Friday, October 17, 2014

Inviting Others to Play

So, you've got a cause. You're inspired. You want to be part of a movement! You want to build the movement in your community!! You are a change maker!!! do you recruit people to come play with you? How do you even get people to an outreach event?

We don't know that girl in the bee costume, but she's
attracted to my crazy Belle Bride Princess. Who could resist that?
It's the classic conundrum. The first hurdle to building a movement is finding your followers. It all sounds so intimidating, but is it really so different than your children inviting others to play on the playground? When entering a new playground full of kids we haven't met, I have one daughter who simply runs through the area yelling and immediately has a flock behind her. I think most of us, however, empathize more with my other daughter who gets frozen in her own thoughts wondering if she should ask someone to play...if she'll be bothering them...if they'll think she's fun...if they will refuse. Even if we were the yelling child when we were six years old, life has a way of introducing fears and insecurities.

Building a movement is still a lot like asking people to play with you. Today, I offer you two thought experiments to help you think about your approach to finding your followers.

Video of Concert Dancers
Watch this TED talk by Derek Sivers called "How to start a movement" where you will see a movement begin and swell at an outdoor concert in less than 3 minutes. Here are some actual grownups demonstrating all the human characteristics of movement builders while essentially just playing.

Video from Derek Sivers' TED2010 talk
Did you see that? Most of the success of getting people on their feet is having the courage to do your thing and then empowering your first followers as equals!

The Chair Demo
At a ONE Campaign meeting last night, Sam Meyers of ONE's Washington DC staff facilitated a session on the topic of building a movement in our local community. She used a simple demonstration using two chairs to get us thinking about key concepts in getting folks to an outreach event. She pulled two chairs to the front of the room (not very close to where we were sitting), set them back to back, and asked for 2 volunteers to sit in the chairs with no explanation about why. I jokingly said, "I'm in if I can bring my wine with me!" and sauntered up with my wine glass. My friend Jennifer jumped up with her beer and took the second seat. To our surprise, Sam said "That's it! Thanks! You can go back to your seats now." With us back in our original seats, the real lesson about volunteering began.

"Why did you volunteer?" she asked me. Because I know how awkward it feels to be a facilitator with no volunteers. "Why did you volunteer?" she asked Jennifer. Because she was my friend, so she thought it would be fun to be with me. Plus, she'd be supportive of me taking the risk and thought that that if she didn't know the answer to something Sam asked, I might know it. Less risk for me, less for her. "Why didn't you volunteer?" she asked each of the other people. I don't remember all their answers, but here's a smattering:

  • I didn't know what was going to happen
  • It was kind of far and I was comfortable where I was
  • I felt intimidated
  • I might not know the answers (aka have the skills to do the activity)
  • I didn't want to look silly in front of others
  • I figured someone else would

All of those reasons not to volunteer sound like the very same barriers people you'll have to overcome to get people to your outreach event. They translate into: "It's not near to where I live", "I'm not sure I can do what you're asking me to do", "I don't want to rearrange my schedule for something I'm not sure will be fun or worthwhile" Even I - who was first to volunteer - made a joke that actually has bearing in the real world. I said I didn't want to go unless I could take my wine. Well...some people would rather go to an outreach event in a bar than in a church basement. If they are taking time out of their otherwise busy schedule, having relaxing drink in a nice place is appealing even if someone's not yet committed to your cause.

So, what do we learn from the chair activity?

#1 First Follower is a leader, too. Just like in the video, we see that the First Follower is a type of leader, too, so it might help to stack the deck a little and strategically choose who that First Follower will be. Is it someone like me who has led a group before and will be sympathetic to the difficulty of what you're trying to do? Is it someone like my extroverted daughter who unwittingly picks up followers wherever she goes? Is it someone already connected in your community who knows a lot of key players you'll need to know?

#2 Friendship is a powerful motivator Jennifer came because I went and it made her more comfortable to take the risk. You know this from watching your children:
Friends make everything less scary and more fun. 
Ungandan girls were not afraid to talk to me or take a selfie
with my phone because they felt safe with their friends!
Friendship certainly doesn't guarantee they will stick around and be part of your group for all time, but your friends are willing to take a bit of risk for you because they like you. If it's not their cup of tea, then maybe they know someone else who will join you based on their recommendation and friendship.

#3 We need to create outreach events while keeping the barriers in mind. Design your outreach event in a way that makes it as easy as possible for people to say yes. Without being overly negative, think about the main reasons people might say no and try to address them as best you can. Provide food. Have it in a drink-friendly place if your crowd is into that. Are you reaching out to moms? Hire a sitter to watch the kids while they play or watch a movie during your meeting. Are people from two different areas? Find a place 1/2 way between or in a place so cool that it's worth the drive or alternate your meetings between the locations. People don't know your organization? Put in the time to actually talk with your invitees to let them know about it and that what you expect of them is easy. Are there disabled individuals in your group? Make sure that your venue can accommodate them.

I can't tell you the magic incantation that will make your first outreach meeting a success. In fact, sometimes mine have been not-so-successful. (see my blog "Outreach: Failure and Persistence or 'OMG, What if No One Shows Up?") But with planning, persistence, and a little - or a lot - of help from your friends, I know you're gonna find some great people to play in your sandbox with you!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Wash Your Hands!

Hey, moms and dads! Did you know that by teaching your kids to wash their hands correctly, you are engaging in one of the most effective global health activities our world has ever seen? Happy Global Handwashing Day!!!!

Boy, this is one of my favorite global health awareness campaigns. Because we're not just talking about funding for malaria bednets or vaccine distribution to faraway places (although those are vitally important as well). We're talking about something simple each of us can do. It's a choice you make multiple times a day to improve the lives of everyone in our families, our communities, and our planet. 

Handwashing with soap is easy, effective, affordable, and literally saves lives. Why? Because human feces are the main source of diarreal pathogens. They are the source of all sorts of gastro-enteric infections and some respiratory infections like influenza and pneumonia. According to , a single gram of human feces can contain 10 million viruses & one million bacteria. Gross! Considering the amount of poop a mom of toddlers deals with on a daily basis, we should be thinking about washing our hands all....the...time. It just prevents so many things:

Worried about pneumonia? Wash your hands!
Worried about rotovirus? Wash your hands!
Worried about worms? Wash your hands!
Worried about impetigo? Wash your hands!
Worried about Ebola? Wash your hands!
Because handwashing can prevent the transmission of a variety of pathogens, it may be more effective than any single vaccine. 
Promoted on a wide enough scale, handwashing with soap can be thought of as a "do-it-yourself" vaccine. Ingraining the habit of handwashing could save more lives than any single vaccine or medical intervention. (Another side note: THIS DOES NOT REPLACE VACCINES! So, don't even try to tell me your superb hygiene skills are why you're not vaccinating against measles.)

Students in Kampala wash up to prevent disease
You might be thinking, "I know. I'm a clean person. You're a global poverty activist, so you're just worried about developing countries again." Yes and no. YES, it's a problem in developing countries. On my trip to Uganda with Shot@Life, I met students washing their hands in the one spigot provided for their whole school of several hundred kids and no soap. They taught the children songs and theatrical skits about sanitation along with their ABC's to combat the real problem of life-threatening diseases passed among students. But, NO it's not just about countries with extreme poverty. Even in places where handwashing is the norm and soap & clean water are plentiful, people often fail to wash up with soap. A study in England found that people washed their hands only about half the time after cleaning a poopy child. Ack! A recent study of doctors' handwashing practices in the U.S. found they failed to wash up with soap between patient visits surprisingly often. But handwashing with soap is incredibly important here as it is in Liberia.

So, let's have a review shall we? What is the "correct" way to wash hands? Proper handwashing requires soap and only a small amount of water. 
  • Cover wet hands with soap
  • Scrub all surfaces...backs, fronts, in-betweens and especially under fingernails
  • Scrub for 20 seconds...the time it takes to sing your ABC's or Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star
  • Rinse with clean water

Want some really simple terms with cute pictures? 

After you do this....

Make sure you do this...

 So, we can all safely do these things...

For more info on the global impact of the simple act of handwashing, visit

Friday, October 10, 2014

Keeping it Civil at the World Bank

Photo Credit: World Bank
Today is my last day at the World Bank Civil Society Program in D.C. Even though I'll certainly have more to say about what I've learned here, I want to address what this series of meetings is about and the general tone here. My experience so far is that this current form of the communication between the World Bank and the public is keeping the "civil" in "civil discourse." It's civil in two ways: it's under control and respectful plus the participants are all representatives of civil society.

Just as a recap, here's my explanation of the term "civil society" from my previous blog, A New Course for the Big Ship of the World Bank, in case you missed it:
"What is civil society?" Not governments. Not corporations. The rest of us. Just regular folk. Sometimes it can mean a lot of people formally banded together in large groups called non-government organizations (NGO's) like CARE or Save the Children. It can refer to a community of local people with an interest in protecting their environment. It also includes a couple of socially-minded bloggers like me and my World Moms Blog buddy at the meetings, Jennifer Burden.
I've been to many Washington D.C. conferences and "summits" for anti-poverty NGOs...meetings set up for volunteers to learn about a topic and then lobby about it on Capitol Hill. I'm used to experts presenting information with infographics and talking points followed by the audience asking questions mainly to clarify understanding. Sometimes if the speaker is a member of Congress or the head of a government org, a questioner might ask a challenging question as a form of protest, but generally people just want more information from the presenters. After all, they are the experts and they know best..right?

Joseph Robertson of Citizen's Climate Lobby
weighs in at the World Bank Town Hall
Well, that's not really the way it goes at the World Bank. The Civil Society Program is certainly no PR conference. It's set up to be an interactive dialogue about policy. The attendees aren't hand selected by the World Bank nor are they volunteers. They are from watchdog groups, special interest NGO's, and citizens of countries impacted for better or worse by World Bank programs. Their common goal is to ensure the World Bank is actually doing it's job and ending poverty without harming the people it's trying to help. Here at this conference, experts still present powerpoint presentations, but there is a general tone in the audience that the experts do NOT necessarily know best and we need to give our input to shape their programs.

Is there tension here? You bet. But here's the thing. Real constructive communication is coming out of the conflict. Rather than having people yelling in the streets, the World Bank is inviting them inside for real conversation. Those conversations are often disagreements, but fairly productive ones without name-calling or threats. I find I learn more in the question portion of the sessions than the actual presentations. From a mom perspective, my blogging partner Jennifer Burden mused that our children learn by arguing and these disagreements seem to be serving an educational purpose for both sides. The World Bank continually stresses that they want to hear our dissenting viewpoints to make their policies better and this audience is more than happy to oblige. At the same time, all of us are learning about World Bank's side of the story as well as gaining the perspective of citizens from other countries we otherwise might not get to talk to in person.

A Ugandan grandmother
The issues of poverty (starvation, child mortality, poor education, gender inequality, Ebola, etc) are truly life vs. death subjects that are hitting the delegates from developing nations hard and personally. Everybody there knows there are tears and suffering of real people behind every infographic map of poverty metrics. Delegates speak with passion and urgency, but also with respect and control. I wish this kind of civil debate were more common in U.S. Congress a few miles away.

At the TedX-WBG presentations, Raphael Parente of LABi said: "If we want the world to change, we have to think and act differently." In this case, "we" means both the World Bank and civil society members. In the Civil Society Program we are are changing by challenging each other. Change isn't likely to happen if everybody just smiles and nods while millions struggle to survive. I find myself thinking about a particular woman I met at a health care event in rural Uganda on a trip with the Shot@Life campaign. She appreciated the vaccines UNICEF was providing, but was focused and serious as she related other problems they faced like HIV/AIDS and lack of quality education for her children and grandchildren. As a fellow mom, I feel like I owe it to her to add my voice here to challenge, listen, and change our world for the better.