“You should learn more about this guy Scott Harrison, he’s doing it right. In fact, you guys [HBI] should focus on water. That’s what poor people really need. Focus on clean water and you’ll really make a difference.”
“Really,” I say, fully aware of Scott Harrison and the super successful non-governmental organization (NGO) he runs, Charity: water, “tell me more about why you say that?”
So started a conversation that caused me to pause and get really inquisitive. I get a lot of these decelerations of clarity. Under most circumstances I don't mind when people offer advice about how they think we should run HBI or focus or programs and projects. Heck, I am a work in progress. I am constantly learning.
However, I have been thinking a lot about Charity Water and Scott Harrison.
I first learned about Harrison when a friend pointed me to his mega-viewed YouTube video. I really liked it. The video is entertaining and follows a standard “Heroes story” plot. Harrison and his team at Charity Water have really shaken up the NGO world. He’s helped to craft a funding model that draws the donor into a deeper relationship with the Charity Water work. His model is impressive.
Harrison has done a great job developing his NGO into the single focus approach. He is helping to shape a true solution to water scarcity. The world needs safe, clean water – and it needs holistic, integrated approaches. The world needs and deserves, responses that focus on "sum of all parts" collaboration. Underserved communities, in many instances, understand the problems, they need access to resources and support. The single greatest mechanism to address complex challenges is collaboration.
Take for example the boys who live in our Casa Girasoles home in the desert city of Ica. In order for them to participate in school activities, they are required to wear a standard uniform. Sure, they can attend school without their uniform, but they are not allowed to participate in any extracurricular activities. The sort of activities critical to growth, development and socialization. The boys living in the Casa Girasoles home come from very traumatized and challenging backgrounds. Our home provides all the basics – clean water, comfortable housing, nutritious food; but, the basics are not enough. If we abided by the single solution methodology, we would stop short of getting them school uniforms . . . but we can't. They deserve to live a full, meaningful life. They deserve the opportunities that come from socialization, from community, from hope.
Or think about a 3-month old boy and his 16-year old mother I met in the city of Cusco. The baby boy was born at 34 weeks with hydrocephaly. His 16-year old mother lives with her mother in a home for domestic violence survivors. I met the baby through a rather serendipitous connection with a U.S. and Cusco based NGO. The NGO helps to run the shelter and provides comprehensive life coaching and interpersonal support for the women in their programs. They are doing amazing work bringing true holism to the families they work with. However, they are not a medical program. Through a collaboration with our HBI team, they've able to leverage our knowledge and skills in health systems navigation and medical partnerships. They've been able to build a holistic approach to support the baby, his mother, and the entire family.
Scott Harrison’s story is compelling. Nightclub promoter makes a spiritual journey deep into the heart of Africa and comes back a champion for the underserved. I think it is great. Harrison is uber successful and raised millions of dollars by promoting a platform of connectivity and accountability. But here is the thing – we believe the world needs both focused solutions and integrated approaches. The world needs a great deal . . . and only by working together can we build the bridges that creates holism.
“Thanks for your ideas. I really appreciate your passion for what HBI is doing. I think Charity Water is great. Water is important, but clean water is one part of the highly complex and integrated solutions that communities deserve. Our goal is to build bridges of collaboration with a multitude of solutions. We feel the sum of our parts offers the best chance to really end the health equity imbalances that plague the world today. Perhaps one day we can partner with Charity Water. I'm a big fan of Scott Harrison.”
So ended our conversation.
Theres a quote attributed to Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius and it goes something like this, “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way." That quote has always bugged me. I assumed "what stands in the way" has to be moved out of the way to move forward. Oh my goodness have I been wrong.
For the most part, impediments, struggles, barriers, road blocks, challenges . . . whatever we call them – are viewed as the sum total of the challenge, and not as lessons and opportunities. I've been taught, strip away the barriers and plow through. I always thought I just had to work harder. If only I could eke out more hours in the day, then I can really address the challenges. It doesn't work that way – It just doesn't.
In my role as the Executive Director of an international NGO, the impediments are often financial. I’ve not met a not-for-profit leader who isn’t stymied by this same conundrum. We never seem to have enough money. On top of it - I am not a great, natural fundraiser. And yet, we are doing great work.
So, although the norm for non-governmental and not-for-profit organizations living with the feeling that there is never enough budget – we always have enough for our needs. We do.
I am traveling back to Perú and I picked up the latest book from one of my favorite authors – Brené Brown. Brown is one of those rare humans walking among us mere mortals, who has the ability to make the complex, tangible and simple. She’s a critical thinking academic and a soulful sage.
Her latest book, Dare to Lead, is a set of guideposts for living a life of uninhibited purpose. She talks a great deal about her research into leadership and the core elements that make leaders effective; and, well (spoiler alert) they are not what you think. Her guideposts are compassion and authenticity. Her research has identified leadership qualities that are fully grounded in vulnerability. This should not be a surprise for anyone who reads Brown’s research – but these are counter to the conventional culture that says “strong leaders” make things happen.
So here I am reading Brené Brown and thinking to myself how scared I am that HBI doesn't have enough money to truly move all our work. And then I realize, money is the way. It feels like a big burden at times. It does. But money, is a resource. Nothing more. It's a resource and we are very good at managing resources. In fact, that's what HBI is all about – connecting resource with need. We are so fortunate to have the opportunity to work with the boys living in the Casa Girasoles. It is a huge privilege to train healthcare professionals in NRP and emergency medicine. I am forever humbled by the work we do with families living in extreme poverty with children with a disability. It is so cool that we are developing a model public health program in our anemia project. If I focused only on the money we needed to run these diverse projects and programs, I would loose sight as to why these programs exist. I would forget that we are called to be the bridge for better lives. What a great calling. What a tremendous opportunity.
In many ways, I am maturing as a leader. I am learning that my vulnerabilities and weaknesses are also opportunities.
Thank you for your commitment to the work of HBI.
The HBI Blog is a rotating journal from our staff. Our Blog is a series of messages from the field, insights from our work, and lessons in service.