I just finished reading Melinda Gates’ new book Moment of Lift and was struck by how fully she immersed herself in the work of the Gates Foundation. It would have been easy for her to stay at home in Seattle and dole out her millions from there but she made frequent trips to the poorest regions on Earth. There Melinda lived with the locals, spoke with community groups and individual women and tried to learn first-hand what the needs are and whether (or not) the Gates’ funding was making an impact.
I think about Melinda traveling to India and Africa to gain these experiences when so many of us do not venture across town to meet with marginalized members of our community. It is so easy to become insulated – to read about issues or learn about them in conferences – without ever coming face-to-face with the people who are living them. Whether it be non-attenders in a church community, struggling students on a college campus, uninsured members in the city – many of us work to meet what we think their needs are without direct input from those we are trying to serve.
When is the last time you had a first-person account from someone who is impacted by your policies or services? When have you asked someone whether your good intentions are, in fact, producing desired results? When have you left your office and ventured out to observe what it is really like in the field?
Before you take any further action, pledge to hear directly from those on the front line about what would truly benefit them.