their stories, and they would talk to individuals and realize that you could make a difference--that for very little money, a huge amount of help could be given in these countries.â€¦ The more you travel, the more you realize that.â€
She also agreed that setting up international exchanges, educational trips and peer-to-peer relationship-building programs with professionals in other countries â€œwould be very important. Iâ€™m a great believer in mentoring.
â€œâ€¦ The thing that I speak to people about is that everybody has different talents, different abilities,â€ continued Seymour with great passion. â€œYou might be good at fundraising. You might be good at teaching. You might be good at being empathetic. Everybody has an ability to do something unique to help other people, whether itâ€™s locally or globally.
â€œIndifference and apathy are the biggest crimes on the planet. Just to say, â€˜Oh, the problemâ€™s too big. Itâ€™s insurmountable, just canâ€™t be done or is corrupt, and Iâ€™m not going to bother.â€™ Thatâ€™s unacceptable. What you have to do is â€¦ get these people out there and just say, â€˜Okay, maybe you canâ€™t solve the [problems of the] whole world, but you certainly can do something for your neighbor.â€
Seymour emphasized that her philanthropic work has been transformational for her both professionally and personally. â€œI am an actress, but Iâ€™m not sitting by waiting for the phone to ring to act, â€¦ thatâ€™s not what drives my life,â€ she emphasized. â€œIâ€™m much more excited about being able to make a difference. I am! When I can put two people together or make something happen where a large number of people are motivated to do what they uniquely can do, I get excitedâ€¦. I see myself as a conduit. I see myself as the person who can take information from experts in the field and can speak it in â€˜peopleâ€™s speakâ€™ in public places. But I wonâ€™t do it unless I understand it, believe it and can trust it.â€
Perhaps other professionals are starting to recognize the personal, professional and global benefits of devoting more effort to obtaining a world perspective. Within the next few years, the U.S. State Department expects that about half of Americans will hold a passport. Whether and where these holders use it, though, could make all the difference in--and to--the world.