OUR UK JOURNEY: THE STORY

Got a cup or glass of something? Put your feet up and read the story of our UK journey if you have the time. If not, click here for the shorter (though more boring) version.

“So is there a network of NGOs like you?” we were asked in Oxford, UK, mid 2001.

“No. Not that we know of,” we replied.

“So someone should start one,” came the response.

We walked away from that conversation thoughtful. In the weeks that followed, it haunted us.

For several years, in Hong Kong, we in Crossroads had received quality donated product from companies which we distributed locally and internationally. We were busy. We certainly didn’t want to start anything new.

But we knew we had a problem.

  • On one side, multi-national corporations and other sponsors were asking, “Can we partner with other NGOs, around the world, the way we do with you here in Hong Kong? Can you hook us up in, say, Tajikistan, Indonesia, Scotland, Moscow…?” Ah, that would be a no. We didn’t know how to connect them.
  • On the other side, NGOs were writing, in ever increasing numbers: “We know you sent a shipment to a nearby medical clinic. How about one for our orphanage, our school, our refugee facility…?” The requests kept coming. As one medium sized charity, we were never going to keep up with world need.

It was as if we were looking at two graphs in our lives, both exponential but neither intersecting. Surely, they ought to, we thought.

This is the age of the Internet. If people in one place want help, and people in another can give it, then maybe we should set up a network online which could help ‘match-make’ donor provision with NGO need, real time, anywhere in the world.

To sanity check our assumption, we spoke with United Nations colleagues. They confirmed that such a site did not exist and that, if we built one, we would be filling a hole in the humanitarian spectrum.

We decided to take the plunge.

Global Hand

And so, in 2002, the website, Global Hand, was birthed. Before long, in the UK, we had a full time manager who gathered volunteers around him to give UK companies and charities hands-on support. Much as we love websites, the human touch was needed too.

Over the following years, we saw UK companies make life-giving matches. Educational toys brought joy and meaningful play to orphanages. Medical equipment supported hospitals abroad. Clothing went to communities in dire poverty. Computers, and IT expertise, helped children cross the digital divide. Tools gave adults a chance at training for greater job opportunities than their limited education had permitted them. Vehicles, such as fire engines, were strategically placed in locations where they were beyond the reach of the local community. Wheelchairs transformed lives in dusty, rural villages where people with disabilities had never received the gift of mobility. And on it went.

As we watched the ‘matching’ happen, we were acutely aware that donations placed needed to be strategic. We developed standards to guide these transactions.

Over time, the United Nations asked our Hong Kong team to create a ‘matching’ website to support their partnerships with corporations. Our UK staff supported some of the needed steps until, in 2010, it was launched: www.business.un.org.

Global X-perience

That, though, was not where our UK journey finished. As years passed, we found ‘Global Hand’ was not to be our only UK ‘global’.

In Hong Kong, we had tried an experiment that had seen surprising success. We were keen to give it a go in the UK.

The HK team had invited company directors to a 24 hour experience living in simulated ‘poverty’. CEOs had put down their wallets and cell phones and picked up simple debris with which they were tasked with building slum homes. They then ‘lived’ in these for 24 hours, with ongoing ‘experiences’ simulating poverty. They broke rocks with their bare hands to make a ‘road’, as typified in Africa. They made bags out of newspaper and homemade glue, as typified in South Asia, battling corrupt shopkeepers and immoral loan sharks as they did so. By the end of 24 hours, the CEOs had slumped in the doorways of their ‘slum’ homes, but their enthusiasm was boundless. “Don’t stop doing these programmes,” they told us. Again, we hesitated. This was planned as a one-off. Again, we were busy. We weren’t keen on the idea of another ‘global’.

There was no stopping this, however. It took off like wildfire. In Hong Kong, we developed shorter simulation x-periences, and companies, schools/universities, NGOs, community groups made bookings. So did individuals. Simulations began on a range of topics.

So, in the UK we began the same.

Soon UK companies also wanted to do these simulation x-periences as team-builds for their staff.

Schools did as well, both teachers and students.

Community groups, and NGOs, likewise.

After each session, in the debrief, our UK team brainstormed ways that participants could make a difference, whether through corporate competencies, skills, interests, projects or partnerships.

By 2012, we celebrated 10 years of UK service by holding the ‘Struggle for Survival’ simulation, over four days, in an old London bank building, provided pro bono by HSBC. (Thank you HSBC!)

By now, we knew that the UK team had a second ‘global’ underway.

Further, our UK team worked alongside the HK team to offer these simulations at the World Economic Forum, in Davos, Switzerland, where we could give world leaders a chance to take a few steps ‘in the shoes’ of people who suffer, and explore ways they could help. More here.

We continue to support international simulations, like that, but now offer a range of simulation x-periences here in the UK. Menu here.

Global Handicrafts

And, over those same years, yet a third ‘global’ seemed to be establishing itself in our activities: fair trade and social enterprise.

We love giving humanitarian aid, but we also love to give a person an income: decent outcome for decent work. We are all about that.

The UK is a nation which has embraced fair trade well. In fact, many consider it a leader, internationally.

So we began Global Handicrafts. See our product catalogue here.

Registration: Crossroads Global Village (UK)

By now, having expanded with all three globals up and running in the UK, it was time to re-brand. We weren’t just Global Hand any more. Our Trustees met and decided we should take on the ‘umbrella’ group name for the organisation, Crossroads Global Village (UK).

We liked the name. After all, while we live in a big world, we are, today, better equipped than ever before to operate as a global village: a place where we can be global neighbours who help each other. Our goal is to be a crossroads connecting people in need with those who can make a difference. Take a look at our logos and you’ll get the picture!

In 2013, we sought registration with the Charities Commission as Crossroads Global Village (UK) – Charity Registration number: 1153488.

Transition

Late in 2014, we entered a period of transition. Our UK team was particularly excited by the experiential simulations and the way these could develop empathy in participants. They decided to focus more fully on these and developed a new NGO called ‘Empathy Action’. They also continued fair trade, particularly in relation to events such as weddings, conferences and parties.

They do good work, and we cheered them on but, meanwhile, took a few months to set up new management in the UK. Six months later, we were up and running again, with operations overseen and excellent Global Hand ‘matches’ being made, as well as the other globals on offer. We are excited at what we’re seeing happen.

Invitation

Wander through our UK website and see if we have anything of interest to you. If so, please email, phone or set up a coffee with us. (Latte please.) We’d love to see if we can be a ‘crossroads’ in supporting your efforts to make a difference in a world that needs you.

Crossroads Global Village UK

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