Today is World Health Day. I dedicate this post to all of those leaders trying to raise funds for small, effective social change projects addressing health issues within the complexity of the communities in which they work. May their work too have a happy ending.
Goldilocks, a well-known philanthropist, walked into a meeting of organizations all addressing poverty alleviation, but no one was there. Everyone had stepped out for lunch. No matter. She wandered around and looked at the promotional materials each leader had left out on their desks from their last working session. “Maybe I’ll find an organization that is just right for my funding.”
The first organization Goldilocks came to ran a learning center in a city with 80-percent of its people living in poverty. This learning center—increasingly a full community center—provided life-changing education that allowed impoverished girls go from illiteracy to university. It also fed them and any family members who needed food, facilitated health care within a public system, and engaged girls in health training that led to a zero percent pregnancy rate. Increasingly leaders were getting involved in city efforts to reform education and bolster services for urban poor.
But Goldilocks wasn’t satisfied. “This organization needs to scale up and expand to other cities in order to increase its return on investment. It is just too small for my funding.”
The second organization Goldilocks came upon addressed a range of complex, interconnected issues affecting a rural region known for its poverty. Through an innovative partnership of organizations and individuals, this project supported locally-driven community empowerment through local gardens, child nutrition, implementation of life-saving Lorena stoves, and indigenous education designed both to build on local wisdom and to keep young people there and not north of the border. It served hundreds of rural communities four hours by car from the closest city.
But Goldilocks wasn’t satisfied. “This organization needs to be funded by the Gates Foundation. It is just too big for my funding.”
The third organization Goldilocks came upon ran a program that she had seen mentioned a lot in the press. The brochures were so glossy and compelling, and the idea was simple. It made sense to her. She could imagine how this solution could help lots and lots of people with a relatively small investment of money. Heck, we have here what they need there to fix this problem. She could imagine a whole domino effect cascading through society if only this one issue were tackled.
Goldilocks was satisfied. “This organization is just right for my funding.” She sat down, and after a few moments was asleep on the desk.
As she slept, the NGO leaders returned from their lunch.
“Someone’s been sitting in my chair reading my brochures,” said the first leader.
“Someone’s been sitting in my chair shuffling through my powerpoint,” remarked the second leader.
“Someone’s been sitting in my chair studying my handouts, and she’s still there!” exclaimed the third leader.
Just then, Goldilocks woke up and saw the three leaders. She thought about jumping up and running out of the room, never to return… but curiosity got the better of her. She sat right back down and invited all three bears to talk with her about their work. They sat for hours, exchanging ideas for ways to collaborate on projects that would significantly benefit poor people and help us to better learn from their experiences. As it turned out, those three leaders had never had the chance to talk to each other, and in doing so they discovered a number of similar challenges, as well as significant differences in approach to explore further in future conversations.
As Goldilocks walked home, she thought about how complex, multi-dimensional, and locally-contextual poverty alleviation work is. By stopping a moment and inviting broader dialogue, she had strengthened her community’s ability to make a difference in the world. She was satisfied.