For some, the term triggers melancholy music and images of dogs and cats in an animal shelter, while others experience a visual flurry of golf tournaments, silent auctions and rubber chicken lunches. Still others recall summer camp, dance performances, sports competitions and music recitals (hey!... “​one time at band camp...​” umm, but I digress). For many more, the ideas—the possibilities—for how we might make the world a better place is their hovering zone.

I recently met a gentleman who is truly making the whole world a better place. He was a keynote speaker at a leadership summit dinner and his speech really drew me in. He co-founded a humanitarian nonprofit with a colleague, almost 20 years ago, that rapidly assembles and deploys rescue/relief teams to communities all over the world. Disaster after disaster, crisis after crisis, this man responds to the call, sometimes even before the real “call” comes in—and he is often first on the ground before his team(s) arrive. The mission, proudly stated in their materials, is to help “people all over the world overcome extreme crises, providing millions with the vital support needed to move from destruction to reconstruction, and eventually, to sustainable  living.” Wow! Not just “crises” but “​extreme crises.” And there are many occurring frequently, keeping an organization like that quite busy. Natural disasters, terrorist and tyranny, outbreaks of disease—the list never seems to end.

When asked his motivation to keep on this intense path, he claims many reasons, one of the most prominent being his realization that he views “disaster” quite differently than perhaps most people. He finds opportunity in the chaos, although not exactly in the manner conveyed in Sun Tzu’s “Art of War.” What keeps him motivated and engaged, he says, is honing in on the “post traumatic growth” potential—twisting all that natural and very tangible stress into methods and modes for healing, especially with children. And, he views humanitarian relief as “active anthropology,” an up close and real-time study in people and community (or society) evolving in a major way.

I like that. It touched me. I still roll it around my own brainpan as I ponder how those of us within the nonprofit sector might also consider our own projects and initiatives in this light. It is true that not every group is literally out saving entire countries in one fell swoop. And perhaps not every organization raises millions of dollars each year, and quite likely, most volunteer teams do not find themselves literally leaping out of helicopters over rushing waters or collapsing buildings. However, we ​are ​touching many when we help find homes for those without, and we ​do ​impact whole communities when we make streets and roads safer or improve the quality of classrooms. We ​are shifting whole generations when we make training and new jobs available, and we ​grow​ strong economies when we help small business succeed.

To all those rapid responders and champion rescuers who pull us out of our rubble and help us heal, I thank you. Whether in our workplaces or schools, our hospitals or our homes, thanks for making our world a better place. You’re all doing very well, by doing some good.

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Lydia Aranda works closely with corporate and nonprofit leaders to build economic and educational solutions for our communities and develops corporate relations strategies for the Tucson Hispanic Chamber and its Southern Arizona affiliates. She can be reached at ​