Passion, commitment, courage

November 25, 2013 · by Allison Porter · Filed Under Choices, Lives of Leaders · Leave a Comment

Ka Hsaw WaUntitled

b 1970,  Rangoon, Burma

As Executive Director of Earthrights International, Ka Hsaw Wa works for environmental and human rights by combining international legal action, grass roots training and advocacy campaigns.


1.    What are three words that best describe your leadership style?

Passion, commitment, courage

2.    What do you know to be true about leadership?

There are many different kinds of leadership, including where the people do not see the leadership.  Sometimes you have to lead from the front or from behind. Back seat driving or front seat – what is needed. Leadership is fighting for the goal, not to be recognized and known as the one doing it. I try to ask myself, is this about ego or is this what needs to be done?

3.    What is the most important thing you do?

I try to localize global activity. Now our problems are global. In the jungle corporations are doing deep damage, but you can’t fight in the jungle alone. And international organizations can’t just focus on the issues alone.  I bridge and help manage the local indigenous grass roots working with the international NGOs in an effective way. They don’t see suffering the same way.  It’s important to minimize and maximize things according to the different cultures.

 4.    What is your earliest memory of injustice?

I was four years old when my mom was organizing a summer camp in Burma to teach children to read and write our ethnic language Karen – we were not allowed to learn our language in school.  The authorities came and yelled at my mother, they were back and forward arguing and yelling at each other and we had to close our camp. I knew about oppression and police and military authority from that time.

 5.    What traits do you possess that are typical for your family?

My father was out there working for people and my mom was home keeping seven children safe. Once in a while I saw my father.  I am very similar to my father in the area of generosity, doing things for people, caring about others.   I am extremely stubborn like my mother. Also from my mother I am very handy at home. I can make my own clothing, shoes. That was how we made our pocket money. Mom also taught us to never give up, to be determined about the choice that we made.

 6.    What are you best at?

Bullshitting. Ha ha.  No.  I would say putting people together and getting the value of diversity in their work together, bringing out passion for a common goal.

 7.    What accomplishment are you most proud of?

My two children. They make me stronger and show me the importance of life.  When I feel down in my work and struggle, I think of them. They make possible my ongoing work and ongoing struggle. 

 8.    What are you afraid of?

1. Losing things I value the most. 2. Breaking a promise that I gave to myself and others. 3. I am afraid I can be a very soft person when I am approached softly and that I could be drawn into something and wouldn’t be able to stop myself. 4. Losing. If I set a goal, I don’t want to lose.

 9.    What is the last thing that made you really angry?

The people I love and care about, a politician or family member, when I see them change, knowing their determination, and then they change, that really makes me angry.  When I don’t respect their integrity, I can’t work with them.

 10.   If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

My nature of being everything or nothing. 

11.   What do you do for fun?

Hang out with my family.   I want to be the father I wanted so badly when I was young.  I want to be a father that is there for my children.  I play with them like a child.  Sometimes it is like my wife Katie has three children.

12.   What is the best advice you ever got?

A friend of mine, when I was young, told me ‘before you go to bed, put your arms under your head on your pillow and think about how much of the day you spent for yourself, for others, and how much did you waste’.  Pretty much changed my life.

13.   What failure or success taught you the most?

I want to be back with my people and fight with my people. So I try not to learn English, to not enjoy the food or lifestyle. To not be comfortable here. Now I think it was a big mistake to decide not to be any type of westerner. I have been blocking myself. I lose a lot because of that mentality. I’m still not sure, but for now I am trying to be my own self in this country.  First step – get a driver’s license and help Katie with the driving.

14.   How would you like to be remembered?

I don’t want to be in the news or celebrated. I just want the real people to know me. I do what I do because I am supposed to do it and I committed to do it, not for my legacy. I like to show myself and my commitments over time.



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