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Social Justice Terms L-Z|Service, Leadership & Community Engagement
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Need some help with definitions of hip social justice terms?

This glossary is intended to help keep you informed about terms related to social justice issues. To see the list of words A-K click here.

- A-K - L - M - N - O - P - Q - R - S - T - U - V - W - X - Y - Z -


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For terms A-K please click here.


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LEED Certification - Recognized standard for measuring sustainability of building construction, created by the US Green Building Council (USGBC). To learn more visit: USGBC.org.

Libertarian - A person who believes in extremely minimizing the role of the government and maximizing personal freedom. They may be a member of the Libertarian political party.

Lobbying - The process of attempting to influence the decisions of the government, especially the legislative bodies. Lobbyists represent many interests from corporations to local governments to educational and non-profit institutions.


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Malaria - Malaria is an infectious disease passed to humans via parasite-carrying mosquitoes. There are four different strains that can infect humans, all causing severe and prolonged flu-like illness that can kill people if not treated properly. Although nets, repellent, and anti-malarial medications make the disease both preventable and treatable, over one million people die of the disease each year, nearly all in developing countries. A child dies of Malaria every 30 seconds.

Market Fundamentalism - Faith in the ability of unfettered laissez-faire, or free market, economic views or policies to solve economic and social problems. (See Free Trade.)

Mircofinance/Microcredit - Generally not-for-profit giving of small loans to low-income individuals or groups who cannot get funding from banks to start businesses. Microfinance is an effort to help bring people out of extreme poverty. Microcredit is a financial innovation that is generally considered to have originated with the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, created by Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus.

Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) - Developed by 192 United Nations member states and over 23 international organizations, the MDGs are eight goals (including combating disease epidemics, achieving universal primary education, and ensuring environmental sustainability) set to improve social and economic conditions in countries worldwide. Agreed to be achieved by 2015, the success of these goals would ensure a positive future for some of the poorest countries. For the complete list go to: UN Millennium Project.


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North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) - A free trade agreement passed in 1994 that eliminates barriers to trade and investment between the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

Natural Resource - Land, species, ecosystem services, or raw materials that occur naturally.

Neoliberalism - The idea that transferring part of the control of the economy from the public sector (government) to the private sector (businesses) will produce a more efficient government and improve the economy of a nation. (See Market Fundamentalism.)

Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) - Any institution of which governments are not a part, such as non-profits and international citizens groups.

Non-Profit Organization (NPO) - An organization, like your friendly Good Mule, that instead of treating surplus money as profit for investors, reinvests that money into pursuing its mission.

Nuclear Energy - Electricity create by controlled splitting of the nuclei of atoms. There is active debate about whether this should be considered "green" energy, because although it produces no greenhouse gases there are still waste disposal, safety, construction, and mining issues.


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Organic - When food is produced without using pesticides, insecticides, or genetic modification.

Outsourcing - Hiring someone else (a third party) to do something for you. This often refers to the practice of hiring lower cost workers overseas to manufacture or provide services to American companies.

Ozone - In the lower atmosphere ozone is an industrial pollutant that causes breathing problems in humans and is a key component of smog. In the upper atmosphere it forms a layer called the ozone layer that filters out harmful levels of solar radiation and is depleted by other pollutants like aerosols.


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Persecution - Sometimes confused with "prosecution," persecution is when one group mistreats an individual or another group based on religious beliefs, ethnic identity, or political preferences.

Philanthropy - The active effort to improve the human quality of life. This can be accomplished through the act of donating money, goods, services, time and/or effort to support a socially beneficial cause with a defined objective, and gives no financial or material reward to the donor. Doing good for the good of doing it!

Political Refugee - A person who leaves their homeland out of fear of being attacked or persecuted for their political positions.

Politics - The process by which we make decisions in community groups, especially the process of deciding the members and action of government.

Pollution - The contamination of air, water, or soil by substances that are harmful to living organisms.

Poverty - Poverty is a condition in which people cannot provide themselves with basic needs for survival, such as clean water, food, and shelter. The exact income that is required to provide for basic needs varies from country to country, and politicians like to argue about details when determining who qualifies for foreign aid or welfare. However, the international definition of the "poverty line" is $2 per day at purchasing power parity. (See Absolute/Extreme Poverty, Relative Poverty, and Purchasing Power Parity.)

Prisoner of Conscience - Amnesty International, which coined this term, defines it as: Any person who is physically restrained (by imprisonment or otherwise) from expressing (in any form of words or symbols) any opinion which he honestly holds and which does not advocate or condone personal violence.

Privatization (of Markets) - The process of transferring ownership of a business, enterprise, agency, or public service from the public sector (government) to the private sector (business). In a broader sense, privatization refers to transfer of any government function to the private sector including governmental function like revenue collection and law enforcement.

Purchasing Power Parity - Adjusting the exchange rate so that an identical good in two different countries has the same price when expressed in the same currency.


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Recycling- Reprocessing old things to make new things in order to reduce waste.

Refugee - Any person forced to leave their homeland because of war, persecution, or disaster. The US estimates there to be a total of 62,000,000 refugees worldwide.

Relative Poverty - Living at a lower standard of living in comparison to those surrounding you.

Renewable Resource - A resource that is replaced as fast or faster than we use it up.

Republican - A member of the Republican Party, the center-right member of the two largest political parties in the United States. Often referred to as the Grand Old Party (GOP) despite it being the younger of the two. (See Democrat.)


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Service Learning - Enriching classroom learning with complimentary community service projects and reflection.

Slacktivism - A combination of slacker and activism. All those little things that make you feel like you're making a difference without actually doing so; like wearing a wristband for a cause rather than directly working at a soup kitchen.

Smart Grid - A way of transmitting electricity that allows for 2-way communication between consumers and utility companies, which allows the use of renewable energies and many efficiency strategies making the process cheaper, safer, and greener.

Social Capital - The value of interconnection between groups and people. Just as a screwdriver (physical capital) or a college education (human capital) can increase productivity (both individual and collective), so do social contacts affect the productivity of individuals and groups. It's all about being connected.

Social Entrepreneurship - Social entrepreneurship involves identifying a social problem and launching an innovative project to solve it.

Social Justice - Preserving and fighting for equality.

Social Responsibility - Being aware of the global and local consequences your actions have and acting accordingly in a positive way.

Socialism - The theory of economic organization that advocates public or direct worker ownership and administration of the means of production and allocation of resources, and a society characterized by equal access to resources for all individuals with a method of compensation based on the amount of labor expended.

Socially Conscious - Being aware of what is currently going on around you at a local and global level.

Solar Energy - Harnessing the power of the sun to create electricity or heat areas. Only a tiny fraction of the world's solar energy potential is currently used.

Soup Kitchen - The Laramie Soup Kitchen is a nonprofit organization, maintaining a cooking staff, driver who picks up donated food from Safeway, and a custodian. Volunteers from the church community, businesses, individuals, and other community organizations assist in the kitchen, food service, and clean up each day. For more information go here: Laramie Soup Kitchen.

Sovereign State - Commonly simply referred to as a state, a sovereign state is a geographic area with internal political control and population which is not dependent on, or subject to any other power or state. Sovereign states can make treaties and engage in diplomatic relations with other sovereign states.

Sponsoring - Taking responsibility upon yourself to help sustain another individual in less fortunate circumstances.

Standard of Living - Generally measured by income per person and poverty rate. Other measures such as access to and quality of health care, income growth inequality, and educational standards are also used. Examples are access to certain goods (such as number of refrigerators per 1000 people), or measures of health (such as life expectancy). It is the ease by which people living in a time or place are able to satisfy their wants.

Sustainability - When a product, process, or resource can endure or be renewed.

Sustainable Agriculture - Farming and ranching practices that don't degrade soil, pollute water, or harm ecosystems and maintain those resources for the future.

Sustainable Development - The use of resources to meet current needs while maintaining that resource and it's environment for future generations.


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The Good Mule (TGM) - A mystical creature that does a world of good.

Third World - The term "Third World" arose during the Cold War to refer to countries that were not actively allied with either Capitalism (the First World) or Communism (the Second World). Most of these countries are located in Africa, Latin America, and South East Asia. In an attempt to bring these countries into the sphere of influence, both the US and USSR incited violence and political instability in these neutral countries, greatly hindering their growth. That is why today, "Third World" is synonymous with poverty and underdevelopment and is associated with this region of the world. (See First World.)

Transgender - A person appearing or attempting to break traditional gender roles, often as a transsexual or habitual cross-dresser. This does not imply any particular sexual orientation.

Transparency - In economics, a market is transparent is people know what products, services, or capital assets are available, where at, and at what price. This is a condition of a "free market." From a social perspective, transparency can entail policies, practices, and procedures that allow citizens to have accessibility, usability, information, understandability, and the ability to audit information and processes held by centers of authority (society or organizations).

Transparency International (TI) - An international non-governmental organization that fights corruption and tries to raise public awareness of it. Learn more at: Transparency.org.

Transsexual - Personal identification with the opposite biological sex. This does not imply any particular sexual orientation.

Treaty - A treaty is an agreement under international law entered into by sovereign states and international organizations. A treaty may also be known as: an (international) agreement, a protocol, a covenant, a convention, an exchange of letters, etc.

Tree-hugger - Slang or derogatory term for environmentalists. Don't let it get you down though, trees give very satisfying hugs.

Triple Bottom Line - Accounting not only for financial profit, but also social well-being, and environmental impact.


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United Nations (UN) - An international organization of 193 countries that replaced the League of Nations after WWII and strives to enforce international law (See International Law), and further global security, economic development, human rights, and world peace. Learn more at: UN.org.

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) - The UNDP is funded by volunteered money from member nations and is charged with promoting and monitoring development and alleviating poverty worldwide.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) - An international environment treaty produced at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), informally known as the Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. The objective of the treaty is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous human-caused interference with the climate system.

Urban Sprawl - The spreading of a population outwards from a city and its suburbs/outskirts to low-density, auto-dependent development on rural land. Sprawl has certain disadvantages, including: long transport distances to work, high car dependence, inadequate facilities (e.g. health, cultural, recreational, entertainment, etc.), and higher per-person infrastructure costs.


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Volunteering - Helping out a cause you love without actually calling it your job.

Vote-with-your-dollar - When you purchase a product, you are supporting the manner in which it was produced, which may include child labor, cutting of rainforests, and pollution during long transportation, etc. So purchase wisely and support what you actually believe in.


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Washington Consensus - Originally, a set of ten specific economic policy recommendations that constitute the "standard" reform package promoted for developing countries by Washington D.C. based institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, and the US Treasury Department. The term has become associated with neoliberal policies in general and market fundamentalism. (See International Monetary Fund, and World Bank.)

Water Shortage (Deficit) - Water water everywhere, and not a drop to drink. A shortage exists when a community or individual does not have ready access to enough clean, sanitary water. About 2.5 billion people do not have adequate water for drinking.

Wind Energy - Using wind to power turbines and generate electricity in a clean and renewable way.

Wind Energy Credits - Paying a utility company to support the production of wind energy somewhere to offset the fossil fuels that power your house.

World Bank - The World Bank is not actually a bank but an international financial institution which offers loans to struggling nations in return for promises of infrastructure development and privatization of markets. These requirements are the subject of significant criticism throughout many developing nations. (See Washington Consensus.)

World Trade Organization (WTO) - An organization devised to open borders for capitalist trade and to regulate and enforce trade agreements worldwide. There are 155 member nations.


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Xeriscaping - Landscaping appropriate to specific climates that conserves water using rocks, soils, and native plants.

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