“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.
We arrived in the desert city of Ica late on Monday night. Our bus had taken us south along the Pan-American highway over 5 hours from Lima. When we finally got to the Casa Girasoles, all the boys were sleeping. Only the night cuidadors (caretakers) and house parents were awake to welcome us.
It was a long day. Having left the city of Urubamba in the Sacred Valley and our other Casa Girasoles in the early hours of the morning to drive the almost two hours to the Cusco airport and our flight to Lima, we’d been on the road all day. We spoke with the house parents for a short period and planned our time together for the following day; but, some 19-hours into our day, we were exhausted and headed to bed.
I was up early the next morning, eager to see some of the children and get a quick run before we ventured into a full day of meetings. One of the first boys I saw, I’ll call him Roberto, came to the house in December. He is nine years old and terribly small and severely delayed. Roberto possess an eagerness to connect and always hugs me with great intensity every time I see him. Roberto comes from a very traumatic background. He was found wandering the streets of this desert city of almost 300,000, disheveled, covered in bug bites and without pants. I was happy to see little Roberto and assumed he was getting ready for school, so I hugged him and headed out to exercise.
When I returned from my run, I came back to the dining room to find a dozen or so boys finishing their chores and settling into a morning of watching television and completing school activities. I asked the house parents why the children were not in school. They told me the boys are so delayed in their education, the public schools will not allow them into the classrooms.
This group, boys ranging in age from 8 to 16, are all 4-6 years behind in their schooling. One boy, 12 years old, has never attended school and would be enrolled in the first grade if permitted to attend. Another is so developmentally and cognitively delayed, the schools have little to offer him. The house parents are working hard to matriculate the children into a special school that meets on Saturday and Sunday afternoons and will help them work toward a general equivalency degree. This is a big challenge and represents a huge impediment to a better life.
When we decided to take over the Casa Girasoles homes in Ica and the Sacred Valley of Cusco, we did so with a deep understanding of the responsibility and extensive experience working with the boys at the homes. Before taking over the operations of the homes, we had over 20-years involvement with the children.
However, standing in the dining room the other morning and seeing how many of the boys are in such complex circumstances, the true impact of our work finally hit me. Whereas before, we were guests in the homes and our responsibility for the future of the children was limited. Now, we are fully responsible for helping over 60 boys build the lives they deserve. We are now responsible for all aspects of their growth and development. It hit me hard. Not in a way that had me question our decision – no, it strongly hit me with a great sense of gratitude. It is such a tremendous honor to support the boys at the Casa Girasoles. Standing in the room, I was deeply humbled.
We know this will not be an easy task. We are so grateful for the many supporters who have come together to help us build futures for the Girasoles. We know it will take a village.
We are not an organization to overly promote our successes. It is, however, the time of the year when NGOs report back to their donors. And, we want to report on the ways your donations and support have built bridges.
2018 was a big year for Health Bridges. It was the year we formalized our operations and solidified our programming. It was also the year we received grant funding to finally bring our founder and Executive Director, Dr. Wayne Centrone, on to a salaried position. Please join us in celebrating 2018 and the many ways your generous support has changed lives and built bridges of collaboration.
In keeping with our commitment to maximize donor contributions for programs and projects, we do not print our Donor Impact Report. Rather, you can check out the 2018 Health Bridges Donor Impact Report on the HBI website (https://www.hbint.org/donor-impact-report-2018.html) – and thank you very much for all your dedication and commitment to the work.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about collaboration and partnerships.
Last night we signed a historic agreement with Union Biblica del Perú. Over the next five years, HBI will take over the administration and operation of the Casa Girasoles homes for formerly abandoned boys in the city of Ica and the Sacred Valley of Cusco.
What makes this agreement so profound is the history that informed our partnership with Union Biblica. Dating back over 20-years, HBI and Union Biblica have been building a solid relationship through our shared commitment to service.
And, because we've had a two-plus decade partnership, when it came time to move to the next level of our relationship - HBI taking over two of the Casa Girasoles - the project moved forward seamlessly. I think relationship is the key to any good partnership. Relationships take time to develop and evolve. They take people connecting with people.
This connection component of our work is especially evident in the Anemia Prevention and Treatment Project. Our team spends countless hours connecting with community members, meeting with partners, aligning collaborations. Why? Because complex public health challenges like anemia prevention and treatment in resource constrained environments requires complex solutions built from solid partnerships and relationships.
It can be very tempting to think the key to addressing some of the biggest challenges in global health is through one focal project, a single solution. Any big challenge has a web of causation and a multitude of overlapping elements. This is especially true for anemia. Anemia as a public health challenge is just a symptom of a much bigger set of biological, cultural, social and economic challenges. And, because there is so much complexity in the causation of anemia - no one organization can address the multitude of factors. A holistic response is required that leverages collaboration and partnerships. That's what we are doing.
We're building holistic responses to some of the biggest public health and global health challenges facing the world today. We're building relationships that draw on the resources, talents, knowledge and capacities of a number of different partners and collaborators. This is by no stretch of the imagination an easy proposition. It's a lot of hard work. We, however, think it is the only way to build sustainable solutions.
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.