To Optimize Impact, Follow Mother Teresa and ‘Start with the Person Nearest You’
Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you. ~Mother Teresa
As I sit on the plane reflecting on my trip to Haiti, one key lesson comes to mind. Yesterday, I visited St. Damien’s hospital in Port-au-Prince and met the founder of Haiti Cardiac Alliance, Owen Robinson, a truly incredible individual and also met Rob Raylman, the CEO of Gift of Life International.
The interesting thing about both organizations was the the parallel in their founding stories. Each began by helping one person, presented to someone for help. In the case of Owen, he was working in Haiti and was presented with a girl who needed a heart surgery. It would have been reasonable for him to say that it wasn’t his job to arrange for kids to travel to the U.S. for heart surgery, principally because it wasn’t his job. But he did. Having done it once, he did it again and before he knew it, he was doing it a lot. And Haiti Cardiac Alliance was born.
Samantha Cadet, Haiti Cardiac Alliance patient number one. Photo by Devin Thorpe.
Gift of Life was born of a similar situation. Back in 1975, a Rotarian in Uganda reached out to Robby Donno, a Rotarian in New York asking for help treating a child who had been mauled by a hyena. When Robby called back, the girl was already on her way to Australia for treatment, but the Ugandan said he had another child, this one needing a heart surgery. Robby and his Rotary Club agreed to help that one and did. Then they helped several more. Before long, Gift of Life was formed. Today, they report having helped almost 20,000 kids from the developing world get life-saving surgeries.
The stories are so similar you probably got bored reading the second one thinking you’d heard the story before.
On Monday, I met the guys at Carbon Roots and wrote about their work, which finally began to take shape when they actually did what their customers asked for. While obviously not the same story, actually doing what is requested does seem like a close parallel to helping the one nearest you. They stopped pursuing their big plan (use charcoal as fertilizer) and started doing what locals had been asking them to do for a long time (make eco-friendly charcoal for cooking).
On Tuesday, I met with a young man, Jude Tranquille, who had launched an entrepreneurship camp for his peers in Haiti. He was helping some of those nearest to him.
On Wednesday, I met the folks at HELP. Their founding story is almost identical to Haiti Cardiac Care and Gift of Life. Conor Bohan, the founder of HELP, was teaching at a Catholic school in Haiti and was asked by one of the girls about to graduate for $30 to go to secretarial school. When he probed, he learned she really wanted to go to medical school but couldn’t afford it. He arranged for the money for her to go to Medical School and HELP was born.
On Thursday, I met the folks at EGI. Their founder, Steve Keppel, was trying to find a way to help the students at the same Catholic school mentioned above and launched an training program for young entrepreneurs. Again, he started with the people right in front of him.
The lesson I learned in Haiti is that Mother Teresa was right. Starting with the nearest person doesn’t limit your potential for impact, it simply proves your model. Once you prove the model, rinse and repeat endlessly and there will be no end to your impact.
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