The Story of Us

Since the 2016 Presidential elections, I’ve been reading more and more of the work of Marshall Ganz (and wish that I had an earlier introduction to his body of work!).

Ganz worked for United Farm Workers for sixteen years before becoming a trainer and organizer for political campaigns, unions, and nonprofits. He is largely credited for the success of the Obama grassroots campaign. 

Why am I writing about him now? 

Well, let me draw your attention to this article: Leading Change: Leadership, Organization, and Social-Movements and in particular, the section on telling stories. I try to help health care workers see themselves as agents of change. In trainings, I aim to include elements that work to build motivation and build a sense of unity between health care workers and their community and patients.

Whenever I am working to develop a curriculum or health care worker training, I like to ask three simple questions:

  • What should the participants know?
  • What should the participants be able to do?
  • How should the participants to feel about whatever they are doing/learning?

This is, of course, a re-visioning of the standard “know-do-understand” model of curriculum development. There are times when we need to ensure that health care workers are not perpetuating stereotypes or messaging treatment options in ways that may be alienating to patients.  By helping to frame the story of health care, we can also help to ensure that patients receive the best possible care.

How do you incorporate storytelling into your work?

Book Report: Just Mercy

I first heard about Bryan Stevenson’s work when I was working at the Kasungu District Prison in Malawi. I discovered his TED Talk and promptly shared it widely. As I am sharing it with you, now…

I watched that talk while working in the Kasungu District prisons and was immediately humbled by the enormity of his work. I became more familiar with him while working at Partners In Health as he is one of the PIH board members. I didn’t get around to reading his book, Just Mercy, until several years later. What was I waiting for?!

That should ring as not only an endorsement but a call to action…march down to your library and check it out! You won’t regret it.

Mr. Stevenson represents those on death row, who are overwhelmingly African American. In the book, he shares the arc of his life and tells the compelling story of how he started the Equal Justice Initiative. Equal Justice Initiative “is committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protecting basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society”. Bryan Stevenson fights racism and injustice as a part of his minute-to-minute work.

The story is important. In fact, I wish that we could have a national book club so that we could collectively examine our values and priorities. Stevenson writes, “presumptions of guilt, poverty, racial bias, and a host of other social, structural, and political dynamics have created a system that is defined by error, a system in which thousands of innocent people now suffer in prison.” He recounts the stories of a few of his cases–children tried as adults, people sentenced to death row with scant evidence that they were even at the scene of the crime. The stories made me want to celebrate those who made it OFF of death row, lay at the feet of Mr. Stevenson, and, of course, call my Senators (they are on speed dial lately!). Of course. Mr. Stevenson and his team are vigilant in their commitment to this work and, yet, they are only able to work with a fraction of the people who need his activism, representation, and his ardent belief that wrongs can be righted.

Read this book. I promise you won’t regret it.

I’ll end this with a line from Mr. Stevenson’s TED Talk, one that always moves me and inspires me. I hope it evokes the same feelings in you…

 “We need to find ways to embrace these challenges, these problems, the suffering. Because ultimately, our humanity depends on everyone’s humanity. I’ve learned very simple things doing the work that I do. It’s just taught me very simple things. I’ve come to understand and to believe that each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done. I believe that for every person on the planet. I think if somebody tells a lie, they’re not just a liar. I think if somebody takes something that doesn’t belong to them, they’re not just a thief. I think even if you kill someone, you’re not just a killer. And because of that there’s this basic human dignity that must be respected by law. I also believe that in many parts of this country, and certainly in many parts of this globe, that the opposite of poverty is not wealth. I don’t believe that. I actually think, in too many places, the opposite of poverty is justice. “

PS: A movie about Bryan Stevenson just came out–Have you seen it yet? I can’t wait!

The Power of Empathy

We work in a climate of ever evolving innovation, best practices, and clinical knowledge.  It is charged time, indeed, to work in global health. All of that change, even positive change, however, can also usher in a sense of being untethered or a perception that change happens on a whim among our teams.

I recently read this article, The Power of Empathy Within Organizational Change.  In this article, the author explores how empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of another, is a necessary component of change management.

When change is coming, we often prepare our teams in terms of the changes in work-streams, new organizational structures, new funding codes and the like.  How often do we take an empathetic, rather than strictly practical, approach to managing change among our teams?

What if you took a proactive approach and talk about empathy within your team? Perhaps you can share and discuss this short video by the great Brené Brown as a starting point:

Consider the following questions to spark conversation with your team:

  • Brené Brown talks about four key practices related to empathy, perspective-taking, staying out of judgement, recognizing emotions in others, and communicating about them. How do we, as a team, undertake those practices? How might we work to improve our practice of empathy?
  • When is it easiest for us, as a team, to practice empathy? When is it most challenging?
  • What does Brown mean by “empathy is feeling with people”?
  • Have you ever had someone approach a problem with “at least…”? How did that make you feel?

As you consider an upcoming change, for example, a new hire or new funder, consider taking an empathetic approach to how you message and manage the change. Your team may be richer because of it.

Why Your Doctor Should Care About Social Justice

It seems we’ve all been thinking deeply about race and racism in the United States. My interest in public health stems from a desire to work towards equity and justice.

One of my favorite TEDTalks is by Mary Bassett: Why Your Doctor Should Care About Social Justice.  Dr Bassett is the Health Commissioner for NYC and a long time health activist.

As you may know, I worked for several years at Partners In Health (and am working there on the COVID response now) and so appreciated her nod to the work of Paul Farmer when she says:

“But I knew that epidemics emerge along the fissures of our society, reflecting not only biology, but more importantly patterns of marginalization, exclusion, discrimination related to race, gender, sexuality, class and more. It was true of AIDS. It was true just recently of Ebola. Medical anthropologists such as Paul Farmer, who worked on AIDS in Haiti, call this structural violence: structural because inequities are embedded in the political and economic organization of our social world, often in ways that are invisible to those with privilege and power; and violence because its impact — premature deaths, suffering, illness — is violent. We do little for our patients if we fail to recognize these social injustices. Sounding the alarm is the first step towards doing public health right, and it’s how we may rally support to break through and create real change together.”

She ends her talk with this statement:
“Our role as health professionals is not just to treat our patients but to sound the alarm and advocate for change. Rightfully or not, our societal position gives our voices great credibility, and we shouldn’t waste that.”

Videos like this can be great ways to spark ideas among your team members. What if you showed this video to your team and had a conversation about it?

Here are a few questions that may help to spark conversation:
  • What do you think your individual role is in addressing the social issues that accompany illness?
  • What do you think our collective role is in addressing the social issues that patients experience?
  • Have we pushed the envelope far enough as an organization to ensure that we are using our positions of power to advocate for patients and families?

Love as a Force for Social Justice

Poverty. Death. Illness. Repression. Injustice.  These are the issues of global health. It is what we confront, among a laundry list of others, as a part of our daily work and as a part of our mission.

Behind all of that is such beauty and joy and resilience…it is breathtaking at times!  I remember being at a hospital in Sierra Leone during the Ebola epidemic. A child who was orphaned due to Ebola had been admitted. She had been found after being alone for god knows how long.  She had illness on top of illness; she was skin and bones.

Everything about what happened next, though, was a story of community and care. I saw a nurse at the hospital draw his own blood to donate to her. Two women unofficially adopted her and ensured that she was fed, diapered, clothed.  She steadily made progress that some would call miraculous.  And right before I left, the sign of her true recovery was that she led the ward, providers, visitors, and patients alike, in a jubilant dance party!

The love behind each and every action in this story is motivating. From the community health worker who found her and overcame his fear to bring her to the hospital. To the hospital workers who stayed in their roles when so many others fled out of fear.  To the nurse who donated his blood. To the women who gave of their time and resources.

The great Ann Firth Murray at Stamford University is renowned for her work in global health, in particular, she was the founder of the Global Fund for Women.  In her long career, she has born witness to tremendous suffering and injustice.  She developed a course called Love as a Force for Social Justice as a means of investigating how love can be a tool that can be used towards the elimination of violence (elimination of violence against women is a critical element of her body of work).  I highly recommend it as a morale boost and an anti-burn-out tool.  You can read an interview with her about the course here.

In the course, she explores several nonviolent movements, from Gandhi’s Salt March to the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, in order to demonstrate how love and commitment can be transformational. She also brings in neuroscience, biology, and psychology to make her points (the science-minded side of me was pleased to see that!).

In our work, we often talk about human rights, empathy, accompaniment, commitment, humility….but we rarely talk about love as a force for change.  It’s seen as weak, at worst, and perhaps out of place at best.

Martin Luther King, Jr, once not-so-famously said that “justice is love in calculation. Justice is love working against anything that stands against love. Standing beside love is always justice.”  Cornel West said, more famously, “justice is what love looks like in public”.So, with love being so foundational to so many social movements and so intrinsically tied with justice, maybe it is time for a small change that would allow a tsunami of changes to come.

Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers

I’ve often witnessed an amazing power in collaboration around brainstorming and great ideas; it is amazing when it happens and has led to some of the best work in which I’ve participated.  At times, though, managers will need to nudge their teams along when it comes to brainstorming. We’ve all been in a position where we don’t want to be the one to share the dumb idea or to be the one to suggest something that has been tried before.

This talk by Adam Grant about the Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers and the accompanying discussion guide may help you to appreciate how your team may process their ideas, come up with creative ideas, and communicate about those ideas.

In global health, we strive to be innovative and come up with creative approaches to solving complex health issues.  It is a task with significant weight–truly lives are on the line.

Might you be up for leading your team in a discussion about creativity and original thinking?  Hopefully we can help to support the creativity of our teams and help to grow comfort in thinking about the same old problems in new sorts of ways.

PS: The Lean In website has lots of great resources that you can use. I am a fan of the discussion guides that can be used to guide our teams through difficult conversations or to help set team norms.

 

Letter from a Birmingham Jail

I am largely motivated to “do” public health because of the social justice elements that underpin the work.  I credit my time at the Community for Creative Non-Violence homeless shelter for teaching me important lessons in fairness, right and wrong, and my role is in this movement as a white, privileged woman.

I re-read Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham a Jail as a tool for my own reflection as we confront racism in this country.  I reflected on how, in many ways, the work of public health intends (or should intend) to continue on the legacy of MLK.

I am particularly moved by this line: “Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in BirminghamInjustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.”

How are you agitating from the inside?

What it Takes to be a Good Leader

I’d like to share some  ideas about what it takes to be a good leader.

Take a listen to this talk by Roselinde Torres.

She distills the best qualities of leaders into three elements:
1. The ability to see changes that may be on the horizon and prepare for them
2. Networking skills that bring various perspectives to the work
3. The willingness to take some risks and abandon practices that may have been successful in the past but no longer serve the team

The reflection questions below may give you insight into your own practices and habits (and maybe encourage a change or two!):

  • What are your skill levels as they pertain to those three qualities?
  • Take a moment to think about, as she suggests, how you spend your time–do you allow yourself the opportunities to develop in these three ways?
  • Are you cultivating your team to be leaders?

What do you think about her distillation of leadership qualities? I would add skills around trusting and transparent communication to her very valuable list. To me, trusting and transparent communication is critical to giving and receiving feedback and to ensuring that your team is helping you to see what is on the horizon.

Have you considered watching TED talks like this one with your own teams? I have always appreciated leaders and managers who ensure that I keep learning and developing. Plus, they are short enough to fit into team meetings or over a lunch break. How do you help to foster growth and development in your team and in yourself?

Everyday Leadership

This week, I have been thinking a lot about the role of a manger and how complex it can be between driving a project or program forward, supporting our teams, helping our teams grow and develop, and strategizing about the future.

At times, our own growth and development can get lost in the mix. For me, I have had a wonderfully fulfilling time focusing on my career. My development has certainly not made it to the top of my to-do list. So, today, in some ways, I am letting us all off the hook.  There are many moments where we can seize the moment to be a good leader without planning or forethought. There are leadership moments at every turn.

Take a few minutes to watch this Everyday Leadership talk by Drew Dudley where he describes the everyday leadership as “lollipop moments”.

His call to action for us today is…”that we need to get over our fear of how extraordinarily powerful we can be in each other’s lives. We need to get over it so we can move beyond it, and our little brothers and sisters and one day our kids — or our kids right now — can watch and start to value the impact we can have on each other’s lives, more than money and power and titles and influence. We need to redefine leadership as being about lollipop moments –how many of them we create, how many we acknowledge, how many of them we pay forward and how many we say thank you for. Because we’ve made leadership about changing the world, and there is no world. There’s only six billion understandings of it.

Let’s start our day by thinking about someone who has made an impact in our lives—who should you acknowledge and thank today? How are you going to pay forward the impact that person had on you?  How can you make your team feel like they have an “everyday leadership” role on your team and in our work?

Enjoy the everyday leadership in your day!


Want to watch this with your team? Awesome!

Here are some discussion questions that might help to spark a conversation!

  1. What is a lollipop moment?
  2. What does Drew Dudley mean when he says, “As long as we make leadership something bigger than us, as long as we keep leadership something beyond us, as long as we make it about changing the world, we give ourselves an excuse not to expect it every day from ourselves and from each other”?
  3. How can lollipop moments can change our understanding of leadership?
  4. Who has shaped you are in a positive way? What specific things has that person done to help you?
  5. What are some big moments or milestones in your career? Who were important in making those moments happen?
  6.  Who helped you reach those accomplishments?
  7. Who is someone you never thanked for something they did for you?
  8. How can we have more lollipop moments as a team?

Effective Meetings

A great resource for running effective meetings can be find in this aptly titled article: How to Run a Meeting.

I’d like to draw your attention to the part regarding the functions of a meeting. In the meeting agenda, I encourage being specific about your agenda items in terms of what you wish to accomplish. The functions of a meeting can help you with that. Do you want to decide? Brainstorm? Review? Reflect? Spell it out. In doing so, your meeting purpose will be clearer and you’ll help your attendees better prepare for the meeting.
I particularly like that this article emphasizes the importance of building and maintaining a sense of the team in each meeting. 
 
The article also gives tips on how to seat people for meetings, how to draw out those who may not be contributing fully, and reign in those who may be dominating. All in all, it gives great suggestions and tips!
What are some suggestions you have for running effective meetings? I just read about how the Dropbox IT team deleted nearly all meetings from Dropbox employees’ calendars (except for those that were with customers). It gave their team a moment to pause and decide if a meeting was needed or the best means of solving a problem, communicating, or brainstorming. Interesting and very bold idea!