Global Humanitarian: 7 Questions With Linking The World CEO Mina Chang
Meet Mina Chang, chief executive officer of Linking The World, a global humanitarian relief effort now operating in dozens of countries. Chang is an internationally-recognized philantrophist who has been personally involved in disaster response operations in some of the hardest hit areas and nations; inlcuding Haiti, the Phillippines and New Orleans. She has also worked in some of the world's most intense and dangerous communities such as Kiberia in Kenya.
Chang's background is rooted in helping others. She is the eldest child of two Salvation Army commanding officers. As a child she grew up watching her parents support inner-city social programs and even worked hands-on to help people change their course in life in economically depressed areas. It is then she decided to dedicate her life to becoming a full-time aid worker. Chang is a graduate of the executive nonprofit leadership program at Southern Methodist University and the Center for Nonprofit Management.
When she isn't helping others in the field, Chang serves on numerous charity boards and is board director of Group Excellence, a mentoring and tutoring company serving students in school and after school. It was named one of the 500 fastest growing privately owned companies by Inc. Magazine. Chang has also collected plenty of accolades. In 2014 she was chosen by Observer magazine as Person of the Year. In 2012, she was named CBS Humanitarian of the Year during the televised Women that Soar Awards. We wanted to know more about Chang and Linking The World and she was kind enough to answer a few questions:
Dawn Tongish: Please begin by telling us about Linking The World.
Mina Chang: Linking the World is an international humanitarian aid organization now headquartered in Dallas, TX. Since 1997 the organization has worked in over 43 countries providing hunger relief, medical aid, disaster response and have built and operate schools.
DT: What are your duties at Linking The World?
MC: I serve as the Chief Executive Officer. My role is to continue looking forward strategically putting people and programs in place that allow us to be the most effective in helping and saving lives. I enjoy building relationships with stakeholders, sponsors and donors. I also advocate and educate on issues that Linking the World supports. I also keep Linking the World relevant in the international aid platform through engagements such as at the World Economic Forum, West Point Military Academy and speaking at universities around the States. Most importantly, my role is to support the Linking the World team. We have incredible leadership at Linking the World. Our executive team, program directors, country directors, response teams and even volunteers are some of the best in their fields. Every single one of them could be applying their skills, experience and talents toward building a lucrative for-profit, but we all share a vision and a mission in life. We see the strength in working collectively, taking a stand for and empowering others and doing all this against all odds.
DT: How did you become involved with Linking The World, and why are you so passionate about the work being done?
MC: I know am a product of social programs and I know what it feels like to have absolutely nothing. I know that aid works. My parents were commanding officers in the Salvation Army so I was exposed to humanitarian work early on. I also saw the tremendous impact just one person could make and I felt a calling to serve. I studied to become an aid worker and during a career detour was introduced to Linking the World. When I started working with them on the ground I fell in love with their approach to helping others help themselves. After the earthquake in Haiti there was no turning back. I went all in, giving up a songwriting career as I took a huge leap of faith to start the United States branch of Linking the World. After creating new public private partnerships such as with nationally recognized company Group Excellence and with the U.S. Dept of Defense it made sense to consolidate efforts and relocate the global headquarters to the United States. Since then we have created ground-breaking programs such as Global Social Leadership and HALO (Help and Locate Operations) our use of drones and UAVs for humanitarian aid and during disaster response. I do what I do because too many families are living in fear, suffering and dying needlessly. I want to live in a world where everyone can live healthy, safe, dignified lives. A world where we ease the suffering of others. A world where social conditions and hopelessness don’t breed extremism and terrorism, and a world where people can fulfil their own potential and contribute fully to their communities. Aid is a way to actively work towards this world.
LTW targets overseas compassion, while some argue charity should start/stay at home -- where there is also tremendous need. What do you say to that?
There are incredible injustices and suffering all over the world. Here at home as well as abroad. We, as Americans, are so blessed to be living in a country so full of resources and services for almost every illness or interest imaginable. I admire and am full of gratitude to those who work tirelessly to serve our fellow neighbors and feel that we are all doing our part in the collective effort for equality, justice and peace. Historically we have been introduced to the communities we work in following the Bible. It says in Luke 12:48 "For everyone who has been given much, much will be expected." And as a proud and grateful American I know that with our great freedoms and power comes a great responsibility.
DT: It can be difficult for any nonprofit to pay the bills. How do you stay afloat?
MC: Everything we do is a result of powerful partnerships. We have incredible sponsors that have helped us with our operations at Linking the World. Internationally we partner with the community in order to break cycles of poverty. We know that buy-in from the community is imperative and we require that the local community also share costs and support the programs. Our goal is to empower the local community, build out capacity, make ourselves redundant and work ourselves out of a "job" there.
DT: How can the people of North Texas and beyond help meet your needs for 2014? What are your biggest needs?
MC: As an organization with a new presence in Texas we ask for support in building awareness about the organization and exploring ways we can work together. We are essentially building a brand new support base but have the burden of existing programs all over the world- from Kenya to Nigeria to Afghanistan to Myanmar to Haiti. But if anyone can do it, Texans can! We think BIG and we are not afraid to pioneer.
DT: What are the most memorable moments in your experiences at Linking The World?
MC: It's the collective experiences that fuels my personal conviction that I am living my calling. I have experienced incredible selflessness and kindness in some of the most desperate and terrifying places. Its the kind of dichotomy that is so stark that it interrupts your understanding of life itself. I have met women who bear deep physical scars from being mutilated in front of her children. I’ve seen church walls in Kibera that are stained with blood from when an extremist group threw a live grenade while children were attending class. I’ve driven through the desert in the horn of Africa en route to our programs and camps only to pass children walking along the road with distended bellies, dehydrated, following a goat. I’ve been taught by Somali refugee children how to make flip flops from flattened water bottles and twine. I’ve watched mothers pound dirt in Haiti into cookies and feed it to their starving children. I have seen these very same people give what little they have to their neighbors and even to strangers. I love working in the field and I need it to keep perspective and stay connected with the human element of what we do. There's nothing like landing at a remote airstrip to a line of dusty white land cruisers with agency stickers and flags. The camaraderie or working with teams and visiting experts figuring out things like how to get life-saving medicines through customs faster or negotiating with local government to gain access to certain areas. It is working in the field that makes me understand how critical it is to have the support that ask the public for. I come home with a renewed mission to get the resources we need to help people help themselves.