I’m a big fan of the world renowned Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto Polar. His work is considered to be some of the most important modern thinking on poverty and property rights for informal sector economies. It’s a bit of an understatement to say he’s a genius.
One thing de Soto has championed in his work is access to capital for people living in an “informal” sector of society. In essence, getting people living in extreme poverty into a modern economy through property titles, banking loans and business development capital.
De Soto has written extensively something he’s called the “invisible wall.” The invisible wall is a barrier that people experience in trying to gain access to formal sector economic instruments. In his book The Other Path (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Other_Path:_The_Economic_Answer_to_Terrorism) he talks about the impact of government failures. Failures that create tremendous barriers and bureaucratic blockades for people to gain access to the government “levers” that will allow them to move out of the informal and into the formal sectors of society. In the book, de Soto provides a review of a thought-experiment conducted by he and his colleagues in which they attempted to set-up a business (a shirt manufacturer business) in the City of Lima.
De Soto describes the nearly impossible task of sorting through the paperwork and the bureaucratic morass to get the permits to operate the business. What de Soto found in this experiment, it would take a team of professionals (trained in the legal nuances of filing the right legal documents with the right government offices) at least 278 days working eight hours a day to get the permit to operate a small business like the t-shirt factory they proposed. Two hundred and seventy-eight days. And that is a team of trained professionals who know how to grease the skids and follow the mind numbing complexity of bureaucraticloopholes and legal complexities.
De Soto called this complex set of bureaucratic and legal barriers the Invisible Wall. He went on to champion a number of great programs from the lessons he learned in his early work. One such program is the Doing Business report series with the World Bank (http://www.doingbusiness.org/reports/global-reports/doing-business-2017). The Doing Business report ranks economies, governments around the world based on the climate and conditions to conduct business. It's a metric on the regulatory environments and government conduciveness to opening a new business or registering a property. To give you an idea – the U.S. ranks 8thin 2017 report, while New Zealand ranks number 1 (http://www.doingbusiness.org/rankings).
So, what’s all of this got to do with HBI and our work in the world. A lot. You see, although there have been tremendous strides – in great thanks to de Soto and other innovative thinkers – in the world for people living in poverty to find pathways into formal sector economic opportunities, the gains have not been felt by everyone. In fact, in many communities with deep, extreme poverty – the economic mechanisms proposed by de Soto have made little difference.
Why? I think the answer lies in the fact that programs are not about people. What I mean by this – in as much as the Doing Business report helps to create a level of competition for countries to push one another to be better ranked and recognized, having a higher ranking in the Doing Business report does not mean people have better knowledge or skills to actually navigate the complexity of starting a new business or challenge the status quo laws. The model fails to take into account the needs of the people impacted by the expansion of government sector overhauls.
This is where our work comes in. HBI believes that people need the knowledge and skills to be better self-advocates. In fact, people need more that expanded training in self-advocacy, they need to be taught the insights and methods for navigating the systems. To this end, we created the Ines Project (http://www.hbint.org/connecting.html). The goal of the Ines Project is to help families with medically fragile children learn the knowledge and gain access to the skills they need to better work with the Peruvian healthcare system. Essentially, we are working with families to have the skills to be better capable of taking advantage of the new structures being develop in progressive political environments.
The work of de Soto is critically important. The movement of people from informal to formal sector economic participation is a huge mechanism for advancing the lives of people living in poverty. It is, however, not enough. We need to invest in programs that help people learn the skills of self-advocacy and systems navigation. We need to help people gain access to the knowledge and skills they need to build their own futures. This means we invest in the development of people – just as much as much as we invest in the development of economies. We help people become their own best advocates. We help people to break down the walls that keep them stuck in poverty and distanced from the resources they desperately deserve.
One of the things we've known in our over two decades of service, community is powerful. It means something to be a part of a community. It means something to have deep connections.
Yesterday, in the Sacred Valley, just outside of the small town where our Casa Girasoles is located, we took a group of the boys from the home on a hiking trip. There were over 20 people in our hiking group. Ages ranged from the youngest of 6, to the oldest of over 50 (umm, that's me).
The hike was long and straight up a mountain. It culminated at one of the most spectacular Incan ruins in the valley, a place called Huchuy Qosqo or Little Cusco. Its an amazing place situated on the perilous side of a mountain at over 12,000 FASL. It takes your breath away . . . in more ways than one.
Aside from the beauty and physicality of the hike, it was simply incredible to spend the day with our boys. The hike was also a farewell for our Director of Operations. After over 10-years of service with Health Bridges, Ben is going on to a new role with a great not-for-profit, Innovation Law Lab. The hike was a chance for him to say goodbye to the boys he loves and cares for so greatly. He will be missed.
We are community. We're family. It is a real honor to be in the lives of the people we serve - learning about their likes, and dislikes. Helping them to overcome challenges. Celebrating their distinctions and triumphs. And, this hike was a time and place for us to do all those things. It was a deeper connection.
I am so proud of the work we do. I'm especially proud of the way we walk alongside communities, becoming a part of their worlds in deep, meaningful ways.
It was our 10th year at Portland's renowned Andina Restaurant for the A Bridge to Change Benefit Event.
Over the past two nights we wined and dined some 100 new friends, and gave them the chance to hear about the latest happenings of Health Bridges. We also showcased our documentary film for the first time. Check out the trailer.
It was a spectacular two nights - and because of the generosity and support of so many wonderful Health Bridges stakeholders, we raised nearly $70,000. Wow!
A big thank you goes out to all the attendees, volunteers and sponsors of this great event. A special shout out to Andina Restaurant, Elk Cove Vineyards, the Sunderland Family, E&R Wine Shop, I Am Bibby (Christopher Bibby), Happy Tours Perú, and all the generous contributors to our silent auction event.
That's a wrap folks. We look forward to seeing you again next year. Many thanks for all your ongoing commitment to the work of Health Bridges.
“Comforted, but not comfortable.”
This week at Church, our priest homilized on the Gospel reading of Luke (Chapter 14: verses 25-33). She spoke of the profound need to live a life marked by “comfort,” but void of always seeking to be “comfortable.” She talked about “giving ourselves over to the unknown” and focusing on finding strength in serving the needs of others.
Listening to the sermon – I was struck by a strong desire to be comfortable in my own life. I recognized my desire to be comfortable in the unknown. I know the work we do at HBI is not measured in days or weeks, but in years and decades. I know our greatest asset is our commitment to keep showing up. And, I also know there are times when I feel very uncomfortable about how we are going to continue to fund our work.
There are only two weeks remaining before HBI's biggest fundraiser event of our year. This is a big deal event. We raise a significant portion of our budget from this event. And, every year – this is the 10th year – I get worried.
Worried our numbers will be down. Worried we won’t raise the money we need to fund our programs. Worried I haven’t done enough to prepare for the event. I have a lot of worries.
But you know what? Every year the event has grown. Every year we’ve exceeded our expectations and raised the support we need to serve the people and programs we are called to serve.
There is nothing comfortable about raising money. Yet, it is critically important. It is important because the work we are doing is changing lives. It’s helping to build futures. It’s brining hope.
This next two weeks are important. We have a lot of planning left to complete. And, I’m comforted in the knowledge the event will help us to better serve children living in marginalized and desperate circumstances. I’m comforted in knowing that every penny we raise will be used to its highest extent. I’m comforted in the difference HBI is making.
I am so humbled by the support that we receive for the work of Health Bridges.
Last night I had a call with two physicians who have made it their life mission to "give back" - and, because they are Peruvian physicians living in the U.S., they've decided to give back in Perú. I recently visited the Casa Girasoles Ica home with them. They were really touched by the boys, our staff, and the amazing opportunity to get involved. So, last night - they did just that . . . they got involved. To the tune of a $30,000 donation. Not just a donation, sorry "just" is not the right word, but an ongoing commitment to support the Casa Girasoles work. I was so humbled.
Now add to this huge generosity - the donation we received from a donor who has asked to remain anonymous. The donors, a couple, have made a donation of $60,000 - also in support of our Casa Girasoles boys. Wow! What an amazing gift.
Right now there is a team of volunteers working at the Casa Girasoles in the Sacred Valley. They are volunteering their time and contributing their hard earned money to help rebuild a gate and fence on the property. Two weeks ago we had a team at the same Casa Girasoles who helped to paint the entire exterior of the home - and, they donated the money to purchase a new refrigerator. Earlier this summer we had a Church group at the Casa Girasoles in Ica - where they painted the exterior of the home and purchased a new stove for the kitchen. All of these groups, all this generosity, it is so humbling.
This is not to mention all the support we received from our capital campaign. It is just amazing how incredibly caring and supportive people are toward the work of Health Bridges. What it tells me is this - it takes a village to change the world.
Through your help we are working to support people and helping them to identify and build the futures they deserve. Wow, what an amazing gift you are giving to so many people. Thank you.
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.