Adventures in Social Media with Ashley

From Delhi Belly to New York Slice: Why I Work For JustMeans

It was the first day of medical anthropology class, a day after returning from summer, and my teacher asked the class to sit in a circle and individually announce our names, cities of origin, and a brief description of our summer activities. A girl raised her hand and said her name was Olivia, she was from Baltimore, and she spent the summer in Ghana working in a medical center that offered free reconstructive surgery for children with cleft palates. Impressive. The girl to Olivia’s left gave a similar introduction, but said that during the summer she lived in Bangladeshi slums and tested local residents for HIV. Wow. Full circle and twenty minutes later, it was my turn to sulkily say that I had spent the summer hanging out by the pool with my friends. My class’s reaction was only a little better than uproarious laughter.

So, in response to mild public humiliation and grasping my genuine interest in creating positive change, I caught the “save the world” bug. Last summer, I traveled 30 hours and crossed 12 times zones to Chennai, India to help commercial sex-workers and human-trafficking victims.

Before I tell you lessons and reflections from my experience, please picture this: a blonde American 19-year-old girl (alone) standing face-to face with a demented cow (later identified as an Asiatic buffalo, see picture below), knee deep in water saturated with fecal matter (explanation: Indian monsoon season, no public bathrooms, grossly inadequate drainage systems). While I didn’t have to endure polluted floods for my entire summer stay, I think that portrait conveys some of the basic obstacles I encountered while trying to, as I had set out to do, “save the world.”

More challenges to keep in mind: Tamil is the language most spoken in Chennai and the surrounding state of Tamil Nadu. It is a member of Dravidian language family and frequently contains the sound “ungue” (my best attempt at spelling) which, I have concluded, cannot be produced by an American tongue. While English is fluently spoken by many academics, professionals and the middle class, communicating with and helping prostitutes and trafficking victims became more difficult when they only spoke Tamil and I only knew how to say “red” (see-ka-poo). Beyond the language barrier, another hitch in my plan was something informally known as “Delhi Belly” (…the namesake of this blog). When you are curled in the ball next to the toilet (correction: porcelain hole in the ground), chomping antispasmodics and licking the bottle of Pepto-Bismol, you aren’t doing much for gender equality, sexual rights or reproductive health. And you are certainly not saving the world.

The point of these stories is not to discourage international service or Indian tourism (it’s a beautiful and magical country, I promise), but to illustrate why it is important to learn and understand where and how you can create efficient, effective and lasting change in the world. Don’t get me wrong, I would never trade my experiences and encounters abroad, but applying my skill set to ideas beyond a medical center in Ghana, Bangladeshi slums or an Indian flood can create bigger and better impact.

This brings me to my desk in the new JustMeans midtown office (goodbye Harlem) and why I am here. In my work at JustMeans, I use social media tools to bring attention to the JustMeans platform and engage more individuals, companies and organizations in social and environmental responsibility. By promoting JustMeans, I know I am making a greater impact than last summer, because beyond avoiding time wasted wading through sewage, I’m working with important initiatives of multimillion dollar companies and the global reach of the internet. Through my work at JustMeans, I can apply my knowledge of business, politics and economics and my skills in writing and the English language (not Tamil) to efficiently affect change. So, join JustMeans ( and learn how you can use your job, social media, corporate initiatives, and networking to change (save?) the world.

(Side note: For more information on the Indian experience, see JustMeans CEO Martin Smith’s “Fair trade is failing” for accurate coverage of well-loved Indian transportation.)