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One Day’s Wages: Why you don’t have to be a rockstar to make change

I’m reposting this piece as One Day’s Wages just celebrated their 2nd birthday. I conducted the interview in preparation for TEDxSeattle in April 2010. The journey of the Cho’s and the organization they founded has been an amazing one to watch. You cannot help but respond to the invitation to join this grassroots movement of people, stories, and actions to alleviate extreme global poverty.

One Day’s Wages: Why you don’t have to be a rockstar to make change

by Sophia Agtarap


One Day's Wages logoWhat moves one to go from speaker, minister and traveler to founder of a grassroots movement dedicated to fighting extreme global poverty? Read on to meet the how and why of One Day’s Wages co-founder, Eugene Cho.

Why the need to create One Day’s Wages? What moved you?

The problem itself [extreme global poverty] is a big, huge, vast, horrible situation and it amazes me that I still can’t get my mind wrapped around it that in 2010, we are hailing the advances of ideas and technology and social media…but there are 24,000 children that die every day from things that are preventable.

Eugene Cho is aware that the stats go on and on. He’s always known about them, he says. And like a smaller percentage of us, has wrestled with them. Through his travels across the globe, he has put faces behind theses stats and saw the opportunity for he and his family to do something. Convicted to make some life choices with their 2009 salary, the seed for One Day’s Wages was planted.

We tell people…We don’t have to be rockstars and millionaires or famous movie stars.

Cho reflects on a common tendency among us: we abdicate the social and humanitarian responsibilities to professionals…experts, if you will.

Our idea at ODW was really simple, honest and transparent. That’s why we started this movement.

When or where were you when you realized, “what I’m doing is not enough”?

Cho shared two ah-hah moments that led to the creation of ODW. It was about 3.5 years ago on one of the Cho’s travels to Burma, that they visited the Karen people as a part of his ongoing research on poverty and education. In meeting with leaders of the Karen, they learned about the difficulties that existed in providing sustainable education to children who were fleeing the military government.

Cho asked one of the leaders what a teacher’s salary looked like. $40. He was shocked at the elder’s response. Initially, Cho thought maybe this amount was per day…maybe per week. The elder shook his head–it must have been per month. He shook his head again. It was per year. $40 was the teacher’s salary per year. It was at that point that Cho realized that though he personally couldn’t change the entire world, he could make a difference in this one village, starting with this teacher’s salary.

The idea for One Day’s Wages didn’t come at that time, but it hit him that the average person could have a dramatic impact.

About a year later, still wrestling and processing, the Chos were watching TV with their kids on a Friday night and an infomercial on humanitarian efforts appeared. When graphic images of young African children with bloated stomachs came on, they were ready to change the channel. But for whatever reason, that night he kept it on. Cho called it an amazing experience to see his kids respond and to see their face contort to what they were seeing.

His oldest asked, “is this a movie?” Perhaps in their minds it was inconceivable that this could be real. Sometimes I regret letting them watch it, Cho reflects.

But they then asked most common response: What are you doing to help?

In thinking about this moment, Cho states what we all feel: as much as we have the tendency to want to do good, we acknowledge that we are desensitized to what goes on around us. For him, it was a wake up call. The concept of One Day’s Wages, he doesn’t know exactly how it came about. One day it just clicked. They weren’t asking people to do what we were trying to do, but to ask folks to do one small step–such a simple step that everyone can do.

How do you use emerging media in your work?

One Day’s Wages has a strategy:

human relationships + social media/technology + vision= the movement of ODW.

Social media and technology are huge part of the work of ODW. Cho admits that they are a foundation that raises money by being the best, authentic, transparent storytellers of what they do. The web and video are meant to tell good stories. Inspiring stories. The stats that One Day’s Wages see are real, dark, and difficult to comprehend, but they are also aware that there are amazing organizations, women and children doing remarkable things. One Day’s Wages hope to capture stories of those giving joyfully and sacrificially all around the world, using social media to broadcast those stories to larger world. Facebook, Twitter, blogging–they aren’t just tools for the organization. They are a a part of the heartbeat; the pulse of One Day’s Wages, and they are and how they want to go about their mission.

Who are your influencers?

Cho calls on philosophical leaders like Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King, Jr. Though One Day’s Wages is non-profit, non-religious organization, Cho’s personal faith is a strong influence. But one of their biggest inspirations are those humanitarians that we don’t know about–those partners like community based organizations in the developing world that the western world hasn’t heard about. Their goal? To tell the stories of hundreds of thousands of amazing individuals.

Will you still talk about how we’re the most overrated generation?

Yeah, I think so. I’m referring to a blog post he created in November 2009 about how we tend to fall in love with our ideas more than actually doing something. Cho acknowledges that social media is changing world we live in. One of his biggest fears is that people will think a RT or updating a Facebook status, or blogging about something is actually doing something. He is quick to say that he’s not suggesting it doesn’t have impact–we can see that it does. What he would hate for it to do is relieve and abdicate us from taking more of a personal investment in this work. There is some sacrifice involved on our part for the good of larger humanity, he continues. While social media is good, it has also made things a little too convenient…and that’s what Cho cautions us about.

As a speaker, minster and traveler, Cho gives talks and blogs but remembers these efforts lacking some kind of sacrifice on his behalf. Not trying to be a legalist or trying to tell people that they have to do what his family has chosen to do, he asks people to consider some big or small sacrifice they can make. While we enjoy the advances of social media, he remarks,

it’s possible we’re also hiding behind it thinking that it in a sense crosses or marks a checkbox of “I’ve done my good because I tweeted something or joined a fan page.

So what does this mean for us? What will it take to solve this commitment that many organizations and individuals care about—the eradication of extreme global poverty? What Cho knows for sure is that going to require more than social media; it will require the hearts and minds of those who use who use it.

Sophia Agtarap is a graduate student in the MCDM program at the University of Washington. She has a bachelor’s degree in English and a Master in Teaching from the University of Washington in Seattle. She has worked as a high school English teacher, and consults with non-profits and organizations seeking to understand social and digital media communication. Sophia is currently counselor and social media evangelist with the UW Graduate School’s GO-MAP office.