UNLIKELY LEADERS

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“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders.  Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”                               – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I recently attended a workshop run by, The Hunger Project, here in Melbourne, Australia.  It was held in the Docklands overlooking the harbor, which was very beautiful.  I was running awfully late cause traffic had been hideous but I was assured not to worry as they had only just started.  I sat down and just sat with my expectation of what this night may hold.  I really had no idea what I was attending but had been offered a $145 ticket to attend (for free) through B School, so I jumped at the opportunity and me and my hungry and learning self were there and ready.

The speakers were, Cathy Burke, the CEO of the Hunger Project, Rowlands Katotcha, the Country Director from Malawi and Glen Carison.

I picked up Cathys new book, Unlikely Leaders, while I was there.  I have started reading it and from the first few pages I am inspired and flawed by her stories of women and men in third world countries living in poverty who are changing the world.

One of the first stories I read that really impacted me, I will share an excerpt here.

Ethiopia 1992

We were on our way through a place that was known as, ‘The Valley of Death’.  Known because less than ten years earlier one hundred thousand people (mainly women and children) had died while searching for food and water.  After hours of traveling we arrived at a small village known as, Goda-Chili.  It is not on the map, you could hardly even call it a village.

I was a young mum in my twenties and was about to encounter a level of hunger and poverty like I had never seen before.  Greeting us were mothers with droopy, empty breasts and babies suckling for no reward.  This was chronic, persistent hunger, pushed yet again and again toward famine by drought.  The villagers meager maize crop that should have stood tall at this time of year was inches high and pitifully sparse – far off yielding anything edible.  People were ground down by the day in day out malnutrition.  Their homes were mud huts that were dilapidated with holes and broken down roofs.  It was very upsetting.  I questioned what I was doing there, I can’t describe how awkward I felt.  I was so confronted.

I watched with awe as the leader of our group, Lynne, interacted with the people of this village.  She was warm and connected.  She shared that we were from The Hunger Project and were deeply committed to ending hunger.  She further explained that we were not offering food or aid.  Instead she said, ‘We have come to hear from you, to learn your stories, to understand what you are up against and to take your message out into the world to end hunger.  We will tell your story and make you visible‘.  And then the chief spoke.  He welcomed us, stating that no one had visited his village in more than 20 years.  He told us his community did not want anything from us.  ‘They were experiencing hard times, but they would survive.  As a result of this meeting, if our people’s life and death means that others do not have to live and die like us, our lives will then be worth something’.

I could scarcely contain what he said, and the dignity and pride of his community.  His courage and insight were humbling beyond words.

We traveled back to our little shack where we were staying and pandemonium broke out.  Everyone  was devastated.  We’d spent time with people who had nothing and we’d done nothing about it, just talked to them.  People were upset and angry.  ‘We had biscuits and blankets and we gave nothing!’ cried one of the people on the trip.  And then the conversation took place that was to change the direction of my life.

Our leader in charge, Lynne reminded us that they had not asked for anything and they were clear about that.  ‘You want to give purely for your own selfish reasons,’ she said.  ‘You want to make yourself feel better; to assuage some of the horror you saw today.  Giving blankets and biscuits would only let you off the hook and trick you into thinking you made a difference, when you have not.’  And then the kicker : ‘The only thing to do is keep your promise to these people.  Be their voice and go into the world and do whats needed to end hunger.’

This book is my extension of my promise that day to the women and men I met in Goda-Chili.  Hundreds of millions of people wake up to unimaginable hardship, and each day manage to feed themselves and their families as best they can.  They do this unacknowledged and invisible.  They are often perceived as a problem  when in fact they are incredibly innovative, hard working  and resourceful.  They are the solution and their empowerment is the key to combating hunger and poverty.

CATHY BURKE – Unlikely Leaders, CEO Hunger Project

I was challenged by the conversation that Lynne had with her team.  We are so often quick to offer answers and solutions to peoples problems and dilemas (out of a good heart that is) because sitting with peoples pain and discomfort is too hard, we’d rather fix the problem, but we don’t often stop to ask, ‘What is it that you need?  What do you think about this situation?  Do you foresee the steps that you need to take?  How can I help you’ ect.  This is one of the things I am excited to learn as I continue to read this book and discover the steps The Hunger Project takes in facilitating this kind of empowerment of the individual.

The book goes on to share story after story about how The Hunger Project goes into villages and empowers the women (predominantly) to facilitate change in their communities.  It is a fascinating process that they take the villages through and so inspiring to see the effect of empowered individuals who facilitate change for their own people.  I could share so many of the amazing stories in this book but it would be better if you read it for yourself!

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If you are interested you can purchase, Unlikely Leaders ( HERE ). It is an incredibly valuable investment that I would highly recommend.

Enjoy!

Alyce Kate

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