Thursday, December 25, 2008

Peace - Translations/Connections

At this time of year, when so many people throughout the world celebrate many different holidays, and all of us hope for peace among nations and among individuals, I searched the web for translations of the word, "peace". The number of online translators is amazing (although I could not find a translator for Malinke, a language I learned to speak at a very basic level while visiting residents of Mali). A few of the translations that I discovered appear below. Searching for these, and for others which I did not find, taught me something not only about linguistics, but about different cultural worldviews.

For example, the number of online translators for Somali-Italian languages surprised me at first, but makes sense. The Somali-Italian translations reflect the imperialism/colonialism of the past few centuries. A portion of Somalia became Italy’s first colonial conquest in the late 1880s, as Italy attempted to assert itself as a unified state.

An Ojibwe translator increased my understanding of the importance of context. It would not translate individual words; it only translated sentences. It emphasized that words derive meaning with reference to relationships and the larger setting in which they are spoken.

Paix (French)
Paz (Spanish)
Frieden (German)
ειρήνη (Greek)
和平 (Chinese)
Vrede (Dutch)
Vrede (Afrikaans)
Pace (Italian)
平和 (Japanese)
평화 (Korean)
Paz (Portuguese)
мир (Russian)
أمان (طمأنينة) (Arabic)
Mir (Croatian)
ukuthula (Zulu)
àlàáfíà (Yoruba)
kev sib haum xeeb (Hmong)
nabad (Somali)

In looking for an English to Hmong translator, the directory of online translators directed me to a web page developed by the Saint Paul Schools - with dictionaries for translating back and forth between the two languages. That web site also includes special educational resources. Congratulations to the Saint Paul School District!

If you surf the web and explore different languages and cultures, I hope you find it enjoyable and rewarding. Although the existence of multiple languages does create some barriers to communication, our efforts to understand one another's languages can bring us closer together. In our increasingly globalized world, we need more than ever to make connections across nationalities – both within our own country and with people from different nations. So, beyond just surfing and learning, let’s make a commitment to make the connections that increase the chances that all of us will experience peace with one another.

As the year comes to a conclusion, I wish you "peace"!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Nonprofits: Danger? Opportunity? Or Some of Both?

An economy in peril. State government “unallotting” money budgeted for human services, education, and other purposes. What will happen to nonprofit organizations? What does the future hold for organizations dedicated to the public good?

The Minnesota Council of Nonprofits reported last week:
· about half of nonprofits have seen a decline in total revenues;
· about half have experienced increased expenses;
· just under half have suffered a decline in individual contributions.

Interestingly, MCN reported that both the number of nonprofit employers and the number of nonprofit employment locations in Minnesota declined, while the number of nonprofit jobs increased by nearly 4% from 2006 to 2007. The increase seems to be in health care, since employment in community relief services (e.g., food shelves) and in social advocacy organizations dropped below previous years’ levels. See their report at:

Some evidence suggests that demands for services may have begun to increase as a result of 2008 economic events.

So, what should we do during a year filled with uncertainty, and one in which resources will undoubtedly diminish while demand to meet needs most likely increases? A couple of strategic suggestions appear below.

First, let’s set our sights on what we can reasonably expect, positive and negative, based on what we now know about the economy.

Paul Anton, Chief Economist here at Wilder Research, exhorts us to current economic crisis in perspective. We have not entered another Great Depression. To reach that point, the 1.8 million jobs we saw disappear this year would have to grow to 30 million in the next few years. Nonetheless, many indicators of economic health have declined and show no prospect of rebounding for at least a year.

Paul sees hopeful signs because Obama’s economic advisors recognize the need to inject the right amount of Federal stimulus into state economies and because we’ve become intelligent enough as a nation not to repeat the huge policy mistakes of the past. That is, we know it makes no sense to fight the forces of globalization and restrict the sale of foreign goods in the U.S. (as we did through the Hoot Smalley Act in response to the 1929 stock market crash, with the result that we created a trade war which probably turned a bad recession into the Great Depression). We also have a Federal Reserve which will seek to support banks, not drive them out of business.

We will most likely need to survive at least a year of bad economic times. We should develop contingency plans based on neither too much optimism nor too much pessimism, but we should not focus exclusively on those plans. We must more than ever before keep our eyes on our missions and ask how to accomplish those missions in a time of increasing need and declining resources – which leads me to my second point.

Second, let’s seize the opportunity to become more efficient and more effective and to use new tools to accomplish our goals.

We never have “good economic times” in our nonprofit work. Needs always exceed the capacity to accomplish goals and deliver services. However, during normal times (however you define them), we can become complacent. We tolerate inefficiency. We feel some desire to innovate, but can encounter difficulty when attempting to create the momentum for change.

So, perhaps 2009, and the uncertain economic climate, can call us to new leadership – to do what we do in new ways, more efficiently, and more effectively. Perhaps the incentive for change will be apparent. Nonprofit organizations have an opportunity, like never before, to re-organize and re-energize.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Housing Trends, Rising Foreclosures, Implications for Our Future

Housing indicators do not look very good, according to a recent Wilder Research report by Craig Helmstetter:
· An increase in the proportion of people paying 30% or more of their income on housing. Events of the past few months will probably push this up further.
· Rents on the increase; vacancy rates down.
· An upward trend in the number of families served in emergency shelters, especially in Hennepin County.
· One of the worst rates in the country here in the Twin Cities for the homeownership gap, that is, the difference between Whites and Persons Of Color in rates of homeownership.

Housing stability, education, the ability to obtain employment and perform well in a job – all of these relate to one another. In the interest of building a strong region, we need to view housing issues as not just a pressing current challenge to overcome, but as a threat to our future.

Solutions need to be comprehensive, visionary, creative, and linked to overall efforts to maintain the strength of our region. In the short term, we cannot avoid the fact that more families and individuals will need shelter; let’s work on that. However, more importantly, we need to address the long term – how can we push the indicators mentioned above in a positive direction?

I encourage you to read the report, “Affordable Housing for Low Income Families,” in the “New Releases” section of the Wilder Research web site. We at Wilder Research look forward to working on long-term solutions.