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07 March 2011

Jo Brennan, CEO Habitat for Humanity, Australia, has just returned from Itahari, Nepal, with a stomach bug.

\"I got off the plane and thought, I've got to wash my teeth. Now, I know about the water, and I only put the brush under the tap for a second, washed and did not swallow. But it was enough.\"

Jo, who was co-hosting a lunch with Westpac's Head of Women's Markets, Larke Riemer, for Habitat for Humanity's next big build in the Asia Pacific area, looked somewhat paler than when I met her a month ago for the ruby connection's Women at Work interview.

\"I'm almost over whatever it was, but I am looking thinner.\"

Habitat is the world's largest not-for-profit home building organization and Jo plans to take 100 women to Nepal in March 2011 to work alongside 250 Nepalese families living in poverty to help build simple, decent homes with them. Of the 14 or so Australian women leaders at the table for lunch some were Habitat converts already and the rest were well on the way.

As one 'luncher' put it: \"There's nothing more tangible than building a home with someone. That's transparent use of a donation.\"

The March 6 - 11 dates for the start of the 100-women build to give the 'hand up' to the Nepalese women heads of households involved in the project have been chosen specifically to acknowledge 100 years of International Women's Day. A dedicated area of Habitat's website will track the progress of the whole project in words and pictures.

Country karma

I am undergoing tree change by proxy. I'm not moving to the country physically but just about everything of any significance I've been involved with over the past six weeks or so has had a rural driver. There have been the RIRDC Rural Women's Award winners from all across Australia who I have and am still meeting and interviewing for ruby; work with the Royal Agricultural Society on its Showgirls and Rural Young Achievers, and the rural winner of Westpac and AGSM's Mary Reibey scholarship. Many of these remarkable women battle distance, isolation, and often prejudice to get things done on the land and most often with the greater benefit of the rural communities in which they live and work in mind.

In a recent report from Plan: \"Because I'm a girl\", researchers noted that when women heads of households are able to work and bring in money they reinvest around 90c of every dollar back into the family and once the family and home are established they look toward the benefit of the wider community. Men are not so good.

In our less dire life circumstances (albeit that means putting aside the very real hardship of drought), the rural women I've spoken with share a similar ethic. They have a strong focus on creating sustainable communities - building on their own family units. None of them wants to see a way of life die. Nor do they wish to leave future generations - environmentally, financially and economically - without a strong legacy of success.

One Queensland rural women recently said to me: \"In country communities, which are usually pretty small, it's the people who don't turn up, who don't contribute, who are absent, that stand out.\"

Living in the city, the more you don't take part, the less you're noticed.

Social Networking

Although that ability to get lost in the crowd is changing with social networking sites, I suppose. I've never considered your RSVP-style dating sites to be useful. I'm an advocate for doing it live all the way. (There's no GenY person wrapped up in a baby boomer body here.) But social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Twitter (to an extent) are obviously great connectors with extraordinary potential. And they're changing the face of philanthropy, creating awareness and advocacy for causes - and maybe even donations.

Facebook hit the 500 million mark recently, and the story on the news went onto quote Australia's addiction to it: apparently, around 8 million of us use it every month. That's one third of the population. The potential for driving awareness for causes, charities, you name it, is huge.

While obviously not quite the same, I downloaded a free iPhone app called One Mindful Act, which can be connected with Facebook. (The app's American, but I'm not holding that against it.) The One Mindful Act project focuses on small acts of giving. The app it has developed allows you to keep track of small amounts of money you save by not doing something - like, maybe, not having a second coffee or taking your own lunch to work. As you accrue savings you get to a point where you have enough to make a donation to a charity and you can choose one of the groups One Mindful Act is associated with (mainly large anti-hunger charities) and donate the money there or choose your own cause and donate what you've saved to that.

During October the National Breast Cancer Foundation will have its pink ribbon month, and again they are asking the public to organize pink ribbon breakfasts to raise money for the organization.

I wonder if anyone is going to have a long-distance breakfast via say Facebook and Twitter and how would that look and what could it be used for in the way of raising donations. Imagine what a person with friends could do? Maybe organize the biggest virtual breakfast ever.