Viewing entries in
Making Sense

Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great

These nine simple words are to be found whenever the line ‘famous quotes by Nelson Mandela’ is entered into Google. (Other search engines are available!)

Sadly, political leaders of all persuasions continue to struggle to emulate the great man – known by the world as Madiba (chief) and Tata (father). Why? Perhaps it’s because we feel we know and believe the story behind the words – how each syllable was hard won, hewn out of a life well-lived; not researched from a spin-doctor’s thesaurus.

This generation faces so many complex needs: from broken families, to intolerance and discrimination in local communities, to nations split by conflict, to a world where hunger, disease and disaster needlessly kill thousands of people each day. A new generation of leaders is needed to boldly step up and speak out against poverty and injustice, with Mandela – like courage and wisdom. However, we don’t all need to be statesmen. We can all influence in different ways and I believe that you are never too young to be an influencer.

Like the young boy in the photo, influencing the Vice President of Bolivia during a campaign to promote better treatment of children in that country, your endorsement can carry great weight. In a country where eight in ten children endure physical violence, the Good Treatment Campaign is changing tens of thousands of adults’ attitudes to the abuse and exploitation of children every year and promoting positive practices in young people’s relationships with each other. The campaign has had a significant impact on society and on authority figures: members of the National Assembly have praised the campaign for bringing members of different political parties together.

In the UK, people who catch Viva’s vision can use their influence in their own networks. One of Viva’s influencers amongst the business community in the UK is Isabelle Boscaro-Clarke from Diamond Light Source in Oxfordshire. She uses her influence to raise awareness and support of Viva’s work because she believes we “have a unique, networked approach to protecting children at risk across the world”. Business professionals and philanthropists search for ways to find meaning and significance through giving generously and a personal recommendation from a staff member is the most effective way of applying to a company’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) budget.

Using your network effectively can help charities like Viva connect with a wider group of people who have a heart for development alongside a desire to see sustainability, impact, reach and value for money. Influencing enables others to be great – whether you’re a young boy in Bolivia or the President of South Africa – and giving a little strategic time can help bring lasting change to people’s lives. Could you be a part of that generation?

Martin Thomas

This article first appeared in the November/December 2014 issue of Sorted magazine and is republished here with their permission.

Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear

Are you long or short-sighted? For me the time has come, all too soon, to visit the opticians, my minor short-sightedness worsening over the last couple of years.

Many of us at some point in our lives will need extra support – to read small print up close or to sharpen the image in the cinema. And if you’ve ever put on a pair of glasses with the wrong prescription (like when I tried my son’s long-sighted specs) you’ll know the disorientation this brings – with a blurred vision that can remain for some time even after you’ve taken the glasses off.

It’s hard to try and see far away and close up at the same time.

Having worked in the voluntary sector for over twenty years I’ve often recognised a subtle competition between those whose vision stretches to the furthermost corners of the earth to those who work passionately through a lens marked ‘local’.

Over the last decade the ‘global camp’ has benefited from the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), increasingly known as the ‘most successful global anti-poverty push in history’. This shared 8-point vision has helped to:
•    halve extreme poverty
•    get more girls in school
•    ensure fewer children are dying
•    continue to fight killer diseases such as malaria and AIDS

As an MDG Momentum campaign gathers pace alongside an ambitious post-2015 development agenda many in the ‘local camp’ are asking for similar attention and funding from politicians, the media and business to address issues such as:
•    continued family fragmentation
•    urgent need for fostering and adoption
•    increased debt and child poverty
•    prevention of abuse, trafficking and exploitation

Whilst extreme poverty might be far away, if we were to open our eyes wide, we would see significant vulnerability on our own doorsteps – a reality much closer to home than many of us ever realised or thought possible.

Viva’s global vision is to see children safe, well and fulfilling their God-given potential. In the last year we have lived in the shadow of the Bullfinch trafficking case affecting vulnerable young girls only a few streets around the corner from our Oxford office.

We have felt compelled to ask what aspects of our global experience of collaborative action could be appropriately shared within the UK, without duplicating excellent work already taking place. Our response has been twofold:

1.    To start where we are, mapping the situation of children and vulnerable families across Oxfordshire and discovering the current response of the local church.

2.    To run a Viva Doorsteps Conference in Oxford on 27 September (in partnership with other organisations) to present the research to church leaders, children’s, youth and family workers, safeguarding officers and leaders of local organisations.

Nelson Mandela said, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”

Perhaps it’s sometimes easier to respond to needs that are far away rather than engage with the complexity of our own local situations. Why? Partly because they challenge us to face problems that many are not even prepared to admit exist – yet.

But that’s just like me putting off going to the optician even if I only have a peripheral sense of the problem. It only leads to continued short-sightedness and the potential to miss the situations much closer to home that so desperately need our response.

Time to book that appointment…

* To find out more about Viva’s Doorsteps initiative go to:

Kiss it better – is it better yet?

Do you remember what it was like to be a child – to believe in the impossible? If as a child you fell over in the park and grazed your knee did your mum or dad brush you down and kiss it better? Did you sometimes do the same if your parents were in pain, look up and ask, “Is it better yet?”

We all have to grow up, it’s part of life – but sometimes it feels all too soon. A child’s belief in the power of a kiss to heal is a precious gift that is lost at a cost. The cost of the rational trumping faith, the sceptical banishing hope, the reality of hurt overwhelming love.

The question “Is it better yet?” is one of the simplest and yet most profound questions anyone could ask – not just a child. If you walk in the worlds of the voluntary sector or social enterprise you are likely to have charitable objectives to make something better.

If your sphere is more focused around business, corporate social responsibility or philanthropy you’ll increasingly want to ask not-for-profit agencies, “How can I ensure that my investment in you is actually going to ‘make it better’?”

The Bond development network* summed it up recently by saying, “The bar to prove we achieve what we claim to is being raised ever higher, and NGOs are compelled to respond.”

The way in which we in the third sector spend money entrusted to us has to be transparent. But it also has to be intelligent, contextual, innovative and sometimes even risky if we are to find the best possible ways to bring change – to ‘kiss it better’.

Sadly charities can sometimes come across as both overly optimistic about their results and defensive about the real cost of their work. This is due in part to a widespread public belief that a low percentage overhead equals an effective organisation.

Every year Viva conducts a Network Health Check. This global self-assessment tool helps our 34 community networks to analyse their effectiveness and put in place strategies for improvement for the following year. It also helps to measure the level of reach Viva has through the many collective action programmes we support.

It’s inspiring stuff and I was able to see some of the results for myself recently in a little corner of Delhi.

Meeting the boys and girls whose lives have been transformed through faith, hope and love helped turn the one-dimensional statistics into glorious 3D life! How do you measure the impact of the money you give to charity? Do you examine annual accounts, ask questions about sustainability, impact and lasting change? Have you been able to visit to see for yourself? Or do you go on the trust of a well-written story of hope – and of a kiss that can simply make it better for today?

However you use the resources you have been given, a wise investment can go a very long way.

* Bond is the UK membership body for non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working in international development:

Martin Thomas

This article first appeared in the July/August 2014 issue of Sorted magazine and is republished here with their permission.

From instant to artisan - lessons from a novice barista


As a teenager growing up in north London, I liked things to be instant – waiting was not a word or experience I was comfortable with.

Once I had set my heart on something, I wanted it – yesterday! It was the 1970s and 80s, the time of the Pot Noodle, Loadsamoney, Kwik Fit, and the birth of the coffee advert soap opera – for a blend perhaps not quite as golden as the advert implied.

I wasn’t a coffee geek then, but I was significantly influenced by the culture; an instant world that was often:

- rushed: where speed was king
- unsustainable: where wasteful practices were ignored
- substandard: where quantity was valued over quality
- tiring: where overwork became the norm

The not-for-profit sector, in which I live and breathe, has sometimes been criticised for taking on this quick-fit culture; promising instant results for very little money. We live in a world that is crying out for solutions to the questions and crises of our age. ‘How can I be a good dad?’, and ‘how can we care for the thousands of children who have no dad?’ are just two questions often on my mind. I know that there are no quick fixes.

In Kampala, 85% of children in institutionalised care have at least one biological parent alive. Viva’s partner network is bringing together 22 children’s homes to seek safe and sustainable ways to bring children back home.


The process is not instant – it takes time; with the crucial link in the process involving highly skilled caregivers. Their efforts have an immediate and long term impact on the child through their engagement with the whole family and wider community. The results are not instant either, but they are significant:

- 136 children were placed back home safely within the first two years.
- 400 more are expected to be reintegrated during the second phase of the programme.

This type of work is not instant – it’s artisan; just like the coffee I now drink. As a novice barista I love taking the time to blend and brew coffee that I know has been sustainably sourced and adds economic and social value to the community. I also grind my own beans, tamp, brew, stretch and heat the milk to a perfect temperature, consistency and sweetness – and then enjoy the creativity in free-pouring latte art.

Perhaps surprisingly I also drink less coffee as I take time to savour the taste and enjoy sharing the experience with friends. I still don’t like waiting.

But I have learned that an artisan life is definitely worth cultivating – with the results having a lasting value far beyond the next espresso macchiato.

Martin Thomas

This article first appeared in the May/June 2014 issue of Sorted magazine and is republished here with their permission. Subscribe to receive Sorted magazine directly to your door, six times a year, by clicking here.

- See more at:

Investing in life in Hong Kong

Lord Stephen Green

Lord Stephen Green

Martin in Delhi

Martin in Delhi

This was no ordinary Saturday evening. There I was speaking with colleagues at the prestigious Hong Kong Club sharing about how business men and women could invest in the lives of children in Asia – and that investing in a local, networked response is more efficient, powerful and sustainable than other models.

Just a few hours earlier I had spent a time in Delhi with children and seen with my own eyes the reality and power of Viva’s vision to bring lasting change to the lives of Indian children through the power of collective action.

Back to Hong Kong and, standing in front of 90 dinner guests, I could sense that the buzz of this ‘Investing in life’ evening was the culmination of the last few years of dedicated networking and vision sharing by Rob and Christine Lilwall, National Directors of Viva Hong Kong.

People were also there to hear from Lord Green, former Chair of HSBC (pictured top left),  who was sharing from his many years of experience in the business and banking sector. He spoke powerfully about our calling to steward the resources God has entrusted to us and to invest those resources wisely.

And he also challenged those with significant wealth to consider the 10 per cent biblical tithe as just a starting point for giving – not the end.

Martin and Justine speaking at the dinner

Martin and Justine speaking at the dinner

During the evening, my colleague Justine Demmer, Viva’s Network Consultant for the Philippines, shared how an already-present and active network in that country was so much better able to respond in the aftermath of the typhoon – and that more children were safer as a direct result.

A few days later, whilst walking along the shores of Eastern Samar, the poorest area of the Philippines, I once again saw with my own eyes how the local church network in this region has indeed responded in ways I would have never thought possible.


Sitting on that beach I reflected on the ‘Investing in life’ dinner and the generous supporters from Hong Kong who were now starting to commit, invest and influence to bring lasting change to children’s lives.

They might never get an opportunity to meet the children, and the children’s workers and pastors who work day in, day out to keep them safe. But I can now look these supporters in the eye and say that their investment is being stewarded well – and that it is indeed bringing life.

Martin Thomas

CLICK HERE to find out much more about how you can become an Investor in life with Viva.


- See more at: